By David Kozlowski | 4 August 2017
Welcome to Issue #7 of The LRM WEEKEND, a weekly column offering strong opinions about film, TV, comics, Star Wars, Marvel, DC, animation, and anime. We also want to hear from you, our awesome LRM community! Share your feedback or ideas for future columns: @LRM_Weekend and we'll post your Tweets below!
PREVIOUS ISSUES: 7.28.17 | 7.21.17 | 7.14.17 | 7.7.17 | 6.30.17 | 6.23.17
Hey LRM Weekenders, you might notice a few changes to the column this week. As summer draws to a close we're moving some stuff around and tweaking our content to be a little more opinionated and provocative.
Each of our LRM writers have super-strong opinions about film, TV, comics, and all of the big franchises and universes. So, going forward LRM Weekend is going to amp-up our voices a bit more -- and we invite our readers to punch back whenever and wherever you disagree!
AUDIENCES ARE TIRED OF SPECTACLE AND HOLLYWOOD DOESN'T CARE...
The major studios are giving up on small and indie films to go all-in on big-budget blockbusters, franchises, and universes -- despite audience fatigue being at all-time highs. The big studios are now merely puzzle pieces within giant, international conglomerates that are more interested in selling action figures than making quality films. Seems a bit harsh, right? I'll wager that your local movie is showing maybe two small/indie films (likely on its smallest screens), while the rest of the Cineplex is almost certainly jammed full of big-budget blockbusters that hog the best screens and limit the potential for anything else. Given the cost of filmmaking today, it's a no-win scenario for small and indie projects.
The major problem is that blockbuster films are all telling essentially the same story (or simply re-heating the same plot elements with different characters and franchises). A common complaint I hear is that today's blockbusters all adhere to the same formula: CGI spectacle + dumbed-down plot + big battle climax = huge international box office. Pick any major film this year and the pattern is clear: Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't a whole helluva lot different than Wonder Woman, Logan, The Fate of the Furious, Kong: Skull Island in terms of major plot beats, emphasis on special effects, and third-act mayhem. Even our animated films follow their own rote patterns, but kids are more forgiving.
It seems like big studio films are getting dumber, too. You might also notice that movies today either have either less dialog, simplified dialog, or use a bunch of gibberish or techno-babble. Why? Because Hollywood makes most of its money overseas where voices are dubbed (for example: Despicable Me 3 is a huge hit with $235 million domestically, but it earned an additional $592 outside the U.S.). In any given superhero film, where CGI and stuntmen increasingly stand-in for principal actors, it makes little sense to pay Robert Downey Jr. tens of millions of dollars when a lesser-known performer can do the same job far cheaper, while their performance is dubbed later for each non-English region.
But here's the thing, audiences aren't stupid; In fact, they're staying away in droves. According to Box Office Mojo 2017 revenues are down 2.2% compared to the same time last year and only about 1.1% better than 2012. What's also evident is that when a movie fails, it fails big (The Mummy, King Arthur, and probably this weekend's The Dark Tower). Bear in mind that 3D was also responsible for a lot more revenue just a few years ago; according to THR in 2010 3D represented 21% of revenues, but last year it dropped to 14% -- studios are cutting back on 3D too, except for their biggest tentpole features.
The fact is, Hollywood has lost step with advances in consumer technology and with the shifting nature of entertainment consumption. To put it another way, a family of four could easily drop $100 on tickets, concessions, parking, and dinner when just $8-$10 a month plus a large pizza (w/ home delivery) gets you an entire night of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or HBO at a fraction of the same cost. Bottom line, people are going to the theaters a lot less today than even a few years ago, and that trend isn't going to reverse all by itself.
The good news is, even if Hollywood is betting its collective future on formulaic blockbusters, small and indie films have found a home on streaming services and premium cable. Netflix is pouring millions into offbeat and niche films starring top-shelf actors, like War Machine, Beasts of No Nation, and Bright. Hulu, Amazon, HBO, and Showtime are also keeping pace with their own major movie projects. Thanks to online retailers like Amazon, big screen TVs, stereo speakers, and videogame consoles are cheaper than ever, and are finally delivering a theater-like experience in-home (a promise we've been hearing since flying cars was a topic). So don't despair, if you're a fan of quality cinema then rest assured that it's finding a route to your living room. Unfortunately, it looks like our local movie theaters are stuck showing the same old CGI spectacles, at least until Hollywood wakes up and figures out new ways of telling old stories (hint: the old ways worked just fine).
One of our new changes this week is a focus on individual martial artists in film and TV. Each week we'll choose a familiar (or not so familiar) fighter and their base style. Our goal is to help fans understand a bit more about the differences between the various fighting styles shown in our favorite movies and shows, how they compare and contrast, and what makes them cool!
TONY JAA - MUAY THAI
FIGHT OF THE WEEK: Ong-Bak (2003)
BONUS: Tony Jaa Training Video
BONUS: What Is Muay Thai?
Who Is Tony Jaa?
Tatchakorn Yeerum was born February 5, 1976 in Thailand, but movie and fight fans know him internationally as Tony Jaa (in Thailand he's called: Jaa Phanom), is a martial artist, actor, action choreographer, stuntman, director, and Buddhist monk. His films include Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior (2003), Tom-Yum-Goong (also called Warrior King or The Protector) (2005), Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008), Furious 7 (2015), and SPL II (also called Kill Zone 2) (2015).
Jaa burst onto the screen with Ong-Bak, displaying incredible fighting and acrobatic skills reminiscent of early Jackie Chan. Jaa grew up idolizing Bruce Lee, Jet Li, and Chan. He told Time Magazine in 2004, "What they [Chan, Lee and Li] did was so beautiful, so heroic that I wanted to do it too. I practiced until I could do the move exactly as I had seen the masters do it."
Why Should We Care?
Tony Jaa represents the future of "pure" martial arts in film. Since Bruce Lee exhibited his eclectic and hybrid Jeet Kune Do system, Hollywood (and international) martial artists have sought to learn a little bit of everything, to be well-rounded fighters, which is great except that fights are all starting to look the same on-screen. Today's fight scenes are so tightly choreographed, and the fighters so well-trained in multiple disciplines, it's hard to pick out Kung Fu from Tae Kwon Do from Karate in film and TV. Tony Jaa is (primarily) a single art stylist, something that's welcome and much-needed as martial arts becomes more entrenched in our entertainment.
Jaa's base style is Muay Thai, which is a specific type of full-contact kickboxing that employs knee and elbow strikes -- contact often occurs via shin and clinch too -- along with other punches and kicks typical of most Asian martial arts. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, and its techniques are commonly seen in modern-day MMA sports. Most Americans were probably introduced to Muay Thai in Jean-Claude Van Damme's Kickboxer (1989), wherein JCVD learned the style to avenge his brother's paralysis at the hands of a master Muay Thai fighter.
Jaa's on-screen fighting, as seen above, is a bit stylized, but it's authentically depicted and just as brutal in reality as it appears on-screen. The power of knee and elbow strikes in this art is delivered with full-body force, and such blows can be devastating -- most matches in Thailand end in TKO. This is a "stand-up" fighting style that works well 1-on-1, but its techniques can be countered by grappling arts (like wrestling or judo) or fighters with multiple styles who can move the fight to the ground, or deliver attacks from unorthodox angles.
Each week in The Creators we'll showcase a legend or innovator from our favorite comics, movies, and shows via profiles, interviews, and documentaries that highlight these amazing individuals from any point in the last 100 years of pop culture.
LEGENDARY ACTOR: CHARLES BRONSON
INTERVIEW: Charles Bronson in the 70s
BONUS: DEATH WISH (1974) Original Movie Trailer
BONUS: Once Upon A Time In The West -- Opening Scene
Mr. Majestyk (1974) is a fantastic and unsung crime epic written by Elmore Leonard.
The Dirty Dozen (1967) is the all-time best action-war film from the 1960s.
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) is arguably the best Western ever made, and also marked the end of the Spaghetti Western
Who Is Charles Bronson?
Charles Bronson (born Charles Dennis Buchinsky; 1921–2003) was the most popular actor in the world during the 1970s, thanks to his many great character and leading roles in Westerns, war, action, and crime films from the 1950s through the 1990s. Bronson grew up poor, he worked the coal mines in Pennsylvania as a child, and later served as a B-29 tail gunner in WWII (he was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during combat). Bronson was also an accomplished artist, having attended art school on the G.I. Bill after the war.
Bronson starred in some of the most important films of the 60s and 70s, such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Mechanic, and the Death Wish series. Bronson was even considered for the Snake Plissken role in John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981). His characters are typically laconic men of few words, frequently the reluctant hero, the Old West gunfighter, or the vigilante.
Why Should We Care?
Charles Bronson is THE all-time film badass of action films; he dominated action, war, crime, and Westerns from the 60s to the 80s like no one else in Hollywood. I know, I know, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and Kurt Russell fans out there are ready to trade punches over this statement, but I'll put his films up against just about anyone else during the period, and we'll just see who's right. Make no mistake, by 1970-71 Bronson was acknowledged as the most popular actor in the world, so let's talk about it...
Between 1960 and 1980 Bronson appeared in an incredible 71 movies and TV shows, which included just about every major action, war, crime, or Western film and TV show of the era. He also starred alongside Hollywood greats like Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Lee Marvin, James Coburn, and Toshiro Mifune.
I'm a Charles Bronson film junkie, I grew up watching ALL of his films -- even the crazy European stuff -- where he was always typically cast as a working-class anti-hero... but regardless of the role, Bronson was consistently the toughest character in whatever film he appeared. Ironically, his most notable role, as the victimized architect Paul Kersey in Michael Winner's Death Wish (1974), showed Bronson as vulnerable, scared, and even horrified by the violence he delivered. Though few would call Bronson a great actor (I wouldn't), what he lacked in artistic range he more than made up for with presence and attitude. His work in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West is a masterwork in use of eyes and silence; he was described by one reviewer as "a coiled-spring."
Bronson also made a serious name for himself in European films. In 1968, he starred as the vengeance-seeking gunfighter Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West. Leone once called him, "the greatest actor I ever worked with." Leone also wanted to cast Bronson for the lead in 1964's A Fistful of Dollars, but Bronson turned him down (citing a pathetically bad script). In 1970, Bronson starred in the French film Rider on the Rain, which won a Hollywood Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 1971 Bronson was at the peak of his popularity, he won a special Golden Globe Henrietta Award for "World Film Favorite - Male" together with Sean Connery.
Bronson passed away in 2003, but his incredible legacy of action films lives on through recent remakes of classic Bronson films like The Magnificent Seven, The Mechanic, and Death Wish.
We all grew up watching all kinds of movies and TV shows from the 60s-90s that turned us into the fanboys and fangirls that we are today! Whether it's Ultraman, Jackie Chan, Voltron, Akira Kurosawa, or Knight Rider (you know who you are!), we tend to associate types of genre (Action, Comedy, War, Crime, Western, Sci-Fi, Horror) or sub-genres with particular decades (80s Action, 50s Westerns, 60s War). Each week we'll profile and analyze a specific genre and decade, while asking what these films or shows said about that particular time in pop culture.
CRIME FILMS OF THE 70s
Rogue Cops: DIRTY HARRY (1971)
Organized Crime: THE GODFATHER I AND II (1972/1974)
Unhinged Killers: TAXI DRIVER (1976)
What Is The 70s Crime Genre?
The 1970s were a period of transition in America, an awkward bridge between the liberal 60s and the conservative 80s. It was a period where many people truly lost faith in the nation's institutions, and there were growing concerns about violent crime in our urban cities. This period also gave rise to great filmmakers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese, Michael Cimino, Brian De Palma, and others who created the American auteur movement. These maverick filmmakers created personal and often controversial films that reflected the troubled times or were cleverly-masked allegories about modern times.
Crime films were the stock and trade of these auteurs, who brought us classic mob, cop, vigilante films like The Godfather, Serpico, and Death Wish -- movies that are still revered today, and have since been remade or copied dozens of times over. These films reflected America's deep-seated fears about drugs, crime, and corruption, as well as the government's inability to solve these problems. Audiences escaped into these dark, anti-crime fantasies where its generally one man against the world, or a cop bucking the system to stop a serial killer, or a grinning lunatic taking advantage of the chaos.
Why Should We Care?
I was raised in Detroit during the 70s and 80s, which were rough, rough times in many urban centers (and not just in America). Families who could afford to move out of the big cities flocked to the suburbs, and it was a commonly-held fear that the crime and desperation they left behind, in places like New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit, would spread to their new surroundings. Films like Dirty Harry and Serpico expressed our deep cynicism of the local, state, and federal systems, wherein the only way to solve problems was to take the law into your own hands, usually with a gun. Violence in these films was extreme for the time -- the extended murder of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather was considered outrageous at the time, but it's tame compared to today's shocking murder and mayhem in film.
Today's crime films are but a shadow of the great 70s era genre works. More recent crime films, like Michael Mann's Heat or Scorsese's The Departed, are often more interested in conveying a visual style, rather than commenting on social issues. However, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, or premium cable HBO and Showtime have picked up the baton and are serializing 70s crime films through shows like Narcos, Ozark, and Boardwalk Empire.
It's the weekend, which means it's finally time to catch-up on all the stuff we've bookmarked on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Vimeo, Twitch... you get the idea. The LRM community has millions of hours of stuff on our collective DVRs. We want to hear from you; tell us the shows, movies, etc. you've recently finished, or have queued-up!
What Is It?
LRM fanboy, Cam Clark, recommends Ozark, starring Jason Bateman (Arrested Development). Season 1, which consists of 10 episodes is available on Netflix right now. .
Why Should We Care?
I hadn't heard anything about this show and tried the first episode and was hooked. This show reminds me of Breaking Bad in many ways and surprisingly matched the quality of that landmark show. It's about a man whose life begins to unravel after the drug dealers he launders money for catch his partner stealing money.
Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is a genius in money laundering, but can he really launder millions of dirty money in the Ozark Mountains for a drug cartel? If he doesn't, then the cartel will not only kill Marty but his wife and two children with him. Marty has to use all his skills and think fast because everyone is out to get him, from local drug kingpins to an obsessed FBI agent.
Bateman in the lead role is fantastic as are all the supporting cast. I can't wait for a season 2, but as season 1 was only released this July, no renewal decision has yet been made.
CRIMSON TIDE (1995)
What Is It?
This week LRM fanboy Moby85 reaches to an early Denzel Washington/Gene Hackman classic, Crimson Tide. A U.S. nuclear missile sub, a young First Officer stages a mutiny, to prevent his trigger happy Captain from launching his missiles, before confirming his orders to do so.
Why Should We Care?
I'm also being pulled towards my copy of Crimson Tide. The movie is about a struggle over whether or not to fire a nuclear strike after a communication's line is cut on a submarine, facing a standoff with a rogue Russian agent who had taken over an old Soviet military base with nukes in it. Powerhouse performance by Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington at his most calm and collected. It's an interesting topic to consider when North Korea tested another ICBM today and tensions with Russia run high as always.
What Is It?
LRM fanboy Joseph Jammer Medina has completely lost himself in the Netflix original series GLOW. The show currently has 10 episodes and is all available on the streaming service right now.
Why Should We Care?
I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of wrestling. There were a couple years when I was a kid that I really latched onto it, but it wasn’t long. From an objective perspective, however, I understood its appeal -- the over-the-top characters and the soap operatic storytelling. It’s fun to watch when you get into it, and GLOW -- which follows the making of a female wrestling TV show -- it captures it perfectly.
However, even if you’re not a fan of wrestling, and probably can’t understand its appeal, I’d also bet that you’d enjoy this. When all said and done, it’s structured like a sports anime. Yeah, I know, that’s a weird pull, but it’s true. It starts off at a very base level of understand for the audience, and acclimates them at a reasonable pace. By the time X thing happens, you know why you should care, and why it’s a big deal.
More than anything though, the characters are amazing. They’re flawed, they’re quirky, they’re crass, they’re lovable -- they’re everything they need to be to make for an engaging TV show.
What do you think about this week's selection of LRM Weekend stories? Give us suggestions for future columns in the comments down below!