Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
Guest Host: Rebecca Roberts
There’s no shortage of superheroes on the silver screen this summer. Everyone from Thor to Captain America is stopping by the theaters. But do any of these films have the super powers to help out Hollywood at the domestic box office? We explore which films are worth watching this summer — and why U.S. box office sales are slipping compared to international markets.
- Joe Barber Entertainment Editor, WTOP; Arts Critic, WETA's "Around Town"; Arts Columnist, InsideNOVA.com Newspapers
- Jennice Fuentes Film Critic, Pop-Culture Commentator, Global Grind, Latino Scoop
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Is this the summer that killed the superhero or will globalization come to the rescue of Captain America? Blockbuster season is officially in full swing and comic book giants like "Thor" and the "Green Lantern" have all had starring roles so far. But if you go by the domestic box office numbers, America may be burning out on superheroes, all while studios appear hell bent on launching new franchises, even before it's clear that the first films are worthy of sequels.
MS. REBECCA ROBERTSJoining us to explore which films may have the super powers to make blockbuster kind of money this summer and just how much the international market for movies is changing the concept of what a blockbuster really is, we've got Joe Barber. He's the entertainment editor at WTOP and an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town" and insideNOVA.com newspapers. Joe Barber, welcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MR. JOE BARBERThank you, Rebecca. It's good to see you.
ROBERTSAlso here in the studio is Jennice Fuentes. She's a film critic and a pop culture commentator. Her work appears on "Global Grind" and "Latino Scoop." Jennice Fuentes, welcome to you.
MS. JENNICE FUENTESThank you, great to be here.
ROBERTSSo I should say at the outset, that I have seen nothing, okay. The only -- I think the most recent movie I saw was "Gnomeo and Juliet." So that should tell you not only how infrequently I go, but who is making the movie decisions in my house. But just looking at the lineup, talk about super heroes. It's every comic book character that isn't "Batman" or "Spiderman" and "Superman," who have already seen, seems to be on the screens this summer. Is there is a risk that it's too much, Joe Barber?
BARBERI think it is. I think it is. Particularly if you don't do them well. I mean, you're kind of walking a thin line with super hero movies because you got, what we now call, the fan boi audience, those guys between the ages of, like, 12 and 80.
ROBERTSBoy with an I.
BARBERRight, exactly, kind of. Between 12 and 80 who know every element of every superhero's origin and want to see that put on screen, dot for dot, compared with the same people who -- or the other people who want to see just a big fancy action film, some kind of an adventure that they can sit back and relax and enjoy. And I've noticed the writing this summer hasn't been all that great because the "Green Lantern" film, which is surprisingly making money, has almost nothing going for it, except for Ryan Reynolds, who is a pretty good actor.
BARBERYeah. And I've heard that as well. And Thor was okay. Chris Hemerson (sic) was not bad in the lead role. But -- and we're waiting for Captain America to come out. The Marvel folks are doing better than the D.C. folks right now. I mean, D.C. is looking at the fact that, next summer, they'll have the third and probably final "Batman: The Dark Night Rises" in the current crop of Dark Knight films that were written and directed by Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale as Batman and Bruce Wayne.
MR. TERRENCE JONESBut once that's gone, they've got to find another franchise to get going. They're going to try to revise "Superman," yet again, with a newcomer who nobody's ever heard of before in a movie that will be directed and -- not probably -- that will not be directed, but will be written and produced by Christopher Nolan. So that's what happens.
FUENTESRight, I think it's always the calculated risk. You know, this movie, for example, "Green Lantern" did cost $200 million or in that neighborhood so they were expecting that at least it would clear $60 million. It didn't. I think the problem with these hero movies is that you -- these used to be good stories. Like Pixar, you always need a good story. So this movie did not have a singular voice. And then it needed to be a little bit like Marvel, but a little not like Marvel because that's always the fight that they have.
FUENTESAnd the special effects ended up being kryptonite because it was just way too expensive. They went crazy. So that adds to the costs. You always have to watch your bottom line if you are (word?) an executive and that cloud villain didn't work. We can just -- it's just not appealing to see a villain that's a cloud. Where is he? Is he in there? Where are the eyes? What are you afraid of, the mist or the dark color? I mean, so it's too vague.
FUENTESNow, if you take, for example, Marvel and you look at what they've done with "X-Men" and "Thor" and all the other heroes, they have the "Avengers" coming up, which it's exciting to expect because it has built up all this good movies and the different people that will appear there of different heroes, I guess, for a better word. So there is something that we could actually look forward to and that's exciting. So they're doing it the right way, building a franchise that will culminate in something that we all can relate to. As opposed to this disjointed -- which I agree, I think Ryan Reynolds is the best thing about "Green Lantern."
BARBERThe only thing about "Green Lantern." And by the way, "X-Men: First Class" has been pretty much the only really across the board, excellent super hero film this year, which kind of restarts the whole "X-Men" saga instead of going where we went with the first three films. They've gone back to the 1962 version and they've reintroduced the characters. They told us back stories. They've really done a good job there and the film has done quite well because of it.
ROBERTSIs the plan with these superhero movies to start a franchise? I mean, do they expect there to be a "Green Lantern 3" before they've even made "Green Lantern 1?"
BARBERThere's probably plans for a "Green Lantern 2" right now on the boards. But they know now, there's got to be a better screenplay. Even though the film has made a lot of money, the fact of the matter is, is that it's being offered in 3D and IMAX and theaters now charge more for 3D than they do for 2D. So you've built in kind of an across the board increase anyway, but you've got to find some way to keep the audiences coming back.
ROBERTS3D, are audiences still jazzed about that or is it starting to lose its luster?
FUENTESLess and less. Less and less. I think the revenue they were expecting that it would always be at least with 3D, more than 55 percent and it's dropped down below 50 percent to 45 percent this year. So it is not boding well. But if you go overseas, it is a big hit because apparently your box office, while here, it's getting weaker or it got weaker at the beginning of the year when it was 27 percent lower than the previous time frame -- the previous year.
FUENTESRight now, it's almost caught up and it's only 11 percent behind where we were last summer. And with "Transformers" doing more than the expected $200 million, believe it or not, it's a $400 million movie of that weekend.
ROBERTSWell, do you remember how much it held up Washington while they were shooting here? I mean...
FUENTES...and it destroyed Chicago.
BARBERMichael Bay can't tell a good story to save his life. I'm sorry. The movie is too...
FUENTESBut it's sells.
FUENTESThis is about the bottom line.
FUENTESThis is the entertainment business. It's about money and it sells. So we may not like it. Yeah, I was entertained. It's too long. But -- and I was surprised that when you showed that with all the CGI stuff, the President's clips were so poorly...
FUENTES...done. That's Nixon, that's kind of -- it was terrible.
FUENTESSo I'm thinking, wow, so all the money is for the monsters.
BARBERThe common effects were poorly done. That's the...
ROBERTSIs there a story of "Transformers" or is it just...
BARBERBasically, there's something on the dark...
ROBERTS...a clip rail?
BARBER...I don't want to give too much away because I always get complaints from people who say I give too much away. There's something on the dark side of the moon that both the Autobots and Decepticons want and they're both trying to get it. And the big deal this time is that Shia LaBeouf no longer has Megan Fox as his girlfriend. He's now got a former Victoria Secrets model who's playing his girlfriend in the movie.
BARBERAnd the first shot we get of her is, frankly, I think, the most sexiest thing I've seen in a film in years.
FUENTESAnd that's saying something.
FUENTESJoe does not like women.
BARBERNo, no, I love women. In fact, you saw the movie. You saw that shot. You really think that's...
FUENTESWhat do you expect from Michael Bay?
FUENTESI mean, give me a break.
BARBERI don’t like his work. I just think his stuff's boring.
BARBERThat's my problem, I guess.
FUENTESI think, the true gems are -- I mean, there are some expected blockbusters that have not been such a disappointment like "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Super 8," "Thor." "Bridesmaids" was not expected to be a blockbuster and ended up being kind of a blockbuster. And the ones that are coming, like "Harry Potter" which (word?) ...
FUENTES...excellent according to what I'm reading in the buzz so I'm very excited about that. And I agree with you, "First Class: X-Men" was terrific.
BARBERYeah. Yeah. "Super 8" was a little bit -- I thought J.J. Abrams, who wrote and directed the film -- it was too much like a film trying to copy things like "The Goonies" and "ET" and other coming of age films, and it didn't have the heart of those movies. It was a little too scary, a little too much. The casting of the kids was terrific, but "Super 8," to me, is the kind of the movie you can't take small kids to see, and teenagers aren't gonna be really into watching preteens do what they do in that movie.
ROBERTSWe are talking summer movies with the very shy and retiring Joe Barber and Jennice Fuentes. And if you want to join us with your opinion or questions, you can call 800-433-8850, send us e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You could also get in touch with us through Facebook or tweet us @kojoshow.
ROBERTSYou mentioned "Harry Potter," which is, of course, the big summer juggernaut, right?
ROBERTSI mean, this is the thing sitting in the middle, July 15, that is going, around which all the rest of the summer is going. Does it matter whether or not it's a good movie? It's the last "Harry Potter." Everyone's gonna go see it, right?
FUENTESI think it matters. I think it matters because it has a huge fan base, and I don't think you want those people disappointed, or Warner Brothers certainly doesn't. It's the first one in 3-D of all the series and that's important because you want the word spread that the movie is really good. Then people may be willing to pay extra to see it again with that experience, or for the first time with that experience.
FUENTESAnd that adds to the revenue at the end of the day. So I think it's very, very important that the movie be good. You want to finish strong.
BARBERI think you want to finish strong and that you want to do well. I think the adaptations have all been very close to the book, which is obviously a benefit. It's interesting, they're screening the film for critics both in a 2-D version -- they actually screened it today for critics in a 2-D version. But Jennice and I wanted to be here with you so we couldn't go to that.
ROBERTSOh, thank you.
BARBERBut there will be a screening of the 3-D version, that's the one you and I will see next week.
FUENTESYes, next Tuesday.
BARBERYeah. And, you know, I just -- I don't know. I don't know if -- well, I guess 3-D will probably help it to be big the first five days. After that, it's gonna have to work on whether or not it's a good movie, and I think it probably -- if they've followed the pattern they usually follow, it'll probably be a pretty good movie.
ROBERTSLet's take a call. This is Andy in Washington. Andy, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
ANDYHi, is this me?
ROBERTSIt is you. Welcome to the show.
ANDYI have a question. I'm not -- I've never been that impressed by whether something's a blockbuster or not, and I'm wondering, are there movies that are appearing that any of the three of you actually like, even if it's not gonna make...
ANDY...for the studios? You know, is there stuff out there that most people aren't gonna hear about that they really ought to go see?
BARBERYeah. I can tell you one right off the bat right now, and are -- actually people are seeing it and they should. It's a movie called "Beginners." Mike Mills who actually wrote and directed it was here on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" a few weeks ago talking with Kojo about the film. It's a semi-autobiographical story of a 75-year-old professor played by -- and played with such brio and gusto that he's already being talked about as an Oscar contender, by Christopher Plummer, who announces to his 33-year-old son, played by Ewan McGregor, that after 44 years of marriage, he has decided to live a gay life.
BARBERAnd it's about the changes that take place in their relationship and in his life, and it's a really lovely little film. It's playing primarily in the art houses, and it's getting an audience, and it deserves to get one. It's one of those refreshing change of pace films you don't normally get in the summertime.
FUENTESI got quite a few for him and for anybody else listening. I mean the little gems are in the smaller films that can, that could, that should. "A Better Life," for instance, which opens soon, is a very emotionally (word?) movie about immigrants -- undocumented immigrants. Chris Weitz, the director, has a Mexican grandmother, I believe, so he is connected to the issue. And it's amazing the same man that made "About a Boy," "Twilight," "American Pie"...
FUENTES..."The Golden Compass," could actually do something like this. It's a very compassionate movie, not condescending, yet entertaining and very human about a very real issue today, undocumented immigration. And it does not -- it makes them human, exactly who they are. They're not statistics. They're not a problem, they're human. And they have to be addressed and dealt with. And this movie is a great piece of entertainment that deals with the subject head-on.
FUENTESAnother movie will be -- that I recommend is a documentary, "Project Nim," which is going to be opening soon at West End Cinema and other art houses. And it is a fascinating take of an experiment that took place in the '70s with a Columbia University professor about trying to communicate through sign language with a chimp.
FUENTESNim Chimpsky (unintelligible) . So you may not get out a lot, but you read a lot. And it's very touching, and it's from the same director who we all remember did "Man on Wire," who won -- James Marsden, who won an Academy Award for best documentary. So I highly recommend that. I've seen it.
FUENTESAnother fun movie that is not really a movie, but to its credit, to Joe Walker who was the editor, it's called "Life in a Day." And I guess Scott (word?) and others invited people to send in their video clips of what they did on July 24, 2010. So Joe Walker, the editor with the mostest, because that must have been -- it was 80,000 hours of footage that people that sent in.
FUENTESThey -- and I've seen it, and it's terrific. It's very -- it's very simple, yet complex, just like humanity. And I recommend everybody go see it. And those two are coming. But -- all three are coming and they're excellent and I think you should go see them.
ROBERTSWell, I notice that neither of you mentioned "The Tree of Life." I thought that all...
FUENTESOh, God. I'm not smart enough to understand that movie.
ROBERTSAren't all movie snobs supposed to salivate every time Terrence Malick makes, you know, deigns to make another movie?
FUENTESI'm not smart, you know.
BARBERTerrence Malick is the Stevie Wonder of movie making in that he makes one album or one movie every ten years. And unfortunately, I mean, the first two films he made, his -- his film about the Starkweather killings, his imagined version of that, "Badlands" with a young Martin Sheen and a young Sissy Spacek was a brilliant piece of work. "Days of Heaven," which was I think the first significant film Richard Gere appeared in, beautiful movie.
BARBERBut since the "The Thin Red Line" and "The New World," he has not been able to tell a story. He makes very pretty pictures, but they don't make sense, and "The Tree of Life" is three hours and plus minutes that I'm never gonna get back and, frankly, I resent it. So it's not a very good film.
FUENTESI think that neither Joe or I are just smart enough. I admit it.
BARBERSpeak for yourself (unintelligible) .
FUENTESWe just don't understand that movie. I'm like okay, what is this? It's -- I'm confused.
BARBERSpeak for yourself.
FUENTESOkay. You're smart enough and yet you didn't understand it.
BARBERWell, if I can just do one quick thing. I just want to recommend two documentaries that are out right now. One is called "Buck," and it's the story of the guy who actually inspired the film version of "The Horse Whisperer." And he's a fascinating guy, kind of lived a very difficult life, but he loves horses. And even if you're not a fan of horse riding or horseback riding or horses, just go see this film for a really interesting human experience. It's currently in theaters now.
BARBERThere's also a terrific documentary called "Page One" about a year in the life of the New York Times. It's currently playing at the West End Cinemas and some other art houses, really very good stuff about newspapers and their future.
ROBERTSWe need to take a quick break, but when we come back, more movie reviews with Joe Barber and Jennice Fuentes. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Stay tuned.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We are talking about summer movies with Joe Barber. He's the entertainment editor at WTOP and arts critic WETAs "Around Town," and InsideNOVA.com newspapers. And Jennice Fuentes, film critic and pop culture commenter. You can see her work on "Global Grind" and "Latino Scoop." And of course, we're hearing from you, 800-433-8850, or send us e-mail, email@example.com.
ROBERTSWe have an e-mail from Carrie in Silver Spring who says, "Allow me to channel A.O. Scott of the New York Times with his reaction to the new "Transformers" movie. 'It is by far the best 3-D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space.'" She says, "Yeah, I saw it. No, I'm not apologetic about it, but I admit I may be dumber for it."
BARBERMay have lost a few brain cells there.
ROBERTSClearly cannot now go see "The Tree of Life" if she's just seen -- let's hear from Dale in Gaithersburg. Dale, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
DALEHi. I had a question. I was curious. I didn't catch whether you had seen part two of the new "Harry Potter" movie, but my question was focused on -- I loved all the "Harry Potter" movies and the story in the last one was great, and I read some of the books. But I felt like the filming on part one of the last movie was really poorly done. They did a lot of handheld camera shots, and I was curious if they had done that in part two, if you guys had seen it or not.
BARBERWe haven't seen it yet. We're probably both gonna go see it, like, next Tuesday. I can tell you about part one, just for myself, that I kind of understood part one was gonna be problematic in some ways because they were having to tell you a story that they couldn't complete and kind of fill in information that you needed to know, so -- and, yeah, I did find the film a little bit grainy in some place in the way it was shot.
BARBERBut still in all, I'm looking forward to the second one, the final part. And I thought it was a pretty good "Harry Potter" movie. Not a great one, but a good one.
DALEOkay. Well, I mean, I loved part one. I mean, I thought it was great. It's just the filming itself because they -- it's as if they really went out of their way to film it differently than they did the other ones, which were all fantastic. So I was just kind of curious what they would decide to do on the last one.
ROBERTSWell, go see it in 3-D.
FUENTESYou're about to find out.
ROBERTSYou can't do much with that. Yeah. What is coming up? We've talked about movies that are already out, but what are you all looking forward to?
BARBERWell, there's a movie coming out based on a very popular novel called "The Help." It'll be out in August. And I'm looking forward to the film. It looks really terrific. One of the best actresses in Hollywood, Viola Davis, is in the film. It's the story of a young girl who grows up in the south in the 1960s in a time when the help in those homes, mostly African-American, can't even use the restrooms in the houses.
BARBERAnd one woman who helped to raise this young woman who stands up and years later, she tells that woman story. Now, there's a controversy, because the woman on whom many people believe the maid character is based, is suing Disney and is suing -- which made the film, and the young woman who wrote the novel claiming that they've stolen her life story. We'll see how that all works out.
BARBERBut it looks like the kind of, again, counterpunch that we normally don't get. It looks like more of an Oscar-type film we normally get during the later part of the year. That's going to be out in August. It looks very intriguing.
FUENTESThere are about three movies that open the same weekend, July 29, that I'm really looking forward. One is "Cowboys and Aliens." I know that sounds really strange. It has going for it Danny Craig, recently married to Rachel Weisz. And it also has going for it, Jon Favreau directed it. So I'm kind of excited. He let go of "Iron Man" to do this so although it sounds insane, it's probably well made.
FUENTESOther two films opening that weekend, it's "Sarah's Key," which is with the exquisite bilingual or trilingual actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays an American journalist married to a French man who is doing research about a sad incident called Vel' d'Hiv, which is they did a roundup in the '40s in France about all -- with all the Jewish residents in Paris and neighborhoods and brought them into this place, and from there they were deported into the camps and therefore died.
FUENTESShe -- many of them. This story concentrates on the story of one little girl, Sarah, who goes -- is rounded up with her family, and somehow ends up being linked to the reporter when she's doing the research and to -- because of her French husband, obviously. It's based on a New York Times best seller by the same title by Tatiana de Rosnay, and I'm very excited.
FUENTESAnother movie, which is from local providence, because both the director and the actress went to Georgetown, it's "Another Earth." It was a hit in Sundance, and it's a very good -- I haven't seen it, but it sounds like it's a very good science fiction drama. And the director is Mike Cahill, and the actress is Brit Marling.
ROBERTSAnd that -- I just read a blurb about that in the San Francisco Chronicle, and it's sort of about astrophysics and sort of about guilt over a car crash the main character causes, and what would it mean if there were another earth. There's a lot of big themes in that movie.
FUENTESBig themes. I think it's maybe "Tree of Life" for dummies. I'm not sure.
ROBERTSDummies who are into astrophysics. I mean, how big is that Venn diagram.
FUENTESMaybe we can understand. But I think that the -- and they wrote it -- actually, those two as well. I think that they -- it starts with, according to what I read, the synopsis, she's driving the car, she's distracted by something she sees in space and therefore causes a car crash. That it's tragic, and after she -- things do happen when you cause the car crash. I don't want to give too much. And then she is reunited with the survivor, one survivor of the car crash and then the story ensues. And I'm very excited about that one.
BARBERMm-hmm. Let me also add, if I can, add another film. This is a movie, kind of a good news, bad news situation. It's called "The Debt" and it stars Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkenson. It's kind an allegory of a story that we all know, familiar stories about the Israelis when they captured one of the lead Nazis and brought him back for trial in Israel.
BARBERAnd they play -- Wilkenson and Mirren play two of the three spies who actually captured someone like that and brought him back and were declared heroes of Israel. And 30 years later, the third member of their team falls into some mysterious circumstances, and all of a sudden questions begin to erupt about whether or not they actually did get the right person, whether or not they actually did what they said they did. This -- the good news is that you've got a great cast here.
BARBERAnd it sounds like a very serious intelligent drama. The only problem is it's been sitting on the shelf for over a year now, and that's always worrisome when a film's been sitting on a shelf for awhile, even with that kind of pedigree.
FUENTESYou know, a movie opening this weekend, which I think has been killed by certain critics, but I thought was very entertaining and not badly done is "Horrible Bosses."
BARBERI loved "Horrible Bosses."
ROBERTSIt has been panned.
BARBERYeah. Very unfairly
FUENTESUnfairly so. I think Seth Gordon is the director, and I think he did a really good job at providing, you know, the three stooges today. You know, three modern-day middle-aged people who seem really unhappy with their bosses, and much like any of us have had a really, really unfair, mean boss, you dream about what would it be like if he or she wasn't around anymore.
FUENTESAnd it follows their demented psychology of what to do if they weren't around into some kind of scheme that would have their lives and problems resolved by having them eliminated.
ROBERTSIt's a big name cast, too. I mean...
ROBERTS...the three horrible bosses are...
FUENTESAnd a solid cast.
ROBERTS…Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey...
ROBERTS...and Collin Farrell, yeah.
BARBERThe thing is, it's probably most comparable to the original "Hangover," because the second one's awful -- the original "Hangover." The problem, unfortunately, is that it doesn't quite unfold the way "The Hangover" did, because "The Hangover's" great element was that it was kind of a mystery as well as being this slob comedy. This movie could use a little of that smartness to unfold that way.
FUENTESBut this movie, Joe -- but this movie, let's not -- let's not -- the one thing I found so appealing that "The Hangover" at that level didn't appeal, is that it seemed like it was the three of us. So three normal people thinking about, okay, wow, I really -- I really hate Kojo. I don't know, he's my boss. I don't like him. Ooh, I really...
BARBERRemember, they're recording this, okay?
FUENTESNo. But it felt like it had its own resonance to something normal.
ROBERTSWe love you, Kojo.
FUENTESWe love you, Kojo. We're proud of you and (unintelligible) .
BARBERKojo, I've known you over 20 years, you know how much (unintelligible)
FUENTESBut it felt -- it didn't feel extraordinary like you were watching a movie. It felt like you were watching three people who you may know, who may be at the bar next door, and they're planning -- and this -- that scene about the drugs they find in that guy's house that somehow accidentally they inhale. I laughed for ten minutes. It felt that normal.
BARBERAnd I will add, Jennifer Aniston may -- this may be the funniest performance Jennifer Aniston's ever given as the crazy dentist. She's really quite funny.
FUENTESAnd you know, to the critics that pan it, that having a boss like Jennifer Aniston be on your tail would be anybody's dream. I think that the movie takes care of that by having the characters react to this guy's supposed problem.
BARBERYeah. Pretty much.
ROBERTSAnd we will leave it there. Jennice Fuentes, a film critic and pop culture commentator. Her work appears on "Global Grind" and "Latino Scoop." And Joe Barber, the entertainment editor at WTOP. He's an arts critic for WETA's "Around Town," and InsideNOVA.com newspapers. Thank you both so much.
ROBERTSIf you can't go to the movies, listen to you guys. I tell you, it's the next best thing. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Kojo is back tomorrow for the politics hour, and thanks for listening.
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