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Tag: films

Desperate Culture Warriors Try To Seize 'Top Gun: Maverick' Success

Right-wing culture warriors are constantly finding new things to get mad about, turn into content, and, if possible, monetize — from the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss to the purported wokeness of Mr. Potato Head. But that machine doesn’t only concoct culture war defeats to rail against — its cogs also need to identify successes.

Enter Top Gun: Maverick, which broke Memorial Day box office records with a $156 million gross over the four-day weekend. A simple but logical explanation for this large audience would be that it is a well-made, critically acclaimed sequel to a beloved property that stars a major movie star flying fighter jets and opened on a holiday weekend opposite no competition. But right-wing culture warriors saw the Tom Cruise vehicle as a nail, whipped out their hammer, and declared that its success is due to its supposedly “anti-woke,” “pro-America” politics. Their implicit argument is that films that don’t share their political views shouldn’t be made in the first place.

The right-wing content mills have all tossed out versions of the same point. Breitbart’s headline was “Masculine, pro-American ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ blasts to $146M opening, towers over woke flops.” went with “‘Top Gun: Maverick’ soars on pro-America, woke-free message.” At the Daily Caller, it was “‘Top Gun: Maverick’ crushes the box office as Americans crave non-woke content.”

By Monday, these arguments had moved from the right-wing digital space to Fox News. On Fox & Friends, guest co-host Rachel Campos-Duffy said the film’s success is because “they didn’t wokeify it. It’s unabashedly patriotic.” Outnumbered co-host Tomi Lahren responded to a quote from the Breitbart piece with “Amen,” adding, “Can we please bring back good movies like this, because the movies that we have had the last couple of years have not been great; they’ve been woke. They’re all about an empty virtue signal for those that make them.”

The right seems to think “wokeness” matters for audiences whenever it is useful for their argument. Breitbart’s John Nolte compared Top Gun: Maverick favorably to the Star Wars sequels, writing that the film “didn’t do what Star Wars did and pervert a romantic-adventure series into a shrill Womyn’s Studies lecture.”

But Top Gun: Maverick is likely to finish with a much smaller audience than those films: The Force Awakens currently holds the all-time domestic box office record, the other two films in the sequel trilogy come in at No. 10 and No. 15, and all three had bigger opening weekends, according to Box Office Mojo. By Nolte’s logic, Americans love “shrill Womyn’s Studies lectures,” though I think it’s more likely that they just love Star Wars films. (I did not personally enjoy any of those films for reasons unrelated to whatever Nolte is talking about.)

I was one of the millions of Americans who saw and enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick over the weekend. If you like well-executed films, fast planes doing cool things, dad vibes, and the theatrical experience, I’d recommend seeing it on the biggest screen possible.

Is the film “anti-woke”? The cast is significantly more diverse than in the original film, with a female naval aviator effectively serving as the next-generation Tom Cruise character. But this isn’t really interrogated — it’s a Hollywood blockbuster. If the film’s box office take had entered the danger zone, it’s easy to imagine the same culture warriors pointing to that diversity as the reason.

Is it “pro-America”? The heroes are U.S. naval aviators, and it’s assumed that their mission is a just one. But there’s no real discussion of America or why America is good – it’s a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s certainly no less patriotic than First Man, the 2018 moon landing film that right-wing culture warriors attacked on specious grounds.

I found Top Gun: Maverick to be an enjoyable movie. But while it’s certainly possible to read hidden depths into its script, it is fairly clear that any such depths are unintentional. As director Joseph Kosinski explained in an interview with Esquire, he saw the film as a character study meant to entertain broad audiences:

The first movie, is a boy becoming a man and I think this story is a man becoming a father. And that's what a Top Gun movie is. It's a rite of passage story that's character-driven but wrapped in this big action movie exterior.

Hopefully that entertains everybody. Regardless of whether or not you're into planes.

In fact, that does entertain everybody — or at least, enough people to break the Memorial Day box office record. The right seems driven to shoehorn its weird political concerns into the film, but the film’s success doesn’t require more complications than that.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

British Horror Star Christopher Lee Dies At 93

By dpa, (TNS)

LONDON — Christopher Lee, one of the world’s best-known horror actors, has died aged 93 after a career that spanned seven decades and nearly 300 films.

In his early career in the 1950s and 1960s, Lee was best-known for playing Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and similar roles in Britain’s televised Hammer House of Horror series.

His success brought Hollywood roles as James Bond villain Scaramanga, Saruman in Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku in two Star Wars films.

Bond actor Roger Moore was among those who paid tribute to Lee on Thursday.

“It’s terribly (sad) when you lose an old friend, and Christopher Lee was one of my oldest. We first met in 1948,” Moore said on Twitter.

“Our thoughts are for Lady Lee, Christina and Juan,” Moore said.

Born to a British army officer father and a mother who was an Italian aristocrat, Lee is one of the world’s most prolific film actors.

Credited with appearances in 281 productions, he was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth in 2009, for service to charity.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

In The Midst Of Life: The Oscar-Nominated Short Docs


White Earth, directed by J. Christian Jensen (via

The five short documentaries nominated for the Academy Award — ranging from roughly 20 to 40 minutes in length — represent an international cross-section of filmmakers pointing their cameras on the otherwise ignored or unexamined. In a short-form documentary, you cannot diagnose a social ill, attempt to topple a dictator, or crack open the kind of sociopolitical can of worms that a feature-length doc, like fellow nominee Citizenfour, can examine. What the format is well suited to is capturing minutiae, and building itself out of quiet observations instead of sweeping declarations. Each of the five films focuses on the domestic, mundane, workaday elements of life that don’t register on a bigger canvas.

White Earth (dir. J. Christian Jensen), a portrait of a small North Dakota town impacted by an oil boom, is the least successful at connecting with its human subjects, but the most successful at conjuring visual poetry from its material. Any environmental, social, or cultural ramifications of the oil boom lie outside the film’s scope of interest, but if White Earth is sparse on humanity, it is generous with its imagery: plumes of fire flaring into the fog, oil wells glowing auburn in the sunset, impossibly long trains of jet-black tanker cars snaking through the whiteout of prairies in winter. In any final analysis, it cannot be denied that the film is astonishingly beautiful.

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10 Scary Films You Haven’t Seen 10 Times Already

Arsenic and Old Lace 1944

Frankenstein, Dracula, Jason, Freddy, zombies — we all know them, we all love them, we’ve all been jolted by them, and we’ve all seen them dozens of times. But real terror comes from the unexpected, from being surprised.  So here are 10 eerie, chilling, horrifying, and sometimes even amusing pictures you probably haven’t watched for Halloween.  All are available on disc or streaming.

The Unknown (1927)

The Unknown 1927

Lon Chaney, “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” was famous for his macabre makeup and his painful body contortions to play deformed characters. Here he’s Alonzo the Armless, a killer on the lam as a circus performer who only pretends to be armless. His act: He uses his feet to throw knives at his assistant, a young Joan Crawford. Alonzo is in love with her, but since she can’t bear to be touched by a man, Alonzo has his arms amputated. Then she falls for the circus strongman.

The film features murder, a psycho with two thumbs on one hand, a criminal midget, and an excruciatingly terrifying climax where the strongman is about to be torn limb from limb by galloping horses. The unforgettable film was directed by Tod Browning (Dracula).

Freaks (1932)

Freaks Poster 1932

Johnny Eck, The Half Boy. Prince Randian, The Living Torso. Daisy and Violet Hilton, The Siamese Twins. Elizabeth Green, The Stork Woman. That’s some of the cast, and they are real; “Freaks” comes by its blunt title honestly.

Far from being cruel, the film is a sympathetic look at their circus lives. But when a “normal” woman tries to marry and murder a midget so she can get his money, the gang attack on her by the freaks is so awful that the film was banned in the U.S. and the U.K. for 30 years. Also directed by Tod Browning, the film — now considered a sui generis horror classic — destroyed his career with its initial failure.

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

Shadow Of A Doubt 1943

Murder hits home in this film that director Alfred Hitchcock said was his favorite. Hitchcock loved to expose the cracks beneath the placid surface of ordinary life; here, working with Our Town playwright Thornton Wilder, we see what happens when a suave, wealthy serial killer — “The Merry Widow Murderer” — hides out with small-town relatives who think he is just a charming and admirable sophisticate. But then his worshipful niece finds out the truth, her innocent world is overturned, and he tries to kill her. Joseph Cotten is one of the most alluring Hitchcock villains — as usual with Hitchcock, you see the humanity beneath the worst villainy — and Teresa Wright is wonderfully nuanced as the niece who regrets the visit she yearned for.

Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)

Arsenic and Old Lace 1944

This film version of a huge Broadway hit features three serial killers, half a dozen bodies (including one in a window seat), and a madman who buries the bodies in a cellar. Oh, and it’s a comedy.

Jean Adair and Josephine Hull reprise their famed stage roles as kindly old ladies who murder vagrants to put them out of their misery (elderberry wine with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide is their preferred method); their brother, who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, disposes of the dead as Yellow Fever victims. Cary Grant is the normal nephew who goes berserk when he discovers their doings; Raymond Massey, another nephew, is a fugitive homicidal maniac who arrives at his aunt’s house not knowing that they’re as bad he is.  The very dark, extravagantly funny farce was directed by Frank Capra.

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

The Night Of the Hunter

When a film begins with the floating head of Lillian Gish telling a Bible story to kids against a starry night sky, you know things will get weird. Robert Mitchum is a serial killer posing as a blood and thunder preacher whom women can’t resist. (His LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoos inspired The Blues Brothers.)  He murders rural widow Shelley Winters and then pursues her young children across a Grimm-like countryside with unstoppable ferocity.  The only movie directed by Charles Laughton, with a script that James Agee worked on, this is a stylized gem, beautifully photographed and with the feel and logic of a nightmare.

Of course, it badly flopped.

Breakdown (1955)


Breakdown was the seventh episode of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents — and was one of the handful of TV episodes that Hitchcock directed himself over the show’s long run. Joseph Cotten is a steely business mogul who unceremoniously fires a longtime employee and mocks the man when he cries. On the drive home, Cotten has a terrible car crash that leaves him completely paralyzed; unfortunately, the police and medical personnel think he’s dead.  He isn’t, as he tells us in a voiceover narration filled with slowly mounting hysteria while the emergency doctors get ready to consign him to the morgue. If the idea of being buried alive doesn’t scare you, then nothing does.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion Of the Body Snatchers

Alien space pods grow into physical duplicates of the residents of a small California town and replace the original people. But the pod people are emotionally flat, without the wide and deep feelings that make humans human. A simple plot, really, but the themes are arguably complex: is it about soulless Communism? The white-bread conformity of American life in the 1950s? The insidious effects of McCarthyism? The arguments have been going on for nearly 60 years.

What’s indisputable is that the film grabs you and you never forget it. Kevin McCarthy, as the local doctor who discovers the truth, gives one of the definitive horror film performances: no camp, just utter conviction about what is happening and a palpable fear of losing one’s self.

The Invaders (1961)

The Invaders

The 15th episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone, The Invaders is one of the best examples of the legendary series’ distinctive blend of imagination, horror, and heart. Richard Matheson’s script, with minimal dialogue, is about a lone old woman in a primitive country cabin who is menaced by tiny lethal creatures from a spaceship. Agnes Moorehead’s mounting fear and amazing resourcefulness in a seemingly hopeless struggle will make you bite your nails until the provocative conclusion. There is subtext here about how humans behave in space and on Earth, but mainly this is hell of a he-knows-you’re-alone story with a great actress at the center.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby

Ground zero for the modern evil child/satanic incubus movies, the film was tautly directed by Roman Polanski.  A post-Peyton place, pre-Woody-Allen Mia Farrow is a young Manhattan wife who comes to believe that the old couple next door are witches, that her husband has fallen in with them, and that, through them, she has been raped and impregnated by Satan. The New York City setting — Farrow lives in the famous Dakota Apartments — the great location work, and the emotional claustrophobia when Farrow thinks she has no one to help her, give the film a precise and plausible terror you can’t shake off.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s labor of love that nearly nobody saw is a grand tribute to Hollywood’s real-life cross-dressing bad-movie auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr., the man who enriched us with Glen or Glenda?, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ed (Johnny Depp) is the embodiment of the American Dream, a chipper optimist who believes that with the right breaks and a lot of determination, he can be the next Orson Welles — despite not having a scintilla of talent.  He gets his movies made by recruiting a coterie of showbiz Z-listers as actors, finagling small-time moneymen, and genuinely befriending a “star,” the has-been, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi.

This is a fond, fun look at a grungy 1950s Hollywood, shot in gorgeous horror-style black and white.  It features Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, wrestler George “The Animal” Steele, and, unforgettably, Martin Landau, who is the reincarnation of Lugosi.

Officials Defend Release Of Graphic Robin Williams Suicide Details

Los Angeles Times

Marin County, Calif., officials are defending their decision to release graphic details about Robin Williams’ suicide.

They have faced some criticism on social media for a press conference Tuesday in which officials laid out how Williams died and how he was found.

An official with the sheriff’s office said the release of information was required under California public records laws.

“These kinds of cases, whether they garner national attention or not, are very difficult for everyone involved,” Marin County Assistant Deputy Chief Coroner Lt. Keith Boyd said in an email to Fox News. “Frankly, it would have been our personal preference to withhold a lot of what we disclosed … but the California Public Records Act does not give us that kind of latitude.”

At a news conference, Boyd revealed that Williams, 63, used a belt to asphyxiate himself and may have also tried to cut his wrists with a pocket knife.

He then went on to reveal that rigor mortis had already set in by the time Williams’ personal assistant discovered the body in a slightly elevated position.

While the level of detail Boyd presented is routinely available on a coroner’s report for any member of the public to view upon request, it’s not often that authorities discuss them in front of cameras and a podium capped with microphones. The news conference was broadcast on several TV stations and live-tweeted by members of the media, all of which drew the ire of the public.

AFP Photo/Tiziana Fabi

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Robin Williams Hanged Himself In Bedroom With A Belt, Sheriff Says

By James Queally, Los Angeles Times

Actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide by hanging himself after first apparently trying to slash one of his wrists, authorities said Tuesday.

Marin County sheriff’s Lt. Keith Boyd said Williams hanged himself with a belt in his bedroom, where he was found by his personal assistant shortly before noon on Monday.

Williams was found “in a seated position” in his bedroom shortly after 11:45 a.m., Boyd said.

The 63-year-old actor was discovered with a pocket knife nearby, Boyd said, and had suffered several cuts to his wrist that may have been self-inflicted.

Williams was last seen at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area community of Tiburon at 10 p.m. Sunday. His body was discovered at about noon Monday, sheriff’s officials have said.

His wife left the couple’s home around 10:30 a.m., believing Williams was still sleeping, according to Boyd. Williams’ personal assistant became concerned when Williams failed to answer several knocks to his bedroom door at 11:45 a.m., and discovered his body moments later.

While officials are awaiting the results of an autopsy to confirm the cause of the actor’s death, investigators said Monday that they believe Williams appeared to have committed suicide and died of asphyxiation.

Williams, whose career took off after he appeared as an alien in the sitcom “Mork & Mindy” and rose to prominence through a mixture of comedic and maudlin roles, had long struggled with depression as well as alcohol and cocaine abuse. He had recently entered a rehabilitation program.

Boyd declined to say whether Williams left a suicide note, and said the results of a toxicology screen would not be available for several weeks.

Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT/Ricardo DeAratanha

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Toronto 2014: Reitman, Baumbach, And Rock To Premiere New Films

By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

New movies from veteran directors such as Jason Reitman, Noah Baumbach, and Shawn Levy — not to mention the work of some less expected filmmaking types — will make their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival when it kicks off this September, organizers said Tuesday.

The Canadian confab, considered a key early stop for autumn hopefuls and awards contenders, made its first round of announcements Tuesday morning. Highlighting the slate are world premieres of Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” and Levy’s “This Is Where I Leave You.”

The list also contained some less expected names. Chris Rock will bring a rare directorial effort, “Top Five” (formerly known as “Finally Famous”), about a comedy actor who tries to go dramatic that stars — who else? — Kevin Hart.

The noted playwright Israel Horovitz will, at 75, make his feature directorial debut with “My Old Lady,” a story of an inherited apartment and an unwanted guest; it stars Kevin Kline and another veteran who always seems to be up to new tricks, Maggie Smith.

And the actor Chris Evans, who while trying to save the world as Captain America also found time to direct and star in a new movie, will bring that film, titled “Before We Go,” to the festival. The movie is a drama about a woman who misses her train and ends up in an urban underbelly. Alice Eve stars alongside Evans.

Toronto can be a place where some beloved North American filmmakers help kick off their new releases — and, if things go right, a hefty awards campaign to go with it. Baumbach, Reitman, and Levy all fit that bill.

Baumbach, who last year had a breakout with “Frances Ha,” will come to the festival with “While We’re Young,” a story of two contrasting couples and the effect their lives have on one another; Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Driver star.

Reitman’s “Men” marks a return for the Toronto favorite after his turn to harder core drama with last year’s “Labor Day.” Based on Chad Kultgen’s controversial novel, Reitman new movie looks at modern sexual mores and how they reverberate through the lives of parents and children. It features a rather unexpected star, Adam Sandler.

Levy, best known for directing the “Night at the Museum” franchise (a third movie comes out later this year), marks a shift to more relationship-based drama with a look at a family that comes together in trying circumstances, based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel and starring Jason Bateman.

Levy is not the only studio director mixing things up. Comedy maestro David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) will present the world premiere of his coming-home legal dramedy “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr. And longtime helmer Ed Zwick, not particularly known for fact-based drama, will premiere “Pawn Sacrifice,” his story about Bobby Fischer as the chess champion gets ready to face off against Russian chess grandmaster Boris Spassky.

Though carrying a reputation for awards-ready fare, a number of commercially minded movies will make their world or North American premieres at Toronto as well, including “Good Kill,” “Gattaca” director Andre Niccol’s story of a drone pilot that reunites him with star Ethan Hawke (that’s a North American premiere), and Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer,” the Denzel Washington-starring revival of Robert Woodward 1980’s TV series (that’s a world premiere).

Toronto this year is implementing a new policy in which films that screen at the Telluride Film Festival will not be eligible to screen in its all-important first four days. Fest director Cameron Bailey instituted the policy to avoid the practice made common in recent years for Telluride to steal the thunder of some of the season’s biggest films.

Last year, for instance, awards and commercial favorites such as “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity,” and “12 Years a Slave” all received prime first-weekend slots at Toronto. But not all premieres are created equal: “Dallas Buyers” was a true world premiere, “12 Years” had a sneak preview at Telluride and “Gravity” played both Venice and Telluride. Neither of the last two films would be eligible to play the first weekend at Toronto this year.

That policy means that there will be more true world premieres at Toronto this year. It also means some films will choose Telluride and won’t be there at all.

Not on the list Tuesday, indeed, are some high-profile awards bait some are expecting to make an early September festival debut — Brad Pitt’s “Fury” and partner Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” most notably — but also Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” and Thomas Vinterberg’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” Toronto does have another round of big announcements scheduled for next week, so expect a few more dominoes to fall by the time the festival game gets underway.

Photo via WikiCommons

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