Film & TV News: February 29

News

  • The Aussies cleaned up at the 88th Academy Awards last night, taking home a grand total of six for Mad Max: Fury Road. The Revenant and Spotlight won the bigger trophies, though, as did Brie Larson for Room and Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.
  • Major respect to Alicia Vikander for taking home a well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar, considering she was pivotal not only in The Danish Girl but also the supremely under-appreciated Ex Machina and the summer’s best popcorn flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E., all of which are from 2015. 2016 better watch out.
  • We somehow failed to recognize that the great Douglas Slocombe had passed away this year until the In Memoriam section of the Oscars rolled out. Slocombe is the man who lensed the likes of The Lavender Hill Mob and Raiders of the Lost Ark and had immense influence on how major motion pictures look today.
  • Best quote of the night goes to Oscar winner Charlize Theron, responding on the subject of the best part of the Academy Awards by simply saying “the hamburgers.” Also, Best Human Ever also goes to Charlize.

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Better Call Saul 2.2 – “Cobbler”

There’s nothing quite like a good ol’-fashioned Hoboken Squat Cobbler, amirite? You know what I’m talking about. A Full Moon Moon Pie. Seriously! Would I make this up?

If Bob Odenkirk isn’t TV’s Best Funnyman then he’s certainly #2, right behind the unstoppably hysterical Louis C.K. or the endlessly quippy Stephen Colbert. Odenkirk’s advantage is that few comedians are a part of something as brilliant as Better Call Saul, and “Cobbler” might be a microcosm of the entire series in terms of tone and humor/drama balance. The season opener “Switch” was great, pulling back for some breathing room after the comparatively cataclysmic events of “Pimento” and “Marco” and allowing Jimmy some Me Time to reflect on his epic sibling rivalry with Chuck. We didn’t see Chuck or Mike (aside from the in-episode recap of the ending of “Marco”) and it was a refreshing change of pace.

Happily, bringing those characters back in full didn’t shake up the feeling of changing pace, nor did it feel as if those characters are anything but vital to Better Call Saul. Saul is definitely a true blood brother to Breaking Bad in the sense that a minor-seeming character like Pryce or Gale Boetticher can become a crucial piece of the whole puzzle, but the heart and soul reside in the core cast. “Cobbler” felt more like a return to greatness than “Switch” because that core was out in full force.

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Man of Steel (2013)

Okay: let’s get linear.

The critical conversation surrounding Man of Steel has always been only moderately interesting at best, founded largely on qualms with Superman’s less-than-super demeanor and with the Metropolis-leveling final act of the film. There are no shortage of detractors who do their detracting based solely on Zack Snyder’s position in the director’s chair, which, okay, fine. I saw Sucker Punch in theaters. I hear you.

But that’s neither here nor there. Of all the labels to slap on Man of Steel — laudations and/or criticisms — the one we’re concerned with today is that of Most Non-Linear Time-Jumpy Superman Movie Ever Made. Yes, a high achievement, to be sure.

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Film & TV News: February 20

News

  • True Blood‘s Kelly Overton has been cast as the gender-swapped vampire-hunting Van Helsing in SyFy Channel’s newest series, which already sort of seems doomed for cancellation. Is anyone clamoring for more Van Helsing? Is the gender-swap just…because? Will Hugh Jackman appear as a grizzled old man in a hood on a lush island in the final moments, with Overton’s new heroine extending his old lightsaber to him in an offering of peace?
  • …okay, more sequel news. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has begun principal photography, and Pom Klementieff and Kurt Russell have officially been announced as new cast after a few months of likely rumors. Klementieff will be playing the scantily-clad comics character Mantis, and odds are Russell will be playing Big Papa Quill. Hopefully not scantily clad, though.

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Better Call Saul 2.1 – “Switch”

Jimmy McGill is at any given time more than Jimmy McGill. He’s Slippin’ Jimmy, the scam artist specializing in falling on black ice and selling fake Rolexes. He’s “Charlie Hustle”, according to Howard Hamlin, the scrappy upstart lawyer with an unparalleled relentlessness. Eventually he’s Saul Goodman, the best possible lawyer to have provided you’re guilty. And eventually, in a post-Breaking Bad world, he’s Gene, the manager of the Cinnabon in that mall in Omaha. All of these personalities share what would appear to be major character traits, primarily a highly-charged relationship to the local criminal underworld and a serious gift of gab.

It’s what they don’t share, the traits that Jimmy sheds like dead skin as he moves from label to label, that find purchase in “Switch”. The first season of Better Call Saul surprised pretty much everyone by having a real emotional core to support the wicked humor, something that brought it fully into the deserving company of Breaking Bad. “Switch” strengthened that connective tissue in an important way, in a sort of add-by-subtracting way, drew nearer to it by moving further away. It’s vital that Saul measure up to Bad, but it’s far more vital that Saul stand as a strong series unto itself.

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The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Spending my junior year of college abroad in Ireland has given me the incredible opportunity to travel across Europe fairly cheaply. I recently visited Paris for 67 euro. While I was there, of course, I visited the Louvre, the most famous art museum in the world, home to some of history’s greatest masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This surreal experience inspired me to read Dan Brown’s own masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code, knowing that nearly the entire first act of the novel takes place in the Louvre and employs a massive conspiracy theory involving Da Vinci’s work as a vehicle to drive the narrative. Having been abandoned by my friends — who had early flights the morning of our last day in Paris — and approximately 14 hours of alone time before my own flight, I sat down in a Parisian café and read the first 400-odd pages.

As far as Ron Howard’s film is concerned, I would like to dedicate this review to explaining how it so stupidly and unnecessarily diverges from the novel that it actually pisses me off.  To better capture the tone of my rage, I will examine each moronic decision to veer away from the book as it pops into my mind, rather than going in chronological order according to the film.

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Batman: The Animated Series 1.32 – “Beware the Gray Ghost”

As an animator with an undeniably strong sense of visual storytelling, it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to assume that Bruce Timm played with toys. Kids are kids, sure, and even the ones who don’t grow into animators with undeniably strong senses of visual storytelling still tend to love toys. But we might assume this love to be especially strong in the visual artists of the future, an unconscious recognition of the memorable facets of personality reflected in a color scheme or a suit or a pair of pointy black ears. Bruce, if you’re reading, feel free to comment with confirmation or denial of youthful toy-loving.

Whatever the case, the Timmverse is populated by designs from a toymaker’s dream. Classic characters — especially those most well-known rogues appearing in Batman: The Animated Series — get fresh, clear-eyed revivals, unmistakably cartoonish concepts that somehow mesh perfectly with the “Dark Deco” cityscapes of Gotham City. If you’re crafting miniature Batmans and Jokers and Riddlers and Catwomen for the kiddies to play with, both you and the kiddies are going to be happiest with the toys that look like Bruce Timm drawings. They’re simple, memorable, cohesive, and there’s nary a muddled line on any of the character designs. See for yourself.

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Film & TV News: February 5

News

  • By now you’ve heard that Joseph Fiennes has been cast as Michael Jackson in a series that is ostensibly both a comedy and about 9/11. In other news, Michael Cera will be playing Audrey Hepburn and Dakota Fanning has been cast as Gary Coleman. Samuel L. Jackson will meanwhile take on the role of everyone else in everything ever.
  • On the other end of the “gee, didn’t see that one coming” spectrum is a futuristic, gritty reboot of Zorro titled simply Z. Yes, really. The saving grace could be in the form of Jonas Cuaron as director, who will give us something special if he’s learned anything from his father Alfonso.
  • In the ever-expanding world of superhero adaptations, The Flash is set to cross over with Supergirl a few weeks from now, kinda-sorta-possibly bringing Kara Zor-El into the Arrow-verse. Who should play Batman in the Dark Knight’s inevitable appearance? How about Joseph Fiennes?

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The Human Stain (2003)

The Human Stain tackles a great many things, with racism and African-American struggles being only the largest of the many themes at play. The dehumanizing power of racism is an undeniable part of America’s past, but it was every bit as important a discussion in the early years of the new millennium when the film came out. It’s every bit as important now at the time of writing and will be every bit as important there, where you are, in the future, at time of reading. As with anything so powerful, so socially destructive, the cultural perception ebbs and flows with time and with provocation. Do we remember that dark past? Do we really? Do we hold a part of it in secret? These questions pry at Coleman Silk, our “hero”. Before we delve into Coleman it must be noted that The Human Stain (the novel) should be a mainstay of every contemporary African-American literature curriculum, and it was written by an Old White Jewish Guy.

That guy is Philip Roth, an author so prolific that it’s surprising so few of his works have been adapted to the screen. The long-gestating adaption of American Pastoral, arguably Roth’s most famous work, is now looking set for the year ahead with Ewan McGregor taking on directing and starring duties. And the adaptation of Indignation just played at Sundance a few days ago to positive reviews, too, so maybe we’re in for a bit of a Roth resurgence in the same way No Country for Old Men prompted a scramble to adapt the best stuff by Cormac McCarthy. Here in The Land of Hypothetical Roth Adaptations we’d cast Johnny Depp as the possibly-demented Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath’s Theater, so when that happens in real life just know that you heard it here first.

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Far and Away (1992)

At some indiscriminate point in the ’90s movie producers everywhere decided to simply stop caring about trying to get actors to do passable Irish accents. Can’t we try, begged writers and moviegoers and people from Ireland, at least try to make this sound accurate? We know it’s more appealing to have a major American beefcake rather than, say, an actual Irish guy playing the role of “actual Irish guy”, but can’t we spend the extra time/money to ensure this film won’t become a laughingstock in ten years, or five, or instantaneously? Please? Please?

Far and Away (1992)

We’ve charted a course backwards through movie time and discovered Far and Away to be one of the earliest and most egregious offenders. If not patient zero per se, Far and Away is effectively worse than the index case for presenting itself on the largest possible stage and thus spreading the Awful Irish Accent disease much more quickly. Prior to Far and Away a shitty accent was a shitty accent. After Far and Away, a shitty accent became a perfectly acceptable feature of a major blockbuster because Ron Howard and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman couldn’t be bothered to do better. Why should anyone else?

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