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 »
The first full-length trailer for HBO’s Watchmen premiered during Comic-Con and we’ve been exploring every frame, looking for Easter eggs and hints about what the show’s mysterious plot might entail. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ twelve-issue Watchmen series is arguably the greatest comic book story ever told. The collected edition is the only graphic novel that made it onto Time magazine’s list of the 100 best novels since 1923. Since Zack Snyder’s film adaptation hit theaters ten years ago, DC Comics has begun revisiting the world of Watchmen: first with the Before Watchmen line of titles, and more recently with the Doomsday Clock miniseries.
Like Doomsday Clock, showrunner Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen is venturing into “After Watchmen” territory. The show takes place in the same world some years after the original storyline, and judging from the trailer, it will include a fair number of connections and callbacks to the comics. Below, we’ll dive into all of those and more with our Watchmen trailer breakdown.
Read More »
When a character in Inglorious Basterds looks down at the camera and says, “I think this just might be my masterpiece,” it’s clear that writer-director Quentin Tarantino is carving a self-congratulatory blurb for his own World War II film. Maybe he’s earned the right to gloat. As a viewer, when I think of Tarantino, I think of chapterized revenge. The revenge in Inglorious Basterds is of a historically revisionist nature. It unfolds in five chapters, which collectively serve as a five-point-palm exploder on the moviegoer’s chest. As Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hits theaters this Friday, we can hazard a guess that it might take a similar revisionist approach to its treatment of the Manson murders.
Tarantino was the quintessential filmmaker of the 1990s and he’s never made a movie that was as culturally significant as Pulp Fiction. That kind of era-defining success only comes once in a career. There are cinephiles who prefer Jackie Brown—a like-minded exercise in restraint that consciously appeals to an older audience. These two entries are linked in Tarantino’s directorial filmography in that they’re the only instances where he’s shared a writing credit with someone else. Roger Avary helped conceive the story for Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown is based on an Elmore Leonard novel.
As great as those movies are, it’s the exuberance and unpredictability of his more original screenplays that made me a fan of Tarantino’s work. In Inglourious Basterds, these elements come into play in a film that is perhaps the truest expression of Tarantino’s style, which is simultaneously cartoonish and craftsmanlike. Tempering some (but not all) of his excesses, he distilled his ideas for a TV miniseries down into a punchy script with sections that play like short stories. Don’t let the title fool you: the results were glorious.
Read More »
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.
Read More »
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.
Read More »
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.
Read More »
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.
Read More »
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.
Read More »
Cool Posts From Around the Web:
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.
Read More »
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.
Read More »