Game of Thrones is a show that is profoundly of its time. It’s a sword made of the finest Valyrian steel that has cut through pop culture but is nonetheless two-edged in its relation to and reflection of the cultural zeitgeist. The story begun in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels drew from cycles of history and fictional tropes to present what’s been called “Realpolitik in a fantasy world.” It was the Wars of the Roses meets The Lord of the Rings; but whereas author J.R.R. Tolkien was a World War I veteran writing concurrently with World War II, Martin is a writer who was a conscientious objector in Vietnam and whose books spawned a television series that would air in the aftermath of the Iraq War.
Game of Thrones premiered on HBO a year into the 2010s … and now its watch is ended in the last year of the decade, before the 2020s begin. Amid the real-world problems of 2019, there’s a tendency sometimes to dismiss entertainment talk as trivial, but entertainment also has a way of preserving history — or the agreed-upon lie of it — beyond the day’s headlines. It’s as much a time capsule as it is a means of escape.
When people look back at Game of Thrones, they will see an elaborate map of mythology where the grinding gears of cities rose up with plot twists to complicate (and often end) the lives of memorable characters. It’s quite possible that they will also see an ugly mosaic of all that was/is wrong with the world. If, as Vulture recently posited, this prestige drama represents “the last show we’ll watch together,” then before the watercooler drains, it will have left us with an artifact that speaks volumes about the era in which we’re living.
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At the main entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a reproduction of L.A.’s Crossroads of the World monument has long welcomed guests into the park with the familiar sight of its Art Deco tower and Mickey Mouse globe. Now Hollywood Studios itself is at a crossroads, celebrating thirty years of operation even as its original theme of a working movie studio gives way to new lands and attractions.
My family and I were at the park on May 1, 2019, the thirtieth anniversary of its opening, and my wife and I were there on May 4 for the After Hours Star Wars Day event (where giant video screens on either side of the Chinese Theatre displayed the greeting, “May the 4th be with you.”) Since the opening of Star Tours in 1989, Star Wars has been a growing presence at Hollywood Studios, but this was actually the very last Star Wars Day before the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge later this year.
That land promises to be a game-changer for Hollywood Studios. Here’s an on-the-ground look at the changing face of the park at this moment in time before it undergoes a major upheaval.
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Released ten years ago today, on May 8, 2009, director J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot is the cinematic equivalent of a rock band going mainstream. It’s a hit remix version of an old song. Critically and commercially, the film was an unqualified success. Holding steady at 94%, edging out classic big-screen entries like The Wrath of Khan and First Contact, it remains the highest rated Star Trek movie on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as the top-grossing film in the series according to Box Office Mojo. Anytime a band goes mainstream, however, there’s always going to be a contingent of old-school fans that you hear affecting a Leonard McCoy grumble. They were with the band from the beginning but now it’s out there in the world and it belongs to everyone.
By the late 2000s, the Trek franchise was in a place where the overlapping runs of four straight television shows had ended—their viewership numbers falling victim to the law of diminishing returns. Fans like me, who grew up watching The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine in syndication, had lost touch with the final frontier. This is the movie that resuscitated that brand and opened the door to more adventures like the ones we’re seeing now on Star Trek: Discovery and the ones we’ll soon be seeing on the Captain Picard series.
As a storyteller, Abrams’ great strength is character. His weakness is plot. Both of those qualities are on full display in Star Trek, but the movie has such a velocity to it (not unlike the U.S.S. Enterprise itself when traveling at warp speed) that the viewer can’t help but get swept up in the youthful exuberance of this faster-than-light reboot. Beam yourselves aboard, then, and let’s take a long and winding trek into Star Trek on its tenth anniversary.
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After 11 years and 22 movies, Marvel Studios has finally brought a definitive end to the Infinity Saga—the retroactive name for its first long, ambitious cycle of interconnected films. While the upcoming Spider-Man: Far from Home will officially conclude Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie promises to be more of an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame. The Russo Brothers’ three-hour superhero epic gives thundering finality to a number of arcs that we’ve been following since as far back as Phase One. Who would live? Who would die? Who would retire and form a beer gut? Those are the questions fans might (or might not) have been asking themselves going into this unprecedented crossover conclusion, the fourth Avengers mega-sequel, the biggest movie event of all time.
If you’ve seen Endgame, then you know that it’s densely packed with callbacks and scenes linking back to previous MCU films. It’s a lot to take in all in one sitting. Let’s face it: John Q. Moviegoer probably didn’t have time to embark on a three-week regimen of a-Marvel-movie-a-day in the lead-up to the film’s April 26 release. Here on /Film, Siddhant Adlakha revisited every prior MCU entry in his Road to Endgame series, but now we’re at the end of the titular road and it’s worth talking about how this movie wraps up the threads of everything that came before it.
To do that, we’ll need to delve into specific plot points that might ruin the surprise for anyone who wasn’t able to get into one of the sold-out screenings that kept some theaters open for 72 hours straight this weekend. Avengers: Endgame is chock full of twists and turns, so if you haven’t seen it yet, this is your last chance to bow out, because we’ll be going full spoilers in two shakes of a raccoon’s tail.
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It’s only been fifteen years since Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro and frequent collaborator Ron Perlman introduced moviegoers to the sight of a trenchcoated, gun-toting red demon with horns filed down to stumps on his head. The 2004 Hellboy and especially its sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, sometimes stray into sentimentalism in a way that puts them at odds, tonally, with creator Mike Mignola’s original Hellboy comics, which were more pulp horror adventures. Yet it’s their whimsical touches — the soulful monsters, the hidden fairy tale realms, the character-based humor, and yes, even the occasional sing-along — that give these films their charm.
The new R-rated Hellboy reboot, starring David Harbour of Stranger Things, hits theaters on Friday and Mignola and Harbour have been touting it as more loyal to the comics. It’s understandable why they would make that a selling point for fans. While the look of Perlman’s Hellboy remains one of the better live-action visualizations of a comics character that there’s ever been, del Toro’s films weren’t slavish adaptations. More fantasy than pulp, they were arguably truer to the spirit of his filmography than their own source material. However, that overlap is precisely what makes them interesting and worth revisiting.
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Netflix’s The OA seemingly came out of nowhere when its first season dropped in December 2016 with little in the way of promotional pageantry save for some questionable last-minute tweets. Created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij — the duo behind the films Sound of My Voice and The East — the show almost literally became an overnight sensation thanks to its same-day release of eight easily binge-able episodes. Bizarre yet absorbing, perhaps earnest to a fault, it wore its aspirations on its sleeve, probing the mystery of near-death experiences and leading viewers on a merry chase through a garden of forking narrative paths.
Now The OA is back with a second season (“Part II”) that doubles down on all the eccentricity of the first and sees it joining the ranks of dimension-hopping shows with elaborate mythologies, such as Twin Peaks, Lost, The Leftovers, Legion, and Castle Rock. If you thought the sight of basement prisoners and cafeteria kids engaging in synchronized, choreographed “movements” (don’t call it interpretative dancing) was wacky and woefully ill-advised, The OA: Part II wants you to know that you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Have you been practicing the movements in front of the mirror at home for the last two-plus years? Has The OA: Part II left you scratching your head this week with its telepathic octopus digressions and yet another contentious, downright bonkers season finale? Fear not, recovering cult TV show watchers: we’ve got your exit counseling (with heavy spoilers) right here.
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“Random thoughts for Valentine’s Day 2004. Today is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap.”
Those are the first spoken lines in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Carrey’s voice is laced with melancholy and wry humor as he lets us in on the internal monologue of his character, Joel Barish. It’s a far cry from the sassy voice that launched him to movie stardom ten years earlier in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Yet there’s a whole contingent of moviegoers who, prior to this film and a couple of comparable screen gems in the early 2000s, might have felt it was an awkward question if you asked them, “What’s your favorite romantic comedy?”
Joel’s voice speaks for those people. Like Punch-Drunk Love in 2002 (also soundtracked by Jon Brion) and Lost in Translation in 2003, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie that wrangled career-best work out of a comedic actor, simply by injecting pathos into him via a strong script with an auteurist director behind the camera. Instead of a straight-up comedy, we see Carrey dialing down his usual antics and appearing in a romantic dramedy, one that in this case happens to be blended with quirky sci-fi, too.
It helps that he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. Joel may be the protagonist, but the two most interesting characters in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are actually women. The movie uses the deletion of memories as a plot device, and viewers who fell in love with it in the theater back in March 2004 now have a decade and half of other life experiences vying for recollection space in their heads. As it celebrates its 15th anniversary this week, let’s reclaim the memory (with spoilers) of one of the quintessential films of the 2000s.
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As it pertains to comic book movies, the name Zack Snyder can be a rather contentious one. Snyder’s filmography reads like a wish list of Hollywood adaptations that a reader of Wizard: The Guide to Comics could have only meekly fantasized about back in the 1990s. 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League. If you fired up Doctor Doom’s time platform and traveled to a convention floor in the past, carrying an envelope with only those five titles credited to the same director, fans would think you had come bearing tidings of a John-Connor-like movie messiah for comic book nerds.
Whatever you make of the actual end products that resulted from Snyder’s efforts, the fact that he or anyone was able to marshal big-budget attempts at bringing such properties to life is surely a dream come true by ‘90s geek standards. Before his cinematic M.O. ever became linked to the all-important subject of comic book movies, however, Snyder was a director with a background in music videos who would cross over into feature filmmaking with a remake of George Romero’s 1978 zombie film Dawn of the Dead.
Snyder’s version of Dawn of the Dead hit theaters on March 19, 2004. In this movie, the characters aren’t superheroes or Spartan warriors with washboard abs. They’re everyday people thrust together in an extraordinary situation. That dose of humanity at once makes Dawn of the Dead more down-to-earth and relatable than any CGI-laden superhero slugfest. With a screenplay by James Gunn, who would also go on to become a key figure in the comic book movie genre with Guardians of the Galaxy, this is Snyder’s most street-level film. It’s also his best.
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Some fast facts: Deadpool came close to unseating it, but after fifteen years, the all-time highest-grossing R-rated movie in the U.S. is still a subtitled film about the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life. Another comic book movie, Black Panther, has since surpassed it as #1, but for over a decade, The Passion of the Christ was also the highest-grossing February movie in the U.S.
The month of February used to be more of a dumping ground for low-profile movie releases, so when The Passion of the Christ hit theaters on February 25, 2004, it didn’t look poised to become a certified blockbuster. For Christians, it was a holy day—Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. For everyone else, it was just hump day, a random Wednesday when they might happen to see Xtians walking around with ash crosses on their foreheads.
To say that The Passion of the Christ was and is a contentious film would be an understatement. Entertainment Weekly once ranked it as the most controversial movie of all time, just ahead of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, a film that helped bring the word “ultra-violence” into the cinematic lexicon with its depiction of a disturbing home invasion set to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain.” In a way, that juxtaposition is fitting, because while Jim Caviezel receives top billing as Jesus, ultra-violence is the real star of The Passion of the Christ. The film’s divisiveness goes beyond its horror-movie shock tactics, however, to what EW called “a culture-war firestorm unrivaled in Hollywood history.”
It’s the film that opened up the floodgates on the niche market of faith-based movies. The question is: outside the usual echo chambers, below all the noise, how does The Passion of the Christ hold up fifteen years later?
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The worldwide theatrical release of M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass this week has prompted a rush of appreciation online for Unbreakable, the first in what became a trilogy of superhero films spread out over nineteen years. With its deconstructionist take on superhero mythology, the 2000 flick, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, anticipated the great wave of 21st-century comic book movies and TV shows grounded in pseudo-realism.
Everything from The Dark Knight trilogy to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with its initial emphasis on tech and science over magic, surely owes a big-screen debt to Unbreakable. On the small screen, shows like Netflix’s recently canceled Daredevil have taken a late cue from Shyamalan by focusing more on human drama and showing us street-level vigilantes who operate in the shadows in do-it-yourself costumes. One subplot on the final season of that show even sought to establish a realistic psychological framework for a super-villain by showing us his backstory with a sympathetic therapist, à la Split, the surprise backdoor sequel to Unbreakable.
As we await Glass and the conclusion to the story begun in these two movies, let’s take a look back at Unbreakable and what made it so special and ahead of its time as a superhero film.
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