Bandersnatch Criticism

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: “Bandersnatch” is the worst episode of Black Mirror and does nothing video games haven’t been doing better for years.)

Netflix’s latest bit of interactive entertainment has certainly lit the internet on fire. The first piece of such content for grown-ups (following Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale for kids and Minecraft: Story Mode for families), it’s a typically well-produced episode of Black Mirror entitled “Bandersnatch,” and it uses interactivity in a number of ways. Through a series of binary choices, the viewer guides its young game-developer character through the process of making their game – meeting game-design legends, facing family trauma, and possibly dealing with a cosmic conspiracy along the way.

Just as “Bandersnatch” splits into multiple paths and endings, so too has its audience split with regards to their opinions on it. From my observations, those opinions tend to split down two particular lines, both of which offer intriguing insights into the piece.

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Movie Ticket Subscription Service - Theater

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: here’s how movie theaters can win back audiences.)

If you have even a passing interest in the business of movies, you’ll know movie theaters aren’t doing too great. Attendance by movie-goers in the United States and Canada hit record lows last year. Countless think pieces have been written about how streaming services and increased theater ticket prices (not to mention the concession stand extortion) are killing cinema. To hear some analysts talk, the end of cinema is nigh.

Nonsense.

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bumblebee early screenings

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: they finally made a Transformers movie that doesn’t suck.)

Bumblebee is good. There is now a Transformers movie that doesn’t suck.

That would have seemed shocking a couple of years ago, when the five-film series boasted not a single legitimately decent entry, but did have multiple compelling candidates for Worst Blockbuster Ever. But Paramount made some great decisions, coming out of the Michael Bay years. Bumblebee is a testament to the power of hiring good talent – in this case, talent who turned in a movie 180 degrees removed from Bay’s quintet of incoherent, sociopathic disasters.

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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: why have people embraced the troubled musician in A Star is Born, but not the troubled musician in Vox Lux?)

The story goes like this: A world-famous musician who can’t get out from under their traumatic past struggles with an addiction that threatens to destroy their relationships. Their narcissism and recklessness are crudely exacerbated by drugs and alcohol. They are perhaps only, as the narration might inform us, marginally talented, and yet they endure. That unnamable something – the “it” factor, that sparkle, that je ne sais quois – has kept their fans adoring long past a reasonable expiration date.

That description could be attributed to prominent characters in two films released this year; while one of them has drawn near-consistent praise, the other has been criticized as being aggressively unlikable. The biggest difference between the two is, perhaps unsurprisingly, their gender.

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Daredevil Season 3

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: let’s read between the lines of Marvel’s statement about Daredevil and learn how to speak publicist.)

Every few years, something happens in the world of superhero entertainment that requires…massaging. Maybe a rumor crops up about casting or a character’s fate. Maybe a director or a writer drops out of a project. Maybe an entire series implodes unexpectedly. But the very nature of superhero films being based on decades of source material that is easily accessible means studios have had to thread a very small needle to keep their secrets.

Enter the publicist. Ostensibly a job that is half herding cats and half schmoozer, the true core of being a great publicist is to be an accomplished liar. This is a compliment. The words publicists put forth are in the public forever and will be parsed immediately by fans and journalists alike. Good PR hugs the wall of truth as it slides past a chasm of bald-faced lies.

Marvel, in particular, in all of their various forms and studios and divisions, is a master of lies. They lied about the title of Avengers: Endgame for months. They even went so far as to put a whole fake Hulk in the trailer for Infinity War rather than let on that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) would be in the Hulkbuster suit. So when they released a statement about the cancellation of Netflix’s Daredevil, it helps to have a Publicist-Whisperer on deck to explain what they really mean.

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Green Book Whitewashing

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Green Book whitewashes a black story into oblivion.)

Someone on Twitter asked me the other day, “How do you whitewash the Green Books?” It’s a valid question, given how the new film Green Book sidelines its eponymous subject in favor of its racist white male character (Viggo Mortensen), a professional driver who heads down south from New York City during Jim Crow on tour with a famed black classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) and is effectively cured of his bigotry. As a result, the historical Green Books (or The Negro Motorist Green Books, as they’re officially titled), an invaluable series used by black people to protect themselves from the horrors of racism while traveling, become a mere prop in what’s initially presented as its own story.

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A Quiet Place Honest Trailer

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: don’t believe the hype – 2018 did not kill the horror genre. And why do we have to have this conversation every year?)

Blame a man’s foolhardy optimism, but part of me believed 2018 would close without an obscene end-of-year horror genre hot take shouted from left field. No such luck, friendo. What a difference mere days make. My eyes still ablaze after being scalded by the HOTTEST of takes: “2018 has not been a good year for horror.”

Winchester, The Nun, and Slender Man appear as damning examples. Suspiria isn’t “much of a horror film” (at least there’s no “It isn’t horror either” argument). A Quiet Place evokes “PG-13 thriller” vibes, no horror (I guess the author didn’t attend SXSW’s quiet-as-a-graveyard premiere). “There was Hereditary.” (Hereditary’s one-of-two glancing mentions in the not-to-be-named Vou – I mean, “rogue” hit piece). “We didn’t even get a decent shark movie this year.” Right. A tell-tale sign of horror erosion because every year’s catalog is defined by fierce finback filmmaking (Fine – Deep Blue Sea 2 stinks like rancid chum and The Meg is more fun than terrifying).

As horror’s 2018 obituary reads, “Here lies our beloved genre. Laid to rest because someone didn’t enjoy a few mainstream titles and they think The Haunting Of Hill House suffers from Netflix episode fatigue.”

*Smashes keyboard into a million little pieces* [Very Jules Winnfield voice.] Well, allow me to retort.

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the grinch trailer

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: it’s much easier to relate to the grumpy, Christmas-hating Grinch than those basic Whos.)

Illumination’s new animated adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – shortened to The Grinch – introduces a younger generation to Dr. Seuss’ iconic green curmudgeon and his journey toward understanding the true meaning of Christmas. But many of us grew up in a world that never knew a holiday season without the Grinch, be it the classic children’s book or the 1966 animated TV special, or Ron Howard’s garish live-action reimagining. The Grinch has always been there – for some of us more than others. While most viewers undoubtedly identify with the Whos of Whoville and their unrelenting holiday cheer, I find the big green fuzzy meanie far more relatable a character, and it’s not just because I don’t particularly care for Christmas.

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(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: with Pirates of the Caribbean being rebooted, it’s time to note that this series is not all about a single actor or character.)

In the year of our dark lord Cthulhu 2018, the only true zombies are movie franchises. No matter how steep the diminishing box office returns, no matter how loudly we collectively groan when another installment is announced, sequel and reboots and spinoffs just keep lumbering to the local cineplex. One of the latest is Disney’s mega-popular Pirates of the Caribbean saga. It was announced last month that the Mouse House is considering a Pirates reboot and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since…especially since it was revealed that Johnny Depp is most likely not returning for this new adventure.

To which I say: that’s probably for the best.

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It’s Time to Rethink How We Review Comedy

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: comedy is the most subjective genre and we should be more aware of that when we review it.)

Bold statement coming at you: we need to rethink the way we review comedic films. I know this sounds odd coming from someone who literally survives off of being allowed to have entertainment opinions (thanks, internet), but comedy is the most subjective genre, and we need to start treating it as such. When it comes to movies, the blanket hate for certain comedies is shocking. 

If you’re wondering what qualifies me to have these opinions, I have a history with comedy. For nine years, I had my hands in all types: I did stand-up, improv, sketch, wrote three comedic plays, and helped run a comedy theatre in Chicago. Personally, I think capturing comedy onscreen is harder than capturing it onstage, and I’m going to tackle this through the lens of experience. 

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