The Post is a fine film. Meryl Streep is fantastic, as usual, and Tom Hanks is a believable Ben Bradlee, publisher of The Washington Post when the biggest threat to First Amendment rights of the free press was waged—until now, of course.
The Post’s subject matter—the publishing of the infamous “Pentagon Papers,” a Department of Defense study of the makings and escalation of the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsburg—doesn’t allow for the same suspense Watergate did for All the President’s Men. The Post is not a thriller in any means, but the drama is plentiful thanks to the film revealing the business side of the newspaper business.
Sure, the means of news distribution has changed mightily since the advent of the Internet, but newspapers were a low-margin business then and still are thanks to television. Truth-telling didn’t result in riches then, and it still doesn’t. But there’s more to business than money, and Katharine Graham recognized this as CEO of The Washington Post.
Graham, portrayed by the always fantastic Meryl Streep, who plays the part of a woman struggling to make it in a man’s world to perfection, is a timely character given the mass of allegations brought against men in Hollywood and other positions of power. Strong, female leads are finally becoming more common in Hollywood, and more and more women are ascending to positions of power in business and politics.
Graham got her job when her husband committed suicide, and members of her very own board believed she had no business running The Washington Post. She proved them all wrong, taking the company public and selling 1.294 million shares at a price of $26 per share. The starting price was reported as $24.50 in the film, however. Regardless, by the end of her tenure in 1991, shares were worth $888 each. That’s growth of 3,315 percent. She did it all despite an injunction being filed against The New York Times, to whom the “Pentagon Papers” were originally leaked, that forced The Times to cease publishing stories regarding the papers. The Post was subject to the same fate, but Graham published anyways.
Why did she publish? No members of her board recommended it. Only publisher Ben Bradlee, portrayed by Tom Hanks, wanted to publish, and even he wasn’t the reason Graham decided to do so. If you visit The Washington Post website today, you’ll find the mission statement is the same as it was in 1935, when Eugene Meyer wrote “The Seven Principles for the Conduct of a Newspaper." They are:
Graham decided to publish because of principles five, six and seven. The newspaper would not be fulfilling its duty to its readers if it knew the truth and chose to conceal it in the interests of business. And even if investors pulled out of the stock offering, which was their right if done so within seven days in the event of a “catastrophic event,” “the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good.” Graham was also willing to sacrifice a friendship. She was friends with Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, but she nor the paper would be an ally or perceived as an ally to any special interest. This is why I subscribed to The Washington Post immediately after seeing The Post: because the newspaper still adheres to those same principles.
I’ve been exhausting my free online articles at The Washington Post long before I ever needed it to do my work. I used to be a journalist, and even when I was writing the news I was reading the news. Now I mostly write about the news, so I find myself exhausting my free online articles at The Post faster than ever. In the search for truth, I am most often led to The Washington Post—an American institution with the interests of Americans in mind, then and now.
The Post is a most timely film given the state of the union and threat to the First Amendment rights of the free press. Now we have White House representatives avoiding the press, with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt surrounding himself with security, refusing to hold press conferences, and hand-picking interviewers who and news outlets that support his stance and the stance of the administration. Information coming out of the EPA comes in the form of press releases that best serve the goals of the White House—no questions allowed. The EPA is, in effect, writing the news as they see fit—a severe threat to the First Amendment rights of the free press to act as a check on the power of politicians. The EPA is acting like the public relations arm of the collective of corporations now running the EPA.
When politicians dictate news coverage, truth is unattainable and citizens are incapable of properly informing themselves. All the journalists in the world can’t uncover the truth if those in power refuse to answer questions or deflect the attention of the public to what they feel is newsworthy. But as long as there are brave whistleblowers and leaks of sensitive information, The Washington Post will sacrifice its business interests to serve the interests of America and Americans. It’s mission statement demands it.
Today is Veterans Day in the United States, annually recognized on November 11th -- in honor of the signing of the armistice which ended WWI hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany in 1918.
The United States previously celebrated “Armistice Day” and it was more a day of recognition to honor veterans that died during WWI. In 1945 a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks led a delegation to President Eisenhower and proposed the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans and not just those who died in WWI.
Eisenhower supported the idea of a national veterans day but it wasn’t until 1954 that he signed a bill into law and shortly there after, Congress amended the bill to replace, “Armistice” day with a national “Veterans” day celebrating all veterans. It has been celebrated as Veterans Day ever since.
Hollywood has long been enamored with war movies and there are far too many movies that do little more than exploit the deaths of soldiers in the name of movie excitement “fun.” Thankfully, there are also movies that attempt to recreate a soldier’s authentic experience and the toll such service, and war in general, has on soldier families and humanity.
Two feature films and two documentaries about war, exploring themes of loneliness, trauma, loss and hope.
Born on the 4th of July (1989): U.S. Marine veteran Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise) returns from Vietnam paralyzed from the mid chest down and is wheelchair bound for the rest of his life. The movie is based on Kovic’s autobiography and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone. The first third of the film follows Kovic from childhood to enlistment to boot camp and into the vietnam war where, during a firefight with the enemy, he accidentally kills one of the men in his platoon. He is shortly there after wounded and paralyzed but comes home seemingly optimistic. The remainder of the film focuses on his PTSD and war trauma as Kovic becomes increasingly disillusioned with traditional patriotism until eventually becoming an anti-war activist 9much to the hatred of his fellow soldiers). Olive Stone read Kovic’s autobiography and was shocked to learn what Kovic had gone through and immediately purchased the rights to the book. Stone and Kovic met many times to discuss their experiences in Vietnam and eventually collaborated together to write the screenplay. The film was wildly successful and earned several Academy Award nominations.
Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994): This Academy Award winning documentary profiles the career of US artist & Chinese immigrant Maya Lin, when, at the age of 21 she beat out more than a 1000 artists in a competition to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The documentary is short (a little over an hour) and chronicles her childhood and about ten years of her work before receiving the memorial contract. Lin was under extraordinary pressure to deliver and because she was a woman, and Asian, she was often overly critiqued and vilified. Lin herself comes off as soft spoken, a woman who chooses her words carefully but also, a bit distant -- like many an artist I know. As a production note -- the film is a product of its time and is therefore a bit slow paced even with its short run but is still well worth viewing. Despite the hardship Lin faced during the creation of the monument, today it is widely recognized as a magnificent and powerful piece of art.
The Men (1950): Perhaps one of the first Hollywood films to focus on the life of a wounded soldier in a completely unsensational way. Very little screen time is given to war instead offering enormous time to focus on Ken (Marlon Brando) and his struggle as he is consumed with anger and self-pity. While this movie was not a commercial success, its themes will always remain relevant. As a production note -- This is Marlon Brando’s feature film debut.
Restrepo (2010): A documentary film that chronicles the lives of the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company in a valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Restrepo post -- named so after a fallen comrade (PFC Juan Sebastian Restrepo), was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. Military. The goal of the post was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency and gain the trust of the local populace. Nothing went according to plan. Two journalists, British photographer Tim Hetherington, and journalist Sebastian Junger spent one year with the platoon in the Korengal Valley. This film is truly one of the greatest depictions of the soldier bond and camaraderie between them while at times offering gut wrenching footage of tense combat. The late Roger Ebert wrote in his four star review of the film, “The location footage is intercut with debriefings of the survivors conducted soon after they've been flown out to Italy. They use understatement to express strong emotions. The deaths of men they fought with are almost impossible for them to speak of … The film is nonpolitical. It was filmed at great personal risk by the war photographer Tim Hetherington and the author Sebastian Junger. It raises for me an obvious question: How can this war possibly be won?” Tragically, a few years after completion of the documentary, photographer Tim Hetherington, while covering the 2011 Libyan civil war, is killed by mortar shrapnel.
* Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American biographical war drama film directed by Oliver Stone based on the best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Nominated for numerous critical awards and several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Tom Cruise) and winner of two Oscars for Best Director (Oliver Stone) and Best Film Editing (David Brenner and Joe Hutshing).
* The Men is a 1950 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, written by Carl Foreman, and starring Marlon Brando, Teresa Wright and Everett Sloane. Despite the film's commercial failure, it marked Brando’s film debut.
* Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision is a 1994 documentary film made by Freida Lee Mock about the life of American artist Maya Lin, whose best-known work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The film won the 1994 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
* Restrepo is a 2010 American documentary film about the Afghanistan war, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Long before talkies, music was making movies better. It still is. What would Charlie Chaplin’s “Oceana Roll Dance” in The Gold Rush be without music, or Johnny Depp’s depiction in Benny and Joon for that matter? A more contemporary example would be how Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy helped make “The Grid” a very real place for moviegoers. That said, here are the 10 best uses of music in movies, based on the lasting effect the music had in the movie and beyond the movie, the popular and critical success of the music and the legacy left.
This one might not be on a lot of people’s lists, but the first time I saw Mark Wahlberg, Tom Jane and John C. Reilly attempt to steal from a coked out Alfred Molina to the sound of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” while a silent, house boy tossed exploding firecrackers around the room, I was mesmerized. It’s one of the most uncomfortable situations ever recorded, and the song makes the scene’s mise-en-scène a must-see.
I used to think Rudy’s struggle to realize his dream made me cry every time I watched him succeed, but I’ve discovered the crescendo of the music when Rudy sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback has more of an effect than the images. I get emotional just listening to the score for Angelo Pizzo’s football masterpiece, and I’m not the only one. The music is now blasted at the stadium in South Bend during Fighting Irish football games. That adoption of the Rudy score from fiction and application in reality makes it one of the best uses of music in movies.
Like the theme from Rudy, the theme from Rocky is blasted at Philadelphia Eagles games (and practiced by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). It is immediately recognizable by almost anyone. The song features both uplifting highs and terrifying lows -- mirroring the conflict of Rocky’s life -- in and out of the ring. “Gonna Fly Now” was nominated for the 1977 Oscar for Best Original Song, but fell to Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born” from the movie of the same name. It hasn’t come close to becoming the pop culture icon that “Gonna Fly Now” has. The Rocky franchise is responsible for creating two iconic songs, and ranking which is more recognizable is problematic. People probably associate the music of both songs with the Rocky movies equally, but some couldn’t give you the title of “Gonna Fly Now.” Everyone knows “Eye of the Tiger.” Most of Rocky III was about Apollo helping Rocky get his eye of the tiger back after Mick dies. Sylvester Stallone should be glad Queen denied his request to use their song “Another One Bites the Dust” for Rocky III. While the song would have been fitting given the beating Rocky takes and then gives Clubber Lang, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” somehow cut through the cheese to become a movie classic. It even spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and was the second-best single of 1982 behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” winning Survivor its only Grammy Award. The song was also nominated for the 1983 Academy Award for Best Original Song and has become the anthem of workout movie montages. You can’t even make a workout movie montage using another song without it being parodied with “Eye of the Tiger” laid over the top anymore. South Park went with Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best,” but even that was originally written by Allee Willis and Rocky’s Bill Conti for Rocky III, only to be replaced by “Eye of the Tiger.” “You’re the Best” got its chance to make movie history when Rocky director John Avildsen decided to use it in Karate Kid. It didn’t make this list, however.
The best synchronized dance scene ever shot had more than the music to thank, but the music choice was so good that it actually influenced the shooting of the scene. The scene was shot during the Von Steuben Day Parade and on another Saturday in Chicago that saw more than 10,000 people attend thanks to radio stations inviting people to take part in the John Hughes film. Several of the people seen dancing in the scene, including the construction worker and the window washer, originally had nothing to do with the film. They were simply dancing to the music being played, and John Hughes found it so funny that he told the camera operators to record it. Those natural actions helped make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the highest grossing film Hughes directed, with an adjusted gross of nearly $170 million.
Written by Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach, the song won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Song, as did the original score. It makes for one of the most iconic movie montages ever in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song is so great, it was one of the few redeeming moments of the Spider-man 2 movie. When a song can make a bad movie better, the song is objectively great.
No song is likely more often associated with a movie than Hamlisch’s version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Like a younger generation associates “Gonna Fly Now” with Rocky, and an even younger generation “Eye of the Tiger” with Rocky III, most people aware of The Sting can’t hear “The Entertainer” without thinking The Sting is on television somewhere. But unlike “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” which were written specifically for movies and released as the movie did, Joplin’s “The Entertainer” debuted 71 years before The Sting was released. Hamlisch had a good year in 1974. He won the Academy Award for Original Song Score or Adaptation for The Sting as well as the Oscars for Original Dramatic Score and Original Song for The Way We Were -- another Robert Redford movie.
This gem written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940 was so popular it became the official song of The Walt Disney Company and accompanies the Disney logo prior to any Disney movie. My favorite rendition is performed by actor/comedian Harland Williams in RocketMan, who does a spot-on impersonation of Jiminy Cricket.
The best opening credits ever recorded have The Bee Gees and John Travolta to thank. Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood even asked The Bee Gees to change the name of the song to match the movie. The Bee Gees declined because there were already too many songs with “Saturday” in the title -- including Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright” (For Fighting), the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.” Saturday Night Fever didn’t need the name of the song changed to reach a massive audience, grossing over $237 million worldwide on a $3 million budget. It made back its budget and then some in its opening weekend.
The scenes of Beetlejuice featuring Belafonte’s music are the two best scenes in the movie. The “Day-O” scene couldn’t have been done better using any other song. The lip syncing to “Day-O” in Beetlejuice is the reason why it’s such a popular chant at baseball and basketball games. I’m certain that wasn’t the case prior to the movie’s popularity. I specifically watch the closing credits to Beetlejuice for the dance scene with Winona Ryder suspended in mid-air while dead characters dance to “Jump in the Line.” I’m a fan of Harry Belafonte, whose album “Calypso” became the first LP by a single artist ever to sell a million copies 30 years before I was born. I now own that LP because of Beetlejuice and chant “Day-O” at Minnesota Twins games because of Beetlejuice.
Quite possibly responsible for both the creepiest and funniest moments in movie history, Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” is the best use of music in movies in two very different instances. The song was also used in Married to the Mob and the Maniac remake as further evidence of its number one status on this list. Firstly, I’ll forward this by saying I find the song to be objectively great, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are wonderfully vague and require explanation. (The song’s about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthly and finite,” according to its writer, William Garvey. “The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy, The Bhagavad Gita, and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.") All things most certainly do not “pass into the night.” Secondly, besides maybe “The Entertainer,” there isn’t a song more associated with a movie than this one -- and this one’s associated with two magical movie moments. Most people are aware of the first. The latest use of “Goodbye Horses” in Clerks II helps a newly sober Jay overcome his urges. The brilliant choice by Kevin Smith to use it allowed the song to reach an entirely new generation, leaving a lasting legacy in pop culture.
Halloween is upon us and brings the holy trilogy of: trick or treaters, costumes and candy. And, of course, inevitable lists of horror films you should watch for your Halloween scares.
Now, I love said lists but the problem with them is you tend to see the usual suspects. Take your pick of a franchise film - Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, Scream, Friday the 13th, Saw, Halloween, Hellraiser, [Insert Random Name] of the Dead, etc., etc. Throw in obligatory mention of The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Shining, add another Stephen King adaption for good measure, class it up with a vintage black and white or three like: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein and toss in whatever is currently hip and popular with the cool kids, such as -- It Follows and Babadook.
Viola! Instant “Best Halloween Movies to Watch This Year” list!
Fair enough. But -- also -- Oh. So. Boring.
Let’s use some imagination here. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of movies in the aforementioned list that I adore. But there are a lot of great horror movies that have slipped under the radar. If you are a true horror film aficionado there probably won't be anything here you've not heard of. But for most movie folk this should be a nice list of under appreciated horror films you may dig. Also, I'm not really a fan of horror comedy so none of them made my list.
The trailers were meticulously screened to avoid spoilers. No, seriously. I watched multiple trailers for all of these movies and selected ones that were cool but vague and non spoilerific!
Some of my favorite underappreciated or forgotten horror films -- presented alphabetically:
Coherence (2013): More of a dark psychological sci-fi thriller than traditional horror film. Coherence naturally evolves from a dinner party set piece into a mind twisting nightmare. Director James Ward Byrkit shot the extremely low budget movie without a script. Instead he worked from a detailed 12 page plot synopsis and each day passed notecards to the eight actors, outlining goals they had to accomplish with all improvised dialog. It’s one known star, Nicholas Brendon (Xander of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) had this to say, “...every day we had five different things we had to convey … since there was no script, I had no idea how it ended … to be quite honest, I never really knew what was going on fully until I saw the movie done. When I saw the movie, I’m like, ‘Oh, Shit, this is awesome!’” Coherence official trailer.
A Horrible Way to Die (2010): An indie darling the toured the festival circuit but never really got a wide release. A Horrible Way to Die follows lead Sarah, played to perfection in a truly mesmerizing performance by Amy Seimetz. Sarah is in full recovery mode from … something. Something recent and very traumatic. The story shifts back and forth from her past to her present as we slowly begin to understand her horrific history. And then a friend of Sarah’s goes missing, in the present, and she realizes her past may have caught up with her. A Horrible Way to Die official trailer.
House of the Devil (2009): Writer / Director Ti West’s loving recreation of 80’s horror films. Shot on 16mm film to preserve the retro look of 80’s horror and even co-starring horror film legend Dee Wallace and eighties great "go to" character actor, Tom Noonan. The story follows college student Samantha Hughes as she desperately searches for a way to make some extra dough to pay the deposit on a brand new kick ass apartment. Sam decides to answer a babysitting ad. A very strange, babysitting ad. House of the Devil official trailer.
The Loved Ones (2009): Robin McLeavy plays Princess Lola -- the greatest psycho woman to grace the silver screen since Angela Bettis was May Dove Canady in Lucky McKee’s May (later on the list). The Loved Ones finds surprising laughs and disturbing shocks in equal measure. Traditional “torture porn” movies offer visceral but generally artless visuals of cold blooded torture, usually in the form of misogynistic violence against women. Writer / Director Sean Byrne knows the worn tropes well, avoids the usual pratfalls and delivers a gender reversed twisted masterpiece. The Loved Ones official trailer.
Kill List (2011): Another movie on the list that is more dark psychological thriller than traditional horror. Two former British soldiers become hitmen. Gal is laid back and uncynical, Jay is still traumatized from an unspecified mission disaster during his soldiering days. Their newest contract spins their lives wildly out of control and leads to some very unexpected, very disturbing places. Kill List is a slow burn of a film and requires viewing patience, not least because the thick accents are, for a time, difficult to understand. Kill List official trailer.
Martyrs (2008): Oh, dear God. This movie is not for the faint of heart. You have been warned. Martyrs is the story of Lucie Jurin. As a young girl Lucie escapes from a slaughterhouse where she has been imprisoned and tortured for years. The perpetrators go uncaught and their motives remain a mystery. Lucie spends more than a decade in an orphanage and, while she has recovered physically, she is still plagued by nightmares and suffers debilitating visions of a ghoulish emaciated woman hunting her. Lucie leaves the orphanage and tracks down the family that captured & tortured her and begins to extract unbelievably violent, bloody revenge. But -- she might be in the wrong house. The family Lucie is brutalizing might be completely innocent. Martyrs, along with High Tension, Frontiers and Inside are widely regarded as the godfathers of the New French Extremity film movement. A movement that refers thematically and stylistically to a wide range of French filmmakers that tackle taboo subjects and was once described by film writer Matt Smith as, “[a] crossover between sexual decadence, bestial violence and troubling psychosis." As you can imagine, most of the films within the New French Extremity movement are -- well, not worth viewing. But Martyrs is. It is the only great “torture porn” movie I would ever recommend -- with reservations that it will still not be for most folks. I believe I’ve given you enough information to know if this film is for your particular taste, or not. (Make sure to watch the original 2008 French w/ English Subtitles version and NOT the American Remake). Martyrs official trailer.
May (2002): Delightfully awkward, devilishly lonely May Dove Canady suffered from a rough childhood due to endless bullying because of her lazy eye. Her only friend -- a glass-encased doll named Suzie. But then May meets a boy. A real boy. Angela Bettis knocks it out of the park with her quirky awkward performance. May is Lucky McKee’s only good film. Seriously. If you see the name Lucky McKee attached to any other film not called May, immediately throw it in the garbage. May official trailer.
Pontypool (2008): The greatest zombie apocalypse film (that might not actually be a zombie apocalypse film) you have never seen. Shock jock Grant Mazzy and his producer Sydney Briar are front and center in their small town radio room when the world outside goes --- crazy. Both Stephen McHattie (Grant) and Lisa Houle (Sydney) are superb in the lead roles. Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything and inspired by Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of The War of the World's. Pontypool official trailer.
[REC] (2007): Probably the best known film on the list. [REC] is a found footage-esq masterpiece about a TV reporter and her cameraman following emergency workers into an apartment building and are quickly locked inside with -- something. Cleverly hiring real life TV personality Manuela Velasco to portray a fictional version of herself and using only cameras that would be available to a TV news show to shoot the movie create a uniquely realistic atmosphere. [REC] spawns a few unsatisfying sequels and there is even a decent American remake called Quarantine but the original version in Spanish is really the big boy on the block. [REC] official trailer.
Triangle (2009): What begins as a very seemingly well acted but mundane ghost ship story quickly evolves into a mind bending, bloody journey of loss, regret and choices. Triangle is a movie that gets better and better with repeat viewings. This film, The Loved Ones and Pontypool are my three go to films when I am asked for a horror film recommendation. I was unable to find a trailer that didn’t spoil some of the film’s surprises so I didn’t attach one. Look it up if you want but Triangle is best viewed with a clean slate.
Who Can Kill a Child? (1976): Tom and Evelyn, two English tourists, arrive on a city island during the last leg of their vacation before Evelyn gives birth to their third child. But -- they can’t seem to find any adults. And the silent grim faced children that run in packs all over the town cast suspicious glances their direction but refuse to speak with them. A Children of the Corn esq narrative that actually came out years before King’s story (which first appeared in print form in Penthouse in the late 70’s). Based on the Juan Jose Plans novel The children’s game, who adapted the screenplay under a pen name. This movie was widely unavailable for decades but finally came out on DVD in 2007. There is no Blu Ray edition. Who Can Kill a Child? official trailer.
It’s Elon Musk’s recurring nightmare that artificial intelligence becomes self-aware and destroys mankind. Blade Runner 2049 is the visual representation of that nightmare’s roots taking hold.
Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic film worth seeing in theaters despite the underwhelming box office revenue in the United States thus far. The suspenseful science-fiction film that spawned this sequel didn’t do well at the box office either, so expecting this one would is a mistake of the producers. But the movie is no mistake. In fact, it was born because it was “wanted” -- or rather, needed.
I could tell you how the set design alone is an accomplishment never realized in the history of cinema, or that Ryan Gosling gives a performance reminiscent of Drive. I could tell you that computer-generated imagery has never been so vivid and felt so real. But Blade Runner 2049’s subject matter is more relevant than ever before, with bio-engineered human beings quickly becoming a reality, as evidenced in the latest edition of Mother Jones.
Replicants are bio-engineered to be exactly like humans in every way, except they’re stronger (and smarter) and allegedly unable to reproduce (that’s what they said in Jurassic Park, too), making them ideal slaves for building infrastructure on other worlds awaiting human colonization. That is until they run, as slaves are apt to do, despite an attempt by humanity to control the slaves through vivid, fabricated memories. This is all closer to science-fact than science-fiction given the vast advancement of research in genetics and artificial intelligence.
According to Rowan Jacobsen’s article for Mother Jones, “Scientists have already identified a handful of rare gene variants that seem to be upgrades of the standard version most of us possess.” For instance, “A variant of the LRP5 gene results in ultradense, nearly unbreakable bones” -- a sort of super strength that’s on display during a fight in the opening minutes of the movie.
Choosing your child’s genes is one thing, but the real fear comes with the ability to mass produce slaves, upon which, in some form, privileged humanity has and will rely for survival. That day is fast approaching and could very well be realized by 2049.
“Last year, a team of scientists in Japan took the skin cells of mice, transformed those cells into eggs, fertilized them, and implanted the resulting embryos, which resulted in the birth of 26 healthy pups...It shouldn’t be much more difficult to do the same thing with humans.” Male skin cells could be used to create embryos just as easily as female skin cells, so same-sex couples could have children that share both parents’ genes, with the parents picking the genes of their preference.
The Matrix touches on this idea that humans can be “grown,” and in vitro fertilization was already 22 years old at that time. Within the next few decades, human reproduction could not only be achieved without sex, but without both sexes. Stanford biochemist Henry Greely calles it Easy PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) in his book The End of Sex.
Jacobsen reveals that “Easy PGD will be far cheaper than IVF is today,” and “prices of gene printing have already plummeted. The cost of printing a base pair of genes has plunged from $600 in 1980 to a fraction of a cent and is continuing to drop...the cost of synthesizing genes had dropped to 4 cents per pair of DNA letters and was continuing to halve every two years.” When the benefit outweighs the cost, you can be sure someone will attempt to profit.
Artificial intelligence might be a bit further behind genetic reproduction research, but creating a human-like mind that can learn and replicate feelings isn’t inconceivable. Despite Musk’s fears of AI, the Autopilot feature in his Tesla vehicles is already turning machines into taxi drivers -- giving machines the keys to the most dangerous tool on the planet. One AI unit even predicted the result of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Another, designed by Google, learned and beat Go -- a game more complex than chess.
So we have a means for slave-making already in the works. Surely the first avenue investigated will be the creation of sex slaves, a la Ex Machina. Regardless of the avenue investigated, the result will be the same. Replicants will question the definition of humanity because of the inhumane actions of humans creating self-aware, stronger, smarter beings to act as slaves. Replicants will begin to see themselves as an upgrade -- an evolved race -- and when the first replicant is born rather than built, their beliefs will be substantiated.
Famous indie movie Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein has been fired from The Weinstein Company. Last week the NY Times broke a colossal story alleging decades of harassment and abuse by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Over the weekend, the New Yorker followed up with From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories - detailing two decades of Harvey’s sexual harassment, sexual assault (up to and including rape) and his threats of ruining careers to cover it all up.
Harvey Weinstein, the man behind some of the biggest indie hits of forever. All of Tarantino's films, Kevin Smith's movies, Oscar Winner's - The King's Speech, Silver Linings Playbook, Shakespeare in Love -- to name a few.
Actress Rose McGowan came out almost a decade ago and told her story of being sexually assaulted by a studio head. People took her seriously but didn’t take her that seriously, because, at the time, she refused to name names. Citing the fact she still wanted to work in Hollywood and knew if she named the specific person, he would probably destroy her career. But this week, as several other women have come forward, Rose finally confirmed her assault was at the hands of Weinstein.
Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and several other actresses going back two decades have come forward with stories of sexual harassment or worse, at the hands of Harvey Weinstein.
This weekend, Paltrow went on record that, when she was 22 years old, Mr. Weinstein summoned her to his hotel suite for a meeting about her upcoming film, “Emma,” which Weinstein was Executive Producing (i.e. - putting up the money for) and had just cast to play the title role. Paltrow says that it wasn't "a meeting" at all. Harvey sat her down and began massaging her (without her consent) and then suggested they head to the bedroom.
She said about the incident, “I was a kid. I was signed up (for Mr. Weinstein’s movie), I was petrified" and later, “I thought I was going to get fired.” She turned him down and fled the room as fast as possible, confiding in her then boyfriend Brad Pitt. Pitt immediately confronted Weinstein and told him to leave Paltrow alone and never bother her again. Weinstein responded by warning her not to tell anyone else about his come-on or he would ruin her career.
Brad Pitt’s people have confirmed both facts that Paltrow told him about the incident and that he (Pitt) confronted Weinstein.
Brad Pitt. One of the biggest movie stars in the world. Pitt knew in 1996 that Weinstein was a creeper. Which means, I suspect, that lots of other people have known over the years too.
And nothing ever really came of it.
The Paltrow incident was twenty one years ago. And it’s just now coming out that he allegedly harassed, assaulted and raped women for two decades.
I hate to say this but -- a powerful man in Hollywood abusing his position and targeting vulnerable young women for assault -- doesn't exactly shock me.
I’m not even shocked that it took so long to come out. The Onion’s aptly titled ‘How Could Harvey Weinstein Get Away With This?’ Asks Man Currently Ignoring Sexual Misconduct Of 17 Separate Coworkers, Friends, Acquaintances sums this position up nicely.
There are probably a lot of people complacent in Mr. Weinstein's abuse but one thing is certain, the man commanded immense power. Do a quick Google search for “Harvey Weinstein” and “careers he’s ruined” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. He bred fear. And so he was able to get away with it.
The assault allegations have rolled in and due to them, Harvey Weinstein’s wife has left him and he’s been fired from his job -- from the company he co-founded.
That’s all good. But it’s not good enough.
I would like to mention that all the allegations against Harvey Weinstein are just that, -- “allegations.” Harvey Weinstein certainly deserves his day in court. But just as in the Bill Cosby case(s), when that many women come forward, you can rest assured both men are guilty.
I hope Weinstein gets his day in court.
And then I hope he goes to jail for a very long time.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline : 1.800.656.4673 available 24 hours a day through RAINN.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo directors behind The Lego Movie and the Jump Street film (revival) have been removed from production of the Untitled Star Wars Han Solo film after seventeen weeks of principle photography. Seventeen weeks! With only five weeks left of shooting, production shut down until replacement director, Ron Howard, stepped in to pick up the pieces.
According to the Hollywood Reporter:
“Several sources close to the movie and others close to the directors tell EW that ever since filming began back in February, Lord and Miller, who are known primarily for wry, self-referential comedies like 21 Jump Street and the pilot episodes for Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Last Man on Earth, began steering the Han Solo movie more into the genre of laughs than space fantasy.
According to some sources, the split was a subtle one that became magnified over time: Lucasfilm and producer Kennedy believed Lord and Miller were hired to add a comedic touch; Lord and Miller believed they were hired to make a comedy.”
Okay. Fair enough. I see the potential for disaster there. Another issue was that Lord and Miller have been known to allow significant improvisation on the set of their previous films. Which is precisely what they did on this set, too! Super screenwriter and Star Wars royalty Lawrence Kasdan (writer - Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens and the Untitled Han Solo Film), was none too pleased at the dailies coming back from set. The entire story line, it seemed, had been significantly derailed, due to the improvisational direction that Lord and Miller had taken.
Writer / Executive Producer Kasdan stepped in with a, “Stick to the script” note. A note, apparently, the directors thought was just a suggestion. Lord and Miller ignored the note. Finally, Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm Ltd., fired Lord and Miller after seventeen weeks of filming. Seventeen weeks!
You keep saying “seventeen weeks” as if that’s significant. What’s up with that?
It is significant! Directors aren’t fired after seventeen weeks. Ever! If they’re fired at all, they’re fired after a week or two. Or three or four. It doesn’t take seventeen weeks to figure out that the movie isn’t working! That can’t be the only reason for the removal of the directors after about 80 percent of principle photography.
Seems suspicious. Or, as Bill and Ted would say, “Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K!”
Strange things indeed. The only other (potential) negative rumor coming out of the Han Solo film camp was that lead actor, Alden Ehrenreich (young Han Solo), didn’t have the acting chops they at first thought. According to the popular online movie news source The Wrap:
"Matters were coming to a head in May as the production moved from London to the Canary Islands. Lucasfilm replaced editor Chris Dickens (Macbeth) with Oscar-winner Pietro Scalia, a veteran of Ridley Scott films including Alien: Covenant and The Martian. And, not entirely satisfied with the performance that the directors were eliciting from Rules Don't Apply star Alden Ehrenreich, Lucasfilm decided to bring in an acting coach. Lord and Miller suggested writer-director Maggie Kiley, who worked with them on 21 Jump Street."
As has been pointed out by many sources, adding an acting coach is not unusual. But acting coaches are usually on set from day one and/or brought on by the actor themselves. Some actors have worked with the same acting coach for years, or decades, and work with them on set. But it’s certainly unusual to bring an acting coach in so late into production.
So, while it appears there were difficulties behind the scenes, even that is nothing new. If you’ve ever worked on set you know that making movies is controlled chaos, at best. There are no mystical properties that a director possesses. Directing is paperwork, organization, collaboration and making choices. In fact, the only solo choice a director adds to the production without collaboration from anyone else is tone. The tone of movie is decided by the director. Unless, of course, you work for Disney. Or Lucasfilm Ltd. In which case they will fire your ass if you change the tone of their films. Just sayin.
And now we have little Ronnie Howard piloting the fate of young Han Solo. How much of the original footage Howard will be able to use is unknown. It would probably be too expensive to reshoot the majority of the film. Besides, these tent pole flagship movies have marketed release dates to keep! It’s true that all huge films like this have time and money budgeted for the inevitable reshoots but this situation is unprecedented.
Unlike the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon switch up on the Justice League film, Whedon is going in to finish up the film and do his best to match the style and tone of Snyder (because the film was ninety percent done). Whedon was not hired to rethink the entire movie and significantly restructure the picture.
Ron Howard will have to make due with a lot of footage that Lord and Miller produced, and he probably won’t get any extended amount of time to complete the picture. It should make for an interesting challenge. And hopefully, an interesting movie.
So, I'm sorry, Mr. Howard, but you will probably have to make due with what time is left for production. But in Hollywood, much as on Broadway, as they say -- the show must go on.
NOTE: This story is developing and will be updated with new information as it becomes available.
Back when I sat on the edge of my theater seat with clenched fists for almost two hours during Life, I tweeted immediately after that the film was the Alien of a new generation. I Tweeted that because like the original Alien film, the beauty of Life is that you don’t see much of the alien. It’s thrilling because the alien is growing quickly, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see it. Neither do the characters, which better allows their fear to infect you.
GCN’s resident movie critic, Charles Karel Bouley, called Life an Alien “ripoff,” and I agree wholeheartedly. But I appreciate that the makers of Life utilized the successes of Alien and those suspenseful thrillers before it. But what I appreciate most about Life is that it’s at least a partially original story, with motivated plot and character arcs and an original, twisted ending that utilizes parallel editing pretty well. Life is an Alien movie with a new alien, just as Alien was Jaws with a new shark, and Jaws the Psycho with a new psycho.
It’s just too bad Alien: Covenant did its best to ruin Life’s opening weekend and gross earnings. Life has made just under $80 million worldwide, while Covenant moved up its release date, forcing Life into a crowded month and weekend. Logan and Get Out were both R-rated films still pulling strong numbers, and that’s two too many. Covenant did $4.2 million in Thursday night preview screenings at about 3,000 locations. As of this writing, Life is currently rated five points lower than Covenant on the Tomatometer and audience score.
So there’s another Alien movie. That’s six if you don’t count Alien vs. Predator. But you can tell Covenant is not a true Alien movie by simply comparing the trailers. Remember the Alien trailer? Well, I guess I don’t either. It was before my time, but I do remember watching effective trailers in film school, including that of Alien. It’s an effective trailer because the alien is never revealed. They start with the suspense right out of the gate and leave you wanting -- no -- needing to go to the theater to see that damn alien!
Covenant attempts to build suspense with its trailer but throws it all down the drain with the last shot. Sure they wait until the very end of the trailer to reveal the alien, but I’d argue they never needed that final shot of the alien. Almost everyone knows what the alien looks like by now, but the revelation used to be reserved for those who paid for a movie ticket. Now Hollywood just puts the revelation on the poster like a brand, but the art of making a great trailer has gone by the wayside as well.
Karel said Covenant doesn’t offer us anything new regarding suspense, “but it goes back to the same cinematography, the same type score, the same lighting that the original did oh so many years ago. BUT that had things we had not seen before.”
So Life can’t be an Alien ripoff with a mostly original story, villain and ending, and things we haven’t seen, but we can remake the same damn movie over and over as long as it shares part of the name of the original film? I might be in the minority, but I’d rather see someone attempt a film that’s even partially original than see the same film with the same shots and same music I saw 20 years ago with better computer graphics. Speaking of exactly the same...
The trailer for Life is almost an exact replica of the Alien trailer and is equally suspenseful. You never see the alien in its grown form -- only the faces of its victims -- which is plenty. The trailer doesn’t give too much away, and neither does the poster. The last time I was that excited to see a film (besides 2017’s Get Out for obvious reasons) was Dark Knight Rises five years earlier (and that’s because I’m a Batman freak). I just had to see that alien! And I am in no way comparing Life to either Get Out or Dark Knight Rises. I’m merely commenting that the feeling of excitement I had going into the film was piqued thanks to the trailer and movie poster. I was sold, and the people responsible for creating those marketing materials should get mad props.
As a fan of film and not necessarily of the Alien franchise, I appreciated what Ridley Scott did with the Alien prequel, Prometheus. He made it like the first Alien movie. The Xenomorph in Alien had just four minutes of screen time and didn’t appear until an hour into the film. That’s how you build suspense. The only horror or thriller villain to win an Academy Award spent 20 minutes onscreen. That’s all the role required thanks to Anthony Hopkins.
The Prometheus trailer never reveals the alien and neither does the poster. If you had never seen an Alien film you could have gone to the theater not even realizing you were going to see an Alien film. Then, after the most gruesome, on-screen c-section ever, that newborn alien just sits in that locked room. You almost forget about it while waiting for the big payoff -- the fight with the “engineer.” And when those doors open, the alien does not disappoint. It’s suspenseful more than it’s scary, and suspense is better.
But moviegoers have made things easier on filmmakers these days by turning out in droves for horror flicks and action movies that aren’t nearly as dedicated to cinematic and thematic quality as thrillers and dramas. I mean, a handheld-shot, horror movie made nearly $250 million. And while Covenant looks to be on its way to good payday, it’s also surrounded with the likes of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a third animated movie about talking Cars, a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise (which I find to be incredibly disturbing).
My point is the standards of moviegoers have fallen tremendously, likely due to the lack of originality and variety available at movie theaters these days. Hollywood is getting away with it and will continue to do so until people stop paying exorbitant amounts of money to see bad films.
“Ridley knows how to terrorize us...but when Scott discovers that we can be terrorized again with less, instead of more, and when the writers can innovate instead of capitalize, the next great horror film will be made,” Karel said.
I would venture to say horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to originality, and if writers want to innovate, they wouldn’t write horror or action. They’d write suspenseful thrillers, which require new monsters and new stories like Life has given us. I so hope there's a sequel called After Life and a sequel to the sequel called Life After Life. Given the ending of Life, I'd say the future of the franchise is brighter than the box office numbers indicate.
I have no problem with the Alien franchise continuing. It’s a fantastic story and now a fantastic pre-story. But if you’re going to make an Alien movie, make an Alien movie -- trailer, poster and all. Leave some wiggle room for the imagination to fantasize prior to throwing the alien in our face. That’s what made Alien so great, and while Life and Prometheus are contrived by design, at least they stayed true to the inspiration. If Alien: Covenant stays true to its inspiration, it’ll be contrived from the sci-fi, action movie Aliens, which, by design, means it can’t be as cinematically or thematically entertaining as Life or any of its predecessors.
Editor’s Note: An update will follow with my review of Alien: Covenant.
Editor's Note: I finally watched Alien: Covenant, and since it's been almost four months since this was originally published, you are right to assume that I didn't see it in a theater. I'm glad I didn't, because the latest Alien movie isn't even worth renting. While I'll appreciate the franchise continuing tradition and making a woman the film's strongest character, that's about the only thing I like about it besides Daniel McBride's performance. Michael Fassbender returns as David and also plays Walter -- an updated version of David. But Walter is duller, too, and for good reason. The humans don't want him to create anything for fear of what he's capable. This doesn't allow Fassbender to carry the screen like he did with David in Prometheus, but the film does do a good job illustrating the potential hazards of artificial intelligence, leaving you wondering for how long you'll be atop the food chain -- and not because of the aliens.
The plot is oh so predictable from beginning to end. Upon introductions of the Covenant crew, I knew exactly who would live and who would die. But even their deaths weren't especially entertaining or creative, with one crew member slipping on blood and injuring her leg to make things easy for the newborn alien. The biggest problem I had with the film was how almost everyone panics (and unrealistically at that) the moment something goes wrong. It might be just a colonizing mission, but they're in outer freaking space. If this crew had any training whatsoever, most didn't show it. And whether or not you're aware aliens exist, you must assume aliens exist, and have a plan in case you make contact. Apparently, NASA doesn't have a protocol for dealing with aliens, either, but that's because they're not even close to getting far enough from Earth to find any. Covenant, however, is en route to a planet that could sustain human life, and therefore other life, and the crew awakes seven years from their destination. I'm sorry, but anyone who boards a spaceship and falls asleep for a decade while roaming outer space and awakes with the assumption they're still the only intelligent life in the vicinity is either incredibly vain or incredibly stupid, or both. Alien: Covenant is equally as stupid. The entire film exists because Prometheus was so good and revived the franchise. They certainly didn't need Ridley Scott to make and sell this garbage. Prometheus did that. Life, however, is a fresh take on the alien story and far more entertaining than Covenant. It might not be as introspective and thought-provoking, but Life is more suspenseful, offers believable performances, and has a much better ending because I didn't see it coming when the movie started. The only thing I was wrong about is Covenant wasn't as scary as Life.
A man in Texas is suing his date for texting during Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. The man is looking to be reimbursed for the price of his ticket: $17.31. I know, that’s way too much to pay for a movie, but it was in 3D afterall, which is generally a waste of money. The only good 3D movie I’ve ever seen is Harold and Kumar’s Very 3D Christmas.
Anyways, if we wanted to pay even more to see a movie, we could adapt a program where cell phones are locked up by the movie theater staff and can be picked up anytime during or after the movie. But since that’s not happening we all have to put up with people who don’t understand that the use of their phone bothers moviegoers because in a nearly pitch-black theater, a cell phone is like a road flare.
For me, as a film graduate, I find cell phone use during the feature completely disrespectful not only to your fellow moviegoers but to the filmmakers as well. If you’re not going to consider your fellow moviegoers as neighbors who are taking this visual and auditory adventure with you, consider how many people worked hard to bring you this entertainment you pay $17.31 to enjoy and escape your miserable life.
You millennials out there who are connected to your phone like an Army Ranger is to her rifle could benefit from powering down every once in awhile. Why would you want to indulge in your miserable life when the one on screen is so much more interesting? In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not special. You are not beautiful or unique snowflakes. You are the same decaying, organic matter as everything else. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” So make like the rest of the courteous crap and shut off your damn cell phone during the film!
People texting during the feature brings me flashes of that scene from God Bless America where a man with nothing to lose and a high school girl with nothing to do shoot everyone being annoying during a movie and leave the person who wasn’t with, “Thanks for not talking during the feature. Thanks for turning off your cell phone.”
Now I’m not about to pull a Dark Knight premiere on people using their cell phones during a movie, but I will sternly ask them to shut off their cell phone immediately. If they continue to use their cell phone or talk during the feature, I will ask the usher to remove them and give me a refund for having to leave the theater during the movie for which I just paid $17.31.
If the usher isn’t willing to do either, I’ll speak with a manager who will. While movie theater owners don’t want to lose the millennials who think seeing a movie is a social event, they’d rather lose customers who aren’t interested enough in the film to turn off their cell phones than a regular moviegoer who is. It’s imperative that you let the manager know they’ll lose you as a customer if cell phone use during the movie isn’t addressed with no tolerance.
If I had it my way, I’d make it illegal to use cell phones or any technological device in a theater, and issue an insane fine, so if people do it once they never do it again. Actually, instead of a fine, make those people sacrifice a day of their lives to see what filmmakers go through to make the movies they disrespect. That could be up to 17 hours. My film school had to enact guidelines limiting the length of shooting days to 12 hours because one of my classmates was killed in a car accident after working 16 hours on a shoot. He fell asleep at the wheel, and they called it “12 hours on, 12 hours off,” meaning for every 12 hours on set or location you need 12 hours off set or location to rest. That’s not the case on most films.
There are few products that require the work of as many people as a feature film, and if you’re watching a film in English, there’s a good chance you’re supporting 1.9 million American jobs. So if you feel you need to message your friend during the feature like the Texas man’s date, I hope you get more than a lawsuit. I hope you’re never allowed in a theater again.