Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Tag Archives: Sony

ANCC: The Music of Ke$ha

Tic toc, on the clock! This week, Jen, Nick, and the Gorehound talk about the music of Ke$ha. Jen loves her! Plus, her legal troubles. Yikes! Also, stick around until the end for the BIG announcement with a special guest!

To listen to the episode, click here or on the image below!

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“Spectre” – The Nick Review

WARNING: VERY MILD SPOILERS

Spectre is a frustrating movie.  I want to like it – I love Bond films – and to an extent, I do.  The film has some great action (like all Bond films do), and Daniel Craig is perfect as James Bond – he seems so comfortable in the role and really has made it his own while incorporating the trademarks of the character.  However, the film has so many issues that I would find it tough, as a fan, to sit down and sit through it multiple times.

The skull mask has been used heavily in marketing even though it has only two or three minutes of inconsequential screentime.

The skull mask has been used heavily in marketing even though it has only two or three minutes of inconsequential screen time.

Much of the problem with Spectre is that the story is incredibly over-plotted and becomes a bit too convoluted for its own good.  I am still not 100% sure what the villain’s ultimate goal was.  I get the fact that the Spectre organization was trying to manipulate world governments into creating an uber-surveillance system which would then allow them to have access to it as well.  But for what reason?  What evil plot are they going to do with it?  It is incredibly muddled on what the endgame is here.

But, I suppose that is minor when it comes to the other element of Spectre’s main villain, Oberhauser (a much underutilized Chrisoph Waltz).  He isn’t really menacing (mostly due to unclear plans and goals), and the film ham-fistedly tries to make a personal connection between him and Bond.  This revelation comes two-thirds of the way though the film, and it doesn’t land.  At all.  There is no emotional resonance in the connection because the film does nothing of substance with it.

There is more I can talk about Oberhauser as a character and the direction he is taken in, but I don’t want to spoil the film.  I will spoil this: you know he’s evil because he wears shoes without socks.  Only criminal masterminds do this.

Spectre is really ambitious in that it tries to connect all the Daniel Craig Bond films together as one massive, story arc.  I like this idea – in theory.  It just doesn’t quite work because the film doesn’t give enough explanation behind it.  I’m all for not spoon-feeding an audience, but something like this needs to be better defined and cleared-up for an audience to really accept it.  I’ve read elsewhere that there were scenes exploring this further, but were cut for time.  That’s a shame, because I would really have liked to see this angle explored more.

Speaking of time, Spectre is incredibly long at nearly 2.5 hours.  You feel the length.  The first half has way too many breadcrumbs for Bond to follow to effectively set-up the story and by the finale climax, you are ready for it to be over.  I can’t help but wonder if the film could have been streamlined, some of the plot issues could have been ironed out.

I feel bad dumping on Spectre, because there is stuff to like.  I was entertained for the most part.  The action sequences are great.  They are fun and though it doesn’t break new ground, they are very Bond.  Additionally, everything is shot very nicely.  Spectre is a beautiful film, and I love how it opens with a prolonged continuous shot (I’m a sucker for those).

Daniel Craig is in perfect form as James Bond.  He really seems really comfortable as the secret agent, and the writing team were finally able to make Craig a bit wittier with the wisecracks.  Up until now, I feel he has kind of struggled with that.  I also love how the Bond series is expanding the roles of the supporting characters (M, Q, Moneypenny, and Tanner), and making them part of the action.

Spectre can be fun at times, and it is worth seeing the spectacle on the big screen.  That said, there have been better Bond films and there have been worse.  Spectre was ambitious and I appreciate that they tried to tie-up some of the remaining Quantum organization plot threads from the earlier Craig films.  It just doesn’t land as well it probably could (and likely should) have.

~N

Leftover Questions: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Edition

Warning: Spoilers!

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a very good movie. A marginal improvement over an unnecessary reboot, the heavily hyped summer sequel has a bevy of problems. The film suffers from too many villains and an overall poor script with bad dialogue, clunky characterization, and uninteresting plot threads. There are things to like (the special effects are pretty and the Peter/Gwen dynamic remains the most appealing part of the film series) but there are also a litany of leftover questions that left me scratching my head once the credits began rolling. I’ve gathered a few of them here for this article.

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If Peter feels so guilty about breaking his promise to Capt. Stacy, then why does he continuously ignore the promise? The film goes out of its way to show us over and over again that the Captain’s death greatly affects our hero. Why would he want to continue to subject himself to this kind of misery?

Why exactly does Electro hate Spider-Man? Max Dillon is extremely enamored with him prior to an incident that can be better blamed on the NYPD. The incident is even totally justified, with Dillon inadvertently causing collateral damage everywhere he goes.

Where did Electro get his super villain costume? How does it travel through power sources along with him? This makes absolutely no sense. Why does Electro even need a super suit? He’s basically pure energy. He doesn’t even need to take on a physical form. This only makes him more vulnerable to physical attacks.

Norman Osborn seemed to live into at least his late fifties, possibly even his early 60s, despite his degenerative disease. Why then is Harry suffering so badly at the age of like 19?

If Norman Osborn thought Spider-Man’s spider-blood would heal him, why did he never try it out on himself? Since he was dying anyway, what did he have to lose?

We learn that the Green Goblin’s tactical suit has a healing factor that is never seriously explained. If Harry can inject himself with dangerous, apparently life-threatening spider-blood and get instantly healed by the tactical suit, why not just skip the spider-blood part and put the suit on first thing?

Why does Harry seem to go from an average spoiled playboy to a rampaging murderous psychopath in a matter of days (maybe even hours) with little to no explanation?

Why wouldn’t Peter Parker want to help his friend by giving up his blood? If Peter’s blood could potentially cure his friend, wouldn’t it be worth it to risk his identity to save the life of someone he considers a close friend?

How are Peter’s webs able to conduct electricity? Are they made of metal? I can’t imagine his webs would be a good enough conductor to adequately defeat Electro the way the film portrays.

How exactly does Harry know exactly where to find Peter at the end of the movie? And who trained Harry to operate such complex machinery as his glider? I have to imagine it would take months, if not years, of training in order to work such a device (this also holds true for Rhino’s suit at the end of the movie).

Why does Sony keep giving us release dates for movies in this franchise that probably aren’t even in the beginning of the scripting stages thus far?

-Z-

Disappointing Childhood Movies Vol. 4 – 80s Action Hero in a 90s Movie Edition

There was no greater action hero in the 1980s than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The mountain of a man with the thick Austrian accent starred in a glut of iconic, ultra violent movies during the decade of Reaganomics. Conan the Barbarian, Predator, The Terminator, Commando, The Running Man – these are just a few of the more memorable action flicks that stand out in his filmography, each of which was released in the 1980s. Some may argue the decade belonged to Stallone, but even myself, a diehard Stallone fan, must concede that Schwarzenegger truly owned the greatest action movies of the greatest decade for action movies – the 1980s. Commando has been talked about ad nausea over the last ten years or so, and is even now rightly recognized not only as an action classic, but also as an award-winning documentary of 1980s banana republic politics (not really, but one can dream).

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By the 1990s, however, Schwarzenegger’s star began to wane somewhat when compared to the heights he hit in the previous decade. After 1996’s Eraser, Schwarzenegger never truly enjoyed A-List box office success ever again. The 1990s started off the right way, with Arnold starring in mega-hits like Total Recall, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies – all three hard-R action slugfests. Schwarzenegger also starred in a series of disappointments throughout the decade, however, with films like Jingle All the Way, End of Days, Batman and Robin (in which he costarred but received top billing), Junior, and especially Last Action Hero all considerably underperforming at the box office. I’ve written about Last Action Hero in the past. I find it to be an exceedingly clever film in a lot of ways. But it was also a massive disappointment, both critically and financially, and exactly what I didn’t want to see when I saw it in theaters the summer before fifth grade.

Schwarzenegger's Jack Slater character is kind of cool...

Schwarzenegger’s Jack Slater character is kind of cool…

Directed by John McTiernan, scripted by Shane Black (from an original story by Zak Penn), and starring Schwarzenegger as the titular action hero, Last Action Hero was almost designed by committee to be a big summer hit (and was indeed marketed as the “next summer blockbuster”). Two years prior, Schwarzenegger and James Cameron re-wrote the blueprint for blockbusters when Terminator 2: Judgment Day conquered the box office, taking along with it records that stood for an R-Rated film for over a decade. With the backing of Columbia Pictures and a cushy summer release, Last Action Hero would surely be the next Schwarzenegger mega-hit, another feather in the cap of ace screenwriter Black, and yet another action milestone in the filmography of McTiernan, the mastermind director behind Die Hard, perhaps the greatest action movie of all time. It stands to reason that I, as a wild-eyed youngster appreciative of all things Schwarzenegger, would go absolutely nuts for Last Action Hero – and I have to admit I was initially psyched to see the film.

Along the way, however, another thing happened – something unexpected. Universal Pictures, Michael

"Magic ticket my ass, McBain."

“Magic ticket my ass, McBain.”

Crichton, and most importantly Stephen Spielberg collaborated on a little known film by the name of Jurassic Park. As a kid I had always loved dinosaurs, and I had no idea in the summer of 1993 that dinosaurs would be brought to the big screen in the most realistic manner ever seen on film. Opening just one week before, and thus stealing the thunder from, Last Action Hero, Jurassic Park not only became the biggest film of the year, but also a perennial favorite, a franchise-spawner, and one of the most iconic, beloved summer blockbusters of all time (as well as my pick for best summer movie ever made, just ahead of Jaws). Suddenly, the kinds of movies like Last Action Hero seemed a bit old hat, just as Guns N’ Roses probably seemed when Nirvana hit it big. Jurassic Park ushered in the era of 90s filmmaking while Last Action Hero seemed like a dying scream from the decade of righteous excess.

I imagine most of us looked at Austin O'Brien the exact same way.

I imagine most of us looked at Austin O’Brien the exact same way.

Of course, this isn’t entirely true. Last Action Hero is an action movie, but it’s not really like anything that came out of either Schwarzenegger or McTiernan’s filmography in the past. It is, instead, a post-modern deconstruction of 1980s action movies as well as a wish fulfillment/fantasy film. The big secret about Last Action Hero is that Schwarzenegger, portraying fictional movie character/hero Jack Slater, isn’t really the main character in the movie. That falls to Austin O’Brien’s annoying kid/sidekick character Danny Madigan, who is transported to Jack Slater’s world via a “magic ticket” (a conceit mocked and parodied mercilessly in the 90s, most notably by The Simpsons). Through further circumstance, villains from Jack Slater’s film universe, notably the cold-hearted assassin Mr. Benedict (a fantastic Charles Dance, portraying the best character in the movie by far) begin to populate our universe (aka, the real universe). If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it kinda is – never a good idea for a film ostensibly targeted at younger crowds (the film was rated PG-13 and intended for an audience of mostly younger males).

Ok, so the parodies are actually pretty awesome.

Ok, so the parodies are actually pretty awesome.

When I was watching Last Action Hero for the first time (along with my younger brother – and we were the only two people in the entire theater by the way), I had pretty much no clue what was real and what wasn’t. This wasn’t in the good Matrix kind of way, either. This was the fault of the director and the screenwriter. I don’t blame Schwarzenegger for taking this role on and for being paid like an A-List celebrity, either, as he was at that time the biggest star in the world. But he doesn’t really bring his all to Last Action Hero and he’s not a good enough actor to pull off the nuance of the dual-world roles (for what it’s worth, he nails the “action-y” aspects of the Slater character however). This is a film much better suited to the talents of a previous McTiernan collaborator, one Bruce Willis. Schwarzenegger can do action and he can do comedy, but he’s missing the true acting talent necessary to pull off the role completely. Willis, who can do drama in addition to action and comedy, would have been a much better actor for the role.

The best character in the movie.

The best character in the movie.

But again, as a kid I had no idea about any of this stuff. I also didn’t even know that Last Action Hero had so much turmoil behind the scenes either. Disastrous test screenings, script rewrites (Zak Penn had written the original script and Shane Black was hired to re-write it – Penn eventually received a “story by” credit with Black receiving the screenwriting credit), issues with editing, time constraints, release date issues, poor word of mouth, competition at the box office, and general hubris by Columbia Pictures (it was one of the first films to feature the ill-fated SDDS sound technology) all lead to the movie losing nearly thirty million dollars at the box office, making it Schwarzenegger’s biggest film flop at that point. Nowadays losing thirty million dollars on a picture is kind of small potatoes (look at what films like John Carter and Battleship lost in 2012, and then how badly White House Down and The Lone Ranger performed the next year), but in 1993, it would have been almost unheard of for a film starring the biggest box office star in Hollywood to lose so much money.

There has been a recent critical reappraisal of Last Action Hero, one that rightly points out how odd, unique, and funny the film actually is. The reappraisal is mostly correct – Last Action Hero is an incredibly unique and twisted movie in a lot of ways. It is also notable for Charles Dance’s chilling villain, numerous cameos that are actually funny and make sense (the best of which remains an uncredited Danny DeVito), and general oddities (including what was probably the most expensive fart joke ever filmed) throughout its incredibly lengthy 130-minute running time. But it is not a good movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. Austin O’Brien, ostensibly the lead, is a putrid actor, and the stench of his awful performance just screams “child actor” in the worst possible way. Ultimately, McTiernan, Schwarzenegger, and Black all tried to force action and comedy together in ways that just didn’t make sense on screen. I imagine there was a great spark of an idea somewhere in Last Action Hero (and indeed, it can kinda be seen in places throughout the film), but the final product just turned out to be such an absolute mess – one that couldn’t even placate the easily placated mind of a 5th grader.

-Z-

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 44 – Spectacular Wonderful Failed Remake Edition (Vol. 2!)

For years and years big names in Hollywood have threatened the movie-going public with an updated film adaptation of the James Thurber-penned short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The story had already been adapted for the screen starring Danny Kaye in the 1947 classic film I once sat through in Freshman year English class. But Hollywood heavyweights like Jim Carrey and Steven Spielberg had long wanted to update the property. Their ideas mostly languished in development hell until Sascha Baron Cohen took over (by this point – sometime in the mid-2000s – Owen Wilson was attached to star), but even this project never materialized. In April 2011, some 16 years after Samuel Goldwyn Mayer sold the film rights to a project he expected to see completed in the 90s, it was announced that Ben Stiller would star in and direct the project. So, besides all of this pre-production turmoil, what exactly went wrong?

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Ben Stiller is a fine comic actor and an underrated comedy director. He is responsible for some dark gems, including The Cable Guy, a 1996 flop that nearly ruined Jim Carrey’s film career. He also directed (and starred in) Zoolander, a cult classic from 2001 that largely failed at the box office due to the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York City. In 2008, Stiller directed and starred in Tropic Thunder, a war parody film that was a substantial hit and even garnered supporting actor Robert Downey, Jr. an Oscar nomination. It has long been clear, however, that Stiller tends to overreach as a director at times, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a clear case of this. Additionally, Stiller is a fine comic actor who certainly has the ability to be dramatic, but I’m not sure he was suited for the role of the lead. Stiller is great at playing a neurotic, indecisive Woody Allen-type, but I just don’t see him as the daydreamer Walter Mitty is supposed to be. Stiller can play neurotic, but he doesn’t play pathetic so well (see: Mystery Men) and there’s a certain aspect of Mitty that is innately pathetic.

Additionally, pre-release buzz for Mitty turned negative after a sneak October 2013 preview. The early trailers drew high initial praise for the project, but the sneak peak at the New York Film Festival divided audiences and fostered a mixed critical response. Upon release, the film continued to draw negative reviews to the tune of a 50% Rotten Tomatoes score and 54/100 Metacritic rating. The film, which was expected to contend for Oscars, instead became almost forgotten over its Christmas release platform, as bigger films like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Frozen, and more adult-targeted films like American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street dominated the box office. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty then fizzled at the domestic box office, accumulating a 58 million dollar gross against a budget of 90 (some say as high as 125) million dollars. Though the film saved some face overseas, it likely will be a long road to profitability for Fox.

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Similar to Fox’s hopes for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Sony also believed Robocop, their recently released reboot/remake, would click with audiences. Robocop was definitely not intended to compete for a family audience like Mitty, but the PG-13 rated film nevertheless met with mixed critical reception and low domestic box office as well. Robocop also spent a significant amount of time in pre-production. Originally planned for a 2010 release, the film was to be directed by none other than Darren Aronofsky, Academy Award-nominated director of films like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. The reboot/remake was then planned for a 2013 release, but pushed back once again to 2014, perhaps to avoid a crowded late summer film schedule. So, besides the pre-production hoopla, what exactly went wrong?

The reboot of Robocop, starring Alex Kinnaman (of AMC’s The Killing), Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton, was met with disdain by fans online due to its announced PG-13 rating (something that had happened with Live Free or Die Hard several years back). While I typically tend to shy away from and also generally discourage online fandom due solely to principle, on this I must agree. The idea of a PG-13 Robocop is ridiculous. The 1987 Paul Verhoeven/Ed Neumeier/Peter Weller original is gloriously violent and over the top. A PG-13 film would certainly be a neutered, bland, uninteresting thing by comparison. The film ultimately drew in mediocre reviews, garnering a 49% Rotten Tomatoes score. Though the cast was praised for their work, the film suffered negative comparisons to the original, as was to be expected.

The Robocop reboot/remake ultimately failed in the American box office, partially due to is PG-13 rating (there was literally nothing new in the theaters for a more mature audience). The biggest factor in its domestic failure, however, was perhaps the unexpected success and universal acclaim for Warner Bros. The Lego Movie, a film so popular it transcended its target demographic of children and young families and spilled over into adult territory. Of course, opening a futuristic science fiction thriller over Valentine’s Day probably wasn’t a great idea either. In the end, Robocop will gross less than 60 million dollars in domestic receipts, which is even less than last year’s hated A Good Day to Die Hard. It has saved some face overseas, but probably not enough to spawn a franchise like Sony had planned. The Verhoeven/Neumeier/Weller original remains the best in the series and an unassailable science fiction classic.

-Z-

I’m Burned Out

I’m about through with pop culture in general. I’m sick of shitty memes clogging up my Facebook wall and the good majority of the Internet in general. It has gotten to the point where I’d completely delete Facebook if only it didn’t allow easy access to contacts I don’t get to see that often in real life (example: Nick!). It seems like everyday I am subjected to people re-posting image macros of inane superhero and/or Disney bullshit that I roll my eyes at whenever I see it. I have, in the past, been somewhat guilty of this as well, but I have more recently drawn a line in the sand that I shall no longer cross. I will partake no more in this kind of behavior, and neither will I condone it. I will hide people who post it from my wall so as not to subject myself to it. I will be more conscious of what websites I visit (The AV Club and IGN are both really trending downwards) and how often I give them my page views. In addition, I will only be going to see one superhero movie in theaters this entire year. I’m just through with it.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the only comic book to film adaptation I plan to see in 2014.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the only comic book to film adaptation I plan to see in 2014.

That is the one of the aspects of pop culture that has completely drawn my ire over the last few years. The continued film adaptation of comic books has done nothing but completely irritate me. The last few years have seen an absolute glut of comic book adaptations, with films like The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and Iron Man 3 each grossing over 400 million dollars in domestic box office, and over one billion in terms of worldwide grosses. Last year alone, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Kick-Ass 2, Thor: The Dark World, and The Wolverine hit theaters. This year we are at the very least slated to see Captain America 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Guardians of the Galaxy. Not long after, we’ll be treated to the likes of The Amazing Spider-Man 3, Batman vs. Superman (aka Man of Steel 2), Avengers 2, Ant Man, Sand Man (the Neil Gaiman one, not the Spider-Man villain), and perhaps a few more “phase 2” or by that point “phase 3” Marvel films.

TASM 2 has had one of the most insufferable marketing campaigns in recent memory.

TASM 2 has had one of the most insufferable marketing campaigns in recent memory.

It’s all too much. Furthermore, these films rarely take real risks, serving as nothing other than creatively bankrupt cash cows for multi-billion dollar film corporations. They are designed by committee to appeal to absolutely everybody, which kinda makes them honestly feel like they are really for nobody at all. It is for that reason that I have resigned myself to see only one superhero movie in theaters this year. I’ve chosen to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. Not only is it a franchise I’ve actively sought out at the theaters since 2000, it’s also a comic book franchise that I identify with my childhood years the most. The nostalgia I have for the X-Men goes back to the fourth grade, and it is probably the one comic book I purchased the most of in the 90s. I’ve seen every X-Men-related film in theaters, and have found something to enjoy about each one – even the terrible ones. This means no Disney/Marvel “phase 2” horseshit, which I’m sick of anyway. It also means no more pimping out of Spider-Man on Sony’s behalf (the projected sequels to this film make my head hurt and the marketing for TASM 2 has been insufferable). There aren’t any DC movies coming to theaters this year, so I don’t have to worry about that, thankfully.

Speaking of DC, the recent film “rivalry” between DC and Marvel has been another load of bullshit I just can’t take anymore. First, who cares which company has the most successful comic book movies (really, in the end is there a difference between one grossing 300 million and another grossing 250 million? It’s not like any of you are seeing that money). We get nothing out of it except for maybe two hours worth of disposable entertainment once or twice a year. Secondly, should we not be rooting for them both to succeed? Do people actively want bad Batman or awful Thor movies? I can’t figure out why we seem to live in a world where two things must be pitted against each other at all times. It’s like I’m living in 1993 again and having to hear which is the superior console, the SNES or the Genesis. It also doesn’t make sense to just lump Marvel together completely anyway, because Fox and Sony pump out Marvel movies as much as Disney does due to character licensing (which we’re not going to get into here – Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man and Fox owns the film rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four, get the fuck over it and grow up).

Getting back to the Internet, I recently saw a completely insufferable image macro (an oxymoron, I

Guardians of the Galaxy is considered a risk -- but is it really?

Guardians of the Galaxy is considered a risk — but is it really?

know) about how DC is somehow “afraid” to make a Wonder Woman movie, but Marvel is “brave” enough to make a movie about a CGI space raccoon. Not only was this dumb, even for the Internet, but its also completely false. DC has already cast a wonder woman, who will be played by Gal Godot, of Fast and Furious fame. We know that Godot will portray Wonder Woman in some aspect of the Man of Steel sequel, and we know we’ll probably get a standalone Wonder Woman film at some point in the next few years. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy is hardly a film about a CGI space raccoon. The CGI space raccoon is a supporting player in an ensemble film with an extremely bankable actor giving him his voice. We have heard the argument for years now that Marvel has “more effectively” built their film empire while DC has somehow “languished” behind (the receipts from the Nolan Batman movies should declaw this argument, but they don’t). Shouldn’t this popular perception then help explain exactly why Disney took a chance on Guardians of the Galaxy? You can’t have it both ways, people.

Disney, DC, Marvel, Fox, Sony, Warner Bros. – I need to shield myself from any and all of these for the next couple of years. I’m allowing myself a visit to the theaters to see X-Men: Days of Future Past (mostly based at this point on the twenty+ years of nostalgia I have for the property) and that is that. I refuse to partake in the nonsense that is the DC/Marvel fanwank war. I refuse to post inane image macros of insufferably stupid horseshit. And I refuse to be a part of any of the nonsense that permeates what we call fan culture at this point in time. Nick recently pontificated about when the comic book film adaptation bubble would burst. With a slated 10+ films to release in just the next two years alone, I have to imagine it’s going to be soon, and I don’t think I’m going to miss it all that much.

-Z-

Whatever Happened to…?: Vol. 4 – Maria Pitillo

The TriStar Pictures produced American remake of Godzilla was a hotly anticipated film back in 1998. Sony’s marketing team worked overtime, making sure the film was absolutely everywhere (I still remember the Taco Bell tie-ins and the awful soundtrack). The special effects looked, at the time, stunning. Godzilla’s creature design itself was a huge secret going in, with even the toys being blacklisted from release until a certain date so as not to spoil the “surprise.” Director Roland Emmerich had scored mega-success two years prior with Independence Day, one of the highest grossing films of the 90s (and the biggest science fiction film at the time since Terminator 2). Star Matthew Broderick had been a successful screen presence since the early 80s. Co-star Jean Reno was internationally renowned for his work in films like The Professional, an influential action film from successful producer and filmmaker Luc Besson. The weak-link, if there was indeed a weak-link in the pre-release hype for the film, was in its female lead and co-star, the little-known (and still little-known today) Maria Pitillo.

It is difficult to talk about Maria Pitillo's career without also talking about Godzilla (1998).

It is difficult to talk about Maria Pitillo’s career without also talking about Godzilla (1998).

Maria Pitillo never expected to get into acting. Raised in an Italian-American family in New Jersey, Pitillo only took up acting during a chance encounter with a summer theater troupe. After this experience, she began finding work in commercials in New York City in the late 1980s. She then gained some experience in smaller projects such as various CBS After School Specials (which I kind of wish were still around because they’re hilarious), but never took acting seriously until after appearing in 1992’s critically acclaimed Chaplin. After Chaplin, she gained higher profile roles in True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Bye Bye Love (which aired continuously on pay cable in the mid-90s), and the failed Greg Kinnear vehicle Dear God (the commercials for which still haunt me occasionally some odd 17 years after its release). Pitillo, who had never starred as a billed main character in a mainstream movie, was an unlikely choice then for Godzilla.

When the film released to absolutely dreadful reviews, a certain amount of scorn and hatred was reserved for Pitillo’s character, would-be plucky news reporter Audrey Timmonds. A character so dumb you’d think she’d be on The Walking Dead, Audrey Timmonds is the ditziest of the ditzy blondes. She provided absolutely nothing to the movie, and despite Pitillo’s up-for-anything style of acting, the script was just too bad to salvage the character. Broderick and Reno got off comparatively light, and both have gone on to continue the successful careers they already had. Emmerich bounced back not long after with projects like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 (though his recent White House Down was one of summer’s biggest flops). Godzilla was not well received whatsoever (to put it nicely), and the film quickly leveled off at the box office without so much as sniffing any of the all-time records it seemingly had its sights set on just weeks before release.

Pitillo starred with Matthew Broderick in 1998's Godzilla, one of the worst blockbusters of all time.

Pitillo starred with Matthew Broderick in 1998’s Godzilla, one of the worst blockbusters of all time.

I legitimately hate the Razzie Awards. I find them mean-spirited, unfunny, and unfair in many cases. I don’t think that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt were bad in Interview with the Vampire. I don’t think it was fair to nominate Katie Holmes for her work in Batman Begins. I don’t find it particularly fair either that Nic Cage and Sylvester Stallone receive nominations every year just because it’s popular to harp on them (if anything Stallone and Cage are doing great work in not-so-great productions). I do, however, totally agree that Pitillo deserved the nomination and win she got for her role in Godzilla. She is abysmal in it, and I find it to be one of the worst supporting performances in any film I’ve ever seen. Godzilla is not a good film whatsoever, and Broderick looks like he is sleepwalking throughout the entire thing. But Pitillo is a different kind of awful. You can tell she’s actually trying, and there’s just nothing there whatsoever. I know the script is bad. I know that the shooting schedule was short and hectic. I know that director Roland Emmerich has expressed disappointment in his own work on the film. But Pitillo remains the absolute worst part of Godzilla, and that is very special in its own terrible way.

It is quite difficult to talk about Maria Pitillo’s career without also talking about Godzilla. The two are now and will forever be tied together. The horrendous failure of the film, a film which has zero defenders because of how truly awful it is, had the largest effect on Pitillo’s career out of any other major player in the production. Look no further than her post-Godzilla filmography and this bears out as true (as well as sad). Before Godzilla, Pitillo appeared in 17 movies. After its failure, she appeared in just three, one of which was a made-for-TV special. Her filmography since appearing in Godzilla is both sparse and sad. She appeared in three unsold pilots for various networks (one of which featured a pre-Two and a Half Men Jon Cryer), and her most recent credit is from a 2008 television show called Big Shots that lasted all of 11 episodes before cancellation.

Pitillo in 2013 -- still very pretty.

Pitillo in 2013 — still very pretty.

So whatever happened to Maria Pitillo? Despite Godzilla essentially ruining her movie career, Pitillo seems like she’s doing just fine for herself I guess. She’s been married since 2002 and has a daughter. She’s described as a Yoga and running enthusiast, so she’s got that going for her too. Not everyone can have the level of sustained Hollywood success that someone like Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep enjoys. Every once in a while (and probably more than every once in a while) there’s a Maria Pitillo out there, someone who never expected to become famous, and then flat-lined when her star-making role was terrible. Who knows, maybe 5 or 10 years from now we’ll ask ourselves what Blake Lively or Gemma Arterton are up to. I think we could certainly ask what Eva Green’s been up to for the last couple of years. During the whirlwind Godzilla production, Maria Pitillo probably felt fame and fortune within her grasp, but the two are fleeting and she just never quite made it. Had Godzilla been a good movie, then who knows how things would have shaken out for her. It wasn’t, however, and her career died on the table.

-Z-

I played The Last of Us

A few days ago I finished up the latest release from Sony-owned developer Naughty Dog, the PlayStation 3 exclusive title The Last of Us. It took me a few days to process what I had just played. The world of The Last of Us is brutal, gruesome, cold, and in many ways hopeless. It has a lot in common with other zombie and post-apocalyptic media from the past five or ten years, and yet it is still a gut-wrenching, amazing experience. It is well-designed and amazingly scripted, and it is one of the best videogames of the current generation, a generation soon to expire with the impending releases of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Main protagonists Joel and Ellie.

Main protagonists Joel and Ellie.

The Last of Us is a story about characters, in this case gruff, older Joel, a man in his 50s who lost his daughter at the outset of a global pandemic caused by an outbreak of viral fungus. Joel, along with partner Tess and various other side characters at points throughout the game, must escort young Ellie, a 13 year old who just may be the cure that humanity needs to wipe out the virus, from Boston to Utah in the devastated, dangerous, and violent wasteland that is now the United States. Joel and Ellie must survive horrifying zombie attacks, marauders and scavengers in the wasteland, as well as the cruel environment itself.

This is an incredibly simple story – the whole thing boils down to a road trip – but The Last of Us is filled with outstanding writing, character moments, and intense gameplay that give it a depth few other games have come close to matching this generation. Joel and Ellie have some character stock in them, but they are largely unique creations, and their developing father/daughter relationship over the 15 hours or so of gameplay is something special. The Last of Us is populated with incredibly well developed side characters as well, including the aforementioned Tess along with Joel’s younger brother (who has restored a hydroelectric plant and set up a community in mountains of Wyoming).

Aside from character writing and interactions, The Last of Us is filled with tremendous atmosphere and unique locales and environs. Throughout the game, you will explore abandoned, ruinous cities, terrifying sewer systems, and forests filled with threats both human and non-human. There is a sense of dread with every new environment, but the environments are also flat-out gorgeous, featuring some of the best rendering work of this entire generation of games. There were times I kept going despite the constant dread I felt just to see where The Last of Us would take me next. There are some amazing quiet moments interspersed throughout the game, and I don’t even want to mention them so as not to spoil them for any potential player. It is, simply put, a gorgeous game.

Of course, The Last of Us does crib from recent zombie and/or post-apocalyptic media. Joel and Ellie’s journey is highly reminiscent of the father/son voyage in Cormac McCarthy’s excellent post-apocalyptic novel The Road (a novel which was later adapted into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen). It isn’t like The Last of Us is ripping anything off – it’s really more of an homage to a great book than anything else. There are elements in the game which also popped up in last year’s excellent The Walking Dead adventure game from developer Telltale Games, but these are probably nothing more than coincidence considering The Last of Us has been in development since 2011.

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is one of the best games of its generation, and quite possibly the best first-party title on the PlayStation 3 (high praise indeed for a system that has prided itself on great first-party games). The gameplay is tight (though the combat can get frustrating at times), the locales are amazingly rendered, and the relationship between Joel and Ellie is highly developed. The game is incredibly harsh and depressing at times, but it should be. This is not a nice world that Naughty Dog has created, but it is an incredibly detailed world that is both fun to play and will leave you on the edge of your seat in many places.

-Z-

The Rumors of Will Smith’s Box Office Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

This past weekend, the newest Will Smith summer release, After Earth, collected a disappointing 27 million dollars in box office receipts to debut at number three in the weekend rankings, behind the mega-success Fast and Furious 6 repeating at number one and upstart number two Now You See Me, a magician/caper film starring Jesse Eisenberg and Isla Fisher, among others. All over the internet, headlines proclaiming the death of Smith’s box office prowess began popping up in rather annoying fashion. None of these articles come close to the truth of the matter, however. The rumors of Will Smith’s box office demise have been greatly exaggerated.

After_Earth_Poster (1)

After Earth had much more going against it than it had going for it. The film scored a dreadful 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst reviewed wide releases of the year. The project also screamed Hollywood nepotism at its worst, as Smith’s son, Jaden (who last appeared on film in 2010’s The Karate Kid remake), took top billing over his father (at Will’s behest). Not since Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter Sofia in The Godfather Part III has there been such a blatant case of nepotism on display in a mainstream Hollywood project. It seems as if audiences let this pass with The Pursuit of Happyness and The Karate Kid, as Smith was the lead in one and not in the other at all, and both were well-reviewed films and box office hits. After Earth’s savage beating by critics probably fueled the negative public reaction to the nepotism on display. Had it been a good film, most people probably wouldn’t have cared about this aspect of the film.

Making matters worse for After Earth, M. Night Shyamalan signed on as director-for-hire (the first film he’s directed without writing), somehow getting mainstream work against all logic and good sense. Shyamalan, once considered a Hollywood darling and the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg (his idol), has become a punching bag in the last ten years or so. The films he has directed since his last hit, Signs in 2002, have seen increasingly diminishing box office returns and increasingly negative critical reception. Although his last film, The Last Airbender, did reasonably well at the worldwide box office, the film is remembered as a critical disaster and is almost universally hated by fans of the Nickelodeon cartoon source material (I couldn’t get through ten minutes of it when I tried to watch it streaming on Netflix). Ironically for Shyamalan, however, After Earth actually gained his directorial work some positive notices, with a few critics calling it his best work behind the camera in years.

After Earth has also been criticized for allegedly promoting a Scientology-based agenda. I have seen the film referred to as being very Scientology-friendly more than a few times online. Coincidentally, the last science fiction film that had a Scientology bent, Battlefield Earth, is often regarded as one of the worst movies in the history of the medium. I don’t know too much about Scientology and its tenets outside of what I’ve seen on South Park, but I do know enough to know that the public rightfully doesn’t want much to do with it. It definitely didn’t help the film that Smith did little to dissuade the Scientology notions in interviews, ducking the question entirely or giving vague answers. Had he given a flat-out yes or no, I’d have been inclined to better respect his answer, but as it stands a vague dodging of the question is disingenuous.

All of this essentially boils down to After Earth being considered a huge disaster of a movie, and it definitely has been so far – domestically speaking. But Will Smith is not down for the count yet, and the reaction to this flop has been far too vitriolic and a bit premature. For starters, After Earth is likely to do extremely well overseas. The production, with a budget ranging from 130 to 185 million dollars according to multiple sources, will recoup any domestic losses quite easily overseas, just as Men in Black 3 did last year. That film, which grossed about 180 million in the states, grossed an astonishing 445 million in foreign territories. Smith is a huge worldwide star, meaning this film will likely be profitable for distributor Sony. Smith isn’t the only actor experiencing this phenomenon either – Tom Cruise’s last few movies have disappointed domestically but have grossed big numbers overseas as well (see: the similarly themed science fiction film Oblivion).

After Earth might end up grossing around 70 million dollars domestically, which would put it in the same territory as last year’s big budget flops Battleship and John Carter. But Will Smith has actually seen his share of big failures in his career. In 1999, Wild Wild West, the year’s would-be Smith summer blockbuster, grossed a paltry 113 million dollars against an enormous budget of 170 million, making it a colossal disaster. It would be three years before Smith would star in a hit film again, 2002’s Men In Black 2, and even that didn’t live up the profitability of the original. Smith then starred in a series of incredibly “safe” films, including 2004’s I, Robot and Shark Tale and 2005’s Hitch. He wouldn’t star in a mega-hit again until 2007’s I Am Legend, a film which did extremely well commercially but is remembered as something of a creative disappointment. Point being, Smith’s films have struggled in the past. This is not a phenomenon unique to After Earth.

It probably sounds like I am defending After Earth when I’m really not. After Earth looked to me like a generic piece of crap summer movie directed by a hack and starring a child who is only in it because his dad is famous. I will not go see this movie in theaters and I won’t rent it when it comes out. I’m perfectly happy living the rest of my life not acknowledging the existence of this film whatsoever. But the hyperbolic “Will Smith’s career is over! After Earth is Smith’s biggest flop!” reaction to the movie couldn’t be further from the actual truth, which is that Smith has struggled in the past, will continue to struggle at points, but is a huge worldwide movie star with a pretty rock solid reputation who makes generally safe career decisions. Let’s not bury his lengthy career prematurely. I’m sure he’ll be back in the next few years with another big hit, and this will all be forgotten about.

-Z-

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