Twenty years ago, on the eve of the new millennium, Stanley Kubrick invited moviegoers into a mansion where the rich and powerful donned Venetian masks and black hoods to engage in ritualistic orgies. It was the summer of 1999 and Kubrick had passed away months earlier, leaving behind the last entry in his filmography, Eyes Wide Shut, as a posthumous release. The film hit theaters on July 16 and like The Shining — which earned the auteur a laughably shortsighted Worst Director nomination at the first-ever Razzie Awards — it received mixed reviews early on.
Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the leading Hollywood power couple of the day, Eyes Wide Shut wasn’t quite the erotic thriller that its marketing made it out to be. The sole sex scene involving one of the main characters was a fantasy sequence, glimpsed only in flashes of monochrome thought. Instead, audiences settled in for a 160-minute night odyssey that confronted the egocentrism in human nature through the lens of desire. In short: not your typical summer movie fare, unless maybe you were expecting a dark, twisted Christmas in July.
Forget the Illuminati; what really matters in Eyes Wide Shut is sins of the heart and how those affect couples caught up in a world that is beyond their understanding or control. In its own feel-bad, pre-Gone Girl way, this is a movie that might actually qualify as required viewing for anyone in a long-term relationship. The password is fidelio.
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Face front, true believers: there’s a new Spider-Man movie in theaters. At twenty-three films and counting, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going on long enough now that it has its own history and needn’t be a slave to comics history (not that it ever was). Reviews have nonetheless pegged Spider-Man: Far from Home as one of the more comic book-y entries in the MCU.
While it strays from its source material in some notable ways, leaning into a more tech-friendly interpretation of the Spider-Man mythos, there are a number of plot points in the film that do draw from Marvel Comics tradition. Sometimes they’re just subtle nods, Easter eggs for eagle-eyed comic readers to spot. Other times, having knowledge of movie and comics history may be essential for understanding the significance of certain moments, including those that we see play out in the requisite mid-credits scene and post-credits scene.
If anything left you scratching your head in Spider-Man: Far from Home, or you just want to have a deeper appreciation for the layers of history behind the web-slinger’s Old-World summer adventure in Europe, then don your best fishbowl helmet and let’s take a spoiler-filled dive into those right now.
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Do the Right Thing is the movie that should have won the Best Picture Oscar for 1989, but like Glory — a film that depicted the real American Civil War, as opposed to the ongoing figurative one — it went without the nomination it deserved. The Academy Awards can be notoriously shortsighted. Earlier this year, Spike Lee finally took home a gold-plated statuette for Best Adapted Screenplay, but with the controversial Green Book still triumphing in the top category, his film, BlacKkKlansman, almost literally took a back seat to another Driving Miss Daisy.
It was as a college student in New York circa 2001 that I made my own personal discovery of Lee’s directorial work. He Got Game was playing in a darkened TV lounge in the campus center. Ray Allen and Rosario Dawson were sitting on a bench in front of the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, their faces lit green, the camera gliding side-to-side as they exchanged dialogue. When you’re a 20-year-old riding the Metro-North Railroad alone into Midtown Manhattan, it feels like entering the center of American life. Lee’s films centered on other parts of the city, making slices of life there — and important chapters in history — come alive.
Do the Right Thing showed us the hottest day of summer in one Brooklyn neighborhood, where simmering racial tensions would boil over into a situation where few, if any, did the right thing. History repeats itself and life imitates art, just as it did five years ago on Staten Island when the police-chokehold death of Eric Garner showed the world a real-life version of Radio Raheem. This time, we didn’t need the empathy machine of a movie to make it real. All you had to do was watch a cellphone video on the news to see how little American society had changed.
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In his novel White Noise, which won the National Book Award, Don DeLillo famously wrote of an “Airborne Toxic Event.” It almost sounds like a plot device from a superhero blockbuster. Think: Suicide Squad’s self-conscious recognition of the “swirling ring of trash in the sky” trope. The weakest part, visually, of Spider-Man: Far from Home — an otherwise super-enjoyable romp through the post-Endgame MCU — is its CG “Elementals.” These were glimpsed in trailers so it’s no big spoiler to say they’re part of the movie or that one of them does internally swirl in a ring-like formation.
What’s interesting about the Elementals is that they’re loosely based on Marvel Comics villains yet their function in Far from Home, beyond the obvious spectacle, is largely symbolic. Full of sound and fury, signifying something, they’re the superhero blockbuster equivalent of a tweetstorm. Cross-reference: DeLillo’s Airborne Toxic Event. Notwithstanding the recent victory of Thanos, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has struggled in some ways to bring to life its supervillains with as much panache as its heroes. In this one respect, the intellectual-property farm of Marvel Comics has never quite enjoyed its full harvesting potential for Marvel Studios.
Not to worry: Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is now batting 2-for-2, villain-wise, in his solo movie adventures. The media loves a good scene-chewing villain: can we agree on that? Rather than argue politics in a superhero movie review, let’s objectively consider the idea of an attention-grabbing public figure who consistently “cuts through all the static” — vast, continental clouds of white noise — to make sensational headlines. Is he the anointed one, this man? Can he be trusted with ultimate power? To talk about that, we’ll need to get busy with some spoilers for Spider-Man: Far from Home.
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Fandom is a religion that thrives on killing its own gods. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, there’s a passing line of dialogue that suggests self-destruction is the natural endpoint of evolution. The Japanese television and film series periodically evokes deicide with exotic Judeo-Christian imagery, such as god-killing spears and figures nailed to crosses. Yet it’s known for the line, “The fate of the destruction is the joy of rebirth.” Evangelion is a franchise that evolved to the point of self-destruction, only to be reborn, or rebuilt, numerous times over. Its latest rebirth is on Netflix, where it became available to watch last Friday.
The ability to conveniently view one of the greatest anime works of all time should be cause for celebration among U.S. fans, whose main avenue for watching the series since the DVDs went out of print years ago has been illegal streams, expensive copies from third-party Amazon sellers, or the sketchy online market of bootlegs. Due to licensing entanglements, however, the situation with Evangelion has come to resemble Star Wars, whereby the original, unaltered theatrical trilogy is unavailable on home media. Here again, the version that is out there for mass consumption is different from the one fans first experienced, with redubbed voices, new subtitles, censored relationships, and missing music.
The reaction on social media had been typically harsh, enough so that it almost plays right into Evangelion’s metaphorical god-killing cycle, as complaints drown out discussion of the anime epic’s lasting virtues and the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater all over again. What’s important is that the series is catching a wave of renewed interest, and as it finds a fresh audience, it’s ripe for discussion, particularly as it relates to themes of personal dysfunction, social withdrawal, and the intersection between fan culture and storytelling.
This article contains spoilers for the entire series.
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Toy Story 3 is a gateway drug of a movie. It’s a film where you can sit down and watch it as a Pixar agnostic and come away, in the end, as a big believer in the ingenious storytelling possibilities of computer animation. Quentin Tarantino, of all people, listed the film as #1 on his Top Ten of 2010, ahead of other landmark films such as The Social Network and Inception.
As a cinephile, when I saw that, it led to some cognitive dissonance. I thought, “Tarantino and Toy Story? Those are two mismatched brands. What the bleep is that movie doing on his list?” It made me curious enough to check out Toy Story 3 for myself, just so I could see what all the hubbub was about.
What I experienced when I sat down and watched the movie for the first time took me by surprise. While still family-friendly, Toy Story 3 is twisty and even a bit twisted in parts (but in a good way)? It’s also fundamentally charming and imaginative in a way that warmed the cockles of my cold, dead heart. This is the Pixar movie that feels the rawest and realest, perhaps because there are some real-life, whether intentional or not, parallels between its plot and some of the behind-the-scenes goings-on at Pixar.
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The casting of Robert Pattinson as the next Batman has led to a predictable round of online petitioning to remove the former Twilight heartthrob from the role. If you’ve been alive and been a Batman fan long enough, you might be left thinking, “How soon we forget.” Years ago, a similar outcry accompanied the casting of Heath Ledger — himself a teen heartthrob turned serious dramatic actor — as the Joker. At the time, Ledger was best known for his performances in A Knight’s Tale and Brokeback Mountain, so he seemed very much cast against type.
Look how that turned out. If you reach back further in time, of course, there’s an even more direct example of an unconventional casting choice for the Caped Crusader. In the absence of social media, fans once embarked on a letter-writing campaign to dissuade Warner Bros. from letting the star of Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice play Batman. Fortunately, that campaign failed and thirty years ago this week, Michael Keaton’s Batman arrived on dark wings as an early herald of the comic book millennium.
To say that Keaton was and is the best Batman isn’t a sleight against Christian Bale, whose first franchise outing, Batman Begins, remains the definitive origin story, across all mediums, for the greatest superhero of all time. Bale was the best Bruce Wayne. His strength lay in showing us how the orphaned prince of Gotham would become Batman, whereas Keaton wore the actual suit and voice better. Part of this can be attributed to costume design; maybe part of it, also, can be attributed to director Tim Burton’s take on the Batman mythos, which held that Wayne himself shouldn’t be physically imposing. It was only after he put on the suit that the brooding billionaire became a fearsome scourge to criminals on rooftops.
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Bryan Singer’s fingerprints have been all over the X-Men movie series since day one. Even the films he hasn’t directed or produced have largely been following the stylistic blueprint that Singer set from the summer of 2000 onward. The original X-Men film deserves credit for ushering in the comic book movie millennium. Theatergoers embraced it, but as a ‘90s kid who grew up reading back issues of The Uncanny X-Men, collecting all the other new X-titles, watching The Animated Series, burning through quarters with the arcade game, and stockpiling the old Toy Biz action figures, I had my misgivings.
I trust that I need not whip out a complete Jim Lee trading card set (gold holograms included) to prove that the X-Men had a rogues gallery on par with that of Spider-Man or Batman. I always felt the movies did a disservice to villains like Sabretooth, Juggernaut (until Deadpool 2), and Apocalypse. They fell into a visible pattern of misunderstanding, minimizing, or cheapening important characters, forcing the franchise to course-correct and try and redo the characters in later movies.
Here we are again. Perhaps the most underwhelming aspect of the trailers for Dark Phoenix was that they clearly teased an earthbound saga. “Give us the Starjammers, you cowards!” I wanted to yell. Bad reviews, lackluster box office results on opening weekend, and another mishandling of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” are bringing the 20th Century Fox era to an end. And I wonder if this can’t all somehow be traced back to Singer banning comics from the X-Men movie set twenty years ago.
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At 8:55 a.m. on a Friday in the Tokyo suburbs, I sat down at my local Toho Cinemas multiplex to watch Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It was a fitting location to be in: first, because Godzilla destroyed landmarks from this very city in his first movie appearance back in 1954, and second, because the Toho chain of theaters is a subsidiary of the company behind Godzilla. Its theater in Shinjuku — the last stop on the train line where I live — is even situated in a building that is topped with a life-size Godzilla head. A couple of days later, I would commune with the spirit of Godzilla at an 8th-floor terrace cafe with a direct view of the head, before going downstairs to rewatch the movie and takes some notes.
In November of this year, Godzilla will celebrate his 65th birthday. Right now, he’s still averaging one new movie every two years here on his original stomping grounds. Toho’s homegrown series of Japanese Godzilla films boasts thirty-two entries alone. There was a record break of twelve years between Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) and Shin Godzilla (2016). However, with the latter film, plus Netflix’s anime Godzilla trilogy and two recent Legendary Pictures productions, the King of Monsters has been enjoying a global resurgence as of late.
Now, in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Hollywood has assembled its very own all-star kaiju flick, which draws from Toho tradition to present what USA Today called “the Avengers of giant creature features.” For the first time in an American movie, the gang’s all here: not just Godzilla, but also King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan. Their appearance in King of the Monsters is informed by past appearances in Toho films, so if you’ve seen the movie and are curious to dive deeper into its ocean of references, then prepare to embark on a spoilery submarine expedition through Toho history.
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Revealed at Comic-Con last July, the first trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters was glorious. The prospect of an elemental assault on the senses, wall-to-wall fights with 17 monsters — maybe even some poignant family drama — seemed to rise up before one’s ensorcelled eyeballs with every subsequent trailer.
If Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was the ultimate mechs-versus-monsters movie, then King of the Monsters promised to be the ultimate kaiju-versus-kaiju movie, a gift to Godzilla fans everywhere. Based on some of the early reactions as the movie drew nearer this May, I was expecting to be bludgeoned into submission by a repeating sledgehammer of kaiju action.
There’s some of that in the movie, though not as much as you might think. To talk about what works and what doesn’t in King of the Monsters, we’ll need to open a barrel of radioactive spoilers. Grab your hazmat suit, then, and let’s get to it before the earth unleashes a fever to fight “the human infection” and we all perish.
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