Film

The Fall of Gondolin

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Christopher Tolkien has published what appears to be the final book written by his father, J.R.R. Tolkien. No one expected to see The Fall of Gondolin, so it is quite a surprise:

While this story may be the last Tolkien book to be published, it is actually an early tale and foundational to the author’s entire concept of Middle-earth. It was first written in 1917 while Tolkien was recuperating in a hospital from trench fever after the Battle of the Somme. “It’s a quest story with a reluctant hero who turns into a genuine hero—it’s a template for everything Tolkien wrote afterwards,” John Garth, author of a book about Tolkien’s experience in World War I tells Alison Flood at The Guardian. “It has a dark lord, our first encounter with orcs and balrogs—it’s really Tolkien limbering up for what he would be doing later.”

Christian Holub at Entertainment Weekly explains that the new book tells the tale of Tuor, a man living in an age where the world is dominated by the dark lord Melko—known in other Tolkien books as Morgoth. Only one place, the hidden Elvish city of Gondolin has resisted his reign, and Tuor is sent to find the place. He does, but so do the dark forces of Melko. In the grandest Tolkien battle scene outside of The Lord of the Rings, the author describes a mechanized army, similar to the newly introduced mechanized warfare he’d witnessed during the Great War, falling on the city.

I am not a fan of the Hobbit movies; Tolkien gave us battles, but not of the size and scope that were depicted. I do not believe Peter Jackson was ever the right filmmaker for The Lord of the Rings, either; his movies are beautifully framed junk and everything is a near-miss and, hey, what if we spin the camera around this way and that way? Everyone seemed stiff at times, but you really have to credit what Elijah Wood and Sean Astin did to make it all seem like an actual epic quest. It wasn't all bad, of course.

The best description for Jackson's approach would be to call it expensive fan fiction. Beyond that, everything I actually liked about the books disappeared. If they can make a movie about Han Solo, why the hell can't they make a movie about Elrond?

The Fall of Gondolin explores the history of Middle Earth, and gives you a sense of Tolkien's decision to build the languages, the different inhabitants, their entire, well-imagined back stories, and their place in the story. It's not enough to talk about the tribes of Elves or Men or Dwarves--their foundational epics and their sense of who they were had to be built, painstakingly, one generation at a time.

Aside from George R. R. Martin, who does this anymore? Plenty of writers make the attempt, but Tolkien, being an academic, had the knowledge to create the framework that his son has spent decades trying to organize and preserve for proper release. His achievement as a curator is no less of an accomplishment than his father's as the creator.

If someone else decides to make films of these stories, I'm fine with that. I really don't need to see any more of Jackson's vision. To me, it was always about the history and the relationships, and not so much the sword play and the massed formations of troops. Having seen the horrors of war, I don't think Tolkien wanted it to be fetishized in the manner in which it was, I really don't. There was always a purpose to the violence, and that's where all of the effort went.

What the Hell is Going On?

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SPOILERS AHEAD (OBVIOUSLY...)


 

The culture has passed me by:

Avengers: Infinity War” can check off yet another record: The second-highest second weekend of all time.

Disney and Marvel’s latest collaboration earned $112.5 million from 4,474 locations in its second frame. The 56% decline was just enough to top the record previously held by fellow Marvel title “Black Panther,” which made $111.6 million in its second weekend. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” holds the prize for biggest second weekend, with a mighty $149 million in 2015. Only five films have ever hit the $100 million-mark in their second weekends.

In just North America, the superhero mashup has made $450.8 million. Among “Infinity War’s” numerous accomplishments is being the fastest film to gross $1 billion, in just 11 days. And the film has yet to open in China.

I enjoy living in the future. I don't advocate a return to the bad old days. I have a smart phone and I love it when people put out new music. But I couldn't be further out of the cultural zeitgeist if I was walking around dressed like it was the 1890s and talking through the severed end of a flugelhorn. 

What do I have here at the end of watching all 18 of these terrible, terrible Marvel movies? Nothing. I have no idea what has happened. I mean, I don't want to pull the sleeve right off your best jacket, but what the hell was all that about? Some people and some magic stones have fought each other and now the universe is in balance? There is no balance in nature. It's just wild and free and shit goes one way, then another. Is Jesus supposed to show up now? I think that was a joke in Infinity War, which I saw a day ago and can't remember anything about.

Why aren't the Jesus freaks angrier about this movie? It's supposed to be the end-all, be-all of everything and all it needed was for Southpark's version of Jesus to show up, put his hand on the shoulder of Thanos, and say, "who hurt you, my son?" That would have ended the whole movie. No need for any more Avengers because Jesus can shoot a lightning bolt through your eyes if you try to make special weapons or steal magic stones.

I'll tell you how the movie will end next year. Something, joke, something, everybody's trapped in the soul stone! fight, joke, joke, fight, and then another fight and then the little girl makes the bad guy put everything back the way it was and someone hides those magic stones and we get to do it all over again in the reboot.

The whole movie runs through the relationship between the young version of Gamora and the big bad evil daddy figure. Conquering figure adopts helpless child, wah wah, okay, what did we learn? Did we learn more about emotional manipulation and allow a figure who has killed untold trillions of children in the universe to have a soft spot for a little kiddy? Genocide never had a better premise in a film. Let's just breeze past the horror--he's got a heart of gold hidden in there, but he's been hurt and Jesus never came around to save him.

Culturally, this is all just junk. It's light, it's fluffy, people eat it up, and then it dissipates. It amuses and distracts, but it doesn't really do anything beyond that. The only thing it really accomplishes is that, for far too many underpaid Americans, a massive amount of discretionary spending has been ripped out of the middle of the economy, causing people to put off buying tangible things while edging out all of the other crap they don't need. Video game makers have tried to cash in by making Avengers games, but it's just not the same. They need a new franchise, obviously, and it's something about killing. 

Is there any point to any of the Marvel crap? It's just another version of Star Wars for people who still spend a lot of money on other stuff. Someone somewhere is busy thinking up another version of all of this, but edgier, man. Everything has to be the same but just a little darker and meaner and cooler. Dude.

Think of the art that didn't get made because all of this talent, money and energy was tied up making 18 Marvel films. There are actors and actresses here who have real talents. I'm not out of line for suggesting that there are far too few female characters and way too many men who are playing characters that are younger than they are in real life. Mark Ruffalo can actually make real movies for adults. Is this a wise use of his time? And do we need slightly less stupid Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation to be the guy who screws up everything? Talk about playing to a cliche. I'll bet when Paul Bettany was doing Richard III, all he could think about was putting a jewel on his forehead and floating about in a robot body while living in Scotland with his girlfriend. Really? You don't think they would have preferred Brighton? Come on. No one lives in Scotland on purpose.

You could have told it all in 3 films that cost a lot less, but no one thinks small like that anymore. It has to be massive! On a scale never before seen! Why sell them three pictures when we can pad this out and make billions off of six different trilogies! Cram it into every nook and cranny! Put it on every product known to man. Well, that's what they did, and that's what they've plopped down in front of everyone. But there are more movies on the way! Here they come! 

Do you know what still has more relevance in the culture? The Beatles, high as kites and out of it, singing Love is All You Need to a world that didn't believe it for a minute. Oh well, this is what you get when you grow old.

Paddington 2

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Now THIS is a superhero franchise:

An emotional masterpiece that digs deep while keeping you smiling, and a pure example of why sequels can still be a good thing.

In total honesty, no one expected director Paul King's Paddington to make any sort of a splash upon its release in 2015. Adaptations of classic characters, modernized for today's youth, have always been a tricky thing, and for the most part the results had been unremarkable. But King and his team hit a mountain of gold when it came to the legendary bear with a heart of Marmalade, as the film not only tapped into the whimsy of Michael Bond's source material, but it did so with a very appropriate modern flare. It gives me immense pleasure to say that if you were worried Paddington 2 would fail to repeat that feat, you're absolutely wrong.

Three years after he moved to London, Paddington (Ben Whishaw) is looking to get his Aunt Lucy the perfect birthday present -- an antique pop-up book of London. What starts as a bunch of odd jobs in the name of raising funds for an absurdly expensive book turns into a quest to prove his innocence, as the book is stolen and Paddington is the main suspect. With Mr. and Mrs. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins) leading the charge, the race is on to clear this bear's good name, before it's too late.

I would much rather see this than any Marvel or DC film. The original, with Nicole Kidman making one of the great villain characters of zoology look sinister and hapless at the same time, was a masterpiece. Do not turn your nose up at this one. Really, this is what films are supposed to be like.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

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Last month, when everything related to Louis CK blew up in a storm of outrage and howling, one of the little-known ripples through the entertainment business was the fact that CK had just come off one of the biggest animation hits in history as the lead voice. The original Secret Life of Pets earned over $875 million dollars worldwide and was a lock to become a new franchise.

It stands to reason that the sequel would have been a pretty big hit as well. It was scheduled for release in 2019, but someone else is going to have to do the voice:

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If you look at the project's IMDB page, Jenny Slate is the only person signed for the sequel. Who are they going to get to replace CK, and should they go back and remove his voice work from the original film?

How horrible is that to contemplate?

Melania Trump's Personal War on Christmas

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I get the sense that Melania is not happy. Not happy at all.

She has gone from jolly decorations and old-timey traditions and familiar themes to something straight out of the world of European cinema. It's a jarring hellscape. It reminds me of an Ingmar Bergman film:

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And, remember--it's not Christmas in Slovenia without Krampus!

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The War on Christmas may have lost General Bill O'Reilly, but Melania Trump is finding a way to horrify everyone with her interior Christmas decor ideas. I can just imagine how she instructed the White House staff to decorate:

"Lots of dead branches, pointing up to heaven, lit with cold, indifferent light, creating a maelstrom of claustrophobia, trapping the soul in every corner of every nook and cranny of this putrid construct of reality."


Armie Hammer Does Not Owe You an Active Twitter Account

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I agree that it is insane, but it is also a symbol of how we expect people to make themselves available and turn themselves inside out for entertainment purposes. Each and every person is entitled to their own version of privacy. You ought to be allowed to choose what you want people to see and to know and to read from you. 

If Armie Hammer doesn't want to be on Twitter, go pound sand.


Justice League is a Huge Disappointment

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Justice League is a film that I actually saw in a theater. My advice is to wait for it on Blu-Ray so that you only end up wasting a little cash. It is not essential, but it is a good way to waste two hours, so there's that.

Without spoiling the movie, I'll tell you what's wrong with it:

  • Too much Affleck.
  • Not enough Godot.
  • All the Cavill you're ever going to need.
  • No where near enough Momoa.

I liked the Cyborg character, but they didn't develop the relationship he had with his father into something that I could recognize as a story. They did a better job with the Flash, but do you know who had a better Flash? The Quicksilver character played by Evan Peters was far more interesting. 

After watching this, I honestly can't tell you what happened. And, before you think I'm some sort of Marvel movie fan, I'm really not. I'm not a fan of this genre at all. I remember that I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two but I can't remember anything that happened because it was such a blur of things happening. So much has to happen! in these films. Slow it down and tell a story.

No One Cares About Blade Runner 2049

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Someone failed to notice that no one really wanted this sequel and that only a handful of old dudes does not a film audience make:

The hero of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian masterpiece, isn’t Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the cop who finds and kills “replicants” (bioengineered androids) for the LAPD in a grim, rain-drenched futurescape. It’s his primary target, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), an escaped combat unit seeking a cure to the four-year lifespan built into his system. Roy is super-strong and terrifying, to be sure, and unafraid to commit murder, but Scott shoots the tow-headed Hauer like an angel, especially in his unforgettable death scene, as he saves Deckard’s life and crouches over him, imparting his strange, alien memories to his would-be assassin before expiring.

In the world of Blade Runner, replicants are an underclass used as slave labor. Deckard’s arc in the film is one of empathy—he’s a bounty hunter who begins to understand the humanity of his quarry, both in his fearsome respect for Roy and his love for Rachael (Sean Young), another replicant who’s unaware of her true nature. The debate about whether Deckard is a replicant himself is the mysterious undercurrent to Scott’s movie, but not its beating heart. Roy’s final monologue is so magical because it’s the moment where Deckard, and viewers, finally realize the enemy is not the unstoppable monster he appeared to be.

All that money, and they made a film no one cares about because the sequel comes well after when there would have been a viable commercials audience for a film that pretty much only some old white guys give a shit about. Can't wait for the sequel to Running Scared to hit theaters.

That Batman Movie Was a Piece of Shit

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I think I remember this film. Man, was it a piece of steaming shit:

Two-Face and Riddler looked like they had a blast together during Batman Forever, but off-camera, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey's relationship was anything but amiable. Carrey hasn't been shy in the past about talking about how Jones hated working with him, but now the comedy star has gone into more detail on the encounter where Jones' unpleasantness was on full display. One day during Batman Forever's production, Carrey found out that Jones was eating at the same restaurant as him. He went to greet his co-star, which caused the blood in Jones' face to drain. Carrey continued:

And he got up shaking --- he must have been in mid-'kill me' fantasy or something like that. And he went to hug me and he said, 'I hate you. I really don't like you.' And I said, 'What's the problem?' and pulled up a chair, which probably wasn't smart. And he said, 'I cannot sanction your buffoonery.'

Tommy Lee Jones bluntly summarizing his hatred for Jim Carrey in such an archaic fashion is weird enough, but what's even stranger is that Jones expressed disapproval of Carrey's antics before they were going to shoot the biggest scene they had together in Batman Forever. After Carrey recalled this encounter during his recent appearance on Norm MacDonald Live, the show's eponymous host posited that Jones might have jealous that Carrey was the center of attention on set. After all, Batman Forever was in principal photography months after Carrey became a comedy movie star thanks to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.

No idea why anyone cares, but there you go.

Settled

Well, this is a relief:

Warner Bros. and the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien announced Monday that they amicably resolved an $80 million lawsuit over the alleged digital exploitation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Tolkien estate and book publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against Warner Bros. in 2012 alleging that the company had breached contract by marketing online games, slot machines, and other gambling-related merchandise based on Tolkien's books. The estate claimed the 1969 rights agreement entitled the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise associated with the books.

I was worried that the Tolkien estate was going broke. Hopefully, they ended up with somewhere close to half of the $80 million they were suing for. If you're like me, and I know I am, then you prefer your Tolkien on the printed page and not on the silver screen or some Blu-Ray player.  I mean, the movies were good, and they really exceeded expectations, but aren't you wondering when they'll just reboot the whole thing and cash in again?

Daniel Day-Lewis is the Greatest Actor of All Time

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Daniel Day-Lewis has earned a chance to retire and do other things:

Daniel Day-Lewis’s upcoming collaborationwith his There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson will be his final role. The actor is retiring, according to Variety. “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor,” Day-Lewis’s spokeswoman, Leslee Dart, told Variety. “He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.” Day-Lewis has won three Academy Awards for Best Actor: for playing Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln, for playing the depraved, wolfish oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and for playing the Irish writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot. His filmography is peppered with other notable collaborations: He’s worked with Martin Scorsese in The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York, and sang and danced in Rob Marshall’s Nine.

Day-Lewis is currently at work on a period drama set in 1950s London. The Paul Thomas Anderson movie is being filmed under the working title Phantom Thread, and focuses on a highly sought-after dressmaker. (Vulture guesses the movie is about Charles James.) What’s next for Day-Lewis? Maybe he’ll start sculpting with Brad Pitt, or hanging out with Charlie Hunnam, who told us he’s a huge fan. In the words of his Bloodcharacter Daniel Plainview, “I’m finished.”

I don't think this is marketing hype for a new movie; I think this is the last thing he's interested in doing. Why can't people who are really good at something retire? I was sad when Gene Hackman quit acting, too, but that's just the way it is. To go out on top is rare, but to retire when you're the greatest living actor and probably the best actor of all time, well--who are we to judge?

Tombstone

Anybody who writes an entire article about Kurt Russell's movie career and forgets to mention Tombstone probably did so entirely by accident.

Kurt Russell is such a good actor, it is possible to write about the films he has made and the quality of his work and forget what is probably his greatest role. Tombstone gets a mulligan for the mangled history but five stars for being completely and utterly entertaining. 

Oh, my bad. I meant to say Tequila Sunrise. 

Tequila Sunrise was Russell's greatest role. Who plays the guy who doesn't get the girl by choice? That was his best performance and then, the classic Tombstone. How you could write about this guy and not mention any of those movies is beyond my comprehension.

Yeah, I'll go see him in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Hell, the whole movie should just be about him.

Carrie Fisher Was a Hell of a Writer

Carrie Fisher was never given enough acclaim for her talents and abilities while she was alive:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has revealed that Carrie Fisher helped write the script for the forthcoming movie.

The late actress penned in the past both the book and the screenplay adaptation for Postcards From The Edge, along with episodes of Roseanne, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a number of TV specials and special material for the Academy Awards in 1997, 2002 and 2007, along with the 2010 TV documentary Wishful Drinking, during her career.

Johnson recently revealed at a Star Wars fan convention in Orlando that she also had a hand in writing the script for the latest movie.

“I’d go to her house and we’d sit on her bed for hours, going through the script,” he revealed.

“(We) would just have these kind of stream-of-consciousness, Jazz poetry, ad-lib sessions, and I would just scribble down everything she said on my script. And then at the end of six hours, there would be this four word line of dialogue that would be the distillation of all that, that was brilliant.”

She understood the human condition and had a hilarious point of view. She was a great, great writer and a performer who could hold her own with everyone on a stage, including her own mother. The fact that Harrison Ford, who routinely blew people off the screen (and will be considered the greatest actor to never win an Academy Award unless they get him one, soon), never so much as put a dent in her on screen is hardly recognized, either.

Richard Gere Has Paid a Price For His Support of Tibet

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China's influence in the film industry means that actor Richard Here has to appear in independently financed films that are not being marketed to the Chinese:

When Richard Gere walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards in 1993, there was no way he could have known that the night would have repercussions for his career more than 20 years later. Invited to present the award for best art direction, he skipped the scripted patter to protest China's occupation of Tibet and its "horrendous, horrendous human rights situation." The late Gil Cates, the show's producer, was furious, calling the political speeches at that year's awards show —Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also went off script to speak on behalf of Haitian refugees — "distasteful and dishonest" and vowing to ban all three from future Oscars broadcasts.

Gere hasn't done a major studio film in ten years. This is primarily because, whenever he ends up near a project that can be influenced by businesses trying to work out deals in China, pressure is exerted to have him removed.

Terry Gilliam Isn't Crazy

Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote film always struck me as proof that people in Hollywood are afraid of spending money to make great films:

It has now been 18 years since Terry Gilliam first tried to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a.k.a. The Movie That Will Probably Kill Terry Gilliam, Instead. In that time, Gilliam has faced a Job-like series of setbacks on the film, from flash floods to sick actors to dead actors to some “Portuguese chap” who couldn’t deliver the financing he supposedly promised. And yet, Gilliam has persisted on the film for almost two decades, blowing through our entire stock of jokes about “tilting at windmills” and the entire project becoming the exact definition of “quixotic.”

Today, IndieWire reports that Gilliam has hopped back in the saddle again, putting together an unnamed source and an Instagram post from original cast member Rossy De Palma that indicate that production has once again resumed...

There's no reason why a Gilliam film can't be properly marketed and treated like any other commercial film product. Every year, the Oscars come and go, and the absence of really important and great films is the elephant in the room. When was the last time anyone found themselves truly inundated with great films in the span of a calendar year?

The failure to recognize the fact that he does have an audience and that he does have a masterful ability for filmmaking is a result of something entirely not his fault. Wanting to shoot a script and make a film that satisfies the artistic itch is the ultimate worthwhile endeavor.

Lego Batman is Not Pro-Gay Adoption Propaganda

Just when you thought that liberals were going to be able to get one over on conservatives and sneak some pro-gay adoption propaganda into the burgeoning animated kids movie market, it all falls apart because conservatives are too smart:

The new Lego Batman Movie has come under fire from Catholic evangelists who have slammed the film as “pro-gay propaganda”.

John Henry Westen, Canadian Editor-in-chief of the socially conservative website  LifeSiteNews.com, posted a review of the film titled “BEWARE: LEGO Batman movie promotes gay adoption”. He criticised the creators for being “so anxious to subtly indoctrinate the little ones into the gender ideology that making it humorous came as a distant second thought.”

I thought conservative Catholics were out trying to locate and remove all of the priests who diddle little kids. Apparently, they have some time on their hands. Or they're dumbasses. I vote for having no brains, no talent, and no understanding of the culture.

Everyone knows propaganda works when the film is fall-down funny. Maybe that's the angle all of us in on this conspiracy should have taken. Instead of making a sober, depressing movie about what happens when a gay Batman adopts a gay Robin so they can have that gay lifestyle thing happening, they should have written a lot of great jokes, used a lot of expensive animation, and gotten some funny actors to read all of the dialogue. 

Oh, wait a minute. Rotten Tomatoes says they did that. My mistake.

Hollywood Doesn't Care About American Audiences

This question is easy to answer:

Will Hollywood Learn From Hidden Figures’s Success?

Nope!

Hidden Figures has been the breakout film of 2017 thus far. Starring three African American women (played by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer), it focuses on an unheralded piece of American history: the work of black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA in the 1960s. Released to strong reviewsHidden Figures seems destined for a few Academy Award nominations next week. Since it expanded nationwide, it has spent two weeks at the top of the box office, ahead of big-budget films like Monster TrucksPatriots DayLive By Night, and Oscar frontrunner La La Land. Made for a comparatively small $25 million, the film is essentially guaranteed to gross at least $100 million in the United States alone, posting a very healthy profit for its studio, 20th Century Fox. The viewing public’s desire for a film like Hidden Figures is indisputable. So why does Hollywood make so few of them?
In 2015, only 32 of the top 100 films at the box office featured a female lead or co-lead; only three of those leads were women of color, and almost half of them did not feature a black female character in any capacity. After having an all-white slate of acting nominees for two years in a row (spurring the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite), the Academy is trying to diversify its voting body with the hope of rewarding a broader selection of films. But Hollywood at large is showing few traces of change. Last year’s most successful films, largely superhero sequels and animated blockbusters, lack for variety in their storytelling. The slow nature of film production means it can take years to really reflect a shift in studio thinking, but Hidden Figures still feels (disappointingly) like an anomaly rather than a sign of a real transformation.

Hollywood is happy to turn out a handful of small, independent pictures like this but, really, the whole thing is built around larger movies with special effects that will appeal to global audiences. The economics are such that, if they were to shift everything, lay off thousands of special effects people, and try to make movies like this, it would bankrupt the industry faster than it's going bankrupt now.

In short, they want to make movies Chinese teenage boys will want to see, own, and watch repeatedly. They don't want to empower a generation of African-American actors and then start having to pay them what they're worth. The only way they can survive is to keep making superhero films that don't suck. They don't care about filmmaking or art anymore--it's not 1970. The biggest directors are not visionaries--they're successful project managers who can work for months on end and produce content. 

Who's the new Robert Altman and why isn't he making movies?

Octavia Spencer alone is one of the greatest actors of her generation. She's not just an actress. She's not just a black actress. She's a fucking actor. They don't treat her like Tom Hardy, Michael Fassbender, or Tom Hanks because they think she's not a movie star. Put her in a movie with five or six other people who can act, make her the lead, and she'll blow the fucking doors off of people. Do you think there's a Hollywood producer out there ready to sell that to a studio? Who's going to give her $10 million to start in a film and have her as the top billed actor?

Nobody. And that's a crying goddamned shame. She's amazing. And she's undervalued and under appreciated.