Now more than ever, pop culture is about the small stuff — an obscure TV show, a few notes in a pop song, a tweet. To celebrate a year of micro moments, every day a new Grantland writer will highlight one specific thing — a Big Little Thing — that we won't soon forget.
In June, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the twin kaiju who brought us the blockbuster movie, sat side by side and announced its imminent death. “There’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown,” Spielberg said at an event at USC. “There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
Lucas’s response wasn’t recorded. But I’m pretty sure he nodded sagely.
Alexander Payne's Nebraska is Will Forte's sardonic, hushed, black-and-white Back to the Future. In the film, the former Saturday Night Live player stars as David, an aimless townie who indulges his dad, Woody, by traveling from Montana to Nebraska to claim a $1 million sweepstakes prize. Along the way, they stop by Woody's hometown only to find the past catching up with them. David becomes an observer as his father unearths old relationships, forgotten quarrels, and regrets he'd rather not confront. And, as if afraid of the butterfly effect, David rarely intervenes, steering Woody as best he can through each complicated encounter. It's a time-travel movie without the actual time travel.
Nebraska is a far cry from Forte's previous work. And he knows it — from the get-go the actor questioned his ability to tackle the role. Forte had the balls to dance around naked with celery in his butt for MacGruber, but sparring with Hollywood veteran Bruce Dern in a realistic character piece? A different beast. Here, we talk to Forte about the performances he loves and taking a bold dramatic step.
A big part of your early career was spent writing comedy, but did you aspire to perform?
Maybe there are only so many stories to be told, and maybe the stories we know well are more likely to get press coverage because we recognize them as being familiar, but this is getting ridiculous. It's not always good to recycle. Sometimes recycling, both with cans and with ideas, creates the illusion of progress or productivity without actually doing anything. It's not always bad — yesterday, I was feeling optimistic about the Princess Bride musical — but today's news really is bad. I'll give you what you might find to be the easier-to-swallow story first: Paramount Television is developing a show based on Ghost. OK, now it gets a little stickier: Temple Run, a popular mobile game with a strong resemblance to Indiana Jones that involves running, running, and more running away from demonic monkeys, is being turned into a movie.
Dish Network, the parent company of Blockbuster Video, announced yesterday that it will close 300 Blockbuster stores in the United States by January of next year. Fifty stores still owned by franchisees will stay open, and Dish will continue to use the Blockbuster brand on a streaming-video service, but for all intents and purposes, this is the end of the line for a video-rental chain that was once the country's largest.
Even now, it's hard to feel warm feelings for a Blockbuster. The company was a Borg-cube dedicated to pushing big-time Hollywood product. They frowned on NC-17 movies and foreign films and employees with long hair. If you wanted those things, you could go somewhere else, until you couldn't, because Blockbuster also frowned on sharing any marketplace with a "somewhere else." They transformed the home-video business by plowing under the competition, then failed to adapt fast enough as that business continued to change. Mourning them is like mourning some big, dumb robot that has succumbed to rust after standing all night in the rain.
Alan Taylor had three feature-film credits to his name before Asgard beckoned. Taylor, the director of Marvel Studios' Thor: The Dark World, had made Palookaville (1995), The Emperor's New Clothes (2001), and Kill the Poor (2003) — all were met with middling reviews and none earned a million dollars at the box office. But as Taylor's sequel to 2011's Thor arrives in theaters this weekend, he's already sitting on a new personal best: This past weekend, the movie grossed more than $100 million overseas. How did this happen?
Marvel took a chance on Taylor for one reason: Game of Thrones. Taylor is known to hard-core fans of the fantasy series as an established TV director, but even that body of work isn't that prolific. He directed a handful of episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, the pilot for Mad Men, and that one episode of Lost where Hurley has bad dreams. But for Kevin Feige, overlord of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” the company's self-proclaimed delineation between studio movies like X-Men and Spider-Man and their own homegrown franchises, it came down to Game of Thrones.
Inspired by the success of the Harry Potter franchise under the eye of British TV director David Yates, Feige began homing in on a TV helmer to call his own. First choice Patty Jenkins (Monster, AMC's The Killing) departed the project for unknown reasons (although accounts of the shake-up cite creative differences that would have lengthened the development process and constricted Jenkins's vision). Feige turned to Taylor to add some Game of Thrones grit to the candy-colored world of Asgard. Now, with an alley-oop pass from Marvel, Taylor is an in-demand blockbuster director: He's in talks to helm the next Terminator movie. The director of Palookaville.
These are boom times for horror. An unquestioned cavalcade of money and interest and exaltation (and screaming) are in play. In the history of the genre, which spans as far back as a 1910 adaptation of Frankenstein, eight of the 35 highest-grossing horror movies have been released in the last 24 months. These movies include perfectly adequate haunted house stories like this summer's The Conjuring, slick viscera carnivals like the recent Evil Dead remake, and smartly marketed, quickly forgotten exorcism dreck like last year's The Devil Inside. Producers like Jason Blum and Oren Peli have leveraged an appetite for grotesquerie and high-concept execution to create a kind of shadow business for movie studios — Blum's Insidious: Chapter 2 was made for $5 million. It is still reeling in theatergoers six weeks and $82 million later.
When Gavin Hood told Orson Scott Card that he planned to adapt Card's science-fiction classic Ender's Game for the big screen, the author replied with a familiar refrain: "Good luck, kid." Card was done trying to bring his book to the screen. If someone else wanted to spend years of his life spinning in circles, so be it. But before removing himself from the development process, he left Hood with a bit of wisdom, one the director would hear over and over again throughout his journey: Ender's Game was an utterly unfilmable book.
Ohhhh boy! It's finally here! The trailer for Days of Future Past, the Generations of X-Men movies, where your O.G. cast and your hot young First Class cast band together to save the mutants of the future. My first thought is: Time has certainly passed. Do you realize that the first X-Men movie came out in 2000? Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine longer than most Bonds play Bond. My second thought is: DINKLAGE. My third thought is: Wow, they really got everyone back together for this, didn't they? Famke, Halle, Anna, Shawn (Ashmore, duh, most dependably present Iceman ever) ... yup, just about every original X-person. The whole gang. Literally everyone.
Keanu Reeves — Eff Bee Aye agent, knower of kung fu, reluctant destroyer of sad sandwiches — cordially invites you to abandon your family on Christmas Day to watch him and roughly four-dozen of his best samurai buddies fight some dragons. And not your regular, run-of-the-mill, Benedict Cumberbatch–sneering-in-a-mo-cap-booth, slouching-along-at-a-hyperreal-frame-rate dragons. Here there be dragons made of magical geishas and infinity-kimonos and gushing hellfire, who threaten you with mountains of corpses and dudes tattooed head to toe in the finest skeleton body-art. (Do they have guns? OK, they have guns. Cool.) Keanu's dragons are not messing around. They've seen DragonHeart and everything, and they aren't impressed. Connery totally phoned it in.
That may not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind after you've seen Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's 2012 prequel to his first hit, 1979’s Alien. But these are the kind of insane, inspired, somehow totally plausible extrapolations viewers draw from Scott's movies. Scott doesn't exactly lie as a filmmaker. As a fine-arts student who got his start in the vulgar world of commercial directing and slick TV shows, he has always subverted expectations. You think you're getting a slam-bang war movie? Here's the ultimate story of bureaucratic failure (with explosions). Looking for the quintessential interstellar extraterrestrial adventure? Instead, take the most grotesque body-horror movie ever made. Scott's movies are delivery systems for ideas, but they're also Trojan horses — hulking, beautiful objects, meant to distract audiences while those ideas creep in, one soldier at a time, to take over your mind. It's been an effective, unlikely strategy for the British-born filmmaker. He's a three-time Academy Award nominee for Best Director — zero wins — and his 21 feature films have a lifetime box office gross of $1.25 billion. His name implies prestige, big-time moviemaking on a grand scale: Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner. But he's often at his best when he zooms in on the internal horrors of people's lives — a beleaguered king contemplating war, a scientist tortured by her pregnancy, a cop trying to protect a widow witness.
"He's so cool!" she yelped. "He's so cool, he's so cool, he's sooooo coooool."
The girl was no older than 17, wearing a zebra-stripe skirt, a black T-shirt covered in daisy decals, and her hair in a severe swoop. She was vibrating with excitement. Her voice rose above the crowd in our section, somewhere between a bleat and a squeal. She was watching a man in a silk tank top twirl onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on a Saturday night in October, leading his band in a version of their song "This Is War." She was not alone in her enthusiasm. In fact, I can't recall a more invested crowd — one stage beyond preteen boy-band mania but well before Boomer-style veneration. It was all-in fandom writ large, the kind that makes you quake and shiver with the opening chords of every song, that has you buying albums 10 years into a band's career, that makes you scream and sing along and maybe tear up a little.
It was a brief bit of dialogue in the first five minutes of the movie, but it represented the difficulty of making a biopic about TLC in 2013.
Friend: Well, Pebbles is starting her own label here in Atlanta. T-Boz: You talking about Pebbles as in "Don't You Want to Ride in My Mercedes Boy" Pebbles. Friend: You know I can hook it up. You know I do Pebbles's hair right? Pebbles is married to L.A. Reid of LaFace Records. They're killing it in Atlanta.
All of the statements delivered in this conversation were true. Pebbles was starting a label called Pebbitone; she is the Pebbles of '80s hit "Mercedes Boy"; she is married to L.A. Reid, the cofounder of LaFace Records; and all of this took place in Atlanta, Georgia.
On Friday it was announced that Rose Byrne is in talks to reunite with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and star Melissa McCarthy on Susan Cooper, a female-centric action comedy and potential franchise in the vein of Feig and McCarthy's summer hit The Heat.The Wrap describes the new project, which was first announced this summer, as "a realistic comedy about a female James Bond-type." While that may sound like a contradictory premise, it also sounds … awesome. Everyone theoretically wants a female James Bond movie; nobody ever seems to know how to do it successfully. Feig's comedic approach may be just different enough to work; Bond films have historically been barely serious anyway. Byrne has not officially signed on to Cooper yet, but given Feig and McCarthy's killer track record as of late, it seems like a no-brainer. She can get those horror and B-movie leads in her sleep, but it's when she puts her comedic skills to work that she really shines.
With 2010’s action mega-star team-up The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger officially deaded a long-dormant rivalry. Sly wrote Arnold a cameo; Arnold, then still the Governator, graciously appeared for free. Last year, they went for Round 2, with Schwarzenegger playing a bigger role in the sequel, The Expendables 2. And today comes Escape Plan, the first-ever proper tag team from the '80s action gods. So how come it took so long?
Well, back in the prime days, as Stallone explained to David Letterman, he had a "violent hatred" for Schwarzenegger. "Have you ever had that ever? Competition where you really had an archenemy that kind of brings out the best in you. As Arnold would say, it really pushed you to accelerate." Stallone hated "that [Schwarzenegger] was on the planet, basically." Then, "After a while, I started to like this competition, this one-upmanship. He'd get a bigger gun. I'd shoot more people. He'd shoot more people. But then, he went into science fiction, which kind of left me behind."
The thaw in the relationship came when Arnold began his political career. "He started inviting me to events," Stallone has said. "I said no, then my wife says, 'Come on, he’s extending the olive branch,' and next thing I know is I’m on the campaign trail, then we just hit it off."
'Tis the season for goth Westerns! Sweetwater, the sophomore effort from twin brothers Logan and Noah Miller, premiered at Sundance earlier this year. If your comedown from Breaking Bad has you yearning for beautiful shots of the Southwest's wide-open spaces, Sweetwater may be just the thing to sate your needs. Shot in Santa Fe and Abiquiú, New Mexico, Sweetwater is a traditional Western tweaked just enough to be contemporary. It's a straight-up B-movie with formalist touches that feel true to its John Ford–worshiping roots. Eschewing cartoonish campiness or genre meta-commentary plaguing cowboy-themed dreck like The Lone Ranger in favor of starkness and minimalism, Sweetwater rarely falls into predictable Western clichés. It evokes early Coen Brothers movies, and not just because the Miller brothers are ridiculously close identical twin former models/minor league baseball players who collaborate and share credits. The direction is admirably restrained, and the dialogue and violence are played for naturalism rather than pulp. The film often wisely kicks back and lets the New Mexico landscape shoulder the work of being outrageously beautiful and spiritually troubling in its seemingly endless spaciousness.