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Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Point of Human Existence

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Warning: Spoilers regarding the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron will be discussed below. You’ve been warned.

Actor Simon Pegg recently made headlines after a controversial radio interview in which he expressed his desire to “retire from geekdom.” He denounced the current spate of comic book films and other genre fare as “childish” and indicative of “a kind of dumbing down” of society. He went on:

“Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk had a fight with a robot.”

Reaction to Pegg’s remarks tended to focus on the irony of his fame and fortune spawning from the object of his scorn. However, a higher critique of Pegg’s comments arises from the fact that what he said isn’t even true.

Nowadays, these genre films do portray challenging emotional journeys and ask moral questions, which stands as a significant reason for their continued success. The days of Adam West and Joel Schumacher have long past. Today, we get Christopher Nolan and assorted Oscar-winners.

In his comments, Pegg specifically references Avengers: Age of Ultron, currently playing in theaters. While it’s true that the film boasts a battle between the Hulk and Iron Man, that’s hardly what the movie is about. Weaved between the action beats are some heavy philosophical themes, including the oldest and most profound of existential questions.

What is the point of life? Why are we here? What should we do with the life we have? How far should we go to protect it? What should we risk?

The film doesn’t get bogged down in these mysteries, nor should it. But Age of Ultron does touch upon these questions in a manner which serves the story.

Of particular note during the film’s resolution is a scene between the villainous artificial intelligence Ultron and a virtuous android known as The Vision. These two non-human characters reflect upon the human condition, arriving at every different conclusions regarding its value.

Ultron declares of humanity, “They’re doomed!”

“Yes,” Vision coolly replies. “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”

In that moment, writer/director Joss Whedon inserts his trademark optimistic nihilism. Looking back through Whedon’s body of work, whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or FIrefly, or The Cabin in the Woods, a theme recurs throughout. Humanity is doomed. But life is nonetheless worth living. One might ask Pegg where to come by a more challenging notion than than.

Indeed, Whedon’s happy fatalism stands among his more frustrating attributes. He presents an honest view of our terminal existence, and prescribes enjoying life while it lasts. In a world where death had not been overcome, that would be the best we could do. But for the bible-believing Christian, death has been overcome, we are not doomed, and the everlasting sets a new standard for beauty.

In the broadest terms, these are the two worldviews competing for the allegiance of mankind. One views existence as temporary. The other views existence as eternal. Which view we subscribe to determines how we ought to live our lives. We can live for today – carpe diem – or we can live for eternity.

Believers often make the mistake of presenting this choice as a dichotomy between morality and amorality. It is not. As Whedon portrays throughout his work, doomed people can do good things. The focus shouldn’t be on whether believing or not believing proves moral, but whether life eternal proves preferable to life abridged.

Avengers: Age of Ultron joins Whedon’s other work in presenting a brief life well lived as the point of human existence. That’s certainly the best we can hope for if the atheists are right. Even in the best case scenario where technology somehow presents a form of immortality at some point in the future, the irrevocable state of the universe is atrophy. Everything is winding down. As King Solomon once said, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ultron puts it more bluntly.

But if the Christians are right, if death has been overcome, if we have a hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of God, then all bets are off. The Vision’s modest consolation regarding our doomed state proves feeble. We need not stoically accept fading beauty. We can rest in an everlasting hope.

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7 Heartbreaking Films of Military Valor

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Calling Memorial Day a “federal holiday” is a bit of a sacrilege. More than a day for big sales or a stretch at the beach, this is a time for remembrance.  Our freedoms are secured and preserved by those that serve. This is our day to honor their sacrifice—and our loss.  Over the years, Hollywood hasn’t been half-bad at recounting the nobility and the pain of war’s cost. These movies are particularly moving—unforgettable films where the sense of loss on the silver screen is just sometimes overwhelming.

#7.  The Fighting Sullivans (1944).  They were five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa.  They all served on the cruiser USS Juneau. They all died on November 13, 1942, when the ship went down.  Their true story was lovingly told in this wartime drama. The film is often cited as an inspiration for the 1998 blockbuster hit Saving Private Ryan.

#6. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  John Wayne dies. Really? John Wayne never (well, almost never) dies.  Arguing he was too old when World War II broke out to make much of a contribution as a soldier, Hollywood’s biggest wartime star played patriotic heroes in a number of films. In this movie, Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) bravely leads men through some of the toughest fighting of the Pacific War.  On Iwo Jima, after taking over 26,000 casualties the Marines snagged the summit of Mount Suribachi. In the film, the battle won, Stryker’s platoon takes the spot right at the foot of the iconic raising of the American flag.  One of Stryker’s squad mates is distracted reading a letter from home. Sacrificing himself, Stryker throws his body across a grenade tossed at their feet.  The audience just gasps. Did that really just happen?

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Nerd’s Nerd Simon Pegg Renounces Geekdom, Rips on Comic Book Films

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Talk about dumping where you eat. Actor Simon Pegg, who has built a successful career on genre film and geek cred, has suddenly decided that he’s above it all. The Telegraph reports:

… he told Radio Times: …“Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!

“It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues.”

“Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk had a fight with a robot.”

Pegg, by the way, helped write the forthcoming third film the the rebooted Star Trek franchise, where he will reprise his role as chief engineer Montgomery Scott. He’s also rumored to have a cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year. It’s unclear how these gigs fit with Pegg’s new found philosophy toward “very childish things.” Perhaps that irony informed Pegg’s recent “clarification” referenced in the clip above.

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Pitch Perfect Beats Mad Max Opening Weekend

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

No one saw this coming. Going into the weekend, the conversation among film afficinados centered upon whether Mad Max: Fury Road had any chance of dethroning Avengers: Age of Ultron in the latter’s third week. As it turns out, neither film came out on top. Instead, audiences flocked to see Pitch Perfect 2, giving the a cappella comedy sequel a historic opening. It took $70.3 billion at the box office, more than the first film’s entire theatrical run. Variety reports:

The only comparable performance is “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” which opened with $54.9 million in 1999, more than the $53.9 million that the first spy satire generated during its domestic engagement…

It marks Elizabeth Banks’ feature film directorial debut and is the second-highest opening for a film by a female director, behind only Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which kicked off with $85.2 million last winter. It’s also the highest opening for a first-time feature film director, the biggest musical opening and the second-biggest PG-13 comedy opening in history.

Don’t feel bad for the boys. Mad Max and Avengers still came way with tens of millions of dollars each, the former boasting widespread critical acclaim and favorable audience reactions. The real tell will be in the drop off in box office receipts in these films’ second week.

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Avengers’ Cobie Smulders Takes on New Threat in Unexpected

Sunday, May 17th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Rare is the television actor who can successfully transition to a sustainable career in film. For every George Clooney, there’s a hundred David Schwimmers.

Cobie Smulders, who got her start on television and was once best known for her role on How I Met Your Mother, has been taking a run at it. Having played S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Smulders has a couple bigger roles in smaller films coming out this year.

One of her forthcoming projects is Unexpected, for which the first trailer recently dropped. Smulders plays a school teacher who becomes unintentionally pregnant and struggles with how to adjust. Her story parallels that of a black female student in the same predicament.

What themes ultimately emerge from the film remain to be seen. However, the trailer suggests an honest and forthright portrayal of how pregnancy changes lives, and how such unexpected change defines the human experience.

There doesn’t seem to be an agenda here, which proves refreshing. Bypassing debate of abortion, the film appears to deal with how the choice to bear and raise a child must proceed from a desire to do so, even if that desire proves conflicted.

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Will The Intern Defy Hollywood, Promote Class and Business?

Thursday, May 14th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Marketers craft movie trailers to sell tickets, not necessarily to accurately portray what the movie will be. With that in mind, the above glimpse of a new film starring Anne Hathaway promises some refreshing themes.

Hathaway plays the young founder and CEO of a company based in New York. She takes on an intern played by Robert De Niro, who turns 72 in August.

You might expect such a premise to rest upon cheap age jokes. Certainly, those seem to abound. However, the surprising element here is a genuine respect for age, experience, and classy demeanor. The trailer suggests that something has been lost in the past couple generations of men, something which we ought to consider reclaiming.

The trailer also suggests that the film will portray entrepreneurship in a positive light. That’s something rarely found in Hollywood these days.

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Sure, the Black Widow Action Figures Are Sexy, But Little Girls Still Want the Princess Fantasy

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

As if Joss Whedon weren’t in enough hot water along with the rest of the Marvel folks for not producing a Black Widow movie series, Disney adds the icing onto the sexist cake by rewriting Avengers: Age of Ultron to promote a new Captain America toy. That heroic motorcycle ride Black Widow took to save the day in the film? Captain America is the spokesman of choice to sell the Cycle Blast Quinjet. So much for the Widow’s most heroic on-screen moment yet.

At least I’m not the only one wondering where the Black Widow action figure is amidst all the Ultron marketing. Thanks to Disney/Marvel’s woeful lack of attention to a major on-screen character, entire websites have been created to “follow the symbolic annihilation of women through merchandise.” The main assertion is that Disney has “never” been good at marketing “non-Princess” or warrior-Princess (think: Leia) female characters through the toy market.

Which begs the question, why doesn’t Disney think female action figures will sell? Let’s not fool ourselves (like the ideologues do) into thinking this is about being anti-feminist. This is about money. If a toy company thinks a product will earn money, they’ll sell it. According to a 2005 MIT study on toys and gender, children prefer stereotyped masculine or feminine toys, a trait that extends to “young nonhuman primates.” An examination of the packaging and marketing of these toys determined that boys preferred aggressive, competitive toys like action figures, while girls aimed towards attractive, nurturing toys like Barbie or baby dolls. In other words, the historical biological roles of hunter/gatherer and birthing/nesting, by and large, still manifest as the preferred respective fantasies of children of both genders.

If contemporary feminists want to market a Black Widow action figure to girls, they’d better quit grumbling and follow Marvel’s suit in characterizing her as the nurturer and “mother” of the Avengers. They’d also be wise to take a cue from Time Warner’s DC Entertainment and Warner Brother’s Studio, who have paired up with toy makers Mattel and Lego to create a colorful line of attractive teen female superheroes to market to today’s young female toy buyers. Let’s face it: Black Widow’s black jumpsuit is sexy, but hardly appealing to a five year-old girl.

Forget about textbook ideologies. When it comes to sales, the customer is the only one who is always right.


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Johnny Depp’s Daughter to Make Ghostly Film Debut

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Lily Rose Depp, daughter of Hollywood royalty Johnny Depp, will make her feature film debut alongside Natalie Portman in a forthcoming paranormal period film by French director Rebecca Zlotowski. From Variety:

Although plot details are kept under wraps, Zlotowski told Variety that the film [title "Planetarium"] follows the journey of sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to connect with ghosts. They cross paths with a visionary French producer while performing in Paris.

The political context of “Planetarium” will have a modern resonance with the current crisis and rise of extremism in Europe. The character of the producer is freely inspired by Jewish producer Bernard Natan, one of the biggest French film industry figures of the ’20s and ’30s, who eventually died in Auschwitz.

Depp thus debuts in grand fashion, surrounded by talent with provocative material. But as other father-child relationships have demonstrated, Hollywood nepotism can only get an actor so far. We’re looking at you Jaden Smith. Eventually, the favored child needs to stand on their own merits. We’ll see what Lily Rose has to offer around this time next year.

lily rose depp

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Clint Eastwood’s Ten Directorial Triumphs

Saturday, May 9th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

In his eighties, Clint Eastwood directed the biggest money-maker he has ever been associated with, American Sniper. Modeling himself on his mentor Don Siegel, Eastwood gradually evolved from a meat-and-potatoes genre director to a consummate craftsman and the maker of some true artistic triumphs. Let’s look back at the ten best he’s ever helmed.

10 White Hunter, Black Heart (1990). One of Eastwood’s stranger offerings was this project about the making of The African Queen and its director, John Huston, who in the film is fictionalized, called “John Wilson” and played by Eastwood. Eastwood’s attempts to recreate Huston’s peculiar lockjaw are mixed, but White Hunter is a worthy inquiry into the nature of obsessive artistry and the relationship between an artist’s personality and the caliber of his work.

9. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Eastwood began to explore his sensitive side with his portrayal of an honest farmer and family man who turns into a ruthless desperado after the murder of his wife and child. Classic Eastwood motifs such as barroom showdowns and wickedly barbed one liners (such as “Buzzards gotta eat too,” said over the body of a dead man who doesn’t deserve a burial) are laid over an unusual political foundation, about the pointless savagery at the end of the Civil War, when marauding bands of pro-Union “Red Legs” lay waste to civilian homes. Josey Wales explains in his climactic parley with a Comanche chief that despite dealing death for most of the movie he believes in tolerance, his “word of life.”

8. Sudden Impact (1983). Eastwood rejuvenated the Dirty Harry franchise with this fourth entry, in which Callahan tangles with a gang of rapists yet has an uneasy relationship with one of their victims (Sondra Locke), who shares Harry’s approach to violent criminals. Although some of the film’s themes were approaching cliche at this point, it’s still a highly entertaining action picture that deserves to be remembered for more than its signature one liner (cited by President Reagan in the course of promising to veto tax hikes), “Go ahead, make my day.”

WATCH: Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day scene:”

7. The Gauntlet (1977). A Phoenix cop (Eastwood) sent to Las Vegas to bring back a “nothing witness” — a prostitute (Sondra Locke) — is slowly revealed to be a witty reversal of Dirty Harry. This cop thinks he was hired because he was the only man who could do a tricky job. In fact he got the nod because he’s perceived to be dumb and incompetent, a lazy drunk who is not expected to survive a battle with the Mob and corrupt cops in both states who want the hooker dead before she can testify against them.

6. High Plains Drifter (1973) A very Eastwood-y twist on High Noon: An entire town is culpable when a lawman gets whipped to death while the residents look on, and the entire town will suffer the consequences. Eastwood plays a mysterious stranger, a ghost or an avenging angel of the dead man, who rides into an Old West village and is hired to take down the three outlaws who murdered the marshal and are about to get out of jail. The apocalyptic touch — the Stranger orders the town literally painted red, with a sign reading “Welcome to Hell” posted to greet the returning desperadoes — gives the film a stern, pitiless sense of evil that must be punished.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron Spoilers Review

Friday, May 8th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Warning: This is a spoilers review. Plot details from Avengers: Age of Ultron will be discussed openly. Only continue if you have seen the film or don’t care about having the story spoiled.

It’s been a solid week since the theatrical release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that we’ve seen the film and had a bit of time to digest it, let’s talk through its pros and cons and give it an overall score.


Relentless Cinematic Action

The first Avengers spent its first act getting the band together. We didn’t see them fighting as a team until their climactic battle in New York. This time around, the fighting starts from the opening scene. The gang’s all here and working relentlessly to storm the stronghold of Hydra’s mad scientist, Baron Strucker.

The pace rarely lets up from there, offering some of the most kinetic comic book action ever put to screen. Indeed, there may be no other film which has so perfectly portrayed what comic books can only suggest through still images.

There’s probably as much destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron as we saw in Man of Steel. But unlike the latter, we never grow fatigued or lose our capacity to care.

Character Development

For the most part, Avengers: Age of Ultron continues to showcase writer/director Joss Whedon’s uncanny ability to juggle a large ensemble of characters without making the screen feel crowded. For the most part, each team member gets their due.

The most notable development surrounds the non-super-powered characters. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was arguably underutilized in the first film, gets much love this time out. We learn that he has a family. We get to meet them. We also deal directly with Hawkeye’s mortality and vulnerability alongside a pantheon of gods.

Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff likewise addresses her role on the team. Arguably the most popular Marvel character without a standalone film, and certainly the most prolific, the Black Widow reveals some of her veiled backstory in an effort to relate to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk-harboring Dr. Banner.

“Still think you’re the only monster on the team?” she asks after divulging one of her past’s darker details.

Advancing the MCU Mythology

In ways both large and small, Avengers: Age of Ultron advances both the character arcs of its main players and the overall mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, what has come before directly triggers what happens here and leads naturally to what we know comes later.

In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark dealt with the trauma of events endured in the first Avengers film. Never let it be said that an alien army pouring through an interdimensional rift won’t shake up even the most alpha of males. One thing this cinematic universe has done very well is meld wildly different styles into a larger whole. But that doesn’t mean a relatively normal human being reliant upon technology won’t balk at extraterrestrial horrors.

That fear and apprehension drives Tony to take drastic and risky measures in this film. The villainous artificial intelligence Ultron is born of that effort in an attempt to protect humanity from threats like the alien Chitauri. Obviously, that attempt went very wrong and produced a greater threat in Ultron, which leaves us to wonder how these events will inform the conflict between Stark and Captain American in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

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The Avengers Pose the Greatest Argument Against Government Control: Motherhood

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Spoiler alert!

Don’t let the contemporary feminists fool you with their whining about Black Widow’s lack of star power. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow had the most powerful dialogue in the new release, Avengers: Age of Ultron. For the first time, movie audiences learn of her past as a Soviet agent trained from childhood. They also learn the most devastating aspect of being raised to kill: forced sterilization framed as a graduation rite of passage.

“It’s supposed to make it easier for you to kill,” she explains wistfully. The psychology behind training a school full of girls to become Soviet agents? Their biological mothering instincts must be destroyed if they are to be efficient and effective servants of the State. Now, Natasha the Black Widow can only celebrate vicariously as friends give birth to children and name them in her honor. The State may have marred her biology, but the permanent scars are in her mind and her heart.

Contemporary feminists complain that Black Widow is the mother of the group, but never bother asking why, because their politics force them to be completely out of touch with statistical reality. Despite the vociferous demands for increased access to birth control methods ranging from condoms to abortions, 96% of women ages 18-40 still express a desire to have a child. Why, then, do they demand the State have greater control over their reproductive rights? As the case of the Black Widow illustrates, a demand for control is a contradiction in terms with potentially deadly results.

Also read: 

Avengers: Age of Ultron Spoilers Review

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Hollywood Reporter Uses Natalie Portman to ‘Sh*t on Israel’

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

In the wake of the right-wing victory in Israel’s most recent elections, a number of famous Israeli artists made news in the Jewish blogosphere for their anti-Netanyahu tirades. Apparently the Hollywood Reporter caught on to the trend and attempted to manifest it on this side of the ocean with Israeli-American star Natalie Portman.

One huge problem surfaces at the beginning of the interview. She’s not as bold as her Israeli counterparts. Despite her Harvard education and worldly upbringing, she manages to sound equal parts informed and ignorant on a variety of topics ranging from Israeli politics to French socialism. The confusion is intentional. This is how Hollywood actors get away with “being political” without saying anything politically relevant that could later come back to bite them. Appearing informed while remaining vulnerable is how best to win your audience, as Portman illustrates throughout:

She sits, ramrod straight, plunking her iPhone in the middle of the table and hit­ting “record” before she has said a word, as if challenging me to quote her with razor-sharp accuracy — which, I must admit, casts a pall over our conversation.

…On life with her husband, French ballet dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, 37, whom she met on the set of Black Swan in 2010 and married in 2012: “The disappointments are always in myself…”

…she’s been fearless in proclaiming her Jewishness, even though she now lives in a country where anti-Semitism is terrifyingly on the rise. I ask if Portman feels nervous about being Jewish in Paris. “Yes,” she says, “but I’d feel nervous being a black man in this country. I’d feel nervous being a Muslim in many places.”

[On Paris:] “I feel like this country has a lot of religion and a lot of freedom around that; and there, the religion is almost like love. Love and intellectualism is their sort of way.”

And the grand poobah of her collection of double-edged lingo: While she made it clear that she is “very much against Netanyahu,” she quickly clarified that she didn’t want her opinions to be used to “sh*t on Israel.” That was the beginning and the end of it. So much for “sounding off.”

I once celebrated a hardcore Israeli Leftist’s (pardon, the term is “Labor Zionist” which translates best into American English as “Socialist”) 60th birthday party by being growled at repeatedly by the party boy himself that, in no uncertain terms, I needed to “change my politics” as guests looked on in awkward confusion. The guy literally ruined his surprise party for me in the name of Labor Zionism. Portman’s problem? She lost her teeth when she left her homeland. J Street has no problem “sh*tting” on Israel at this point and they’re a bunch of American Jews in suits. The most controversial thing about this interview? A pot-stirring headline employed the same anti-Semitic ethos for which Hollywood has become all too well known.

So, Portman, so much for not being used to “sh*t on Israel.” Did you really think the folks in Tinseltown would give a crap about your little Israeli movie?

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Will We Ever See Robin in Another Batman Film?

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

It can be difficult to recall, particularly for those under the age of 30. But there was a time when mention of Batman evoked more laughs than reverence or awe, a time when the dominant cultural touchstone for the character was the 1960′s television show featuring Adam West as The Caped Crusader.

In those days, Batman came in a package deal with his teenage sidekick Robin. It was only after Frank Miller re-imagined the character as The Dark Knight, and after Tim Burton delivered his brooding and bloodied version to the big screen, that Robin was left by the wayside. The Boy Wonder’s popularity wasn’t bolstered by his subsequent appearances in the Joel Schumacher directed sequels Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

That said, could Robin work in a modern Batman film? AMC Movie News editor-in-chief John Campea offers insights in the clip above. In short, it could be done, but not without significant revisions to the classic portrayal of the character. You can’t have a grown man dragging a teenage kid into mortal danger. But you could have a variation on the relationship that fits with the gritty new DC Cinematic Universe.

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Boba Fett to Get Stand-Alone Film in 2018

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Director Josh Trank was set to direct the second stand-alone Star Wars Anthology film. Trank announced over the weekend that he is leaving the project.

Now we learn that the film in question will feature “an origin story” of the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. Readers may wonder how that will work, since we’ve already seen Fett’s origin in the prequel films. The crew over at AMC Movie Talk relate their confusion over the announcement in the clip above.

Up until this point, Disney’s reign over Lucasfilm has yielded promising signals. The recent trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was widely well-received. News of the first stand-alone film, titled Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One and starring Felicity Jones, has also been well-received. The departure of Trank under questionable circumstances coupled with a confusing premise for the second stand-alone film shows the first cracks in Disney’s facade.

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Confirmed: Indiana Jones Will Return

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Along with a bevy of casting details and new photos from the set Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a new Vanity Fair article confirms that a sixth Indiana Jones film will eventually be produced by the now Disney-owned Lucasfilm. Producer Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas heir under Disney’s watch, indicated that a sequel will happen.

Unfortunately, little is known beyond that. Will Harrison Ford return? Will the role be recast and the franchise rebooted? According to Kennedy, there is no script as of yet. So perhaps the creatives at Lucasfilm haven’t yet decided which route to take. Here’s hoping they choose wisely.

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Lambert and Stamp: The Men Who Made The Who

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Ed Driscoll


In 1979, The Who, at the peak of their career, released the documentary summing up the band’s first 15 years, The Kids Are Alright. As veteran rock critic Dave Marsh wrote in his 1983 biography of the group, Before I Get Old, published to coincide with the band’s “first” farewell tour that year:

Kids is one of the most anarchic documentaries ever assembled, running two hours without a shred of narration and with not so much as a subtitle identifying characters or dates. Kids was the perfect cult item, and Who fans flocked to it. Hardly anyone else did, however, so even though it remained a staple of the midnight movie circuit, part of every kid’s introduction to the verities of the Rock of Ages, the film had little impact outside of the Who’s cult. The Kids Are Alright is, nevertheless, one of the great rock and roll movies, capturing all of the Who’s sass and humor and taking the wind out of the band’s pomposity at each and every opportunity.

Naturally, Keith Moon stole The Kids Are Alright, which became a summation of his career as the Who’s anarchic drummer, who passed away nine months before its release, choking on an overdose of the pills he was prescribed to battle his alcoholism.

This year, filmmaker James D. Cooper released Lambert & Stamp, a documentary about the Who’s first managers, a film that can be thought of as the liner notes to The Kids Are Alright. If you’re a fan of the band, you owe it to yourself to see this film while it’s in the theaters (I saw it last night at a sparsely attended showing at the Camera 3 in San Jose), to get a sense of two men who did so much to shape the group in the 1960s. How much you know about the Who will shape how much you enjoy this new documentary, which is built around a lengthy series of interviews with Chris Stamp (1942-2012), the younger brother of veteran actor Terence Stamp (Superman II, Wall Street, The Limey), who also appears in the film, along with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Daltrey’s wife Heather, and other Who insiders.

Instant Party

The Who were one of the most unlikely of bands; Pete Townshend, art school devotee and later follower of Sufi mystic and guru Meher Baba, was essentially the timekeeper of the group, even though he was the rhythm guitarist. Keith Moon’s anarchic surf-music-inspired drumming provided brilliant percussive colors; but keeping time was not his metier; he was not a man in search of a simple backbeat on the 2 and 4. With his fluid single-note runs, John Entwistle was in many ways the band’s lead guitarist, despite being the bassist. And Daltrey, the founder and nominally the frontman of the group, was forced to fight for attention as singer as his three innovative sidemen roared away alongside him. Somehow it worked — brilliantly — in spite of themselves.

Similarly, Lambert and Stamp were the most unlikely of rock managers. They hadn’t really planned to be managers at all. Kit Lambert (1935-1981) was the son of composer/conductor Constant Lambert, who sought to make a name for himself in the shadow of his famous father, who died, as Wikipedia notes, in 1951 “two days short of his forty-sixth birthday, of pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes complicated by acute alcoholism.”

Britain didn’t legalize homosexuality until 1967; the upper-class Lambert was very much gay during that era. And the handsome, modish Stamp was equally aggressively heterosexual and working class, the son of a tugboat captain. The two originally didn’t want to be managers; after meeting while both were working at Shepperton Studios in the early 1960s, they were looking for the perfect rock group to feature in a documentary on the exploding British rock scene in the wake of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, when they stumbled into the Railway Hotel in Harrow where the Who were playing Motown songs to an overpacked room crammed mostly with hundreds of young Mod men. As the documentary explains, Lambert and Stamp were instantly convinced they had found the perfect group for their film; the band was instantly convinced they were the authorities, about to close down the gig as a fire hazard. While they did shoot some early footage of the group, Lambert and Stamp decided instead they’d rather be Brian Epstein than filmmakers, and quickly began managing the group.

Keith Moon brilliantly summed up the tone of the two men in the early days in his 1972 Rolling Stone interview:

Kit Lambert came to see us playing at the Railway ‘Otel in ‘Arrow. We had a meeting. We didn’t like each other at first, really. Kit and Chris. They went ’round together. And they were . . . are . . . as incongruous a team as we are. You got Chris on one hand [goes into unintelligible East London cockney]: “Oh well, f**k it, jus, jus whack ‘im in-a ‘ead, ‘it ‘im in ee balls an’ all.” And Kit says [slipping into a proper Oxonian]: “Well, I don’t agree, Chris; the thing is . . . the whole thing needs to be thought out in damned fine detail.” These people were perfect for us, because there’s me, bouncing about, full of pills, full of everything I could get me ‘ands on . . . and there’s Pete, very serious, never laughed, always cool, a grass-’ead. I was working at about ten times the speed Pete was. And Kit and Chris were like the epitome of what we were.

Lambert was a brilliant ideas man; he shaped The Who’s image as sharply-dressed mods, encouraged Townshend and Moon’s guitar and drum smashing, and hired a graphic artist to design The Who’s iconic “Maximum R&B” poster (a copy of which is hanging behind me in my home office as I write this). Lambert also moved Townshend into Lambert’s flat in the posh Belgravia section of London, giving the band a veneer of success far beyond what they were earning as working musicians. Meanwhile Stamp was largely funding the band’s early days via his work as a second assistant director on the Kirk Douglas WWII movie, The Heroes of Telemark.

Lambert fueled Townshend’s composing skills, convincing him to link together several short, incomplete songs into one nine minute number in 1966 called “A Quick One,” which the two called “their mini-opera,” and which Townshend credits for inspiring some of the ideas on Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles’ landmark concept album the following year. That album would go on to inspire the Who’s double album “rock opera,” Tommy, released in 1969.

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Vanity Fair Reveals Further Star Wars: The Force Awakens Cast Details

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Annie Leibovitz continued her legacy of photographing the cast and crew of forthcoming Star Wars films, this time capturing images from the set of The Force Awakens released on May the Fourth. The new pics confirm previous speculation that the actor behind Kylo Ren’s evil mask is Girls star Adam Driver. Academy award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o posed while made up for motion capture, indicating that her character will be computer generated.

Additional reports from a forthcoming Vanity Fair piece reveal that actress Gwendoline Christie lurks behind another mask, that of the chrome-plated stormtrooper scene in the recent trailer. Her character will be called Captain Phasma.

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Danger, Will Robinson! Director Dumped from Star Wars Reboot

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Josh Trank, slated to direct the second of the new Star Wars films from Disney, won’t be taking us to a galaxy far, far away after all. News reports declare he is out. At least one source claims Trank got trashed because he was, like with his forthcoming reboot of Fantastic Fourmoving away from the stock material and charting his own course.

Last month, Disney launched its effort to take over the Star Wars universe by making a big deal out of dumping  “digital” versions of the old films on the Internet. This sure looked like an effort to cash in on the mythology created by George Lucas in the original 1977 film rather than bring audiences something  fresh.  The release of the trailer for the first new Disney film, slated for later this year,  just confirmed that Disney looks like it wants to play it safe – and just cash the check.

When the world’s greatest “imagineers”  go all risk averse, that’s bad for the company. Walt Disney once said, “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”

Apparently, that virtue is lost on the suits.

Sure, letting directors run loose might crash and burn like the Death Star, but it would have been worth the risk.

Disney is passing up the opportunity to inspire a new generation with the vision to think bold. Instead, audiences will get to go where everyone has gone before.

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Suicide Squad: Has DC Gone Too Dark?

Monday, May 4th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Here’s your first look at the cast of the forthcoming Suicide Squad, the third film in the developing DC Comics cinematic universe scheduled to follow next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Styled by director David Ayer as “The Dirty Dozen with supervillains,” Suicide Squad will feature a gallery of B-list rogues who most moviegoers have probably never heard of.

The big name characters are Batman villains Joker and Harley Quinn, played by Jared Leto and Margot Robbie respectively. Deadshot, a lesser known Batman foil, will be played by Will Smith.

In the wake of Leto’s controversial reveal as a tattooed Joker, this new cast photo seems to confirm what might be termed a punk rock aesthetic. It’s certainly darker and less evocative of a comic book than the current run of Marvel films. From what we’ve seen so far, has it gone too dark?

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Princess Leia: The Hidden in Plain Sight and Left There Heroine

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015 - by Leslie Loftis


The second trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally sparked some excitement for me. I still wonder why the Force needed to “awaken” as supposedly that’s what it did at the end of Return of the Jedi, but still, fan girl glutton for punishment that I am, I want to be excited about this new movie. And so I will grasp at anything that gives me hope. And I’m not alone. From Fan Girls Going Rogue, comes this analysis of Princess Leia in Salon:

But I have always felt, keenly, that Leia was shortchanged by that original trilogy. Her story of torture at the hands of the man who turns out to be her biological father is conveniently backgrounded; her trauma at seeing her planet blow up, at the hands of her father, is similarly ignored. Leia has a story that is never told—a princess who turns out to be adopted, who chooses to make her life about resistance instead of acquiescence. When Luke first meets Leia, she is making flirtatious wisecracks in a prison cell, following her life’s total devastation, to a man wearing a Stormtrooper’s uniform. There is so much written there that is never given voice, a story of a woman who is at the very end of her rope.

I concur with the qualification that Leia didn’t start out as an afterthought.

The characters’ backstory and strengths were often left unstated in the first two movies. This was one of the things that made Star Wars and Empire great. They effectively implied character, most notoriously in the Han Shot First debacle.

When George Lucas decided that Han shooting Greedo before Greedo could fire made beloved Han too harsh, fans wailed because it is the small moments, often the ones that pass without comment that allow us to define a character.  The original scene in the cantina told us volumes about Han’s character. It said that he wasn’t a straight up nice guy. He was decisive, calculating.  He looked out for himself, perhaps to a fault. And he wasn’t stupid. What idiot would let the baddie take the first shot at close range? Beyond changing Han’s character, the edit also flattened his character arc.  The more you make him warm and fuzzy at the beginning, the less it pulls at your emotions when he comes barreling in to shoot Vader off Luke’s tail. We expect second-shot, nice Han to join the fight over the Death Star.  (We might wonder if he will miss the shot, so I guess we should be thankful that some dramatic tension remains.)

The same holds for all of the Leia moments. But unlike Han and Luke, her story never closes. Like Saraiya at Salon, this has bothered me for years. I wrote it up in an underrated heroines piece here a few years ago:

The anonymous twin sister of Luke Skywalker and daughter of Darth Vader, Princess Leia is a young Galactic senator dedicated to ridding the Star Wars universe of intergalactic imperialism.

Seasoned, gray-haired generals take instruction from her not because of her physical prowess or her political position, which has no more force as neither her world nor the Galactic Senate exists any longer, but because of her smarts, endurance, dedication, and sacrifice. She possesses super powers, but she doesn’t know that she has them, much less how to use them. Furthermore, while Lucas kept it vague to maintain his PG rating, the floating needle, a lovers’ kiss, a disgusting lick, and a metal bikini all hint at rites of passage or horrible violations. Lucas did not exempt her from the vulnerabilities of womanhood.

She endures and overcomes these challenges of state and sex without tapping into anything more than her own courage. Princess Leia should hold a more vaunted place in the heroine pantheon considering the iconic popularity of Star Wars. I used to think she didn’t get her due praise because Lucas did not understand her character, admitting in one of the many “making of” shows that when he was writing the final confrontation between Luke and Vader he had not yet worked out “the significance of the sister.” I’ve also suspected that Carrie Fisher playing Leia while in the bowels of heroin addiction hampered her ability to bring much power to the part by Return of the Jedi. Neither helped the character, but I think if she punched Han or sliced Jabba up rather than strangling him, we’d have more respect for her.

Lucas didn’t bother to close her story. The Extended Universe tried, but unlike many fans, I thought they failed. There were a few exceptions, Death Star, Tatooine Ghost, and the more recent Razor’s Edge. The nadir was The Courtship of Princess Leia, a truly awful bit of storytelling. But usually, the authors turned Leia into a modern everywoman who just happens to be in space. That is merely a setting change and far, far less interesting than an examination of how the rules of the far, far away galaxy effect a heroic soul.

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The Downton/Star Wars Mash-Up You Have to See

Friday, May 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Actor Rob James-Collier plays the evil butler Thomas on Downton Abbey, but in real life he must be quite the sweetie. He wrote and shot an entire Downton/Star Wars mashup on his iPhone in order to raise money for MS research. Episode One is available for free, but to watch more you have to donate to his cause at evilbutler.com.

What makes the idea so genius, apart from it being a mash-up of two mega-hits produced by a big star? Quite frankly, it’s funny. It’s also a bit nostalgic for us Gen-X/Millennial crossovers who spent their weekends making camcorder movies with friends. To his credit, James-Collier made the most of his pocket digital technology, even being sure to hold the camera correctly to avoid that awful Apple-trademarked rectangle framing that drives any film aficionado mad. Be sure to watch for the occasional boom mic or PA dropping into frame. The off-camera giggles are a great reminder that Thomas is really a fun guy after all. And, in the end, it’s quite the cute handcrafted production, offering fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the sets and the actors spoofing a beloved pop culture sensation, just like one of us.

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6 Sci-Fi Movies that Ought to Be a Series

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

HBO is already hyping its soon-to-launch original series based on the 1973 sci-fi thriller Westworld. And now Galaxy Quest, Hollywood’s hilarious 1999 send-up of Star Trek, is slated to become a series. It’s a trend!

Sadly, experience suggests we keep our expectations low for both efforts. Science fiction rarely translates well from the silver screen to the small screen. Case in point: Planet of the Apes. The original 1968 movie was awesome. The TV version was awful.

Most TV adaptations fail because they never move beyond the original premise of the film.  A successful transition to a series requires both an engaging plot that travels beyond the starting storyline and engrossing characters who continue to evolve as the tale unwinds. This formula can work, but studios need to pick better material.  Here are six films that are strong enough to be made into viable series.

#6 The Thing (1982). This film is a re-imagining, not a remake, of the 1951 original. An alien shows up at a remote arctic ice station, devours the occupants and assumes their shape. This freaks out the remaining survivors who spend the rest of film trying to parse co-workers from gruesome monsters. (A 2011 sequel was a dud, failing to build on the originality of the previous films.) For the series, let the monster go global, and show us how people in different climates and cultures approach the challenge of containing the contagion. And, let’s get some insight into the alien, too. How and why did he come to Earth? And what’s the plan for after he’s eaten everyone?

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Red Dawn is Real! Beijing’s Invasion Has Already Started

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

China Maybe Taking over Our Internet

By James Jay Carafano

Remember when Hollywood folded? The suits switched the faux invaders in the Red Dawn  remake to North Korea. Beijing wasn’t happy being cast as the villain invading the USA.

Except, people are still wonder if Red China really is the bad guy?

Hauwei, China’s massive global telecom giant just rolled out its new smartphone to compete with Apple and Samsung.

Nobody really sees that as much of a threat. Between them, Apple and Samsung own more than half the global market. Hauwei has a cool video,  but less than five percent of the market.

On the other hand, Hauwei sells a lot of the stuff the Internet is run on. That raises big concerns. The company doesn’t sell that stuff here. But they are doing business big time in Canada and Mexico. Isn’t that just a backdoor into the US cyber-infrastructure? Who wants the Red Dawn running our Internet?

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Future of Fifty Shades Going Down in “Ball of Flame”

Monday, April 27th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

“This thing is a ball of flame crashing down to earth.” Such was the recent assessment of AMC Movie News editor-in-chief John Campea regarding the future of the Fifty Shades franchise.

Adapted from the controversial sadomasochistic novel by author E.L. James, the film Fifty Shades of Grey met with commercial success when released earlier this year. Money-making aside, few argue that the movie offered much in the way of narrative quality.

Prompting Campea’s pronouncement was news that future Fifty Shades films will be written by James’ husband, Niall Leonard. That news seems to confirm previous reports that the first film’s creative team clashed with the book’s author over control.

Of course, the open secret here is that narrative quality doesn’t really matter. No one watches porn for the story.

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