Martin McDonagh In Bruges set

You know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri garnered plenty of awards attention (not to mention a fair amount of controversy) four years ago, writer/director Martin McDonagh is back with his next project… and he’s bringing along some familiar faces, too. Fans of McDonagh’s first feature film In Bruges will be especially excited about this one, which was announced early last year, right before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt.

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Game of Thrones anniversary

Attempting to define legacy – whether of an individual, an institution, or a piece of art – can be a fraught proposition. By our very nature, human beings generally tend to crave oversimplified narratives to help make sense of a messy and chaotic world. After all, depending on who you ask, George Lucas will either go down as the godfather of all our nerdy obsessions or the monster who trampled on our collective childhoods, superhero blockbusters ought to be considered as either the modern heir-apparent to Greek myth or an unmitigated blight upon the sanctity of art itself, and Game of Thrones was either the greatest water cooler show of the modern era or a cautionary tale of how unwary creators can dismantle their own sterling reputation in just a final few episodes.

The truth, of course, resides somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

When Game of Thrones (in)famously ended its watch on May 19, 2019, its body of work was hardly cold before many of us – fans, critics, and rubbernecking onlookers alike – rushed to fill social media with grand proclamations and hot takes about What It All Meant. Not even two years after the divisive finale aired, it remains far too soon to carve the series’ ultimate fate in stone. A full decade removed from the very first episode, however, affords us a vital opportunity – not to relitigate a divisive concluding stretch of uneven storytelling, but to reevaluate our wide-ranging reactions in the hopes of discerning how they reflect on both ourselves and the actual show. Read More »

wandavision finale

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything.)

WandaVision, in a word, is about grief.

You’re probably well-aware of this if you’ve spent any time at all following the week-to-week conversation surrounding the popular series, with social media downright inundated with this truism. That’s not to say it’s an inaccurate claim, to be clear, as even the most casual viewer could likely anticipate that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) losing Vision (Paul Bettany) in Avengers: Infinity War would somehow figure into this idiosyncratic blend of superheroes and sitcom pastiche. If anything, that so much of the audience was on the same page about the show’s overarching theme only reinforces the notion that the writing team was telling precisely the story that needed to be told.

This post contains spoilers for WandaVision and its finale.

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WandaVision and the Mandalorian

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything.)

This post contains spoilers for The Mandalorian and the latest episode of WandaVision.

For better or worse, the debuts of The Mandalorian and WandaVision on Disney+ within just 14 months of each other represent something of a game-changer in this Streaming Era. Amid so many different shows all competing for the same spotlight in a post-Game of Thrones vacuum, here comes the unstoppable might of Disney’s Star Wars and Marvel brands to break through the clutter of our current “Peak TV” reality. Achieving pop culture relevance as these two shows have is no small feat, to be sure, but it’s even more notable to do so while expanding from dominating cinemas to taking over our living rooms on a weekly basis.

Because of these factors, it’s difficult to compartmentalize one smash-hit series from the other – as divergent as their goals and intentions may be – when evaluating the ripple effect they both will have (and have already had) on the trajectory of their respective franchises… and most significantly, on how we as viewers engage with them. Weirdly enough, the stories of a lone bounty hunter looking after his orphan sidekick and a grief-stricken superhero cocooning herself in a television fantasy have become a bellwether for studying the volatile dynamic between pop culture entertainment and audiences on a large scale.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the many eerie similarities between these two shows: from misplaced complaints about “filler episodes” throughout both seasons of The Mandalorian and the first few episodes of WandaVision, to their gradual prioritization of shared universe connections over self-contained narratives.

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Rian Johnson Knives Out set

“I just didn’t think it was realistic enough.”

How often have you heard someone’s complaints about a movie essentially boil down to this talking point? If you’ve spent enough time on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube comment sections, you’ve heard it. No matter the forum, film-related discourse in the 21st Century undeniably tends to fall back onto realism. Not that this is problematic in and of itself, but look no further than the cottage industry of popular “satirical” video channels that have gained massive followings in the past decade or so and focus exclusively on lazily snarking on factual inaccuracies and “unrealistic” plot elements to see just how easily this mode of thinking can go awry.

But what is realism, anyway? And what does director Rian Johnson have to do with this conversation? This might seem like a dumb question, but any proper discussion of film and filmmaking styles must first acknowledge the historical context. Let’s define our terms.

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Oscars season is a time of the movie-going year unlike any other, seemingly mandating that film aficionados draw imaginary lines in the sand pitting certain works, both past and present, against each other in an occasionally insightful – though oftentimes frustrating – spectacle. Do you think Taika Waititi’s Best Picture nominee Jojo Rabbit goes so far as to make a mockery of sensitive (and unfortunately timely) issues while Terrence Malick’s much less mainstream A Hidden Life deserved the latter’s accolades? There’s likely a viral-ready tweet for that. Itching to examine all the ways that Todd Phillips’ Joker exposes both the strengths and weaknesses of the class commentary in Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite? That’s already been fodder for some interesting reviews.

With 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, comparisons to another recent film from a similarly accomplished and distinctive filmmaker came flooding in even as early as its very first trailer, having only increased in fervor since its release. That movie, of course, is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a fairly obvious parallel that strengthens its own case when considering how much Mendes himself has encouraged those correlations through his last several films.

What most sets Dunkirk and 1917 apart from other would-be pairings, however, is in how their inextricably linked subject matter goes far beyond mere surface-level similarities or reductive hot takes. Even with such notable differences in nuts-and-bolts filmmaking (perhaps exact opposites, in fact) and the depiction of two vastly disparate World Wars, both narratives feature purposefully grounded perspectives that are wielded to powerful effect. Despite being billed as ostensible war epics, both commit to premises based on preventing further bloodshed. And most intriguingly, Mendes and Nolan take pains to zero in on a particularly overlooked brand of heroism – the subtle, anonymous, understated kind that can add up to make the biggest difference.

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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: here’s the problem with our biggest movies relying too heavily on nostalgia.)

The end of any particular year in film and the beginning of the next – to say nothing of the transition between two entire decades – affords us the opportunity to introspect and pinpoint certain filmmaking trends and tendencies that stand out from the crowd, that recur over and over again and become representative of a larger ethos over time. Unfortunately for the ever-vocal “No politics in my entertainment!” crowd, this tends to manifest on an instinctive level for any artist trying to communicate through the movies they make. Human beings are natural storytellers, after all, which is why storytelling encompasses all our combined hopes, fears, triumphs, and flaws of any given moment.

So if movies can’t be neatly excised from the context of their time (as with all art, really), how did this past year put a bow on a decade of pop culture and what did it tell us about our unique and most pressing concerns? Looking back at the films that resonated most tangibly, it seems safe to say that one of the biggest themes of the past year was, well, looking back.

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new star wars trio future

Between the final seasons of Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot, Avengers: Endgame wrapping up the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga”, Glass serving as the final installment of M. Night Shyamalan’s unexpected Unbreakable trilogy, and of course the ending of the Skywalker Saga with this week’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2019 has lived up to its billing as the year of the finale. 

Unlike any of the others, however, J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and the entire Lucasfilm team have undertaken the immense task of wrapping up more than four decades-worth of iconography and pop culture-defining mythos. Naturally, the past few weeks have seen an influx of fans revisiting the entire series to prepare themselves for a conclusion that promises to pay off all that’s come before. But that brings us to an age-old question for overly-obsessive nerds such as ourselves…

What’s the best way to watch the main Star Wars Saga films, anyway?

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