The Meg [shark-pun]ed its way to the top of the Box Office

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias.


Hello, everyone. I hope you’re ready to enjoy some more ironic stock photos of money and finance. I know I am.

After a weekend spent avoiding any and all personal responsibilities, it’s time to take a look at my box office predictions from last week and see how they played out. I didn’t head to the multiplex myself, but apparently attendance was up due to a slate of anticipated new releases. Summer is dying down, kids are getting ready for school, and the remaining films left on the docket are festival favorites, campy horror flicks, and too-earnest family films. We probably won’t get anything meaty until October, but as far as numbers go I doubt we’ll see anything as exciting as Black Panther or Infinity War until next year (if at all). Anyways, let’s recap.

Last week’s predictions:

  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout earns north of $18 million
  • Black Panther disappears from the news
  • Christopher Robin earns $10-12 million in the third or fourth spot
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me stays in the top five, battling neck-in-neck with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
  • The Meg takes number one, debuts with well-north or just-north of $25 million
  • Slender Man has potential to open in top five
  • BlacKkKlansman opens below top five

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s grab some info from our favorite box office reporting website, boxofficemojo.com, and get to work.


The Numbers

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Box Office receipts were up over four percent this past weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Which is good. July numbers were down compared to last year, but thanks in large part to Disney, Marvel, and Pixar, 2018 has been a record-setting year.

We can get into the ins and outs of whether or not blockbusters are more harmful overall to the film-industry, but so long as the coffers are full and people have movies to see, let’s not grow weary just yet. Epsecially not if A24 continues pumping out crowd-pleasing Best Picture nominees.

As for last weekend, Friday August 10-12, it took a prehistoric monster to distract us all from Tom Cruise’s personal vendetta against self-preservation. I have to say, though, what an ecclectic group of films in the top ten.

In first place, The Meg opened to an impressive $44.5 million dollars domestically. “Shark” has never been much of a genre. Box Office Mojo generously includes Finding Nemo in the category thanks to the Bruce character, but aside from Nemo, Jaws, and Shark Tale, no film starring one of these apex predators has earned over $100 million at the domestic box-office. The fact that Warner Bros. greenlit The Meg with a budget of $130 million would seem a bit risky. Its $44.5 million domestic and $97 million foreign grosses of this past weekend should build some confidence, though – which covers that hefty budget. Director Jon Turteltaub has a habit of siphoning crowd-pleasing fun from okay actors and wacky plots. Hang your hat on that, sir.

In second place is ol’ reliable itself, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, with a third-weekend gross of $20 million. That brings its domestic total up to $161.9 million – or, as I like to think of it, only $55 million away from surpassing Mission: Impossible II’s domestic cume. What’s that? Why do I care that the best film in a long-running franchise surpasses the total gross of the worst? Because I have to, that’s why. I have to. Worldwide the film is sitting pretty at $437.5 million. On a weekly basis it’s tracking closer to Ghost Protocol than to Rogue Nation, which bodes well for Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie.

In third place, Christopher Robin hangs on tightly with $12.4 million, bringing it’s domestic total up to $50 million.

In fourth place, Slender Man opens to $11.3 million. ScreenGems has earned back its production budget in a single weekend.

In fifth place, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman debuted with $10.7 million – only $4 million shy of its budget. Which is impressive considering Legendary Pictures opened the film on a modest 1,500 screens.

In six and seventh places we have The Spy Who Dumped Me and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, respectively. Spy earning $6.6 million to total $24.5 million domestic; Mamma Mia! earning $5.8 million for $103.8 million domestic. People are still turning out to see these movies, as their respctive drops of 45.5% and 35.4% indicate.

In eighth place we have Denzel Washington’s head-cracking The Equalizer 2, which is playing astonishingly close to the first film. It earned $5.5 million over the weekend, dropping just 37.2% for a domestic total of $89.6 million – half a million up from its predesessor in the same timeframe.

Ninth place sees the Adam Sandler spook-toon Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation earning $5.1 million, totaling $146.8 million domestic.

Rounding out the top ten is Ant-Man and the Wasp with $4 million. Which pushes its domestic cume to $203.5 million. So far it’s earned more than $20 million over its predesessor in North America, but still needs a little time to catch Ant-Man‘s worldwide gross of $519.3 million.

Incredibles II was finally nudged from the top ten. It still earned $3.5 million, and is sitting on a massive pile of cash. It’s domestic gross is $589.8 million; worldwide it sits at $1.08 billion.

Fun fact: The Dark Knight was the first superhero film to gross over $500 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide (it was the fourth film to ever do so). It remains the lowest grossing billion-dollar earning movie at $1.008 billion. It has dropped thirty places on the chart of highest-grossing films of all time since it left theaters.

A few other movies are still clanging around theaters out there. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is still making money, somehow. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is still alive. Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper sank like a stone – don’t @ me for that – and is circling the drain. Eighth Grade made $1.6 million over the weekend, which is lovely – please see it before it’s nominated for several Oscars.

And that’s just about all I want to talk about. Time to make some predictions.


Speculation

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Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

So how did I stack up? Pretty well, actually. Mission: Impossible – Fallout earned over $18 million, The Meg opened at number one “well-north” of $25 million, Christopher Robin stayed at number three with around $12 million, and Mamma Mia! is duking it out with The Spy Who Dumped Me.

Where I got it wrong? BlacKkKlansman. I didn’t expect people to turn out for this one, not fully. I’m glad it has some attention and good word of mouth, which could result in a few more screens.

Going forward I see The Meg taking a pretty decent hit. Expect a second weekend take of around $20 million. From what I’ve heard, it’s big and dumb, but not enough fun to warrant repeat business.

Mission will fall further from the top, but don’t expect it to fall from the top five. I’m guessing it’ll land around $12-14 million in receipts, maybe at the number three or four spot.

Expect Slender Man to fall below BlacKkKlansman and for Christopher Robin to fall from the top five, as well. I give those $4.5 million, $5.7 million, and $6.3 million respectively. Specifics? I know – ballsy.

I fully expect new releases Mile 22 and Alpha to fight over the first two spots this coming weekend. One has Mark Wahlberg and the other is about dogs – don’t bet against either of those if you don’t have to. I would guess Mile 22 to open similarly to Wahlberg’s other ventures of the last five years sans Transformers – somewhere north of $25 million, maybe even $40-45 million. Alpha looks like a solid family picture, the type that has a decent opening over $30 million and drops like Dwayne Johnson the subsequent weekend.

We have a live-action The Little Mermaid coming out, but not one headlined by Disney, so I don’t expect to hear about it. Other new releases this weekend are the Christian Slater and Glenn Close film The Wife; Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawk vehicle Juliet, Naked; Down a Dark Hall, starring Uma Thurman; two films I’ve never heard of, Blaze and Breaking & Exiting; and an indie movie, We the Animals.

Let’s see if I can get a streak going. Be sure to let me know what you’re excited to see in the comments or on the Facebook and Twitter Pages. In order to stay up to date with everything blog-related, please use the widgets at the bottom of the page to follow along.

I’ll be back next week with more prognostication and all things box office.

Red Dead Redemption II gameplay looks incredible

“Hold on to your butts,” – Tom Arnold, booting up Red Dead Redemption II for the first time.

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Earlier today, Rockstar Games finally released gameplay footage for the feverishly anticipated Red Dead Redemption II, which releases on Xbox One and Playstation 4 October 26, 2018.

That’s two months from now. The balls on this company; skipping E3 and dropping breadcrumbs at us whenever they so please. And we’ll follow them like the carb-addicted waddling ducks that we are. We want this game. So very, very badly.

It’s been over eight years since we first got our spurs jingle-jangling with John Marston, on his quest for personal freedom from wild-west bandits and the nebulous precursor to American federal law enforcement. Now we play as Arthur Morgan, a full-fledged member of the Van der Linde gang, and it looks like Rockstar is hoping to deliver on one promising innovation after the next.

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The gameplay trailer begins in voiceover, with information delivered as if this were a press-conference at say, E3. The lovely voice goes into detail about the game’s setting, the very late 1800’s, and the changes that America was seeing. We hear talk of immigrants and burgeoning townships, and the people set to finally conquer the fronteir-elements of the west. Rockstar Games is trying to one-up their previous outing, Grand Theft Auto V, in terms of sheer scale, variety of locales, and the consequences your actions have within the game world. It’s all to make it feel, well, real.

Enter, Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang. Rather than go at the fronteir alone, you’ll be part of a lawless tribe, a clan of bandits who camp out where the law can’t find them. You’ll have the opportunity to do jobs for and with every single member of the gang – if the trailer is to be believed – and there looks to be a lot of them. This is your crime family. And you’ll work with them in myriad ways to traverse the massive new game world.

Which looks stunning, by the way.

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Eat your heart out Skyrim ENB-modders.

We have dense forests, windy mountaintops, muddy towns, turn-of-the-century urban areas, marshes, and sun-soaked deserts. All of which are open for the player to explore. And you’ll need to as the law attempts to quell the last of the wild west bandits such as the Van der Linde gang. Hunt for them, perform tasks, swap stories by the campfire, loot trains and hold up banks – live with them.

As for gameplay, there looks to be marked improvements over Red Dead Redemption. Careful attention seems to have been paid to weapon management and recoil, as well as reloading animations and hand-to-hand combat. Rockstar’s games have suffered in the past with spongey controller input and physics-inhibited engagements.

Coming back is the signature V.A.T.S.-esque Dead-Eye mode, where time slows down to give the player ample time to line up and execute shots. Also returning is a fun mechanic from the San Andreas / Bully era of Rockstar games: Player responses. As Morgan, the player can engage in dialogue with npcs, intimidate them, or placate them. All of which is clearly in the hopes of creating a living, breathing world that the player can interact with and influence to a far greater extent than games like GTA V.

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Player choice makes a comeback, hopefully to greater consequence than other Rockstar games. A woman in the street cries that you killed her cousin, and in another instance you can save or let fall a man dangling form a cliff’s edge. It’s reminiscent of the blue-dot radiant missions from GTA V, where a woman is mugged and you can choose to either take the purse or return it. This, however, seems deeper.

Your basecamp will evolve over time. The more you do in the game, the more options you might have for expansion; resources at your disposal. Neglect your responsibilities to the gang and their may be consequences to your relationships with its members and the success of future missions. The camp needs food, which you can ostensibly hunt for or steal, and money. Early on in the trailer, the lovely voice made mention of multiple locations for camp, though it’s unsure if those locations are unlocked or forced upon the player through story progression.

And for all you sentimental shmucks who loved to keep your horse alive in RDR1, this is the game for you. It looks like the horse will need to be taken care of. You can tame wild ones, like in the first game, but not all horses are the same. Different breeds will have different personalities, some will be afraid where others are not, and you have to earn their trust. It also looks like you can use your trusty steed to carry some of your equipment, which could prove invaluable late in the game when you’re hoarding animal pelts to sell at the general store.

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On top of all the improvements, most noticeable is the game itself. My god, does RDRII look gorgeous. Vistas are enormous and well detailed, varied and alive. Rockstar, for all its oddities in the marketing department, never skips on the polish. I should say, though, especially after seeing this trailer, that in-game lighting has been the true revolution in graphics from this generation to the last. It’s astonishing the things they can do. Try convincing someone back in 1997, fresh off of a Half-Life binge that one day we’d see realistic fog in-game. Their head would explode.

No word yet on a PC release, so those of you with the Pascals, i9 processors, and 4k 144hz monitors may have to sacrifice fidelity for the gamepad. It could release similarly to GTA V – 18 months after the main release – but RDR1 never saw a PC release. I’ll keep you all updated.

Bottom line: The story of Arthur Morgan looks to be a compelling one. With new and familiar faces creating a deep cast of characters to interact with, and what could be one of the greatest game-worlds ever created. I am beyond excited to get my hands on this. This reveal did carry the subtitle, “Part I,” so maybe Rockstar will release another video soon. We won’t have to wait long, anyways, as Red Dead Redemption II releases October 26 of this year.

Load up your saddle-bags with caffeinated beverages and finger-foods, pardner, cuz it’s a-comin’.

BOX OFFICE WEDNESDAY: Aug 8th, 2018

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias.


It’s about time I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes: Examining and extrapolating on the week’s current film box office numbers (and I’m going to get creative with the stock photos I use, so enjoy them ironically.)

History was made and a few other films either debuted or continued box office dominance. I was at the movies this past weekend, so some of my own money is included in the tally – how neat! It may seem strange to some that people like me obsess over a movie’s performance with the public, but those ticket-sales are often indicative of a number of things. Not the least of which is whether or not a movie that you saw and loved, or vehemently disliked, is either finding an audience or repelling the masses – fists clutching their hard earned cash as they flee the repugnant stench emanating from the theater.

The information here is pulled from Box Office Mojo, specifically the weekend recap by Brad Brevet, so be sure to head there for more in-depth information on all things ticket-sales.

Let’s get started with this week’s numbers.


The Numbers

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s no secret that theater-attendance peaks and falls around giant tent-pole features released in the summer. Most people schedule their viewership around them and with ticket-prices being as they are, it comes as no surprise. Most people aren’t going to see the smaller artsy-fartsy type films that garner most of their acclaim and viewership on the festival circuit. That being said, it does look like overall viewership is up fifteen percent this year compared to 2017, when duds the likes of The Dark Tower hit theaters and decidedly snuffed the so-called McConaughey-Renaissance (maybe it was those god-awful Lincoln commercials, but still.)

But, if there’s two things you can count on to get people’s butts in the movie theater, it’s Disney and Tom Cruise putting his life in danger.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout won Friday to Sunday viewership with a second-weekend pull of around $35 million, earning its second number one spot on the charts. As of today, Wednesday August 8th, it’s tracking above its predecessor Rogue Nation at the eleven-day mark, having earned an estimated $129 million domestically; $334 million worldwide. This is still a hair below the fourth entry in the franchise, Ghost Protocol, during the same frame, but Protocol had a limited release before going wide. Still, with a production budget of $178 million, don’t expect to hear any complaints when its domestic haul alone earns back its cost.

I’m really hoping that Fallout stays at number one for long enough to beat out the current top-earner in the franchise, M:I:II, which has a domestic total of $215 million. Tom Cruise can’t have broken his ankle for nothing, people. Should this latest outing fall short, I hesitate to imagine what will happen to him while shooting the next one. It has yet to release in China or Italy, so we’ll see if it can match Rogue Nation‘s $682 million worldwide by the end of its run.

[Fun Fact: As of this writing, the entirety of the decades-long Mission: Impossible franchise has earned, domestically, a bit over $1 billion. Star Wars: The Force Awakens alone earned $936 million domestically in 24 weeks. Crazy town.]

Speaking of crazy domestic hauls, Disney and Marvel’s Black Panther finally squeaked into the $700 million domestic-earner club. Disney managed to strong-arm enough theaters into keeping it open, long past home-release, and now it joins the ranks of The Force Awakens and Avatar as the third film to ever gross this insane amount of cash domestically. It’s the only film of 2018 to remain in theaters for 25 weeks, and there might not be another, as films continue to land on streaming services and BluRay more quickly. Still, mighty impressive. Wakanda Forever.

In second place, Disney’s Christopher Robin debuted short of expectations, earning around $25 million – below expectations. I honestly couldn’t be less interested in Disney’s mission to regurgitate all of its existing intellectual property into live-action remakes. As charming as Pooh is, and as much as I love Ewan McGregor, I’m not at all surprised to hear that the film is underperforming. Part of the charm of cartoons is the fact that they’re, well, cartoons.

In third place is the Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon spy-comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me, which delivered a little over $12 million. There’s been a deluge of R-rated buddy-style comedy actioners the last few years. There’s an audience for them, yes, but without much innovation (at least with the advertising) I don’t know if this brand of filmmaking can avoid the same diminishing returns that Apatow’s suffered. At one time it was easy to chuck together a couple of SNL-alumni and a known star turning a new comedic leaf and expect to earn your budget back. We’ll see.

The sequel to Mamma Mia!, the aptly titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, landed in fourth place with $9 million. It’s domestic is nearing $100 million total, proving yet again that long awaited sequels to passably entertaining movies is a sure-bet in today’s Hollywood. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m still waiting on a sequel to Jingle All the Way. Someone pull Jake Lloyd out of retirement.

The Equalizer 2 came in fifth place, dropping just 37% to earn around $8.8 million. It, too, may eventually break $100 million should Sony decide to keep it in theaters.

In sixth was Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation with $8 million, bringing its total to around $135 million.

Seventh: Ant-Man and the Wasp with $6.3 million, totaling $195 million.

Eighth: Fox’s The Darkest Minds with a $5.8 million debut.

Ninth: The charming Incredibles 2 with $4.9 million, totaling an insane $583 million.

And rounding out the top ten is Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, with $4.7 million, totaling a modest-but-profitable $20 million.

Some other highlights include my least favorite movie of the year, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom earning $3.9 million, bringing its total to about $405 million domestic. I’m literally jumping for joy that such a heaping shit-pile of a movie is earning so much money.

Bo Burnham’s A24-produced Eighth Grade has expanded nationwide and earned $2.8 million. Its domestic total sits just shy of $7 million and god damnit please go see that movie you won’t regret it, I promise.

There are some other, smaller releases piddling around in a handful of theaters out there, but I’ve never heard of them. You have a Dinesh D’Souza documentary out there, and if you’re familiar with his work I’d suggest forgetting you ever heard the name Dinesh D’Souza.

Okay, on to this coming weekend.


Speculation

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I fully expect Mission: Impossible – Fallout to earn over $215 million by the end of its run – the word of mouth is just too good and the movie too well made to fade from the public’s attention. Going into Friday it’ll be knocking on $150 million’s door. It’s feasible that it earns north of $18 million this weekend, all things considered.

Now that Black Panther has passed $700 million domestic, I don’t expect to see or hear of it again until the teaser for the sequel shows up.

Christopher Robin will probably drop a few spots. I won’t be surprised to see this at number three or four, earning around $10-$12 million. It could have legs, but a disappointing opening almost never suggests that.

The Spy Who Dumped Me looks forgettable, but Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon are both well known enough to recoup the film’s budget. Expect this to stay in the top five with $5-8 million for the weekend, but it’s going to be fighting neck and neck with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which definitely has legs.

New releases are Warner Bros.’ The Meg, a late-summer shark-picture with one differentiating hook – the shark is the size of a small airplane. I won’t lie, I’m eager to see how critics and audiences respond to this. I read the book it’s inspired by, which is good fun. Expect this to land at number one if Fallout wanes. I’m guessing somewhere either well-north or just-north of $25 million.

We also have Slender Man hitting theaters. It’s a horror movie based on a nearly-forgotten cult-status horror video game. Who knows, it could land in the top five. Screen Gems has it on over 2,000 screens and we’re entering the year’s second wave of spooky movies. It could surprise us.

Focus is releasing the latest Spike Lee joint, BlacKkKlansman on 1,500 screens. I don’t expect this to break into the top five. It’s R-rated, a bit political, but that’s been performing well most of the year, so we’ll see. Late-season race-centric films have had a solid track record over the last decade.


Well, that’s it for Box Office Wednesday. Keep an eye out next week for more number-crunching, sarcasm, and speculation. Be sure to check out the blog’s Facebook and Twitter pages to stay up to date with the latest posts, or subscribe via email using the widget at the bottom of this page. Like, share, comment; let me know what you think of everything I do here.

Until next time.

Update #3: I was on a Podcast!

Hello all.

Very quick update for you. Over the weekend I was the guest on a podcast, That Was Okay I Guess, hosted by my friend Tucker Warner. We watched a mediocre, forgotten movie and got to work discussing it for your listening pleasure.

We watched 8mm, a late-90s thriller about illegal VHS porn, starring Nicholas Cage and directed by Joel Schumacher.

It’s glorious.

You can check that out on ITunes or Soundcloud. Runtime is around an hour, so it’s the perfect comedic take on a movie you’ve never heard of to bundle up with on the sofa, or in the car to work, or in the background while you cook, or while you sleep. The single episode of a niche podcast that you’ve needed for so long.

Please listen to it. It was so much fun to make. And, if you can, check out 8mm. You won’t regret it. Also be sure to follow Tucker on Twitter to get updates on the many things he has going on, and funny bits of commentary on sports or movies. Not convinced? He once had a tweet sung live on-air by SportsCenter. Follow him. Now.


Anyways.

More content for the site is on the way. This past week has only seen a handful of reviews and news updates. Everyone really seemed to like that Nic Offerman and Amy Poehler were working together again, so I can certainly scour the internet for news on series-revivials.

Other than that, there are some serious issues in the gaming industry that I want to talk about in the Commentary section of the site that I’ll get to eventually. I’m also going to start offering some information on Box Office numbers in the coming days – one of my absolute favorite things to do.

So keep an eye out, everyone! More goodies are on the way; more reviews and video-game content, for sure.

Thanks for helping the blog reach over fifty followers on Facebook, as well as the ten other WordPress bloggers who’ve followed my site, and the few who’ve commented. Engagement from you keeps me motivated.

On to the next!

-Murphy

Mission: Impossible – Fallout; The Review

Released July 27, 2018; Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie; Runtime 2h 27m; Rated PG-13

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Let’s start with a word: Wow.

This is a fun movie – such a fun movie. We’ll get into why in just a moment, because I’d like to extend my thanks to J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan for laying the foundation that this franchise continues to build from. J.J. Abrams for hitting it with a defibrillator after John Woo’s erratic M:I:II, with the taught, well acted M:I:III. Sure, Brad Bird gave us the Burj Khalifa sequence, but other than whimsical set-pieces and faulty gadgets, his Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol can’t quite stand up after McQuarrie’s entries; Abrams’s M:I:III has a stellar villain, gifted to us all by the immortal Phillip Seymor-Hoffman. So it holds up where other films in the franchise cannot.

Why thank Christopher Nolan? Without his brand of cerebral, image and action-oriented storytelling, we wouldn’t have Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation or Fallout. Especially the latter – his fingerprints are all over it. From the in-camera stunt work, the measured escalation and logistical-mastery of action sequences, to the beautiful movement of the camera across a scene. The fact that the action is the story here, that very little feels excessive or particularly wasteful, and that Paris becomes a playground for the imagination (McQuarrie’s imagination), is all the product of a particular brand of filmmaking – one which Nolan and McQuarrie both subscribe to.

Now let’s break down the movie itself.


The Plot

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Is adequate. It’s exactly what it needs to be: A tightly wound web of intrigue and double-crosses. Don’t go plucking at any of those entangled threads, though, because it’ll unravel faster than you can keep up with the film’s aggressive pace.

I’ve often thought that Mission: Impossible movies were made backwards. The final showdown or set-piece is created first. I’s a real show-stopper, something requiring very real commitments from all the characters and with the highest stakes. If I had to guess, I’d figure that’s how McQuarrie and Cruise approached their latest outing. They build the finale, get their characters where they need to be, throw it up on the vision-board and get to work on motivations and the requisite plot-threads to get them there.

What makes this Mission better than any that came before it? As far as the story is concerned, it has to do with returning writer-directer Christopher McQaurrie, who resumes his roles from the previous film. This feels like a natural continuation, with momentum and character arcs continuing without any hiccups.

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Returning we have Alec Bladwin as Hunley, Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Simon Pegg as Benji, Ving Rhames as Luther, Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, Sean Harris as Solomon Lane and Michelle Monaghan as Julia (Ethan’s former wife).

Newcomers include the striking Vanessa Kirby as White Widow, Henry Cavill as the mustachioed August Walker, and cold-as-steel Angela Bassett as new CIA Director Erica Sloane.

The cast does the heavy lifting here, figuratively and literally. The plot itself is fairly weak, even though it’s buried in a near indecipherable web of spy-jargon and info-dumps.  You have some information, a person, or some plutonium, and Tom Cruise has to chase after it with his buddies – some or all of whom may have differing alliances. All the details are window dressing.

Which is fine. The story here has to be simple. We need double-crosses and the simplest of motivations to accommodate those shaky alliances. Ethan Hunt, as we come to learn, just doesn’t want to let anyone down. It’s black and white, what’s good and bad always in clear view, with gray areas whenever the filmmakers distract us with something flashy or with a latex mask and some clever camera angles.

That’s it. And I love every second of it.

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We aren’t here for moral dilemmas, psychological puzzles, or much of anything other than what Mission Impossible is known for. We want stunts, we want excitement, white-knuckle chases through exotic locales, and a timer ticking down to zero. If the plot can provide those for us, justify each without betraying its internal logic, set up and pay-off its threads without derailing our suspension of disbelief – then it’s worth it.

Tell us what they’re chasing, why it matters, who’s after it, and let Tom Cruise off his fucking chain.

I won’t bother elaborating on that. Fallout is basically this: Hunt, Benji, and Luther screw up a deal for Plutonium, former members of The Syndicate called the Apostles steal it, and it’s a race from there to get the plutonium back before bombs are made and deployed.

From there you’ll have to see it for yourself.


Craft

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From a logistical perspective, this film is mind-blowing. What does that mean? Short-answer: Knowing in the back of your head that the mayhem playing out on-screen had to be planned, arranged, and filmed with real people and props in real locations. McQuarrie and Cruise are on a mission to provide for us the most audacious set-pieces they can while keeping everything grounded and in-camera. What does that mean? It means that the stuff you’re seeing is really there. Limited use of green-screens and CGI, both used only to scrub out wires and restraints, as well as gussy up some images.

When Cruise and Cavill are fighting someone in a bathroom, they really are throwing themselves through plaster and bathroom stalls. Tom Cruise really is jumping rooftop to rooftop. He really is sprinting, full-tilt, across London. The guy is an animal, obsessed with providing the entertainment on display in this movie. It’s bliss.

Fist-fights are clearly composed, shot with minimal post-production interference (read: shaky-cam), and are well-choreographed. You can imagine that these are special operatives hammering away at one another. Each strike has a counter-measure, a block and reversal. It’s an idea that permeates the entirety of the film.

For every vote of confidence, there’s a betrayal. For every bad-guy beaten, there’s another pulling the strings from afar.

Some of them will surprise you, and others may infuriate you. Grow accustomed to characters shouting, “He planned this all along! That’s what he wants us to do!”

But the balance of power is constantly evolving. Down to the individual frames of every chase sequence in the film.

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Acting is fantastic, especially between Cruise and Ferguson. They have sure-fire chemistry that never once fails to deliver, no matter which side of the conflict they fall on. It gets a bit sentimental near the end, but never goes so far as to have her fawn over him. The movie spares us that much, at least.

My only qualm would be Henry Cavill. The delivery of his American accent requires a stoicism, fitting for someone like Snyder’s Superman, but juggling lines with Alec Baldwin? No. Baldwin chews up nearly everyone on-screen with him. It would’ve been great to see more of him. Also missed is Jeremy Renner, who was an excellent foil to Cruise in Ghost Protocol and ally in Rogue Nation. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames have more than enough chemistry, Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby enough screen-presence, and Sean Harris enough breathy portent to round out the supporting cast without any help. Michelle Monaghan even carves out some time for herself near the end.

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Coupled with the infallible charisma and daring action-sequences, is a superlative attention to artistic detail. Paris feels alive, its very architecture implemented into the action of the lengthy car and motorcycle chases through its streets and alleyways. Colors pop, symmetry abounds, and no light is wasted for dramatic effect.

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Add to this the placement of the camera in the film’s most exciting moments. We are exposed to everything, every crash and crunching bone.

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And sometimes we are just left lingering by the wayside to absorb the sets on their own.

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As for sound? Superb. Punches land with authority, glass breaks and beaks again on the floor, and gunshots hammer against the side of your head. This is as close to technical perfection outside of Mad Max: Fury Road as you can get.

The music feels borrowed, though. From Hans Zimmer, probably. It just sounds familiar, but with enough of that Mission: Impossible brass to keep you smiling.


The Verdict

There are flaws. For as adequate and exciting as the plot and action are, respectively, the dialogue itself occasionally fails. There’s a pattern to the film that becomes apparent early on – a juggling act between exposition and action that feels at once arbitrary, then later a painful necessity. It doesn’t drag on, however, not at all. And from a visual stand-point, it’s the smartest movie you can see in the theaters right now.

This movie, should you choose to accept it, will put a big goofy grin on your face for a little over two-hours and keep it there for hours afterward. So long as you don’t subscribe to picking through its narrative with a fine-tooth comb, it’s a great time at the theater. See it on the biggest screen possible.

If you’re like me, you’ll still be humming the theme song to yourself a few days later.

4/5 – The best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road, but lacking anything fresh in its dialogue and plot.

This review will self-destruct in five, four, three, two…

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Life is Strange 2 finally gets a new trailer; full reveal August 20th

DONTNOD Entertainment has released another teaser trailer for Life is Strange 2, the much-anticipated sequel to their episodic teenaged mystery / romance / drama / tragedy game, Life is Strange, which released back in 2015 to critical and commercial success. It follows the releases of spinoff / prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm, developed by Deck Nine; and DONTNOD’s own The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit – a free, standalone, sort-of prequel to their new game.

Granted, the teaser was released a few days ago, so I’m technically late to the party, but I’m going to talk about it anyway.

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All 57 seconds of the teaser are police dash-cam footage, but looking at the heads-up-display in the margins we can see some useful information. The number and name at the top left probably belong to the officer driving the car. Not sure if this is a character for the trailer only, or if we might be looking at a future game cutscene, or if we’re looking at anything remotely resembling the end product.

In the bottom right we have, importantly, the date: October 28, 2016. If DONTNOD is to be believed and Captain Spirit is indeed a primer for LiS2‘s narrative, then the date fits continuity. Captain Spirit takes place around Christmas of 2016, with young boy Chris Eriksen navigating his weekend around the drunkenness of his father. Both still dealing with the trauma of losing Chris’s mother in a car accident several years prior.

So we have our setting confirmed, but this teaser throws a wrench into the swirl of speculation surrounding the ending of Captain Spirit.

*Spoilers for the end of Captain Spirit below*

If you played all the way through the small prequel, which would take you anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes, realistically, then you remember Chris had an obsession with superheroes and would indulge in his own hyperactive imagination in order to one: cope with the loss of his mother; and two: have some damn fun on a lazy day. His imagination manifests into the world around him in creative ways. In one instance he uses his “mind” to turn on his television, only to reveal the remote hidden behind his back.

Well, after all the trauma and drama comes to a head, Chris argues with his father and runs screaming to his treehouse in the yard, only to slip and fall from the top-step in slow-motion. But as he sticks out his hand, his descent is slowed, until he lands gently on the ground.

Ah! Real super powers! We get a little glimpse of this other kid in the neighboring yard, a smile and wave, then cut to black – roll credits. The audience then left to ponder what the hell just happened, and whether or not Chris is imbued with the supernatural.

This new teaser trailer offers an answer. Sort of.

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Officer down. Squad-car down. After seeing something suspicious, the officer hops out of his car to be met with a shockwave of some sort.

And if you take a look at that scenery there, it’s more akin to the rolling hills of LiS’s Arcadia Bay than the middle of the forest, where Chris and his father live. Not to mention that the date in the lower right corner says October – months before the events of Captain Spirit take place. So, this could be someone else with supernatural abilities, or it could be that Chris doesn’t have powers at all.

LiS left the future wide open regarding the ins and outs of who can be, uh, powered. After all, protagonist Max Caulfield received her time-warping abilities from seemingly nowhere.

There isn’t much to the trailer after this. Just a shot of the road, LiS’s signature hand-painted textures fleshing out the asphalt, trees, picket fences, and power-lines flanking the street. I, for one, am hoping this is in-engine footage, because it looks great.

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It’s ominous, for sure, but we’ll find out what happened soon enough. We then see the backpack with the game’s title embroidered across the front – imagery from the first teaser released in June – and a promise from DONTNOD that all will be revealed August 20th, about two weeks from now.

There’s plenty to reveal, as every aspect of the game – aside from Chris, Oregon, and mind-powers returning in some capacity – is a complete mystery.

Life is Strange 2 : Episode One is set to release September 27, 2018.

Review: Orange is the New Black: Season 6 – Part 4

This is the conclusion of a review in-progress of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes twelve and thirteen.

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

“Double Trouble”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 59m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Clark Johnson

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Tensions are coming to a head, and while they are we become acutely aware that this season might not end the way we want it to. Taystee is dealing with a stacked trial, and her lawyer sheds pretense when speaking with a frazzled Caputo: she has a fifty-fifty shot of winning or losing. We’re meant to understand that as a positive note, but the show’s allusions here are clear – the best someone like Taystee (read: black in America) could ever hope for is a coin-toss’s odds.

It doesn’t matter if Caputo has fulfilled his redemption-arc and is slowly yanking Fig along with him. Good intentions don’t change shit.

Elsewhere we have characters trying to take a stand. Vause is risking everything to keep Badison away from Piper – the former wishing to add prison time for the latter. This puts Vause dead smack in the middle of the upcoming block war/kickball match. Vause still has time to serve, and she may be throwing in the towel. That theme becomes apparent now – not that it’s been especially absent – that people are tired of trying so hard and not going anywhere, conceding to the system.

Speaking of, MCC has rebranded itself as PolyCon as a PR move. Fig is unimpressed, but has to submit to the wishes of her superiors and implement a new, laughably malleable inmate ranking system that weighs demerits against their original defense, or…something, I don’t know.

Regardless, a few times around the halfway point of the episode there are some key exchanges about personhood and volition. One CO asks another about the data-entry inmate ranking system, isn’t it hard turning people into numbers? No, he replies, not once you’re used to it. He should be used to it, as the COs have been ranking the inmates the whole season without corporate mandate.

All of the prisoners are numbers, pawns, what have you. Pieces to be moved around a chessboard to progress someone else’s motives – at least that’s what I’m taking from the show at this point. I don’t see Caputo or Fig making a dent against PolyCon/MCC, and I don’t have high hopes for Taystee or any of the other inmates subscribing to Barb and Carol’s war. Things feel too orchestrated, to precarious. Everyone speaking out against it is being locked up in SHU.

And Red, poor vengeful Red. She almost saw her grandchildren. It’s as if the show is subtly reminding us that hey, these guys are criminals and are still susceptible to their baser instincts – but so is everyone else.

Anyways, the stage is set for the finale. Tensions are very, very high, though the episode doesn’t do much more than advance a good plot. It’s got a pretty interesting ending, though.

4/5


“Be Free”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h 24m; Created by Jenji KohanDirected by Nick Sandow

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All the planning, all the tested loyalties and alliances formed, they all come to this. Though this season hasn’t made the actual kickball match feel particularly threatening, there’s been more than adequate portent. From the jump we see that things aren’t going as planned, a theme coursing through this episode’s feature-length runtime. We have to expect, as the audience, that we aren’t getting what we want. At all. Same deal with our characters.

Turns out Vause isn’t going to school. Turns out that maybe Fig and Caputo aren’t compatible. Turns out Piper isn’t going to get to spend another few months with Vause.

That’s right, she’s being sprung. Due to the aforementioned easily-manipulated inmate-scoring software that PolyCon instituted, and Piper’s ignorance about the drug-economy of the prison, she’s being released. It’s wholly, incredibly convenient. Piper’s smart enough not to question a good thing too vocally, though, as a person with her background tends to behave.

Aleida wants to get her kids back, but that might mean losing Daya. Taystee just wanted justice for Poussey, but it might cost her the rest of her life. Morello just wants a baby, and Nichols just wants an easy ride through the end of her sentence. Barb and Carol? I’ll get to that.

We’re allowed some tender moments between long-running characters at Vause and Piper’s spontaneous prison-wedding, but aren’t allowed to savor it because the kickball match approaches.

Some thoughts on that.

This never felt like the big, burgeoning battle sequence as it was imagined by the inmates of Litchfield. As one of the COs mentions, it’s just kickball. And that may have been the point the whole time. Nichols, when she corners Morello over her shifted alliances, points out that the only reason anyone is doing anything is because of Carol and Barb. The powers that be, manipulating and corralling the lesser-thans into violent opposition.

Though it wears it on its sleeve, this show has some decent subtext.

There’s a big twist regarding Carol and Barb and the show earns it, I think. I was frustrated a few episodes back about a series of flashbacks showing how they killed their younger sister together, about how proficiently manipulative they were together, and I bear no qualms about eating my own words. The flashback was relevant. I was wrong.

Still, this last episode needed thirty extra minutes to tell a full story. Just saying.

Moving on, the major conflicts are put to rest here, but nothing has changed and it’s wonderful. Why? Because that’s the whole point. OITNB has outdone itself with this ending. It feels like the writers, in their dimly-lit windowless room in some office-building in L.A., just sat at a table and never once denied a good idea because it might not market well. They approached a moment of severe tension and had it result in a way that is both unsurprising and well-earned.

They stuck to their guts here. Though our characters may not be in a better place because of it, it makes for much better television. Everyone you might expect to walk away from that prison, does so. Everyone else? Not so lucky. I watched the ending, searching for some consolation, but as with the inmates left in Litchfield, there isn’t much to find.

Again, that’s the point.

Well done.

4.5/5


So that’s it!

Season six is in the books. I wouldn’t brand this a hard reboot, that was season five, this season has been an enthralling return to form for the series. They sat down and thought hard about how to tell a good story using all the tools at their disposal, and it works very well.

There are pacing issues, sure, as well as the normal structural problems present with such a large ensemble cast, but they do this better than most productions.

We get meaningful, impactful arcs for almost every character. Things happen and they mean something this season. Which can’t be said for several of the others. That small actions precipitated larger conflicts, broadly and specifically, feels great and watches better.

Though I will say this: I’m done.

Yes, done. I don’t really want another season of this show. The narrative of season six was so effused with the series’ overarching themes and said so much with them, arguably what it’s been trying to say this whole time. I don’t need anything else. Netflix has already ordered season seven, so I may be ranting at a wall here, but I think they tied everything up nicely.

Taystee didn’t get justice, because it’s so infrequent that black men and women ever do in a system biased against them. Piper gets out no strings attached, and many of the immigrant detainees are sent to ICE-compounds after thinking they were being released. It’s heartbreaking, but an accurately assembled tableau of racial and economic biases and segregation within our criminal justice system. And those powers that be? They stay in power.

They do it all without saying a word, either. Our characters exchange worried glances far more often than they monologue or address these issues through dialogue. That’s what sets this season apart for me. It shows more often that it tells – you can never go wrong there.

I’m curious to see where this goes. But, and I can’t understate this, season seven should be the show’s final season. Show Piper writing her book, or whatever; make it a prolonged post-series “where they are now” segment. Just don’t counteract the statements made in this season. Please.

Final score: 4/5 – Well above average.

An excellent return to form for the series. It’s found its teeth again and bites hard when it has to. Binge it.

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Review: Orange is the New Black: Season 6 – Part 3

This is Part Three of a review in-progress for the sixth season of Netflix’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black. This review covers episodes eight through eleven.

*Some Spoilers Ahead*

“Gordons”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 58m; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Sian Heder

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Relationships are changing in Litchfield, and it’s fun to watch. Vause doesn’t want to be a…phone-mule? She wants to keep to herself, while Piper wants to make a difference – it’s good they’ve developed so much over the series. There’s some drama regarding the blocks, Red is getting in over her head with Carol, Nichols gets to artificially inseminate Flores (fucking hilarious), and a whole litany of other shenanigans that might break wide into more substantial plot-threads. Importantly, though, and much to my relief, this episode decides to shift focus away from some of the block-drama back onto Taystee and the riot-trial.

Taystee knows one of the COs, who delivers to her all of her mail. This is fleshed out with a flashback about their time working the overnight drive-thru window together at a burger joint. Prisoner and CO, both from the same walk of life, very obviously went in different directions – both of which were deemed the only course of action by either character.

This is interesting stuff, especially once Taystee does her interview and lambastes the COs for their treatment of the prisoners, which has been observably poor. Here comes some drama, furthering the divide between the guards and prisoners. I like this stuff, why doesn’t it linger on it a little more? Make a point about the nature of this trial in relation to the guards, what are the consequences should they be exposed for their behavior? The show doesn’t really need to spell it out for us, far from it, but tossing characters against one another and playing their differences on their similarities is what has given this series so many memorable moments. These are the things we tune in for.

I can do without the final scene of them literally walking two separate ways at an intersection. It’s not awful, but we get it.

Going forward the show would do wise to keep us invested in this trial. The prison-block drama is juicy and fun, but the politics surrounding the inmates and the officers outside their cell-doors is a foundational pillar to the show.

3.5/5


“Break the String”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Nick Sandow

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It’s fitting that so much of the season up to this point has been about establishing where our characters’ loyalties lie. Following their incarceration in max, each one of them has had to develop a plan that ensures their own survival within the system. These plans, much to the benefit of the show itself, often run incongruous or in direct opposition to one another. This episode starts a pattern which will hopefully play out to the season’s ending. Cindy, Flaka, Piper, Carol, Barb, Frieda, Caputo, Linda, Fig, Badison, Morello, Mendoza, Ruiz, Daya, Daddy, Aleida, even Suzanne – each of them have an endgame, and a course of action going forward that could potentially bear enormous consequences.

Be it Piper trying to reinstate kickball during recreational hours, or Daddy forcing Barb to OD in order to buy herself some time setting up another drug-racket. Both of these plans have to juggle the intentions of multiple characters. That the show has managed to weave a web of motivation and consequence this tightly is what’s moving everything along at this point, as the tension over the trial has long since devolved into no more than back-pain for Cindy – literally.

But that’s okay, because these are lovely characters and we don’t want them to feel pain anywhere, and the idea that some of our beloveds may inflict damage to one another, rather than do the right thing, is unerring entertainment. What’s more, the show continues to experiment with the tools at its disposal. Flaka and Cindy are fun together, and the budding “romance” between Aleida and a guard is actually illuminating – Aleida has for so long-held a high guard, but her need of others in a moment of genuine weakness is a challenge her character alone would find so difficult overcoming.

Caputo is finally coming around it seems, as his moral objections to MCC might be boiling over. That Fig is there to offer him advice, and further invest in her own vulnerability, feels right. It’s important to offer developments like this six seasons along. But this season is loyalty, respect, and playing the long game: Plans.

This late in the season, well over half-way, the show is dishing out a bit more than we bargained for. It isn’t a problem that it’s so densely plotted, especially when compared to earlier seasons, but I’m worried as to whether or not the show can pull off a resolution to so much with the amount of time it has left. Everyone in Litchfield is committing to their game plan, we just have to wait and see what happens. There’s certainly the potential for a stellar ending here.

4/5


“Chocolate Chip Nookie”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Ludovic Littee

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This is a good episode, flat-out, but it has some problems. To set the scene, everyone’s plans are underway. Daddy, Daya, and Aleida are smuggling drugs into the prison using the guard/boyfriend and his protein-shake tubs – props for making that relevant – and Barb is finally sober thanks to some time spent with Nicky in the infirmary. Piper’s got C-Block running drills to get ready for kickball, which was reinstated, but Badison’s a control-freak so you know where that’s headed. Caputo and Fig are starting to invest some energy against MCC, Red is cozying up with Carol in the hopes of getting at Frieda, who is still in Florida with Suzanne and Doggett trying not to get murdered. None of that is to mention the continued conflict between Mendoza and the other women of C-Block and Luschek and the cell-phone smuggling business. Shew.

This show’s layers are tangling up very quickly, and with only a handful more episodes left on the roster we need as much screen time reserved for relevant material as possible.

Right?

I guess not, because in the middle of all of that interesting shit, we get another glimpse into Carol and Barb’s back story. My question: Why? What do we learn? Nothing of value. I’d rather be following Caputo on his crusade against his former employer, with a reformed Fig backing him up, or the changing politics of the old alliances between characters that are being challenged in max.

What we get in this lengthy set of flashbacks is what Frieda describes as the “Little Debbie Killings.” Barb and Carol, while teenagers, murder their younger sister by locking her in a car and pushing it into a lake. And? They bicker a lot once they’re in prison together. It’s rushed, it’s a severe strain on the suspension of disbelief, and it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the warring tribes of Lichfield in the present. Their characterization in Frieda’s flashback was enough. They’re bickering sisters who went to prison and, over their long incarceration, grew to hate each other. What’s to elaborate on?

Consider it this way: All Frieda had to do in a brief conversation with Suzanne was hint at the notoriety of the “Little Debbie Killings” and that Little Debbie was Barb and Carol’s little sister. It should go without saying that only a depraved individual would murder their little sister. Did we need to see it play out? I’d argue that the handful of flashbacks did very little to justify, in any frame of mind, why the two sisters offed their younger sibling. There’s hardly enough time to present anything nuanced about these brand spanking new characters. And with everything else going on, it’s a distraction.

Let’s hope the next episode keeps its focus on the present day, because OITNB‘s recurring plot-device is becoming a hindrance. The show will get better going forward, not by continuously peeking backward.

3/5


“Well This Took a Dark Turn”

Released 27 July, 2018; Runtime 1h; Created by Jenji Kohan; Directed by Laura Prepon

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Maybe Laura Prepon should spend more time behind the camera, because she delivers a pretty tight episode here. Not a single flashback in sight as we focus on how dangerously all of the old alliances have shifted, and the new dramas that envelope our characters. Every meaningful arc gets some time here. Piper and Badison butt heads, Nichols is trapped between old friends and D-Block’s blood lust, MCC is maneuvering around Caputo’s campaign for the truth, and the riot-trial is officially underway. Those plans, the ones I’ve been yammering on about for the last few reviews, are in action. As they put it in the show – it’s time to go all-in, and I am. I really am.

Leading up to this episode we’ve had a mess of plot-lines entangle, to see them tugging and yanking all over is rewarding. There’s no near-miss with Aleida’s drug-tubs of protein powder, her boyfriend confronts her instantly. We have immediate consequences and action. Everything Piper does to help herself gets her in deeper trouble with Badison, regardless of what she wants, and she finally comes face to face with the realization we’ve all been yearning for over the last few years: The other prisoners fuck with her because of her privilege, because she’s in there with them despite having every opportunity they could only dream of having. That Taystee is the one to offer this revelation makes it all the more sweet.

Side note: It’s really nice to see Burset here, I wish this season would bring back some of our old favorites more frequently. Her situation is sad, but her decision at the end of the episode is in-keeping with the mantra this season has touted from the jump – it’s every woman for herself. She commits to her own survival, as does every other character.

Piper goes all in on her status as kickball captain, Vause goes all-in on a college course, Cindy goes all-in on her testimony, the Litchfield campers go all-in on their allegiances to their new blocks, and the guards go all-in on fixing their fantasy draft dry spell in what is a genuinely surprising way to end the episode.

Nothing distracts from the drama here. There’s levity, sure, but everyone has to make a choice, and those choices get made, galvanizing or undoing their relationships or their security.

Great episode; the kind you clench you jaw and raise your eyebrows at.

4.5/5


Two to go

I’m excited to see where this ends. The upcoming kickball game has some stakes riding on it, that’s for sure. This season has done well to unshackle itself from the sentimental-oozing of earlier episodes. It feels more akin to seasons one and two, where there’s danger behind every sign of relief.

I don’t want to see this kickball crap outshine the trial, however. For as prevalent a role that played in the first half of the season, I want it to finish strong.

We’ll see.

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From Under a Rock: Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman have a new show!

It’s hard to keep up with pop-culture. Things emerge and disappear at such a whiplash pace that any single human-being running a comprehensive media blog might be forgiven for letting some exciting news slip through his fingers. The news in question? The July 31, 2018 release of NBC reality show, Making It. Hosted by none other than Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.

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Seeing as the show premiered just last night, and the show’s YouTube channel has been up for like, four months or something, this hardly qualifies as “news.” But it’s recent enough for me to gush about it and to count my lucky stars that I even heard about this to begin with.

It looks like another competition-based reality show, but sharing its concept with some of the most popular videos on the internet right now: Arts and Crafts. Crafters are all over YouTube, from tutorials in homemaking to replicas of famous weaponry. Mythbusters alum Adam Savage has earned millions of views on his workshop-based web-show, Tested, where in one now-famous video he modified a nerf-gun to shoot 10,000 rounds of foam ammunition.

Crafting is popular, and there are few more recognized craftsmen than actor Nick Offerman.

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In his role as Ron Swanson on NBC’s own Parks and Rec, Offerman played the character as a government-loathing, hard-work, and self-sustainability championing everyman – whose longing for the outdoors, a stiff glass of scotch, and resentment of all personal vulnerability made him an ideal Hemingway hero.

Though it’s known in real life that Offerman is quite a softy, the handyman he played on TV was a representation of his actual proficiency in woodworking and other crafts.

Enter: Amy Poehler.

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Self-described in the new show’s promotional material as a bit of a layman, her role as co-host seems more to appeal to the audience’s sense of voyeurism. That kind of, “watcha makin’?” approach.

The set itself reminds me of PBS’s The Great British Baking Show. Craft-stations are set up in a smaller, less-industrial environment with soft lighting and brighter colors. The promo also suggests a more friendly and cooperative approach to competition rather than the cutthroat and demoralizing bickering of other, more Ramsey-ish reality television shows.

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All of this seems to act as the contrarian response to the acidity present in the modern social-discourse. Poehler at one point addresses this in the trailer, saying outright that the show is more about bringing people together over a shared love of creativity and artistry – rather than personal gain. In-keeping with the unshakeable optimism from other notable works in Poehler’s career, this might become the reality TV show to watch.

A little togetherness, Poehler says, is exactly what we need right now.

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There’s an audience for crafts online, and people have certainly been pining for more Parks and Rec. This could be a hit, especially considering just how far the show’s cast has launched into the pop-culture spotlight since the show ended. Stars Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, and Adam Scott have all seen success in prominent roles for other shows and feature films.

Anyways, let’s see how this works out for Amy and Nick and their band of professional crafters. I’d be tickled to death if we got at least one scene of our two co-hosts chowing down on waffles at a local diner. Tickled. To. Death.


Making It premiered July 31, and airs every Tuesday at 10/9c after America’s Got Talent, on NBC.

Commentary: The Lost World is not the worst in the JP franchise.

Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias. Photos featured here are screenshots from both YouTube and IMDb.

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I’m on Netflix, and seeing as I’ve finished The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, I have nothing to do. The Last Jedi is available to watch, but I’m still traumatized – it’ll be a long time before I write about that one. I scroll down the page and under “Because you watched: Jurassic Park” is a film I haven’t seen in at least half a decade: The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Oh, yeah, baby. Here we go.

I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening night and still can’t sleep soundly knowing the piss-poor condition Colin Trevorrow has plunged the franchise into. Seriously, he made Safety Not Guaranteed (which was charming) and suddenly he’s got the green-light to write and direct two-thirds of the Jurassic Park revival trilogy? Ick.

I’m nostalgic for Jurassic Park in a way that Universal Studios can’t monetize. I want the OG-movies back. The blue-steel, smart-phone, and concrete aesthetic of Jurassic World and its sequel isn’t working for me. Give me the jagged, jungle-infused primary colors of Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Blacks and reds and yellows, musky thickets of dense tropical plants, and tiki-themed huts. Isla Nublar is supposedly 100 miles from Costa Rica, and the closest Jurassic World came to that aesthetic was a damn Margaritaville.

Sorry. We aren’t here to trash the other movies, we’re here to defend The Lost World against the other movies.

I’m typing this up as I watch it, so let’s get to it.


Welcome, to the sequel to Jurassic Park

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Can you imagine the hype surrounding this movie? Back in ’97, before Titanic released, Jurassic Park was literally the highest-earning movie ever made. People busted blocks for that movie, and Spielberg grabs Michael Crichton to again help screenwriter David Koepp pen the script for its follow-up. The old team was getting back together. I was a little over four-years-old at the time and I can still remember seeing the rubber r.c. controlled t-rex toys and the lunch boxes and the sit-and-shoot video games at every arcade. Of course, that happens every summer nowadays. Tent-pole blockbusters are everywhere, synonymous with summer movie-going.

Back then, however, fan-boys were either in their infancy or lurking in secluded basements, away from the public eye, so the average movie-going public was allowed to vent their frustration with The Lost World when it didn’t live up to their expectations. Of course, this was back when people were allowed to be disappointed by sequels for sake of the film *glares at The Last Jedi and the ongoing internet-war over the soul of Star Wars*.

I remember liking this as a kid for the same reasons I’m liking it right now. The action is lively, the CGI well-utilized, and the dinosaurs more numerous and with greater variety. You could say the same thing of Jurassic World, but here comes the crucial difference.

Characters.

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We get twenty-some seconds in the beginning of Lost World to introduce this little girl and her rich family, picnicking on the beach of some uninhabited Island (as you do), and every bit of dialogue between them occurs in a real space, playing out as the camera observes the scene from a distance, panning back and forth or rolling up the sand away from them. We don’t have actors spouting decades-old lines of dialogue at the screen in that over-the-shoulder, crisscrossing television-style bullshit way of filming a conversation. We don’t have a back-and-forth here, we have people moving and things being done and characters moving around them. The sets are part of the conversation because people have to move to keep up with their counterpart in order to talk to them.

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Damn near every scene of dialogue in Jurassic World is over-the-shoulder, back-and-forth garbage on a set far removed from any of the action. Spielberg introduces his characters as part of a world, and his worlds as part of his plot. He does all of this simultaneously. Lost World may be a monster-flick, undeniably, but it’s still a Spielberg film.

Things are developing around our characters constantly. You know the plot already, Ian Malcolm (played by the endlessly enjoyable Jeff Goldblum) is coerced into an expedition to Isla Sorna, dinosaur Site B, by Richard Hammond, who is no longer in control of the dinosaur-genetics company, InGen. In fact, Peter Ludlow, Hammond’s nephew, has taken control of the company and hopes to finally turn a profit by exploiting the dinosaurs (BOY I WONDER IF THE SEQUELS WILL LATCH ONTO THAT IDEA).

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Jesus, this movie moves, though. Within twenty-five minutes we have the reason Hammond loses control of InGen (the little girl getting attacked on the beach), Malcolm is shown to be the victim of a smear campaign by InGen and Ludlow to discredit his criticisms of the theme park of the previous film, and then we have to get ready to go to the island so Malcolm can “save” his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore).

Can we actually stop for a second and appreciate Julianne Moore’s screen presence? She owned every scene in which she appeared in The Big Lebowski and Children of Men, and does so here. She’s also a stoic and unsettling figure in the two Mockingjay movies. In Lost World she’s clearly the only one in control of the situation; having studied the dinosaurs for a few days before Malcolm, Eddie, and Nick van Owen arrive, she’s technically more qualified to speak of them than Malcolm is.

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So, I don’t think pacing is too much of an issue yet. They get to the island and we see Stegosaurus within the first half-hour. Spielberg doesn’t linger too long before throwing our characters into some kind of danger – those spiked tails! – but moviegoers aren’t going to be as impressed at the mere sight of dinosaurs now, so let’s just get on with the show. Either by necessity or principle, effects are a blend of CGI and practical animatronics. The dinosaurs, more than any of the sequels, are technically right there in-camera. It feels good. It still looks good.

And look at this! Characters walking and talking! Talking about scientific stuff! Our protagonists are still interested in proving some theory about dinosaurs, studying them with extended research as the goal. Where the hell did that go?

I know people don’t like Malcolm’s daughter here. She isn’t a great addition, but at least it’s easy to understand why she’s here. In that lengthy prelude to the expedition’s departure we get plenty of information thrown at us economically. We learn that Malcolm isn’t exactly a doting husband, but has fathered a few children (in keeping with his character from JP), and that his daughter wants to come along. We’re shown what all of their vehicles look like, included the RV home-base. We know that she knows where it is and can presume she hid inside of it, considering the dialogue even earlier that it isn’t a long trip to get to the island and seeing that none of the main characters were inside the RV on the journey there.

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Can we also talk about that? That Spielberg and Co decided to introduce aspects of the narrative long-before they became useful? It’s Chekov’s Gun – level storytelling basics, here. We get the RV, the High-Hide, the tranquilizer gun, the wonky satellite phone, the lucky-pack, and plenty more within the first half-hour of the film. All of it pays off or at least becomes relevant later in the film. Compare that to the fan-favorite Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. It’s understood that we, the audience, aren’t to know much about its abilities due to the genetic-splicing that brought it to life, but come on. It’s a walking plot-mcguffin. Whatever the narrative needs at any given moment, the I-Rex can be, and it’s either explained away with a throwaway line just before it happens – “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE” – or it’s chalked up to mad-science. Lazy.

The Lost World, whether it works for you or not, is far from lazy.

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Look at this Safari-vibe we have going on here. John Williams has returned for the score, and rather than trumpet that old theme-song, he provides a thumping and suspenseful band of music to underscore the darker overall tone of the film. This is far from stock string-pieces that appear at emotional cues; we have melodies and themes for the heroes and villains, key-strikes and percussion for rampaging dinosaurs. It feels tailored to the experience, rather than assembled from a pre-recorded suite of genre-music.

And here comes Roland Tembo and his merry-brigade of profiteers. What a fun character, played with expert pragmatism by the late Pete Posthwaite. These are Ludlow’s guys, under the new InGen, trying to capture these dinosaurs for transport back to the mainland. It’s pretty stupid, but the film realizes this, making the case for saving the animals from people – rather than a fucking volcano. At least here, in Lost World, we have characters with motivations stemming from either a previous film or deeply understood character archetypes. The big-game hunter wants to hunt, the capitalist wants money, the scientists want to science. Spielberg isn’t forcing anything here (not until the fourth act). These are evident in the later films, but…they were derivative to begin with.

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If anything, this is where we can cry foul for pacing. Once the second expedition shows up, all hell breaks loose and it’s a race to the end of the film. They set up camp, the original expedition opens some dino-cages, and things literally burst into flames. Moments later we have the bleating baby T-Rex and the beginning of a ninety-minutes chase-scene.

And honestly? That’s where this film commits its resources, which is fine. It does it magnificently. We have numerous peaks and valleys, setting tension and paying it off. The most impressive of which being the RV tumbling over the edge of a cliff. It isn’t just monsters and mayhem, because we wouldn’t give a damn about the stakes if we didn’t care about the characters.

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And this movie might have the last moment I’ve felt tension for the approach of a T-Rex. Their presence here is incredible. The camera stays on the fucking ground, leaving the audience to feel as vulnerable as our characters. And I’m beginning to think it might actually give the execs over at Universal an aneurism to invest in animatronics again.

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Oh, hold on. Eddie’s about to bite it – or be bitten. What a shame Trevorrow felt compelled to top this unearned character-death with one far more grotesquely-realized in his film if you remember the poor babysitter being dunked to death by flying dinosaurs until the Mosasaur ate her in Jurassic World. Eddie at least dies quickly. Same can’t be said for this unfortunate franchise.


The Moveable Feast

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Well, all the characters are together. And it’s good. We get brief interactions to play these archetypes against one another. The environmentalist vs the hunter, the chaotician vs the capitalist. That the movie is plunging us into Malcolm’s chaos and still stops to remind us of the central arguments forming the narrative is smart. It’s smart, mainly because it works so well. It’s due to that competence that every sequel, save for JPIII, has aped those themes outright and offered no new insight.

Fallen Kingdom wants us to care about these dinosaurs and hope to preserve them, while The Lost World has already exhausted both sides of the debate. This wasn’t some cautionary preamble, this was closing the book. Spielberg’s departure from a directorial role in the franchise should be evidence enough of that. “But he’s stayed on as producer!” Yes, but as with the Transformers franchise, that doesn’t amount to much of substance outside of his bank-account, does it?

Digressions, my apologies.

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Our characters are bickering, and that makes it interesting. They aren’t just screaming into the camera – not yet anyway. Spielberg is embarking on a journey across the island, and we have to follow. Again the pacing is wonky, like Spielberg is anxiously hustling through these bits to show off the next bloody rampage by the T-Rexes. And that’s just what we get. They lose their luster after a while, I’ll admit. This doesn’t operate on the restraint seen in the original film, but we’re a far cry from the wobbly, weightless CGI of the Jurassic World sequels. We’ve got actual actors, awarded actors, playing bit parts to lend some depth to every encounter – selling those archetypical monologues with flair and conviction.

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And let’s take a closer look at those action scenes. After a few more brushes with the T-Rex and some Compies, the “moveable feast” is fractured and leaving the island in their respective groups. The dinosaurs are still cleverly concealed, behind waterfalls or by shadows in the darkness outside a tent.

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They are monsters, but as hunting animals it makes sense as well. The raptors are pack-hunting and hyper-intelligent. We see that in their apparent behaviour. Spielberg isn’t going to waste time explaining them to you all over again, we know they aren’t going to be tricked so easily. So the humans have to evade and fight them using their intellect. Or some form of it. Yeah, the gymnastics shit is strange, but at least they set it up earlier in the film.

Nothing is so outlandish here as using live-animals in the military, or having them appear in dreams.

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If anything, the film does a pretty good job wrapping up what it lays out on the table. Roland gets his prize T-Rex, but loses quite a bit in the process. Sarah and Ian are finally heading off the island in what can ostensibly be seen as a familial-unit. Ludlow should have learned his lesson, but…no. That pesky greed, it corrupts absolutely.

I can give Spielberg a pass for the idea of the San Diego breakout. It’s a lot of fun and has a plethora of memorable moments. It’s tough to ignore, though, that it throws a wrench in the conclusion of the film and all of a sudden we have a fourth act. It wouldn’t have been enough to keep the action on the island and use the data Hammond’s team collected to change public perception of the dinosaurs living on Sorna.

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No. In a silly bit of showmanship, we have a boat with a T-Rex crashing onto American shores. How did the crew of the boat die? Doesn’t matter now, they cut it in post. Boy, Mr. Hammond, this should work well toward changing public opinion of your dinosaurs. The San Diego-scene is where you’re either torn from or galvanized in your support for this film. I can appreciate it for the entertainment that it is, but it undermines so much of…whatever this film was getting at. It never really gets the chance to elaborate aside from a quick bit on CNN by Hammond about the need to leave these creatures alone.

But the T-Rex breaks loose on a major city with a devastating resentment of infrastructure: Take that traffic-signal!

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And you, public transportation!

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How on earth is the Coast Guard just letting that thing sail back home? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and in a movie that seemed so adamant in justifying its existence with some kind of forethought, this ending is disappointing.


So…

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I can understand when people suggest that this is the worst of the JP films, and then say the end is too nonsensical. Those sentiments, I feel, are mutually exclusive, however. You can’t insist that it’s bad because of its ending and also suggest that it’s the worst of the franchise. The entirety of the drama surrounding the newer films has been pilfered from the two original films. Jurassic World is a soft reboot of Jurassic Park, but with a seriously dumb “use them as dino-soldiers” plot-line. Fallen Kingdom boils Lost World down to its most basic elements: save the dinos, capture dinos, capitalism, greed. Fallen Kingdom, however, insists on a very strange and self-defeating location for two-thirds of the movie – the fucking basement of a really big house – then tosses the dinos out into the real world just like The Lost World did.

How is that better? If anything, it’s exactly the same.

The common argument is that we aren’t meant to analyze these movies, that they are big dumb action-adventure flicks with broad-chested men and women running stupidly from bloodthirsty monsters. Which is fine. It’s disappointing, but it’s fine. The movies can be that way, but don’t ape the imagery and plots from better movies in your own franchise.

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For all of the pacing and tonal shifting in Lost World, it’s certainly closer in feel to the newer films than to the original, it still offers dialogue and story-beats worth paying attention to. There are arguments to be had about dinosaur behavior and of observing them as elements of nature rather than theme-park exhibits. We have glimpses of that in Jurassic World, but Chris Pratt’s smoldering at the camera and pinching insects out of the air distracts from anything he’s trying to say about animal behavior.

And Spielberg is just a better filmmaker than Trevorrow. There’s careful attention to detail in sets and in movement. Things are arranged to follow the natural path of curiosity within the audience. We are shown something and it is elaborated on until its function becomes apparent. Action scenes develop as part of an ongoing conflict, and resolve themselves before they wear out their welcome. Dinosaurs are heard approaching, or conflicts with technology are hinted at hours before they become a problem. Dinosaurs don’t just appear in fucking tubes while volcanos are erupting and lava is spewing everywhere. It also doesn’t having a dino-showdown by the ocean as if the dinosaurs carry personal vendettas. Fan-service alone is not good moviemaking.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is not a great movie, but it’s above and beyond the films that followed. It’s shlocky, but tastefully done. Its humor in balance with its mayhem.

In the race for second-place, which is all a sequel in this franchise can hope for, it’s won handily.

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