April 29, 2015

Podcast Episode 54: ROAR Is The Most Insane Thing I've Ever Seen

Some movies defy explanation.  Defy logic.  Defy reality.

And then there's Roar, a movie that was directed by fucking lions.

The story of Roar's production seems so unhinged from reality that you wouldn't believe it really happened if the film itself wasn't there to taunt you with the proof of its own deranged existence.  Writer/director/star Noel Marshall, his wife Tippi Hedren, their sons John and Jerry and their daughter Melanie Griffith spent the 1970s living in a sprawling California estate surrounded by over 100 wild lions, tigers, panthers and leopards.  Their unique lifestyle was part of their fervent support of wildlife conservation and the ethical treatment of large jungle cats, and they felt these issues were so important that the best way to bring them proper attention was to shoot a feature film starring themselves and their extended feline family.  So they embarked on a decade-long cinematic journey in which no animals were harmed, but most of the humans suffered grievous bodily injuries.  Director of photography Jan De Bont (who would go on to direct Speed) was fucking scalped and had to get 220 stitches in the back of his head.  That's what happens when you try to shoot scenes with a hundred untrained lions.

This really happened.  In this universe.  If you think I'm making it all up, just take a look at this trailer, courtesy of my personal idols over at Drafthouse Films who have recently re-released this long forgotten scrap of madness into theaters.

How do you not want to immediately watch that movie?

Bart returns for this week's episode of the podcast and I threw him right into the deep end with a midnight screening of Roar, a movie that's basically ninety minutes of terrified humans being chased by giant killer animals.  It is both the most entertaining and the most horrifying thing I've seen in a theater this year.  We were so dumbfounded in fact, that it actually turned into a pretty short conversation on the relative scale of this podcast, so we changed gears about halfway through to catch up with Star Wars, Batman v. Superman and our first look at Jared Leto's incarnation of The Joker.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud and we will love you forever and bring you cookies!

Next Week: Avengers: Age Of Ultron, obviously.

April 23, 2015

Johnny Depp Wears No Stupid Hats In This BLACK MASS Trailer

Twice this week I've found myself involved in conversations about Black Mass, the Whitey Bulger biopic starring Johnny Depp as the infamous Boston mobster and FBI informant.  It's remarkable considering that, before a few days ago, I kind of forgot that the movie even existed.  You can hardly blame me - Johnny Depp hasn't given us serious reason to get excited about one of his movies in quite some time.  I've been curious, as I am with just about any movie set and shot in my home town, but it's fair to say that my expectations have been pretty low up until now.

Today we got our first look at the film courtesy of this trailer and I must admit, I'm more than a little impressed.

First things first: unless you count his hairpiece, Johnny Depp makes it through all two minutes of this trailer with nary a silly hat in sight.  Huzzah!  And those blue contact lenses give him a serious case of Crazy Eyes.  It's also worth noting that Depp manages to pull off one of the more convincing Boston accents in recent memory.  It's one of those very particular vocal traits that's easy to exaggerate in a comedic context but harder to portray naturally, let alone utilize with genuine menace.  The Departed (whose Frank Costello was based largely on Bulger) is one of the high watermarks in this regard.  Mystic River is like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.

I hadn't realized that the cast was so stacked either!  Joel Edgerton is always a welcome addition to any movie, and I'm a big fan of Dakota Johnson, 50 Shades notwithstanding.  Plus Lance/Landry!  And might we be treated to the dulcet tones of Benedict Cumberbatch's version of a Southie drawl?  I live to dream.

Podcast Screening Episode 53: EX MACHINA And The Gender Politics Of Fuckable Robots

I'm particularly happy that my wife Jamie was around for our discussion about Alex Garland's directorial debut Ex Machina.  Jeff and I, as tried and true science-fiction fans, probably would have largely focused on the conflict between artificial intelligence and humanity or the stunning effects work used to bring Ava's robotic form to life.  That's just where my mind gravitates, to the technological implications and the science of it all.  But Jamie has a different mindset, and her focus on gender politics and identity issues not only elevates the discussion, but proves a vital aspect of the film's central themes, an aspect which I probably would have somewhat overlooked.  It pays to marry an intellectual.

Ex Machina is a tremendous film, one which I'll admit has stayed with me in the days since we recorded this episode.  I didn't walk out of the theater with that buzz of excitement that so often comes from viewing a truly special film.  It just didn't hit me the way as something like Upstream Color or Her.  But it's intellectually engaging in a way that so few films are anymore.  There is A LOT going on in this movie, from am emotional, technological and philosophical perspective.  In truth, we probably could have talked for another hour if the prospect of poutine and Game Of Thrones hadn't been heavy on the horizon.

All that aside, the three central performances by Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleason and Alicia Vikander are each stunning in their own respect.  Vikander's Ava possesses an otherworldly grace both physically and psychologically, which stands in stark contrast to Oscar Isaac's Nathan, a sort of coarse, hard-drinking, dude-bro Steve Jobs.  Domhnall Gleason's Caleb is the nice guy caught between these two magnetic forces, and while his role isn't quite as compelling on the page - he spends a lot of time sitting in a glass box asking questions - the fact that he isn't completely overrun by Isaac and Vikander just goes to show the power of Gleason's strong screen presence.  It's hard to describe aside from saying that the guy is just incredibly watchable.  I can't wait to see how he and Isaac fit into the Star Wars universe.

As always, be sure to subscribe on iTunes and/or SoundCloud.

Next Week: I'm not sure!  I suspect that Jackie Brown will come into play, and perhaps some of the offerings from this year's Independent Film Festival Boston.

April 20, 2015

PODCAST: Screening Episode 52 - We Dig Some Coal With JUSTIFIED

I've been a huge fan of FX's Justified from the opening moments of its electric pilot episode.  Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder are two of the most entertaining and compelling characters of the past half decade and I'm not gonna lie, I had a hard time saying goodbye to them and all the other colorful inhabitants of Harlan, Kentucky when the series finale aired last Tuesday night.  It was funny, it was violent, it was emotional...it was all the things that made Justified such an absolute joy to watch over the years.

I found the finale so affecting that I just couldn't let it go without talking about it in the latest episode of the podcast.  It's our first TV episode!  Jeff Schwartz, a fellow Elmore Leonard aficionado and the next biggest Justified fan I know, was happy to fill in for Bart for the second week in a row and what was meant to be a quick half hour chat before our movie of the week turned into a sprawling, two hour examination of the finale, the last season and the series as a whole.  We compare the various big bads, rank all six seasons and finally declare our respective allegiances to Team Boyd or Team Raylan.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Justified, first of all I recommend diving in head first.  Sadly the series is not streaming on Netflix but it is available for all of you Amazon Prime members.  But worry not, we also recorded another, shorter episode in which Jamie joins us to talk about AI paranoia and the examination of gender roles in Alex Garland's directorial debut, Ex Machina.  That should be up by the end of the week.

As always, be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and on SoundCloud.

Later This Week: Ex Machina!

April 17, 2015

UPDATED: I Feel Bad For That Leaked BATMAN v. SUPERMAN Trailer

Warner Bros has a big IMAX event scheduled for Monday night where they planned to unleash the first official teaser for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Then the internet went and ruined everything.  That's kind of how the internet rolls.

Even if the footage hadn't been taken down, I wouldn't run it here because I have a long-standing hatred of leaked trailers, especially ones that consist of shaky phone camera footage with muffled audio that occasionally drifts out of focus.  This is a bad way for any movie to be introduced to the public, let alone something as grandiose as Batman v. Superman.  The fact that the entire trailer is made up of nighttime combat footage and overlapping voiceovers only exacerbates things.  To be honest, there isn't really a whole lot to see here, but it's a teaser trailer so that's fine.  This should really be about tone more than anything else.  And, unsurprisingly, that tone can be most accurately described here as "dour as shit."

What's worse, the trailer was leaked just hours after the official release of that newfangled Star Wars trailer, which was met with such overwhelming enthusiasm by the nerd community at large that anything released in its wake could only be considered a disappointment.  Even if this BvS trailer had been more remarkable, between the poor quality footage and the shadow of Skywalker looming large, the deck was simply stacked against it.  What's worse, because of their big IMAX event, Warners can't even utilize Marvel's clever strategy of countering the leak by immediately releasing a high quality official version.

UPDATED: Well I called that one wrong.  Warner's did end up releasing the official version online in advance of their IMAX event, which certainly makes sense.  Once it's out there, it's out there. You might as well make it look as good as possible.  See it embedded below.

Make no mistake about it.  This is a very big deal.  In a few weeks Marvel will release the money printing machine that is Age Of Ultron and before rounding the corner into the truly epic weirdness of Phase 3.  Meanwhile, DC is just starting to roll out their cinematic universe with nothing but the promising-yet-problematic Man Of Steel as a foundation.  Frankly, audiences have no idea what to expect going forward and Warners has a long road ahead of them convincing the world that they've got something that's both compelling as/uniquely different from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Right now their strongest indicator is probably Suicide Squad, which will certainly feel nothing like any other comic book movie to date, for better or for worse.

I'm probably a little more optimistic than most (I quite liked Man Of Steel!) but there's no way to overstate the value of a first impression and blurry iPhone footage is the polar opposite of what Warners was shooting for here.  The DCU is already on shaky ground when it comes to public opinion.  Here's hoping they can turn it all around.

Photo credit to Redditor Thomassaurus

April 16, 2015

Gaze Upon The Second STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS Trailer!

Star Wars: Celebration is happening right now in Anaheim.  I am in my cubicle in Boston.  This makes me sad.  You know what doesn't make me sad?



I literally love everything about this.  Standouts include:

Derelict Star Destroyer.
Luke Skywalker's familiar voiceover.
BB-8 peeking around a corner.
Vader's melted helmet
Every shot of John Boyega.
Robot hand!
That chrome stormtrooper.
Old school lightsaber being handed down
Cool masked villain.
And of course, THAT FINAL SHOT!

Seriously, that final shot put the biggest, stupidest grin on my face and made me instantly pump my fist in the air, perfectly in time with the music sting I might add.

Suffice it to say, my excitement over this movie just became legit.

PS - J.J. Abrams announced on stage today that the desert planet we've been seeing is not, in fact, Tattoine, but a new world named Jakku, which hilariously set off a 20 minute Twitter firestorm among bloggers about how to properly spell it.

April 13, 2015

Podcast Episode 51 - GOLDFINGER Is The Best And Worst Of James Bond

For the past few weeks, my very patient wife Jamie and I have been making our way through my shiny new James Bond box set.  She agreed to embark upon this adventure with me on the promise that each film will be accompanied by a themed cocktail.  So Goldfinger and whiskey sours it was!

Jamie has a serious (and justifiable) issue with James Bond in that he is an incredibly chauvinistic and condescending prick around women.  Seriously, he borderline rapes Pussy Galore at one point.  This stuff is undeniable, but so is the pure pleasure of seeing Sean Connery fight super-lasers and a mute Asian manservant with a decapitating bowler hat.  Goldfinger set the tone for all James Bond films and the entire spy genre for years to come.  The real question is whether Goldfinger's hijinks doomed 007 to become too silly for its own good. And if you don't think that argument holds water, remember that the first time we see Sean Connery in this movie, he's wearing a duck as a hat. 

That being said, this is also the movie that broke Jamie in terms of her ability to keep watching this franchise.  I have now given up any hope that she'll make it through all 24 movies.  Still, her unbridled rage makes for a pretty entertaining podcast.

As always, be sure to subscribe on iTunes and/or Soundcloud.  We're officially back in the swing of things over here with lots of good films on the horizon.

Next Week: Ex Machina (hopefully) and reflections on the end of FX's Justified.

Spoiler Fans Will Love This TERMINATOR: GENISYS Trailer

So there's a new trailer out for this summer's upcoming and unfortunately titled Terminator: Genisys and it is apparently EXTREMELY spoilery in terms of this movie's particular timeline-related twists.
I have, therefore, not watched it.  But you might want to.  So it's embedded below.

Look, I've long held that studios give away far too much information about a movie in their attempts to sell it to audiences.  With a known quantity like Terminator, this habit is all the more baffling. However history judges this particular installment, we all know what we're getting when it comes to the franchise as a whole.  If killer robots and time travel isn't your bag, then these aren't the movies for you.  Otherwise, you're probably already on board, or at least morbidly curious.  That's sort of where I fall at this point - skeptical but intrigued.  So I guess this means I'm officially into my traditional marketing blackout mode now that summer is almost upon us.

For all you Terminator fans out there, we're planning on doing a full franchise rewatch on the podcast in the weeks leading up to the release of Genisys, so dust off your DVDs and get psyched!  For what it's worth, there's a $50 box set available on Amazon, or you can do what I did and buy each movie individually and save yourself $16.

April 08, 2015

You (Probably) Don't Need To Sit Through The Credits Of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

If nothing else, the Marvel films will be remembered for instilling in audiences a compulsive need to stay through all of the credits of most any blockbuster franchise film with the expectation that they'll be treated to a short post-credit stinger scene.  I actually kind of love this side effect, as the industry-saturated audiences of Los Angeles typically stick around as a sign of respect for the many crew members who work on any given film.  I can't help but wonder how long this phenomenon will persist, as more often than not the credits simply roll to black and whoever's still in the theater lets out a groan and feels like a sucker.

Director Joss Whedon seems to recognize the danger of disappointment, which is why he recently told Entertainment Weekly that there will be nothing at the end of the credits for Avengers: Age Of Ultron.  Kevin Feige pointed out that there will be the expected mid-credits tag, but according to Whedon, they just couldn't come up with anything that lived up to the legacy of the first Avengers's infamous schwarma scene.  And really, what could?  Tip of the hat for not attempting to bottle lightning twice.

Now it's worth noting that the schwarma scene wasn't actually filmed until after the LA premiere, so if you had asked Whedon about a post-credit stinger at this point before the first film, he would have told you the exact same thing.  I find it hard to believe that Whedon would specifically tell people not to stick around just to fuck with fans, but it doesn't preclude him (or the Russos for that matter) getting the band back together at the eleventh hour if inspiration strikes.  In other words, yeah I'll probably stick around but there probably won't be anything after all.

Also, feel free to start speculating as to what future Marvel film the mid-credit scene will set up.  Ant-Man is next on the docket but Captain America: Civil War will have already started filming.  Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if Black Panther or Captain Marvel made an appearance...

April 06, 2015

PODCAST: Screening Episode 50 - FURIOUS 7 Brings Flying Cars And Teary Eyes


I will admit it.  I totally shed a single tear at the end of Furious 7.

Is this the best entry in the unlikeliest of all blockbuster franchises?  No way.  Not by a long shot. Fast Five is still the best single film in the franchise in terms of quality storytelling and character work.  At the same time, Furious 6 is definitely the most entertaining movie overall, due mostly to a healthy dose of the The Rock playing an ally as opposed to an enemy.  Also, The Battle On The Infinite Runway at the end is the best action sequence of this or most any other franchise.  But what Furious 7 lacks in sharp storytelling or non-stop action, it makes up for with steady entertainment value and an emotionally devastating coda.

This franchise has been incredibly nimble, striving to redefine itself with each entry.  The latter half of the series has effortlessly transitioned from cops & robbers to a heist flick to a comic book story and now, with part seven, we are solidly in globe-trotting secret agent mode.  Amazingly, this feels like the franchise's destiny all along, particularly with the always great Kurt Russell playing the team's jovial yet badass handler.  The story feels a bit half-baked ("Let's give them a MacGuffin to chase and be done with it.") but each component of the story works fine on its own.  The entire mountain chase scene, featuring cars parachuting out of a cargo plane, is an absolute franchise all-timer.  Seriously, it's incredible.  But it happens pretty early on in the proceedings and none of the set pieces that follow ever really surpass that scene in terms of action or pure excitement.  Dom and Brian driving a rare and expensive sports car mid-air across three different skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi does come pretty close though.

I was really looking forward to Jason Statham stepping in and lending some real weight and menace to the villain role, something a lot of these movies tend to lack.  And while Statham's silent force-of-nature routine is pretty effective, it somehow pales in comparison to Luke Evans' turn as the younger Shaw brother, mostly because his impassive "Everyone is a cog in my machine" approach feels like a more direct counter point to Dominic Torretto and his fierce family loyalty.  Also, the revelation in the opening scene that Evans somehow managed to survive the last film really deflates Statham's need for vengeance.

But all of these issues (along with a Michelle Rodriguez subplot that falls flat and a significant squandering of Djimon Hounsou) feel totally minor and didn't really start to bother me until long after I'd left the theater.  For most of the film's running time I was having WAY too much fun to get bogged down by any of this stuff.  And by the final scene, I guarantee that you just won't care.  Credit must be paid to director James Wan (who brings his own visual flourishes without alienating the film from the rest of the series) and writer Chris Morgan for pulling off the impossible in the wake of Paul Walker's death.  It would appear that Walker had already finished filming the vast majority of his scenes before his passing and most of the body doubling/digital face-swapping absolutely works on screen.  That's not to say you don't notice it, but it still feels mostly organic to the story and the effects work is not so jarring as to grind the movie to a halt.  And that final scene...man that final scene.  It's just a killer.

We ended up taking an accidental two month hiatus from podcasting but the snow has melted and we're officially back in business. For our first episode after the break we've got a great five-person round table of returning guests, all of whom have varying levels of affection for the Fast & Furious franchise as a whole. Also, at different points we inadvertently confuse Jason Statham with Jason Segal and Eugene Levy with Elliott Gould. True story.

As always, make sure to subscribe on iTunes and/or SoundCloud!

Next week: Ex Machina!