One of the most high-profile filmmakers associated with the streaming service Apple TV+ since its launch last November has been M. Night Shyamalan. Promotional images for Servant, which released its tense season finale on Friday, prominently featured the words, “From M. Night Shyamalan” over the title. Shyamalan directed the show’s pilot and serves as one of its executive producers, much like he did with Fox’s Wayward Pines.
The plot of Servant revolves around a suspicious nanny who enters the life of a Philadelphia couple. Here, as with Wayward Pines, Shyamalan has taken a step back from writing duties. Showrunner Tony Basgallop wrote all ten episodes of Servant’s first season. Yet there are aspects of the show that feel very much of a piece with Shyamalan’s overall body of work as a writer-director. It’s another atmospheric dip into psychological horror where the choice of setting, the familiar preoccupation with belief and delusion, a newer tendency toward exploitation tactics, and less salubrious aspects like accusations of plagiarism (Servant is now the subject of a lawsuit) all draw a line to previous moments in his career.
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Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition has drawn millions of visitors around the globe, touring Canada and cities outside North America like Paris, London, and Sydney. Now, it’s finishing its run in Tokyo, where fans have turned out in droves for the last five months to explore a literal warehouse full of props and models, authentic costumes worn by the movie actors (including Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, the late Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew, and many more), and original concept art by the likes of Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston.
In among the geeky goodies and pieces of production history from the Lucasfilm Archives, there were some fascinating nuggets of behind-the-scenes lore, related mostly to the original Star Wars trilogy. Having been on the inside of this movie-artifact goldmine — the ultimate Star Wars museum experience — we’ve come away with 40 photos for you, along with ten of the most interesting tidbits of lesser-known information. Even for diehard fans, there might be some neat trivia factoids to be learned from this … and hey, it doesn’t get much cooler than seeing the legit Han Solo in carbonite prop. After the mixed flavors of The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian, who’s ready for an old-school Star Wars palate cleanser?
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In the 21st century, geek properties have come to define our entertainment culture to the point where some say comic book nerds are now our cultural overlords. Despite false alarms of impending genre fatigue, superhero films dominated the 2010s right up until the end of the decade. In 2019, geek-chic gave way to peak-geek, with saga-ending pop culture behemoths like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker roaming the earth and indeed ruling the worldwide box office. However, “geek” is a broad term that could encompass not only sci-fi/fantasy but also the work of auteurist directors, whose filmographies inspire the same kind of brand-name loyalty among cinephiles. What the term really implies is a certain devotion.
We’re all movie geeks. For some fans, a new Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino film, especially one that served as a bittersweet career culmination, might be no less an event than a Disney+ premiere or a Game of Thrones finale. Throw in Joker and a few other wild cards — including the sale of 21st Century Fox and HBO’s live-action sequel to Watchmen, the greatest comic book story ever told — and it starts to feel like the deck was pretty stacked this year. In all honesty, there may never be another year like this again, entertainment-wise.
With the real world in shambles (“We’re in the endgame now?”), looking back on the escapist highs and lows of 2019 only serves to hammer that home with thundering clarity, like a powered-up Captain America laying the smackdown on any notions of a competing convergence of franchise farewells. Yet amid the perfect storm of geekiness that was 2019, new industry trends also emerged to create a picture of the future landscape of film and television.
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has sent the Internet into an uproar, but amid the ping-ponging hot takes — all of which are right, “from a certain point of view” — it’s worth pausing to remember that this movie brings a close to a saga dating back to 1977. The 9-episode Skywalker Saga has served up its denouement the same year as that of Marvel’s 23-episode Infinity Saga. Avengers: Endgame also had a lot of threads to tie off, but it did so in a manner that caused less of a disturbance in the Force. Most Marvelites seem to have gone home happy back in late April. Is it even possible anymore for Star Wars to appease its opinionated, cross-generational fan base like that?
The fates are always dueling and it is your destiny as Jedi or Sith apprentices to make up your own mind about what you saw when The Rise of Skywalker opened in theaters around the globe. I have my own opinions about the movie, but I’ve said my piece in a separate spoiler review and am happy to keep this discussion compartmentalized from that one.
Star Wars once staked out Memorial Day weekend as its piece of box-office territory. The release of a new George Lucas space opera traditionally meant the start of the summer movie season. But in the Disney era, the franchise has shifted to Christmas-y December releases. For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll try to try to tap into some yuletide cheer and keep the tone as neutral as possible. If you think The Rise of Skywalker hasn’t been getting a fair shake and are looking for a more even-handed perspective, you don’t need to worry about hearing someone else trash it here as we examine how it wraps up the Skywalker Saga.
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The magnolia is a perennial flower: its recurring bloom signals spring’s arrival and the bark of the tree it grows from can be used to treat anxiety and cancer. Magnolia Boulevard is a street that runs through Burbank, California—the media capital of the world, just miles from Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. Neither of these things is explained outright in Magnolia, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 opus, but even without awareness of them, the viewer begins to form an intuitive understanding of how the beauty, complexity, and fragility of a flower may relate to the tapestry of lives on display in the movie.
Magnolia is a young man’s movie. It’s a crinkled, wet valentine to the Valley (San Fernando, where Burbank is located and where the film is set). Anderson was still in his twenties when he made it, and juxtaposed with the mature back half of his filmography to date, it pulses like a drop-kicked dog without a leash. Sometimes it barks off into the unknown with elliptical subplots. Sometimes it chases its own tail, looping back on itself with crescendoing crosscuts. Though it all, hangs a persistent storm cloud of emotion, the kind that enslaves hurt people until they’re liberated by a rain of frogs.
After the success of Boogie Nights, Anderson’s exuberant porn-family film, New Line Cinema gave the young filmmaker carte blanche to make an achingly personal, 3-hour drama with an ensemble cast and the biggest budget of his career. Blame the audience, blame the Internet, blame risk-averse studio executives, but Hollywood’s gatekeepers don’t allow many movies like that to enter the multiplex anymore. In Collateral, Tom Cruise’s steely hitman pegged L.A. as a place that was “too sprawled out, disconnected.” In Magnolia, he plays Frank T.J. Mackey, a misogynistic seduction seminar leader whose story intertwines with that of other characters to form the obverse narrative, whereby everything is interconnected despite the ungainly sprawl.
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(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
As the saying goes, everyone loves a comeback. The 2010s saw a number of creative entities emerge from the wilderness to enjoy renewed artistic credibility onscreen. There were so many comeback stories, actually, that this mere list of ten is guaranteed to smack of exclusions. FX’s The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, for instance, revived interest in the trial of the century while serving as a soft comeback for several actors. Be honest: when’s the last time you’d heard David Schwimmer’s name around the watercolor? Despite its use of John Travolta, however, there was no one actor on that show who made a resurgence on the level of Travolta’s in Pulp Fiction. If anything, the show was more memorable for its Emmy-winning turn by Sarah Paulson and for facilitating the breakout of Sterling K. Brown.
Stranger Things built its brand on ‘80s nostalgia and thrust faces from that decade, like Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, back in the spotlight…but there wasn’t room for it on this list, either, and that’s saying a lot. It should be noted, too, that a return to form, in and of itself, isn’t enough to qualify as a comeback. Christopher Nolan was back in top form with Dunkirk, yet while his previous two films may have revealed chinks in his critical armor, they were both still commercial successes. A slightly off-game Nolan is still better than your average blockbuster filmmaker.
Master of the “Nouveau Shamanic” acting style, Nicolas Cage, likewise marches to the beat of a different drum, where the notion of frail mortal comebacks is irrelevant. So alas, you won’t see Mandy on this list. But enough with the honorable mentions … let’s look back, in reverse chronological order, at ten of the decade’s best film and television comebacks.
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In the year of our Ford 2019, trying to make sense of people’s wildly divergent Star Wars opinions opens up a murky frontier of epistemological questions that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, in theaters now, only complicates all the more. Epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and justified belief. I believe that people believe what they believe when they share their Star Wars opinions but I often wonder how they acquired those opinions in the first place. There’s a precedent for Jedi mind tricks in the Star Wars universe and it leaves me questioning whether some opinions were planted in people’s minds, Kenobi-style, or whether they were genuine reactions that people formed on their own. Like, “Hey, have you Change.org petitioners perchance been inceptioned by the Kremlin?” Or, “Hmm. You journos been getting all chummy with Rian Johnson, listening to him sing subliminal karaoke at film festival bars?”
Discussing Disney’s sequel Star Wars trilogy online is like venturing into a mad minefield decorated with the same bad blood as George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. As the young Lando Calrissian tells us in his Grammy-winning music video: this is America. When J.J. Abrams stepped back into the director’s chair for The Rise of Skywalker, there was always the lingering fear that a big ol’ landmine was planted right under that chair, just waiting to detonate. In 2015, Abrams rescued the franchise, restoring its cultural clout with the $2 billion success of The Force Awakens. Now, he’s essentially trying to re-rescue the franchise from a re-polluted water cooler. This translates visually when The Rise of Skywalker introduces an ocean moon that’s polluted with the wreckage of the second Death Star.
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Within the war movie genre, the American Civil War hasn’t beget as many classics as World War II or Vietnam. One indisputable classic, however, is Glory, the powerful 1989 film based on a true story about one of the first all-black volunteer regiments in the Union Army. Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for this movie. You may recall the scene where his character, Trip — the defiant slave turned soldier turned AWOL shoe-hunter — tries to keep a stiff upper lip but starts leaking tears as he’s whipped across his back, which already bears the scars of a runaway slave.
This year, at an AFI tribute to Washington, Michael B. Jordan cited those scars as the inspiration for Killmonger’s in Black Panther. Glory is a film where a similar transference of legacy can be felt in the actors’ performances. Bolstered by one of the all-time great film scores (composed by the late James Horner and featuring the Harlem Boys Choir), it’s a movie that seeks to pass the generational torch, putting viewers in touch with the past so that its forgotten sacrifices can help light the way forward to a better tomorrow for all.
Seeing “Old Glory,” the flag, wave in Glory, the film, as Americans fight other Americans on the battlefield at Antietam Creek certainly hits close to home in 2019, when the country feels less united than ever, up a different kind of creek. With HBO’s Watchmen having recently drawn attention to the Tulsa Race Massacre, Glory offers another indelible screen depiction of an important episode in American history. Rewatching it on its thirtieth anniversary, here at the tail end of the 2010s, is an emotional experience: at once humbling and cathartic and inspiring all over again.
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Studio Ghibli fans, mark your calendars for two weeks from today. On Tuesday, December 17, 2019, the beloved Japanese animation studio will finally release its complete library of films on digital home media in the U.S. and Canada. Ghibli’s North American distributor, GKIDS, has announced through a press release that the studio’s entire catalogue will be available to download for the very first time on all major transactional platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon VOD, Vudu, Google Play, Sony, Microsoft, and Fandango Now.
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R2-D2 may not always fare well on stage in Tokyo, but Kylo Ren does. While the U.S. was celebrating Thanksgiving this last Thursday, Japan’s capital was celebrating Star Wars with a kabuki stage play. The special one-night performance adapted parts of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in the style of Japanese kabuki theater. If you weren’t there, not to worry: Disney livestreamed the event and it’s now online where anyone can watch it.
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