by Julian Spivey
“Hamilton” made its non-theater premiere on Disney+ on Friday, July 3, but it’s been four years since the original Broadway cast of the Tony-winning musical say goodbye to the show. We’re going to take a look at what the stars of the show have been up to since taking their final “Hamilton” bow … and to be honest it doesn’t quite seem as if most of them have had the post-‘Hamilton’ opportunities actors who’ve been in something this pop culturally significant should’ve had.
Played: Alexander Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda is the genius behind “Hamilton” as the show’s creator, composer, lyricist and star of the title role. Since his final bow as Alexander Hamilton, Miranda has unsurprisingly had the biggest post-‘Hamilton’ career of anybody in the cast. Shortly after he finished with “Hamilton” he wrote songs for Disney’s “Moana,” including the Academy Award and Golden Globe nominated Best Original Song “How Far I’ll Go.” In 2018, Miranda had a supporting role as Jack in the Disney film “Mary Poppins Returns,” alongside Emily Blunt. Miranda was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the film. He also took up the Alexander Hamilton garb one more time for a charity performance in his home country of Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. This summer Miranda was supposed to have a supporting role in the film adaptation of “In the Heights,” which he co-created with Quiara Alegria Hudes and had his initial Broadway breakthrough with in 2008. The film has been pushed back to next summer.
Leslie Odom Jr.
Played: Aaron Burr
Leslie Odom Jr. won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” and actually beat out Lin-Manuel Miranda in that category. Many believed Odom to be the true powerhouse of the musical. His career post-‘Hamilton’ has been a bit more focused on music than acting with Odom Jr. having released two albums: 2016’s Christmas release Simply Christmas, which was re-released in 2017, and last year’s Mr. On the acting side of things, he has had supporting roles as Dr. Arbuthnot in Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” and as abolitionist William Still in last year’s “Harriet.”
Played: Eliza Hamilton
Of all of the cast of “Hamilton” it’s Phillipa Soo who has stuck the most to Broadway performances post-‘Hamilton.’ In fact, it was very long at all after taking her final bow as Hamilton’s wife Eliza that she jumped into the lead role in “Amelie,” which officially opened on April 3, 2017 and was done by the end of May of that year. Most recently she appeared alongside Uma Thurman in the Broadway play “The Parisian Woman,” which ran from November 30, 2017 until March of 2018. She also had a role in the 2019 CBS military drama “The Code,” which only ran one season.
Played: Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson
Multiple actors in “Hamilton” had dual (or should I say 'duel' - fine I won't do it again) roles, but none with as much stage time and gravitas as Daveed Diggs who absolutely owned the stage as both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. He won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for the dual role. Shortly after his “Hamilton” run he had a 10-episode supporting performance in ABC’s terrific sitcom “Black-ish,” as Johan, the younger brother of Tracee Ellis Ross’s Rainbow Johnson. He had supporting roles in the 2017 film “Wonder” and the 2019 film “Velvet Buzzsaw,” and got some independent film acclaim in 2018’s “Blindspotting,” which he not only starred in but also produced and co-wrote (with Rafael Casal, who co-starred with him). Diggs is currently starring in the TNT drama series “Snowpierecer,” which is based off the 2013 Bong Joon-ho film of the same name, alongside Jennifer Connelly.
Played: George Washington
Christopher Jackson, who commanded the stage as George Washington in “Hamilton,” has perhaps had the most job security of any working actor in the stage musical since it ended as he’s had a supporting role on the CBS legal drama “Bull” for four seasons now and the series has been picked up for a fifth. Jackson plays Chunk Palmer, a former college football star turned fashion stylist who is becoming a lawyer. In addition to his role on “Bull,” he also supplied the singing voice for the character Chief Tui in Disney’s “Moana,” singing songs written by his “Hamilton” co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Renee Elise Goldsberry
Played: Angelica Schuyler
Renee Elise Goldsberry’s performance as Angelica Schuyler won her a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. The veteran actress has been seen in multiple episode supporting roles as of late on great TV series like CBS’ “Evil” and NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” and can be seen on Netflix’s “Altered Carbon.” She’s also had roles in Eli Roth’s 2018 film “The House with a Clock in its Walls” and Trey Edward Shults’ 2019 film “Waves.” She’s perhaps best known since her “Hamilton” days though for the hilarious performance as a Broadway star, not so far from real life, in a “Documentary Now” episode titled “Original Cast Album: Co-Op,” which is a wonderful parody of D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary “Original Cast Album: Company.”
Played: King George III
Jonathan Groff essentially was the comedic relief in “Hamilton” playing King George III in a manner of someone who’s breaking up with a loved one but believes indignantly they’ll return. Since Groff relinquished his throne as King George III he has starred in the critically-acclaimed Netflix psychological crime drama “Mindhunter” for two seasons, the first premiering in 2017 and the second in 2019. Groff has reprised his voice role as Kristoff in Disney’s “Frozen II,” which was released in November of last year.
Played: John Laurens and Philip Hamilton
Anthony Ramos played the tragic dual roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in “Hamilton.” Since then he’s gotten engaged to his “Hamilton” co-star Jasmine Cephas Jones, who played Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds. Ramos played the character of Mars Blackmon in Netflix’s “She’s Gotta Have It,” based on the 1986 Spike Lee film of the same name, for two seasons. He’s also performed in regional performances of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” in the lead role of Usnavi de la Vega. Ramos reprised the role for the film version, directed by Jon M. Chu, that was supposed to premiere in June but has been delayed to June of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Played: Hercules Mulligan and James Madison
Okieriete Onaodowan played the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in “Hamilton” and since taking his final bow has shared his time between the stage and the small screen. Onaodowan played the male lead of Pierre Bezukhov in the final month of Broadway’s “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” in 2017. Since March of 2018 Onaodowan has been part of the cast of ABC’s drama “Station 19,” a spin-off of the popular “Grey’s Anatomy,” which follows the men and women of Seattle’s Fire Station 19. The show has aired three seasons thus far and has been renewed for a fourth.
Jasmine Cephas Jones
Played: Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds
As mentioned previously, Jasmine Cephas Jones has gotten engaged to her “Hamilton” co-star Anthony Ramos. The two got engaged in late 2018 and have been together since 2015 when they were both in the Broadway musical. Jones has had supporting roles in a handful of films since her days on “Hamilton,” most notable with “Hamilton” co-star Daveed Diggs in 2018’s “Blindspotting” and in “The Photograph,” which came out earlier this year. On the stage she played the role of Roxanne in an Off-Broadway performance of “Cyrano” in 2019. In March of this year she released the EP Blue Bird.
by Aprille Hanson
Director: Thomas Kail
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. & Phillipa Soo
Runtime: 2 hours & 40 minutes
On July 3, America got a reprieve from the stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. His iconic musical “Hamilton,” featuring the original theatrical cast from a 2016 performance premiered on Disney+. It has been five years since the play originally premiered at the Public Theater, Off-Broadway.
It’s safe to say most in the United States hadn’t seen “Hamilton,” specifically featuring the original cast and if the world were normal, it’s likely it would have premiered in movie theaters across the country.
But instead, we all were swept up in the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton from the comfort of our living rooms and the timing actually couldn’t have been better.
I’m happy to say I didn’t listen to most of the “Hamilton” soundtrack before watching the recorded stage performance. Of course I know the main hits by heart -- “Alexander Hamilton,” “My Shot,” “The Schuyler Sisters” -- but I was grateful to see this masterpiece play out with the actors, rather than just playing out the scenes in my own mind. Because of this, I did not realize the play had very little spoken dialogue, with the 2 hour, 40 minute run completely in song. It’s what makes this musical even more awe-inspiring, told entirely through hip hop and pop style songs with people of color playing most of the historic characters.
The musical details Hamilton's life in two acts, along with how various historical characters influenced his life such as Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), John Laurens (Anthony Ramos), Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan) and most prominently Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) who will eventually cause his death. Hamilton quickly builds a name for himself through his passion for a revolution, becoming the right hand man for George Washington (Chris Jackson) and the eventual United States fights for independence from Britain. Amid all this, we see Hamilton’s personal life unfold when he meets the Schuyler sisters, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and his quick marriage to Eliza. In the second act, America has gained its independence and now the work of building a new country begins and intertwined with Hamilton’s work leading the Treasury Department, writing the majority of The Federalist Papers and serving in the first presidential cabinet, viewers see the heartbreak from both the death of his son from a duel and the strain an affair put on his marriage and public image.
Miranda did what may seem impossible in the hands of someone else -- he brought history alive in a way that’s relatable and fun, but rooted in the spirit of how this country was founded. Yes, there’s a cabinet debate between Thomas Jefferson (also played by Diggs) and Hamilton, but it’s done in a rap-battle style. Yes, there’s a scene where Washington reveals his desire to step down as president, but with Jackson delivering a superb vocal performance that makes you feel the emotions of what that actually meant for the newly formed country. Yes, King George (Jonathan Groff) makes his predictions and speeches, but instead of a boring leader, he’s a total caricature and hilarious. The talents of Goldsberry, who blew viewers away on “Satisfied” and Soo, who broke everyone’s hearts on “Burn,” as leading ladies are pure magic. The themes of his own death haunting him, writing like he’s running out of time and never throwing away his shot is really the story of every person who had to fight to earn something important.
Miranda weaved a story that America needed right now. It’s hard to really celebrate America with its systemic racism, unhinged leadership and a hardened society. But what “Hamilton” provides is a hope and understanding of why this country was founded -- freedom for all people. It’s about an immigrant who helped build a country that still exists today. And this spirit of America came alive in “Hamilton” and it’s worth celebrating.
by Julian Spivey
Hamilton – Disney+ - July 3
The moment that many of us who aren’t wealthy enough to have had the luxury of seeing “Hamilton” with the original cast on Broadway a few years back has come with the filmed version of that original show premiering on Disney+ on Friday, July 3. “Hamilton” took pop culture by storm in 2015 and 2016 and now half a decade later you can expect for it to do so yet again with so many more of us finally having the time to see it from start-to-finish. I would be willing to bet the “Hamilton” premiere will lead to the highest number of new Disney+ subscribers since the service debuted last year; I know my family will be joining for the first time.
Palm Springs – Hulu – July 10
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing movie theaters to shut down all across the country many films have taken to premiering on streaming services instead of going the traditional theater route and one of those films is “Palm Springs,” a romantic-comedy directed by Max Barbakow, premiering on Hulu on Friday, July 10. The film, that has been compared to the classic “Groundhog Day,” follows characters played by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti who are wedding guests who develop a relationship as they’re trapped in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again.
Harriet – HBO Max – July 18
“Harriet,” a biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, that debuted last fall and went on to garner Academy Award nominations for Cynthia Erivo for Best Actress for her title performance and also for Best Original Song for “Stand Up,” which was written by Erivo herself with Joshuah Brian Campbell. If there was one major critique of “Harriet” it’s that it was a by-the-numbers biopic that didn’t take too many chances, but it seems like an important watch right about now with racial strife still a major topic within out country. The film makes its streaming debut on HBO Max on Saturday, July 18 and wasn’t Harriet Tubman supposed to be on the $20 by now … let’s get back on that!
Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist – July 24
Jim Gaffigan is one of the hardest-working and most prolific stand-up comedians of our time and seems to have a stand-up special out on one of the streaming services every year or so, and every time it’s among the funniest you’ll ever see. His latest “The Pale Tourist” premieres on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, July 24 is a two-part (divided over two hour-long episodes) special that followed Gaffigan on his most recent world tour where he traveled the world meeting new people and most importantly trying new foods.
by Philip Price
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal & Janina Gavankar
Runtime: 1 hour & 48 minutes
What’s striking about “The Way Back” is the expectations versus reality aspect of the film. When set-up for a sports drama where it’s almost a certainty that the sports will serve as a backdrop for the redemptive character piece there are a few things one expects from the screenplay; chief among them being the redemption of our hero. This isn’t to give anything away about “The Way Back” necessarily, but it is to caution the casual viewer that if you’re going into the latest Ben Affleck-led drama with certain, archetypal expectations you maybe shouldn’t expect all the warm feelings typically associated with said genre. This isn’t even to say that what those dramas deliver isn’t good or entertaining as I can appreciate more standard fare like “The Accountant” well enough, but I do so with more enthusiasm when I know Affleck is going to balance it with something like “Gone Girl.” This isn’t an evaluation of Affleck’s career choices though, and while the parallels between Affleck’s character in “The Way Back” and his real life are impossible to ignore it would seem these potential similarities in a state of mind if not necessarily lifestyle served not only to inform his acting choices, but function as something of a catharsis.
In director Gavin O’Connor’s (“Warrior”) film Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a man who is openly suffering if not in the most “woe is me” fashion, but certainly in the most trainwreck-like of ways that would give way to anyone recognizing the signs of depression, grief and an overwhelming amount of regret. And yes, Affleck is great in it. Sure, “The Way Back” gets points for being a compelling story about a guy who has essentially lost it all and finds some purpose in a ragtag bunch of basketball players at his alma mater while including an adequate number of sports sequences and additional character arcs in some of the key players both Jack and the audience become invested in, but this is Jack’s story. It is in Brad Ingelsby’s (“Out of the Furnace”) screenplay and O’Connor’s direction that we gauge Jack’s journey is not one of complete redemption nor is it one where he reaches a point where he gets to wipe the slate clean and start anew; he doesn’t really want to “start anew”.
“The Way Back” doesn’t tie as nice a bow on this story as most might hope it would, but instead presents the unwelcome truth that we can’t recover from some things in life. We’re reminded again and again that we need to cherish the time we have rather than focus on how long something will or won’t last, but the presence of something life-changing, no matter how grateful we are for the time given, is something that-when lost-is the type of change that can’t simply be healed by time and variation. Some pain never goes away, some pain one simply has to learn to live with and so, “The Way Back” is Jack discovering how he’s going to live with this indelible pain and how he’s both going to and not going to cope with it. This allows for “The Way Back” to be a story of adaptation more than it is transition and one that is an equally insightful and impactful dissection of this moment in time exactly because it restrains itself from tying a nice bow on Affleck’s difficult, but admirable performance.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae & Paul Sparks
Runtime: 1 hour & 27 minutes
“The Lovebirds,” a new romantic-comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae, is a fun and breezy way to spend an evening at home while perusing through your Netflix library.
The film, directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in 2017’s “The Big Sick”) and written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, was original supposed to receive a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures on April 3, but was one of the first Hollywood releases to be shelved due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing theaters and instead found a home on Netflix, where it premiered on May 22.
The movie follows a couple Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Rae), who have been together for four years but are fighting a lot as the film begins as the two are getting ready for a party. Despite the fact that the fight is comical to us viewers as they are arguing over whether or not they’d succeed on the reality-travel series “The Amazing Race,” which shows up in a funny scene at the film’s end, it’s proof that these two will literally bicker over anything and everything.
On the way to the party the two, who have just broken up on the ride over, accidentally hit a cyclist. The injured cyclist refuses their help and rides off and the two almost immediately have their car commandeered by a mustachioed man (Paul Sparks) who claims to be an undercover cop and is after the cyclist. After an exciting car chase through New Orleans the undercover cop drives the car into the cyclist and then backs over him and drives over him again killing him. The man is about to murder Jibran and Leilani when police sirens appear and he runs off. Jibran and Leilani fearing the police will think they’ve killed the cyclist run away themselves and begin a long night of many trials and tribulations that result in many laughs along the way.
Despite the fact that their characters are breaking up at the beginning of the film, Nanjiani and Rae have a terrific chemistry and it’s obvious these two characters still care about each other, even if they spend much of their time together bickering. It’s an absolute blast taking this ride with them and truly a testament to how good these two are together in that essentially the entire 87-minute runtime of the film is just the two of them (I don’t believe there was a single moment they weren’t on the screen the entire film).
“The Lovebirds” isn’t the type of movie that’s going to win any awards, it’s not going to go down as an all-time great comedy and may not even be the kind of movie you feel like watching multiple times. But it makes for a funny viewing and definitely the kind of romantic-comedy you could cuddle up on the couch or in bed with your significant other and forget about the real world for an hour and a half.
by Julian Spivey
HBO Max – Now
On May 27 HBO Max debuted with a large library of movies and television shows (including HBO’s entire library) and a better classic film library than all of the other streaming services combined. When the streamer debuted a few days ago we published THIS preview giving viewers an idea of all it has to offer.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Hulu – Now
One of my favorite films of 2019 was Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a fictionalized version of journalist Tom Junod’s 1998 profile of Mister Rogers for Esquire. Tom Hanks received an Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Fred Rogers that is just a complete joy to watch. Matthew Rhys’ lead performance as journalist Lloyd Vogel, who’s struggling in his career and as a new father with father issues of his own, is also very strong. If you’re looking for something heartwarming right now, this is it.
Hannibal – Netflix – June 5
One of the most underrated and greatest network television series of the last decade was Bryan Fuller’s version of “Hannibal” that aired for three seasons on NBC from 2013-2015. This version of “Hannibal” is a prequel to “Silence of the Lambs” and features Hannibal Lecter (an amazing Mads Mikkelsen) as a forensic psychiatrist and part-time cannibalistic serial killer who helps FBI profiler Will Graham (an equally amazing Hugh Dancy) solve crimes of psychopathic murderers. I felt the first two seasons of the series were quite a bit better than its final season, which wasn’t really intended to be its final but did get a decently wrapped up ending), but definitely recommend this little seen when it was on television drama now that it’s available on Netflix.
Knives Out – Amazon Prime – June 12
Another of my favorite movie releases of 2019 was the superb whodunnit “Knives Out” from writer-director Rian Johnson. “Knives Out” put a nice new spin on the whodunnit mystery genre after the patriarch of a snobbish family mysteriously dies and a master detective is brought in to solve the case. Daniel Craig plays the master detective Benoit Blanc, a Southern gentleman, and he should’ve received an Oscar nomination for his wonderful performance. Craig may be best known for James Bond (and with good reason – he might be the best Bond ever), but my two favorite performances from his are as unique Southerners in this and as the aptly named explosives expert Joe Bang in Steven Soderbergh’s excellent 2017 film “Logan Lucky” (also on Amazon Prime and also recommended). The supporting cast of “Knives Out” is incredibly strong, especially Ana de Armas as the family patriarch’s nurse and confidant.
Da 5 Bloods – Netflix – June 12
It feels like this country could really use a new Spike Lee joint right about now … lucky for us there’s one coming out next week. Lee has bypassed the American cinema to bring his newest film “Da 5 Bloods” to Netflix. The film premieres Friday, June 12 and sees four African-American Vietnam veterans (played by Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis and Clark Peters) return to Vietnam decades later in search of the remains of their fallen leader (played by Chadwick Boseman) and the promise of buried treasure. The trailer was released last month and this one looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
by Preston Tolliver
It’s hard to find an action series with a winning record. They have a way of coming out guns blazing only to shoot blanks at the end; in other words, sequels have a way of running a perfect action film into the ground.
Take “Rambo” for instance. The story of an embattled, grizzly war vet living with PTSD in an America that had no place for him made for captivating cinema. The sequels that transformed John Rambo into a jacked up killing machine were a hard left turn from what the original set out to do, which was bring awareness to the psychological effects of war and the need to care for those who experience the horrors we pretend don’t exist. Instead, ‘Rambos 2-80’ glorified the war that the original took such a hard stand against.
The point is ... you can’t judge an action series by the pretty face in the front. Think “Die Hard” is the greatest action movie ever? That’s fine - but ‘Die Hard 2,’ ‘4’ and ‘5’ were garbage (‘3’ is sneakily the best movie in the series). “Predator” is an all-time classic (and a personal favorite), but it’s the only really solid movie of the entire franchise. And if you think “Star Wars” is the best series (as it was in The Word’s recent Greatest Action Series Tournament), well, meesa thinks you should think again (the argument could definitely be made that it’s the best science fiction series; however, if we’re going for win percentage of movies, the “Alien” franchise is a close second).
Shot, meet chaser.
Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ series is certainly a contender, despite a couple of stinkers, especially with the resurgence of the series in recent years with Michael B. Jordan stepping in as Apollo Creed’s boxer son to carry on his father’s and his honorary uncles’ legacies. “Lethal Weapon” is oddly really solid (even if you throw in the spoof “Lethal Weapon 5” on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”).
But none of those are deserving of the title of the best action series. To be named such, a series should be near-perfect, from end to end (or end so far - action series have a way of never really ending; just ask Rambo). And while there’s still time for them to screw it up, there’s currently only one series that, three movies in (the minimum to be considered a series), is absolutely perfect.
And that’s the Baba Yaga: “John Wick.”
Here’s a few of the things the “John Wick” series has:
“John Wick,” the one where we meet John Wick and the Continental, is perfect. “John Wick 2,” the one where he kills some guys with a pencil, is perfect. “John Wick 3,” the one where he fights alongside horses and dogs and Halle Berry, is perfect.
“John Wick,” the series, is perfect. There’s nothing better.
by Philip Price
Director: Dave Wilson
Starring: Vin Diesel, Guy Pearce & Eiza Gonzalez
Runtime: 1 hour & 49 minutes
In this comic book take on “Groundhog Day” Vin Diesel plays a slain soldier with superpowers who is re-animated time and time again to carry out the nefarious deeds of one, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce).
Going into “Bloodshot” I understood that there was an audience out there for both the film and this character that I simply wasn't a part of. Director Dave Wilson is a storied visual effects guy who makes his feature debut with this film based on a Valiant Comic series that began in 1992 and - from what I can tell - is the small comic book house's most popular character. Again, it's not hard for me to understand why this might be the case given the character's story is largely that of Steve Rogers combined with the aforementioned reliable trope that is throwing your protagonist into a time loop and forcing them to learn a mandatory lesson in order to set things right, but just because I understand it doesn't mean I get it.
This little chestnut of a plot device could easily come off as little more than cliché, but given we've seen it used as recently and to great effect in movies like “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Happy Death Day” there was a sliver of hope that at least one of the film's two major components might be executed effectively. Unfortunately for Sony and Diesel (not to mention Wilson), there will be no “2 Blood 2 Shot” as this thing was doomed even before it delayed its release to the weekend before the world shut down. This is to say that “Bloodshot” utilizes neither the appeal of its titular character nor does it do anything fresh or different with the time loop conceit despite having the hook that this time loop exists only because our villains repeatedly wipe a super hero's brain clean in order to use him to fulfill their own personal agendas. Wilson seemingly decided to try and replicate everything he's seen people do before rather than strike out on his own in any regard as his film doesn't so much seek to set itself apart from the pack as much as it does just try to fit in. It is in this quest for "generic-ness" that viewers might spot blatant rip-offs or "homages" to genre wizards like Sam Raimi and Michael Bay not to mention the fact that-like in his fellow super soldier's film - there is an action sequence that takes place on an elevator. Ironically enough, it's this elevator sequence that contains what feels like the only piece of inventive filmmaking on display. What's not ironic is the fact a movie that largely rests on a cyclical plot does in fact get old pretty quick.
by Kellan Miller
*originally published on WhatCulture!
With the vast improvements in technology over the years, filmmakers have a wealth of sources at their disposal to make movies entertaining. Seeking a large pay day, many directors rely on over-the-top CGI effects and computer design to draw butts into the seats of the local movie theater. Hot leading actress who at some point takes off her clothes? Check. Ridiculous car chase scene in the middle of a heavily populated metropolitan area? Check. Fierce trigger showdowns where the good guy comes out on top? Check. Adhere to the list above, and you've got yourself a movie. But it is the hallmark of a truly talented filmmaker who can take a mundane subject and transform it into a captivating film. Take “Thank You For Smoking” for instance. A film about political lobbying is not something most people think of when they are scrolling through Netflix pondering what movie to watch next, but the film is expertly done without all of the standard movie tropes directors have been using as a crutch for decades. What follows is a list of eight films that make really boring things look awesome.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Comas or Locked-In Syndrome)
Seriously, can you think of anything more boring than a coma? Just getting through a grueling workweek is often a practice in mental and physical fortitude, and you probably have had coma fantasies on more than one occasion. But in reality, comas are not fun, but “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” is an entrancing film. Adapted from the actual 1995 memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine. At only age 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke which left him paralyzed from the neck down. The only form of communication at his disposal were his eyelids, and in the film, a conscious protagonist struggles to learn an entire new form of communication via blinking. Julian Schnabel's film adds a stunning depth during flashback scenes where we see Bauby in his pre-locked-in-syndrome life. Sitting in his hospital bed, Bauby has time to reflect on all of the bad decisions he made in the past, and how little he cherished his esteemed life as the editor of a major fashion magazine. Bauby decides to take his newfound wisdom and put it to good use, employing his blinking-eye technique to pen a memoir with the help of publishing assistant.
Before Sunrise (First Dates)
Richard Linklater has a knack for transforming the mundane aspects of life into a captivating narrative. Think more along the lines of “Slacker,” not “A Scanner Darkly,” because as we all know there is nothing routine about waking up in an animated futuristic dystopia where an entire society is addicted to drugs. However, in “Before Sunrise,” Linklater takes the viewer on a seemingly simple journey of self-discovery. Two strangers meet each other, and after an endless conversation, eventually fall in love. Ladies and gents, we've all been here. First dates are often excruciating experiences, but in the first film of the critically acclaimed three-part series, Linklater provides a realistic portrait of two diverse individuals discussing basically every subject under the sun (no pun intended) to stunning effect. Although Quentin Tarantino is often viewed as the king of dialogue, Linklater is able to keep the viewer glued to the screen without much action at all. Yes, there are no sex scenes, or dramatic arguments in the rain, but the ride up until the final moment when the two decide that they are seriously attracted to one another is thoroughly entertaining. While your next first date might be the result of Match.com rather than a random exchange on a train in Vienna, remember that first dates don't always have to suck.
Little Miss Sunshine (Family Road Trips)
As long as I'm a non-parent, I'll never pretend to identify with the stress that goes along with raising a child, especially a hyperactive little girl who loves to constantly dance and dreams of being in a beauty pageant many miles from my home. I can only imagine that the stress load would improve if your other child is experiencing an awkward teenage phase of Nietzschean non-verbal communication. Additionally, I don't know a person alive who wouldn't want to spend a few hours with the Michael Scott version of Steve Carrell, but not the depressed intellectual version. Sometimes road trips can be fun, but even with a cool cat like Alan Arkin riding passenger, can you imagine being locked in a broken-down minivan with the personalities previously mentioned as you race across the country to California? It's actually an insult to the word "boredom" to call this a boring situation. Nevertheless, “Little Miss Sunshine” is a riot. Although all the characters are suffering through respective hardships, the family is able to achieve a state of harmony and bliss despite enduring an insane road-trip that would cause even the most stable human a Nietzschean nervous breakdown.
The Breakfast Club (Detention)
I'm sure you have many memories of weekend detention, and while you probably never had to write different phrases on a blackboard for over 20 years Bart Simpson style, detention evokes memories of sheer boredom for most people. Especially Saturday morning detention, when instead of sleeping in your comfortable bed you have to go to school during technically non-school hours. However, even Saturday morning detention doesn't seem so bad if it is spent with an 80's version of Molly Ringwald. Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, “The Breakfast Club” is the movie most synonymous with the brat pack because it is just plain awesome from start to finish. Although many films have attempted to mimic the seemingly simplistic nature of the film, none have come close to the brilliant portrait of adolescent angst and anxiety that treads through the entirety of “The Breakfast Club.” I admit, it would be kind of hilarious to see Seth Rogen and the frat pack act in a film where they talk about farts and what not for ninety minutes, but I doubt very seriously the film would be as awesome or poignant as “The Breakfast Club.”
Office Space (9 to 5 Jobs)
OK, OK, maybe this one's a little too obvious. Nonetheless, a list about films that boring things look awesome wouldn't be complete without “Office Space.” Mike Judge's hilarious comedy is a complete fantasy for about 90 percent of the American public. Many working-class Americans spend a great majority of time trapped in bumper-to-bumper traffic all en route to a job that they hate, and subsequently spend eight or nine hours trapped inside a stuffy cubicle. The grueling nature of the 9-5 is boredom on steroids, and in “Office Space,” Ron Livingston and a couple co-workers decide to seek revenge on their bosses. The movie is adored by mostly every person in America who didn't have the luck of inheriting Gates or Walton as their last name. Out of all the films in this list, “Office Space” is the most identifiable, as who hasn't lost themselves in daydreams about bringing about the complete and utter downfall of their respective employer? I'm sure it would feel really good to be a gangsta. Shows like “The Office” would capitalize on the idea of cubicle boredom as entertainment, but “Office Space” will always have a special place in the cannon of wildly hilarious films.
Most will agree that political affairs not pertaining to Bill Clinton are boring (see what I did there?). Although any video of a Nixon speech viewed in a high-school U.S. history class will quickly give you the impression that Nixon himself was boring, the fact that he illegally video-taped his political opponents is kind of a big deal. Still, a two hour historical drama about an anchorman interviewing the 37th president of the United States has boredom written all over it based on premise alone. However, Ron Howard's film takes a historical moment and turns it into a dazzlingly intense narrative. Stretching history a wee-bit, “Frost/Nixon” turns a television interview into a heavy weight boxing match. Frank Langella (Nixon) and Michael Sheen (David Frost) are treated the same sort of mythical layering as the athletes on HBO's "24/7" or in NFL Films documentaries. After watching Frost take a pounding in the first couple of rounds with a box of popcorn by your side, it's extremely tempting not to scream "Down goes Nixon! Down goes Nixon!" when Frost lands the final TKO-- getting Nixon to admit to his illegal activity on air for the world to witness.
Wall Street (Finance)
We all love money, but the drudgery of keeping up with stocks, bonds, investments, shares, and trading is something that conjures of migraines for the average person not named Warren Buffet. While it's true that money never sleeps, a quick skim of Yahoo.com finance reports is enough to send me on my way to zzzz land. Despite the perks involved with becoming successful in the field, most will agree that a stockbroker is not the most glamorous career in terms of excitement. Nonetheless, Oliver Stone's “Wall Street” is one of the most beloved films of the American Cannon. Even though the original wolf of wall street (Charlie Sheen) would later go on to live a life completely 180 degrees removed from boredom, his portrayal of Bud Fox as an eager young man #winning and using his full arsenal to ascend to the tops of the corporate world is stellar, and it boggles the mind how such an actor could eventually fall into the likes of mediocre prime-time television. The film is augmented by Michael Douglas' portrayal of the money-hungry Gordon Gekko; one of his most recognizable roles to date. Douglas deservedly went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Oliver Stone went on to direct a lot of other films that make really boring things look awesome.
12 Angry Men (Jury Duty)
Since the dawn of time, man has gone through great lengths in order to escape jury duty. People always talk about how morally wrong our judicial system is, but they never stop to criticize the fact that no measures are taken to ensure that the jurors themselves have even an ounce of fun while they debate for extended periods of time. It's our duty as citizens to partake in this pain-staking process, even if we would much rather be watching that major league baseball game, we bought tickets for. The brilliance of “12 Angry Men” is that it beautifully encapsulates this idea-- the majority of the film taking place in one room. This is an expert study in dialogue, as the plot revolves around Henry Fonda's attempts to convince an otherwise decided room of angry men that the young defendant is not guilty. At first, Fonda seems like the kid who reminds the teacher to assign homework to the class, but as the film progresses, eleven angry men eventually come to a unanimous verdict of not guilty. As film buffs the world over know already, the story is a fascinating exploration of the human psyche and intellectual competition between competing ideologies. Much credit must be bestowed on Reginald Rose, the late screenwriter who penned the story, because until a director decides to film a movie literally about paint drying, “12 Angry Men” is far and away the greatest example of boredom cloaked in awesomeness.
by Philip Price
Director: Clark Duke
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn & Clark Duke
Runtime: 1 hour & 57 minutes
Right off the bat I'd like to acknowledge the fact I live in Hot Springs, Ark. which is situated about 45 minutes northeast of Glenwood where writer/director and actor Clark Duke was born; his experiences in the area clearly informing his connection to and desire to adapt John Brandon's best-selling book of the same name. And yes, the climactic scene of the movie takes place on historic bathhouse row and was shot about five minutes from my house in downtown Hot Springs National Park. I say all of this not to try and convince you of how cool I am (unless it's working, then yes - I'm very cool), but instead to make it clear there will be no playing favorites here simply because the movie takes its name from the state I've called home for nearly three decades and because I recognized a few locations. In fact, despite the title of the film Duke and his crew shot the majority of his directorial debut in Alabama rather than in or around the Little Rock area as the movie suggests. So while there is certainly a layer of appreciation and affection for some of the sites we see and the accents we hear, there was almost more of an eagerness to see these things serve as a backdrop for what is a genre of movie we're all very familiar with whether from the natural state or not.
“Arkansas” pays plenty of homage to the overall tone of the state, especially in its flashbacks to the mid-to-late ‘80s as we're delivered the backstory of Vince Vaughn's character, Frog, as he belts out the Gatlin Brothers and cruises past open fields and dilapidated barns in his Nissan Fairlady 300ZX Coupé. At one point, Vaughn's Frog asks a couple of his associates what they're up to in which they respond with a generic comment before summarizing the feeling as being, "asleep at the wheel of the American dream." There's almost no better phrasing one could have concocted to define the stagnant air of progress yet fierce commitment to maintaining aged ideals (some good, not all bad). It is in this kind of mentality that we find the best facets of Duke's film as he's not simply telling a story of the "Dixie mafia" and funneling said crime/drama through the lens of the south, but he's utilizing this contradictory air of the south where everything feels ironic without the slightest bit of intent to add specific tone to his crime caper. “Arkansas,” the film, although a story about drug dealers is mostly a story about two generations of men whose aspirations are only limited by the economic options of their environment and whose intelligence is only undermined by their (mostly) unassuming appearances dictated by that same environment.
Duke’s film begins with a Charles Portis quote from The Dog of the South that reads, "A lot of people leave Arkansas and most of them come back sooner or later. They can't quite achieve escape velocity." Though I've never read this Portis selection (I know, I live in Arkansas - what am I doing with my life?) and am only familiar with the story due to having read the Wikipedia page after seeing the quote at the top of this film it doesn't feel like I'm venturing too far a guess that Portis' book was of this particular brand of dark, southern fried humor; one that shows indifference toward things like death and cruelty with a pension for saying poetic things in the most layman's of layman terms (there's that sense of contradiction again). If there was anyone Duke seemingly took inspiration from though, it would be the Coen brothers who directed the 2010 version of Portis' most famous novel, True Grit. It is in this wheelhouse of the neo-noir crime thrillers that Duke and Andrew Boonkrong's screenplay first introduces us to Kyle Ribb (Liam Hemsworth) who in his opening narration describes the term "Dixie Mafia" as being too generous a description as it's more a loose affiliation of scumbags with no real sense of organization. Kyle spouts more philosophies about how it's only people who want things that need such philosophies by which to live their lives (he says this as mindless reality HGTV plays in the background), but while Kyle likes to subscribe to the fact he has no desires or wants in life, and is happy to serve as little more than a dependable cog in a fascinating machine it's inevitable-especially after meeting his new partner Swin Horn (Duke) - that the guy will be able to avoid such natural entanglements and feelings. Swin, on the other hand, has probably never met a person he couldn't talk to and no matter how off-putting his bright clothes, man-bun and the baby caterpillar on his upper lip might be to most southerners, he is more than confident that by the time you get to know him that you'll be the best of buds. After a swift promotion in Louisiana, Kyle makes his way to Little Rock where he meets Swin and is informed the two of them are to live by the orders of an Arkansas-based drug kingpin (Vaughn), with the catch being they've never actually met this elusive "Frog". Posing as junior park rangers our heroes handle the jobs they're given by Frog's close associate, Bright (John Malkovich), by delivering the packages handed off to them via a go-between referred to only as "Her" (Vivica A. Fox). All smells of roses if for only a short time as deals inevitably go wrong, further bad decisions are made, and both Kyle and Swin end up on the very short list of Frog's living enemies.
Where Duke really succeeds in conveying this type of story in this kind of setting is in the definition his and Boonkrong's script bring to the type of people he's exploring these themes and ideas through. If you've seen the trailer for the film or have a sense of the younger Hemsworth's career trajectory then one wouldn't be completely wrong in assuming that “Arkansas” may very well be worthy of little more than the $5 bin at Wal-Mart (the irony all over this thing, right?) or maybe a redbox rental, but fortunately for both Hemsworth and the residents of the Sam Walton state, “Arkansas” is anything but a dismissable piece of genre junk. It is instead a genuinely heartfelt ode to the region known as the "south" if not necessarily Arkansas in particular and a keen study on how a generally intelligent, perceptive, and good-looking guy like Kyle might fall into this world for reasons heavily influenced by the region of the country in which he was born. Kyle is the kind of guy that had he been dealt a different hand with better and more opportunity could have easily been a successful and well-measured individual that might have been conditioned to expect that the things he desires are worth pursuing. Kyle was probably raised in a park-whether it be a trailer or RV, it doesn't really make a difference-and was allowed if not expected to occupy himself in the nature that would become the atmosphere of his youth. Kyle was undoubtedly a smart kid in whom his teachers saw promise despite his low-income, absent parent circumstances. The type that inevitably went on to fall in with the rest of the crowd that was bred around him that offered more instantly gratifying rewards than pursuing the unreal hope of continuing his education or even learning a trade (a trade that's not drug dealing, I mean). Kyle is the guy born and bred in this "real south" that Duke's movie hopes to portray. His arc of going from being mostly satisfied with being more than capable of his grunt work to the point of beginning to wonder what someone in Frog's position might think of him and if they'd consider him someone worthy of taking up the mantle is a major step and one that the film chronicles nicely in its five chapter structure. While Kyle is our main protagonist, our mirror to Vaughn's Frog in this breeding ground that cycles generations through inadvertent lives of violence and crime, Swin is a character who allowed this lifestyle into his existence; where Kyle fell into it, Swin accepted the invitation. Because of this perspective that comes from choice, Swin sometimes shortchanges the severity of the consequences to his actions and is probably the reason he ignores the rules and begins a relationship with a local, Johnna (Eden Brolin, daughter of Josh). This naturally complicates things further once Frog becomes aware of the duos actions that mistakenly paint them as a threat to his empire.
Let's talk about Frog though, as both the story of this man's journey and the portrayal by Vaughn are among the best things this otherwise solidly engaging film has to offer. As stated, “Arkansas” is situated into a five chapter structure with the first chapter introducing us to Kyle and Swin and indoctrinating us into this world of Deep South drug trafficking. The second chapter jumps back to 1985 in West Memphis and introduces us to a young, vibrant Frog whose options are only improved when the opportunity of running drugs is presented to him. This structure, while something of a convention, really aids in the understanding of the plot as there's no structure to the job of a drug dealer in the least. There's no way to tell in which direction the narrative could go given the amount of variables involved in a given deal and so, while the screenplay understands this and gets ahead of it the same could be said for the character of Frog and his relationship with the business that would come to define his life. Frog learns the tricks of the trade from a mentor named Almond (Michael Kenneth Williams), but it doesn't take long for Frog to figure out he's getting the short end of the stick while doing the bulk of the work and that cutting out a few levels of individuals would only result in bigger pay days for himself and so as he ascends to the top of the food chain and re-locates his base of operations he utilizes the mistakes of Almond to shape his methodology for running his own business. It is for these reasons that Frog is both successful in his craft for the many years that he is and also weary when two movers and shakers enter into his pyramid and threaten the chain of command. Frog doesn't much care for who Kyle and/or Swin might be as people, but more so that they might be smart enough to usurp him-something Frog knows a thing or two about but can't allow to happen. Beyond the dynamics at play and the strong ideas Duke is getting at there is much to be said about the aesthetic of the piece overall as well. Sure, Swin may be the obvious point of reference on this topic with his bold colors, vintage t-shirts and unique hair choices, but I bring this up now because it is Frog's wardrobe paired with the intentionally hazy cinematography of Steven Meizler in Frog's segments in the ‘80s and the ace musical cues that really come to define the identity of “Arkansas” as a movie. This whole look and feel that Duke and Meizler have crafted is one that’s easy to define, but almost impossible to describe in terms of the feeling the look is meant to elicit. Yes, nostalgia to an extent, but only for a certain sect of viewers-to the rest of the audience it simply has to be cool and appealing and while I don’t personally find nostalgia in yoke Western shirts and George Jones songs the film is able to convey the fact these things are inherent to what makes these people, this place, and their story so appealing. OK, so maybe there’s a little bias at play, but Duke justifies the use of his home state as the backdrop for this genre story in a directorial debut the rest of Arkansas can be proud of and one we should be happy to call our own.