What even is the point of Loki in the Thor movies anymore?

[This post contains SPOILERS for Thor: Ragnarok]

Thor: Ragnarok is the best reviewed Thor movie by a longshot (as of this writing, its RT score sits at 93%). I found the film did a great job of infusing director Taika Waititi’s off-kilter sense of humor into a well-established cinematic brand. You can view my Periscoped thoughts on the film right here.

But one thing nagged at me: What even is the point of Loki in the Thor movies anymore?

While I didn’t think Thor was the greatest Marvel film, one thing it unquestionably accomplished is bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe its greatest villain: Loki. Hiddleston’s performance as Loki was charming but whiny, vicious but vulnerable. In other words, he was complex. Plus, the conflict between Loki and Thor was genuinely poignant — a Cain and Abel story played out against the massive backdrop of Norse/Marvel mythology.

Perhaps due to the MCU’s inability to consistently generate memorable villains (I dare you to use two adjectives to describe Malekith other than “evil”), the MCU films have clung to Loki as though he’s their lifeblood. He showed up as the villain in The Avengers, then appeared once more in Thor: The Dark World where he betrayed Thor, had a sad goodbye-death-scene, then somehow reappears later impersonating Odin.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor discovers Loki lounging around on Asgard as Odin. The two watch their father die, then end up in a crazy situation on the planet Sakaar where Loki again betrays Thor(!) before reuniting with him at the end to save Asgard. On a transport ship at the end of the film, Loki stands by Thor’s side as Thor leads Asgard’s people into the future.

At this point, I posit that Loki’s character has gone through so many twists and turns that it is impossible to attach any stakes to his position. One moment, he’s dead. The next, he’s alive. One moment, he hates Thor. The next, they are taking down Sakaarian guards like they’re playing a video game.

It’s a classic case of trying to extracting too many resources from one character, rendering their presence completely meaningless. I hope the MCU can work on its secondary character game a bit more (to some extent, Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, who never got his own film, is a pretty good example of what is possible). In the meantime, I’m sad that Loki seems to have befallen the same fate as Miley Cyrus.

‘Long Shot’ is a short Netflix doc about chance and happenstance

To explain the premise of Long Shot is to basically give away the entire plot. With that in mind, here is what the movie is about: Long Shot is a new Netflix documentary about the trial of Juan Catalan, who was wrongly accused of murder in 2003. Catalan was at a Dodgers game around the time the murder was said to have taken place, but had few ways of definitively proving his whereabouts. Desperate to solidify his alibi, his lawyer turns to an unconventional place: footage from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that just happened to be shooting at Dodgers Stadium that night.

Long Shot is that rare Netflix property that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The film, directed by Jacob LaMendola, is well shot and efficient with its interviews and b-roll. With a documentary this short (39 minutes, in this case), it can be challenging to have a broader takeaway from this story of near-catastrophe. But I did get one idea from this film that I haven’t been able to shake, and that is that we are all just one random decision away from complete and utter catastrophe befalling us.

What if Catalan had decided to watch the game at home that night? What if Curb decided to shoot only one take that night? What if the production assistant had chosen a different section of the stadium to shoot in? If any of these things had happened, Catalan might be serving a life sentence today.

It’s a mind-boggling idea to consider, and elevates this doc from “true crime” trifle to something more thought provoking.

My problems with ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen. Director Dennis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a film that is chock full of spectacular shots and breathtaking tableaus.

But for all that the film does to try to explore the nature of man’s relationship to technology, I was still left cold at the end. I didn’t leave the movie with chills (as I did when I saw the original Blade Runner earlier this week), nor with exuberant joy (as I did when I watched a blockbuster like, say, Spider-Man: Homecoming). I wanted to love it…but I didn’t. I try to grapple with my feelings about in this Periscope broadcast.

As I reflected more about the movie this morning, I wanted to quickly jot down some of my issues with the film. MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM FOLLOW: 

  • Freysa: I don’t think it’s a good sign when your film only gives a proper introduction to a seemingly major character when you are 2 hours and 20 minutes into a 2 hour and 45 minute long film. It reeks of either attempted serialization (i.e. crazy stuff we might see in the NEXT Blade Runner that will probably never come), or just plain bad storytelling. On that note…
  • Skins vs. Humans: At the end of the film, Freysa makes a big pitch to Joe: Come join our robot uprising. My response to this: Who gives a crap? The movie has done virtually nothing to establish the conflict between replicants and humans. While Blade Runners still exist and retire replicants with some regularity (memorably so in the opening scene of the film), we see virtually zero indication in populated areas that the human/replicant relationship is fraught with tension (exception: Other cops hate on Ryan Gosling’s character at the beginning of the film, and he has graffiti are on his door). How many replicants are even left? Do all humans hate them? Are there any replicant sympathizers? What level of danger does an uprising hold? None of these parameters are established in the film. As a result, I just couldn’t find it in myself to care about the stakes.
  • The very last shot: One of the things that makes the original Blade Runner so effective is the fact that we are on Deckard’s journey with him. We see virtually everything from his perspective. That’s why I think the last shot of that film is so great: Deckard has come full circle and realized some truth about his situation. Blade Runner 2049 tries to shift that focus onto Ryan Gosling’s character, Joe. And while the shot of him dying on the steps as snow falls on him is gorgeous, the last shot of Deckard and his child kind of left me in a weird place. Deckard himself doesn’t even appear until 2/3rds of the way through this film, but when he does show up, his journey seemingly supplants that of Joe. While I think many will love that last shot, I just didn’t like how it didn’t match the emotional arc of the majority of the film.

I know some people love this movie (see: Matt Singer’s review). I think it’s awesome that the writer/director tried to take the story in totally different directions than the first film. That said, a day later, I still don’t think I connected with it as well as I wanted to and I’m still trying to figure out why.

‘mother!’ review

This week on the Slashfilmcast, we are joined by Andy Signore, one of the Emmy-nominated hosts behind Screen Junkies, one of my favorite YouTube channels in existence. I watch Screen Junkies pretty religiously, and have been inspired by them in many of my online pursuits.

For months, we’ve tried to get Andy on my show (and me onto his, Movie Fights). Last night, we finally succeeded. I’m also happy with how this review turned out. If you’re interested in a pretty intense discussion about mother!, then check out our episode.

Halo Top’s brilliant new commercial

Halo Top has released a new ad online and it’s really something. Directed by Mike Diva and released on his YouTube channel, it’s creepy and unsettling and generally provokes a bunch of emotions I wouldn’t think you’d want associated with an awesome ice cream brand.

In an interview with AdWeek, Diva explains how the ad came together:

I guess the CEO has been a fan of my stuff for a while. He basically just said to me, “We already have enough commercials that explain why Halo Top is awesome. We just want something in your style that just grabs people’s attention.” I came back and pitched my idea in person. It’s one of those things where I felt like, if I just sent it to him over email, I would sound like a crazy person. I had to get in front of this dude and illustrate why it’s going to be funny. On paper, it just reads like it’s super dark, you know? I downloaded a text-to-speech app and kind of acted it out, and played the robot parts on my phone, so he would understand why it’s funny for the robot to say “Eat the ice cream” a bunch of times.

There’s also this later in the interview:

A lot of people are drawing comparisons to Kubrick and saying it’s a take on 2001: A Space Odyssey. That it’s a direct homage. I actually didn’t want that at all. I had reservations about shooting in the 14th Factory Space Odyssey set. I didn’t want people to associate it with Space Odyssey just because there’s a robot in it. We yanked out all the furniture and redressed the entire room to make it look as different as possible. But of course, we still ended up getting a lot of those comparisons.

To quote Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”

A festival of F Cinemascores

mother! debuted in theaters this weekend and it’s not only looking like it’ll be a lackluster box office opening, but the film has also received an “F” Cinemascore, indicating that general audiences did not connect well with the film.

Scott Tobias wrote a piece at The Dissolve (RIP) awhile ago tackling this very issue and proposing the concept of a film festival made up of only films that receive the F Cinemascore:

To me, what these cases reveal about CinemaScore is that it isn’t a metric of merit, but a barometer of comfort, with satisfaction on one end and estrangement on the other. But estranging qualities are qualities nonetheless, even if they break from expectation. The romantic comedies of Gerard Butler may be dull, deplorable, or some combination of the two, but they aren’t going to alienate people who unaccountably enjoy the romantic comedies of Gerard Butler. But when Killing Them Softly, a crime thriller starring Brad Pitt, forgoes action in favor of commentary on the 2008 financial crisis and election-year politics, it’s roundly rejected for the crime of cutting against the grain.

Movies with an F Cinemascore, if they’re not outright terrible, are usually at least interesting.

Thanks to Matt Singer for reminding me about this article.

Thoughts on Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’

I wrote up a piece at Slashfilm about my thoughts on mother!:

A poet and his wife live in a peaceful, idyllic home, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. While the woman is happy, the man begins welcoming strangers into their home and sharing his belongings, until the cost to his wife becomes unspeakably high.

This is the plot of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! which can be interpreted in many ways, but seems most obviously to be an allegory about the creation of the world, as told in the Christian Bible. I found the movie to be provocative, bold, and original, even as its basic conceit began to wear on me during the course of its two-hour runtime. This is a movie that will polarize people and cause some to walk out of theaters.  It’s also unlike most things we’ll see in at the mulitplex this year and for that, I’m grateful.

Also worth reading: Julie Miller’s excellent, in-depth exploration of some of the symbolism in the film.

You won’t need to re-buy all your iTunes HD movies

Darrell Etherington, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple is now selling and renting digital 4K movies via iTunes, in addition to its HD and SD resolution versions. The addition of 4K content, which you can stream as well as download, is mainly designed to support the new Apple TV, which supports 4K HDR output for the first time. Plus, if you bought HD versions of titles for which 4K HDR is available, Apple is automatically upgrading them for free.

This is a key piece of Apple’s incentive puzzle for getting users to upgrade to a new Apple TV, as it means there will be a strong content pool that users can access right away. Apple will also be able to take advantage of 4K streaming content provided via Netflix, which has offered both 4K and HDR streaming on other platforms for a while now, and Amazon Prime Video, which is finally arriving on the platform as previously announced.

As someone who owns a ton of iTunes content, I couldn’t be more thrilled with this. This would be like Sony saying “FREE BLU-RAYS FOR EVERYONE!” when the HD transition first happened. It’s insane.

That said, it seems as though 4K-specific remasters that are released separately will not be included in this offer (e.g. the new Close Encounters of the Third Kind). We’ll see how things shake out when the new Apple TV launches, but I’m optimistic about the necessity of double dipping (or lack thereof).

Inside the world’s largest collection of ‘Jerry Maguire’ VHS tapes

I missed this short film from Vice when it was first released in February, but am glad I finally found it. It’s a look inside the effort by Everything Is Terrible to not only amass the largest collection of Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, but also their desire to build a permanent pyramid in the Nevada dessert that will serve as a tribute to these “Jerry’s.”

On the one hand, there are probably better things for one to devote one’s time to than anything Maguire VHS-tape-related. On the other hand, this project gives me so much joy with its randomness that I kind of want these guys to succeed.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Honest Trailer for ‘Kong: Skull Island’

I was stunned by this Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island, which features the participation of the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It’s rare to see a director be so blunt and relentless about criticizing his own film, but Vogt-Roberts deftly shows that he still has the self-awareness to recognize his own film’s weaknesses.

In retrospect, I now understand why most directors don’t do this kind of thing. With film being such a collaborative medium, there are many people who could interpret commentary like this as throwing them under a bus: screenwriters, actors, editors, (heck even the studio itself) etc. I’m sure Roberts is on good terms with all, but it just feels like the risk is large for misinterpretation.

That said, this is an extraordinary work of self-examination, taking place on the massive stage of an insanely popular YouTube channel. Kudos to Vogt-Roberts for putting the magnifying glass on himself.

The John Denver-aissance

On a recent episode of the Slashfilmcast, we discussed the odd fact that a ton of 2017 films happened to use John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Over at Vulture, Karen Han has written a piece that explores why:

Amy Abrams, one of the managers of Denver’s estate, confirmed in an interview with Vulture that there’s been an uptick in “meaningful feature film requests” for Denver’s music in the last few years, in part because those who loved Denver’s music as kids are now adults able make those requests. “John Denver’s songs were iconic to a generation, and have been passed down in the public consciousness,” said Abrams. “It also helps that a lot of directors, producers, actors, editors, and music supervisors grew up fans and are now in powerful positions to sync the music they love.”

Abrams also attributed the uptick to the estate’s partnership with Kobalt (they were brought on in 2014, replacing BMG, and also represent artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), in addition to making licensing a priority with their new team. To secure the rights to a Denver song, Abrams explained, the filmmakers must submit scene briefs. If they aren’t clear enough as to how the music will be used and further questions don’t clear the matter up, Denver’s children and their business managers are consulted as well. What’s most important, said Abrams, is that they remain in line with Denver’s ideals: He’s remembered as a philanthropist and humanitarian as much as he is a musician, and much of the content on his official web page is devoted to his messages of peace and compassion.

It’s a great song, but it really does feel like we’ve reached Peak Denver this year.

From ‘Ocean’s 11’ to ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Logan Lucky’: Why happy endings aren’t enough for heist films anymore

[This article contains SPOILERS for Baby Driver, Ocean’s 11, and Logan Lucky]

The ending of Steven Sodberbergh’s Ocean’s 11 is one of the most iconic heist movie endings of all time. Having successfully pulled off one of the most elaborate casino heists ever, Daniel Ocean’s associates stand at the Bellagio fountain and watch the water show together set to an orchestral version of Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” reflecting on the depth of their achievements. They go off on their own separate ways, presumably to enjoy the winnings they’ve obtained.

I thought about this ending a lot when I saw Logan Lucky yesterday, which is out in theaters almost 16 years after the release of Ocean’s 11. Both feature a male mastermind with a complicated love life who assembles a team of people to steal a huge sum of money from a large location with a complex security system. In both movies, the protagonists encounter events that are seemingly setbacks, but that we later learn were part of the plan all along. In other words, they’re both fairly conventional heist films.

With one major difference.

Just as Logan Lucky was hitting the 90-minute mark or so and wrapping up its main heist plot, the film introduces two new characters — FBI agents played by Hillary Swank and Macon Blair. For an additional 15-20 minutes, the film chronicles the FBI’s attempt to find who was responsible for the speedway heist. When the FBI ultimately fails, that’s when we get that happy ending we’ve been looking for: All the members of Logan’s crew drinking and enjoying life at the Duck Tape bar. The final shot of the film reveals Swank’s character is also at the bar, presumably having put all the pieces of the puzzle together and about to create some real trouble for the Logan brothers.

I found this ending to be curious. First of all, I thought Swank’s performance was an…interesting choice? She plays her investigative agent very much like a cartoon character, devoid of any emotion and unrelentingly stern.

But beyond that, it felt similar in a lot of ways to the ending of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. In that movie, the protagonist Baby has seemingly escaped town with the love of his life, Debora, only to be apprehended by police at a roadblock. In a rapid fire montage that follows, we see the trial that occurs in the wake of the film’s events. Many of the side characters we’ve seen in the film testify on Baby’s behalf. He’s eventually released, presumably not too long after he was imprisoned, and he and Debora get the chance to drive off into the sunset.

Both Baby Driver and Logan Lucky feature something I don’t recall seeing too often at the end of heist films: a glimpse at how the legal process would play out in the wake of each film’s extraordinary events. Why complicate the film in this way? Why add on a few minutes of runtime (or in the case of Logan Lucky, what amounts to a rushed third act) simply to tell us something that viewers might not even care about? I have a few theories.

I believe that filmgoers in general have gotten too smart about how society actually functions. In a world of smartphones and ubiquitous surveillance, we know that one simply can’t create a ton of havoc in downtown Atlanta or steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Charlotte Speedway without either being caught or experiencing some form of consequences.

In both films, the function of the legal process basically allows us to feel good about the actions of the protagonists by communicating to us that these people got off (almost) scot-free. Yes, Baby had to serve time, and yes, Hillary Swank might be ready to re-open her investigation. But the crimes of the film have been largely resolved in the eyes of our country’s legal system.

Of course, Logan Lucky and Baby Driver aren’t the first movies to have people experience the consequences of their actions. Just look at the opening minute of this Ocean’s 12 teaser trailer:

The only other idea I’ll posit about why these movies ended this way is that, in our new interconnected age, perhaps society has gotten more communal. Actions no longer take place in a vacuum — everyone acutely understands how we’re all connected and how kindness can actually affect people in the longer term (just think of how the witness testimony in Baby Driver is all about the character’s good nature).

Maybe seeing someone abscond with millions of other people’s money with zero consequences — regardless of noble intentions, regardless of if the money is insured — is no longer something we can feel 100% good about. If that’s the case (BIG if), I actually think that’s a step in the right direction for us.

Jon Brion’s score for ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my life recently. While I’m excited at what lies ahead, I’m wistful for what has been left behind. To quote Don Draper, “‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.” I have a lot of nostalgia lately.

One of the ways I’ve been coping is by listening to Jon Brion’s score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. With its plaintive piano melodies and synth-y backdrops, it makes for perfect listening as you’re reflecting on the past.

Here are a few of my favorite tracks:

Only downside? The tracks are extremely short and, mirroring many of the scenes in the film, often feel like they end with no warning. Nevertheless, they still provide my day with sublime moments of beauty.

What happened to Armond White

Stephen Kearse has written a great profile on film critic Armond White over at Hazlitt:

What tarnishes White’s appeal is how calcified his expertise has become. No longer even nominally engaged with larger discourses, he writes with an embittered detachment, scoffing at an anonymous conglomerate of lesser writers and thinkers. White was always adversarial, but in his old columns, his rivals were named: Stanley Crouch, Greg Tate, Robert Christgau, Ann Powers—virtually anyone who ever wrote for the Village Voice. His tone was just as sardonic as it is now, but there was an air of community to all these callouts, a sense that he, and all critics, were participating in a grand commitment to art that necessitated disagreement and dialogue. White’s current reviews have no sense of any conversations beyond the ones in his own head. “Hollywood movies have become television at just the point when media shills are spreading the fake news that we’re experiencing a ‘new golden age’ of TV,” he writes emptily in his review of Baywatch, the shills, the movies, and the television shows unnamed. “Kong: Skull Island and Contemporary Color coexist because Millennial culture is at odds with itself,” he writes of those two movies, citing a mysterious conflict within a demographic group that no one can accurately define. Critics are expected to make loaded comparisons and to use their own inclinations as a wellspring for new perspectives, but since his expulsion from the NYFCC, White’s oppositional writing style has struggled. He brings the gusto of his past work, but he writes against criticism that doesn’t actually appear to exist, the silliest resistance. […]

Ultimately, the world doesn’t need Armond White, but it’s a shame that he’s slipped away. He wasn’t initially a contrarian or a hack or a troll; he was a gay black man with the audacity to demand that movies not be condescending and escapist and patronizing to the people that loved them, that needed them. He believed in black art and art in general and fought, sometimes pettily, sometimes harshly, for it to be appreciated seriously. He sneered at goofy shit like consensus and Tomatometers and Stanley Crouch because they had nothing to do with criticism. Criticism was arguments, confrontation, politics, enlightenment, resistance. But that’s who he was, back when he had colleagues, back when he listened, back when the NYFCC was accountable to him, and he to it, back when he was a journalist and not a blowhard. Now he’s just a joke. And even worse, he’s the most unfunny kind: the kind that used to rock you to your core, but now just confounds you, broken synapses firing into the void.

This profile links to an interview I conducted with White after the NYFCC controversy. I was honored to have the opportunity to have White on the Slashfilm podcast multiple times, including our review of Inception (and its After Dark), our review of 12 Years a Slave, and our review of Real Steel.

We always got lots of flak for every one of these appearances. Here’s one example of such criticism, emailed in by one of our listeners after the 12 Years a Slave episode:

Armond White is a troll and I really did not enjoy listening to him on the latest episode of the podcast. Not only is he a troll, but a classic troll. When confronted with any of your arguments against his points, he almost always deflected the question and either changed the subject or nit picked at your question/choice of words.

Another tactic that grew wearisome was his referencing older films that he can assume you have not seen and therefore remain unable to engaged him in a conversation about. And calling Steve McQueen’s film an “art thing?” It’s just juvenile.

Also, by his definition, any film that shows characters to struggle or to face tough odds would be considered “tourture porn.” I wonder if he would consider All is Lost to be “tourture porn?”

When I was younger, folks like Armond used to infuriate me. “Who dares besmirch the perfect RottenTomatoes score of Toy Story 3! Clearly not someone who had any good taste!” my logic went.

But as I grew older, I started appreciating folks like Armond White more and more. In a sea of “yes,” he dared to be a “no.” What drove him? Was it just the desire to be a troll or did he legitimately buy what he was selling?

Ultimately the reason I invited White on the podcast was because I wanted to see if there was any “there” there. And for awhile, I believed in the purity of Armond White’s motives. When he insisted that he could break down a Michael Bay film and a Christopher Nolan film frame by frame and prove that Bay had better visual storytelling acumen than Nolan, I didn’t necessarily believe it but I believed that he believed it.

In a piece after the NYFCC controversy, Owen Glieberman explained his thoughts on Armond White in a way that matched how mine evolved:

Does Armond White simply have his own idiosyncratic opinions? Or is he a contrarian, a bomb thrower who’s deliberately out to rile people up? I would say that both are true, but for most people the contrarian label sums him up, and you often can’t tell where the fearless free-thinker leaves off and the bullying, didactic iconoclast begins. And that’s the problem with Armond’s criticism. He writes like he’s the last honest man in America, but contrarianism, by definition, isn’t completely honest. It’s self-hype, designed to provoke a reaction. I truly do believe that Armond White comes to the vast majority of his opinions honestly. He’s a gay African-American fundamentalist-Christian aesthete, and if that doesn’t make him an individual, I don’t know what would. But it seems to me that Armond, over the years, has become so invested in the idea of how different his gaze is from everyone else’s that he has turned individuality into a species of megalomania. The subtext of too many of Armond’s reviews is: Only I see the truth! And it’s that need to be the only truth-teller in the room that, too often, seems to be driving him. A lot of great critics have anger — it was there in Kael, and in Lester Bangs — but Armond’s blistering attacks reflect not just anger but rage. That’s a dangerous place to write from.

In other words, from the outside, White seemed as though he believed in his own hype. And that’s a shame because it clouded a lot of his legitimately interesting and provocative opinions.

All that said, when I look back on my conversations with White, I feel nothing but gratitude. Here was a man whose opinions were admired by some, hated by thousands of internet fanboys, but who nonetheless kept fighting for a truth he believed in. And even though White seems to despise internet fan blogs like Slashfilm.com, he generously spent time sharing his opinions with me and with our audience.

I’ll never know why he agreed to appear on the show. When I asked him about why he was willing to return to the podcast, he just seemed to cherish the spirit of our show’s open conversation. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to chat with White again but for now, that’s how I’ll choose to remember him.

Ten years later, how well has ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’ aged?

Kyle Turner has written a reflection of the Adam Sandler and Kevin James film, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, assessing how well it has aged 10 years after its initial release:

Yes, it’s a big deal when a piece of culture that’s queer-focused does its job and perhaps—and with Chuck & Larry, that’s a big “perhaps”—makes people less hateful. But this film was released well after the advent of widespread internet access, making it all the more inexcusable. It’s not that Chuck & Larry has aged so poorly because of its crude humor, or because our society is less tolerant of work that’s offensive to marginalized communities, but precisely because the meek efforts Chuck & Larry make in the name of “tolerance” now seem so transparent and one-dimensional. The idea that Adam Sandler even continues to have a career is insulting (and he, in turn, continues to insult). One shudders to think of the world that would have resulted had Sandler’s vision of LGBTQ “progress” come to fruition; one in which queer people are merely tolerated, and one in which our sexuality is sidelined in that way—just as it was by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or years of dehumanizing arguments made against the right of same-sex couples to marry. If anything, this film serves to remind us that it’s been ten long years of gains won and our right to exist in public brutally fought for. No thanks to Chuck, Larry, Sandler, James or the Hollywood industrial complex that continues to prop them up.

So far, there are two works released in 2017 that I think will age particularly poorly: Dave Chappelle’s newest comedy special, which has some transphobic jokes in it, and Split, which furthers negative stigma against Dissociative Identity Disorder. My guess is in a decade, folks will look back on those aspects of those works and wonder how we ever thought that way.

The worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theater

AV Club has a fun feature on the worst movies that people have seen in theaters. Here’s Sam Barsanti’s choice:

I’ve seen all of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies in the theaters, and in college I saw Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull on opening night, but I feel very confident in saying that Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theater. Even if you ignore stupid stuff like Gotham and Metropolis being practically right next to each other, the hoops the film has to jump through to get Superman and Batman to fight, and the whole “Martha” scene that ends the fighting in a heartbeat, the movie is still garbage for one specific reason: It turns Batman into a killer. I understand that he’s supposed to be a darker and more desperate version of the character, but no matter how you justify it, a Batman that puts machine guns on his jet and blows up criminals with his car isn’t Batman. He’s just the Punisher with better equipment and a different aesthetic.

Since this piece was published, I’ve reflected a bit on what my worst theatrical experience has been. I think I’d have to say it’s Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I was still living in Boston when this film came out but had the chance to see it on an IMAX screen. I can still remember how excited I was — Bay had proven he could take this toy line and make it into an action-filled, visual effects extravaganza with the first film. Surely with a much bigger budget, a longer runtime, and probably more freedom to do what he wanted, Bay would deliver something that would blow us all away.

What we got instead was an incoherent mess of a plot, and a film loaded with some truly reprehensible material. Racist stereotypes. Robot testicles. Robot heaven. None of it made any sense. The only thing sadder than the hours of my life I wasted watching this film was the fact that Bay would go on to spend the better part of a decade devoted to creating more of these awful movies.

Part of me died that day in the theater: the part that would ever look forward to a Bay film ever again. (Pain and Gain was good though).

What’s the point of life if the universe will one day end?

In David Lowery’s recent film, A Ghost Story, one of the characters goes on an extended soliloquy about the nature of humanity and how one could easily interpret the whole of human existence as a pointless of exercise. One day, everything as we know it will be gone — even, most likely, the universe. So what’s the point of it all? A24 released a short excerpt of the speech on YouTube above. (You can also watch my Periscope review of the film).

This week, the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt released a new video that tackles this very issue.

From the video:

If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in life will be forgotten. Every mistake will not matter in the end. Every bad thing will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is.

Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point. But before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other. The fact that we’re able to think about these things is already kind of incredible.

Obviously, there’s no one answer for this eternal question, but I appreciate them taking a shot at it.

In short: in the grand scheme of the universe, our time on earth is but a blink of an eye. We might as well enjoy it and try to help others enjoy it while we can.

For more ruminations on making the most of life, see Wait But Why’s post on Life in Weeks.

A detailed stunt breakdown of ‘Atomic Blonde’

Wired has a super cool feature with Atomic Blonde stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, who breaks down one of the film’s fight scenes in extreme detail.

I saw Atomic Blonde last night and was really impressed by the action (here are some brief, Periscoped thoughts). There’s one fight scene in the film that people will be talking about for decades (not the one covered above). Definitely worth the price of admission.

Valerian’s financial failure is bad for the film industry

Deadline has a report on the dire outlook for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets:

EuropaCorp’s stock has dipped 9.4% in trading on the Paris stock exchange over the past two days which comes only a month after EuropaCorp took a $136M write-off. Remember: Fundamental — apart from their 28% and roughly $67M equity stake in EuropaCorp — is also on the hook for about $50M in equity in the picture.

Added another executive: “Everyone is going to lose money on this. It’s sad actually. This kind of failure actually hurts the business, not just the companies with a financial stake involved.”

This is a huge bummer. Luc Besson has stated that if Valerian does as well as Lucy’s $460MM international gross, then his investors would be fine, financially. But it now looks like $200MM internationally is a best case scenario. There’s a lot of blame to go around but my guess is one of the biggest miscalculations was pitting this against another event film like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Had Valerian opened in August, it might’ve had a little more breathing room to be a sleeper hit.

In our discussion of Valerian on this week’s /Filmcast, we praised its dazzling effects and its dense, bravura visual storytelling, even as we weren’t huge fans of the casting of its leads and the dialogue. Nonetheless, I wish filmmakers like Besson and the Wachowskis (Cloud Atlas) would be richly rewarded whenever they take chances on independently financed, bold sci-fi.

Unfortunately, based on current trajectories, Valerian will be forever destined to be that gem that people find in a VOD catalog one day, wondering what it might’ve looked like in 3D on a big screen.

On the desire to see yourself represented onscreen

Well, speaking of films being used as political lightning rods

Aditi Natasha Kini has written a piece for Jezebel entitled “I’m Tired of Watching Brown Men Fall in Love With White Women Onscreen.” In it, she not only conveys her personal dismay at watching recent shows and films like The Big Sick and Master of None, she also explains how race (and specifically, whiteness) has been operationalized in popular culture:

The Big Sick has been roundly lauded in the press lately, including here at Jezebel, and not without good reason: it’s a funny, heartwarming love story based on the true-life experiences of cowriters/married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. But as much as I liked it—and I did—I also found myself exhausted, yet again, by the onscreen depiction of a brown man wanting to date a white woman, while brown women are portrayed alternately as caricatures, stereotypes, inconsequential, and/or the butts of a joke.

I know, I know: isn’t it progress to see Asian men get the girl for once, instead of stand-in as a prop, token or joke? Sure, it’s great that Hollywood is putting its money behind narratives with brown men at the helm, as in The Big Sick and Master of None. But both also center white women as the love interest—a concept which, in the complex hierarchy of power and race in America, pays lip-service to the one notion that has shaped the history of South Asian and American culture alike: Whiteness as the ultimate desire, the highest goal in defining oneself as an American. Both of these works are part of a larger trend that’s common in films in media portraying the desi community, that the pursuit of white love is a mode of acceptance into American culture, and a way of “transcending” the confines of immigrant culture—the notion that white love is a gateway drug to the American dream.

There have been a lot of writers online attacking this piece, and I myself am quite torn on it.

On the one hand, Kini’s point is undercut by the fact that The Big Sick is largely autobiographical. The movie is a passion project by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, and it’s difficult to understand the counterfactual that Kini is advocating for in this case. Should they have altered the film details (and thus, the details of their life) to conform to Kini’s concept of a film that’s more ethnically diverse and representative?

[I should also point out that the fact that The Big Sick exists at all and is receiving a major theatrical release is a bit of a miracle. I think the film will do a lot to expand people’s idea of what the American immigrant experience is.]

On the other hand, as an Asian-American immigrant, I can totally sympathize with where Kini is coming from. Americans who aren’t white spend decades of their lives watching films/TV shows in which white people are the romantic objects of affection, OR films/TV shows where white people get the romantic objects of affection by the end (often, the latter are of a different race).

Consider this: When was the last time you watched a film that had a Pakistani woman as the love interest? When was the last time you watched a film that had a white woman as the love interest? Imagine what it feels like to acutely perceive that imbalance every single day of your life.

The Big Sick is a great film. Kini’s concept of a similar film from the perspective of a Pakistani woman would also be something I’d want to see. I’m sad that we can’t watch both this year, but maybe they will coexist one day.