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Ridley Scott (#110 of 35)

Doctor Who Recap 2014 Christmas Special, "Last Christmas"

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Doctor Who Recap: 2014 Christmas Special, “Last Christmas”

BBC

Doctor Who Recap: 2014 Christmas Special, “Last Christmas”

For Doctor Who’s 10th consecutive Christmas special, showrunner Steven Moffat presents the intersection between Doctor Who and Christmas in the most direct possible way. Almost as if cheekily daring the audience to revolt and switch off, the five-minute pre-titles sequence plays with a straight face what seems like an utterly ludicrous situation. Clara (Jenna Coleman), who parted from the Doctor at the end of the previous episode, encounters none other than Santa Claus himself (Nick Frost), and a couple of snarky elves (one of whom is played by Dan Starkey, normally buried under heavy prosthetics as the Sontaran Strax), when he crashes on her roof—in a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer. But when the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) arrives and urges her to rejoin him aboard the TARDIS, things rapidly turn serious, leading to a constantly twisting story where the question of what is real and what is a dream becomes of crucial importance.

Box Office Rap Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

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Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares
Box Office Rap: Ender’s Game and the Depressing Studio Dares

This past weekend, The Counselor opened to a mere $7.8 million—second only to Runner Runner for the weakest opening for a film debuting in over 3,000 theaters this year. By all standard accounts, this was a “bad” box-office weekend, and, as I discussed last week, one that perceptive prognosticators should have seen coming. Coupled with a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score, nothing has gone right for Ridley Scott’s latest. But lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we need to be certain that The Counselor is ultimately an object of derision because it’s a bad film, and not simply because it’s a poor box-office performer.

Of course, any discerning eye knows quality and capital cannot be equated, but ultimately, a weak box-office showing necessarily diminishes cultural impact and public opinion. A casual viewer reads that The Counselor opened poorly and determines that it mustn’t be very good. There is, indeed, an equation made. In this case, critics and viewers agree on the film’s negative quality, which makes its dismissal easier, but this isn’t always so. Films like Killing Them Softly and Wolf Creek were despised by audiences, as each is one of only a handful of films to receive the dreaded F CinemaScore. However, these films were generally admired by critics, though Wolf Creek was fairly polarizing, with an equal measure of raves and pans. Both floundered at the box office, with each failing to attain a $3,000-per-theater average on opening weekend. When such dissonance occurs, it seems the supremacy of box office reigns over positive reviews.

Box Office Rap The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

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Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy
Box Office Rap: The Counselor and the Prestige-Film Fallacy

This Friday sees the release of The Counselor, a film that, by all conventional accounts, should be a lock for a $20-million opening at the box office this weekend, and yet the film is unlikely to crack double digits, even with a mega-wide 3,000 theater release. Certainly, as many have been doing, we could point to Gravity as a reason why The Counselor is likely to stumble; earning over $30 million in its third frame last weekend, I’m inclined to think it will finish on top yet again, besting primo contender Bad Grandpa by a few million, and making it the first film since The Hunger Games in April 2012 to top the box office for four consecutive weekends. However, its highly impressive run cannot fully explain why The Counselor is going to fail. Rather, we would be better served to examine how Fox has been marketing the film and, beyond that, question precisely why Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and Fox believed this to be a financially viable project to begin with.

The entirety of the marketing for The Counselor suffers from what I’m calling “prestige-film fallacy” (PFF). The PFF relies on the prior prestige of those involved, rather than ingenuity, to convince prospective viewers of the new film’s worth. Everything about a PFF campaign reeks of derivative, outmoded notions of “quality” cinema and often hitches its wagon to the premise that sexy, rich characters played by sexy, rich stars equal big bucks. The Counselor is an epitome of these tendencies and, for those attuned to these developments, will serve to test our fundamental question: Can you sell a film based purely on prior pedigree?

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Visual Effects

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.

Femme Modernes Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

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Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up
Femme Modernes: Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale: Ready for Her Close-Up

Has there been a film genre/style more fervently written about, debated, and theorized than film noir? Not just a staple of cinephilic lexicon (choosing between 1948’s They Live By Night and 1949’s Thieves’ Highway will define who you really are), but an ongoing source of inspiration for New Hollywood to present-day filmmakers (see Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad for the latest, and questionable, iteration), film noir has been and remains the quintessential cinematic forum to synthesize form and content, either in theory or practice. Thus, when a revisionist film or academic text attempts to realign the axis from which one comprehends these films, it should necessarily raise eyebrows. When that film or text succeeds, however, it’s cause for immediate attention and debate. Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale attempts to be such a redefining work.

Seeking to dislodge more narrow-minded understandings of film noir as yielding readily identifiable archetypes, Grossman devotes a book-length analysis to accurately defining women’s roles in classical film noir while convincingly revealing the fallacy behind a long-standing myth of the genre: that its women are deceitful, malevolent, and hell-bent on male destruction. Rather, Grossman claims, careful examination and close readings reveal a dearth of femme fatales in most films noir; instead of simply attempting to rotely psychologize the women in these films as “fatal,” which “abstracts gender representation from the social world,” more attention to narrative detail and setting demonstrate the underlying factors that have led to this misrepresentation.