OFCC Podcast: Episode 12 – DUNKIRK, DARK TOWER, DETROIT, BIG SICK, APES FINALE, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 12: Wars From The Past, On the Streets, the Sci-Fi Future, and Other Dimensions

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, our roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle return after a month off from podcasting to discuss the latest in movies for July and early August 2017.

You can also stream Episode 12 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

NEW RELEASES
 The Dark Tower (starting at 1:10)
Detroit (at 13:00)
Dunkirk (at 28:44)
War for the Planet of the Apes (at 45:36)
The Big Sick (at 55:28)
A Ghost Story (at 1:03:30)
– Landline (at 1:10:22)

And brief thoughts on:
– Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (at 1:16:00)
– Maudie (at 1:20:50)
– Atomic Blonde (at 1:23:28)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the August 11, 2017 episode.

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OFCC Podcast: Episode 11 – SPIDER-MAN, BABY DRIVER, OKJA, BEGUILED, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 11: We Can Be Heroes, Not Just For One Age

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for early July 2017.

You can also stream Episode 11 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

NEW RELEASES
 Spider-Man: Homecoming (starting at 1:03)
Baby Driver (at 22:58)
The Beguiled (at 36:06)
Okja (at 48:53)
The Hero (at 1:03:43)
– Despicable Me 3 (at 1:14:43)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the July 7, 2017 episode.

OFCC Podcast: Episode 10 – TRANSFORMERS 5, CARS 3, BOOK OF HENRY, Han Solo Shakeup, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 10: Deceptibomb, Cars Tune-Up, and Disturbances In The Force

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for late June 2017.

You can also stream Episode 10 by clicking here.

On this episode, the critics include:

NEW RELEASES
 Transformers: The Last Knight (starting at 2:20))
Cars 3 (2017) (at 15:30)
The Book of Henry (at 24:33)
Han Solo Movie Director Shakeup – Discussion (at 44:33)
Beatriz at Dinner (at 1:00:22)
Paris Can Wait (at 1:15:00)

Articles referenced:

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the June 23, 2017 episode.

HAN SOLO Directors Fired: It Was The Right Call (ANALYSIS)

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A million voices crying out in terror, but hardly silenced. Padawans across the Twitterverse fear something terrible has happened. Five months into production of the (as yet untitled) Young Han Solo movie, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has fired its directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

The film’s release date of May 25, 2018 remains unchanged, for now.

Following reports by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, each sourced by unnamed insiders, opinions have erupted across professional and social media landscapes. Reactions are overwhelmingly on the side of Team Lord/Miller, the guys behind The Lego Movie, the 21 Jump Street films, and TV’s The Last Man On Earth.

Feeling like a lonely Obi-Wan in Tatooine exile, I find myself siding with Team Lucasfilm, even as I’m entirely perplexed and concerned by the move, especially in its timing. The truth is, Lord and Miller never should’ve been hired in the first place.

I say that as someone who greatly admires their talents and the very specific niche (and voice) they’ve carved out for themselves within the industry. But why on earth Kennedy and writer/Star Wars guru Lawrence Kasdan ever thought the Lord/Miller style of comedy was a right fit for a Han Solo tale (young, old, or otherwise) has always baffled me.

I’ve been skeptical from the start about this mismatch of directors and material, deferring to trust Kennedy and Kasdan based on successes thus far. That trust felt justified with the hiring of a superb cast.

But when I read this statement from a source in The Hollywood Reporter, it nutshelled my concerns from Day One:

  • “People need to understand that Han Solo is not a comedic personality. He’s sarcastic and selfish.”

Exactly. And a very dry, laconic version of that personality too. Lord and Miller are great, but they are very off-brand for Han Solo.

So here we are, in the middle of a firing that, while I believe was necessary, is particularly shocking given its timing. How was this shift not made way back in 2016 during pre-production? Why did it take five months of actual filming to finally arrive at this conclusion?

I’ll grant a mulligan for trying something different with the initial hire, but the development process should’ve been more than enough for Lucasfilm to realize that Lord and Miller would not make the kind of Star Wars movie they wanted to produce. I’ve no doubt Lord/Miller could make a smart, clever send-up of the Star Wars mythos, and I’d even love to see it, but I don’t think it should be done in canon. Kennedy came to that same conclusion, too, but well-past due of what is fair to all parties involved (including, especially, the film itself).

Initial rumors of a replacement have zeroed in on Ron Howard as the front-runner, with Joe Johnston (Captain America: First Avenger, The Rocketeer) also a reported possibility. Generally speaking I have my reservations about Howard, but they revolve more around his penchant for Oscar-baiting. When it comes to big budget pop cinema, though, Howard could offer very reliable hands (if not particularly exciting ones), especially given his familiarity with Kennedy and her producer husband Frank Marshall.

(UPDATE: Ron Howard has been confirmed as the new director of the Young Han Solo movie.)

Anxieties could be tempered, too, when realizing that this situation isn’t all that different from what happened on Rogue One. In effect, writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) was brought in after initial shooting was completed and oversaw extensive rewrites, reshoots, and final edit, relegating director Gareth Edwards to a second-tier collaborator.  The only big difference between the two situations, it seems, is that Edwards was willing to submit to Lucasfilm’s creative authority and, for right or wrong, Lord & Miller were not.

Based on trailer clips that never made it into the stand-alone’s final cut, there’s a very intriguing alternative Rogue One out there that we’ll never see. Even so, it’s hard to complain about its success, both at the box office (2nd highest grossing Star Wars film ever) and overall positive reaction from fans and critics (some even hailed it as the best Star Wars movie since Empire). So as troublesome as this dramatic shift for the Young Han Solo movie is, it’s not without successful precedent.

The Variety and Hollywood Reporter pieces are definitely worth reading. Their references to on-set creative clashes between Lord/Miller and Kennedy, plus the directors’ penchant for improv conflicting with writer Kasdan’s stick-to-the-script ethic, all make for very insightful reportage.

(UPDATE: Another great scoop, from Star Wars News Net, about what led to the firing. The first person to speak up with concerns, it seems, was Han Solo himself – Alden Ehrenreich. #HanShotFirst)

As of now, I feel both worried and relieved. Relieved that a severe miscalculation within the Star Wars Canon has been averted, but worried if anything good can be salvaged at this late stage.

New Book “Movies Are Prayers”, By Filmspotting Co-Host, Explores How Movies Emerge From Spiritual Longing (VIDEOS/LINK)

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“Even the howl of the atheist is directed at the God they don’t acknowledge.”

This sentiment reflects the expansive thesis set by Josh Larsen, author of the new book “Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings.”

Larsen, co-host of Filmspotting (one of the most popular movie podcasts for over a decade), does not examine “Christian movies” or Faith-based cinema. Instead, the editor and film critic for ThinkChristian looks at the totality of cinema – from Hollywood classics to contemporary hits to all kinds of films in-between – to see how yearnings for God are expressed in the movies:

  • “Movies can be many things: escapist experiences, historical artifacts, business ventures, and artistic expressions, to name a few. I’d like to suggest that they can also be prayers.”

His suggestion? Spiritual depth is so innate that it is inevitably expressed in art, including movies, even when a filmmaker doesn’t consciously intend to do so. The root of authentic artistic expression emerges from the spirit.

The book, published by InterVarsity Press, is available now in bookstores and online (Amazon link here).

To hear more from Larsen about what his new book explores, watch the videos below. To read his latest film reviews, visit Larsen On Film.

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OFCC Podcast: Episode 9 – WONDER WOMAN, MUMMY, IT COMES AT NIGHT, & More (PODCAST)

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Episode 9: Wonderful Woman, Mummy Revival, and Night Masterpiece

For this edition of The OFCC Podcast, available on iTunes, a roundtable of critics from the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle discuss the latest in movies for early June 2017.

You can also stream Episode 9 by clicking here.

On this episode, the roundtable includes:

NEW RELEASES
Wonder Woman (starting at 1:04)
The Mummy (2017) (at 13:10)
It Comes At Night (at 22:55)
Baywatch (at 26:47)
War Machine (at 52:53)
My Cousin Rachel (at 1:02:20)

Click here to subscribe through iTunes, and look for the June 9, 2017 episode.

Why WONDER WOMAN Broke Through (ANALYSIS)

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At a time when Deadpool seemed to portend the need for superhero movies to ratchet up the edgy hard-R content and excessive snark, Patty Jenkins had the courage to defy this new conventional wisdom and, instead, go in the exact opposite direction.

Studio analysts and entertainment pundits are already dissecting why Wonder Woman was such a huge success over its debut weekend, with a $103.1 million domestic haul that far exceeded initial tracking of $65 million just a few weeks ago.

No doubt many of the strengths that analysts cite are on point: solid script, well-developed characters, strong leads and ensemble, humor balancing out drama, and a director that didn’t reinvent the wheel but knew exactly what to do with it. Plus, this blockbuster finally delivered a female superhero, something that audiences apparently had a pent-up yearning for (women in particular; they bought 60% of the tickets).

Bottom line, this is more than just a hit. Look no further than social media and you’ll see that Wonder Woman has really struck a chord.

Yet it’s not like there haven’t been attempts at female action stars before.

You know the failures, Catwoman and Elektra primary among them, and even dating back to Supergirl. So where did Wonder Woman succeed where the likes of those attempts or even Angelina Jolie’s mildly successful Tomb Raider films fail? Clearly there has to be a deeper lesson here than to simply make a woman the hero and throw in some jokes/romance to leaven the action. Even the unstoppable Marvel brand has been skittish to test their Midas touch with a female led franchise.

Also, it can’t merely be chalked up to the fact that Wonder Woman is the most iconic of all female superheroes. That factor can’t be discounted, certainly, but if she were that much of a box office slam dunk then we would’ve already seen multiple franchise trilogies and reboots of Wonder Woman by now – like we have of Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man – rather than this long-overdue effort being the first ever feature length stand alone for the Amazonian.

So what did Patty Jenkins finally figure out that no one else had? It’s this: a female superhero has to be more than just tough or “a man’s equal” (I use quotes because the notion itself is condescending, and why reduce a woman to that anyway?). In crude terms, she has to have more than balls.

She has to be aspirational.

This Diana Prince isn’t just a role model in the general sense, and her feminine virtues weren’t boosted by testosterone or somehow marginalized; they were magnified. This Wonder Woman is the incarnation of what makes women vital to our humanity. She’s the kind of woman that every other woman (and person) wants to be, in their souls, whether they can kick somebody’s butt or not.

It’s not Wonder Woman’s abilities that are empowering; it’s her ideals.

If studios don’t grasp this salient point, future attempts at female superheroes (and even other male ones) that are driven by marketing checklists or PC identity politics will come up short.

In today’s comic book movie landscape of jaded superheroes and their conflicted, self-doubting alter egos, the ideals that Diana Prince unabashedly fights for are sorely lacking. Even Superman has baggage.

Audiences are tired of reluctant heroes.

Diana is a woman who doesn’t question and deconstruct her ideals when they’re confronted by the horrors of the real world. Instead, her response is to double-down on those ideals. She doesn’t question if they’re true; she realizes that the inherent, unchangeable truth of her ideals is what’s needed now more than ever.

This conviction comes from her purity, not in spite of it. In Diana Prince, we see that innocence need not equal naiveté. It can actually produce wisdom, and action. As I said in my review, “She’s not the rube; we are, in our stultifying moral relativity.”

This portrayal also resonates with how women often feel about their position in the world today. There’s a scene early on, when Antiope (Robin Wright) is training Diana to learn how to fight in battle. Diana drops her guard. In that moment Antiope attacks, driving Diana to the ground, yelling, “Never let your guard down! You expect the battle to be fair! The battle will never be fair!” Every woman watching probably feels the truth and depth of that disparity in the real world, of what they have to face and fight through on a daily basis simply because of their gender.

And then they’re inspired by how Diana responds to Antiope’s challenge.

It took director Patty Jenkins to see all of this clearly, not only within the DC universe but even within the quandaries that Marvel tries to layer upon the likes of Captain America. Before Jenkins, filmmakers and studios were afraid of their superheroes coming off as corny, or cheesy, believing they needed an angst or an edge, or a troubled backstory.

Jenkins, on the other hand, knew instinctively that earnest sincerity is what these tentpoles were lacking, and what audiences were longing. And instead of Diana’s sheltered, virtuous upbringing being a liability, Jenkins used it to lay the groundwork for Wonder Woman to be unshakeable.

Jenkins lays this out quite plainly, and passionately, in this quote from a recent New York Times interview that has understandably gone viral:

  • Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis. I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

In Wonder Woman, Diana Prince brings beauty to the world because even in its darkest moments (World War I, in this case) she can still see the beauty that’s there, and that beauty isn’t fragile but a foundation.

When faced with the brutal realities of the human condition, this Wonder Woman doesn’t psychologically collapse into some existential spiral. She rises to a righteous cause, almost on instinct.

At a time when all of our superheroes are burdened by the cynicism of our modern age, Wonder Woman is the first to cut right through it, not just with confidence but with genuine moral clarity.

Plus, she really loves ice cream.