May 28, 2014

DAREDEVIL Loses A Showrunner But Gains A Matt Murdock

You guys, Marvel had a rough Memorial Day weekend.

It all started on Friday, right as I was walking into the theater to see Days Of Future Past, when word broke that Edgar Wright was walking away from the looooooong gestating Ant-Man feature that was scheduled to kick off Marvel's Phase Three.  After a lot of ugly rumors and speculation, it appears (according to the usually reliable folks at Latino Review) that the Powers That Be at Disney and Marvel had suddenly balked at the idea of making a movie with a criminal as the protagonist, even if that criminal is lovable goofball Paul Rudd.  So they ordered up a page one rewrite of the script courtesy of a couple of their in-house guys including Eric Pearson, the guy guy responsible for most of Marvel's increasingly fun series of One Shot shorts.  The script came back a few weeks later and apparently it was an abomination, so much so that Wright and his co-writer Joe Cornish felt they had no choice but to leave the project.  This, obviously, blows.

The very next morning came another bombshell: the Daredevil series that Marvel had been cooking up for Netflix had apparently lost Drew Goddard as its showrunner, ostensibly so that he could focus on piecing together the increasingly ill-conceived Sinister Six movie for Sony.  He's been replaced by Stephen S. DeKnight, another member of the Joss Whedon School of TV Making who oversaw the last few seasons of Starz's Spartacus series, which was extremely popular among people who accidentally subscribed to Starz.  Goddard, who will still end up receiving a vestigial credit on the finished series, actually left weeks ago, but once the Wright news broke, the floodgates of information opened up brought unto Kevin Feige a raging headache as the internet rushed to declare this double whammy of bad press as the harbinger of 40 years of Marvel darkness.

Word has it that Goddard may have been clashing with Marvel over casting the show's lead, and while we may never know who he had his sights on (I've seen some suggestions that it was Joel Edgerton, a possibility almost too awesome to have been real) we now know who Marvel has anointed as the one true Matt Murdock: Charlie Cox, he of the giant forehead pictured above.  Cox was the lead of Matthew Vaughn's Stardust, a movie that my wife is exceedingly fond of and which I only vaguely recall watching one time.  I do remember that Claire Danes played a literal falling star and Robert DeNiro was a transvestite airship pirate, yet somehow I feel like neither of those two things were nearly as awesome as they sound in print.  More recently Cox played the Irish hitman/valet who loved up Kelly MacDonald on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and I will admit both that I quite liked him in that role and that I didn't realize he was also that Stardust guy until 20 minutes ago.

Obviously it's troubling that Marvel seems to be bleeding creative talent out its ears, but it seems a tad early to be going all Chicken Little on Feige and friends just yet.  Daredevil will proceed and probably end up being somewhere this side of adequate, while really anything could still happen with Ant-Man.  I think it's just as likely that Marvel announces a new director in the next three weeks as it is that Marvel announces that they're scrapping the project all together.  Mostly I just feel bad for Wright and Goddard, two unique voices who have now both lost out on the opportunity to realize some serious personal passion projects.

Here's hoping that this time next year doesn't find Paul Rudd shrugging his way through a late-night press tour and Charlie Cox assuring us, "It'll be better than that Ben Affleck one!"

May 27, 2014

Podcast Episode 16: Bryan Singer Saves The X-MEN By Burning Down The House

(SPOILERS ensue.)

The X-Men gave birth to the modern era of comic book superhero blockbusters.  It might be easy to forget that considering the franchise immediately went on a decade long decline into not just mediocrity but outright terribleness.  The tide turned three years ago with Matthew Vaughn's excellent X-Men: First Class, which shifted the action back to 1962 in order to tell the story of how a charming young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) first met with the angry Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and curated a team of young mutants to prevent World War III.  But that movie played fasts and loose with the established continuity of all the previous X-films set in the modern era.  Did these younger incarnations represent a cleansing of the palate, a clean slate from which to re-introduce beloved characters in a brand new universe?  Or was this a still a prequel to Bryan Singer's original films?

Days Of Future Past has an answer to that question, and the answer is both.  And neither.

Bryan Singer returns to the franchise for the first time since X2, and he's brought a handful of familiar faces with him to tell one of the all-time classic X-Men stories in which a member of the team (originally Kitty Pryde, but here it's Wolverine because Hugh Jackman) travels back in time to prevent a post-apocalyptic future from coming to pass. That means that Singer (and the audience) gets to have its cake and eat it too, using X1-3 and the two Wolverine standalones as the backstory for this distant hellscape and making the whole movie about trying to erase all of those movies from existence. That's kind of a brilliant way to course correct when you think about it, simply turning into the skid and saying, "Man, we killed and declawed (literally) everyone's favorite characters and left the franchise in a terrible place. So let's just embrace that and turn the world into a complete genocidal horrorshow so that we can undo the whole thing in a way that might make everyone happy again."

It's mostly effective because it feels like the proper sendoff that those characters never really got, both from an emotional and storytelling perspective.  With the exception of the seemingly ageless Hugh Jackman, I expect this is the last time we'll ever see any of those original X-Men cast members returning to these roles.  (Although I'd be psyched if they could ever find a reason bring in Stewart and McKellan again, especially since both Magnetos never get to share a scene together here.)  And that's the way it should be.  It's time to let a new generation of talent bring those characters to life, and I'm psyched at the prospect of seeing a young Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Gambit and Jean Grey join the fold.  It remains to be seen exactly how that's going to be executed, as the end of Days Of Future Past firmly establishes most of these characters as alive and well in 2023.  In a way that actually feels limiting, as it means we can't meet a teenage Cyclops in the next film (set in the 80s) because that would make James Marsden 58 years old at the end of DOFP.

That's why I say this film both is and isn't a total reboot.  Yes, we've thrown out 95% of what's come before First Class and Days Of Future Past, but by giving us even just a fleeting glimpse of what the future holds for Professor X and friends and by tying that future back to a group of actors that we're likely to never see again, we're left with a destination for these characters and stories that will likely exist only to torture continuity nerds like me. As for how Fox plans to handle the bevy of potential spin-offs, I simply have no idea. 

In Episode 16 of our podcast, Bart, Jamie and I discuss all of this as well as the moral turpitude of Bolliver Trask and how Bingbing Fan is most definitely not Saoirse Ronan, along with Gareth Edwards's entrance into the Star Wars family and Edgar Wright's departure from Marvel's upcoming Ant-Man.  Enjoy!

May 23, 2014

ANT-MAN Will Proceed sans Edgar Wright

Well this can't be good.

Marvel Studios and Edgar Wright just issued a joint statement detailing Wright's departure from the upcoming Ant-Man, citing "differences in their vision for the film."  That's fairly baffling considering that Wright has been developing the project for many years now, dating all the way back to Phase One.  You'd think that Marvel should have known the score by now, so I can't help be curious as to the nature if their apparent disagreement. Did they think Wright was gonna make the movie too awesome?  Cuz that seems like a legitimate fear. 

The silver lining is that Marvel isn't pushing the release date, meaning most of the major moving pieces will remain in place.  That includes the script by Wright and Attack The Block director Joe Cornish (although I'm sure it'll get tweaked a bit depending on who takes over) and the cast, which includes Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Patrick Wilson and Michael Douglas. Still, this totally stings. Wright seemed totally in line with the collection of singular creative voices Marvel had heretofore assembled to bring their characters to life, guys like Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Shane Black and the Russo brothers. What's more, it would have continued the effort to make each of these heroes exist in the same universe while maintaining their own distinct tones and story types.  I was REALLY looking forward to an Edgar Wright Marvel comedy. 

So who steps in now?  Ant-Man is supposed to kick off Phase Three following Age Of Ultron, so Marvel doesn't exactly have a lot of time to fuck around here.  Matthew Vaughn looks available. How about James Bobin?  Is it too much to hope that Marvel will back up a pair of Brinks trucks in front of the respective houses of Phil Lord and Chris Miller?

JURASSIC WORLD Could Make All My Dreams Come True

Jurassic World, the latest installment in the long dormant dino-franchise, is currently filming under the direction of Colin Trevorrow, whose Safety Not Garunteed I quite liked!  We know the cast includes Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson, Judy Greer, Omar Sy, Vincent D'Onofrio and that kid with the potato gun from Iron Man 3. The action will go down at a fully operational dinosaur theme park, something I didn't even realize I wanted to see until someone said it out loud.  But will it just be another round of dinosaurs breaking out of their pens and chomping on terrified tourists?  JoBlo says not so much.

Let's backtrack for a minute.  Back in 2007 there was a script floating around for a proposed Jurassic Park 4 written by William Monahan (The Departed) and exploitation master John Sayles.  I never actually got a copy of it, but I read a few descriptions and they were, quite frankly, so absolutely bonkers insane that I couldn't believe it was an actual project that an actual studio was actually developing.  The story took place in a world where dinosaur attacks were taking place with increasing frequency around the world, so a soldier of fortune hooks up with a squadron of dino/human hybrids who can talk and shoot guns and together they embark on a mission to eradicate the world's remaining dinosaur population.  It's basically The Dirty Dozen with talking dinosaurs.

There is no amount of money I would not pay in order to see that movie.

I may have been denied the exquisite joy of dino-commandos, but it sounds like Trevorrow's going to get me pretty close.  According to JoBlo, Jurassic World will feature a new dinosaur cooked up in the lab din order to entice new customers to the park.  This is something that has never before existed in nature, a combination T-Rex/raptor/snake/cuttlefish.  I am downright tickled at the idea that I might hear people exclaiming the word "cuttlefish" in fear and panic multiple times in one movie.

But wait, it gets better!  Chris Pratt's character is supposedly a dinosaur trainer of some kind, a guy who leads a group of "good dinos" who have to hunt down this new beastie and protect the humans.  How exactly does one train a dinosaur?  Mind control tech?  Pheromones?  Maybe they have little artificial voice boxes like Darwin the dolphin on Seaquest!  Or maybe Chris Pratt can speak raptor!

Could I really be this lucky?  We'll find out when Burt Macklin: Dinosaur Trainer hits theaters in June of 2015.

May 22, 2014

Batman/Superman Gets A Terrible Title That We Can All Promptly Ignore

In 2016, Batman is gonna sue the shit out Superman.

While I kind of dig that logo, the official title has left me and the rest of the internet asking a resounding, "What the fuck?"  They might as well have just gone with Untitled Batman/Superman Movie or Hey Guys, Justice League Is Up Next. 

The "v" over "vs" is weird but I'll get over it.  But Dawn of Justice?  Could that possibly be any more meaningless and generic?  I'm a firm believer in the Patton Oswalt rule of movie titling, namely that a title should be evocative enough to create a little mini-movie in your head.  (His perfect example?  Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)  Dawn Of Justice sounds like they literally picked words at random out of a hat.  Besides, I'd argue that this movie didn't really need a subtitle in the first place. Batman vs Superman is really all you need to put the asses in the seats. 

In the end it doesn't really matter. We're all just gonna keep calling it Batman vs Superman anyway because Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is just too many words for an American audience to fathom and instantly conjures up images of the Dark Knight giving an impassioned and emotional testimony at some kind of custody hearing.  Or perhaps Bruce Wayne is taking Kal-El to court over all that property damage at the end of Man Of Steel.  

Harvey Dent could be his lawyer!  

May 20, 2014

First Look At Ryan Gosling's Weird Ass Directorial Debut LOST RIVER

The Cannes Film Festival is currently underway in France and we're already hearing all sorts of interesting buzz from a few highly anticipated films.  Grace Of Monoco starring Nicole Kidman was apparently a huge bust while everybody is raving about Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum in Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher.  Get ready for a million "That's what she said" jokes come Oscar season.

Somewhere in the middle ground lies Lost River (formerly How To Catch A Monster), the first film directed by walking meme generator Ryan Gosling.  The film was reportedly met by a mix of applause and boos. Cannes audiences are notorious for having extremely vocal and I really think we should follow their example.  Look forward to hearing me boo the shit out of Transformers: Age Of ExSTINKtion this summer.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about, here's a fairly cryptic first look teaser.  It features moody cinematography, burning things, and a gold sequined Doctor Who screaming about his muscly muscles.

You've gotta give Gosling credit for not taking the easy road.  As a darling of the internet and basically the most attractive man alive, he could be churning out a romantic comedy or two or year and making piles of Fuck You Money in the process.  Instead Gosling's repeatedly chosen to work with artistic and challenging filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance; the guy's got an odd streak a mile wide and thankfully he's chosen to embrace it.  All that being said, it's little wonder that a movie this bizarre would sharply divide audiences and I quite frankly cannot wait to see it.

Once it hit theaters, I expect Tumblr to promptly implode.

May 19, 2014

Start Your Week Off Right With The New Trailer For GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Captain America: The Winter Soldier kicked off the summer in grand style.  Now it looks almost certain that Guardians Of The Galaxy will serve as the appropriately kickass bookend and close the summer out with a goddamn bang.

Every look at James Gunn's entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks even more preposterously fun than the one before it.  Seriously, I still can't believe that I live in a world where an outer space adventure movie starring Chris Pratt, a foul-mouthed raccoon and a walking tree-person voiced by Vin Diesel is allowed to exist, let alone be bankrolled by a major studio to the tune of $150 million.  And make no mistake, every single penny looks to be up on screen.  It feels like the entire movie takes place in one those richly detailed worlds that Guillermo del Toro leaves dangling in the margins of his movies, places like the Bone Slums of Pacific Rim or the Troll Market of Hellboy 2.  Are we really gonna get a planet shaped like a giant skull?  Fuck yeah.

I'm sure there are those out there who will complain that they still don't know what this movie is actually about.  Those people are dumb people.  If rocket boots, space prisons, John C. Reilly: Intergalactic Beat Cop and an upright raccoon with a giant laser gun hoisted up on his shoulder while scratching his crotch doesn't put your ass in the theater, you're barking up the wrong Groot.

As a bonus, here's a poster that should be hanging in dorm rooms all across the country this fall.  Don't let me down, college kids.

Podcast Episode 15: GODZILLA Is Amazing. The Humans, Not So Much

I really want to see Godzilla again this week.  In listening to this podcast and reading a few reviews, I suspect that we may have been a little unduly harsh on the film and that it might play much better now that I know what to expect.

In our fifteenth episode, Bart (my resident Kaiju Guru) and I might focus largely on the stuff that doesn't work in this new iteration of the character, but rest assured that there's still a lot that does work, and it works like gangbusters.  The biggest oversight of this podcast is that we fail to mention the absolutely breathtaking direction by Gareth Edwards.  He absolutely kills it, so that even in a scene like the Honolulu landfall where I care very little about the humans scurrying to and fro, the action is staged so perfectly that I'm still riveted to the screen.  Anyone who's seen Edwards' first film Monsters shouldn't be surprised that he holds back on the Kaiju mayhem for as long as humanly possible, but when he finally does let loose...HOLY FUCK.  I defy you to watch the last 20 minutes of Godzilla without cheering.

The movie had the second best opening of the year so far (trailing only Captain America: The Winter Soldier) so of course Warner Bros has already greenlit a sequel.  This can only be good news as Edwards, assuming he returns, can ditch all the deathly dull humans and double down on the King Of The Monsters.  If this movie's worst sin is that it leaves me wanting MORE Godzilla, that's a sin I can live with.

Bart and I also mull over the first peek of Ben Affleck as Batman, the deaths of H.R. Giger and Malik Bendjelloul, and the future of the X-Men as Channing Tatum steps into the spicy Cajun shoes of Gambit and Bryan Singer's Days Of Future Past potentially hits the reset button on the entire franchise over Memorial Day Weekend.

May 15, 2014

Not Even Robot Dinosaurs Can Save The Latest Trailer For TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

I keep forgetting that there's a Transformers movie assaulting theaters this summer and every time I remember, I get very sad inside.  There was a decent chance that, after three increasingly unwatchable cinematic disasters and star Shia LaBeouf's slow descent into madness, Michael Bay's most financially successful and intellectually bankrupt franchise would finally go the way of the dinosaurs.  Instead it just added metallic dinosaurs.  And Mark Wahlberg.

Frankly, I'm all out of righteous anger when it comes to this franchise.  I can no longer carry the banner of Michael Bay spoiling my childhood memories, although his upcoming Ninja Turtles movie might test those limits.  I think it mostly has to do with the simple existence of Pacific Rim, which is likely to be the best live-action giant robot movie* for a generation.  Bay can make all the sub-par Transformers films he wants.  I'll take Gipsy Danger over his Optimus Prime any day.

I'd complain that these movies make far too much money in comparison to their piss-poor quality, but I guess I have no right to do so.  After all, I've paid good money to see all three of these films in the theater and I'll almost certainly do the same for Age Of Extinction.  I know it's going to be terrible in advance, but I guess I feel like I need to see it in order to take part in the larger conversation about summer movies and the industry in general.  Also, I am a huge sucker.

If Bay really wants to get me excited about a Transformers movie, bring back Unicron.  Then we'll talk.

*I know, I know, the Jaegers are technically mechs, not robots.  But they're still the best "giant mechanical men" I've ever seen realized on film.

May 14, 2014

Roberto Orci Will Continue To Fuck Up STAR TREK From The Director's Chair

The first Star Trek reboot film is a tremendous piece of entertainment that works in spite of, not because of, its script.  But that shoot went down in the midst of the writer's strike, so I was willing to give J.J. Abrams and writers Robeto Orci and Alex Kurtzman the benefit of the doubt that their next outing would be significantly improved.  Then Star Trek Into Darkness happened.

When Abrams jumped shipped for Star Wars (a.k.a. the franchise he really wanted to direct in the first place) I had hopes that Orci and Kurtzman would move on as well.  Perhaps the infusion of fresh blood might shake things up enough to get things back on track for Star Trek 3, currently scheduled to be released in time for the franchise's 50th anniversary in 2016.

So much for that idea.

Orci and Kurtzman have since gone their separate ways as writers, leaving Orci free to take on directing duties despite having absolutely zero experience directing so much as a TV commercial, much less a major franchise film with a budget of over $100 million.  This is a massive disappointment on almost every level.  I expect the Abrams visual palate to persist going forward (lens flares for everyone!) since Orci will essentially be learning on the job.  I also expect an absurdly complicated and dramatically unsatisfying story that pays little to no respect to these legendary characters. (see: Khan)  After all, Orci is one of the masterminds behind Bay's Trasnformers as well as The Amazing Spider-Man films, none of which make any damn sense.

He's also a little nuts - Orci is an avowed 9/11 Truther and that mentality has absolutely no place in Gene Roddenbury's vision of optimism and hope.  Rumors persist that Orci essentially scared off every other (more qualified) director who was up for the job, including Attack The Block's Joe Cornish.  I will, quite frankly, never forgive him for depriving me of that version of Star Trek.

At this point, the best hope for Trekkies everywhere is that eventually Trek will burn out in theaters and make its way back to television.  Where it belongs.

Behold The Batfleck!

By now I think we've all kind of vaguely grown somewhat almost comfortable with the idea of Ben Affleck taking over the cape and cowl as Batman in Zack Snyder's rapidly expanding cinematic take on the DC universe.  But the question remained as to what exactly that cape and cowl would look like.  Now we have our answer and it's...actually pretty damn great.

First off, I love that it's a black and white photo, even though that obscures some of the details and makes it difficult to discern precise color values.  Is the suit all black?  Is there some grey in there?  Hard to tell.  There does seem to be some distinction between the body of the suit and the gloves/cowl, but that could be more a matter of texture than color.  Personally I'd love to see a classic grey and black suit (I was never really a fan of the blue) but that might just be too much to hope for.  The cape appears to be more leather than fabric and I'm a big fan of the shorter points atop the cowl.

That textured look seems to largely fall in line with Henry Cavill's suit from Man Of Steel, as does the logo on the chest.  Just the other day I was mulling over the distinct differences between the Burton and Nolan bat symbols and thought, "I wonder which way Snyder will decide to go?"  Affleck is sporting the "fat bat" insignia best known from Frank Miller's excellent Dark Knight Returns.  That's hardly a surprise, considering that Snyder introduced the project at ComicCon by having Harry Lennix read a passage from Miller's novel, so I expect that version of the character will play a very significant influence on this latest incarnation, even if the story bears little to no resemblance.  But this new logo, which I totally love, is a smart and simple way to instantly differentiate Batfleck from all who've come before him.  I just hope it pops from the suit a little more than it does here.  My wife didn't even notice it the first time she looked at the picture.

And let's not overlook that Batmobile!  The giant wheels are a clear holdover from the Tumbler, but I'm very happy to see something that looks more like a car than a tank.  It's utilitarian AND sporty!  But will it shoot flames out the back?  Only time will tell.

This is how you introduce a character.  It's different enough from previous Batmen to feel exciting without doing something completely bonkers like the supposed mechanical exo-skeleton that George Miller wanted to feature in his ill-fated Justice League movie.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this Batman is going to be far less concerned with "real-world practicality" than he is with "having cool shit that looks awesome on screen."  But that's Zack Snyder for you.

May 13, 2014

Podcast Episode 14: ATTACK THE BLOCK Or The Power Rangers Vs. The Gorilla-Wolf Motherfuckers

"Allow it."
Last week we talked about John Boyega leading the cast for the new Star Wars trilogy and Bart mentioned that he still hadn't seen Joe Cornish's incredible freshman film Attack The Block.  This week we decided to rectify the situation.  In truth we didn't actually end up talking about the movie for very long before the conversation steered its way onto a number of other topics, including Roberto Orci potentially taking the reins for the next Star Trek film, the inherent narrative problem with most prequels, the future of comic books on television (this fall will bring us Gotham, Constantine, Flash and Agent Carter to go with new seasons of Arrow and Agents Of SHIELD), and who should take fill Patrick Swayze's surfboard for the upcoming Point Break remake.  We also discuss the recently announced Power Rangers movie, and I somehow get painted as some kind of secret hardcore fanboy.  I'm still not really sure how that happened.

Don't take our lack of proper attention as an indictment of Attack The Block's quality.  We all loved it unreservedly and it's one of those movies that I will totally watch at the drop of a hat.  If you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it enough.  Think Goonies vs alien monsters, but British and in the 'hood.  Sadly, the film is not currently streaming on any major services, but you can get the DVD from Netflix or you can buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon for a paltry $15.

That being said, I'm rather fond of the meandering nature of this week's episode.  We cover a lot of different ground and it feels representative of my favorite kind of conversations about movies.  We're quickly entering the heart of summer movie season - Godzilla and X-Men hit theaters the next two weeks and then it's June and we're pretty much off to the races.  Still, I'm working to try and balance the content of these sessions so the movie of the week and the general discussion of cinematic current events is a little more even.

Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud, rate us and review us.  And if you have any questions you'd like us to answer on the air or suggestions for topics you want to hear about, leave them in the comments below!

May 09, 2014

SMASHED Beautifully Navigates The Pitfalls Of Sobriety and Self-Improvement

"Love is the easy part, did you know that?  It's the rest of this shit that's hard."
I was fairly blown away by director James Ponsoldt's newest film, The Spectacular Now, particularly the smart and subtle ways the film dealt with the idea of alcoholism.  Sutter Keely has an indisputable problem with substance abuse, but it's never played as melodrama - his drinking causes him to make some unfortunate choices, but it isn't ruining his life just yet.  Ponsoldt's deft touch left me curious to check out his previous film Smashed, another drinker's tale whose trailer I could vaguely recall having watched once upon a time.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, a hard-partying elementary school teacher who's beginning to suspect that her drinking might be a serious problem.  More often than not these stories feature a main character whose biggest hurdle is simply admitting that they have a problem, but Ponsoldt eschews this familiar formula in favor of a protagonist who is extremely self aware.  Kate lies to her students and her principal, excusing an unfortunate instance of hangover vomiting as a symptom of pregnancy, and then soon finds herself chilling under a highway overpass and smoking crack with a stranger, all before the film's title card comes on screen.  These incidents set the stage for Kate's realization that it's time to quit drinking, although she has no idea just how difficult that course of action will ultimately prove.

Winstead gives a luminous performance in this fascinating character study, a story which revels in the daily grind of self-improvement as Kate attempts to get her shit together.  It ain't easy.  Smashed demonstrates that overcoming alcoholism is not as easy as simply deciding to stop drinking.  The real challenge lies in the follow through, and sometimes even if you make all the right choices, life can still throw you a curveball that brings everything crashing down around you.  Alcoholism is a disease after all, one whose only known vaccine is pure willpower and that's kind of insane when you think about it.  The only way to overcome a drinking problem is to decide to get better and then reinforce that decision every single day.  Forever.  It's fairly remarkable.  I drink just about every day because I love the taste of beer and whiskey and while I've certainly had some pretty wild nights, I've never considered my drinking to be a real problem.  I consider myself supremely lucky that I'm able to drink in moderation (yes I'm aware I just qualified daily alcohol consumption as "moderation") without it escalating to the point of negatively impacting my job or my relationships.  When I tell people about my decision to watch a movie every day, they're often impressed with that level of commitment, but that's nothing compared to someone who can convince themselves every hour, every minute to not take a drink even though all the cells in their body might be screaming out in desperation for a single sip of their preferred spirit.  Would I have that kind of willpower?  If I'm lucky, I'll never find out.

Kate's husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) supports her efforts in theory but makes no effort to curtail his own heavy alcohol consumption.  In fact, it soon becomes clear that he finds the whole idea of AA to be kind of bullshit and he resents that it seems to be pulling Kate away from him.  It's clear that a major component of their relationship is their mutual tendency to seriously cut loose, and if anything it seems clear that Kate could probably drink Charlie under the table.  But throughout their relationship, they've always operated on the same wavelength.  So when Kate suddenly changes gears, Charlie has trouble seeing it as anything other than alienating.  He doesn't view his own drinking as a problem and therefore likely considers Kate's newfound sobriety to be some kind of phase or experiment as opposed to legitimate self-improvement.  He just wants his fun-loving wife back.  Kate eventually relapses and hits the bottle HARD and it's in this moment of role reversal that Charlie truly sees just how scary and out of control Kate can truly be while under the influence.

As one half of a young married couple, it's impossible to watch the rift that forms in Kate and Charlie's relationship without considering my own.  If one of us decided to make a life-altering change in our lives then I'm sure the other would be extremely supportive, but at what point does that change start to tip the scales and become untenable?  Before we got married, Jamie and I had a conversation about the concept of divorce, which seemed like a fairly practical consideration.  If we were to get married and then years later found that we had simply evolved in different directions and were no longer happy together, would divorce be an option?  While our generation is certainly much more comfortable with the concept than those of the past, both of our parents remain together (respectively) and to be honest the whole idea of divorce doesn't quite sit well with me, like it's an admission of failure.  If you had just worked harder and made better choices, maybe you'd still be together.  At the same time, it seems absurd not to acknowledge that people and circumstances change over time, and while we might be happily married and want the same things at 30, the same simply might not be true at 40 or 50.  Commitment is admirable to be sure, but at that theoretical point what is there to be gained by digging into discontent and stubbornly refusing to admit the truth to each other and/or ourselves?  Obviously I hope that day never comes, but to dismiss it as an impossibility would be foolish.

Smashed clocks in at 81 minutes, and while the movie is punctuated by strong performances from Winstead, Paul, Nick Offerman and Octavia Spencer, that short running time does makes the story feel a bit slight.  But the film really serves as a snapshot, a glimpse into the nitty gritty and the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with deciding to walk a different path.  Making the decision can be hard, but what's harder still is sticking to that path and not veering off into the wilderness when things get tough.  The story doesn't really have a resolution per se, but that feels fitting since neither does sobriety.

You never really reach a destination, you simply keep moving forward one day at a time.  If you're lucky, you'll have someone by your side every step of the way.

Title: Smashed
Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Meghan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, Kyle Gallner, Bree Turner
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: Netflix DVD

May 05, 2014

Podcast Episode 13: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Swings Straight Into A Brick Wall (Literally)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might not be as muddled and incoherent as its predecessor, but at least it's a lot more boring and silly.

That's a real shame, because I can't shake the feeling that there really is a very good Spider-Man film trapped underneath an imposing mountain of stupid.  The chemistry continues to crackle between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and is the closest thing to a grounding force this franchise has going for it.  While his Peter Parker remains far too mopey and not nearly smart enough (he literally looks up YouTube videos to learn how batteries work), Garfield totally kills as Spider-Man, bringing an infectious sense of energy and joy to the screen whenever he dons the mask.  Tobey Maguire always made the web-slinging feel like a burden, whereas Garfield truly comes alive when he's facing down baddies and tossing off clever one-liners.  Webb really nails most of the action beats too; the opening chase/fight scene featuring Paul Giamatti's inexplicably cartoonish Russian gangster is absolutely magnificent to behold in IMAX 3D and from a purely visual standpoint, Jamie Foxx's Electro makes for a really cool and dynamic physical threat to Spider-Man.

Unfortunately the story remains dull and bloated, clocking in at over 2 hours and 20 minutes yet still leaving you feeling as if nothing much actually happened.  Electro isn't really a developed character with clear motivations and a plan of action so much as he is a walking special effect designed to make the trailers more exciting.  In fact, if Electro had simply been a autonomous robot or a natural phenomena, there would have been almost no impact to the way the plot unfolded.  Meanwhile Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who by all rights should have been the misunderstood victim turned ruthless criminal mastermind, comes off as little more than an afterthought, an aimless dick who exists solely to literally swoop in at the eleventh hour and act as the mechanism for the latest overly foreshadowed tragedy in Peter Parker's life.  Say what you want about The Lizard, but at least that guy had an evil plan that needed stopping.  And don't even get me started on the unmistakable streak of absurd silliness running through the whole movie.  Bad puns and mustache twirling are the order of the day if you're a Spider-Man villain; Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze would be right at home here.  If nothing else, I'm now outright terrified at the prospect of the upcoming Sinister Six film, which now feels destined to be nigh unwatchable.  If you think I'm exaggerating, just know that at one point Electro tries to kill Spider-Man via nursery rhyme.

The latest episode of the podcast goes into all that and a whole lot more spoilery detail, so I don't recommend listening before you've seen the movie.  I suspect that many of you have already subjected yourself to this nonsense however, so tune in and perhaps find a bit of catharsis.  We also chat about the Star Wars casting and the bizarre announcement of a Beverly Hills Cop "reboot".

(Point Of Order: In my excitement to make Ronny Cox joke, I mistakenly identify his BHC character as "Andrew Bogota" instead of the correct "Andrew Bogomil."  I also realize that I fudged the details of the famous Gwen Stacy scene from the comics, but I wasn't able to cut around it.  My bad.)