beirut posterWe’re traveling back to the world of 1982 international politics in the new thriller Beirut, a world of cultivating sources and on-the-ground investigations into terrorist networks, before Twitter bots and state election board hacking. Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a government diplomat who left the country a decade ago after the death of his wife and family.

Now he’s being called back in by a pair of the State Department because his former partner, someone Skiles left behind when he exited the country, has been taken hostage by a militant group. The Feds want Skiles to negotiate for his release before he breaks under what’s sure to be intense interrogation and torture. Helping Skiles in this is undercover CIA operative Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), though as usual her allegiances are fluid and subject to agendas not everyone knows about.

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A Futile and Stupid Gesture, now streaming on Netflix, ostensibly tells the story of Doug Kenney (Will Forte), the guy who along with his friend and former Harvard classmate Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson) co-founded The National Lampoon and essentially created the comedy world we live in to this day. If not “created” then he certainly dropped a rock in a pond whose ripples are still apparent and felt.

As I said when I wrote about the campaign Netflix launched to promote it, the subject matter makes it something I was absolutely inclined to enjoy. I never read more than a handful of issues of Lampoon but certainly knew of its existence and reveled in the world Kenney created directly (Animal House, Caddyshack), indirectly (“Saturday Night Live,” which poached many of the writers and actors from Lampoon and its radio show) and as an influence (literally 90% of comedy since 1980). That being said, I didn’t know much about Kenney as a person or what motivated him.

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come sunday posterCome Sunday, debuting on Netflix this week, tells the true story of Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a charismatic and popular Evangelical preacher in the 1990s. Pearson was a rising star, someone with all the right characteristics for that segment of Christianity, including preaching a steady stream of fire and brimstone to help worshipers keeping making their decision for Christ as a way to stay out of hell.

One day his faith is shaken in what he believes to be divine revelation and he begins to change his preaching to reflect his new mindset that everyone is saved, not damned, by default. That doesn’t sit well with anyone – those in the pews or in church leadership – and Pearson has his position questioned from above and below. Unwilling to walk back his new perspective, he falls out of favor and eventually leaves the church and organization he’d been a part of as he continues to wrestle with the crisis. The movie is based on a 2005 story about Pearson aired on “This American Life.”

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There have been a lot of stories recently about how a few movies have resonated with smaller, more niche audiences. Both Love, Simon ($23m as of this writing) and I Can Only Imagine ($38m ibid) have been covered from the perspective of the appeal they’ve made to their audience. The former has reached people who have latched on to Hollywood finally making a mainstream coming of age story featuring a gay lead. The latter is part of the faith-based genre, a label applied to mealy-mouthed Christianity that talks more about spirituality than God.

In both these and many other cases, the industry press narrative is that there lessons to be learned by the successes (or failures) of movies that aren’t $100m opening weekend spectaculars. That’s true, there are. It’s also bullshit.

The only lesson to learn from the success of a movie whatever the distribution platform is that it managed to reach the right audience with a compelling value proposition that was hopefully bolstered by subsequent word of mouth.

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I’m not opposed to the idea, as floated by director Steven Spielberg, of a woman taking on the fedora of Indiana Jones. This doesn’t sound like a gender-swapped reboot of the character after Harrison Ford takes the character out for one last spin, but a continuation of the universe with a woman at the helm. Sounds cool and I’m actually all for it.

Surely, though, there are at least a dozen screenwriters hanging around Hollywood who have scripts sitting in a folder for *new* female action heroes that aren’t tied in some way to a legacy male character. One or two of those have to be decent, right? Why can’t we get one of those?

This is the same problem I’ve had with the comics industry for several years. Both Marvel and DC have long histories of introducing female characters who are derivative of male characters. In some cases, they’re given their own agency and motivations, but too often “Like X, but a girl” is the beginning and end of their character development.

I want to be clear here that this is not me trolling female fans who love these characters. I’m 100% in favor of more characters who aren’t white guys. As someone who’s been a Hawkeye fan since the early 1980s I can say I love Kate Bishop and want more stories featuring her. And from what I read the character of Rori who was inspired by Iron Man to become her own armor-wearing hero was great. More of all this.

But how about more characters with no ties to those who have come before, ones that have their own backstories and motivations for doing what they’re doing?

The idea of a female character taking over for Indiana Jones when he rides off into the sunset (which he literally did at the end of The Last Crusade) is fine, but how about a swashbuckling adventurer with no connection to Henry Jones Jr. in a story set in 1890 San Diego, someone out for fortune and glory during the Gold Rush?

Derivative characters are fine, but they seem like a half-measure. Let’s stop rebooting the same handful of existing female action heroes that have been around for a while (a la Tomb Raider) or making new ones that come with the baggage of male predecessors already around their shoulders. Instead, let’s ask for more original characters that are free of what’s come before and are able to stand on their own.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Game Over, Man

I’m not sure what the point of this “VR Experience” for the Netflix-original movie was other than to show what stoned losers the main characters are, but it’s kind of amusing in and of itself.

The Last Movie Star

There’s a new music video featuring footage from the movie for one of the songs off the soundtrack by Stranger Friends, one of the 12 the young band has on the album.

Love After Love

Another interview with Andie MacDowell about her career and taking on the role in the movie.

Blockers

Leslie Mann has done a few additional press stops including an appearance on “Late Night” to promote the movie and talk about John Cena’s butt.

Director Kay Cannon has given a couple of post-release interviews like this one where she continued talking about creating a raunchy but also emotional comedy.

This is a great example of the kind of story that’s been common throughout the movie’s publicity cycle, one that focuses on rebranding Cena as a comedy star.

Lean on Pete

Director Andrew Haugh speaks here about how he worked to tell the story of working-class residents of the Pacific Northwest in an authentic, respectful and non-cliche way.

You Were Never Really Here

A joint interview here with Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay about the working relationship they developed and the story they were trying to tell in the movie.

Annihilation

Great points here at Indiewire that if Paramount found the movie was going to be too tough a sell, that’s partly because of a system that emphasizes IP-based movies and other blockbusters. And if audiences are upset by the movie heading (in international markets) quickly to Netflix, it’s partly because they’ve failed to turn out for difficult, complex movies and made studios question their commercial viability.

Pandas

While I didn’t cover the campaign for the documentary, I couldn’t not mention that an AR app was launched by IMAX that allowed users to see a anthropomorphized panda in the real world they could ask questions to. You can see the trailer here.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Screenwriter Tony Gilroy has made comments about the troubled state of affairs he inherited prior to the much-discussed reshoots the film underwent. I’m not a huge fan of people throwing others under the bus like this, but that was a significant part of the movie’s pre-release media coverage.

A Quiet Place

The movie’s sound design has been a major topic of conversation in the press coverage and reviews, so it’s good that the team behind that work has finally gotten a profile of their own.

Director/star John Krasinski and costar/wife Emily Blunt talk here about what, if any, political messages the movie has for audiences.

Outside In

Star Edie Falco has done a bit more press than she did prior to release, including this “Late Night” appearance where she joked around with host Seth Meyers.

Chappaquiddick

Also getting in on the late night circuit is Jason Clarke, who still oddly dominates the press cycle for this movie over costar Kate Mara. I guess that’s the advantage of playing a Kennedy.

The Death of Stalin

Writer/director Armando Iannucci talks about the need for dark comedy and gallows humor in the midst of a slightly depressing reality.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

One of the problems with Netflix’s marketing tactics is that they’re not super-consistent. Sometimes movies get decent campaigns that last at least a month or two. Other times a trailer drops three days after the movie has already hit the streaming service. That means it’s hard for me to plug recaps into my blog editorial calendar and I occasionally just completely miss them. Or I put them to the side to cover other things and find oh, the movie was released three weeks ago.

Because there were a number of smaller-scale campaigns that have been run for recent movies that I 100% dropped the ball on I wanted to at least pay them some small amount of attention in these capsule recaps. Not sure if this is going to become an ongoing feature, but it’s what I’m doing today…

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Matt Singer’s piece at ScreenCrush about The Director and The Jedi, the making-of documentary included on the Blu-ray release of The Last Jedi is spot-on in a number of ways, including how quality behind-the-scenes features never really had a chance to come into their own. He also identifies how streaming and VOD services haven’t made bonus features a priority, though iTunes has offered Extras, which include similar material, for a while now.

Where I don’t think Singer quite completes his thought is that he doesn’t see how the tactic hasn’t been abandoned, it’s just been adapted to meet changing consumer habits and preferences.

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you were never really here poster 2Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a violent man with a gentle soul in the new movie You Were Never Really Here. He’s a Gulf War veteran who has found a new line work as hired muscle, though only in the service of finding and rescuing missing teenagers. His reputation as someone who’s brutal but gets results brings him to the attention of a Senator whose daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) has gone missing and may be in serious trouble.

As Joe investigates outside the law he gets closer to Nina but also deeper into a world where he has trouble telling truth from fiction. His long-running attempt to use attempts to save innocents as a way to deal with the guilt of his own actions is failing and he’s increasingly paranoid and desperate. Even if he succeeds in finding Nina, the implications of his actions and the after-effects of his descent into a particularly-seedy world may have unintended consequences.

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It’s been used when discussing the upcoming reboot/sequel for 9 To 5.

It’s been used when describing new and recent movies like Flower, Unsane and Half Magic.

It’s been used when discussing developments regarding a potential Batgirl movie.

It’s been used when writing about Justine Bateman’s upcoming directorial debut.

I’ll admit I’ve used it quite a few times myself. Or I’ve danced around it by using a phrase like “current cultural moment.”

“…for the #MeToo generation.”

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