MoviePass Is Luring Millennials Back to the Multiplex. Why Is Hollywood So ‘Meh’?
Given the rage freely flowing from America’s largest theater operator, AMC, toward MoviePass—the controversial, defiantly inexpensive subscription ticketing service that allows filmgoers to attend one movie per day, every day, for a $9.95 monthly fee — it’s easy enough to forget that until just last month, the two companies were partners in the putting-asses-in-seats business.
Amid slumping box-office tallies estimated to be the worst in a quarter-century of summer moviegoing, and on the heels of its own dismal quarterly earnings announcement, AMC blasted the service as a “small fringe player” and “unsustainable” in a widely cited press release in August that also raised the specter of legal action to block subscriptions.
What Should We Make of the Ending of Mother? Three Slate Critics Discuss in Spoiler-y Detail.
On the Spoiler Special podcast, Slate critics discuss movies, the occasional TV show, and, once in a blue moon, another podcast, in full, spoiler-filled detail. In this episode, Slate’s movie critic, Dana Stevens, Slate culture editor Forrest Wickman, and Slate senior editor Sam Adams discuss Darren Aronofsky’s latest movie Mother!, which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, and a very well-earned exclamation point in the title. What does it all mean? Is it purely allegorical? Is it camp? And WTF was that thing in the toilet?
Listen to them discuss these and other questions below. You can also check out past Spoiler Specials, and you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts. Note: As the title indicates, each installment contains spoilers galore.
A Wave of Prophecies That the World Is Ending Saturday May Not Be Correct, It Turns Out
Hurricanes, earthquakes, sinkholes, rising seas, the threat of nuclear annihilation: It doesn’t take a doomsday prophet to know we’re living in unstable times. It does, however, take a doomsday prophet to predict the exact date of our obliteration. And sure enough, several fringe Christian prophets are now claiming the apocalypse is coming on Saturday. That leaves just a few days to prepare!
David Meade, a self-published author, bases his prediction on a complex set of calculations and inferences based around the number 33, and imminent interference from the planet Nibiru. September 23 is 33 days after the solar eclipse, which Meade sees as significant. He believes that a constellation will reveal itself over Jerusalem on Saturday, triggering the launch of a series of catastrophic “tribulations” that will mean the end of life as we know it. NASA, meanwhile, has repeatedly said that the planet Nibiru does not exist.
The First Trailer For Wes Anderson’s Star-Studded Stop-Motion Dog Tale Is Here
Today is a very good day if you are a lover of both Wes Anderson and canines: The first trailer for his highly-anticipated stop-motion feature The Isle of Dogs has dropped, and with it, our first real glimpse at the filmmaker’s mysterious project that’s been a couple of years in the making. Of course, it’s an aesthetic marvel to behold, with Anderson’s candy-coated hues transplanted onto an animated, if slightly darker, canvas. But more importantly, we finally get a substantial premise for this dog-centered tale.
Courtney B. Vance appears to be our narrator, informing the viewer that the setting is Japan, 20 years from now. “Canine saturation has reached epidemic proportions. An outbreak of dog flu rips through the city of Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi issues emergency orders.” Dogs are now to be abandoned on an island of waste, thus transforming it into the Isle of Dogs. Understandably, the dogs—which include Rex (voiced by Edward Norton), Chief (Bryan Cranston), and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), are not happy about their newfound circumstances. Neither is 12-year-old Atari (Koyu Rankin), ward to the mayor, who sets off to find his “bodyguard-dog” Spots (Liev Schreiber).
The Cast of The Good Place Was Just as Surprised by That Twist as You Were
The first season of The Good Place ended with one of the more surprising plot twists in recent memory, not least because the chipper network sitcom about a morally compromised woman accidentally sent to heaven didn’t seem like the kind of show likely to throw its viewers such a wicked curveball.
It wasn’t just viewers who were taken aback, either. Although creator Michael Schur told stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson the twist when he pitched them the show, the rest of The Good Place’s cast wasn’t informed until they came to shoot the season’s final epsiodes. Schur felt a little guilty about not letting them in on the fact that the heaven they thought they were inhabiting was actually an ingenious twist on hell, but he told Entertainment Weekly “Their performances were going to be exactly what they should be without knowing it, so it didn’t seem like there was any actual benefit to telling them outside of, like, friendship. I sort of rolled the dice on the idea that they wouldn’t hate me if I didn’t tell them until later.”
Fortunately, the moment when Schur finally informed them was captured on video by Bell herself, and with The Good Place’s excellent second season underway, she’s shared the clip of William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, and D’Arcy Carden going slack-jawed with awe as they find out that the Good Place wasn’t actually so good. If there’s an Emmy for Best Performance in a Reaction Video, Carden ought to have it sewed up next year.
17 Nicolas Cage Movies You Had No Idea Existed
Thanks to the diligence of the Internal Revenue Service, Nicolas Cage has been the hardest-working actor in Hollywood over the past decade. Back in 2009, Cage was assessed with a gigantic tax bill, the result of famously extravagant purchases that included “the most haunted mansion in America,” two castles, and a Tarbosaurus skull (since returned to the government of Mongolia). Then he was hit with another, and another. By his own admission, Cage owed the U.S. government something close to $14 million.
Since then, no script has been too bad for Cage to sign on to. In the past eight years, he’s appeared in a whopping 29 movies. If you’re a Cage fanatic, you treasure some of these films: You can recite every line from the Season of the Witch trailer, and you’ve reenacted the iguana scene from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans more times than you can count. But there are countless more Nic Cage movies that never even attracted the internet’s derision. (One of them, the revenge drama Vengeance: A Love Story, just came out last week.) Some of them are good; most of them are bad. These are their stories.
It’s a sign of how much Cage’s star has declined in the past six years that even this forgettable home-invasion thriller seems a world away from most of his current efforts. His co-star is Nicole Kidman! (A pre-renaissance Nicole Kidman, but as the trailer helpfully reminds us, still an Oscar winner.) The director isn’t somebody’s nephew, but Joel Schumacher, who’s made real movies! And the baddie is Bloodline’s own Ben Mendelsohn! It’s still terrible, but it’s terrible in a slightly higher-class way than the Nicolas Cage movies of the future would be.
Seeking Justice (2011)
If nobody in a pitch meeting described Seeking Justice as “Strangers on a Train meets Fight Club,” I’ll eat my shoe. Cage plays a milquetoast professor whose wife (January Jones) is raped; he’s then approached by the head of an underground vigilante group (Guy Pearce), who promises to kill the man responsible as long as Cage repays the debt later. He takes the deal. Jones’s character is cool with it.
Stolen contains many trademarks of what we might call Nic Cage’s VOD period: Shot in New Orleans, it stars Cage as an ex-con with a heart of gold, who’s forced to pull off an impossible heist to save his daughter, who’s in peril. Only the lack of questionable facial hair keeps it from achieving perfect Caginess.
Cage received some of the best reviews of his career for this David Gordon Green film, in which he plays a mysterious loner who becomes an unlikely father figure for a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan) in the Texas backwoods. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to come out after the similarly monosyllabic Mud, in which Matthew McConaughey plays a mysterious loner who becomes an unlikely father figure for a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan) in the Arkansas backwoods. Mud was an indie hit, grossing $30 million; released a year later, Joe only made $2 million.
The Frozen Ground (2013)
Cage’s reunion with Con Air co-star John Cusack finds them once again on opposite sides of the law. Cusack is serial killer Robert Hansen, who murdered at least 17 women in the Alaskan bush; Cage is the cop trying to take him down, only to be stymied by that old movie bugaboo, lack of evidence. The film takes several liberties with the real-life story, most notably with the addition of 50 Cent as an unsavory pimp, though the part about Hansen killing his victims Most Dangerous Game–style comes from real life.
The same year as John Wick, Cage got his own chance to come out of retirement and kill a bunch of Russian mobsters. Only here he’s not getting revenge for a dead dog, but for his missing daughter, yet another unfortunate wife/daughter in Cage’s filmography. At this point, if you were a young actress auditioning for a Nicolas Cage film, it was safe to assume that some terrible things were going to happen to you.
Did you really think Nicolas Cage would make it this far in his career without starring in a Chinese-American co-production? Even Matt Damon’s doing it these days! Just like in Great Wall, Cage and Hayden Christensen (who’s sporting the world’s most 21st-century haircut) play white guys in medieval China. Christensen is an ex-Crusader; Cage is his mentor, who’s now a famous bandit; together they help a teenage prince take the throne from his evil brother. The movie avoided the white-savior controversy that engulfed Great Wall through the savvy strategy of not being released in the United States.
Left Behind (2014)
Even Christian cinema is not immune from Hollywood’s reboot fever: Nine years after the last movie in the original Left Behind series (you know, the Kirk Cameron one), Cage starred in another adaptation of the iconic 1995 novel, which came after a long legal battle between the book’s authors and the producers of the original series. The new version strips down the book’s narrative, concentrating on the plight of an adulterous airline pilot (Cage) who’s forced to land a plane after all the good Christians are called up to heaven. Fans of Nicolae Carpathia will be disappointed to learn he does not appear in this version.
Dying of the Light (2015)
There are films whose titles are way too big for them, and then there’s Dying of the Light, which uses the famous Dylan Thomas quote to tell a story about a CIA agent suffering from dementia who tries to catch his terrorist nemesis before his mind goes completely. Director Paul Schrader claims the movie was “taken away” from him and reedited without his consent, and the circumstantial evidence is strong: His original script was once good enough to enlist the services of Harrison Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn; the version that hit theaters and VOD has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 9.
The Runner (2015)
Were you aware the Nic Cage had his own Treme? This political drama stars Cage as an ambitious Louisiana congressman who flies high, loses it all, and then rededicates himself to the community after the Deepwater Horizon spill. It got terrible reviews, but at least it gave Cage the opportunity to break out his New Orleans accent, as well as utter the immortal line, “Even though this is a British Petroleum spill, it is America’s ocean.”
Pay the Ghost (2015)
Have you heard the ghost story about the woman who was burned to death in 17th-century New York, and now comes back every Halloween to snatch three children, keeping them in a strange spirit world that their parents have a year to rescue them from, or else they’ll stay there permanently? Now you have!
The Trust (2016)
Cage and Elijah Wood play low-level Las Vegas cops who get the bright idea to break into a drug dealer’s secret safe. It does not go well for them. Besides Cage and Wood, this DirecTV movie’s incredibly bizarre cast also includes Sky Ferreira and Jerry Lewis, in his final film role.*
U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)
As anyone who remembers Robert Shaw’s famous monologue from Jaws knows, nearly 1,000 men went into the water when the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine… and only 316 came out. If you’d prefer that harrowing three-minute speech in the form of a mid-budget action film directed by Mario Van Peebles, U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage is the movie for you. Cage steps into some Navy whites to play Captain Charles McVay, commander of the ill-fated cruiser, who would later be scapegoated by the top brass for the loss of the ship. It’s the rare war thriller turned shark movie turned legal drama.
Dog Eat Dog (2016)
Another gonzo crime film on Cage’s C.V., this one’s got a better pedigree than most: It’s from Schrader, and stars Cage and Willem Dafoe as two ex-cons who get embroiled in a baby-napping scheme. Our own David Edelstein called it “exuberantly tacky.” That means he liked it!
Army of One (2016)
One of Hollywood’s periodic attempts to find the fun in America’s misadventures in the Muslim world, Army of One stars Cage as Gary Faulker, the real-life construction worker who flew to Pakistan on a mission from God (played here by Russell Brand) to find Osama bin Laden. Cage straps on a gray wig and sends his voice into its upper registers—it’s the silliest performance he’s given since Adaptation.
Cage reunites with Cusack again for this revenge tale about a pair of brothers (Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech) going to war against a local mob boss. (That’s Cage, wearing fake nose and a mustache than can only be described as “limp.”) Upon its release, the L.A. Times was confident enough to dub Arsenal a contender for the worst movie of 2017. It came out the first week of January.
No, it’s not a behind-the-scenes retelling of the production of The Princess Bride. Instead, Inconceivable only has the second-most-ludicrous premise for a film with that title: It’s a glossy Fatal Attraction–style thriller about surrogate pregnancy. Cage and Gina Gershon play a loving couple who want one more child. Luckily, their nanny (Nicky Whelan, who replaced Lindsay Lohan) volunteers to act as a surrogate. Unluckily, she’s a murderer! Cage isn’t even the lead here; that’s Gershon, who is thankfully spared many of the traditional horrors that await Nic Cage’s on-screen wives.
*Correction, Sept. 21, 2017: This post originally misspelled DirecTV.
Every Moment in Battle of the Sexes That Will Remind You of the 2016 Election
To watch Battle of the Sexes in 2017 is to relive 2016—with a few twists. The sports biopic, about the 1973 exhibition match between the avowedly feminist Billie Jean King and the cartoonishly sexist Bobby Riggs, was conceived and began filming before the election, but the filmmakers were aware of its resonances as they were making it. As both the directors, Little Miss Sunshine’s Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and its female star, Emma Stone, have acknowledged, the parallels are hard to miss, even as the outcome is all too different.
If you’re planning on seeing the movie after it opens on Friday, here’s what you should know you’re in for.
A highly prepared, highly competent woman takes on a clown
In 1973, Billie Jean King was one of the best, most experienced competitors in her field. Riggs was an egotistical has-been and—in the film at least—a bit of a hustler who excelled above all at self-promotion while living off (his wife’s) inherited wealth.
As Stone told Out magazine, “It was very interesting to see this guy—this narcissistic, self-focused, constantly-stirring-the-pot kind of guy—against this incredible, qualified woman, and at the same time be playing Billie Jean.”
When she faces comments about women’s inferior biology, strength, speed—dare I say, stamina?
As Billie Jean King and women’s tennis advocate Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) push the old male guard of tennis for equal pay, Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) claims that women players deserve less prize money—despite drawing the same crowd—because women are biologically inferior.
When he trains while he cuts corners
The montage of these two players’ divergent training regimes—in which Billie Jean King diligently practices day and night while Bobby Riggs substitutes training for vitamins and lounging by the pool—must have seemed less depressing when the cast and crew were filming it in mid-2016, when Donald Trump was mocking Hillary Clinton for being prepared for their presidential debates.
When he proves a master of cheap publicity stunts
While King takes her preparation seriously, Riggs does publicity while playing with a fry pan for a racquet or while wearing a dress. The media, and TV viewers, eat it up.
He frames the match, for example, as “The Lobber vs. The Libber.”
When he seems more interested in fame than the larger issues at stake
When he’s not performing stunts for the media, Riggs is obsessing over how he is being portrayed. In one scene, he rushes in to watch the TV media coverage, to hear what his fellow players are saying about the upcoming match.
When she gets the flu, prompting observers to suggest she’ll drop out
Billie Jean King is working so hard, training long hours while continuing to compete in the women’s tennis circuit, that she comes down with a serious flu, leaving her temporarily bedridden. Then she rests up and gets straight back out there.
When she faces hefty pressure to win on behalf of all women
Even as an exhausted King lies in bed with a fever, Heldman reminds her of the match’s high stakes, telling her that she had better win. King even places this on herself, constantly worrying what losing will mean for women’s progress.
When he trolls his critics by presenting his sexism as just a joke
Riggs gains a passionate following among men who enjoy his open male chauvinism and his disregard for political correctness. Meanwhile, lest anyone take him too seriously, he presents his most offensive comments as just a “joke.”
When a male reporter acts as if fighting for women’s equality is the same as fighting against men’s rights
King is exasperated by a member of the paparazzi who claims she thinks women are better than men, when all she is asking for is equal recognition.
When another foe tries to claim that he respects women because he has a wife
Nobody respects women more than Jack Kramer. Nobody.
When a fan holds up a sign that says “Billie Jean for President”
When she wins
Jimmy Kimmel Tears Into Everyone Who Came After Him for Speaking Out About Health Care, and It’s Glorious
Just one night after devoting his entire monologue to excoriating Senator Bill Cassidy for lying to his face, Jimmy Kimmel continues to rip into Republicans like the scourge of God. Conservative media reacted to Kimmel’s monologue on Wednesday morning with the same well-worn playbook they always use whenever a celebrity calls them on their bullshit: a giant chorus of “Stay in your lane.” Or, as Kimmel calls it, “the all comedians are dummies card.” And he is absolutely not standing for it. After showing a clip of Senator Cassidy shaking his head in sorrow and lamenting that the talk show host “doesn’t understand” his bill, Kimmel went off:
Oh, I get it, I don’t understand because I’m a talk show host, right? Well, then, help me out, which part don’t I understand? Is it the part where you cut $240 billion from federal health care assistance? Am I not understanding the part where states would be allowed to let insurance companies price you out of coverage for having pre-existing conditions? Maybe I don’t understand the part of your bill in which federal funding disappears completely after 2026? Or maybe it was the part where the plans are no longer required to pay for essential health benefits like maternity care or pediatric visits? Or the part where the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, Lung Association, Arthritis Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, ALS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the March of Dimes, among many others, all vehemently oppose your bill? Which part of that am I not understanding?
Or could it be, Senator Cassidy, that the problem is that I do understand, and you got caught with your G-O-penis out. Is that possible? Because it feels like it is.
It’s looking like a worse and worse decision on Senator Cassidy’s part to go on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to lie about health care. But while Tuesday night’s monologue was just about Cassidy, on Wednesday, Kimmel broadened his scope, and in doing so, may have blown up another rotten social norm. Just as senators like Cassidy rely on people being unwilling to call them liars for the sake of civility—Lindsey Graham described it as “inappropriate” on Wednesday—other people in the media ecosystem rely on a certain amount of professional courtesy, an understanding that, no matter what position a person might publicly take on an issue, everyone’s in the entertainment business, you can’t knock someone else’s hustle, and at the end of the day we can all relax over cocktails in the Hamptons and pretend we’re Ronald Reagan or Tip O’Neill, depending. None of it is personal, in other words, and why would it be? Everyone’s rich. So ordinarily, there’d be no reason for Kimmel to be mad when Fox News does what Fox News does, like, for instance, framing Kimmel’s monologue like this:
Sunday’s politically charged Emmys may have been the lowest rated in history, but that’s not stopping Hollywood elites like comedian Jimmy Kimmel from pushing their politics on the rest of the country. Watch.
That’s the standard play on Fox’s part, at least once “this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about” fails, but again, Kimmel has no patience for it. Celebrities aren’t supposed to do this to other celebrities:
Thanks, Brian. That was Brian Kilmeade. And the reason I found this comment to be particularly annoying, is this is a guy, Brian Kilmeade, who whenever I see him, kisses my ass like a little boy meeting Batman. Oh, he’s such a fan. I think he’s been to the show. He follows me on Twitter. He asked me to write a blurb for his book, which I did. He calls my agent looking for projects. He’s dying to be a member of the Hollywood elite. The only reason he’s not a member of the Hollywood elite is ’cause nobody will hire him to be one.
And you know, the reason I’m talking about this is because my son had an open-heart surgery, then has to have two more, and because of that I learned that there are kids with no insurance in the same situation. I don’t get anything out of this, Brian, you phony little creep. Oh, I’ll pound you when I see you. That is my blurb. That will be my blurb for your next book: “Brian Kilmeade is a phony little creep.”
Absolutely lethal. That’s the kind of social norm we going to need to establish in the place of the all-is-forgiven chumminess of Sean Spicer at Emmys if we’re going to make it through the next week, never mind the rest of Trump’s term. We somehow built a world where Senator Cassidy had a reasonable expectation of lying on television without facing any consequences more serious than a “those clowns in congress are at it again” shrug, a world where Brian Kilmeade could reasonably expect to call Kimmel a “Hollywood elite” from one side of his mouth while asking for favors from the other. In other words, at least when it comes to social norms amongst wealthy and powerful people, we built kind of a shitty world. It’s a delight to watch Jimmy Kimmel tear it down.
Three Full-Length Punisher Movies Apparently Weren’t Enough for You, So Here’s a TV Series
Well, you’ve really done it this time. Somehow Marvel got the idea you wanted to watch more stories about the Punisher, and so they made an entire television series about the Punisher, and now here’s the trailer for it. Great. Good job. For most people, it would have been enough to trick Marvel into making a movie about the Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and Lou Gossett Jr. back in 1989. You remember that? We do:
Nine million dollars down the tube on that little stunt—1989 dollars!—and the movie didn’t even get theatrical distribution in the United States. But that wasn’t enough for you, was it? Oh, no. Not for you. You had to pull the same trick again in 2004. “Give us more movies about the Punisher!” you said. “Take money away from directors who want to tell human dramas and spend it on movies about Frank Castle firing machine guns!” Sure, it didn’t work when they cast Dolph Lundgren in the role, but this time around they got Thomas Jane and John Travolta, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, see for yourself:
I guess you hoped everyone would forget that the 2004 Punisher movie ever happened, huh? Well, it looks like you were right, because it was only four years before Marvel revisited the character of the Punisher once more, because this time, you assured them, audiences would love him. This time it would all be different, you said. But was it? Was it, really?
And now, because six hours of Punisher-related content weren’t enough for you, Netflix has made a 13-episode series about the Punisher. Thirteen hours! Think of it as a thirteen-hour-long Punisher movie if you think that makes it sound better, but it’s still thirteen more hours with the Punisher. Well done. Enjoy. We hope you’re happy with yourself.
The Good Place’s Second Season Is Just Like Heaven
On The Good Place, hell is other people’s heaven. The first season of the NBC sitcom, created by Parks & Recreation’s Mike Schur, plopped snake-oil saleswoman Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) into an idyllic afterlife populated by moral paragons, the apparent result of an administrative glitch confusing her with a different, far more admirable, Eleanor. Given that her discovery would have meant a one-way ticket to the Bad Place, Eleanor waged an increasingly panicked campaign to pass herself off as someone who actually belonged in heaven, only to discover—spoiler!—that she was already in hell, of a particularly fiendish variety cooked up by Ted Danson’s genial demon, Michael. Along with Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosopher so caught up in his own dilemmas he neglected in life to actually do much good, Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a would-be celebutante whose charitable fundraising was all at the service of her own narcissism, and Jason (Manny Jacinto) a dopey DJ who believes he’s been mistaken for a Buddhist monk, Eleanor was part of a test group specially chosen for their ability to drive each other crazy, their less admirably personal characteristics brought to the fore by the nagging feeling that they didn’t belong. The Good Place is perfect by definition, so if there was a problem, it had to be them.
The Good Place’s first season ended with Eleanor sussing out that the Good Place’s apparent flaws were a feature and not a bug: For a woman who made a living as a swindler, spending eternity under the threat of being found out was the ultimate torment. But her victory was short-lived, as victories over immortal and all-powerful beings tend to be: Michael wiped the foursome’s memories clean and started over, “rebooting” the Good Place with new few features designed to make sure she didn’t stumble on its secret a second time.
In the show’s second season, that’s easier said than done. The hour-long first episode, which airs on NBC tonight, introduces its doomed characters to a new array of fiendishly passive-aggressive torments. Eleanor’s new soulmate is a hunky dope who rushes off to the gym every time she tries to engage him in conversation; the luxe-loving Tahani is condemned to a one-floor bungalow with an abstemious mate who still thinks it’s more space than they need. This time, however, we’re watching their struggles from behind the curtain, and we’re in on Michael’s interactions with the rest of the Good Place’s inhabitants, all of whom are demons in on the gag.