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The 5 Reasons Ghost in the Shell Bombed At The Box Office

Whitewashing controversies are only the start.

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Results are in for the box office weekend that was, and there’s a few really interesting things that happened financially over the weekend. The Boss Baby grossed $49 million more than it had any right, proving that America’s love of babies in funny outfits is truly an endless resource. Juggernaut Beauty and the Beast continued to thrive in second place, and is on track to easily make over $500 million domestically. And Power Rangers dropped like a rock in its sophomore frame, especially compared to strong holdovers like Logan, Kong: Skull Island, and (still, amazingly) Get-Out.

But the real talk of the box office this week? It has to go to the performance of Ghost in the Shell, the much buzzed about adaptation of the 1995 anime classic. The film has been put under the microscope in the last few weeks, but apparently all that talk didn’t convert to dollars at the multiplexes. Ranking third for the week and making just $19 million, Ghost in the Shell couldn’t measure up to even the most pessimistic of pre-release tracking. And with such a low opening, the film is going to struggle to even get to $60 million in the U.S. With an estimated cost of $110 million, there’s no other way to phrase it: stateside, at least, Ghost in the Shell is a massive bomb.

And you should’t be surprised by that. Ghost in the Shell has had all the makings of a box office bomb since the first time it was an announced, and the tea leaves of its failure were pretty easy to read. From order of least important factor to most important, here are all the reasons I believe that Ghost in the Shell was destined to bomb.


1) Scarlett Johansson was the only “big” actor — and movie stars can’t sell movies on their own anymore

That has been a rotating phrase peppered through every “why did this movie fail?” analysis in the last few years…but that doesn’t make it any less true. Barring the rare exception, movie stars don’t sell movies anymore, not on the strength of their name alone, at least. Having a movie star will never hurt you, and will often times help you, but it isn’t the only step a film needs to have to turn a profit. Gone are the days where Tom Cruise could be in a movie and that would be enough to get people to see it — his own bombs like Rock of Ages, Edge of Tomorrow, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back prove that.


But you know what I think CAN sell a movie? A strong ensemble of actors. Because the stock of a single actor is at the lowest its ever been in Hollywood, most films will cram a bunch of them all together in hopes of getting people’s attention. Look at the Fast and Furious series. Look at The Avengers, or Batman v. Superman. Most films need to be occupied by more than ONE notable name, and Ghost in the Shell frankly fails that.

Which isn’t a slight against Johansson, or even the supporting cast. Without Johansson, the film would have opened even lower, and even the most stacked of supporting casts can led to a box office bomb. But all I know is that I often have to sell movies to friends and family by one famous question: “who is in it?” And in the case of Ghost in the Shell, my answer would be “Scarlett Johansson and, um, well…the guy who played Mason Verger in Hannibal. No, not in Season 3, in Season 2…yes, before he fed his face to dogs.” All I’m saying is that even Lucy, a film primarily sold as a Scarlett Johannson vehicle (and rightly so), featured acting icon Morgan Freeman, and was not afraid to use him liberally in the marketing. There is no actor of Freeman’s stature in Ghost in the Shell, and the film probably could have used it to fill out the bench.

Of course, the obvious rebuttal to all this is that the supporting cast is made up pretty much entirely of Asian people, a decision I am honestly pretty mixed about. It’s great that the whole film isn’t entirely white people going on anime adventures, but doesn’t the Asian cast surrounding famous white person Scarlett Johannson stick out like a sore thumb? Doesn’t it make the whitewashing even more obvious? Also, the majority of the supporting cast being Asian would have been fine box-office wise if we had bigger Asian American stars in Hollywood, but that’s a whole other issue for another, less box office focused article. Let’s just say Hollywood has an institutionalized problem that will take some fundamental changes at the core of the system to fix, and leave it at that.

BUT NOT REALLY, because my next point pretty much goes hand in hand with that last part.


2) The whitewashing controversy tainted the film


Yes, this is only number two on this list, simply because most general audiences probably have little idea about the online outrage that has dominated conversation around the movie for us here in the virtual world. I’m not saying it wasn’t a contributing factor to Ghost in the Shell’s failure (it certainly was), but even if the controversy had never existed, and an Asian woman had played the main character instead of Scarlett Johansson, here’s the truth — the film probably wouldn’t have done much better, at least from a box office standpoint. As the other points on this list will address, the film had grander problems in terms of breaking into the mainstream than the race of its main character.

All that being said…the whitewashing debate certainly didn’t help the film along. It was terrible PR, and it made the conversation around the film always skew negative from the get-go. Wired posted an article earlier today claiming that the film never had a chance due to the controversy that surrounded it, and while I think they might give the internet backlash a little too much credit, you also can’t deny that the film was never allowed to be anything BUT a whitewashed anime adaptation. And no matter how many ads Paramount threw at the controversy, they could never outrun it, primarily because…


3) The marketing promised a pretty, but empty experience


Ultimately, I would say the ads for Ghost in the Shell weren’t terrible — they were well edited and memorable enough, with some cool looking shots and effects thrown in for good measure. But what the trailer did so wrong was what so many trailers are guilty of doing nowadays: they don’t actually say what the movie is about. Because, as much as I follow film news and marketing (which is to say a lot), I honestly had no idea what the story of Ghost in the Shell was.

I knew the broad strokes, sure: Scarlett Johansson plays a robot of some sort, and she was investigating…something. Cut to a million shots of slow-mo action scenes, set across a future backdrop. Ghost in the Shell, everyone: as far as the trailers told me, it was a movie about a robot who moves slowly in the future.

It must be a difficult task for trailer creators to strike a good balance between telling too much and not telling enough, but that doesn’t excuse the vagueness that peppered the entirety of GitS’s marketing campaign. Believe it or not, people sometimes need more than promises of pretty visuals to get them into the theater. From the trailers, there was no compelling reason why I NEEDED to see Ghost in the Shell, and if the box office receipts are any indication, the majority of audiences agreed with me.


4) The buzz surrounding the actual film wasn’t strong enough to overwhelm the shortcomings


For a cinephile like myself, this is the deciding faster. I’ll excuse a not very exciting cast for the hope that some unknowns could end up surprising me. I’ll chalk up the vague trailers to marketing not knowing how to sell such a distinct, special film. Hell, I’m even the kind of guy who can power through the taint of a racebending controversy if the finished product itself meets me halfway a little, and convinces me that the whole thing was simply overblown. But Ghost in the Shell, unfortunately, did none of those things.

Yeah, the reviews might not be the worst in the world, but they were still pretty flaccid. And a lot of the film critics and journalists whose opinion I trust pretty much hated the film, leaving me left with the decision that paying $10 to see the movie would be a waste of money and time. And I’m a sci-fi fan who has watched a lot of anime — in theory I’m your target audience here, Paramount, and if the film was actually good, I still would have went to see it, all other niggles be damned. But word-of-mouth said the movie wasn’t good, and that convinced me right way that seeing it in theaters wasn’t worth it. You can bet there are tens of thousands of others that also came to this conclusion.

Yes, bad buzz can kill a film — unless it’s already a well-established, well-liked brand. Which is easily where Ghost in the Shell made the biggest mistake.


5) The Ghost in the Shell franchise isn’t big enough to support a blockbuster franchise (not on its own, at least)


This was the tantamount mistake that happened with the creation of the film: studio executives convinced themselves that there was a large enough “brand awareness” for Ghost in the Shell that they could rely on it solely for success. Like has been the case for video game movies time and time again, Hollywood convinced themselves that they could call upon a niche market, make a movie for said niche market, and suddenly have a massive blockbuster on their hands. It worked for comic book movies, after all, so why not anime?

That’s the kind of hubris that many studios have fallen under in this franchise-heavy cinematic landscape, and one that they will continue to fall for again and again. Paramount was hoping that they could rely on the brand name of Ghost in the Shell to get people to watch the movie, even IF the cast wasn’t that well known, and the whitewashing controversy made people mad, and the trailers didn’t really say what the movie was really about, and the pre-release buzz around the entire project was pretty poor — none of that would matter if the brand brought people in. Once again, just look at the release of last week’s Power Rangers — pretty much everything I just wrote about Ghost in the Shell can be applied to that film as well (minus the whitewashing controversy, I suppose). But that movie opened over double this one, because there’s a huge swath of cultural currency to the Power Rangers brand.

Ghost in the Shell has a following, but it’s not a BLOCKBUSTER following, which meant that most of the audience needed to get the film over $100 million would probably be seeing it as an original thing. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say all of my previous reasons for the film’s failure didn’t exist. Lets say the film had an excellent cast, had no whitewashing controversies to speak of, released a ton of captivating trailers, and received widespread critical acclaim across the board. Would the movie, a crazy hard sci-fi actioneer not based on anything, be able to make $150 million in the current Hollywood climate?

The answer to that last question is so depressing, I don’t think I even want to write it out.


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

Movies

The Avengers: Endgame Trailer Offers More Questions Than It Does Answers But, To Be Fair, What Did You Expect?

Oh, by the way, it’s called “Endgame.” So that’s something, at least,

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Has there ever in the history of time been a trailer more anticipated than the one for the fourth Avengers movie? You could argue the one for Star Wars: The Force Awakens maybe, and The Phantom Menace too. But the former was more a curiosity than anything, and the latter was released before trailers hit the internet so, really, it doesn’t count  (sorry, olds!) But after the jaw dropping conclusion to Avengers: Infinity War, pretty much every person on the planet who saw the film is asking themselves one question: “How the FUCK is Donald Trump still president?” But after that, they are kinda curious how the hell all our MCU heroes are going to get out of this one. 

And now our first peak at the conclusion to this twenty picture ordeal has arrived, as the newly titled Avengers: Endgame trailer is here to dissect and devour. Although, be warned: there’s not a whole lot of new conclusions to glean here. In fact, the whole thing just leads to further questions.

But before we get into that, the most concrete piece of information: dat title tho. By this point it’s already been said just how much the Russo Brothers completely lied to everyone by saying the title was not in the first movie, so I’m not going to dwell on that too much.

Except, no, I AM going to dwell on it too much. Because c’mon, guys: I am so tired of respected journalists (like Mike Ryan, in this case) asking filmmakers questions about their movies, and them just completely lying just to hide a secret. It’s a fucked up thing to do to the journalist and to the fans, and completely unnecessary to boot: just say you don’t want to comment! But brazenly dealing with half-truths like this (you see, Endgame might be in the movie, but Avengers: Endgame isn’t! HA HA, FOOLED YOU ALL) is so incredibly annoying. Stop it, filmmakers.

Outside of that specific bubble, though, I will say this about the title: it’s a title, all right. Not as cool as either Age of Ultron or Infinity War, but it gets the job done. Really, it would have been completely acceptable…if Disney and everyone involved didn’t try to hype up the damn thing so much — it’s not a spoiler, or even that noteworthy. They should have just revealed it a few weeks after the first film came out, rather than jerking us around for seventh months. In the grand scheme of things none of this is at all important, but still: it’s about ethics in film marketing strategies, you guys.

Avengers: Endgame Trailer

Now, the trailer itself? Actually pretty great, if you ask me. Though some might be mad about the lack of real clarity on anything within the trailer, I view that far more as a positive than a negative. What this trailer does well is build atmosphere, from the moment we open on Tony Stark alone on the Milano, all the way until the end. That opening monologue from Stark paints a grim portrait of the fate that our heroes have found themselves in and, although it’s pretty damn obvious this whole thing will be reversed within the course of the film, I still think there are some incredible opportunities to play in this post-apocalyptic sandbox before we’re back to the status quo. This trailer does a good job of presenting those opportunities, and truly setting up how screwed our heroes seem to be. 

Of course, this isn’t Children of Men — this trailer is certainly starting to lay the groundwork for our heroes prevailing, even if the path ahead is a fraught one. Cap’s line about not knowing “what to do” if their plan goes south is a telling one — this is a latch ditch effort for the Avengers, and I hope desperation is a through-line for the entire film. They don’t know if their plan will work, but they have to try anyways, damn it.

Now on the subject of that plan? Who knows what the hell it is! Like I said, this trailer does not paint specifics at all, and though one can venture that Ant-Man is the key to this whole thing (what a wonderful phrase!), it’s anyone’s bet what will happen to solve this crisis (like most, though, I’m betting time travel, Jeremy Bearimy shenangians are involved) 

But, ah, that is only one of many questions this trailer presents! Other’s include:

  • How did Tony Stark end up alone in space, about to lose all oxygen?
  • Who the hell is going to save him? Captain Marvel?
  • How did Scott get out of the Quantum Realm? 
  • Who the hell saved him? Captain Marvel? She can’t save everyone…right? 
  • Where the hell did Nebula go? Did she abandon him? I mean girl, yeah, I get it, but still: cold.
  • Where is Rocket? Did he stick around on Earth with his new pal Thor?
  • Speaking of which…where the hell is Thor at? Is that the Raft? Did he put himself in exile after his failure to do the damn job?
  • And speaking of said job: how long has it been here? Are we talking weeks? Months? Years? The trailer is extremely vague on that.
  • Shuri disappeared? SHURI?! That blows.
  • Hawkeye’s a badass now? I mean, thank god (Team #HawkeyeIsTheBestAvenger), but what caused this? I mean, you can fill in the blanks on that one, but still!

Now, like I said, I’m kind of glad that all those mysteries are still floating around, this being the first trailer and all. And, really, this is enough to satisfy me as a fan until the film comes out…even though, yeah, I know I lack the willpower to go completely cold on future marketing. When the next trailer comes down the pipeline in March or so, I’ll definitely be watching it. 

Also of interest: the newly released poster, which matches well with the set of other Avengers teaser posters. My graphic design OCD is pleased!

But, until then: can we just, like, chill internet? You got a first trailer, you got a trailer, you know the movie exists. Can we all now just wait patiently for the next trailer to arrive, rather than asking endlessly when it will pop up on to the internet? It’s so exhausting. Just move on to the next big nerd event, okay? Which, for me, is the next trailer for “Liam Neeson is Mr. Plow, but Taken.” Then again, that’s the case for everyone, right?

…Right?


Avengers: Endgame arrives in theaters everywhere April 26, 2019. 


Also published on Medium.

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The 6 Segments of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Ranked, Because That’s How Film Criticism Works Now (Sorry)

No, really: I’m truly sorry that the only way you’ll read my thoughts on the Coen Brother’s latest is through listicle form, but…nature of the beast, folks.

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Having run a marginally successful movie blog in the past (a razor-thin margin, but still), I learned a few things when it comes to crafting things people will actually read on the internet. One of the things I learned? Reviews, for the most part, are not typically something people click on. Yeah, sometimes a fiery enough subhead might get people’s attention for a moment (this one certainly did the trick for me!), but it is usually a rare thing. A run-of-the-mill, standard film review will only gain traction if it’s A) one of the first reviews to be released for the pop culture in question (hard to do when everyone in the bigger markets gets to see things days if not weeks in advanced) or B) it’s from a notable critic with a major following. I am not that, so I (and hundreds like me) have to turn to another avenue to get eyeballs on these things: the tried-and-true listicle! Does a project of such magnificence and craft like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs deserve to be broken down into its base parts and dissected into a silly, arbitrary “rank” system? No, probably not. Will you and many others probably find yourself reading a list like that, solely in the pursuit of getting angry at the rankings I provide? I dunno, you’re still here, so you tell me.

Here’s the six segments of The Coen Brother’s grand Western anthology (formerly believed to be a television series, until it turned out it wasn’t), ranked for your instant disapproval. The assumption here is that you are reading this AFTER watching the film so, be warned, from here on out, we are in FULL SPOILER TOWN FOR EVERY SEGMENT IN The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Anyways, enjoy…?


6. “Near Algodones”

This is by far the worst segment in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which is to say it’s really good, just not great. It has a lot of things going for it though, namely in the technical category — there are some stunning shots from cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel here, and the production design of the sparse prairie is stunning, even watching it at home. I also have to fully admit to guffawing at the second-to-last line, which is a prime example of gallows humor at its finest.

But, unfortunately, where this segment falls flat is in its simplicity — it felt like the entire thing was just leading up to that one dark joke and that, ultimately, there just wasn’t a lot more for this segment to do or say. It’s just fifteen minutes of a cowboy getting caught, lucking out of his execution…then two minutes later randomly getting caught again, and getting executed for real this time. Yes, there’s definitely humor to be had in that set up and, once again, I did laugh at the misfortune of it all. But I can’t help but feel like this one was too abbreviated for its on good, and that the irony of its conclusion couldn’t have been better felt if it didn’t arrive so suddenly after what had just happened. If the segment had a little bit more room to breath after James Franco’s cowboy was initially rescued by the secret rustler, the tragedy of what had happened would have hit me a whole lot harder. Also, the last line is a bit nonsensical and unnecessary, while also somewhat deflating the fantastic “First time, huh?” gag before it.

But, hey: this segment does have a crazed Stephen Root wearing armor entirely comprised of kitchen cookware, screaming out “PANSHOT!” as he bum rushes a perplexed James Franco. So clearly anything with a scene like that can’t truly be bad, right?


5. “Meal Ticket”

My god, Meal Ticket is so fucked up, and I love it. It’s one of the slowest segments in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, sure (second only to the my next pick, really), but it’s all worth it for that absolutely haunting conclusion. How the Coen’s so subtly set up what’s about to go down (pretty much wordlessly — the Impresario and the artist never really talk to each other, at least directly) is masterful, and well there’s an angle of dark comedy to the whole proceedings, it’s mostly just a sad and depressing rumination on how artist’s get used and discarded, and that no one will really care about what happens to them once they’ve outstayed their value. It’s basically a little Western-set short version of Inside Llewyn Davis, and since that one is an all-timer amongst the Coen’s oeuvre (for me at least), I was prone to love it. Which I pretty much did.

So why is it my second to last pick for this list? Because I also loved the rest of the segments. Maybe even a smidge more. Or maybe even a smidge less. Who cares, the ranking is unimportant, the fundamental foundation of this very article is a lie, here simply to trap you into my ramblings about my two favorite filmmakers and their new, glorious film.

Let’s press on, shall we?


4. “All Gold Canyon”

“All Gold Canyon” and “Meal Ticket” were basically fighting neck-and-neck for these two spots, and I had a hard time at first deciding which one would outrank the other. But then I realized “Oh, ranking art is pretty much a bankrupt institution, there are no real rules to any of this, and nothing at all about how I decide to organize these segments really, effectively matters.” So that realization certainly moved things along, a bit.

Anyways, “All Gold Canyon”: I love the shit out of this thing. If “Meal Ticket” was the Coen’s playing in their Inside Llewyn Davis mindset, than “All Gold Canyon” is the brother’s back in the saddle of their No Country for Old Men/Blood Simple style. Sparse, procedural, nearly dialogue empty. Just watching one man do his job for like 20 minutes, only breaking away to tell an actual story in its final moments. And well the segment could have easily ended with the bandit killing the old man, rendering everything we saw absolutely pointless (in a cynical, darkly funny matter that is no stranger to the Coens), I love how it chooses to take the more “optimistic” approach, with the old man getting the upper hand, and getting to keep the entirety of Mr. Pocket. Character actor/musician Tom Waits absolutely makes the most of his old prospector character, creating a character you actually root for, in the face of the harshness that comes with life in the West. To give that guy a happy ending is a rare act of mercy for the Coen Brothers, but it left me absolutely beaming as the story concluded. The prospector got the gold he worked so damn hard for, and got to ride off on his little donkey, singing into the sunset. Good for him, I say.

If I have one complaint about “All Gold Canyon” and, hell, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs overall, it’s that it leans a little bit too heavy on the CGI. Frankly, I was surprised how much of that was in this movie, considering the Coen’s usual aversion to it, but there was a good amount here that was, well…rough. I  mean, for the love of god Hollywood: STOP PUTTING CGI DEER IN EVERYTHING. It almost never works, and it takes me out of movies completely when they pop up. I’m sure deer, the little bastards they are, probably suck to get correctly in a film, so it’s far easier to either create it with CGI, or pop the dear into place with god awful green screen afterwards (looking at you, Deer from Three Billboards). Either way…please. Stop doing it. Now.

Anyways, onto #3, the titular…


3.  “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

This segment is just god-damn delightful and, really, there’s nothing more to it than that. Tim Blake Nelson is pitch perfect as the fourth wall breaking, surprisingly violent Buster Scruggs, and well there’s little more to this short than watching his antics as he tears apart a small Western town…really, what more could you want? It’s like Deadpool, but with a singing cowboy. And Tim Blake Nelson. What more do you need in life, really? And the fact that it climaxes with an angel version of Buster Scruggs playing a harp as he duets with the man who just gunned him down in battle (a surprisingly beautiful rendition of “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings”) is just absurdist icing on the cake.

The fact that the Coen’s decided to open the film with this segment was honestly a ballsy move, as its cartoonish, irreverent tone comes in stark contrast to pretty much every other segment. I could definitely see a subset of people being absolutely turned off by the entire thing, just based on the wackiness of “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” But I certainly wasn’t! As a huge fan of the Coen’s comedic sensibility (The Big Lebowski is probably my favorite comedy of all time), it was just the right note to remind me “Hey, you’re about to watch a Coen Brothers film — bask in it, buddy.” And boy did I.


2. “The Mortal Remains”

As I said on Twitter shortly after seeing the film, what I loved about The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is how much it captures everything that makes the Coen Brothers the Coen Brothers. How it manages to take their entire filmography, and shorten it down to a half-dozen segments that perfectly illustrate the kind of movies the pair make. That’s not a simple task, either: these are the guys who made Intolerable Cruelty AND No Country for Old Men. Back to back, even! They strike a wide gamut of genres, that’s for damn sure. But if “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was there comedy piece, and “Meal Ticket” was their tragedy, and “All Gold Canyon” there slow-paced thriller, than “The Mortal Remains” is their strange, disconcerting drama. Think Barton Fink, or A Serious Man. The kinds of films that are kind of funny, but also strange, and dark, and even slightly mythical in a unique, Coen Brothers way. It’s not a tone they don’t very often strike (once in like every decade or so, it seems), but it certainly makes an impact.

But what makes “The Mortal Remains” so fantastic is the way that it slowly conveys just what’s happening, keeping its cards close to the chest until almost the very end of the segment (and, in effect, the movie itself.) Watching these characters go on long Coen Brothers speeches about the nature of humanity is in and of itself is a delight to watch, and I was enraptured the whole way through. But when things turn to the (vaguely) supernatural, the entire thing becomes even more delicious. “The Mortal Remains” goes from an expertly crafted piece of character interaction into this weird, ethereal thing that doesn’t take a lot of energy to explain itself…and never, ever even needs to. It’s kind of like a Ray Bradbury short story I would have read in middle school, mixed with the insanely well crafted dialogue that the Coen’s bring to every single one of their projects. The kind that’s so fucking good, it gives me an inferiority complex just listening to it. But, you know…in a good way. 


1. “The Gal Who Got Rattled”

“The Gal Who Got Rattled” is, unequivocally, the best segment in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. Even the Coen’s themselves seem to know it, as its by far the segment that takes up the most time in the entire film (based purely on my gut feeling and not, you know, actual research or journalistic work.) But every moment spent in “The Gal Who Got Rattled” is time well spent, as the segment perfectly lays out a nice little slice of Western romance and, because it’s the Coen Brothers, absolute heartbreak.

Admittedly I’m a sucker for a well-told romance, especially one with as much heart as this one. It’s also a bit of a sneaky romance, as what “The Gal Who Got Rattled” is actually going for isn’t really revealed into a large way into the segment. But it goes to show how good the Coen’s are at just painting an atmosphere that I was just totally okay watching the exploits of this traveling caravan along the Oregon Trail, and the journey of main character Alice Longabaugh. She really is what anchors the segment, with Zoe Kazan doing a fantastic job of painting this quiet, introverted woman alone on her own for the first time in her life. Equally compelling is her screen partner, Billy Knapp, played with gusto by Bill Heck (who I’ve never really seen as a lead in anything, but makes a hell of an impression here.) They make a fantastic pairing, their awkward chemistry thankfully ending up on the more charming than annoying side of the spectrum. The Coen’s usually don’t do straight romance (well, unless you really want to count Intolerable Cruelty), but they pulled it off with warmth and serenity here. Only a few quick scenes between the pair, and I was instantly routing for the two love birds.

…So of course it all has to end so damn tragically, in a way that is so simple in its irony, but a punch in the gut all the same. The sequence that leads to Alice’s suicide is a Coen’s all-timer, though, a perfectly paced bit of action that recalls The Hurt Locker more than anything else (and, like “All Gold Canyon,” shows off how good the duo are at presenting the performance of procedural activity.) Although, on that note, since I expanded the whole “every segment has a Coen Brothers movie parallel” thing, I’m now obligated to stick to it, so this one is most like…True Grit, probably? Has the same forlorn, mournful tone. And both feature a female protagonist, a surprisingly rare thing for a Coen Brothers film. Either way, this segment is going to stick with me for a long time. Damn you Coens, for making me feel something. I hate that!

But I don’t hate The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, that’s for sure. In fact, when added together, I loved the hell out of this anthology. Which is great, since I was not too hot on the Coen’s last one, also an anthology of sorts (in a way that, IMHO, did not serve Hail Caesar! nearly as well.) But I shouldn’t have doubted my favorite filmmakers. Because, believe it or not, they know how to make good movies. Or, in this case — how to make six of them.


Also published on Medium.

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The Captain Marvel Teaser Trailer Is Here, And…It’s The First Trailer for A New Marvel Movie, All Right

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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The release of the Captain Marvel teaser trailer has been pretty hotly anticipated, arguably more so than many of the other Marvel movie trailers that have come before it. The primary reason for the excitement is of course due to the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, which I’m going to spoil because come on now, you’re reading this article, I know where your interests lie. Suffice to say, the downer ending of Inifinty War, in which seemingly all of Marvel’s newest characters up and fade away into nothing, has fans buzzing to see what is coming next. And with the trailer for Avengers 4: Titles Are Dumb still many months away, Captain Marvel represents our best shot yet at seeing just what Marvel intends to do with this universe going forward, and how the titular character will ultimately factor into it.

But even removing the snap from the equation, there’s plenty of reason to be eager about Captain Marvel on its own merits. This has been one of those MCU movies that was seemingly announced forever ago, and to paraphrase Marvel’s other big female superhero with her name in the title, it’s about damn time we actually get to see Marvel Studio’s first female-fronted superhero project. It might come as a shock to no one that the trailer shows the answer to that being, well…a Marvel superhero movie. Whether or not that excites you largely depends on your attachment to the brand overall.

Myself? I’m already in the bag for this cinematic universe so, really, this trailer could have been two minutes of Kevin Feige jet-skiing on his bag of money while smoking a very well put together Dollar Bill Blunt™, and I still would have had the movie on my list of most anticipated films of 2019. And with the MCU on a hot streak of, like, ten good-to-great movies in row, I would feel no regrets at all about doing so. As I have written many times in the past, Marvel Studios has earned my trust, in pretty much everything they do.

But to dive into the nitty-gritty of the trailer itself? It’s perfectly fine. It follows the modern blockbuster teaser trailer to a T, with the loud symphonic music playing over a bunch of vague money shots of CGI and action moments, paired with an equally vague but well-delivered monologue about, well, anything really. The fact that said monologue is coming out of the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury (as they so often do in the MCU) is extra points, though. Paired on top of that is the fact that said Nick Fury is looking all young and two-eyed, with disturbingly little uncanny effect to speak of in digitally recreating a mid-90’s Samuel L. Jackson. Which I’m aware is ironic, considering that the Uncanny Effect in and of itself speaks to the idea of something being so photo-realistic that the human mind, in turn, perceives it as unnatural. This is so photo-realistic and natural in the moment that, only upon true reflection, do I get really creeped out. Call it the Uncanny Uncanny Valley Effect Effect.

Like he looks real but he shouldn’t look real, you know? Crazy.

Oh right, the Captain Marvel trailer! So yeah, it’s one of those things where the most noteworthy aspect of the trailer lies in how unnoteworthy it is. Really it’s hard for me to gauge what exactly this movie will be, with the two-minute teaser doing little to fill in the tone or mood of the piece outside of “new superhero movie.” There’s some weird stuff going on timeline wise which, in the movie, might be really cool and unique. In the trailer, however, it’s kind of so jumbled up in editing that I’m not entirely sure what’s going down (so Carol Danvers has amnesia, or…?) Even more disappointing is the lack of a real “trailer moment,” something big and memorable ala Thor’s reaction to Hulk’s arrival in the Thor: Ragnarok tease, or Black Panther’s car flip, or even the lie that was the Avengers running together in the Infinity War trailer. The closest this trailer comes to a noteworthy shot is Carol Danvers sucker punching an old lady which, really, is only memorable for the “WTFness?” alone. I did like the brief image of Captain Marvel running up the side of the train, though, and some of the rotation shots at least point to an interesting style that directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden could be employing. That’s really the only hint of a unique approach or style in this trailer, though.

Lack of style isn’t exaclty bad, really, but not exactly fodder for overwhelming excitement either. Compared to something like Guardians of the Galaxy’s first trailer (where the “Hooked on a Feeling” scored edit made clear just exactly what kind of film we were dealing with) or Avengers: Age of Ultron’s first trailer (which wowed through pure mood and imagery alone), Captain Marvel falls short. Not bad, just short.

But, seriously, how amazing is it that this scene made it into the trailer? As a Marvel person I get the old lady is probably a Skrull or whatever, but to general audiences, this just represents their newest superhero punching a nice old lady FOR NO GODDAMN REASON. Glorious.

All that being said, it’s not like being merely “good” puts Captain Marvel significantly behind the first looks of other MCU films. In fact, I would say the majority of first trailers for Marvel Studios films have only been good, with only a few really strong ones being truly excellent in my mind. And with all but a handful of those films being great at the end of the day, I have no doubt Captain Marvel has the goods to keep Marvel’s winning streak going. We’ll find out when the film hits theaters March 8, 2019.


Also published on Medium.

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