Tag Archives: movies

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Spider-Man: Far From Home and What’s Making Us Happy

Tom Holland gets some enhanced screening from Giada Benedetti. (Columbia)

Host Linda Holmes is off promoting her already New York Times-bestselling debut novel Evvie Drake Starts Over this month, so Glen and Stephen handled the hosting chores on PCHH this episode, with Mallory Yu and me in chairs three and four to talk about Spider-Man: Far From Home. It is the eighth movie by volume with the proper noun “Spider-Man” in the title since 2002. (For more important data analysis, see my NPR review of the movie.)

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Deleted Scenes: On Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Benicio Del Toro;Isabela MonerSpoiler for Sicario: Day of the Soldado, which is the Denis Villeneuve/Roger Deakins/Emily Blunt/Daniel Kaluuya-free sequel to the very good 2015 drug war thriller Sicario. Late in the movie, Josh Brolin, reprising his role as a C.I.A. black-ops guy from the first movie, is ordered to kill a 16-year-old girl—an unarmed noncombatant who is the daughter of a drug kingpin but not a criminal herself. There’s more to it than that, but that’s all I’ll say just in case you feel compelled to see the film, which I do not endorse.

Anyway, I talked about that scene in my review, which went into production in November 2016, the same month we elected a president who said on TV during the campaign that if you want to stop terrorists, “you have to go after their families.” Given that Day of the Soldado opens with a scenario wherein Muslim suicide bombers are believed to have snuck into the United States across the Mexican border (though they’re later revealed to have been American citizens from New Jersey), I believe this plot element was directly inspired by the current president’s campaign rhetoric
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Putting the “All” in All Things Considered: Can Wonder Woman Find a Superhero Theme That Sticks?

WONDER WOMAN

Here we are in Year Ten of the Marvel Cinematic Era, and not one piece of music has emerged from any of the two dozen films based on Marvel characters (released by Marvel Studios and others) that can rival John Williams’ mighty score for Superman: The Movie or even Danny Elfman’s brooding Batman theme.

For years I’ve wondered why this is. But only two days ago did I at last get to ask someone who might know. On today’s All Things Considered, I speak with Rupert Gregson-Williams, who composed the score for director Patty Jenkins’ fine Wonder Woman. You might even hear a cameo by one of the most venerable heroes of the National Public Radio universe, the great Bob Mondello.

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Hear Me Threaten the Life of Co-Host Josh Larsen on Last Week’s Filmspotting!

Hamilton Biehn CameronThe Terminator is one of my favorite movies. When my Windy City pals Adam Kempenarr and Josh Larsen announced the other week that they would make writer-director James Cameron’s low-budget, high-concept sci-fi classic the subject of one of their “Sacred Cow” reviews, I knew that the likelihood that Josh—a critic who generally seems to dislike action films, with the bizarre exception of the Fast & the Furious franchise, which to me represents the genre at its most derivative and least inspired—would rain on it. He hates Predator, people! Predator! A film I saw last year at the Library of Congress!

So I took action. To paraphrase Al Capone, you can get farther with a kind word and a quote from The Terminator than you can with a kind word alone. And the threatening voice mail I left for Josh opened last week’s episode.
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Why Any Viewing of the 148-Minute SPECTRE Now Takes at Least Three Hours

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I suppose if you haven’t seen SPECTRE (or at least Skyfall) and Hail, Caesar! (or at least one of its trailers) this won’t make much sense to you.

The Future Is Not Set: A Terminator Dossier

A T-800 goes shopping for some clothes at the Griffith Park Observatory, May 12, 1984. Recognize the guy with the spiky blue hair?

I haven’t seen the by-all-accounts underwhelming Terminator: Genisys yet, because since I’ve been busy being a “Critic Fellow” at the one-of-a-kind Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in the wilds of Connecticut. But I did indulge in some quippy dramaturgy on the wandering-ronin Terminator franchise, for NPR.

The Fault Not in Our Stars: San Andreas, reviewed.

Magic Fingers

I went with my friend and colleague Heather to see San Andreas, and we felt saw the Earth move. That the film really seems not to notice that its fireman chopper-pilot hero is a deserter and a thief is part of the fun. My NPR review, which opens with a discussion of the 1974 Universal Pictures release Earthquake — written by Mario Puzo the same year as The Godfather, Part II! — is here. Continue reading

Don’t Fence Me, Vin: Talking Furious 7 on Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small-Batch Ed.

script-scoop-brian-o-conner-to-retire-in-fast-and-furious-7-74101_1These are indeed Strange Days we’re living in when my delightful friend Linda Holmes appreciates an action picture more than I do. We have each of us seen only the latter-day installments in the unaccountably resilient Fast & Furious franchise – those would be Nos. 6 and 7, the ones we watched together – which did not deter us from debriefing on the new Furious 7 in a small-batch session Pop Culture Happy Hour, which you can hear here.

Linda loves it. I like it, too, though I have some reservations. (My Travel Channel TV show is actually called Some Reservations. Call your cable operator.) Continue reading

What the Movies Taught Us About World War II Aviation

I wrote this fun piece for my day job. It appears in our May 2015 issue of Air & Space / Smithsonian, now on sale at Barnes & Noble and other fine booksellers and newsstands, as well as the National Air & Space Museum. It’s our 70th anniversary of V-E Day issue, which – because it’ll be out in time for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover on Friday, May 8th (the actual anniversary) – includes pull-out Spotter Cards you can use to identify the silhouettes of the two dozen vintage warbirds that’ll be buzzing over your head a few minutes past noon if you come down to the National Mall on that day. Continue reading

Can of Wormholes, or Accretion Discography: My Interview with Kip Thorne, Interstellar Progenitor and Scientific Adviser

INTERSTELLARFor my day job at Air & Space / Smithsonian, I interviewed Kip Thorne, the theoretical physicist who, along with his friend the movie producer Lynda Obst, conceived the film Interstellar back in 2006. Thorne remained closely involved with the picture throughout its writing, production, and editing, and has now published a 324-page companion to the film called The Science of “Interstellar” laying out his scientific rationalization for every aspect of its story — even the Love Tesseract Wormhole.

DUH: Don’t read this interview if you intend to see Interstellar but haven’t yet.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: More Hobbits and Christmas Music

In "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor gets militarized.

In “Terminator 2,” onetime victim Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) gets militarized.

Thanks to Pop Culture Happy Hour full-timers Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and host Linda Holmes for inviting me back on the podcast this week to talk about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and a subject closer to my heart than that one, Christmas music. Have I mentioned that I’m very interested in Christmas music?

Our dissection of that enervating Hobbit movie feeds into a discussion of second installments, and some of the ones that really work. If you haven’t seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day in a while, there’s no time like the present, Christmas T-minus five. Continue reading

Shock and Law: Keegan Theatre’s A Few Good Men, reviewed

Few Good Men Keegan

Ubiquitous director Jeremy Skidmore‘s tenacious production of A Few Good Men, the play that gave us Aaaron Sorkin, cuts a dashing figure in its dress whites. Reviewed in this week’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away for free.

Making-of documentary The Furious Gods reveals the people who actually made Prometheus had no idea WTF, either.

Because I routinely make terrible decisions about how to spend my ever-dwindling supply of time on Earth, I paid $24.99 (50% of MSRP) for the four-disc, 3D Blu-Ray edition of Prometheus, a film I’d harbored huge hopes for but ultimately found disappointing. A Ridley Scott film, in other words.

​I don’t have the gear or the inclination to watch a 3D movie at home, but the deluxe set that includes the 3D version of Prometheus (along with the plain-Jane 2D in three different formats, because what price piece of mind?) is the only way to get The Furious Gods, a three-hour, 40 minute (!) making-of documentary by Charles de Lauzirika, a nonfiction filmmaker whose insightful, well-edited making-ofs for similarly lavish reissues of Scott’s only two great films — all together now, Alien and Blade Runner — have already claimed many irreplaceable hours of my life.

​I’ve yet to make it all the way through the documentary. It’s long, sure, but actually it’s longer, because I’ve been watching in “enhanced mode,” meaning that when an icon appears at the top of the screen I can press a button on my remote and watch an “enhancement pod” — a video footnote, basically — containing even more nerdily trivial information about whatever specific aspect of the film’s conception and production is being discussed at that moment.

When Scott talks about casting original Dragon Tattoo Girl Noomi Rapace in the movie, you can watch her screen test. When production designer Arthur Max reflects on the creation of the movie’s titular spacecraft (which was still called the Magellan for a long time, did you know, even after the Untitled Alien Prequel acquired the name Prometheus), you can click through dozens of drawings and schematics of the ship, which I think that all of us regardless of our political differences can agree is fucking rad. You can even watch an enhancement pod about the film’s many rejected titles. Alien: Tomb of the Gods, anyone? Continue reading

Wherein I return to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and everyone attempts a Schwarzenegger impression except me.

James Bond, in DR. NO (1962) and SKYFALL (2012).

I was delighted to appear on Pop Culture Happy Hour again last week. (Listen here, you.) The show’s A-topic was movie action heroes, inspired by the publication of Arnold Schwarzengger‘s memoir Total Recall (which I’d only half-read prior to taping, on account of its 624-page girth and the fact I’m reading it in tandem with Salman Rushdie‘s equally substantial memoir Joseph Anton) and, I thought, Taken 2 (which I haven’t seen, and won’t, unless it turns up on Encore Action at 11:30 p.m. on a Tuesday eight months from now).

If they’d asked anyone but me to come discuss this topic, I’d have been crushed like Sarah Connor crushed the T-800’s microprocessor-controlled hyperalloy endoskeleton in a hydraulic press.

It turns out that the first half of Arnold’s book is a lot less annoying than the second half.

Happily, Taken 2 did not come up at all.

624 pages!

I’d come prepared to talk about the evolution of the cinema action hero: How the men (usually) of violence, reluctant or not, whose adventures fill seats around the world grew out of a conflation of the gangster pictures that dominated the 1930s and the westerns of the 40s and 50s. In 1962, James Bond arrives onscreen; by 1969, Bond one-timer George Lazenby is watching Telly Savalas (in his sole appearance as one of the series’ recurring characters, cat-loving Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld) break his neck on a low tree limb during the film’s climactic fight atop a bobbing bobsled (!) and observing, “He’s branched off!” Continue reading

Whatever privations and disappointments I have endured in this inconstant life, they have all been vindicated this day.

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A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations: On “Go ahead, make my day.”

Too much sugar in his coffee. From 1983’s “Sudden Impact.”

Clint Eastwood‘s dotty speech at the Republican National Convention was depressing on a number of levels. The least of them being that he croaked out the wrong Dirty Harry catchphrase. I plead my case in the City Paper.

Faux REALS: On the Longevity of the Longjohn-Wearing Hero

“…but brother, there are days when I wish I was Plastic Man or the Flash or one of those happy-go-lucky bozos.”

I wrote about Gwydion Suilebhan‘s new superhero play REALS this week, taking his provocation that “Superhero films are bad for you” as a jumping off point for talking about, well, superhero films.

Not quite 10 years ago, I spent the better part of a year trying to write one. It was called Hero Complex, and it was about a guy who becomes convinced he’s the illegitimate son of The Gryphon, the mightiest hero around. I was aiming for a bittersweet comedy with touches of doomed romance and magical realism. I pitched it to my professor and fellow students in my screenwriting program as “a Wes Anderson superhero movie.”

I wrote two full drafts and many more first acts. I had a version where my hero was in his early 20s and unattached, and a version where he was 40 and married with kids. Neither was very good, but there was a scene here, a line there, that I thought might be worth saving.

Then The Incredibles came out. That’s not a film that bears much resemblance to my description of the one I was trying to sweat into existence, but at the time it felt close enough to make me throw up my hands. I loved The Incredibles. I felt certain my screenplay would never get to be that good, no matter how many night and weekends I sacrificed to it on the altar of my crumb-covered, coffee-stained keyboard. Continue reading

SILVERDOCS: On Joe Papp in Five Acts

Joseph Papp, 1921-1991

Man, I really miss going to SILVERDOCS. I don’t think I’ve been since 2009, maybe 2008. Late June has always been a crunch for me since I started handling the City Paper’s coverage of the Capital Fringe Festival, which runs the last three weeks of July, back in 2010.

I did review a screener of one doc, Joe Papp in Five Acts, about the much beloved founder of New York’s Shakespeare in the Park and then The Public Theater.

Unnecessary Tributes: Die Hard with a Vengeance Is the Ultimate Summer Movie

“Shhhh, he’s saying we’re totally underrated.”

I’m a big admirer of Matt Singer‘s writing on film. Besides co-hosting the brilliantly titled Filmspotting SVU podcast — a streaming video-focused spinoff of Filmspotting, the long-running Chicago-based movies show I had the honor of appearing on a few times last year — he recently started Criticwire, a great blog about film criticism for Indiewire.

Each weekend, Matt sends a list of film critics a survey question and posts their responses the following Monday. I was thrilled to contribute for the first time to yesterday’s poll, on The Perfect Summer Movie. Almost every film I considered choosing for this honor did show up among the responses, suggesting strong generational (?) consensus on this issue. But I’m glad I went with a dark horse candidate. As always, I did a poor job of constraining my enthusiasm; Matt was kind to post an only slightly abridged version of my encomium — reproduced below in its breathless entirety — to Die Hard with a Vengeance. Continue reading

Studio Notes: The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

Jack Kirby’s cover for THE AVENGERS No. 1, 1963.

Last Tuesday night I saw The Avengers, which Hulk-smashed box office records IN THE FABULOUS MARVEL MANNER over the weekend. It wasn’t the summer tent pole movie I’m most anticipating this year; Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus and Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises both have it beat by some distance on that score. But I’ve enjoyed most of the prior Marvel Studios movies (except for the dreary Thor, and The Incredible Hulk, which I haven’t seen), and while I’m no scholar of the oeuvre of Joss Whedon, the television auteur who is now The Avengers‘s writer and director, I liked Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and his run as writer of The Astonishing X-Men comic book.

I have no particular affection for the source comics, the way I do with the various Batman and X-Men films, but I found the movie to be a very affable, funny, well-made early summer blockbuster.

Emphasis early. To my mind, the natural sequence in which summer action films should be consumed is salad in May, the slightly more substantial next course in June and the red meat in July. It’s been this way at least since 1991, when Hudson Hawk and The Rocketeer (both underrated) came out in May, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves followed in June, and the never-to-be-surpassed greatest summer blockbuster of them all, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, came out July 3. Please do not make fun of the way I experience the world.

Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right: Here in no particular order are a few of the specific things about The Avengers that really worked for me, along with a few that didn’t. Continue reading