Thursday, April 30, 2020
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
No, this is not a review of the 2016 Ben Affleck directorial effort Live by Night. I'm not sure if many people confuse the 1948 crime drama They Live by Night with that later Affleck movie considering how few people are even aware of Live by Night's existence. Regardless, this is not a review of a Ben Affleck movie. Nor is this a review of Run All Night, a Liam Neeson/Joel Kinnamon action film. Remember that March 2015 film? That represented one of the last times Neeson was seen as a big enough box office draw for major American movie studios to put money into his Taken knock-off's (his subsequent features have been independently financed).
In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!
Everything's going to streaming. Like wannabe millionaires trekking across America for the Western gold rush, movie studios, still stuck with no operational movie theaters, are sending their movies to streaming services in lieu of traditional theatrical releases. There be gold in them Hulu hills!
With My Spy sneaking its way Amazon Prime, Military Wives shipping off to Hulu, The Lovebirds taking flight on Netflix and An American Pickle taking a chomp out of HBO MAX, it's becoming common for delayed movies to just go with a streaming bow instead of waiting around for theaters to open up. After all, people need brand-new entertainment to consume as they stay stuck in their homes, a new Seth Rogen comedy could hit just the spot. Plus, the movies heading off to streaming tend to be mid-budget movies that don't require a $1+ billion box office haul to be profitable.
One studio that would seem to be primed to revel in this trend would be Disney. After all, they had a huge stockpile of delayed movies from their newly-acquired 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Studios divisions even before the COVID-19 epidemic closed down theaters. The Empty Man, for example, is a James Badge Dale/Stephen Root thriller that started filming in August 2017 and had been lying on a shelf for nearly two years before Disney gave it a release date last Fall. With a number of movies like The Empty Man just gathering dust on a shelf, why not drop them on a streaming service? Perhaps even Hulu, the streaming platform Disney now primarily controls?
If Disney wants to send a 20th Century Studios film to a streaming service, that's totally within their right. But something like The Woman in the Window wouldn't land on Disney+ or Hulu. It would go to HBO and, in the near future, HBO MAX. Considering that HBO MAX is a direct competitor to Disney+, that makes the streaming debut maneuver an unlikely one for Disney-owned title. After all, the Mouse House would rather not line up a rival with high-profile movies. This is a unique phenomenon that not every studio has to grapple with. However, it's one Disney has actually experienced before when integrating other new studios into the company.
For example, Disney bought theatrical distribution rights to The Avengers and Iron Man 3 from Paramount Pictures, however, the two films premiered on EPIX as part of Paramount's pay-TV deal with EPIX. Similarly, DreamWorks titles distributed by Disney (like The Help or Lincoln) went to Showtime rather than Starz, the channel Disney had a pay-TV deal with at the time. Disney can work a lot of magic but even it can't wriggle out of long-standing pay-TV contracts, especially when channels like EPIX and Showtime would very much like to have Marvel and Spielberg movies to boost up their profile.
While the situation isn't an unfamiliar one for Disney, the way it's manifested with the various Fox movies is a frustrating one for Disney brass given that both Fox studios produce far more movies annually than either DreamWorks under its Disney tenure or just two Marvel Studios projects. To boot, under the current circumstances that are keeping everyone confined to their homes, Disney would doubtlessly love to flood Hulu with high-profile Fox titles previously scheduled for theatrical release. For now, though, the likes of New Mutants are sticking around in theatrical spaces. The fact that such movies aren't getting a detour into streaming has less to do with "preserving" the theatrical movie landscape and more of Disney being cornered in by long-standing pay-TV deals.
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
Monday, April 27, 2020
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Thursday, April 23, 2020
That's a shame because The Clone Wars, while erratic in quality from episode to episode, has frequently done some of the ambitious Star Wars storytelling ever. Even its weakest episodes usually offer something interesting for discussion. Thus, I've decided to do some breakdowns on the merits and detriments of the first eight episodes of this final season of The Clone Wars. Something to note before going forward: The Clone Wars has always told singular stories over multiple episodes. Originally, the amount of episodes were usually three but frequently fluctuated. Starting with its fifth season, The Clone Wars broke its multi-episode arcs into exclusively four episodes.
The seventh season has delivered two four-episode arcs and then a ninth episode kicking off a new arc. I'll be looking at the fully completed arcs in their own section (rather than breaking this down episode-by-episode) before using the third section of this piece to examine the show's most recent episode. I'm also writing this write-up's presuming readers know basic aspects of the show up to this point (like that Captain Rex is a Clone, Ahsoka left the Jedi Order at the end of Season five, etc.) just to keep this concise. If that's all cleared up, let's look at what The Clone Wars has delivered so far in its final season
THE BAD BATCH
|The Clone Trooper squad known as The Bad Batch|
In the five-episode season two storyline concerning the Second Battle of Geonosis, viewers were taken all over the place. One episode dealt with Padme navigating palace intrigue, another took viewers to the frontlines of the battle with Obi-Wan and the Clones before things got wrapped up in a final episode detailing Ahsoka and Barriss Offee dealing with worm aliens turning clones into zombies. For the episodes comprising the Bad Batch storyline, there's far less variety in terms of both tone and leading characters. All four episodes are centered exclusively on Rex and these five Bad Batch clones engaging in battle scenes. While the Bad Batch clones have their amusing moments, there's also little to them as characters. They're stagnant beings who would work great as guest stars in one or two episodes but don't quite work as leading men for 100 minutes worth of storytelling.
Even the reintroduction of recurring character Fives (who is revealed to be alive and being used as a Sepeartist weapon against his will) doesn't provoke new layers of the Bad Batch characters. A brief storyline suggesting Fives could still be working for the villains doesn't really go anywhere or challenge the lead characters. Though The Bad Batch struggles with its titular characters, many parts of the four episodes still register as moderately entertaining. Most notably, these episodes reveal that The Clone Wars has upgraded its computer-animation significantly from when it last aired new episodes six years ago. We've come a long way from the stiff animation seen in the 2008 Clone Wars movies, now these characters have such fluid facial expressions while the environments they inhabit have a gloriously tactile quality in their design.
Like any episode centered on the Clone Troopers, the various Bad Batch episodes allow voice actor Dee Bradley Baker a chance to shine. Throughout this series, Baker has been tasked with voicing every single Clone Trooper. It's an endeavor that has resulted in truly impressive voicework as Baker consistently makes sure to imbue a distinct personality into each new Clone Trooper. This time around, he gets to run loose with a variety of outsized personalities while voicing the various members of the Bad Batch. When you've got a voice actor pro like Baker delivering this sort of superb voicework, the storytelling flaws of the Bad Batch arc are easier to stomach.
AHSOKA AND THE MARTEZ SISTERS
|(From left to right): Ahsoka Tano, Trace Martez, Rafa Martez|
Anywho, Rafa works as a gangster to help herself and Trace get by. Trace and Ahsoka accompany Rafa on her newest mission which entails delivering a shipment of spice to the Pyke empire. Ahsoka's emphasis on morality and Rafa's emphasis on looking out just for herself and her sister inevitably clash. Rafa's outlook, informed by surviving another day rather than helping others, provides an intriguing thematic link between the majority of the protagonists and villains in this storyline. Even the primary antagonist, Marg Krim (Stephan Stanton), isn't your usual mustache-twirling baddie with a personal vendetta to carry out. He's a weary soul well aware of his status as a cog in a gangster empire led by Darth Maul (Sam Witwer). He's fighting for his own survival day-in and day-out almost as much as Rafa.
That interesting aspect of the writing in this collection of episodes is accompanied by more underwhelming features of the script. Most notably, the third episode of this storyline, Dangerous Debt, features a scene where Rafa finally informs Ahsoka the circumstances that led to herself and Trace becoming orphans. It's a critical moment for these two characters but it doesn't have the impact it should because of how we only hear about these events rather than actually seeing them. Getting the chance to witness this story through a flashback would have lent it a far more vivid impact than the flat way it's delivered here. I know Star Wars movies (save for The Last Jedi) have eschewed flashbacks. However, an exception should have been made for this particular occasion.
Even aside from that underwhelming way of revealing Trace and Rafa's past, the Dangerous Debt episode proves to be the weakest of this storyline thanks to it being superfluous save for introducing Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) into the show. Like a number of Clone Wars storylines from the last few seasons, this is yet another story arc that would have benefited from a shorter episode count. Even just having the ballad of Ahsoka and the Martez sisters last for three episodes instead of four would have benefited the pacing greatly. At least the storyline ends on a high note with the episode Dangerous Debt. Rafa fights a Trandoshan, a gaggle of Toong cheer on for their boss to kill someone and Ahsoka Tano gets to dish out some delightfully violent Jedi mayhem. Ah Ahsoka, how you've been missed!
Old Friends Not Forgotten
Old Friends Not Forgotten begins the final four-episode-arc ever for The Clone Wars. Nearly twelve years after this show first started in October 2008, we're finally bringing this thing to a close. Because of the importance of these episodes, Dave Filoni and company really went all out in making sure these concluding episodes felt like an event. This gets established right away in Old Friends Not Forgotten, which begins with the classic Lucasfilm Limited Productions logo before making use of John Williams' unmistakable Star Wars theme. The modern-day mantra of "This TV show is actually a movie!" is pretty tiresome. In this context, though, it works since The Clone Wars treating its final episodes as a movie comes off as its creative team closing this show out with a bang rather than a derogatory look at the medium of television.
Tom Kane's opening narration immediately establishes that this storyline takes place only moments before Episode III thanks to visuals showing the viewer that various Jedi like Aayla Secura are in the planets where they'll be eventually executed during the Order 66 montage in Revenge of the Sith. We then get to the story proper, which sees Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) and his clone pinned down by a droid army. This is totally speculation on my end, but it appears The Clone Wars got a significant increase in its animation budget for this last story arc. The already noteworthy visuals of prior season seven episodes is taken to another level here, particularly in terms of camerawork. There are truly sweeping shots throughout Old Friends Not Forgotten that see the camera swooping around the battlefield of various conflicts that truly allows the viewer to appreciate the scope of these fights. Heck, they even have enough money now to allow Obi-Wan to run around in his Jedi robe! I remember back in season one when they didn't have enough money to even let Anakin wear his robe! How times change!
This impressive animation is used for a storyline concerning Ahsoka returning to Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) to inform him that she, Bo-Katan and Katan's Mandalorian warriors need the assistance of the Jedi to take back the planet of Mandalore from Darth Maul. Obi-Wan and Anakin cannot partake in the mission because they need to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine but they do send Captain Rex and a Clone army to accompany Ahsoka and Bo-Katan on their mission. From there, The Clone Wars delivers perhaps its best-ever action sequence as an army of jetpack-wearing Mandalorians working for Maul attack Ahsoka & Rex's force while they're still in the air. An extensive battle scene set all the way up in the sky follows that delivers a large number of wonderful action beats. Best of those beats has got to be Ahsoka leaping from one ship to the next and using her pair of lightsabers to chop down an assortment of adversaries all in the span of a single shot.
The days of "Skyguy" are long behind Ahsoka Tano and the fluid body movements used in her animation render her fight scenes as especially impressive. When she and other characters like Bo-Katan engage in hand-to-hand combat, they actually look like real people fighting rather than rigid computer-animated puppets. That part of Old Friend Not Forgotten's animation is one of the best attributes of the entire episode, which ends on a cliffhanger teasing a confrontation between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul in the next episode. That episode, entitled The Phantom Apprentice (hey, I know that that's referencing!), drops tomorrow and I can't wait to see where this storyline goes next. If these next three episodes deliver the kind of sweeping & endlessly exciting action running rampant throughout Old Friends Not Forgotten, then Star Wars: The Clone Wars is gonna go out on a high note.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
|Actual image of white people protesting that they can't go get a haircut during the COVID-19 pandemic.|
Yesterday, Sony announced that the title of the incoming Venom sequel would be Venom: Let There Be Carnage. In the middle of an era in American history that seems to be delivering non-stop bad news, the entire internet was in agreement of how this title was actually pretty amazing. No generic "Rise of the [BLANK]" or "Revenge of the [BLANK]" sequel title for Venom 2. Instead, they went all out with a super-distinctive title that immediately conjures up images of a trashy fun time at the movie. Even as someone who largely was negative on the original Venom, this title alone has me hoping they've captured a more consistently weird and fun tone for the sequel. Oh, and also make it totally gay. just 110% gay all the time.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
It may be better down where it's wetter but it's also a heck of a lot more dangerous. Just ask the submarine crew tasked with transporting a bunch of nuclear warheads. They were just minding their own business when suddenly a bright violet light emerged and sent them on a crash course with a rock structure. Now stuck at the bottom of the ocean, a crew of divers are being sent to recover any surviving crew members. Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) is bringing his own crew of divers to the scene alongside a group of Navy SEALS, led by Hiram Coffey (Michael Biehn), the latter of whom have their own orders to follow. Also along for the ride Dr. Lindsey Brigman (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Bud's ex-wife.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Saturday, April 18, 2020
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
CW: Mentions of Harvey Weinstein ahead.
Well, we're all still trapped in our home thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak and that means more and more theatrical releases are getting their once concrete release dates adjusted. As we all sit and wait for new theatrical releases to return, this week's In Laman's Terms is going back in time to look at other times in history that movies got extensive release date delays. Movies don't just get delayed because of health pandemics. Throughout history, there have been a slew of reasons for movies getting delayed ranging uncertainty over marketing to wanting to make time for reshoots to financing woes. As these seven movies show, release dates can become flexible under a myriad of circumstances.
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
Monday, April 13, 2020
National Treasure Is One of the Best Results of Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney's Extended Relationship
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Thursday, April 9, 2020
this piece by Julia Boyd. In a nutshell, though, Native American characters, like so many racial minorities, have been typically erased outright in American cinema. The only time they tend to emerge is so the can serve as supporting characters to white protagonists. Drunktown's Finest is a more than welcome departure from this norm with its trio of Native protagonists. Following this many characters allow writer/director Sydney Freeland (she's of Navajo heritage) to shatter the perception of Native Americans all adhering to singular stereotypes.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
On Monday, a tweet was posted by user Scott Gustin chronicling a crowded movie theaters reaction to an iconic sequence from Avengers: Endgame. It's subsequently gone viral and it's not hard to see why. The audio of people cheering and just going nuts as Captain Americal lifted Thor's hammer and proceed to beat down Thanos, it echoes my own theatrical experience with the movie and the jubilation of the crowd I saw it with. It's a clip that reaffirms the value of the theatrical experience. Seeing a movie with a crowd and everyone becoming united in joy with what's transpiring on the screen, there's truly nothing like it.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Monday, April 6, 2020
Sunday, April 5, 2020
As the plot of Desperately Seeking Susan began to reveal itself, I came to a revelation. This was one of the first times I was seeing the o'l storytelling cliche of a person bonking their head, forgetting who they actually are and proceeding to embrace a whole new persona in a straightforward manner. The only other movie I can think of that did something similar without also being tongue-in-cheek about was the 2018 Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty. Otherwise, I've normally seen this premise executed with a sense of self-aware mischief in the confines of kids cartoons like Garfield & Friends and SpongeBob SquarePants. If Desperately Seeking Susan is any indicator, though, maybe it's a storyline we should be doing more often without any subversive intent.
Saturday, April 4, 2020
It's fun to stumble onto unknown movies. It's even more fun to stumble onto unknown movies that turn out to be masterpieces.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Before I go to my grave
There is good on this Earth
And it's worth trying to save." - Anna in the song Give Them a Show, Anna and the Apocalypse
Doing a zombie Christmas movie would already be an unusual prospect. But Anna and the Apocalypse goes a step further by doing a zombie Christmas movie that's also a musical. The worst version of this project would probably be some kind of weirdo mixture of Deck the Halls, Prides & Prejudice & Zombies and Glee. Thankfully, it's more on the order of Krampus, Zombieland and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend getting put into a blender. The combination doesn't work 100% of the time but that's to be expected from something that's trying to do so much at once. On the whole, Anna the Apocalypse works more often than not at delivering some macabre yuletide fun.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
|"I hate him!"|
Ya know, two days before March 2020 started, I turned to my Mom and said "March 2020 is gonna be a life-changing month."
How right I ended up being. Just not for the reasons I thought.
March 2020 was supposed to be the month I traveled down to Austin, Texas to cover the South by Southwest Film Festival for The Spool. It would be my first time attending this festival as well as my first time ever visiting Austin, Texas for more than an afternoon. My excitement for this excursion had been building up for months before the entire endeavor got cancelled on March 6, 2020 due to the COVID-19 A.K.A. Coronavirus outbreak. I thought that would be the biggest cataclysm of the month, but oh boy, we were only getting started. A week later, social distancing was the name of the game as people were told to sit in their homes. By Thursday March 12, 2020, my college, the University of Texas at Dallas, informed its students that classes would be moving online for the rest of the semester. Our graduation ceremony would be postponed to an unknown later date, a discouraging development given how I'm graduating this semester.