Beaming families, teary smiles, mortarboards in the air — it’s graduation season, which means that more importantly, it’s celebrity commencement address season. While some high-profile speakers have received a chillier reception than others, the A-lister speech has long been a reliably amusing diversion in between long-winded orations from dusty academic types. Maya Rudolph took plenty of artistic license with “The Star-Spangled Banner” at my graduation ceremony from Tulane a few years ago, an unforgettable experience that I was too drunk to currently remember. But today brings video of another movie star taking the stage before a mass of fresh-faced students blissfully unaware of how hard getting a job is. Ladies, gentlemen, Will Ferrell is in the house.
We‘ve only just entered May, but in the first few months of 2017, the year has yielded a surprisingly eclectic array of blockbusters. Survey the biggest earners to date, and you’ll see a socially critical horror flick from a first-time director, a spin-off based on a cross-property licensing deal within a corporate brand expansion, and a tough-as-nails superhero side project with post-apocalyptic Western overtones. The latest Fast and Furious installment looks most at home in the top five so far, but more unexpected still is that it’s been handily defeated by the year’s top earner, Disney’s handsomely mounted revival of Beauty and the Beast. And now, the unlikely box-office behemoth has claimed another record.
A few years ago, I wrote up a brief item about an incident taking place at Los Angeles’ AFI Film Festival wherein an irate woman maced a man in the face for having the gall to ask her to turn off her cell phone during a screening of Mike Leigh’s J.M.W. Turner biopic Mr. Turner. “Wow, being at the movies sure makes people do crazy things!” I thought to myself. “I wonder how long it’ll be until the next time I get to write about a violent movie theater conflict over petty nonsense.” That day has come at last, and this time [beat to let the moment breathe] the stakes are even higher.
Netflix, for all their diverting original series and Bong Joon-ho subsidization, has also been responsible for the introduction of a great evil into the world. I am referring, of course, to their seemingly infinite-picture development deal with chronic Phoner-of-It-In Adam Sandler. Netflix signed Sandler to a four-movie deal back in 2014, which has been going decidedly less-than-great so far — his Western spoof The Ridiculous Six was a big pile of donkey turds, and the trailer for his upcoming Sandy Wexler has not inspired much more confidence. When the news hit a few weeks ago that Netflix would re-up their deal with Sandler for four more movies, our coverage of the notice contained the words “oh no.”
Distinction is all relative. Sure, maybe Jordan Peele’s blockbuster horror film Get Out isn’t the highest-grossing movie of the year. And maybe it’s not the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. And maybe it’s not the highest-grossing directorial debut ever, or the highest-grossing February release ever, or the highest-grossing film from a black director. But gosh darnit, Get Out is too widely liked to pass through a theatrical run without setting some kind of record, so the showbiz bookkeepers of the internet did some research and found a title that they could rightly pin on Peele’s project.
Life was good for Jordan Peele — star of a massively successful sketch comedy show, a nice little recurring role on FX’s Fargo, and he’s married to Chelsea Peretti, one of the coolest, funniest women currently working. Then he sprung his directorial debut Get Out on an unsuspecting America and everything rocketed to the next level. The massive windfall he conjured with a paltry $4.5 million budget blew open the gates of Hollywood for him, and like all novice filmmakers, a high-profile sophomore feature can’t be far off. Today brings the news as to what that next step might be, and it appears that Warner Bros. has big plans for Peele.
Almost exactly a year ago, tech entrepreneur Sean Parker (better known as the guy who correctly identified a billion dollars as cooler than a million dollars in The Social Network) fronted a proposed business venture called The Screening Room, a potentially game-changing set-top box through which Hollywood studios would offer their biggest new releases to stream at home the same day they premiered in brick-and-mortar theaters. (With an astronomical price tag, naturally.) Though it gained some traction and support from significant voices in the film community, it ultimately sputtered and spun out. But with the rebirth of spring, so comes a rebirth for this impractical, frightening, cineplex-annihilating idea. (Kinda.)
Pixar’s 2016 was something of a mixed bag, having landed a true-blue blockbuster with Finding Dory but then missing out on the coveted Oscar nomination. They’ll get back in the saddle in 2017 with Coco, a vibrant fantasy about the power of music, family, and remembrance of those lost to us. In the film, a lonely young boy finds a link to the past through an enchanted stringed instrument and sets off on an incredible journey with an animal companion, encountering all manner of dreamlike wonders (along with a monster or two) on the way. It bears mentioning at this point that this film is, in fact, not Kubo and the Two Strings.
Remember that part in The Dark Knight when the Batman knock-offs all pop up in the multi-level parking garage to help the Caped Crusader dispose of some European gangsters, but they just end up getting in the way? They tell the Batman that they were just trying to help, and Wayne chides them for facing men with guns while wearing hockey pants. This may ring some bells for you, but Stephen Lawrence, the subject of the curious new documentary short Being Batman, has evidently forgotten that brief bit. (I’d guess he’s also glossed over the part in The Killing Joke wherein writer Alan Moore suggests that a man would have to be insane to dress up as a bat and fight crime at night.)
From the time that the first images of Zhang Yimou’s upcoming historical epic The Great Wall came to light, the thorny matter of identity politics has hounded the film. In the period piece, confirmed white man Matt Damon portrays a heroic warrior that protects the Middle Kingdom’s greatest architectural and strategic achievement from an encroaching menace, and many frustrated online commentators have questioned the place of a non-Asian actor in a wholly Asian film. The term “whitewashing” cropped up all over, referring to the continued practice in the film industry of casting Caucasian actors in roles that could (or should) have otherwise gone to non-white performers. With a problematic pall still cast over the production and the February 17 release fast approaching, Damon spoke out on the issue in a new interview with the Associated Press, via The Hollywood Reporter, and attempted to assuage some of the public’s misgivings.
It’s a Christmas miracle, and in late November, at that. Frequent commercial director Wes Anderson has lent his talents to hip clothing retailer H&M for a new, seasonally appropriate ad campaign that doubles as a sweet little short from the celebrated filmmaker. This being a Wes Anderson joint, certain expectations go without saying: the bit is immaculately composed, lots of zippy camera pans, fetishization of travel via train. But the four-minute clip titled “Come Together” arrives as a pleasant surprise all the same, injecting some much-needed Yuletide cheer into a Monday morning.
Hard to believe now, but there was a time when The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was poised to be Hollywood’s next big franchise. David Fincher’s relentlessly bleak 2011 adaptation was a sizable hit for Sony and MGM, scored a handful of Oscar nominations (including a win for Best Film Editing and a Best Actress nod for Rooney Mara’s chilling turn as hacker Lisbeth Salander) and got copies of the novels flying off shelves faster than ever. But then Fincher moved to greener airport-novel pastures with Gone Girl, Mara ran off for an intimate but forbidden sapphic affair with Cate Blanchett (who can blame her!) in Carol, and the world continued spinning apace.
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