What To Expect From “The Handmaid’s Tale”

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the-handmaids-tale-alexis-bledel

The new Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiered on April 26, is already generating a lot of buzz from critics and advance acclaim from fans. The series, based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is sure to draw its share of fans who are eager to check out how faithful the film adaptation is to the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead portrayed in the novel.

So just how faithful is the adaptation?

That is bound to be the first question that many people ask, especially those who remember the dystopian world laid out in such stunning detail by Atwood nearly a generation ago. The novel, set in near-future New England, examined what a totalitarian, post-America world might look like, where a woman’s sole focus in the world is to bear offspring for the elite members of society. That society had a language and vocabulary all its own, including terms like “Unwomen.”

A lot has changed between now and then. In the Western industrialized world, women have largely attained full equality and so the feminist message may seem a bit dated. However, that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. Everyday, we hear of the Taliban and how they have created their own totalitarian, religious society where women have no rights. Or we hear of ISIS and their religious campaigns against anyone – and especially women – who dare to go against their distorted version of religious law.

Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist

The star of this series will be Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred (“Of Fred”), a handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes). We’ll see how she silently struggles in her new role, and how she attempts to break free of the subservient life.

There are a lot of different storylines that are going to intersect here, especially the relationship between Offred and her fellow handmaids, and the relationship between Offred and the Commander’s wife. No matter what happens, though, the star of this show is Elisabeth Moss, so expect a brilliant performance from her. Alexis Bledel (from “Gilmore Girls“) also appears in the show, so “Gilmore” fans will definitely tune in.

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The visual language of Gilead

From everything we’ve seen and heard so far, the show is “visually stunning.” There are close-ups of life in Gilead, and then there’s also the scenes that appear almost as if they were filmed by low-flying drones. We see exactly what the society looks like from a bird’s eye view – the handmaids walking in perfect lockstep, the rows of handmaids in scarlet capes and white bonnets, and the nearly mechanical way every aspect of the society is governed.

And there are plenty of visual elements from the Atwood book that people are looking forward to seeing. This includes the many references to flowers within the book, and how Atwood uses the flower as a metaphorical description of the women. The role of women is to look pretty, give birth to new babies who will form the next generation, and then passively disappear from the scene. They are like flowers that bloom, and then wilt away when the seasons turn colder. As one reviewer has noted, it’s all “horrifyingly beautiful.”

We can also expect to see lots of women engaged in busywork like needlework. That, too, was one of the big motifs of the book. Women were not supposed to think or act for themselves, and so every spare moment has them engaged in either drudgery (as in the case of the infertile Marthas) or in mind-numbing busywork. This is an oppressive, patriarchal system, and needlework is a way to have the women seen, but not heard.

Socio-political implications of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Let’s face it, we live in strange political times. So there’s bound to be critics (both professional and amateur) who are going to compare the dystopian, post-apocalyptic New England of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the current situation in America. Just as Gilead was the post-American republic that emerged in the wake of a great dystopian event, half of American society now views the current U.S. as a dystopian world where everything appears to be upside down.

At the very least, there is bound to be some discussion of how far women have come in the 30+ years since the publication of Atwood’s novel. In the 1985 book, feminism was perhaps at its peak as a sociopolitical worldview. Since then, a lot has gone on with gender equality and gender identity, but some aspects of that earlier era have now been replaced by concerns about equal pay in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in the workplace (just think of the recent examples of Fox News and Uber), and women’s right to an abortion. So this TV show is going to be very relevant.

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Constant suspense

From what we know from the Hulu trailer (which dropped on YouTube on March 23), and from advance critical acclaim, this show is going to have suspense from beginning to end. Surely, the fact that “eyes” (i.e. spies) are watching the women every minute of the day is going to be part of the thriller-like atmosphere. Who can we really trust in this new world? And will the handmaid Offred ever be able to reclaim her past life from “the time before”?

A hybrid release schedule

If you’re used to Netflix and every episode of a series dropping on the same day, then you’re going to have to get used to the Hulu system. It’s really a hybrid system, in which the first 3 episodes will drop on April 26, and the next 7 episodes will be rolled out on a weekly basis (much as you’d expect with a new series on cable or broadcast TV).

Putting it all together, this looks a new mega-hit for Hulu. The advance ratings for “The Handmaid’s Tale” are off the charts: it has a score of 97/100 on Metacritic, a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and plenty of critical acclaim from the mainstream media. Hollywood Reporter has even called this “probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.” If you’re looking for the next big show that everyone’s talking about, “The Handmaid’s Tale” certainly makes for compelling viewing.

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What to Expect From “The Fate of the Furious”

fate-of-the-furious-movie

fate-of-the-furious-movie

The eighth installment of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise is set to hit the big screen on April 14, and already the excitement is building to a fever pitch. Current estimates are for the film to make anywhere from $110 million to $120 million on its opening weekend. And even that might be underestimating things, given that “Furious 7” in 2015 was the sixth-highest grossing film of all time.

#1: The return of the “Fast and the Furious” crew

One thing we can definitely count on is a return of the full “Fast and the Furious” crew, except for the late Paul Walker (who died during the filming of “Furious 7”). That means all the big names – Vin Diesel (as Dominic Toretto), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (as Luke Hobbs), Michelle Rodriguez (as Letty Ortiz), Tyrese Gibson (as Roman Pearce) and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (as Tej Parker). Plus, we’re going to have Kurt Russell returning as Mr. Nobody and Jason Statham returning as the deadly assassin Deckard Shaw.

For fans of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, this is great news. The only concern, of course, is that this might be the last in the series, with a lot of spin-offs coming from this main franchise. For example, a lot of fans of the series are debating whether or not Dwayne Johnson might take his Luke Hobbs character in a new direction after “Fast 8.”

#2: New faces – and a new villain

The one character who is definitely going to be turning heads is the super sexy Charlize Theron, fresh off her role in the Mad Max “Fury Road” movie. In “Fast 8” she is going to be playing the role of Cipher, a criminal mastermind who is going to try to convince Vin Diesel’s character to work against his friends, allies and even family. Could this happen through some kind of seduction scene, where she tempts Dominic Toretto away from his wife Letty Ortiz? And, speaking of new faces, we’re going to see Scott Eastwood (from “Gran Torino”) and also Helen Mirren.

#3: Amazing exotic locations

From what we know from the trailer clips that have been released, this film is going to feature some really exotic locations. We’re going to see Vin Diesel in a street race in the winding streets of Havana, and we’re going to see some really dramatic scenes in Iceland, including some car races along the frozen ice. (In one trailer clip, a massive submarine seems to poke up out of the ice during a car chase along an iceberg of some kind!) And, in addition to Iceland and Cuba, the film also shot on location in New York City.

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#4: The directorial debut of F. Gary Gray

Every new “Fast and the Furious” film seems to feature a new, up-and-coming director to give the franchise a slightly different look. This time around, it’s going to be F. Gary Gray, the director of “Straight Outta Compton.” He will replace James Wan of “Furious 7.” Other great director who have taken a crack at the “Fast and the Furious” franchise include Justin Lin and John Singleton.

So what can we expect from F. Gary Gray? One thing we know for sure is that he and Vin Diesel are very close, with F. Gary Gray directing Vin Diesel in “A Man Apart.” One year ago, Diesel talked up the importance of getting F. Gary Gray onboard the project. What’s interesting is that F. Gary Gray also directed “The Italian Job,” so we know that he has experience directing movies with heist scenes and dramatic car races.

#5: Fascinating plot twists

In every other “Fast and the Furious” film, it has always been the main crew led by Vin Diesel against some villain or evil organization. But this time around, things are going to be very different. For one thing, we’re going to have two of the main characters from previous films – Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw – actively working “for” and not “against” the main team. And – here’s the big thing – we’re going to have Vin Diesel corrupted to the point where he turns against his friends and family. So it might be the case that we have an epic showdown involving Vin Diesel where he is actually the bad guy! Mind blown.

#6: Plenty of street racing chaos

The scenes from the trailers and advance clips have been absolutely epic. In one, a giant wrecking ball sweeps through a crowd of cars. In another, remote-controlled vehicles turn into kamikaze vehicles. And, in yet another, a giant flaming car races through the streets of Havana. So there’s going to be no shortage of exciting chase scenes and daredevil stunts.

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#7: A new focus on espionage and spy craft

One of the ideas that we’ve heard about the upcoming film is that it’s going to take “Fast and the Furious” in a slightly different direction from previous films. Instead of just being a street racing or heist film, it’s going to feature more of the espionage and spy angles. That might mean a bigger role for Kurt Russell’s character, who has been a kind of black ops CIA operative. And it might also mean an important role for Scott Eastwood, who has been billed as a “protégé” for Russell’s character.

#8: A tribute to Paul Walker

It’s impossible to talk about “The Fast and the Furious” without also talking about Paul Walker. Some thought at first that the series couldn’t continue without Paul Walker. There was an emotional final scene in “Furious 7,” and some have suggested that this new movie might include his brother Cody Walker in some kind of cameo role. And digital effects might be used to recreate scenes involving Paul Walker, just as they did in “Furious 7.”

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It’s hard to think of a film with big box office appeal in 2017. The first “Fast 8” trailer that went up on YouTube racked up 139 million views in just 24 hours, making it one of the most popular film trailers ever. That’s even more than the first trailer for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” received. So we know this new film is going to have some serious box office momentum behind it. The car chases look epic, and with all the plot twists and new villains involved, “Fast 8” is almost guaranteed to be one of the biggest film smashes of the year.

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We Don’t Need Another “Pirates of the Caribbean” Movie

pirates-of-the-caribbean-5-johnny-depp

pirates-of-the-caribbean-5-johnny-depp

It’s hard to believe, six years after the disaster that was “Pirates of the Caribbean 4,” Disney is trying to peddle a fifth installment of this film franchise to movie audiences. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is set to hit the big screen on May 26, just in time for Memorial Day. We don’t need another “Pirates of the Caribbean” and here’s why.

#1: Jack Sparrow just doesn’t work as the main hero

We get it, Johnny Depp has box office appeal. He’s an A-list Hollywood actor. So it’s only natural that Disney is trying its hardest to turn Johnny Depp into the focal point of this film franchise. In the first three installments, he was much more of a peripheral character – someone who spiced up the movie and made it more interesting – but not the main protagonist. And then along came “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and Jack Sparrow was thrust into the leading role.

Predictably, the film bombed with audiences, scoring just 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. Jack Sparrow is, at best, a “lovable scamp” and a “charming drunkard.” But he’s not a main protagonist, and that’s something that movie audiences told Hollywood with their reaction to Jack Sparrow as the main hero of “Pirates of the Caribbean 4.” So why are they making the same mistake again?

#2: “Dead Men Tell No Tales” looks more like a zombie movie than a pirate movie

The “Pirates” franchise has always relied on elements of the supernatural to make it work. But now it looks the film is heading in a whole new direction, as it can’t decide whether it would rather be a pirate movie or a zombie movie. The title tells you all you need to know. In this case, the “dead men” are the zombie pirate army of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who has escaped from the “Devil’s Triangle” and is out to kill all the pirates. From what we’ve seen in the trailers, this is going to include lots of scenes of CGI pirate-zombies swarming the Seven Seas.

But that’s not why people are going to these films. They are going to see swashbuckling pirates, treasure hunts, and adventures on the high seas. Maybe even a little charm and romance. However, they are not going to see zombie battles on boats. This is a dangerous new direction for the film and its producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who must have decided that he had run out of suitable pirate material and needed to start tapping into the monster-horror genre to make this film work.

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#3: What ever happened to the characters we knew and loved?

If you look at the movie posters for the film, it’s easy to see where “Pirates of the Caribbean” has gone dangerously off the rails – it’s forgotten about the characters we cared about. And that means Orlando Bloom (as Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (as Elizabeth Swan). Instead, the movie poster for this fifth installment features Depp, Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush (as the pirate Barbarossa). Those are all great, Oscar-nominated actors, but that’s not why people go to see these films. And while newcomer Kaya Scoledario is quite attractive, let’s face facts – if Penelope Cruz didn’t work out in “Pirates 4,” it’s hard to see an unknown talent doing a better job.

In a sign of hope, though, it appears that Disney had a last-second change of mind and decided to bring back Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. There’s now a new “Will Turner trailer” floating around YouTube, and the word is that Orlando Bloom will return for a limited role in this new film. And now there’s growing buzz that Keira Knightley will return as well, for some kind of cameo role. However, according to cinema insiders, all the scenes were shot in private, so it’s far more likely that she will just show up in the credits (or the post-credits) to set up movie audiences for the inevitable sixth installment of this franchise.

#4: Bloated ambitions

This is not a typo – the budget for “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was $320 million. Even in an era where $100 million is just about the standard price for a summer blockbuster film, a total of $320 million sounds absurdly expensive. And that price tag gets at one of the central reasons for the rot at the heart of this Hollywood film franchise – the bloated ambitions of Disney.

Remember – this is a movie based on a theme park attraction. That’s all it was ever supposed to be. That’s what made the first movie so interesting. But now we’re getting into uncharted territory. “Pirates of the Caribbean” suffered from a convoluted plot to find the Fountain of Youth that included all kinds of extra plot twists, narrative arcs, and exposition. There was just too much explaining about something that should have just been very straightforward – a bunch of pirates want to find the Fountain of Youth. OK, got it.

And now this new “Pirates” film looks like it’s going to suffer from the same problem – it’s trying to do too much with too little material. This is turning into one of those Hollywood blockbuster movies where “the world is going to end if the main characters don’t save it.” But the only problem is that we’re relying on a drunken, no-good pirate to do that. And you can bet that a big chunk of that $320 million is going to involve very expensive CGI renderings of pirate ships and zombies. We just don’t need this, do we?

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#5: “All Pirates Must Die”

There’s a line in the new trailer for “Dead Men Tell No Tales” – “All Pirates Must Die.” If there was ever a more apt description for this film franchise, it’s hard to think of one. This franchise had a phenomenal box office run. The first four films have pulled in a whopping  $3.7 billion worldwide, making this already one of the Top 10 film franchises of all time. So it’s clear what’s going through the minds of Disney executives these days – just crank out another film, and no matter how bad it is, it’s still going to make a huge profit for us.

What these executives aren’t keeping in mind, however, is that movie audiences aren’t as gullible as they might appear to be. Setting a debut for this film on Memorial Day weekend, when it must compete with all the summer blockbusters starting to come out, is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, it’s time for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise to come to an end. Please don’t let them make another. Truthfully, I’d wait to see it until you can stream it with your internet at home.

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Movie Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

kong-skull-island-warner-bros

kong-skull-island-warner-bros

“Kong: Skull Island” is King Kong like you’ve never seen him before. He’s bigger, angrier and more powerful than in any other Kong movie. So you can understand what’s going to happen when you see this film – you’ll be treated to some of the most epic CGI action and violence that you’re going to see in 2017.

The latest installment in the King Kong series of films, “Kong: Skull Island” takes us to an island in the Pacific, where a star-studded cast (Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John Goodman) must make sense of the mythical beast they are about to confront. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, this film is set in the 1970s, with action taking place both in Vietnam and the mysterious Skull Island in the Pacific.

A bigger, bloodier King Kong

The first thing that you’ll notice about “Kong: Skull Island” is that the film is much more violent and bloodier than any in the past. It’s almost as if there’s a running tally of how many bodies can be torn limb from limb, stomped on, devoured in rage, or shaken like a rag doll. The violence is so non-stop that you soon lose track of who’s going to die. But that’s not a problem, because it’s quite clear that just about every single person who appears on screen is going to die. The only question is really how gruesome or violent their demise is going to be. But even that is a relative issue: is it better to be stomped on by King Kong, or ripped part for dinner by some giant prehistoric beast?

A supersized CGI King Kong

It’s not just King Kong who seems bigger and larger than life on the island. There are giant bugs and prehistoric menaces lurking around every corner. In fact, in many ways, the film feels like one of those CGI monster movies, where mythical creatures like Godzilla are giant, fire-breathing CGI creations poised for an epic battle of dominance. This King Kong is the biggest of all.

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A nod to the previous Kong classics

Of course, as you’d expect, there’s a nod to the previous Kong classics. It seems hard to believe, but the first King Kong – the one where the mythical beast climbs to the top of the Empire State Building with tiny Fay Wray in his hand – came out 84 years ago. There’s no New York and no Empire State Building in this film, but the basic story remains intact. The first part of the film involves the long trip to the island, and then one by one, we learn the back story of Kong and uncover more and more of the mysterious island where he resides. And, of course, there’s always the “damsel in distress.”

The steady Vietnam presence

This version is set in the 1970s, about the time of the Vietnam war. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson plays a U.S. military officer (Preston Packard) who’s none too happy with the ceasefire. And the military helicopters are everywhere. In many ways, the spirit of Vietnam infuses this film. In fact, A.V. Club has called this film a “Vietnam-themed monster mash,” and it’s clear why. The only question is whether or not King Kong is supposed to be a metaphor for the war, and whether we are really supposed to feel anything in our hearts for this beast.

The star-studded cast

This film includes a high-profile cast. There’s Tom Hiddleston as the hunter (James Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson as the military sergeant, a beautiful young war photographer (Oscar winner Brie Larson as Mason Weaver), and John Goodman as a scientist (Bill Randa) who’s using the context of the war taking place in Asia to get funding for his trip abroad.

Overall, the cast does an admirable job of bringing the Kong story to life. If you were expecting a drop dead gorgeous and vulnerable Fay Wray, though, you’ll be disappointed in Brie Larson. She’s certainly beautiful, but hardly vulnerable. With each new iteration of the Kong franchise, the heroine seems to change. (Remember Naomi Watts from the last “King Kong”?)

Some of the funniest lines of the film belong to John Goodman, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson does what he does best: show flashes of anger. And John C. Reilly as Marlow is great.

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The “Apocalypse Now” aesthetic

It’s impossible to ignore all the subtle references to “Apocalypse Now” in this Kong film. In fact, if you just watch the trailer, it’s obvious: the orange sunset, the whirring helicopters, and the Vietnam setting in the 1970s. There’s even music from the Rolling Stones. One of the iconic movie posters for “Kong: Skull Island” says it all – there’s a massive gorilla surrounded by helicopters against the backdrop of the spectacular orange sunset.

Throughout the film, characters walk around, saying things like, “This place is hell.” There’s Marlow, the Marlon Brando-like figure. There’s even a character called Conrad (a reference to Joseph Conrad, author of “Heart of Darkness,” which served as the inspiration for “Apocalypse Now”). Everywhere you look, there seems to be the presence of “Apocalypse Now” director Francis Ford Coppola — there’s even a trip down the river, just as there was in the film (and the book).

Themes of teamwork and courage

Obviously, faced with such a menace as Kong, themes of teamwork and courage serve as perhaps the only unifying themes in the movie. This is really an action-adventure film with a lot of violence and gore, but as far as big ideas and concepts, one could also point to the anti-war message. For the youngest generation, though, references to the “fall of Saigon” may only be a footnote in a dusty history book, not an event that galvanized an entire nation nearly 40 years ago.

Conclusions

Overall, this is a big budget ($185 million) blockbuster that won’t disappoint action and adventure fans. It’s packed with violent action and lots of CGI scenes. According to Box Office Mojo, the film has already raked in $137 million at the U.S. box office ever since it debuted on March 10. It’s also picked up a rating of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 7.1/10.0 on IMDb, so it’s obviously been a crowd pleaser.

If you don’t go into the film expecting to see Oscar-worthy performances from any of the cast (even the wonderful Oscar-winning Brie Larson), you won’t leave the cinema disappointed. It’s hard to tell if this film is intended to be a reboot of the storied franchise or just an homage to one of the greatest films ever, but it’s easy to see how the next King Kong would try to top this one: bigger, even more action-packed, and even more over the top.

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