Netflix’s The King is a reverse Hobbit: instead of adapting one book into three movies, it adapts three plays into one film. Shorn of Shakespearean dialogue, this loose retelling of Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V gets by on character and plot. Timothée Chalamet brings a brooding intensity to the Henry V role, which sees him following in the footsteps of classically trained luminaries like Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Kenneth Branagh. That he can hold his own as a screen presence, even in comparison to thespians such as those, bodes well for his starring role in next year’s Dune.
The King also reunites director David Michôd with Joel Edgerton and Ben Mendolsohn, two actors who broke out internationally after appearing in Michôd’s 2010 Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom. Edgerton serves as Michôd’s co-writer here, just as he did for the 2014 dystopian outback Western, The Rover, starring Guy Pearce. Michôd brings back Robert Pattinson from that movie; like Chalamet, Pattinson is no stranger to heartthrob status, and he’s set to headline a future tentpole (just a little movie called The Batman).
The King arrives in a post-Game of Thrones landscape where at-home audiences have become inured to watching court intrigue play out in medieval settings. Yet its source material predates Game of Thrones by centuries. Writer George R.R. Martin drew from the same period of history as Shakespeare’s Henriad, the cycle of plays that this movie partially adapts. Among other things, The King depicts the muddy hell of the Battle of Agincourt, the original inspiration for the Battle of the Bastards. This may not be Westeros, but war is still bloody and mud underfoot is an apt symbol for the innocence-to-experience arc that Chalamet’s conflicted prince undergoes as he dons his father’s crown and enters the moral quagmire of adulthood.
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Last year, when showrunner Damon Lindelof posted a letter to Instagram about his upcoming Watchmen series for HBO, he classified it as a “remix.” On the one hand, this was good news for fans who were trepidatious about seeing the greatest comic book story of all time receive another direct sequel or adaptation. On the other hand, remixes already dominate the dance floor in Hollywood. When creators and critics use that word now, it either feels like industry code for a thinly disguised remake (amid all the other official remakes that are currently flooding the market), or it feels like a pejorative term for the repackaged greatest hits of a beloved IP.
By way of an example, this very week, we’ve got a new Terminator movie hitting theaters, which reviewers have likened to The Force Awakens of the franchise. However, if the first two episodes are any indication, that’s not what Lindelof’s Watchmen remix is. Instead, what it looks to be is a fascinating re-contextualization: a show that sets us down on familiar ground but updates it and makes it feel different enough that its echoes of Watchmen and other past superhero tales lay submerged within a fresh story.
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Pulp Fiction is a profanity-laden crime drama with drugs, sodomy, and exploding brains, but when it hit theaters in mid-October 1994, it was technically a Disney movie. After Disney acquired the independent film studio Miramax in 1993, Pulp Fiction was the first project to receive a greenlight. The 2010s would commence with Disney shuttering Miramax, then selling it as it shifted focus to more lucrative in-house brands with theme park and merchandise potential, like Pixar and Marvel. Now, we’re reaching the end of the decade and the end of a peak-geek year when, among other things, Disney has set a new studio box office record, with five of its tentpole features grossing over a billion dollars worldwide.
Meanwhile, at a ‘50s-themed restaurant in L.A. called Jack Rabbit Slim’s, two people dominate the dance floor. It’s a human moment, no special effects involved, just twisting legs, scissored fingers, and movie magic. When Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace (John Travolta and Uma Thurman) accept their dance trophy for the night, there’s a part of them that might stand in for the whole ‘90s film scene, with its upswell of great indie dramas from new and exciting young filmmakers. Amid the current flood of remakes, reboots, sequels, and spin-offs, even the brain of an avowed comic book movie fan like yours truly might go hurtling back to the time when writer-director Quentin Tarantino and his contemporaries emerged on the scene in Hollywood. Back then, mid-budget dramas targeting adult theatergoers still seemed like the norm, as opposed to the exception.
Quotable dialogue and memorable characters come in all forms, including quippy, world-saving superheroes (which, again, I like more than Martin Scorsese); but with its down-to-earth lowlives and street-based plot turns, Pulp Fiction is a reminder of an all but bygone cinema era. Indelible music, cineliterate stylings, and a novelistic format help round out the perfection that is Tarantino’s sophomore feature. A quarter-century ago, Pulp Fiction shook up what critic Gene Siskel called “the ossification of American movies.” For its sheer innovation and cultural impact, this remains the most important American film of the last twenty-five years.
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The biggest compliment one can pay El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is to say that it doesn’t detract from the legacy of one of the greatest television shows of all time. We knew we were in good hands with Vince Gilligan. Better Call Saul has proven that he, as a showrunner, knows how to play in the Breaking Bad sandbox again without destroying the castle he built before. Now, for the first time, Gilligan has stepped behind the camera as a movie director as he checks back in on the character of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and shows us what happened to him following the events of Breaking Bad.
El Camino also takes us on a trip down memory lane with Jesse, flashing back to some unseen episodes from his past as he embarks on a new Neo-Western adventure in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The stakes this time are simple: Jesse needs to get the hell out of Dodge. The police have flagged him as a “person of interest” in a local massacre and he’s also dealing with post-traumatic stress. What follows is a two-hour Netflix movie with all the event-filled turns of Breaking Bad. It’s an epilogue to the series that occasionally detours down some narrative cul-de-sacs where familiar faces lurk. Buckle your seatbelts and let’s take our own spoiler-filled ride through El Camino.
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While many a superhero film has had a villain problem, the Joker is one villain from the comics medium who has not only translated well, but also lent himself to a succession of compelling reinterpretations. He’s the greatest comic book villain of all time and he’s lit up the big screen with equal gusto. With Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker coming off a record-breaking box-office weekend, this is as good a time as any to rank the various iterations of the Clown Prince of Crime on film.
For an old-school fan of the J-man, it’s tempting to include Batman: The Animated Series and the 1960s live-action Batman TV series on this list. Both feature classic depictions of the Joker. Thankfully, their Jokers had such a taste for the theatrical that they also crossed over into movies. Not counting the animated movie Batman: The Killing Joke, which played in theaters for one night only before going direct-to-video, there have been seven cinematic Jokers since 1966.
If it doesn’t feel like we’re playing with a full deck here, well, since when has the Joker ever been wired that way? Regrettably, we don’t have time to mess around with the Proto-Jokers of the TV series Gotham, or any of the animated, direct-to-video Jokers of the DC Universe Movies. This is the meat-and-potatoes ranking of Jokers. I’ve developed a secret algorithm for a precise ordering that is infallibly correct. It’s called the Smylex Algorithm. “And here we … go.”
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Since 1973, various horror films have tried to replicate the shock of the prototypical human sacrifice movie, The Wicker Man (not to be confused with its gonzo 2006 remake, starring Nicolas Cage, which is perhaps best remembered for the immortal, memeified line, “Not the bees!”) Even the late Robin Hardy, director of the original Wicker Man, went back to the well in 2011 with The Wicker Tree. Most movies, including that one, have failed to recapture the terror of the iconic moment when the protagonist turned sacrificial victim burns alive, surrounded by cult members. However, the 2010s have been bookended by a number of interesting horror films, each of which has managed to reframe the Wicker Man model in different ways.
One of those films, Midsommar, hits Blu-Ray on October 8. Writer-director Ari Aster has called Midsommar “an apocalyptic break-up movie.” Speaking with Empire, he talked about how he tried to avoid The Wicker Man‘s influence, saying, “I think what [Midsommar] tries to do is point to The Wicker Man and set up expectations native to that film, then take a left-turn from there and go somewhere surprising.”
That’s a quote that could apply to other films on this list, too. Of course, this man made of wicker is not escaped easily. In some ways, he’s like the Gingerbread Man: every horror movie that deals in similar tropes seems to be chasing him. Here, we’ll chase The Wicker Man back through his own movie, then back through Midsommar and five other horror films of the 2010s. How have recent fright flicks approached the timeless subject of secret cults and human sacrifice?
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Reading around online, it would be easy to go into into Joker with a list of talking points in your head before you had even seen the movie. Since its unprecedented win last month of the Venice Film Festival’s top prize, the latest comic book tentpole from Warner Bros. and DC Films has become highly politicized—to the point where the idea of it and what it represents is almost a separate thing from the movie itself. Film festival premieres take place in an online vacuum where larger cultural forces have not yet swept in to surround a movie and define it. On the other side of them comes the escalation (of movie opinions) that Commissioner Gordon warned about at the end of Batman Begins.
Whether it’s a case of critics comparing notes and/or the film telegraphing specific concepts, reviews of Joker have frequently invoked the same buzzwords, such as “incel” and “income inequality.” There’s a lot of hand-wringing, in negative reviews, about the movie’s lack of a clear message. Comparisons abound, across the boards, to the films of Martin Scorsese, while in the background, the shadow of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting hangs over everything.
To be clear, it’s not without good reason that some of these talking points are out there, but now Joker is in theaters and general audiences have had a chance to square their own cinema experience against the pre-release media chatter. Members of the insane clown posse that is the Internet should probably brace themselves for the backlash to the backlash. However, until such time as a #ReleaseThePhillipsCut petition materializes, let’s not forget that there’s an actual movie with Joker’s name on it to be discussed.
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For much of his career, Brad Pitt has eschewed the path of the traditional leading man. A recent Buzzfeed article pegged Pitt as “a character actor trapped in a movie star’s body.” If you look back at his filmography, there’s a clear pattern of Pitt playing off other actors as a kind of co-lead or ensemble head. This summer, he did it with Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. However, this pattern dates back at least twenty-five years, to when Pitt emerged as a full-fledged marquee name alongside Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire.
In Ad Astra, Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut whose pulse rate never rises above 80 beats per minute. His journey to far-flung Neptune’s orbit to hopefully find his father and potentially stop an Earth-threatening antimatter surge positions itself as Apocalypse Now in space. Helmed by James Gray, Ad Astra is something of an anomaly, both in Pitt’s oeuvre and in the current blockbuster landscape. It’s a mid-budget movie based on an original idea, not an existing media property, and it doesn’t have a box office friendly director (like Pitt’s last collaborator, Quentin Tarantino) attached to it.
Seeing a film of that nature open the same day in theaters around the world is refreshing, but it does place a burden of expectation on Ad Astra, as its occasionally heavy-handed script peddles thoughtfulness with thrills in an event movie marketplace. The film’s title, which it never explains, is the Latin phrase for “to the stars.” Audiences no longer look to movie stars as reliable brands in and of themselves. Here, Pitt is on his own in a way he’s seldom been in his career. He can hold the screen, but can he elevate our heart rates?
To discuss that, we’ll be rocketing straight into spoiler territory in 3, 2, 1…
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There’s a line in The Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, tells us, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Except that’s exactly what it is in this movie. Make no mistake about it: Frank Darabont’s 1994 prison drama, based on a Stephen King novella, endures as a kind of modern fairy tale, albeit one that transplants the most basic of all human emotions to the least romantic of all story settings. Instead of happening in space, like The Empire Strikes Back, this tale unfolds in a penitentiary.
Interpretations of Shawshank abound; depending on who you ask, the film might resonate as everything from a simple bromance to a biblical allegory. However, by using the prison as a canvas for a humanistic hope parable, the film managed to tap into something sublime and all-inclusive, something that cuts across demographics and appeals to people’s innermost yearning selves. Or, as Red puts it, “something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.”
The story of wrongfully convicted inmate Andy Dufresne, played with glassy-eyed stoicism by Tim Robbins, speaks to the imprisoned dreamer in all of us. He’s a man, Red tells us, “who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” Anyone who’s ever felt trapped by their circumstances, anyone who’s ever hoped for a better life, can relate to Andy’s decades-long struggle in Shawshank State Prison. As The Shawshank Redemption turns 25, it remains essential fuel for the film-lover’s soul: inspirational and heart-aching, but also perhaps richer and more multi-layered than you remember.
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One of the best shows on television last year, bar none, was AMC’s The Terror. The first season adapted the Dan Simmons novel of the same name, telling the complete story of a doomed Arctic expedition aboard the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. It was based on Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition, a real historical incident. The ship’s names really were synonyms for “fear” and “hell,” and in their search for the Northwest Passage, they really did disappear with 129 men aboard.
You don’t have to be a J-horror lover to be excited about The Terror: Infamy (read our review here) … but it certainly helps. This second season of The Terror is reinventing the show as an anthology series that serves up period drama with a horror twist. If you were so inclined, you could even go into it without having watched the first season (but why would you do that when the first season was so bracingly good?) What’s clear from the trailers and promos is that The Terror: Infamy will be drawing from both the real history of Japanese internment camps in the U.S. and the genre of kaidan (ghost tales) in Japanese literature.
How well do you really know your Japanese ghosts? Can you tell a ghost from a shapeshifter? How well do you really know your World War II history? Below, we’ll debrief the intrepid viewer on the supernatural folklore, Japanese cultural traditions, and real-life wartime events behind The Terror: Infamy. Consider this your field guide for the, ahem, terror that awaits viewers in the weeks to come. Read More »