Your Guide to the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Superhero Movies of 2017


Below is your guide to the science fiction, fantasy, and superhero films of 2017—complete with trailers, release dates, pros and cons, and an Excitement Rating that quantifies Big B’s interest in each film.

The Lego Batman Movie – February 10th – Warner Animation Group & DC Entertainment

Pro: the possibility that Will Arnett will be the best Batman yet; the realization that this movie is essentially an animated amalgam of all the Batman memes that exist on the Internet Continue reading

Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield laneI loved Cloverfield. As an avid monster movie fan and gamer—I liken the feel of Cloverfield to a mix of Call of Duty and Resident Evil—this is not the type of sequel I anticipated. When the marketing for 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, I was baffled that what looked like a psychological thriller bore the Cloverfield title and was the supposed next entry in a giant alien monster movie franchise. All these things left my expectations low but hopeful.

The beginning starts cautiously, establishing the mood with a strong and foreboding score at the forefront. You are given details and character hints without any dialogue. Then, once you’ve been established in the world and you settle in for what you expect to be a slow build to the first tension of a slow psychological thriller, everything explodes on screen in full audio and visual. I think this opening epitomizes the shock that I felt throughout the entire film. This movie is an odd but pleasant surprise throughout, and definitely nothing I was expecting.

The thing that stands out first is the score and the sound mixing. The mechanical noise of the door opening and shutting, the clatter of objects, the jostling of a car shaking and rolling; all the sound in the film feels like it’s turned up to 11 and it presents a visceral world that keeps you braced for something terrible yet to come. At some points I thought the sound and the score might’ve tried a little too hard to push the drama of a scene, but they played a big part in shaping it as well. Ultimately, as the film rises to its peaks the sound really stands out in delivering the drama of each scene. Continue reading

Why “Which Movie Director Would Direct My Life?” Is a Very Important Question

Community AndreWhen countless individuals sat down to read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life with some chardonnay and oversized Snuggies, they likely did so with a sense of cautious enthusiasm and understandable desperation. Who, honestly, would not want to discover how to make his or her life as meaningful as possible? Secular or not, human beings search for meaning. Laurence Fishburne’s vague philosophizing in The Matrix taught me that, on some level, everyone searches for truth. And, from what I’ve learned from Community‘s Jeff Winger about the search for truth, personal introspection seems like a good place to start. If I can’t know the truth about life, I can at least know the truth about myself, right?

Equipped with that half-baked logic, I propose that the following question can effectively serve as a lens through which to peer deep into your soul:

Which film director would direct your life?

Quentin TarantinoObservant readers will note that I used “would” instead of other possible auxiliary verbs. This diction suggests, among other things, that your life harmonizes with the style of a particular director so well that that director would have no choice but to direct your life. That director is your soul mate, your spirit animal, your emotional doppelganger. To pick your director, you must know yourself. This is where the introspection begins.

Some matches may be obvious. If you appreciate calculated violence, targeted monologues (mostly about violence), and looking in car trunks (or out of them), then Quentin Tarantino would direct your life. Wes Anderson would direct the lives of those who prefer quirky symmetry (meaning lives that feature chaotic naïveté over backdrops of security and comfort). And Ang Lee would direct your life if it is filled with frustrating beauty—an aesthetically pleasing pain, as if the beauty highlights the acuteness of your angst.

Kathryn BigelowSome directors are difficult to categorize. The following paragraphs explain several brilliant directors and their ideal matches.

Kathryn Bigelow often showcases the struggles and consequences associated with fierce individuality. Her protagonists are alone against the world, whether that world is symbolized as a bomb, a looming nuclear war, or Osama bin Laden. Her emotional doppelgängers are strong-willed, almost hard-headed individuals who believe that, ultimately, one truly significant accomplishment can overshadow an entire life filled with loneliness and skepticism.

If Sam Mendes directs your life, you fall into one of two categories: you are either a somewhat weathered renegade who fights for the greater good, or you live in the suburbs. And, as odd as it sounds, those two categories are closely linked. Like extended narrative versions of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds, movies like American BeautyRevolutionary Road, and Away We Go highlight the hopelessness of suburbia. Oscar-winner American Beauty combines the bleak social commentary of Paul Thomas Anderson and the unfiltered angst of Blink-182. Reframed as an inner-city spy version of Lester Burnham, James Bond becomes a stark symbol of the middle-class’s struggle against oppressive systems. To pick Sam Mendes as your life’s director, you must bounce between extremes of against-the-odds hopefulness and utter despair. You get to decide which wins: your hope (James) or your despair (Lester). Continue reading

88th Academy Awards: Big B’s Predictions

Best PictureThe Big Short
The Revenant
Should Win: The Big Short
Disappointment: Bridge of Spies
Should Have Been Nominated: Straight Outta Compton
Should Have Been Nominated: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Honorable Mention: Adam McKay, The Big ShortStraight Outta Compton
Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Best Actress
Brie Larson, Room
Honorable Mention: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Should Have Been Nominated: Alicia VikanderEx Machina
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
Honorable Mention: Tom Hardy, The RevenantThe Revenant
Honorable Mention: Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Should Not Have Been Nominated: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Should Have Been Nominated: Oscar IsaacEx Machina
Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Continue reading

The 87th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions


Best ActressEmma Stone

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Honorable Mention: Emma Stone, “Birdman”

Should not have been nominated: Keira Knightly, “The Imitation Game”

Should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

Best ActorBirdman

Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Should have been nominated: Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Best Supporting Actor

J. K. Simmons, “Whiplash” Continue reading

The 86th Academy Awards: Big B’s Oscar Predictions

Oscars SITEBest Actress

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Honorable Mention: Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

Best Actor

12-years-a-slaveChiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Honorable Mention: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Honorable Mention: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Should have been nominated: Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”

Best Supporting Actor Continue reading

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013): “You know what? Excelsior.”

Good Day to Die HardFor a movie that prides itself on yippee-ki-yay-style action, A Good Day to Die Hard is well-peppered with awkward one-on-one dialogue. The new Die Hard movie has the usual explosions, gunfights, and cliched one-liners—writers replaced John McClane’s usual “I’m too old for this” catch phrases with the more original, “I’m on vacation!”—but those scenes are just toppings on a cake of weird conversations and unnecessary interactions.

The relationship between John McClane and his son, Jack McClane, is like the relationship between Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook, except without the emotional nuance and Oscar-nominated performances. Both films contain strained father-son relationships. Both pairs have communication problems. In the opening scenes of A Good Day to Die Hard, John disrupts an elaborate rescue mission by attempting to manufacture heart-to-hearts amid gunfire and car chases. McClane’s journey toward suburban-style parenting is a long one, and his son is more understanding that he should be. More understanding than I was.

A-Good-Day-to-Die-Hard BrosWhile John and Jack gushed about guns and feelings, I imagined what the movie would be like if it really were a blend of Die Hard and Silver Linings Playbook.

John McClane: “Just sit down, come on. Help turn the juju around. The CIA is stupid.”

Jack: “What? Stupid? How is—you know what? Excelsior.”

John McClane: “What the f*** is ‘excelsior’?”

Jack: “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna take all this negativity, and I’m going to use it to find a silver lining. I’ll be the best CIA agent ever. Better than Tony Mendez.”

Good Day to Die Hard PalsI’d watch that movie. Die Hard Playbook. At least that movie would better analyze the father-son dynamic that Die Hard both highlights and under-develops. And maybe it would feature a CarterDanny hybrid, a character played by Chris Tucker who would wisecrack his way into dangerous situations and then sweet-talk his way to freedom. And Jennifer Lawrence would be there. So many possibilities.

John Moore: Director

Skip Woods and Roderick Thorp: Writing

Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney: Stars

Review: Beautiful Creatures (2013): “For goodness’ sake, read a book!”

Beautiful Creatures 2SPOILERS

Let me first respond to some would-be frequently asked questions: Yes, I tend to enjoy film adaptations of young adult novels, including The Hunger Games and Warm Bodies. No, I don’t think Beautiful Creatures is the same as Twilight. Yes, I wish I had superpowers. And no, I have not yet read the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Beautiful Creatures is the heartwarming story of a Southern boy, Ethan, who falls for a socially marginalized new-to-town classmate, Lena Duchannes. As it turns out, Lena comes from a family of “Casters,” which includes Scar from The Lion King her rich, well-spoken uncle, Macon Ravenwood, played by Jeremy Irons. Ethan and Lena eventually date, but their romance is, of course, complicated. The Southern boy and his superpowered boo must overcome small-town prejudices, Civil War curses, and an overbearing, powerful, and previously-absent mother.

Beautiful Creatures MaconBut that plot, which is neither bad nor completely original, is almost secondary to the pro-intellectualism subtext that runs throughout the film. The movie opens with Ethan, a stereotypical bound-for-better-things sort of protagonist—”My momma says there’s two types of people that live in Gatlin: the people too stupid to leave and the ones too stuck to move”—who enjoys reading banned books. And Gatlin has banned a lot of books. The fictional town of Gatlin is portrayed as a conservative, hyper-religious, aggressively traditional small town that enjoys Civil War reenactments.

But Gatlin-ians are also stupid. Or ignorant. Either way, they’d rather ban books than read them, and they constantly butcher the titles of the few popular movies that happen to show at their one movie theater. Macon, Lena’s cultured uncle, once refers to the local high school as “the institution that Gatlin presumes to call educational.” And his snark seems justified.

Despite the fact that Macon’s ancestors were founders of Gatlin, Lena and her family are outcasts, social pariahs. Placing the Duchannes family on the margins of society emphasizes the difference between Castors and other mortals, of course, but it also highlights the difference between the intelligent and the reactionary, the well-read and the book banners, the cultured and the close-minded. Macon hates non-Castors, but he doesn’t dislike them because they tend to persecute his kind—he seems to dislike them because they’re unaware, uneducated, shallow.

Beautiful CreaturesThere is only one library in Galtin, and all of the good, likable characters are somehow connected to it. Amma, Ethan’s caretaker and Macon’s confidant, works at the library, and Lethan (Lena and Ethan) visits the library frequently. Contrarily, the film’s antagonists seem repulsed by literature. The stuck-up high school bullies, Emily and Savannah, chastise Ethan for reading banned books and throw a public-prayer-filled fit when they’re asked to read To Kill a Mockingbird for English class.

The film is nuanced enough that it doesn’t further dichotomize the silly intellectualism-versus-religion discussion; instead, it offers viewers the opportunity to watch various possible reactions to ignorance. These case studies come in the form of Castors. Some Castors are good, and others are evil. But all Castors seem to lament the narrow-mindedness of other mortals. The evil ones choose to fight back, to rule the morons. The good ones choose to love the mortals, despite their flaws. In the end, the film decides to abandon the polarization altogether: “There’s a new world mama. It ain’t all dark, and it ain’t all light, and it ain’t all ours.” Maybe that’s a decent goal: Neither mock the uneducated nor tolerate ignorance. Find the middle ground.

Richard LaGravenese: Director

Richard LaGravenese: Screenplay

Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert: Stars

Ben Boruff is a co-founder of Big B and Mo’ Money, and he reviews indie comics for Some of his favorite directors are Whit Stillman, Seijun Suzuki, Noah Baumbach, Kathryn Bigelow, Stanley Kubrick, Antione Fuqua, Don Hertzfeldt, Adam McKay, and Tom Hooper.  Follow him on Twitter: @BenMagicAwesome.

On the Censorship of Film

George Bernard ShawAuthors have long condemned most (often all) forms of censorship. Susan Sontag wrote, “I am against censorship. In all forms.” Salman Rushdie stated that the “creative act requires not only freedom but also this assumption of freedom. If the creative artist worries if he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today.” And playwright George Bernard Shaw discussed the relationship between censorship and stagnation:

“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

But what of filmmakers? Since there have been movies, there has been censorship of film. John Waters’s 1972 Pink Flamingos was banned in several small towns in the US, and the 1932 film Scarface (presented by Howard Hughes, not Brian De Palma) was banned in a John Watersfew areas in the United States for violence. And in some other countries, the battle against censorship rages more intensely. Chinese director Xie Fei said that China’s system of censorship “has only become a corrupt black spot for controlling the prosperity of the cultural and entertainment industry, killing artistic exploration and wasting administrative resources.”

While film-banning and overbearing governments are relatively easy to notice, though, there are more covert forms of film censorship. Consider the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system in the United States. The MPAA’s rating scheme has its benefits, such as identifying which films are appropriate for young children, but the rating system can be a form of censorship. When paired with corporations that will only finance films that can make a profit, an NC-17, R, or even a PG-13 rating can mean the death of an original cut of a feature film (or, at the very least, significantly narrower distribution of the movie). For example, the MPAA initially gave Bully, a socially relevant documentary about the bullying crisis in schools, an R rating. Because of this, younger audiences (to whom the Bullyfilm was most relevant) found it difficult to see the movie. The MPAA then released it as “unrated,” which was hardly a step up (though AMC agreed to show the movie to kids with permission from parents). Finally, after great pressure from celebrities and community leaders, the MPAA lessened the rating to P-13. Still, this shows the impact that ratings can have on distribution.

Even if films weren’t banned, and even if the MPAA (and corporations) lessened their grip on distribution potential, could a film still be censored? Yes. Airplanes and FX. I watched Limitless on an international flight, and the airline deleted a mild love scene. Years later, I attempted to watch Armageddon on FX. It was hard to concentrate amid the barrage of poorly dubbed censor-edits. Since then, I’ve tried to endure similar butchering of The DepartedThe DepartedRentPineapple Express, Mr. Deeds, and Scarface on FX and other networks. Of course, you may be thinking, “Well, Big B, just watch Showtime, STARZ, or HBO if you hate censorship so much.” But my counter-proposal is this: FX and other networks shouldn’t show those movies if they’re going to ignore artistic integrity. There are plenty of PG and PG-13 films with less questionable content—show those. If, as a network, they believe that their audience is mature enough to handle the plot of Pineapple Express, they should assume that their audience is mature enough to handle some strong language.

If I watch a movie on an airplane and entire scenes have been edited out, can I really say that I have seen the movie? If, for whatever reason, I try to watch The Departed on FX in the afternoon, can I really say that I have seen the film that Martin Scorsese created? It’s probably best that we filter what we offer to children, but we needn’t censor so aggressively.

The Favorite Movie Phenomenon: How Much Should Movies Impact Real Life?

How much should movies impact real life? To explain my answer, I have to share my thought process. Bear with me.

About six months ago, I entered the world of online dating. I was lonely and convinced myself that online dating was a step in the right direction. My logic was this: Most people my age meet their boos at bars, but bars are my social kryptonite. Something about the volume sucks the confidence out of me, killing all suaveness. Besides, my ideal meet-cute doesn’t involve vague vomit smells. Coffee shops and bookstores would be perfect for my brand of small talk, but woman aren’t expecting to be hit on while they’re sipping a vanilla latte and thumbing through the latest James Patterson. At least I don’t think so. Either way, I don’t know how to approach someone whose eyes are pinned to a book. It requires interrupting, and it’s awkward.

So I gave online dating a try. Aside from the weirdos, the creeps, and the Photoshopped fabricators, it’s a pleasant environment, like window shopping for companionship. What startled me, however, was the value I placed on my matches’ favorite movies. I found myself naturally drawn to those who listed Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, or John Hughes, and I quickly blocked anyone who wrote “all Nicholas Sparks movies.” But was I being too judgmental? How much do movie preferences tell us about a person? How much should movies impact real life?

I’ve bounced back and forth like a pong ball between the idea that movies mirror real life—think Brian Cox’s “Nothing happens in the world?” speech from Adaptation—and the idea that film and TV are more like Huxley’s soma or the escapism noted in Scrubssitcom episode. On one hand, society should hope that movies impact real life; otherwise, documentaries and films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest would serve no purpose. On the other hand, I’d hate to live in a town that used Michael Cera as its moral compass.

Some enjoy framing this conversation as a chicken-and-egg scenario—do movies mirror life, or does life mirror movies?—but that’s ridiculous. It’s both. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and any nut with a brain and a remote should be able to give examples of each. The question is about the extent to which movies (should) impact our daily lives.

My perspectives are as clouded as any, clouded by my love of Aaron Sorkin and the fact that, perhaps unfairly, I am irked by social conservatives who love Glee and Rent, but I believe that the entertainment industry can do more than entertain. As Good Night, and Good Luck teaches us, televisions and movie screens can and should do more than reinforce escapism.

But if we fully embrace the messages of all films, comedies would be less funny, and horror would be more terrifying—no one would babysit alone ever again.

So there is a middle ground. But the existence of a middle ground shouldn’t be an excuse for moviegoing mediocrity. We should allow ourselves to take lessons from movies, relying on our discretion to guide us. In the same way, it does matter which movies are listed on an OkCupid profile—ideas matter. But people are multifaceted, and a love of The Blind Side doesn’t diminish your time in the Peace Corps.

~Big B