Tom Cruise to make the world’s first narrative feature film in space

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine took to Twitter on Tuesday to confirm that Tom Cruise will shoot his next action blockbuster on the International Space Station, according to Business Insider. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has been making strides toward sending private citizens to space (including the launch date for its first crewed mission to the station on May 27), will provide the flight, while NASA will charge a fee for independent astronauts to come aboard; Russia is the only country that can ship people to and from the station, where private citizen access will be granted to its facilities. No studio has officially greenlit the project as of yet.

Natasha Gregson Wagner’s “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind” (2020) premieres tomorrow on HBO

Natasha Gregson Wagner, the filmmaker behind Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (2020), was eleven years old when her mother drowned off the coast of Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend, 1981, according to The Guardian. Natalie Wood died at forty-three years old, but the movie star, born 1938 in San Francisco to Russian immigrant parents, began acting as a five-year-old before earning an Academy Award at fifteen for Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955). While her daughter’s documentary does confront the suspicious circumstances surrounding Wood’s drowning, Wagner’s goal is to celebrate the life and career which have been overshadowed by it.

This drama is the quintessential film noir, according to “The New York Times”

Between the programming on Turner Classic Movies, the Columbia Noir series currently streaming on the Criterion Channel, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, film noir has found itself part of the contemporary critical conversation again, according to The New York Times. It is difficult, if not impossible, to define noir, if for no other reason than that it transcends genre, but critic Ben Kenigsberg says Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), which is streaming on Criterion’s Columbia Noir series, is a “place for getting a handle on what noir is.” Kenigsberg writes, “It has elements of murder mystery, melodrama and Hollywood insider scoop.”

Hulu review: James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009)

Sir Alfred Hitchcock… Stanley Kubrick… Orson Welles… and James Cameron.

Although Cameron’s oeuvre is “lower” art than these other three directors’ filmographies, he is still not justly recognized as an auteur.

His masterpiece, Titanic (1997), while not free of imperfection, was the first film to gross more than a billion dollars worldwide, and is tied for first for the most Academy Awards nominations and wins for a single release, a fiscal style which continues to influence the industry at large.

His Avatar (2009), the follow-up to Titanic, pales in the shadow of its older sister.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Avatar is available to stream on Hulu. The epic science fiction film was up for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Cameron also wrote the movie, which would go on to surpass Titanic at the box office.

Set in the year 2154, humans have depleted almost all of Earth’s natural resources, leading the Resources Development Administration to mine for unobtanium on the habitable moon of Pandora, which a native species known as the Na’vi calls home.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-bound former United States Marine, is recruited to replace his deceased twin brother on a mission to explore Pandora with his genetically matched human-Na’vi hybrid, also known as an “avatar.”

Jake meets and falls for a Na’vi princess named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and finds himself torn between following the orders of the colonialist RDA and following his heart.

Avatar took home the Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Visual Effects, and, with its pioneering motion-capture as well as 3D technology, it reserves the right to rest on those photographic laurels. It still very much dictates the cinematic conversation today.

There was a time before Avatar, and, now, we live in the Year of Avatar 2020.

Dramatically, the film has its moments, too, if not with the same impact as Titanic. Even at its distended runtime, it is still a digestible romantic hero’s journey. In addition, it is a thematically well-intentioned parable against imperialism.

But the path to Hell is paved in good intentions. Like Kevin Costner’s Danes with Wolves (1990), the white-coded hero saves the day after appropriating this “exotic” culture for himself.

Plus, this reviewer watched Avatar and Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg’s Pocahontas (1995) back to back one time and it was four and a half hours of the same story.

The originality of Avatar has been criticized ad nauseam, but it still bears repeating. All dramatic narratives (or, at least, the well-written ones) follow a template of rules, and they do so for a reason – because the rules work.

But there is a difference between honoring the rules by writing your own which are equal to them if not better, and letting somebody else’s rules do all the work for you – the unimaginative screenplay is secondary to the exactingly detailed world-building.

Additionally, according to feminist theory, Avatar could stand some improvement. Neytiri qualifies as one of Cameron’s pseudo-feminist “strong, independent women,” who are written with such masculinity, they might as well be men.

Back to Titanic, Kate Winslet’s character is the best-written of this author’s signature trope, because her arc develops her from a damsel in distress to a rescuer to a self-preservationist without sounding like she was written by a man, and the same cannot be said for Neytiri.

Cameron’s trademark technique is to get record budgets greenlit for original properties (and then profiting off their record returns), and, for that reason, Avatar is a worthwhile lesson in cinematic history.

It to this day shapes everything to come after it, and, though not Cameron’s masterwork, it still epitomizes his boy-like wonder over unexplored universes.

Cinema, at its most “cinematic,” is dreamlike, childlike, and transporting, and, so, Avatar has colored the cinematic arts in cosmic shades of blue since its premiere more than a decade ago.

BBC critic calls “The Empire Strikes Back” overrated

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Nicholas Barber writes, “You can sense that Lucas and his team aren’t focusing on the current film anymore – they’re setting up the third part in what would now be a trilogy – and they are no longer interested in wars in the stars. Despite its title, The Empire Strikes Back is rarely about the Alliance v the Empire, it’s about who is related to whom and who is in love with whom (the two sometimes overlap). It twists the saga from the political to the personal, from space opera to soap opera.” (Image Courtesy: BBC).

With Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) released forty years ago this month, BBC critic Nicholas Barber writes that he finds the Star Wars film considered as the best to be “slower, stodgier, more contrived, convoluted, and repetitive.” Indeed, Barber is not alone in his opinion – notable reviewers such as Vincent Canby at The New York Times were also underwhelmed with the first sequel to George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). Instead, Barber argues that the original is the greatest entry in the franchise, “with its wealth of history, mythology, politics, and technology.”

“Hunger Games” prequel in the works at Lionsgate

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The four movies in the Hunger Games saga grossed nearly three billion dollars globally for Lionsgate. (Image Courtesy: The Birmingham News).

At five hundred twenty-eight pages, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is scheduled for publication May 19 from Scholastic Press, with Lionsgate set to release the film adaptation, according to The Birmingham News. Set sixty-four years before the events of The Hunger Games, the prequel will follow an eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow, before he becomes the villainous President of Panem, as he mentors the female tribute from District Twelve at the tenth annual Hunger Games. Franchise alumni Francis Lawrence, Michael Arndt, as well as Nina Jacobson will return as director, screenwriter, and producer, respectively, for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Films that didn’t play in theaters now eligible for Academy Awards

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences adjusted its eligibility rules for the Academy Awards to include films that didn’t play in theaters, according to Variety. The board of governors convened Tuesday to approve the temporary hold on the mandate that a movie needs to run for seven days in a commercial Los Angeles theater to qualify for the Oscars. While digital releases will be eligible, the streamed picture must have already had a planned theatrical release, in addition to being made available on the Academy Screening Room member-only site within sixty days.