Battle For The Net

CREATIVE COMMONS

Net Neutrality. You’ve been hearing those words all week just as much as I have. But what do they mean? Simply put, it’s what allows the internet to be open and accessible to all of its users, allowing us the freedom to go wherever or whenever we want on the web. Many things that make the internet so integral to online communication and trade is because of net neutrality, allowing us to access online innovations such as Netflix, Skype, Steam, Facebook, and so much more. If repealed, the internet will become completely deregulated and everything you’ve come to love about it will cease to exist.

Sounds dramatic I know, but it’s true, especially in my case. Independent journalists such as myself live and die by net neutrality. In the face of major media conglomerates such as TIME, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, writers like me are small fry compared to big fishes like them. And yet, net neutrality sets us on an even playing field because all of our data is treated equally on the web. Because of net neutrality, content creators like me always have an equal opportunity to reach web traffic, just as much as any of our competitors do.

So why does the Federal Communications Commission want to repeal net neutrality? The reason FCC chairman Ajit Pai claims is to “restoring internet freedom,” although you have to wonder if he’s talking about freedom for the internet or for its service providers?

“The federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Pai announced in a statement last month. “Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them, and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

First of all, the service plan that’s best for its users is the one we already have now, where we’re charged with one bill per month for internet use. That’s directly because of net neutrality. If repealed, the one bill we have to pay would be split into multiple different bills, which would just make payment a lot more confusing for its users by the end of the month.

CREATIVE COMMONS

When you buy a pair of jeans, you pay one amount for the jeans, not multiple payments individually for the beltline, shins, legs, and pockets. The pair of jeans we’re wearing right now is the internet with net neutrality. If net neutrality is repealed, we would have to pay for all of our services individually, including social media, streaming services, email, online shopping, and more.

Second, there’s no evidence that the government is “micromanaging the internet” to begin with. That would imply that they dictate control over what content is available and what can or can’t be shared, to which they obviously do not. Don’t believe me? Then why hasn’t Donald Trump blocked The New York Times’ or CNN’s content on the web? Why didn’t Barack Obama put up a paywall for Fox News or Breitbart? Simple: it’s because they can’t.

However, while the government’s job isn’t to “micromanage” the internet, it is it’s job to regulate it, specifically via the FCC. Pai says that internet service providers will regulate themselves without checks and balances, but that couldn’t be more incorrect. Service providers have been trying to abuse the internet since 2005, from AT&T blocking Skype and FaceTime to Verizon and Sprint blocking Google Wallet. What stopped them from doing these things was the FCC. Why? Because it’s their job. When you put up traffic cameras on the street to monitor traffic, you’re not “micromanaging” the roads. You’re checking to make sure that drivers are being safe and responsible. When police officers put on body cameras while on-duty, you’re not “micromanaging” police work. You’re holding them accountable for unethical or illegal behavior they may engage in while wearing the badge.

The same applies to the FCC. It’s their job to monitor the internet and make sure it remains free and open, not restricted and limited. For an entity that’s supposed to regulate the internet, why on Earth would they want to deregulate it? That would be like a babysitter leaving the kids to fend for themselves while she’s out with her boyfriend. When the parents come home to find the house on fire, it would not be the kids’ fault. It would be the babysitter’s.

Third, repealing net neutrality would not empower free speech: it would potentially inhibit it. As I mentioned before, internet service providers are currently not allowed to treat data impartially on the web. But if net neutrality is repealed? Then it becomes a crapshoot. ISP’s can put up paywalls for certain websites in addition to the paywalls that may already exist, they can ban certain URLs, even block entire websites altogether.

With the internet as we have it now, we have an equal opportunity to digest and process different types of information at the same time. But take net neutrality out of the picture, and suddenly you have a whole sect of the internet you might not be able to access.

Net neutrality does not inhibit free speech. It protects it. Anyone who says otherwise misunderstands net neutrality and how it impacts our internet consumption.

So again, why does the FCC really want to repeal net neutrality? We can only speculate a number of reasons. It could be because they want to deregulate the internet to lessen the media’s resolve against the Trump administration. It could be because their donors are in the service provider’s pockets and their literal incomes might be on the line. Or it could be just to snow Obama again, as net neutrality was approved during Obama’s second term as president.

Either way, this is a serious issue in protecting our internet freedom and something everyone should be concerned about, whether you exist on the left or right end of the political spectrum. The FCC meets to vote on net neutrality on Dec. 14, and this is more serious than any other legislative issue going on this year. Why? It’s because we possess less of a say in it. Whatever you thought about legislation this year regarding healthcare, credit unions, and tax plans, we at least have a hand of influence in those decisions. That’s because no matter how your senators voted this year, they have to turn around and face your votes during the senate elections in 2018. Actions and consequences are attached to every decision politicians make, and they are delivered by the American people deciding whether or not their senators get to keep their jobs next year.

The FCC, however, is a different story. Unlike with senators and congressmen, voters like you and me don’t impact the employment of FCC commissioners. They are 100% employed by the president and his cabinet. Because of this, our voices matter now more than ever, and they need to be loud enough so every commissioner can hear them from miles away.

So before the FCC votes to repeal net neutrality on Dec. 14, don’t forget to call them on their direct line at 1-202-418-1000, or email the members directly at Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov, Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov, Mike.O’Rielly@fcc.gov, Brendan.Carr@fcc.gov, and Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov. Call them and email them once, then keep calling and emailing them up until the day of the vote. Otherwise you might not be able to access this web page the next time you type in my address.

– David Dunn

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Bryan Singer Fired From ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Bryan Singer’s time has come.

After a series of on-set tensions from the upcoming Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, director Bryan Singer was fired from the production after being absent from the set for long periods of time. 20th Century Fox didn’t mince words with their statement on the subject, stating plainly that “Bryan Singer is no longer the director of Bohemian Rhapsody.”

So what exactly happened? According to The Hollywood Reporter, the problems started when Singer was missing from the set on several occasions. Frequent collaborator and cinematographer Thomas Newton Singel stepped in to both direct and shoot the film on days where Singer was absent. Actors Rami Malek and Tom Hollander were reportedly frustrated by Singer’s lack of professionalism, with Hollander even temporarily leaving production himself due to Singer’s absence.

Although Singer eventually returned under the watchful eye of Fox and a DGA representative, tensions were already heightened to the point where Malek and Singer had an intense confrontation while on-set. While it seemed that they had settled their differences and were ready to resume production, Singer went missing again during Thanksgiving break and did not return to the set. Siegel once again oversaw filming before Fox finally shut down production and fired Singer, reportedly looking for a new director to finish out the remaining two weeks of filming.

This story is perhaps one of the more unusual developments to come out of Hollywood this year. Notable for many successful projects, Singer has been at the helm of many cinematic hits, including The Usual Suspects, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. You would think that his contributions to Bohemian Rhapsody would help the film’s production, not hinder it. And yet, Singer’s inclusion (or rather lack thereof) undoubtedly caused much on-set tensions and frustrations. This type of behavior is typically unheard of from Hollywood, especially from Singer.

Regardless, Singer is out and the project is in the market for a new director. Who should replace him? Personally I’m privy to Siegel himself, as he’s so far answered beyond the call of duty by managing much more of the film than he was originally expected to. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see him finish out the remaining two weeks of filming, but only if he really wanted to. Plus, it would be a nice addition to his resume as Bohemian Rhapsody would technically be his first directing credit.

If he wasn’t interested in director, who would be the next best pick? Steven Soderbergh? Surely he’s got Freddie Mercury’s moves down from Magic Mike.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Unite the Super Friends!

Before I review Justice League, I want to pay my respects to director Zack Snyder and his daughter Autumn who committed suicide in March earlier this year, coercing Snyder to step away from production so he and his wife could grieve in privacy. No parent should ever have to endure that, especially when they’re trying to make a film that is supposed to compete with Marvel’s The Avengers. So as I plunge ahead, please realize that my job as a film critic is to review movies, not people. I am judging Justice League based on its own merits as a film, not Zack Snyder as a filmmaker and especially not as a person.

After the death of Superman (Henry Cavill) during the events of Batman V. Superman, Justice League follows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) picking up the broken pieces of their world as they try to assemble a team of meta-humans to protect the Earth in Superman’s absence. These meta-humans include Arthur Curry the Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), Barry Allen a.k.a. the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a cyborg trapped inside a metallic body. Together these superhero misfits form the Justice League, protecting the world from criminals, aliens, and Gods of death alike.

Right out of the gate, reviewing Justice League is a challenge because it feels like we’re watching two different movies at once here. In a way, we are. When Snyder had to exit the production in May, The Avengers director Joss Whedon was brought in to help with re-shoots and post-production, reportedly re-writing some scenes to add his signature humor to the film. Since this is the case, it is impossible to view the film and fairly critique the right director, because we have no way of knowing for sure which scenes in the final cut belong to Snyder or Whedon.

Regardless, Justice League is a mess, from the writing all the way to the visual effects, only offering brief relief in the form of spot-on humor, fun characterizations, and dizzying action spectacles. When I spoke to one of my closest friends about the film earlier this week, he described it to me as “a beautiful disaster.” Yeah, that sounds about right.

The good news is that Justice League is a substantial improvement over it’s predecessor Batman V. Superman, a gaudy and unbearably stupid film that not even the most passionate comic book fan could defend. This is in large part because of the film’s casting, which is impeccable from the film’s most central roles to those less in the spotlight. Affleck continues to inhabit the double persona of Bruce Wayne and Batman well enough, while Gadot once again shines as the super-powered Wonder Woman that fans have come to know and love.

Yet, the newcomers are just as good as the veterans are, with many of them keeping up with Affleck and Gadot in both acting ability and presence. Mamoa brings a rugged bad boy persona to Aquaman, effectively breaking him away from his silly comic book origins. Fisher inhabits the tortured soul of Victor Stone brilliantly, with his portrayal coming off like the robotic Frankenstein’s monster of the group. And yet, the best of these new leaguers is definitely Ezra Miller’s Flash, who comes off as so excitable and happy that he doesn’t feel as much like a superhero as he does a superfan meeting all of his favorite comic book heroes at once. Be honest: if you were in a room with Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg, wouldn’t your smile be as wide as Miller’s is?

These actors are great in their roles individually, and they really come together to make the Justice League work and feel believable as one entity. Unfortunately, the film’s greater failures have nothing to do with the actors, but with the screenplay they’ve been provided. Case in point: the film’s villain Steppenwolf, played here by “Game of Thrones” actor Ciaran Hinds. I’ve never been so bored by a villain in my entire life at the movies. He’s so stock and unappealing. He has no personality, no compelling motivation against our movie’s heroes, and nothing interesting to set him apart from previous movie villains. Say what you will about Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor or Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress: at least they were interested in their parts and played them up as best they could. But at no point does Steppenwolf rise the stakes the way he needs to nor does he even feel like a legitimate threat to our heroes. He feels more like a video game boss you have to beat at the end of the level to win the game. He looks like one too with how much gray-scaled CGI he has plastered all over his body.

Speaking of CGI, the effects are God-awful and among the worst visuals I’ve seen in any DC movie to date. Yes, I’m saying this is worse than the Kryptonian zombie in Batman V. Superman and the Mummy monsters in Suicide Squad. Everything is so underdeveloped in the picture, from the flying parademons that attack our heroes, to the Atlanteans that Steppenwolf fights in Atlantis, to even Superman himself. When Henry Cavill was asked to come back to the set for re-shoots, Cavill reportedly had a mustache that he couldn’t shave due to his role in Mission Impossible 6, so the visual effects team resorted to digitally removing his mustache in post-production. They would have been better off if they left it in. Cavill’s distorted, bloated face looks so strange and artificial, looking more like one of the Kardashians than he does the man of steel. And yes, I know this was the best solution the studio could come up with despite its production issues and re-shoots. That doesn’t change how ridiculous it looks on screen, or the fact that he looks better in an Edvard Munch painting than he does in a Justice League movie.

All in all, Justice League is your simple, by-the-books superhero team-up movie that has some great acting and action, however technically incompetent it may be. It has everything necessary to satisfy the hardcore DC fan. Everyone else? Not so much.

Yet I don’t blame Joss Whedon for what we see on the screen here. I don’t blame writer Chris Terrio either, as he wrote the film as best he could despite the limited criteria he had to work with. I don’t even blame Zack Snyder for this film, who very understandably was going through a lot during production. No, if anything I blame DC Films and Warner Bros. Pictures for their gross mishandling on the production side of these movies. It took Marvel five well-focused movies before they released The Avengers in 2012. Didn’t DC realize long ago that they couldn’t release Justice League with two good movies, one passable one, and one catastrophic one? Justice League gets two stars out of four. Autumn Snyder gets four.

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Unite the League: 10 Greatest DC Comics Movies Of All Time

It’s funny how DC Comics is struggling to break into the cinematic universe gig despite their vast influence over comic book history. We give Marvel creator Stan Lee so much credit for all of the creative and dynamic characters he’s brought us over the years, both on the panels of the comic book and on the big screen. Yet has anyone ever stopped to think about the inspiration that came before him? Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the pages of Action Comics in May 1938. Bob Kane created Batman in 1939. William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman in 1941. Even with all of his young promise, Stan Lee wouldn’t create the Fantastic Four until 1961, 20 years after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were cemented as comic-book icons, influencing our culture several decades beyond their time. Stan Lee may have perfected the comic-book craft, but he did not start it. DC Comics did.

How ironic is it, then, that the DCEU is struggling both financially and critically five movies into their franchise, yet Marvel is skyrocketing with their 18th film due for release next spring? It’s a shame, really. DC has been a huge part of many childhoods over the years, mine included. The original Richard Donner Superman films starring Christopher Reeve. The Tim Burton Batman movies starring Michael Keaton. The “Batman” and “Justice League” animated cartoons. We’ve grown up with these characters for so long, hoping one day to see them all realized on the big screen. We got our wish, although it may not be what many were expecting.

For the record, I haven’t seen Justice League yet, and will not until later this week when I’ve recovered from my sinus infection. Regardless, I have had time to catch up on the nostalgia on some older DC movies, and boy are there many. Regardless of whether Justice League is any good or not, at least we’ll be able to look back fondly on these 10 DC Comics movies.

– David Dunn

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“THOR: RAGNAROK” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

We will, we will Ragnarok you.

Just when you thought Marvel had used all the tricks up their sleeve, they release Thor: Ragnarok, a movie that has absolutely no business being this good or memorable. Here is a picture which, by every metric, should have failed. It’s a Thor movie first of all, and it features the one Avenger so dull that a cardboard mannequin with a blonde wig is more interesting than him. His co-star is the Hulk, and that meshing of fantasy and sci-fi genres makes about as much sense as putting Harry Potter in a Batman movie. It’s the third part of a trilogy, which usually ends up being the worst in the series (See Spider-Man 3, X-Men: Apocalypse). On top of that, this film is a retro-comedy aiming for the style akin to Guardians of the Galaxy. How on Asgard could Marvel have pulled this off? Spectacularly, that’s how.

A sequel to both Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok follows our golden-haired hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) propelled through the universe as he tries to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of Asgard. He goes to Muspelheim to capture the fire demon Sultur (Clancy Brown), Midgard to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the Sanctum Sanctorum to meet Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Sakaar to fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Asgard to face Hela, the Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett). I’m telling you, this guy gets around. If he traveled anymore in the movie, he’d have to throw away his hammer and resort to montages for faster travel.

Here is a movie that, for the life of me, I don’t understand how it works. This film packs five different genres into one narrative, and that usually spells doom for any movie that tries to do that. Not here. Thor: Ragnarok is a funny comedy, a thrilling action movie, an exciting adventure, a heartfelt drama, and a groundbreaking superhero epic that hits every single note that it needs to. A movie this busy should not feel this simple, yet it flows and moves effortlessly, like how one stretches and plays with silly putty.

Where do I even start? The film’s director Taika Waititi executes his film chaotically yet masterfully, filling his characters with vibrant personalities and throwing them through action scenes resemblant of a little kid playing with his action figures. My main complaint with superhero movies (and really most action blockbusters in general) is that studios focus so much on the action and visual effects that they forget that character and personality is the driving force behind the successes of most major film franchises. For example, would the visual feats in Superman and Star Wars have felt as incredible if Clark Kent or Luke Skywalker weren’t as likeable of heroes to begin with?

Thor: Ragnarok takes cues from both of those movies as it emboldens its characters with electric personalities, playing off of their charisma and creating witty, comedic dialogue between each other. Chris Hemsworth continues to play the fratty, oblivious oaf in Thor as he always has, but here he does it with a self-awareness that makes him funny enough to pass it off as likeable. Ruffalo steals the spotlight in a mostly Hulk-dominated performance, yet rounds him out with a subtle arc that possesses its own somberness and tragedy within it. And Blanchett surprisingly offers up a menacing and diabolical performance in a franchise that is usually lacking in the villain presence, even though her motivations for fighting Thor are kind of weak in the film.

Everything else from the film is unorthodox perfection. Seriously. I haven’t seen anything like it. The comedy hits exactly the right notes with the right lines. The drama, while at times a little too brisk, strikes with the emotional chord that it needs to. The action scenes are thrilling. The visual effects, mesmerizing. The music, synthesized and catchy. Even the Easter Eggs are infectious in their appeal, with one cameo involving Tom Hiddleston’s Loki making me laugh so hard that my surrounding audience members started to look worried for me.

If I had any weakness to offer, it would be that the film’s tone is jarring compared to previous entries, with the series doing a complete 180 in genre from a Norse fantasy epic to an action-comedy so in-cheek that the “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” troupe would wonder where their invite was. But to that I say screw consistency, this is a fantastic movie; one that flips one of Marvel’s most boring characters and somehow makes him the most interesting. Maybe I would be irritated by the change in aesthetic if they did this with Iron Man or Captain America, but that’s only because those characters already have an interesting arc and personality to them. Thor is more of a blank slate, and in realizing this, Waititi pulls out his paint cans and floods the screen with as much color and life as he can.

I haven’t had this much fun in a superhero movie since The Avengers in 2012. Yes, I’m comparing Thor: Ragnarok to The Avengers. Don’t knock it until you try it. While it doesn’t confront real-world issues and moral dilemmas like Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Civil War does, Thor: Ragnarok more than makes up for it with its stylish action, colorful visuals, brilliant self-awareness, and gut-busting humor so hilarious that it’s difficult not to pee your pants from laughing so much. This is a movie where Deadpool could appear in randomly halfway through the picture and it would still make complete sense.

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Et tu, Loki?

Thor: The Dark World is another Thor movie, and how much you’re going to like it depends just on how you react to hearing that. I quite liked the first Thor, although the town scenes meandered a bit too much for my liking. Beyond that, it was a fun, standard superhero fanfare that watched and clapped its hands whenever Thor whacked something with his hammer. Thor: The Dark World has all of the elements that made the first Thor successful, just more of it.

After Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) embarrassing defeat at the hands of the world’s mightiest heroes in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings him back to Asgard to stand trial against his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). While this is going on, the ancient dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who has spent centuries trapped in suspended animation, is suddenly set free and assembles his army to reclaim the Aether, a powerful artifact that can eat away and disintegrate entire worlds. Now with the fate of the nine realms in the balance, Thor needs to team up with Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Warriors Three, and even Loki to defeat Malekith and free the universe from his madness.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Malekith is a terrible villain. Don’t get me wrong, Eccleston is a fantastic actor, and he brings a sense of conviction and ruthlessness to his role unlike anything we’ve seen from him when he played the ninth doctor in BBC’s “Doctor Who” series. But the villain himself is completely flat and uninteresting. He has no personal stake in Thor or anybody else’s story. He’s just a giant, ugly-looking grey Yoda ripoff that has the typical “I WILL DESTROY THE UNIVERSE” shtick. He doesn’t have Obadiah Stane’s deceitful snide, the Red Skull’s malicious presence, or even Loki’s sickly narcissistic charm. No, he’s just your typical big baddie with zero personality or interest, and he inhabits the film like Marvel needed to fit the bill just so they could green light the production. In an age where supervillains have the potential to be the best or most memorable element in a superhero film, Malekith is just flimsy and forgettable. He offers nothing significant to set him apart from the rest of the Marvel crew.

Thankfully, Hiddleston offers more than enough personality and interest as Loki to make up for Malekith’s lackluster inclusion. One of the things about Hiddleston that constantly impresses me is how well he inhabits the cunning and madness of Loki whenever he’s in character. He has a jesting, flamboyant flair to him, yet a sinister undertone that’s always seething beneath like a snake’s venom through his teeth. Unlike Malekith, Loki has a grounded investment in the story, has personal ties and a history with the film’s hero, and plenty of deep layers that reveal themselves the more you pull back on them. There’s an incredibly interesting arc to his character, an almost Shakespearean tragedy that tells of a man infatuated with himself and his riches, but only inflicts himself the further he draws away from his family and friends. The dynamic that he shares with Hemsworth as his brother easily takes precedence as the most memorable moments from the movie. He could have a film entirely dedicated to himself and not lose one bit of interest or investment in it. He’s that good.

The rest of the film is your typical Asgardian action-adventure. Characters fly and fight each other in incredible visual spectacle, the costumes on both the Asgardians and the elves have an edge and detail to them that evokes the feel of ancient Roman garb and armor, and the set design of Asgard and its surrounding worlds continues to shine in spectacularly vivid detail, as if it’s an image ripped straight from our dreams as opposed to the frames on celluloid. The film’s director Alan Taylor demonstrates a keen eye on the design and visual appearance of Asgard and the nine realms, and so he should. He’s directed seven episodes from the highly-praised “Game of Thrones” television series, another show that had highly-stylistic violence and an acute sense of detail to its scenery and costumes. Thor: The Dark World is a fitting follow-up for him. Asgard continues to astound and amaze, the action is just as exciting and gripping, and Taylor continues to expand upon this infinite universe that Thor is constantly exploring.

So which film is better? Thor, or The Dark World? I can’t really say for certain. They both play to their strengths, yet also demonstrate ignorance to the flaws perpetrated by their plots. I guess for me, it depends on how much you want to see Thor’s character arc fleshed out versus watching Thor bash bad guy’s brains in with a magical metal hammer. I vote hammer. Thor: The Dark World is ambitious, gladiatorial-style fun that pits our super-powered fantasy heroes against each other and watches what chaos ensues. I halfway expect Thor to turn around and yell “Are you not entertained?!” to the audience after playing whack-an-elf with Malekith. I’d pay a ticket price just to see that on its own.

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Full ‘Lion King’ Cast Announced

Haaaaaaaa-I-see-aaaaaaaa-a-Glover-a-Simbaaaaaaaaa.

That lead probably worked better in my head rather than typed out. But if The Mummy has showed us anything, it is that my lead is still not the worst thing that was written this year.

Regardless, Walt Disney recently released their full voice cast for The Lion King remake, directed by The Jungle Book’s Jon Favreau. Many of the actors are unsurprising, especially when names such as Donald Glover have been circling the project since day one of development. Others were merely rumored until Disney confirmed their involvement late last night.

See the whole cast list below:

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Simba (Donald Glover)
Nala (Beyonce Knowles-Carter)
Mufasa (James Earl Jones)
Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
Sarabi (Alfre Woodward)
Zazu (John Oliver)
Rafiki (John Kani)
Pumbaa (Seth Rogan)
Timon (Billy Eichner)
Azizi (Eric Andre)
Shenzi (Florence Kasumba)
Kamari (Keegan-Michael Key)

Gotta say, solid cast. Rogan and Oliver are excellent choices in their respective comedic roles, while Beyonce (a.k.a. BAE!) is pitch-perfect as Nala. My favorite casting by far is James Earl Jones, who is reprising his role as Simba’s father Mufasa from the original animated feature. The Jungle Book also a great cast associated with it (Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba), but The Lion King easily knocks theirs out of the park. I can’t wait to see how these actors do in their respective parts.

One cast member that I am hesitant with: Chiwetel Ejiofor as the film’s villain Scar. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Ejiofor as an actor, and I have no doubt he’ll be great in this role. Why in 12 Years A Slave he was the best part in it by far, and he was also great as a supporting role in films including The Martian and Doctor Strange. But earlier this year, Hugh Jackman was among those rumored to be in the running for Scar. That ended up being an April fool’s joke, but after I heard that I couldn’t picture anybody else in the role. Seriously, listen to Hugh Jackman’s voice the next time you rewatch him as Wolverine in any of the older X-Men films. Tell me you don’t hear a perfect Scar behind that grisly growl of his.

Either way, it looks like Disney is all-hands-on-deck for their Lion King remake. We’ll have to wait until 2019 to see how far the horizon goes.

– David Dunn

SOURFCE: Walt Disney Studios, Slate

Pulses of the Nation

CREDIT: David Goldman / AP

One year.

It’s been one year since America went from its last deadliest shooting to the next. That doesn’t just happen. Last year, 49 people were killed and 58 were injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This year it’s 58 people and 527 injured at the Las Vegas strip. When will it stop? When will we stop being satisfied with well-wishes and prayers and start taking action on these problems? When will enough be enough?

I learned how to shoot my first BB gun when I was 12 years old, my first rifle when I was 16. As someone who has grown up to value the rights our second amendment grants us, I appreciate the technique and the intricacies needed to not only handle a gun, but to also take care of it and keep it in a safe condition. While I was being trained, I was carefully instructed on how the gun always needed to be pointed down and kept on safety if you weren’t shooting it. Responsible gun owners know this and will treat their weapons as if it’s always ready to shoot to kill. One of my family members actually fired a gun for the first time in her life this past summer and started crying. When we asked her what was wrong, she said “To think that just like that… a life can end.”

I thought about what she said during this month’s horrible turn of events. Do we weigh the loss of life as much as we need to every time we pick up a gun? Do we respect the deadly power that it comes with? Or is it just a fleeting detail, hidden behind all of today’s controversies and current events?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t stricken with grief in a time like this. What kind of human being wouldn’t be? We tell ourselves that what happened wasn’t preventable, that if a man wants to commit an act of violence, he would do it with or without a gun. That much is true. Our nation’s most horrific terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001 was done with a few box cutters and four plane hijackings. Before that, the worst terrorist attack was carried out by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, where he killed 168 people by parking a truck bomb in front of a federal building. Evil intentions aren’t disarmed when you take the bullets out of a gun. As Tyler Joseph observes on the Twenty One Pilots song “Heathens,” “Just because we check the guns at the door doesn’t mean our brains will change from hand grenades.”

Still, it’s foolish to ignore the mountain of evidence that America has become one of the deadliest nations in the world. How deadly? Since 1966, there have been at least 131 mass shootings in the United States. Almost half of them have occurred since 2006. Out of established nations in the world, the U.S. ranks 31st in gun violence. 3.85 per 100,000 citizens died due to gun violence last year alone. In the United Kingdom, that number is .07. The majority of the perpetrators in these shootings are white males, and most of their weapons were obtained legally. Stephen Paddock is only one man out of a tribe of monsters. After the traumatic attack in Las Vegas, police found a total of 23 guns in his living spaces. All of them were legal purchases.

So let’s put these facts into perspective. The amount of mass shootings in the United States are growing in both frequency and fatality. I repeat: mass shootings are happening more often in America and with more casualties. This is not an anti-gun advocate saying this. This is a proponent of gun rights saying this. We had our deadliest shooting last year with 49 dead. It barely took a year to dethrone it. What does that pattern spell for our nation’s future if we allow this to continue?

Yet, the scariest thing to me is not the ongoing threat of gun violence in the United States: it’s the silencing of it. After the Las Vegas shooting, you would think people would respond to this violence and put more careful regulations in place to monitor gun sales. They haven’t. It’s now been a month and congress has demonstrated no initiative in addressing this constant stream of gun violence in the states. Funding for gun violence in the Center of Disease Control has gone down by 96% since 1996, with only $100,000 allotted on its budget. And the Dickey Amendment, which continues to restrict research on gun violence statistics, remains active with no indication of being overturned. How can we even begin to discuss solutions to these issues if we aren’t educated or informed on the statistics regarding these shootings?

I’m not saying we should have a general ban on automatic weapons in the United States. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t either. Gun control is a very layered issue, and with any issue like it, we need to talk about them in-depth to find the right compromises that satisfy both right-wing conservatives and concerned Democrats. Doing nothing and remaining silent about it is irresponsible and disrespectful, especially to those families who lost loved ones in Las Vegas, Orlando, or in any of the other mass shootings. We have plenty to disagree about in our nation: healthcare, immigration, the economy. The well-being of our citizens should not be one of them.

A point observed to me earlier this week was that Paddock used bump-stock on his rifle during the attacks to turn it from a semi-automatic weapon to an automatic. A friend of mine suggested that congress should discuss banning bump stocks in the United States, considering that would be banning a gun part as opposed to a gun itself. Fine. Great. That’s a fantastic place to start the conversation, but let’s have a conversation. Continuing to bury it threatens greater and more devastating tragedies to happen in the future. Is that when we’re finally going to talk about the issue? When hundreds are dead and families are left grieving?

Do not let this issue get buried. If we do, we threaten to bury our own loved ones with it.

– David Dunn

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Zachary Levi cast as DC’s ‘Shazam!’

CREDIT: BossLogic

Zachary Levi is shazamming his way into theaters.

After a lengthy casting process where Warner Bros. auditioned several actors, “Chuck” and Thor actor Zachary Levi was announced this weekend as DC’s Shazam, starring in the titular role for his solo feature due after Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman in 2018. Levi took to Instagram to voice his excitement and to thank fans for their support.

“Honored and greatly humbled to be a part of the [DC Universe] by bringing the original Captain Marvel to life,” Levi wrote. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be in the gym for the rest of forever.”

This casting news has been long overdue. Former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was cast as Shazam’s mortal enemy Black Adam way back in 2014. Three years later, Levi is finally cast in the central role. What happened? Did DC take a bathroom break while Zack Snyder was busy working on Justice League?

Regardless, this announcement is better late than never. While Johnson is reportedly starring in his own separate solo film as opposed to starring alongside Levi in Shazam, ultimately I feel this will give both actors a great chance to explore their characters and see how they further expand upon the DC Extended Universe. No word on who will star as Shazam’s 15-year-old alter ego Billy Batson yet. Presumably that news will break within the next few months and hopefully not years from now like Levi’s announcement was.

The film is being written by Henry Gayden (Earth To Echo) and Darren Lemke (Goosebumps, Turbo) and directed by David F. Sandberg (Lights Out). The film is scheduled for release in April 2019.

– David Dunn

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline

“THOR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

If he be worthy…

This is it. This is the make-it or break-it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the deal-breaker. Up until now, Marvel has had strong material to work with for its cinematic universe, with the combined powers of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Edward Norton’s Hulk filling the comic-book shoes well so far. But now we’re going into uncharted territory with Norse mythology. How are you supposed to make Norse Gods and legends work well with science-fiction, technology, and secret spy organizations without making it feel silly or on-the-nose?

The answer is you don’t: you amalgamate it and integrate it into their shared science-fiction universe to make it feel fluid and believable. Whatever silly experience you’re expecting to get out of a movie called Thor, you’re safe to throw your doubts out of the window now. Thor is exciting, fun, and fast-paced, whizzing with energy and incredible action and effects. And most impressively, it is epic, much like the Norse legends themselves are. I was not expecting a movie about the Norse God of Thunder to throw me off my feet this much. But then again, I didn’t know what to expect with a movie called Thor to begin with. Perhaps that helped me further appreciate it in the long run.

In this adaptation of both the Marvel comic and the Norse legend, Thor tells the story of the brash and arrogant God of Thunder, played here by Chris Hemsworth, who made his debut as James Kirk’s father in 2009’s Star Trek reboot. In this iteration, Thor is not a superhero like your regular Marvel folk, but instead the prince of Asgard, a fantastical world far removed from time and space. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is the king of Asgard, while the God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) supports Thor as his brother.

One day, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim sneak their way into Asgard and kill a few soldiers in an act of aggression against the kingdom. After they are swiftly wiped out by Asgard’s security forces, Thor ventures into Jotunheim to declare war with the Frost Giants against his father’s wishes. After narrowly escaping Jotunheim with their lives intact, Odin strips Thor of his powers, takes away his hammer Mjolnir, and banishes him from Asgard as his punishment. Now trapped on Earth (or “Midgard” as he refers to it) without any way of getting back home, Thor has to find a way to regain his powers and once again become the God of Thunder that he was born to be.

My biggest concern going into this movie was how they were going to fit Norse mythology into a universe filled with Iron Men and Gamma-radiated monsters and make it feel believable. Out of all of Stan Lee’s notable creations, Thor is hands down the most plagiarized and the most preposterous. Nothing about him is interesting. A Norse God has superpowers and family issues? Please. Iron Man, the Hulk, and Spider-Man all have the same things, yet are infinitely more interesting because of the very personal problems they experience. Tony Stark and his ego and alcoholism. Bruce Banner and his anger issues. Peter Parker and his sense of guilt and responsibility. Many superheroes are popularized not just because of the powers they have or the costumes they wear, but because they have complex drama and personalities coupled with their action-filled comic book panels. Thor has always felt the least interesting or compelling, and that’s partially because of the wildly fantastical setting that he inhabits.

And yet, Thor works surprisingly well, mostly because of the convictions held by its writers and director. Screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stenz, who also penned X-Men: First Class earlier this summer, demonstrates a clear understanding of Thor’s mythology and how it ties in to the nuance and appeal of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes it’s technically a fantasy film, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like another superhero action romp where characters zip, zoom, and fly into each other as the screen explodes into an exciting, color-filled visual effects spectacle. Part of that is because the film smartly blurs the lines between fantasy and science-fiction, blending both of the genre’s characteristics to make the film flow into one believable narrative. As one character observes in the film, “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.” That quote comes from author Arthur C. Clarke.

Yet the film works on a dramatic level as well, with Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s chemistry feeling like actors interacting in a stage play, not as two superheroes flying into their own battles. There’s a very distinctive reason why: it’s because they’re being directed by actor Kenneth Branagh, who has made a career for himself as the “Shakespeare guy” in Hollywood (seriously, look at his filmography. He’s helmed adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, and that doesn’t even include his stage credits). Approaching Thor like he would with any Shakespearean drama, Branagh lets the actors loose and allows them to have fun with their roles, with them being equally over-the-top, boisterous, dramatic, accentuated, and theatrical all at once. Oh, these characters definitely would not be believable as human beings. But as Norse Gods of ancient legend? They’re impeccable.

Hemsworth and Hiddleston serve their roles enthusiastically, and they work so well together that they could be just as entertaining by themselves without the help of added effects. The action and the visuals are dazzling and spectacular, making you feel like you really are in Asgard, Jotunheim, or Midgard watching Thor whack every enemy marching towards him. And the music by Patrick Doyle is beautiful and uplifting, evoking a sense of grandeur and adventure that feels appropriate for an epic like this.

If there is any weakness to the film it is its second act, which takes the momentum the first act builds up to and brings it to a screeching halt. In the second act, Thor loses his powers and is navigating Earth like a clueless goof that acts like he suddenly forgot how to behave and interact like a normal human. My problem with these scenes is that at the beginning and end of the film, we’re experiencing the action in Asgard, and it overwhelms you with incredible visual scope and spectacle. Then we’re transported to Earth with Thor and suddenly everything becomes so… dull. The visuals take an obvious step back and it looks and feels more like a SyFy channel television movie than it does as a Marvel production. Thor is thrusted through comedic slapstick moments, making him look pretty stupid in the wake of all of the lightning-fueled action he was performing earlier. These scenes feel disjointed, jarring, and removed from the rest of the picture, almost as if it’s another movie we’re watching entirely. I have no problem with taking away Thor’s powers for the sake of added drama or conflict. I do mind the stylistic changes that do not blend well with the rest of the picture.

Still, Thor is loads of fun, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Marvel is starting to develop a knack for making their underappreciated heroes shine in the spotlight. Remember years ago when we thought Robert Downey Jr. was going to be a bust in Iron Man? Now we have Chris Hemsworth stepping into the shoes of Thor, and he’ll be joining up with the rest of the Avengers next year with a metal man, a giant green ogre, and a red-white-and-blue boy scout. Thor is the God of Thunder. He’ll fit right in.

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