Who’s to blame for Hollywood’s lack of originality? Are the suits too eager to greenlight reboots and sequels? Are screenwriters so uninspired they can’t think past remaking their favourite 1980s TV shows? Do actors only consider characters based on video games?
Of course not.
The people responsible for the movie doldrums these days live in your mirrors and selfies. That’s right, if you go to the cinema and didn’t check out Birdman, Whiplash or Obvious Child but did go see Guardians of the Galaxy twenty-five times, you forced Hollywood’s hand, guaranteeing another ten years of the big screen exploits of comic book characters Rocket Racoon and company.
Guardians is a fun movie that people liked and Hollywood is in the business of giving moviegoers what they want, but the fear is that a constant stream of familiar feeling films could create a less discerning audience. If you are fed a steady diet of dog food eventually you’ll get used to the taste.
Birdman is an accessible and entertaining movie but with a total gross less than one weekend’s business for Guardians it’s unlikely to inspire a Birdman 2: No Plucking Way but bigger box office could inspire more adventurous films as an antidote to the slew of movies with numbers in their titles.
Big budget Hollywood doesn’t often take the path less trodden. People went to see Inception but I would argue that the reference point for that movie was the director Christopher Nolan, hot off the Batman streak and not the unique story. Less successful were originals like Edge of Tomorrow, despite the usually winning mix of great reviews and Tom Cruise and Transcendence, the computer hard drive horror that brought Johnny Depp’s box office average way down.
Despite those high profile failures this weekend Warner Brothers has gone off the map to show support for an original story from The Matrix directors, the Wachowskis. Jupiter Ascending is a space opera about genetically engineered warrior Caine (Channing Tatum) who helps human janitor Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) take her place as heir to the galaxy.
Big stars, name directors and a new story should appeal but already the knives are out. “Jupiter Ascending looks like a great movie,” wrote @RickIngraham on twitter, “to never see.”
Jupiter Ascending will rise or fall based on audience interest, but if it tanks it’ll be harder for other unusual stories to get made. There are already at least thirty sequels, reboots and spin-offs scheduled for 2015—everything from Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Paul Blart: Mall Cop II—so unless you want another Daddy Day Care reboot in 2016 get out of your comfort zone and see something new and original today.
SYNOPSIS: If you’re like the Reel Guys you don’t see the long weekend as the last chance to head up to the cottage for a final blast of summer, but more of a three day sprint to catch up on all the movies you missed over the last three months while you were too busy jumping off docks, BBQing or basking in the wondrousness of warm weather. With this list the Reel Guys say sayōnara to the silly season and serve up one last refreshing sip of the summer’s best air-conditioner movies we took in while the rest of you were slathering on SPF 110.
Richard: Mark, the summer’s biggest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, is a lot of fun and deserves all the attention it’s getting, but for me the two best sci fi films of the season were Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Snowpiercer. Apes is a smart movie about race, gun usage and xenophobia that doesn’t shy away from big ideas while Snowpiercer is an environmental thriller about a revolution on a train that is unapologetically weird. For me it’s the nerviest actioner to come along in a season crowded with movies that go crash, boom, bang. What grabbed you this summer?
Mark: Richard, I usually cringe at the beginning of the summer expecting nothing but comic book adaptations and sequels. But this summer those kinds of films turned out to be among the best. The three you mentioned were excellent, but I’d also like to add X-Men: Days of Future Past and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both of which were smart, exciting, and had time travel motifs. Heck, even the latest installment of Transformers was a major step forward: I didn’t run screaming for the exit. But here are two smaller films that I thoroughly enjoyed: Begin Again, about a burnt out music producer trying to reinvent himself in hipster New York, and Chef, the story of a burnt out gourmet cook who is fired and is forced to start over with his own broken down food truck. Hey, notice a theme here?
RC: Then there was the story of the burned out comic. Obvious Child came to theatres with a reputation. In its film festival run it got labeled “the abortion rom com.” While that shorthand description is technically accurate, it’s also reductive, ignoring the film’s well-crafted and hilarious coming-of-age story about accepting responsibility, to concentrate on the more sensational aspect of the story. I know you weren’t a fan, but I liked it and thought Jenny Slate was terrific in the lead role.
MB: Didn’t work for me, but I did like the James Brown biopic Get On Up. The movie lurches around trying to find its groove but Chadwick Bozeman deserves an Oscar nomination for his total immersion in the role. 22 Jump Street was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t care for 21, but this one had a sharper, funnier script and more evolved performances from Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. And I mostly liked Zach Braff’s unofficial sequel to Garden State, Wish I Was Here. The kickstarter funded indie had too much going on to succeed but there were some great sequences that a lot of critics seemed to miss.
RC: I started off talking about Guardians, which, deservedly so, has become the biggest hit of the summer. But another movie gave it a run for its money in the entertainment department, but not in the money department. Edge of Tomorrow may sound like the title of a soap opera, but it’s actually the name of a Tom Cruise alien invasion flick. In it Cruise battles nasty space bugs called Mimics but the story is more Groundhog Day than it is War of the Worlds. The first two reels are packed with energy and invention it’s only when the conventions that made the story enticing are put aside in the last reel that the movie becomes a standard Cruise action flick. But it’s still a good Cruise action flick and deserved a bigger audience.
MB: I know I’m going to like Boyhood. Haven’t seen it yet because I’ ve been too busy raising an actual boy.
The Sundance hit “Obvious Child” arrives in theatres with a reputation. In its film festival run it got labeled “the abortion rom com.” While that shorthand description is technically accurate, it’s also reductive, ignoring the film’s well-crafted and hilarious coming-of-age story about accepting responsibility, to concentrate on the more sensational aspect of the story.
Jenny Slate plays Donna, a twentysomething comic with an infectious laugh who works at New York’s Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bookstore to pay the bills. She’s funny, charming and a bit of a loose canon who uses her life as the basis of her comedy. One night after a show her boyfriend (Paul Briganti), who’s been having an affair and is tired of providing material for her act, brutally dumps her, leaving her devastated and vulnerable.
She drinks wine, engages in “a little light stalking,” and tries to work out her pain on stage. A couple of weeks later, still smarting from the split, and after one—or three—drinks too many she has rebound sex with Max (Jake Lacy), a straight laced business school student she meets at the comedy club.
Their tryst leads to pregnancy—”I remember seeing a condom but don’t know,” she recalls through a hangover haze, “like, exactly what it did.”—and Donna’s decision to terminate the baby. She has no doubts she’s doing the right thing but she is unsure whether she should tell Max.
The debut feature of writer-director Gillian Robespierre rides the line between feminist comedy—without taking an overt pro-choice or pro-life position—and full-blown rom com. The female characters are well defined without an ounce of cliché but at the same time the movie embraces the clichés of the romantic comedy genre while simultaneously subverting them. Harry and Sally, for instance, may have celebrated Valentine’s Day, but not at a Planned Parenthood office.
None of this would work unless the film was genuinely funny, which it is. The cast is uniformly excellent. They all feel genuine but the secret weapon is star Jenny Slate.
Slate does the heavy lifting in “Obvious Child,” appearing in every scene and carrying the emotional weight of the story, while still providing the lion’s share of laughs. She could have been the indie manic pixie dream girl—she does cute things like scream when surprised and then scream again because she surprised herself with the first yell—but her portrayal of Donna is much more raw than that. She’s complicated, like real people are, working through confidence and life issues. Best of all, in a summer packed with two-hour plus movies, she does it in a tightly packed 83 minutes!
On Monday June 16, 2014 Richard hosted a Q&A with “Obvious Child” star Jenny Slate. The movie currently sits at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and has earned great reviews from critics. The Boston Herald calls it reminiscent of “Woody Allen’s early, New York City set comedies,” and Common Sense Media called it a “smart, irreverent, edgy romcom about complex choices.”
Here’s some info on the film: “For aspiring comedian Donna Stern, everyday life as a female twenty-something provides ample material for her incredibly relatable brand of humor. On stage, Donna is unapologetically herself, joking about topics as intimate as her sex life and as crude as her day-old underwear. But when Donna gets dumped, loses her job, and finds herself pregnant just in time for Valentine’s Day, she has to navigate the murky waters of independent adulthood for the first time. As she grapples with an uncertain financial future, an unwanted pregnancy, and a surprising new suitor, Donna begins to discover that the most terrifying thing about adulthood isn’t facing it all on her own. It’s allowing herself to accept the support and love of others. And be truly vulnerable. Never failing to find the comedy and humanity in each awkward situation she encounters, Donna finds out along the way what it means to be as brave in life as she is on stage. Anchored by a breakout performance from Jenny Slate, OBVIOUS CHILD is a winning discovery, packed tight with raw, energetic comedy and moments of poignant human honesty. Writer/Director Gillian Robespierre handles the topic of Donna’s unwanted pregnancy with a refreshing matter-of-factness rarely seen onscreen. And with Donna, Slate and Robespierre have crafted a character for the ages – a female audiences will recognize, cheer for, and love.”