Monthly Archives: November 2017

Independent Spirit Award nominations: Analysis and predictions

While it may still be a long time before we get the 2018 Oscar nominations — with all of the guild and critics prizes yet to come — the cinematic gods blessed us with arguably an even more interesting set of films: the Independent Spirit Awards.

Unlike the Oscars, which always tend to be predicated on what studio spends the most for its films to garner nominations and eventual wins — assuming the quality of the film is mostly there too — the Independent Spirit Awards almost always go for an eclectic crop of nominees. For example, the highly acclaimed, but rarely seen The Rider receiving nominations for Best Feature over a film like Mudbound and for Best Director over Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird.

While submissions and snubs are abound in any awards show, the Indie Spirit Awards do their job in providing a wealth of options that have both broke out in the mainstream (Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards), masterpieces waiting to be released after a hugely successful festival run (Call Me by Your Name, I, Tonya) and underseen but deserving gems (The Lovers, Columbus, Beach Rats).

Below you will find an analysis of the main categories, with way-too-early predictions in each category for what may win come March 3rd, 2018.


Best Feature:

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Call Me by Your Name
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Rider

Analysis: Anyone of these films are quality enough to win, all being festival favorites throughout the year. And four of them (Call Me by Your Name, The Florida Project, Get OutLady Bird) are legitimate contenders for Best Picture nominations.

With that being said, once seeing how the whole field looks, it appears that there are truly only two threats for the win here: Call Me by Your Name and Get Out. The Rider was stronger than anyone expected, picking up Best Feature, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Editing nominations. Lady Bird was great across the board, but missed out on a Best Directing nom, showing a potential weakness for the win. The Florida Project received a Best Feature and Best Director nom, but missed out on Best Supporting Actor for Oscar front-running Willem Dafoe, as well as Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. All of these missed noms show an overall weakness that The Florida Project has (or just how highly competitive indies were this year).

Nonetheless, if Get Out and Call Me by Your Name are the frontrunners and thus the titans of the field, then there honestly aren’t two better options. Get Out is one of the highest grossing indies of all time, as well as, still, one of the best reviewed of the year. It’s a film from first-time director Jordan Peele that goes straight for the jugular of white liberalism and the hidden racialized beliefs that persist within society. The film is a savage satire on the institutions and ideas that stigmatize and oppress minorities. Balancing horror, comedy, mystery, thriller, drama and practically everything in between, Get Out remains the event film of the year when it comes to creating relevant and necessary discussion about America’s past and present race relations.

Call Me by Your Name may be more modest in its aims. However, there may not have been a more sensual screen realization of the aching, painful first love a young person goes through. Where most films about a homosexual relationship feature societal pressure and punishment for their non-conforming relationship, such as the tribulations the characters face in Moonlight or Brokeback Mountain, Call Me by Your Name instead allows the pain to come from two lovers that know their time together is running out. With excellent performances from Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name makes you feel the ching lust, the heavy desire, the impending heartbreak that these two young men face. Directed by Italian maestro Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name is a queer masterpiece, but a universal one too.  

Will win: Call Me by Your Name
Could win: Get Out
Should win: Call Me by Your Name


Best Director:

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Jonas Carpignano, A Ciambra
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Sean Baker, The Florida Project
Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time
Chloé Zhao, The Rider

Analysis: Every nominee here is absolutely deserving, yet, it was interesting to see the field expanded to six nominees, and one of them wasn’t Greta Gerwig’s 400 Blows-esque debut with Lady Bird. Nonetheless, if Benny and Josh Safdie got in over her, for their subtle exploration of white privilege in America within their very-not-subtle bad decisions heist thriller, then so be it. Their urban, gritty descent into madness with a stunning, Indie Spirit-nominated Robert Pattinson might actually be a threat to win here due to Good Time being so strong in every other category — landing a Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Editing and a worthy yet fully unexpected Supporting Actress nomination.

But who am I kidding? Like above, there are really three, but more likely two nominees that can win. Sean Baker has a chance, due to The Florida Project moving nearly everyone who sees it, but this will be a Guadagnino versus Peele showdown. And both are incredibly deserving. While it appears that the beauty of Call Me by Your Name would be a likely Best Feature winner, the intensity and relevancy of Get Out will make it hard to be ignored for the Best Director award.

Will win: Jordan Peele, Get Out
Could win: Sean Baker, The Florida Project or Luca Guadagnino, Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Jordan Peele, Get Out


Best Female Lead:

Fox Searchlight/Courtesy

Salma Hayek, Beatriz at Dinner
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Shinobu Terajima, Oh Lucy
Regina Williams, Life and Nothing More

Analysis: This category is a prime example of what makes the Independent Spirit Awards so special. We have three women who are potential Oscar nominees (and maybe even winners), and three women who likely will be ignored by most critics and guild prizes, despite being entirely worthy. Regina Williams, Shinobu Terajima and Salma Hayek all give arguably their career best in films that were all greatly reviewed, and, in the case of Beatriz at Dinner and Life and Nothing More, showed strength in multiple categories.

But truly, this is a Robbie or Ronan or McDormand win, who showcase some of the best lead performances of the year, regardless of gender. Robbie continues to dazzle audiences by going against type, as funny, but twisted real-life figure skater Tonya Harding in the pitch black comedy biopic I, Tonya. Frances McDormand brings a bruised humanity to Three Billboards, upstaging great performances from Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and John Hawkes. The film is an angry examination of the lack of urgency of police in certain situations, as well as a pitch-perfect character study of the women and police involved in an unsolved murder and rape case. McDormand gives one of her all-time best, which by her standards, says a lot about the masterful Martin McDonagh film.

Then, there is Saoirse Ronan, giving her career best in Lady Bird — a film in which she deftly balances being both an intelligent teenager with large ambitions, as well as a naive young woman figuring out life as she goes. Featuring moments comical and entirely moving, especially when in scenes with her screen mother Laurie Metcalf, Ronan is a real threat to be the major winner for Lady Bird.

Will win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Should win: Honestly, all of them are excellent.


Best Male Lead:

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Robert Pattinson, Good Time

Analysis: It’s hard to call a race over when each nominee is incredible, but this one, for all intents and purposes, is likely over.

James Franco gives his best performance yet, in the moving, hilarious and ultimately tragic The Disaster Artist, a film about the making of the worst film of all time, The Room. Then there’s Robert Pattinson’s masterfully manipulative Connie in Good Time — another career best and potential dark horse Oscar candidate. Daniel Kaluuya carries what is shaping up to be one of the awards season heavy hitters, deftly playing a victim and a person unwilling to be subjected to the horrors that white culture thrust upon him.

Ultimately though, Timothée Chalamet will walk away with the award. Whether you love or just like Call Me by Your Name, there’s no doubting the raw lead performance from the 21-year-old Chalamet. There’re a few scenes in this film where Timothée sells the lies that his character tells to loved ones, but also the hidden truths that are found in body language. One of the last scenes in the film, which is nothing shorter than at least a five-minute close up, on nothing else but Timothée’s face, will surely be a scene that people will be haunted by as they leave this masterful, beautiful, exhilarating film about the passion and pain of first love.

Will win: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Could win: James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Should win: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name


Best Supporting Female:

Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime
Taliah Lennice Webster, Good Time

Will win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Could win: Holly Hunter, The Big Sick or Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird or Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime
Should win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird


Best Supporting Male:

Nnamdi Asomugha, Crown Heights
Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Benny Safdie, Good Time

Will win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Any of the five are incredible.


Best Screenplay:

Lady Bird
The Lovers
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Get Out
Beatriz at Dinner

Will win: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Could win: Get Out or Lady Bird
Should win: Lady Bird


Best First Screenplay:

Donald Cried
The Big Sick
Women Who Kill
Ingrid Goes West

Will win: The Big Sick
Could win: Ingrid Goes West
Should win: The Big Sick


Best Cinematography:

The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Beach Rats
Call Me by Your Name
The Rider

Will win: Call Me by Your Name
Could win: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Should win: Columbus


Best Editing:

Good Time
Call Me by Your Name
The Rider
Get Out
I, Tonya

Will win: Get Out
Could win: Call Me by Your Name
Should win: Good Time or I, Tonya


John Cassavetes Award:

A Ghost Story
Life and Nothing More
Most Beautiful Island
The Transfiguration

Will win: A Ghost Story
Could win: Dayveon or Life and Nothing More
Should win: A Ghost Story


Best Documentary:

The Departure
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo

Will win: Faces Places
Could win: Last Men in Aleppo
Should win: Faces Places


Best International Film:

A Fantastic Woman
Lady Macbeth
I Am Not a Witch

Will win: A Fantastic Woman
Could win: Loveless
Should win: A Fantastic Woman


Featured image via Universal/Sony Pictures Classics/A24.

‘Coco’ Review: A deeply felt depiction of culture and family

Animation is a platform for boundless imagination. Pixar’s maximization of that platform rocketed them to the top, until they lost it. But with Inside Out, the studio began to regain its form. And with Coco, the studio continues that return — at least for its original ideas.

The film is steeped in Mexican culture, and not just as representation for representation’s sake. The intricacies of its culture are deeply felt on a visual, auditory and thematic level. Traditions and family dynamics that sprout from those traditions are integral to the progression of the plot. Dialogue consists of both English and Spanish, the latter not being subtitled nor placed on any level of less importance than the English. Each frame pops with wonderful colors in costumes, festive decorations and more. Michael Giacchino’s score uses instruments and style that come from the culture to create swells that enhance emotional moments. Like Moana before it, Coco shows that, when researched and executed on all levels, culture and its representation can be beyond profound.

But while Coco’s characters, especially Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) and Héctor (Gael García Bernal), are well-defined, the film’s narrative isn’t quite as refined, and thus as intricately affecting, as Pixar’s best outings. Much of the middle of the film is predicated on convenience and obstacles rather than true conflict, stifling the energy of even the wondrous visuals. And the themes of family, death and forgiveness are intertwined, evident and developed — but only so much so. Miguel’s initial goals are, naively and innocently so because of his young age, misguided and ignore the specific importance of the women in his family. While Miguel learns a lot that allows him to appreciate family, he’s not afforded the deeper lessons that hold the men of the film as accountable as they can be held.

However, Coco does hit emotional highs that can compare to even Toy Story 3. In its last 30 minutes, while not as deeply mined as it could be, the film does enough with its central family and their culture to push even the hardest shelled people to tears. It’s trademark Pixar, constructing a build of emotions that provoke such a response because we care.

Grade: 8.0/10


Featured image via Pixar.

Note: We at MovieMinis denounce the alleged sexual harassment of Pixar’s now ex-executive John Lasseter. His significance in the creation of Pixar and its films is undeniable and we would be remiss not to acknowledge that. We do believe that, with ‘Coco’ specifically, which Lasseter produced but did not direct, and with animation in general, because there are so many brains behind the creation of a film and even the creation of a single frame, to write it all off because of one man would be irresponsible, especially when it’s doing such important cultural work like ‘Coco’ is. However, we would also be remiss not to acknowledge that Pixar films have a glaring problem with how they depict women both in the animation of their bodies and through their roles in the stories, which likely stems from the fact that they’ve only hired one woman to co-direct one of their films and the understanding that, with a man like Lasseter in power, women were and are excluded from or feel unsafe in being a part of important conversations and stages of development that they should be involved in. Overall, we would like to extend our support to the victims of Lasseter’s alleged abuse and make sure that this discussion is had where it must be.

‘Mudbound’ Review: Flowing with powerful symbolism, novelistic ambitions

Mudbound, exquisitely directed by Dee Rees, is an epic tale of two families — one black (the Jacksons), one white (the McAllans) — intertwined before, during and after World War II. Within this grand scope of two large families connected by financial and emotional trials and tribulations, Netflix’s Mudbound poses an intimate yet still relevant examination of racism, familial bonds, God, war and love within American society.

Featuring incredible, depthful performances from Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan and Jason Clarke, this ensemble brings the requisite emotion to this tale set in the harsh, rainy, muddy land in Mississippi during the Jim Crow South.

Thanks to the strong performances, sweeping timeline and a significant amount of voiceover, the film creates a novelistic feeling to its story. The audience is given insight to the motivations behind Ronsel’s (Mitchell) decision to join the military, why Jamie (Hedlund) became an alcoholic after World War II, why Florence (Blige) only prays for her son Ronsel instead of her other children. The devices at play with time and voiceover create a narrative structure akin to watching something in the vein of a great novel by Steinbeck or Faulkner, yet Mudbound always uses the voiceover for character interiority rather than forced exposition.

While straightforwardly told, classically so, director Rees and editor Mako Kamitsuna create dynamic parallels between the families, as Jamie experiences a brutal dogfight in a bomber plane while Mulligan’s Laura (married to Jamie’s brother) experiences a disheartening miscarriage after an indescribably stressful situation.

Yet these crosscuts are used in strong ties between the two families, as Jamie and Ronsel describe their horrific war experiences to each other, both shown with flashbacks over the sharing of a strong whiskey in present time.

All of this world and character building create an expansive look at many issues within American society. However, the film makes clear the ways in which racism creeps into the lives of good people. In particular, the muddy land that the Jacksons and McAllans are forced to share becomes often symbolic of the two families intermingled relationship to each other — at times fertile with hope and respect, and at others drowned of any light and filled with mud that is bound to slow any sort of progress.

When the film moves towards its heartbreaking and unexpected ending — Rees’ sense of how this history still plays out in today’s society — the film paints a damning portrait of what it means to be living in a divided America.

As with every classic story though, there’s a sense of optimism in the power of hope and unity. And if there is an element of Mudbound that seems to be its most vital and hopefully rewarding aspect to viewers, it’s that, with a shared understanding of the human experience and the ability to realize the stronger similarities between us all rather than the general differences in appearance predicated on something only skin deep, there may be hope in America’s future.

History, like the one seen in Mudbound, will tell what comes next.

Grade: 9.0/10


Featured image via Netflix.

‘Justice League’ Review: A cleaner, but more jarring and hollow failure

On a storytelling level, Justice League is a better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s more cohesive, better paced and easier to follow. But it comes at a steep cost.

What the DCEU had gotten right up to this point — maybe not with Suicide Squad — was an investment in theme and how character and story both shape theme and are shaped by it. Batman v Superman is a mess of a film, but it’s an interesting story. It’s ideas of man vs. god, of the repercussions of Superman and the lengths to which Batman’s anger would take him in response, which feels like a continuation of Man of Steel, offers some semblance of narrative satisfaction.

Justice League, seemingly a continuation of Batman v Superman, a third film in this trilogy, is jarringly hollow in comparison. Superman’s death and Batman’s guilt are hardly investigated, and if they are, they’re parsed through in ways that don’t make sense with character; supposed steps taken in regard to those themes turn out to be more circumstantial, convenient and simple than actual elaboration on the story’s previous interests.

In essence, the film abandons what it was set up to be in order to be a cleaner film. It’s slightly, slightly understandable considering the position of Warner Bros. and DC, but it is such a disappointment. There’s nothing to latch onto in Superman’s character (surprise, he’s in the movie). He leans Christopher Reeve in tone, which, to some, might be exciting — but that’s not the Superman that’s been built in this universe. A short moment after his resurrection has the potential to take his character in a frightening, complicated direction, but that potential is quickly passed on and we get a one-dimensional figure that doesn’t even feel like a character.

The same can be said with villain. Batman’s visions of impending doom in the previous installment move nowhere with Steppenwolf, a monstrosity that falls flatter than the horrific CGI that creates him. He’s a typical, bland god-like bad guy spouting boring, cliched lines of fate for the “primitive beings” he’s fighting.

There aren’t many dimensions anywhere in Justice League. The Flash, while decently snappy comedic relief (which, itself, becomes tiresome), is barely two-dimensional. Aquaman’s motivations and backstory are washed over. Wonder Woman’s arc feigns at actual interest in the character — she’s dealing with the grief of losing Steve Trevor and the subsequent struggles she has with being a leader — but the timeline difference makes it difficult to swallow and, in horrifyingly gross fashion, the film sexualizes her and submits her to the filmmakers’ male gaze.

The only character that’s remotely fleshed out is Cyborg. His biomechatronic body has a brain of its own and he’s struggling to learn how to control it. But, considering that Ray Fisher gives a strong performance, it only ends up as disappointing that that arc is traversed here and not more thoroughly in a solo film.

It’s strange because one can almost feel that Justice League wants to be a cleaner movie. Too much of the plotting is expedited and, in turn, easy, leaving us with a lot that’s clean and digestible — until we realize that there’s no substance to any of it. But even in its attempts to be clean, it ends up as a messier looking film than most blockbusters in general. It’s embarrassing that we can tell where the reshoots are, not only narratively but visually. Literally, we see where actors are digitally inserted after the fact and where continuity is interrupted.

And Henry Cavill’s digitally removed mustache leaves his face as… by god, there’s no excuse.

Even the DCEU’s inarguably greatest element, its scores, halts dead with Danny Elfman’s work. We hear, perhaps, ten seconds of Wonder Woman’s theme before it never shows up again. We never hear Junkie XL’s Batman theme as Elfman opts to use his original one. We never hear Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel theme. Elfman leaves us with nothing memorable about his score. The use of original themes don’t make  auditory sense for where the characters are meant to be, which, even worse, results in music that fails to serve the narrative on any level.

The film is cheap. It inserts quirky quips here and there to induce laughter that can, momentarily, help us forget its shortcomings. But even those quips wind up yanking us out of the film. They’re infuriating. They’re tonally imbalanced and out of character — especially for someone like Batman. The film also shoves in comic book references to help some of the comic book familiar folk look over its cheap nature, most of which will be missed by audiences not familiar and create no difference as none of the nods have narrative implications.

Some of the fight sequences work and work well. Characters are clear and distinguishable, and the overall battles are well shot in regard to spatial geography.

But it’s difficult to even want to talk about that with any layer of enthusiasm. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy notably lacked well-composed action, but they’re still some of the best superhero movies of all time because of their unparalleled execution of storytelling.

Cumulatively, Justice League is overbearingly cheap. It’s a middle finger to the audience, a “course correction” that does no correcting.

Grade: 5/10


Featured image via Warner Bros.

Trial: What is the best superhero musical theme of the DCEU?

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s question: What is the best superhero musical theme of the DCEU?

Writers: Harrison Tunggal and Kyle Kizu
Judge: Sanjay Nimmagudda

*Warning: Potential spoilers for ‘Man of Steel’ and for ‘Wonder Woman.’*

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Harrison’s argument:

As this video explains, Wonder Woman’s theme (AKA “Is She with You – Wonder Woman’s Theme”) by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is basically a Led Zeppelin song — driven by a killer riff bound to become permanently lodged inside your brain, but in a good, “Kashmir” sort of way. The Wonder Woman theme accomplishes what any superhero score should — it represents the character. Wonder Woman is capable and incisive when necessary, a quality brought out by Tina Guo’s razor sharp electric cello riff. As DC overlord Geoff Johns said, Wonder Woman is the best fighter in the DC Universe, and her musical theme reflects this assertion. Simply put, her theme is badassery distilled in sonic form.

When Wonder Woman saves Batfleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the cello riff kicks in, the audience can’t help but feel a jolt of adrenaline. The tune is used to similar effect when Wonder Woman takes out a room full of German soldiers in her solo film, Wonder Woman. In this sense, the Wonder Woman theme functions as an element of a film’s set piece — just as CGI (for the sake of this argument) contributes to the design of a set piece, so too does use of the Wonder Woman theme immediately raise the stakes of any conflict. Every time that Wonder Woman’s theme is used, it’s a jolting and exciting moment, one filled with the thrills that superhero films thrive on.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Of greater import, is the type of jolt that audiences feel when Wonder Woman’s theme is used. I’ll preface this by saying that other superhero themes are undoubtedly effective — John Williams’ Superman theme sounds hopeful, and Hans Zimmer’s Batman theme from The Dark Knight Trilogy is darkly pragmatic; both tunes capture the essence of the heroes they represent. But these superhero themes are merely effective, while the Wonder Woman theme is also affective. For the first time, a superhero theme sounds like a call to action. Wonder Woman’s theme is empowering, a source of energy that films featuring her draw on. It’s energy that is communicated to anyone listening to her theme.

Wonder Woman’s theme represents the character’s warrior persona, but the theme goes further, representing all facets of the character. Wonder Woman’s mantra is “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.” The compassion that drives Wonder Woman is inherent in her theme — as “Is She with You” trades biting cello riffs for contemplative string melodies, the song invokes Wonder Woman’s great capacity for love, not just fighting. This sentiment is taken a step further in Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for Wonder Woman, which alters the implied darkness of “Is She with You” to become a score driven by warmth and idealism.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Additionally, Wonder Woman’s theme is a landmark in film scores, just as Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is a landmark in cinema itself. We’ve heard Superman, Batman and Spider-Man represented through music before. But as an introduction to a new character, Wonder Woman’s theme is as significant as Gal Gadot’s performance.

If nothing else, Wonder Woman’s theme is hugely listenable as an individual track. In particular, Tina Guo’s metal cover of the theme will turn your daily walk to (insert something mundane here) into a heroic march into battle.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s argument:

It’s a bit unclear what the specific Superman theme in Man of Steel is, but all signs point to “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” as the heart of the score’s character. Once that logistical step is taken, though, it’s difficult to think of any other theme as better. This one is just too moving on every level.

Hans Zimmer had an absolutely enormous task ahead of him in crafting an original theme for Superman. That of the 1978 film is iconic, injected into the veins of the character. But the choice to leave it behind was a smart one; it would be almost too camp in a contemporary film with the tone that Man of Steel aims for.

In brilliant manner, however, Zimmer actually doesn’t wholly deviate from that ‘78 theme. He takes the specifics notes of it, and leaves behind its aged sense of melody to adapt them for our contemporary understanding of it.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Zimmer is often at his best when at his most minimal. The end of “Time” from Inception is all that’s needed to make that case. With “What Are You Going to Do,” Zimmer starts with soft and gentle singular piano notes. It echoes the thematic structure of the film; at the beginning of the film, Clark Kent struggles with his strength, with holding so much power despite the gentleness of his core.

The film is all about Clark finding the synthesis of power and gentleness/kindness in a world that isn’t so kind. That synthesis begins with the introduction of the drums and the whirling strings as the piano notes become more forceful. Here, Zimmer’s adaptation of the classic notes find the same kind of awe-striking build and progression of the original. For about a minute and a half, the track almost feels like it’s searching — just as Clark in the middle of the film, despite coming upon his suit and past, is still searching for what it means to be Superman.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

And then the track explodes into wonder that even Wonder Woman’s theme can’t quite match. It’s fascinating what Zimmer does with layers. The layering, in terms of what instruments are being used, where they’re being used and how, is very similar to his work on The Dark Knight Trilogy, but the distinction is in tone. Zimmer is a master of tone and despite this track holding the same kind of bombast that much of his previous work does, there’s an unmissable, undoubtable sense of hope in “What Are You Going to Do.”

Yet, the track does not end with just two minutes of hopeful bombast. Somehow, Zimmer dives back to a sort of humble quietude before exploding yet again.

On purely a musical level, Superman’s theme is magnificent. It’s informed, in every sense, by character and, thus, is able to feed back into how character is shaped in the film.

That Zimmer’s work has become so utterly adored and embraced as this generation’s Superman theme — despite the film’s mediocre reception — is yet another testament to how well-executed and brilliant of a theme it is.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Harrison’s rebuttal:

Kyle, there’s no doubt that Hans Zimmer’s Superman theme is one of the great film scores of all time. The fact that his score can compete with the original John Williams theme is a huge testament to how well the new Superman theme represents the character. To my great surprise, the Superman theme does not actually give the listener the power of flight.

But Zimmer had a template to work from. He had a goal, to make music that embodies hope, but that goal was set by John Williams. In other words, a good Superman score had been done before. You even mention the fact that Zimmer took specific notes from Williams’ theme. While the Wonder Woman theme takes a page from Led Zeppelin, choosing the rock and roll aesthetic of that band was an original interpretation of the character, whereas the Superman theme was less distinctly an original interpretation. In short, it’s easier to choose John Williams as the template for a score, than it is to take Led Zeppelin as inspiration, and forge a new path for Wonder Woman.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Through crafting the Wonder Woman theme, Zimmer, Junkie XL and Tina Guo were treading new ground, and in doing so, all three artists made a contribution to the very character of Wonder Woman. Hans Zimmer redefined Superman, but that pales in comparison to doing the act of initial defining, which he, Junkie XL and Tina Guo did with the Wonder Woman theme. The character of Wonder Woman isn’t the same anymore, because of their work on her theme. There’s no way a comic book reader will open the pages of a Wonder Woman story, and not mentally hear her theme.

And while both the Superman theme and the Wonder Woman theme perfectly encapsulate their respective characters, the Wonder Woman theme has proven more malleable, and adaptable to various films. The Wonder Woman theme, biting and incisive in Batman v Superman was modified to reflect the more compassionate character we met in Wonder Woman. The essence of the theme remains the same, but structurally speaking, it can be modified to fit different films. In Justice League, Danny Elfman tweaks the theme — instead of an electric cello, the theme’s riff is played on horns, reflecting the epicness of the Justice League.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

In contrast, the Superman theme has proven less adaptable. It really only works in the context of Zimmer’s bombast. The fact that Elfman would turn to Williams’ original Superman theme for Justice League illustrates this fact — the sweeping majesty of Zimmer’s Superman theme has yet to work effectively in a non-Zack Snyder film.

Finally, I take issue with the need to stray from the “camp” of the Williams score. There’s nothing wrong with campiness, especially when it’s sincere, and if there’s one thing that’s essential to Superman, it’s that he’s a sincere, saving-cats-from-trees kinda guy. The Zimmer score might convey hope, but I would argue that before being a symbol of hope, Superman is primarily an emblem of goodness. In essence, Superman’s hopefulness stems from his capacity for being indiscriminately good, and that’s a concept that the Williams score captures more effectively.

Most importantly though, the Superman theme lacks the affect of the Wonder Woman theme. At the end of the day, the Wonder Woman theme is a source of empowerment. And while the character of Superman might have been a similar well of empowerment in the past, Wonder Woman has arguably become this generation’s Superman. It’s only fitting that her theme surpasses Superman’s.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Harrison, you mention how Zimmer had a template, but that’s not any sort of knock. If anything, it’s a testament to the fact that Zimmer had to follow something so iconic — a daunting task — and still made something both informed by the original, but also distinctly its own. Most don’t even realize that it takes notes from the ’78 version, but everyone feels a renewed, modern sense of Superman. That’s a great achievement, not a knock in any way.

The Wonder Woman theme is, undoubtedly, awesome, but in it lies plenty of issues. You argue for its badassery. I can’t say anything against that. But I can say that the theme does less character work than you give it credit for.

Firstly, the theme uses the Man of Steel score. Between 3:25 and 4:10, there is a literal lift of Superman’s theme. Any sense of hope that “Is She with You?” builds for Wonder Woman’s character is marred by the fact that the only soft moment in the track is wholly define by Superman’s music. There’s no other sense of quietude that is its own.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Secondly, her theme isn’t malleable because it had to be adjusted for. Gal Gadot, herself, says that Batman v Superman got the character of Wonder Woman wrong. So, the character work that the theme does in that movie is off. Wonder Woman had to course correct. This sense of unending goodness in her character is more defined by Patty Jenkins’ direction and Gadot’s performance in her solo film than it is by the track that’s based in a movie where Wonder Woman gives up on mankind — something we now know she would never do.

Wonder Woman’s theme may be what people think of, but that’s only because no one had done it before. It’s easily possible that, hypothetically, another composer’s theme would be what people think of — because it’s the first.

It’s also arguably only so memorable because of its badassery. Plus, memorability does not mean superior. The feat of creating something that’s iconic on its own despite something so iconic coming before it is greater than creating a badass start. One can look to the rest of each character’s scores as evidence. I remember nothing of the rest of Gregson-Williams’ score other than a general notion of goodness. With Man of Steel’s score, I remember distinct tracks.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Since we haven’t seen Justice League yet, you can’t genuinely leverage it. Wonder Woman’s theme may be adapted, but we don’t really know how it functions in the film — perhaps poorly. The same goes for Elfman’s choice use the ’78 theme. He actually says he’s using it for a rather dark moment, and we don’t know how much Superman is in the movie and what exact Superman we’re getting (black suit or not), so we don’t know what the function is. We can’t make arguments based on what we don’t know.

I also think you misunderstand how I talk about “camp.” There’s nothing wrong with “camp.” But to think that it’s negative to stray from it for this new film — a film entirely different in tone both as a story, but also musically in that we literally don’t think in the same ways of melody anymore — doesn’t make sense to me. Zimmer did necessary work to modernize Superman and you even say that the score is one of the best of all time.

Finally, Wonder Woman may be this generation’s Superman. But that’s only true if we’re talking about the films. Man of Steel’s score perfectly evokes a contemporary sense of Superman. The movie might fall short elsewhere, but that doesn’t take away from the work that the theme does. So listen to it and adore it, even if they didn’t love the film. While Wonder Woman is a better film, Zimmer’s Superman theme transcends film.

Sanjay’s ruling:

Wow. First of all, I applaud both Kyle and Harrison for two holistic arguments that truly elevate the discourse surrounding movie scores to an extremely thought-provoking level. Harry, your assertions in exploring the malleability and nigh ubiquitous nature of “Is She with You?” is inspiring. Kyle, the depths to which you explore Zimmer’s intricacy in crafting a new theme for an iconic character is revering. If I could, I would call this a tie based solely on the eloquent, scrupulous analysis of these two tracks by the both of you, but in reading your rebuttals to one another and subsequently re-reading your original arguments, I think I’ve made a decision – albeit begrudgingly.

Harry, you mention how Wonder Woman’s theme is overtly affective. It impacts how the character’s perceived not only in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but also in the likes of her comic series, future movies and so on. You also mention that the song is not merely a song but rather a capsule that encompasses melodic allusions, character motivations and qualities as well. While I wholly agree with you on those points, I do have to concede that Kyle’s argument that creating a theme for a hitherto unseen character on film, while undoubtedly momentous, is a less daunting task than re-defining a cultural icon auditorily.

Warner Bros./Courtesy

Why do I say this? Well as Kyle points out, in creating Superman’s new theme in Man of Steel, Zimmer was fighting an uphill battle. John Williams’ uplifting score from Superman ‘78 is deeply engrained in the cinematic and generalized cultural zeitgeist. Zimmer was always going to face the court of comparative public opinion, so he had to craft something both inherently, emotionally familiar yet distinctly different in execution so as to not do a disservice to the Last Son of Krypton while not simply riffing of his compositional predecessor. That’s a daunting task and seems much more likely to fail than establishing the tonal (pun intended) status quo for the Pride of the Amazons.

While I do not refute, at all, the waves “Is She With You?” has made since first appearing in 2016, and the detail that went into composing such an elegantly powerful song for the fictional embodiment of those qualities, I have to side with Kyle in that “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” (I’ve always thought that it should be ‘You’re,’ sue me) accomplishes all that and more, at least in my opinion, in spite of what came before it. It’s played over the end credits of the film, without even a glance at the character it encapsulates, and still manages to contribute the persona of Superman. I’m going to give this one to Kyle, but let’s be real here, both themes are always an auditory cue that something insanely badass is about to happen onscreen.


Do you agree with Sanjay’s verdict? Or would you have picked a different DCEU theme? Sound off in the comments.

Staff records:

Harrison Tunggal: 3-2

Levi Hill: 1-0

Kyle Kizu: 1-2

Sanjay Nimmagudda: 0-1


Featured image via Warner Bros.

Opinion: Why I value ‘Batman v Superman’ more than a film like ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

*Spoilers for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ and ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’*

To be necessarily clear, Thor: Ragnarok is a far better film than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is no debate. But that’s not the question here.

The question is of value — something that’s rather subjective and, thus, changes from person to person. In regard to both of these films, I personally see a difference in what value they add to the superhero genre, and in what value they hold as films in general. There’s no doubting that Thor: Ragnarok has great value if only considering the fact that more people now know who Taika Waititi is. The film is also stunning to look at, a visually beautiful and coherently composed comic book movie — a rarity among the miles of grey muck that have become a staple in the very universe that I’m about to make a case for.

But when thinking about which film I value more, I quite easily gravitate to Batman v Superman. Again, to be clear, it’s not a good film. It’s a perfect example of sloppy storytelling. But I find myself hooked by the story Batman v Superman wants to tell more than the story Thor: Ragnarok does. The third Thor film is rather clean, generally well-executed storytelling — yet I feel so little depth in its ideas. With Batman v Superman, I’ve yet to mine all of the intricacies behind its ugly mask.

Thor: Ragnarok is not without its share of fascinating ideas. Introducing Hela as Thor’s sister and revealing that Odin did not come to Asgard in peace, but rather as a conqueror, present brilliantly complex conflict for both the story and for Thor, our main character. Smashing Thor’s hammer in the first act is a necessary kind of superhero deconstruction, asking who this character is without his most powerful weapon. And using biblical and immigrant imagery, to the tone of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, sets up the climax to be gripping and emotional.

But Ragnarok gets lost in its second act and fails to execute what it wants to do with its third. The planet of Sakaar has the ingredients to carry the story’s thematic concerns along through the film’s middle — a dictator who subjects his people to Roman-like arena death battles while most live in poverty. It had the chance to be a mirror to Asgard and to help Thor learn what he must to be able to come back and dethrone Hela.

But the film’s greatest asset, its comedy, also washes over this potential. While moments such as Thor and Hulk bantering in Hulk’s room or Korg being the one of the most hilarious characters in the MCU are entertaining, they’re given too much time. The film tips overboard in its improvisation without considering what that might do to the development of the story and to the arc of Thor.

To be brutally honest, I feel as though the second act flatlines in hindsight. It’s fun, but once we get to the third act and realize that Thor has to defend his people, take down Hela and make the choice to leave Asgard behind, we realize that the second act wasn’t enough — not even close to enough. Thor taking on Hela should’ve held so much more weight; this is his sister and, if he can love Loki like a true brother, he should be much more conflicted about Hela. It shouldn’t feel as though we’re watching Thor “beat” her, but more so overcome this part of his family that naturally leans toward ruling rather than leading. Thus, the thematic imagery at the end, of the people of Asgard fleeing across the bridge, doesn’t hit home emotionally.

In essence, I find only so much value in Thor: Ragnarok as a superhero film. It’s hilarious, but even the jokes fall flat once the story does.

While the way in which it tells its story is muddled, on a conceptual level, I see a consistency of interest in what Batman v Superman wants to do throughout its entirety.

The opening does so much work, driving home the character motivation of Bruce Wayne with harrowing, 9/11-esque visuals. It perfectly juxtaposes the two characters and sets up the dynamic between Batman and Superman — a man and a god.

Throughout the film, in every layer, this is what’s at stake. Bruce Wayne fears the power of a god, that, at any moment, this god could wipe out millions of lives. Each moment with Bruce Wayne is gripping as his character traverses an arc of growing anger. On the other hand, Superman grapples with the fact that he’s provoking so much fear. He’s a character who believes in good and is challenged when he sees that his efforts for good don’t inspire more of it in mankind. Some have contended that Zack Snyder’s portrayal of Superman goes against who the character is and, to be fair, I’m not aware of who exactly the character is in the comics. But there’s a logic to the direction of his character in this world that Snyder created.

This tension is extended to Holly Hunter’s Senator Finch and to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, as both are concerned with the same thing — Superman’s power — but tackle that concern in different ways. Luthor’s backstory, having a German father who “had to march in a parade and wave flowers at tyrants,” which is heavy with implications, informs this intensely vengeful distaste for a figure with such tyrannical potential. Seeing Luthor force this god to his knees by threatening his humanity — his mother — is the kind of superhero imagery I want; it’s visually brilliant on an aesthetic level, but even more so because of its thematic level.

In regard to Superman’s humanity, Batman v Superman’s climax, the Martha moment, is horrendously executed. It’s terrible, and there’s no defending how it was portrayed. But it’s unfair to write off the concept there as equally terrible because it’s consistent with the story’s development. The only way Bruce can overcome his anger for Superman is to see him as Clark, to see him as a human being. So while the execution is poor, the idea is admirable. And to have man actually best god is even more admirable.

And, once Batman and Superman have reconciled, to then have man and god face the devil — Doomsday, who is created by man — is another sign of thematic consistency, and becomes even more engaging when it’s god who sacrifices himself for a mankind that never truly believed in him.

It may sound like I’m touting Batman v Superman as a brilliant movie, but I’m not. I’m simply admiring the deep fascination and care it has for story and character, regardless of how bad its storytelling is. That’s where the difference is for me. In Thor: Ragnarok, I see adept storytelling, but so much less care for character and story. While its execution is cleaner, it feels more hollow.

In essence, I’m admiring ambition. I value the attempt of Batman v Superman more so than the success of Thor: Ragnarok. I want superhero films that genuinely want to do something great with its characters.


Featured image via Warner Bros.

Box Office Report: In only 37 theaters, ‘Lady Bird’ flies into the top 10

While there are nine films that earned more than it, Lady Bird is, undoubtedly, the story of the week. In only 37 theaters — 826 less than any other in the top 10 — writer-director Greta Gerwig’s film, starring Saoirse Ronan, averaged $33,766 for a total of $1.249 million. After a 2017 record per-theater-average the weekend prior, Gerwig’s picture now stands at $1.781 million and will only continue to make money. Audiences know Gerwig from brilliant films such as 20th Century WomenJackieFrances Ha and Mistress America; combine that with wonderful marketing by A24, and it looks like they’ve got the perfect storm. It already has the critical acclaim, still at 100% on RottenTomatoes after 115 reviews, and now the financial success that could push it to not only contend, but possibly win big during the awards season.

In first place, expectedly, was Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel’s third Thor film took home an estimated $56.6 million to put it at $211.5 million domestically and $650 million worldwide — already past Thor and Thor: The Dark World in only its second weekend. The film will take a hit this upcoming weekend with the release of Justice League, but it should easily cross $800 million.

The comedy sequel Daddy’s Home 2 made an estimated $30 million for the second spot. The opening is $8 million less than the original, but still a solid start that should set the film on a path toward profitability. It seems as though Mel Gibson is all but forgiven in Hollywood.

Behind that was Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express with an estimated $28.2 million. The Agatha Christie adaptation was produced for $55 million and, with $57+ million so far overseas for a total of $85.4 million, the film will look to make its money back in due time.

In other limited release news, Oscar contender Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri earned a per-theater-average of $80,000 in four theaters, close to Lady Bird last. As the Oscar players continue to release, we should be seeing similar performances — but next weekend will be dominated by Justice League.

*All weekend numbers are domestic, meaning that they’re from theaters in the US and Canada, and are also estimates, reported by Box Office Mojo, with actuals coming out in the next few days.*


Featured image via A24.

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