A little more than four years ago, the J.J. Abrams–directed, franchise-rebooting Star Trek arrived in theaters to the breathless anticipation of a millions-strong fan community simultaneously filled with the hope they'd found themselves an energized, engaged custodian willing to respect Gene Roddenberry's sacrosanct vision, and the palpable fear that a big-timing Hollywood interloper was about to ruin everything they'd ever cared about, then escape through a wormhole made of money before they could exact their revenge for the appalling desecration. But Abrams said all the right things (except, you know, for letting it slip that he was always a Star Wars guy) and delivered blockbuster entertainment enjoyable by both the hard-core Trekker and the casual summer blow-’em-up-real-good moviegoer. The new, revitalized Star Trek opened to $75 million at the American box office and eventually finished its domestic run with a phaser-engorging $257 million. A franchise was reborn.
And so we fast-forward to stardate 05.16.2013 (note: not a valid stardate), four summers hence, and Abrams has returned to deliver the inevitable sequel, in fulfillment of the contractual prophecy etched into the wall of a Spock-sheltering ice cave by an advanced race of business-affairs aliens. Can Abrams once again pull off the massively profitable trick of satisfying both the core and summer audiences before tearing off his loosely affixed latex Vulcan ears, slipping into a Jedi robe, and taking stewardship of his childhood obsession? And, most important of all, should you support this latest Trek adventure with your ticket purchase? We're here to answer some questions and help you make the best-informed decision possible.
Last week, Steven Soderbergh bemoaned the state of the film industry during a talk at the San Francisco International Film Fest, and this week, the Girls in Hoodies respond to some of his arguments. We use examples from a so-far-underwhelming summer movie season and Baz Luhrmann's upcoming The Great Gatsby 3D as fodder, and probably alienate every fan of Marvel's Avengers mega-franchise in the process.
1706: Benjamin Franklin is born. 1885: James Whitcomb Riley writes the poem "Little Orphant Annie." 1914: Benjamin Franklin's face makes first appearance on $100 bill. 1924: The New York Daily News begins running Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." 1930: The comic strip is adapted into a popular radio show. 1932: The first film adaptation, Little Orphan Annie, is released and panned. 1938: The second film adaptation, Little Orphan Annie, is released and panned. 1969: Shawn Carter, younger brother of Andrea "Annie" Carter (frequent dresser and shampooer), is born. 1977: The Broadway phenomenon Annie opens, includes song "It's the Hard-Knock Life." 1982: The first film adaptation of Annie is released, nominated for an Oscar for "Best Adaptation Score." 1994: Jamie Foxx releases debut album, Peep This, which peaks at no. 78 on the Billboard 200. 1995: Will Smith lands his first executive producer credit, for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Season 6, Episode 1. 1997: Puff Daddy releases "It's All About the Benjamins." 1997: Jay-Z hears DJ Kid Capri play the instrumental to "It's the Hard-Knock Life" on the Puff Daddy and the Family World Tour, is reminded of childhood. 1998: Jay-Z releases "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." 2000: Willow Smith is born to Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. 2000: Jay-Z releases "Anything," heavily reliant on a sample from Oliver! 2002: All About the Benjamins is released in theaters, starring Ice Cube and Mike Epps. 2003: "Caddy more trucks, it's Daddy Warbucks. And you orphan Annie" — Cam'ron, "I Really Mean It" (Roc-A-Fella Records). 2003: Quvenzhané Wallis is born. 2003: "From O's to opposite of Orphan Annie" — Jay-Z, "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" (Roc-A-Fella Records). 2007: André Benjamin refers to himself as "Three Stacks" three times in UGK's "International Players Anthem (I Choose You)." 2009: Jay-Z joins Will Smith to executive produce Fela! on Broadway, proving his love for Broadway shows with exclamation points in their titles. 2013: A$AP Rocky makes reference to "Benjamin 3 Stack" in song "Wild for the Night."
Last October, between the Tarantinos and the Spielbergs, the Hanekes and the Bigelows, the first glimmer of another little auteurist movie trickled out. Over Keith Richards's bending guitar strings on "Parachute Woman," a curled-lip kid from Jersey whines about leaving home. "I think we should all move to the East Village," the kid says to his bandmate. "There's a music scene there — not here!" It was for David Chase's first film, Not Fade Away. This is the trailer:
Silver: I really hope that The Wolverine is not like its bloated and unfocused predecessor OR a feeble attempt to force in connective tissue from past and future X-Men cinema adventures. There are so many nuances contained within the character that have yet to be explored. So a win for us all would be that the filmmakers of The Wolverine have kept it simple and let this film be a stand-alone tale of Logan’s exploits in Japan.
Browne: While watching this, I couldn't help but think they should have just named this Logan Does Japan. That's a movie I'm not missing.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Teaser (November 22)
Silver: The withholding of imagery from the actual Hunger Games themselves was blatant in the marketing of the first film — the trailer gave only a brief glimpse of Tributes darting off their posts, choosing instead to focus on the characters, and specifically on Katniss’s plight.
This tactic worked so well the first time around that Lionsgate appears to be running it back for the sequel, since this (long) teaser is put together with moments from the first third of the book. It’s a nice reintroduction to the leads, but it also gets that “What the hell is Philip Seymour Hoffman doing in this movie?” moment out of the way, so as not to distract us too much later.
Chris and I tend to agree a lot — always the formula for a successful listening experience! — so this week came as a bit of a surprise. He loved Game of Thrones on Sunday night, I thought it was a little all over the place. I adored Mad Men's Season 6 premiere, he thought it was pokey. I don't know if core disagreements like that make for a good friendship, but they made for a lively discussion! We tore through our inaugural Thrones power rankings (sorry, Joffrey's Tailor: you did not make the top 10!) and ripped into the idea that Theon has to hang around — in this case literally — just because he's still alive in the books. Wandering from Westeros to the East Side of Manhattan, we had a ton to say about Don Draper's wonderfully weird vacation in Hawaii and the specter of death that seemed to travel back home with him. I don't care what Chris says about things being draggy or on the nose — that wonderful phone call between Stan and Peggy reminded me of the good old days, when my fellow Philadelphian and I could laugh about Big Sean and focus on the good times.
Opportunistic Backlist Revival Theme of the Week: "April Foolishness"
"April Fools" is the (very) loose peg for this very random collection of silly, dirty, or otherwise outrageous comedies, including Wayne's World, The Birdcage, Baby Mama, Old School, both Bill & Ted movies, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, The Hangover, Billy Madison, Date Night, Best in Show, Dodgeball, Austin Powers, and one of my favorites, Zoolander.
Derek Cianfrance's new movie, The Place Beyond the Pines, is a winding local epic about two generations of men failing at life in the rural-suburban sprawl of Schenectady, New York. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and their screen sons are at the center of things, but there's another guy tucked into the story who steals every moment he can. His name is Ben Mendelsohn. You've seen him before. He's a That Guy.
The most important thing you should know about the latest James Bond film is that it's better than Quantum of Solace. (Granted, that's grading on a serious curve, but still.) That said, it's less about Bond (Daniel Craig) than it is about M (Judi Dench), who finds herself targeted by a former asset turned enemy of the state. As her antagonist, Javier Bardem is convincingly conflicted in his attitude toward M: The reason he wants to exact revenge against her is that he feels she abandoned him, and is lashing out like a child having subjecting his mother to a temper tantrum — admittedly, one in which a bunch of people get violently murdered along the way.
Though the movie is longer than any action movie needs to be, it is fun to watch, particularly if you don't think about it too hard; by the time Albert Finney shows up for the Home Alone homage, you kind of have to give up on coherence. The additions of Ben Whishaw (as Q) and Ralph Fiennes (as an M antagonist within the government who isn't killing her assets willy-nilly) are good signs for the longevity of the franchise. My biggest complaint is that the film introduces the suggestion that the Big Bad is going to try some gay stuff on Bond, but that nothing comes of it. Aren't we, as a society, ready for a Bond who neutralizes his male foes through sexual conquest as much as he has female ones?! I just feel like once we accepted that James Bond could be blond, pretty much anything goes.
Last week I went to the L.A. County Museum of Art to check out its Stanley Kubrick exhibit, an exhaustive collection of props, concept art, scripts, correspondence, set photos, costumes, and other cinematic footnotes that has been on display since November. It was originally scheduled to run until the end of January, but was extended through the end of June due to popular demand. A representative from LACMA told me that on weekends, the exhibit averages about 8,000 visitors a day.