Thursday, July 18, 2019

Criterion Collection #1000 Revealed: Inside the Most Complete MCU Box Set to Date

Article written by George Stefano Pallas. Cinephilia and unhealthy hoarding practiced by the author is his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

On July 15, 2019, an insatiable panic descended on the streets of Facebook, Film Twitter, Instagram, and the customer service inbox of Criterion. For as long as time immemorial, it had been tradition for the New York-based film restoration and home video company to unveil a new line-up of forthcoming releases on the 15th day of the month, usually no later than 4PM PT. This time, however, metropolitan white-collar workers and arts students furiously pounding the refresh button at their desks were gathering that something had gone terribly wrong at Criterion HQ. All lines of communication were down, and the evening passed with not so much as a mysterious tweet from The Big C.

Criterion aficionados had begun to register unease well before the day of the announcement because of the unique stakes at hand. The last month’s update had concluded on Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown as the 997th spine number in the collection, virtually ensuring a shockwave of anticipation for the next batch of titles. What would receive the honor of sporting the 1000th spine in the most esteemed, selective, and coveted American video catalogue, celebrated by many as “film school in a box”?

A disturbance rippled throughout the cinephile community. How could this edition possibly top such releases as the 39-film Ingmar Bergman box set, 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912-2012, or the iconic Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom? Some proposed that a comprehensive Akira Kurosawa collection would be the easiest path for Criterion to take. Others cynically hypothesized that the company would release yet another version of Citizen Kane, caving in to popular consensus.

After days of the most nail-biting tension observable outside a De Palma film, Criterion fans can finally lay aside their baseless fears and pre-order spine #1000, Early Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Infinity Saga. When asked by the Files to explain what caused the delay, CEO Jonathan B. Turell stated that Criterion places “immense value in perfectionism” and “wanted to display a level of love and craftsmanship in the release’s presentation proportional to the films themselves.” They also had to decide upon a fair price point that wouldn’t be prohibitive to consumers while still reflecting the high quality of the Criterion brand.

Given the company’s mission of “publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world,” the collected first, second, and third phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) should appease Criterion fans as the only logical contender for this incredible milestone. At the time of writing, the MCU is by a wide margin the highest-grossing cinematic franchise of all time, and within a week or two it will also include the highest-grossing film of all time. Criterion is designating the first 22 films in the epic, comic book-derived series as “early” Marvel in acknowledgment that the franchise is still young, 11 years being a blip in the lifetime of a prolific auteur.  

In addition to its obvious cultural and financial impact, the MCU has broken new ground in the process of filmmaking itself, a feat that’s reflected in the packaging. The Infinity Saga box set substantially deviates from the vast majority of numbered Criterion releases by not attributing the movies to a specific director; e.g. “Ant-Man and the Wasp – a film by Peyton Reed” instead reads “Ant-Man and the Wasp – a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Such a peculiar design choice would seem to underscore the novel and experimental technique of making all MCU movies look and feel mostly the same regardless of who’s directing them, or it may allude to the fact that many MCU directors don’t actually direct their own action scenes.

The MCU has garnered critical acclaim across the board and numerous Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture. Although entertaining enough to be mistaken for harmless “escapism,” the films invoke the guise of fantasy to deliver subtle yet profound commentary on paganism, bureaucratic overreach, democratic tampering, late capitalism, white nationalism, the military industrial complex, 9/11 Truth, unilateralism, xenophobia, queer identity, and intersectional feminism.

One official Oscar campaign poster for Black Panther blends approximately 20 separate Washington Post opinion articles on the film to say, “As a celebration of Pan-Africanism and a critique of Africa’s colonial history, Black Panther pays homage to forebears as diverse as Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Dubois drawing on elements from African history and tribal culture, as well as contemporary and forward-looking flourishes, it is bracingly, joyfully groundbreaking” [sic]. Hundreds if not thousands of other people who get paid to write about movies unanimously lauded the MCU stand-out and forthcoming Criterion title as “revolutionary,” “historical,” and “like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

Criterion’s Blu-ray/DVD collector’s edition of The Infinity Saga boasts several brand-new transfers from the original Arriraw codecs, guaranteeing that the movies will look more slick and realistic than previous, bare-bones releases. Adding yet more value to the package, a couple of the older films have never-before-seen alternate cuts that make for radically different viewing experiences and help streamline binge-watching. Our e-mail exchanges with a Criterion insider revealed that these cuts will excise elements no longer cohesive to the MCU as a whole, for example editing out the sex scene in Iron Man, the scantily-clad women in Iron Man 2, and Tony Stark’s alcoholism in both. The cuts will also mitigate common, more technical criticisms aimed at the MCU, such as the Dutch angles in Thor and the number of Edwards Norton scenes in The Incredible Hulk. The theatrical versions are included in keeping with Criterion’s record of preserving all options, but the new versions pose a compelling reason for cinephiles to revisit and reevaluate all the films they probably haven’t seen since the theater.

Even the titles that don’t benefit from a restoration or reinterpretation will come loaded with supplements, such as a commentary track by producer Kevin Feige on every installment. The really inquisitive film student will have a surplus of retrospective interviews and documentaries to dig through that explicate the aesthetic, historical, and political significance of The Infinity Saga. Due to the sheer volume of the product, Criterion will be announcing more specifics on special features closer to the release date, but at the moment their website promises a 30-minute video essay analyzing the troublingly relevant geopolitics of Captain America: Civil War. Also exclusive to the box set is a reflection from Olivia Wilde on Captain Marvel’s importance to diversity and representation as the first female main protagonist in an English-language action movie with a budget of more than $150 million that was directed in part by a woman and distributed by Disney.

Turell claims that Criterion’s extended social media silence allowed the company to negotiate the $1000 MSRP sought by Disney, who are sharing the profits, down to a relatively affordable $600. The Early Marvel Cinematic Universe box set ships on October 29, just in time for Black Friday and Christmas.

“We love you 1000,” the Criterion Twitter signed off on Thursday.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Most Important Moment of the Democratic Primary Debates

At the second 2020 Democrat presidential debate televised on June 27, Americans were treated to a very revealing glimpse inside the boundless ego of the party. This revelation didn’t come in the form of non-politician Andrew Yang’s game-changing tie-less aesthetic, chucking tradition to the wind and implicitly lampooning the pretense of looking presentable in the wholly selfish pursuit of power, which any self-respecting authoritarian will wield to silence or further marginalize one’s opponents. Speaking of Yang, the moment didn’t even come in the curious decision of the Democratically-aligned NBC showrunners to mute the microphone of one of the three ethnically non-Caucascian candidates represented between both nights, not even four years after it came to the public’s attention that one of these debates was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton.

As silly as it was, the candidates’ bid to appear more ethnic than their competitors by speaking Spanish—in the case of Pete Buttigieg—or by slipping into an exaggerated black or Latino voice—in the case of half-Jamaican Kamala Harris—did not mark the highlight of the night’s festivities. If the constituents of these elites weren’t so committed to defacing innocuous text-based posters as “hate speech”, maybe the Democrat candidates could loosen up a little, resting assured that, contrary to rumor, it really is okay to be white.

The epiphany did not come in the form of millennial Congressman Eric Swalwell’s humorously transparent ploy to turn, “Pass the torch,” into a meme, because Democrats apparently have a problem with enabling politicians who’ve hardly or never worked in the private sector to rule over them in perpetuity. Pass the popcorn, Eric. You have no place in this race.

I speak not of the increasingly banal and unscientific Democrat cliché of “kids being put in cages” or “separated” from “their parents”, neither charge of which packs much rhetorical punch considering the snakes’ deafening silence on this reality during the Obama presidency, on the extra-constitutional court orders that have wrought such inefficacy in border enforcement, and on the fact that the President, via executive order, has objectively done more to rectify supposed separation than Congress. Never ones to pass up a tacky talking point, the Democrats repeated these buzzwords often and without a hint of irony.

I’m not even referring to the moment when all ten candidates firmly raised their hands in favor of taxpayer funding for illegal immigrants’ health insurance, thus signaling with startling clarity the abject dearth of diversity in a party that pompously defines itself by that very concept. The Republican primary debates were never this boring to watch; Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush didn’t symbolize the same type of Republicanism as Rick Santorum, who likewise didn’t have much in common with Rand Paul, who differs in personality and priorities from fellow conservative Ted Cruz.

The show’s core takeaway didn’t even surface when the eminently privileged Harris, who identifies as “black” yet has slaveowner ancestry and lived in Canada for the majority of her youth, mounted a long-winded and confusing indictment of Joe Biden as a Racist. Perplexingly, she argued this case not because the VP once boasted that his running mate, being black, nonetheless practiced good hygiene, spoke articulately, and wasn’t ugly, but because he once opposed the unpopular policy of mandatory desegregation busing, to her irreparable detriment as a kindergartner… or something. Coincidentally, Harris has made clear in the past just how important she thinks going to public school is; in 2010, she amusingly spoke out in favor of a law to arrest parents of children who continually played hooky, giggling at the concept. Also, she notes, Biden was friends with multiple segregationists, who happened to be Democrats. Oops.

No, the most crucial, exemplary, and damning line of the whole debate went to Harris in a different scenario, one that many commentators simply laughed away as some necessary levity in a night of heated passions and poor choices, rhetorically speaking. After Bernie Sanders concluded a yelling screed about some inequality of outcome or another, as he does, Harris took a long time to speak up when called upon, allowing other Democrats to try to interject. She then slapped her peers on the wrist in a ready-made viral marketing clip, saying, “Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.”

Harris’ retort raises eyebrows for a couple reasons, neither of them being that it was particularly funny. For one, the canned precision of the line suggests that she thought of it ahead of time, which would disqualify it from being graciously considered a gaffe. Did she stutter? In showing such foresight, Harris proved herself to be the campaigning inferior of Biden, who spares as little thought to his spontaneous humor as he does to his policy statements and thus earns the privilege of never being taken too seriously. More damaging than the premeditation of Harris’s “joke” was the blunt admission nestled therein of how the Democrat Party sees itself and the government’s purpose.

In a bygone time, the progressive Left may have prided (or whored, depending on political ambitions) themselves on their eagerness to use other working people’s money to proffer assistance mainly to those disadvantaged citizens who, for one reason or another, cannot obtain work or cannot help themselves. “The first requisite of a good citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pulls his own weight,” said the progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt. To rely on taxpayers extensively for subsistence when one was perfectly capable of raising it oneself would have been cause for shame and personal indignity.

Not 30 years ago, Democrats willing to haggle with the opposing party would echo this basic sentiment, that government putting food on the table should be a temporary evil, if a necessary one. In a news conference on the welfare reform legislation he signed, Bill Clinton once said, “A long time ago I concluded that the current welfare system undermines the basic values of work, responsibility and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help. Today we have an historic opportunity to make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life.” Even though Clinton vetoed the bill twice and signed the final draft in spite of personal objections, it’s hard to imagine any politically viable Democrat today describing the welfare state in such terms as he did.

Harris’ line, coupled with the ecstatic applause from the sycophantic media, reframes government as the rightful breadwinner of every American household tuning into the debate. It is no longer the charge of the state to provide for those who have no means of providing for themselves, but to provide through theft and coercion a baseline standard of comfortable living to all persons residing in the United States, citizen or alien, able-bodied or handicapped. Gone is the Democrat Party that cloyingly advocated for a “safety net” in case hard-working Americans fell upon hard times, for it has been gutted and replaced by a “democratic socialist” purveyor of Medicare for all, “free” college, artificially inflated wages, subsidized abortions for female-to-male transgender individuals, and even unconditional universal basic income.

Making this pandering all the more condescending, some of the Democrat hopefuls have alluded to the defects of centralized government food programs while pushing for them unapologetically. Bernie Sanders infamously lauded food lines in socialist Nicaragua, downplaying the connection between agricultural nationalization and food shortages by saying, “That’s a good thing! In other countries people don’t line up for food; the rich get the food and the poor starve to death.”

With such classist and identitarian lenses setting the tone of the 2020 presidential race, it’s no wonder that the current ringleaders of the Democrat Party feel that their social and intellectual subordinates are unfit to attain the most basic form of self-reliance and must be made dependent on involuntary benefactors to get their bread. If the trendy, über-socialist, intersectional wing of the Democrat Party does manage to seize the reins away from Uncle Joe, then voters will have a very easy decision to make in 2020: would they rather keep the system that trusts them to put food on their own tables, or trust the federal government to do the same? What could go wrong?

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Pixar Fans Are Relieved that "Toy Story 4" Isn't Rated R

Article written by George Stefano Pallas. Infantilization and bald-faced consumerism practiced by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

Another Toy Story movie hits theaters this weekend, which means it’s once again time for parents to replenish their tissue supply. Since the very first Toy Story in 1995, Pixar have built a reputation as the preeminent animation studio telling sophisticated, emotional, grown-up stories that kids can also enjoy. It’s pretty much inarguable they make movies better than anyone else in the whole world, notwithstanding less ubiquitous competitors like Studio Ghibli, Studio Trigger, Studio Chizu, Kyoto Animation, Science Saru, Madhouse, Gainax, Shaft, Inc., CoMix Wave Films, and American Empirical Pictures.

Pixar’s thought-provoking, existentialist series about talking toys being traumatically separated from the children who play with them and finding their way back home over and over again has always held a special appeal among adults, unsurprisingly so, according to Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. “At the end of the day, we don’t make movies for kids, we make them for everybody —for adults and ourselves,” he said two years ago while promoting Coco.

This disclosure, along with some other ambiguous signs, had many Pixar fans concerned about the forthcoming Toy Story 4 and whether parents would be forced to find a babysitter in order to go see it. Despite its G rating, Toy Story 3 caused no small amount of debate in 2010 on the movie’s suitability for young children. Cultural commentators noted that Unkrich wore his horror influences on the movie’s sleeves, particularly in the intense finale where the toys are dragged along a conveyor belt towards an open-mouthed incinerator.

“I honestly think I was more terrified than my 8-year-old back then,” says San Francisco mom Denise Schaal. “One moment Buzz Lightyear is speaking Spanish and Barbie’s doing Barbie things, the next our heroes are holding hands in a circle, face to face with death. Was Pixar about to permanently kill these characters I’d come to love and spent hundreds of dollars on between tickets, VCRs, DVDs, merchandise, and Disneyland passes? It didn’t make any sense. All I could do was cover my eyes.”

Schaal was far from the only adult to notice Pixar’s sudden pivot into more extreme and stomach-churning subject matter. “In the climax of the film, we see the toys embroiled in literal Hell,” observed Jordan Peterson, controversial professor of psychology at the university of Toronto, in one of his YouTube videos. “They flinch and recoil at the sight of this all-consuming evil and join hands in a symbolic gesture of prayer. It’s only through their belief in a higher power that a celestial claw descends from above to save them from the inferno, sealing the redemption and resurrection themes of the whole saga that make Toy Story an indispensable piece of American mythology.”

Other viewers brought different yet no less troubling readings to the film, including the popular view that the plight of the toys in the incinerator subtly evokes the Holocaust. Unkrich has never addressed the fan theory that he intentionally used visual parallels to real death camps responsible for millions of tragedies in order to imbue Toy Story 3 with more dramatic heft. Still, Toy Story fans wondered obsessively if Pixar had outgrown their original audience. Tellingly, the chair of the MPAA later admitted that the ratings board had made a mistake by not restricting Toy Story 3 enough. “It should have been PG-13 at the very least,” she said. “Based on that 70-second scene where nobody gets hurt alone.”

When Pixar continued their dark streak with the violent spy movie Cars 2, the depressing psychological drama Inside Out, the macabre Coco, and the white-knuckle, gritty Incredibles 2, the pattern did little to allay fans’ worst fears that Toy Story would finally receive an R rating.

“I don’t have a problem in principle with creators changing over time and trying out new styles,” says Chapman University sophomore Aishna Feyer. “But when you make the choice to exclude like an entire group from seeing your vision, I don’t see how anybody benefits from that. Pixar are the ones who inspired me to become a filmmaker, like they’re the reason I’m here getting a film degree. Imagine if millions of little girls didn’t have that source of inspiration to go to college for an arts degree.”

Pixar’s silence on Toy Story 4 in the months leading up to it amplified uncertainty about both the genre and the rating of the movie. The revelation that Jordan Peele, director of the terrifying Us, had joined the cast seemed to affirm that Toy Story was sticking to the horror route established in the last film. The use of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in the first trailer also raised eyebrows: would the new film depict Woody’s slide into marijuana and LSD addiction? Or would the studio shaped by John Lasseter leverage the return of Bo Peep to comment on #MeToo and unwanted touching in the workplace? Some journalists at Slate and The Verge welcomed the possibility, but Toy Story purists weren’t sold.

On Monday, though, families exhaled a collective sigh of relief when the MPAA dealt Toy Story 4 a strong G rating, the same as more than half of Pixar’s films aimed at adults. For the near future at least, Toy Story is safe for the whole family, with a few caveats.

“I’m scared to go back,” Schaal says about the new movie. “My baby is about to graduate high-school now; he watches really horrifying stuff like Logan, Deadpool, Alien: Covenant. I just don’t know if I can make it through another two hours of Toy Story in one piece.” She adds with a laugh, “Maybe I’ll have him preview it for me.”
Parental doubts aside, Toy Story 4 is expected easily to sweep the box office this weekend over The Secret Life of Pets 2, Men In Black 4, John Wick 3, Child’s Play (2019), Aladdin (2019), Shaft (2019), Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Avengers: Endgame.