The Movies of Early 2024

2023 was a strange year for the movies.  I don’t think anyone saw the outcome of this year coming, especially not myself.  This year saw many once dominant forces at the box office fall off hard; from Marvel, to DC, to Indiana Jones, to Fast and the Furious, to Mission: Impossible.  This summer would have been one of the most disastrous on record had it not been for the unlikeliest of saviors; the unexpected box office power duo of Barbie and J. Robert Oppenheimer.  But the biggest story of the past year was undoubtedly the behind the scenes labor battles that shook up the industry for nearly half a year.  The Writer’s Guild of America went on strike in early May and the Screen Actors Guild followed them to the picket line soon after in July, creating the largest strike period in Hollywood history.  For six months, Hollywood was ground to a halt as the studios and the unions dueled over the direction of the industry’s future.  Thankfully, the unions came out victorious, receiving fair deals that achieved most of the goals that they desired to have on their new contract, chief among them protections from AI and revised residual compensation reflective of the growing streaming market.  However, because the studios unnecessarily dragged their feet on making this new deal with the unions, it created a six month backlog in production that unfortunately is going to be felt throughout Hollywood for years to come.  The studios as a result are pushing back even more of their upcoming releases because of this delay, which is already giving more headaches to film distributors and theaters, who themselves are still in recovery mode post-pandemic.  It was a year overall of a lot of pain for the industry, as studios had to reconcile with the fact that their big push into streaming was not panning out like they expected and that they had neglected to fairly compensate their talent with fair share of that expansion, leading to an overall downturn in quality across the industry.

2024 is expected to be a year of re-building for many of the studios as they re-assess their futures.  Disney for the most part is taking the first half of the year off as they moved their Spring releases of Snow White and Pixar’s Elio to 2025.  Given how their 2023 went, with a string of disappointments, it’s probably for the best that they hedge their bets in order to regather their strength.  Warner Brothers and Paramount are even considering a merger in order to salvage their fortunes after wasting billions on chasing fortunes on streaming.  Because of last year’s strike, we are seeing a much less robust Spring season this year, as most films that were supposed to come out in the months ahead have been pushed back to accommodate for the backlog created by the strikes.  Some of the movies coming out in Early 2024 are even movies that were supposed to come out in 2023, but were unable to meet their release because the strike prevented the cast from assisting in the promotion of the films, which did have an effect on the overall box office of this Fall’s slate.  Still, there are enough movies to talk about in the early part of this upcoming year.  Like always, I will be discussing the must sees, the movies that have me worried, and the movies to skip of the early film season.  These previews are purely my own takes based on the level of buzz and effectiveness I see with the marketing, and my predictions can be off sometimes when all is said and done (and oftentimes have).  So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the Movies of Early 2024.



Without question the must see movie of Early 2024, and possibly all of the year itself.  This is a movie that we should have already seen already, but because of the strike Warner Brothers decided they couldn’t have this movie make it’s November 3rd release date without the all-star cast there to help with the marketing.  Sadly, this took the highly anticipated second chapter to the Oscar-winning original out of awards contention for this year.  If this movie released on schedule, who knows how different the Awards season chatter would be right now.  Still, thankfully it’s a movie that we are still getting anyway and hopefully the extra four months will be worth the wait.  Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) was an unexpected triumph of cinema when it first released, managing to gross over $100 million at the box office even in a still pandemic affected market and despite Warner Brothers misguided day and date theatrical and streaming release strategy at the time.  The film also managed to snag an impressive four Oscars in the technical categories, and was nominated for Best Picture, which thankfully ensured that this second part would be greenlit.  It seems short-sighted now that the studio didn’t film these movies back to back ala Lord of the Rings, as the first film only covers half of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi masterpiece.  But, Villeneuve now gets to complete the story, and it looks like he’s done so in spectacular fashion.  The movie definitely demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and I’m sure it’s going to dominate like no other in IMAX.  What I’m looking forward to are the newest additions to the cast, including Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan, Austin Butler as Feyd-Ruetha, and the legendary Christopher Walken as the Emperor.  And with Wonka doing well at the box office right now, Timothee Chalamet has some box office wind in his sails leading up to the release of this film.  Here’s hoping Denis Villeneuve sticks the landing with his monumental sci-fi epic.


Alex Garland is without a doubt one of the most unique voices to emerge in science fiction writing over the last couple decades.  Starting off with writing films like 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2005) and Dredd (2012), Garland in the last decade has started to work behind the camera as a director and has shown equal prowess as a visionary filmmaker as well.  His unique voice has tackled common sci-fi tropes in interesting new ways, like examining the dangers of AI run amok in Ex Machina (2015), or looking at an alien invasion unlike any we’ve seen before on the big screen with the trippy Annihilation (2018).  His newest film is much less out of this world science fiction and more of a speculative, future history story that sadly feels all too relevant to our time.  Civil War showcases what a wartime conflict would look like in modern times if it broke out in the United States.  This is certainly the most ambitious project that Alex Garland has taken on to date (same with the studio making it, A24).  But the interesting angle that Garland is going with in this movie is seeing the conflict through the eyes of war correspondents.  This angle is a smart one to take because it allows the movie to remain grounded in a believable reality as it puts the audience right in the middle of the conflict.  It’s not a movie concerned about the sides being taken, but rather gives us a look at the ugliness of war, transposed into a place that hasn’t seen conflict on it’s soil since the last Civil War.  Having war correspondents be the witnesses of this conflict is also smart, because it helps the movie remain focused on it’s story rather than getting bogged down in world-building, which most other Hollywood blockbusters would fall victim to and get cluttered.  Hopefully Garland is able to deliver on the promise of this premise.  It will be interesting to see the responses to this film, considering that we are about to enter another contentious and divisive election cycle that by all accounts will be ugly.  Perhaps Alex Garland is giving us the wake-up call that we need to understand the dark path we are headed towards, given who we might put into office.


I know this is a weird one to pick, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to include a little junk food in the diet.  Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse has gone through a bit of an evolution over the last decade, and one that I think has worked out for the better.  The big problem that I had with the Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla (2014) that launched this franchise was that it took itself too seriously.  The best part of the movie was always when the titular King of the Monsters showed up, but sadly those moments were few and far between.  Instead, the movie had us following the human characters, who were all sadly generic and uninteresting, despite being played by some great actors.  The introduction of King Kong into this franchise with Kong: Skull Island fared better because it gave us the audience more of what we wanted; more time with the central monster and more definable personalities among the human characters.  When we finally got the team up film we were promised with Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), Legendary seemed to finally have the winning formula, and that was to embrace the sillier side of this franchise.  What matters at the end of the day with these films is that we get to see the two iconic monsters share the screen and that the movie knows to let all the other stuff like character development and plot melt away.  In other words: just let them fight.  Godzilla vs. Kong was a nice bit of cheesy fun that we desperately needed after the worst of the pandemic.  Thankfully, it looks like the people at Legendary Pictures are sticking with the formula and still leaning into the sillier side of this franchise.  You can tell that by introducing a new pink color power set for Godzilla that this franchise is in no hurry to get this franchise grounded back into reality, and that is a bit refreshing.  I know Godzilla purists are going to complain, especially after the release of Toho’s acclaimed Godzilla Minus One.  But, given the lack of true entertainment in this early part of the year, it will be nice to have at least one movie that understands it’s limits as pure popcorn entertainment and rolls with it.


This movie releases in a mere matter of months, and yet we still know so little about it, or seen anything other than a 30 second teaser released over a year ago.  But, there is still a lot to be excited about with this upcoming film.  For one, it’s the first film directed by Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho after his history making Parasite (2019) became the first film ever not in the English language to win Best Picture.  Also netting a Best Director win for himself, Bong Joon-ho garnered a lot of attention in the last couple years with regards to what he would do next.  Interestingly, he has decided to not make another film in his native Korean language like he did with Parasite.  Instead he’s making a film in English, which is not new for him, considering that he’s done it before with Snowpiercer (2014) and Okja (2017).  What is especially exciting is that his newest film is also a return for him to the science fiction genre.  His last foray into pure science fiction was Snowpiercer, which was in my opinion one of the best sci-fi films of the last decade.  What we know of the plot is based on what we know of the source material; the novel of the same name by Edward Ashton, which involves cloning and deep space exploration.  But, what isn’t known is what Bong Joon-ho will bring to the story with his own vision.  It’s also a good sign that he is working with a very outside of the box thinking kind of leading man with Robert Pattinson.  Pattinson has taken on many quirky roles in the past, so it will be interesting to see how well he works under Bong Joon-ho’s direction.  Hopefully more information and another trailer releases for this movie soon, because it will be interesting to see what a unique filmmaker like Bong Joon-ho does with the confidence that a fresh Oscar win gives him going into his next project.


When you attempt to satirize religion and scripture in any way, you better be prepared to walk through a gauntlet of eggshells.  But, if you manage to find that right balance, you can come up with some truly legendary comedy, as Monty Python and Mel Brooks have shown us in the past.  Writer and director Jeymes Samuel takes aim at the time period of Jesus Christ, but it looks like he wisely avoids turning Christ into the target of his punchlines.  Instead, what it looks like he’s doing with The Book of Clarence is to make a statement about modern day Influencer Culture by putting it within the context of a biblical time period.  Here we see the titular Clarence become jealous of Jesus’ clout, and he attempts to scam his way into becoming the Messiah so that he can emerge beyond Christ’s shadow.  It’s an interesting angle that could also extend a critical eye towards organized religion, which itself is built upon the show boating and scamming that is synonymous with influencer culture.  It’s uncertain exactly what angle Jeymes Samuel is going to go with in his film, but it certainly looks like there’s going to be some hilarious situations that satirize the things we know from scripture and that time period.  It definitely looks like Samuel is drawing inspiration from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) with some of the tone, and I hope he’s ready for some of the firestorm that may erupt in response to this movie.  Jeymes already delivered an interesting deconstruction of the American Western with The Harder They Fall (2021), framing it through a Black American perspective (and it features one of the most hilarious visual gags I’ve seen in recent memory).  Hopefully he delivers the same kind of intelligent satirical eye to this story with a biblical center.



Try as they might, Hollywood has yet to match the one of a kind magic that was the comedy/horror masterpiece called Ghostbusters (1984).  Over the last 40 years, there have been sequels and multiple reboots, but nothing has yet to come close to the original, and it’s probably the case that nothing ever will.  The 1989 sequel has moments, but lacks the same novelty and focus.  The 2016 remake is a textbook example of how not to re-start a franchise as it courted controversy that it was not prepared to tackle, and sadly it negatively impacted the chance to bring true inclusivity into the casting of the franchise.  Jason Reitman, son of the late Ivan Reitman who directed the original classic, decided to bring his own voice to the franchise and pick up where his dad left off.  His 2021 reboot was different in tone, taking the lore and story a bit more seriously than past efforts, which is honestly closer to the original vision of the franchise’s co-creator Dan Aykroyd.  But, even though it was a marked improvement over the 2016 version, it still was a movie that relied too heavily on nostalgia for the past.  Seriously, we’re just going to rehash Gozer again as the main threat?  Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife still did well enough to get a sequel greenlit by Columbia.  Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire does earn some points by trying something different; with the Big Apple being threatened by an ice storm brought upon by a supernatural force.  It’s also interesting that they managed to get everyone back, not just from the last film, but even the legacy actors as well (even the always elusive Bill Murray).  Still, I feel this is a franchise that still has a lot to prove in order to find it’s way out of the shadow of the original classic.  It’s been 40 years and still nothing so far convinces me that Frozen Empire will be the movie that will justify a whole new generation of Ghostbuster movies to get excited about.


Talk about over-exposure.  The above trailer seems to be attached to every movie playing at the multiplex at this very moment, so if you are someone like me who visits movie theaters on a regular basis, this trailer has been played ad nauseum for several months now.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the end result could end up being terrible, but the fact that Universal and Apple Studios are flooding the market with advertisement for this film is not a good sign either.  The latest film from Matthew Vaughn comes as new territory for the director, but still working within a genre he has a lot of experience with.  Vaughn has spent the last decade building up the Kingsman franchise and this is his first original film in a long time.  There are positive and negative signs for this movie based on Vaughn’s recent track record.  For one thing, he has demonstrated a knack for taking actors not typically known for appearing in action movies and giving them a stand out action set piece that changes everything you thought you knew about them.  The now famous one shot church fight scene with Colin Firth in Kingman: The Secret Service (2015) was a perfect example of this.  In Argylle, it looks like he’s doing the same with his leads, Sam Rockwell and Bryce Dallas Howard, both of whom you wouldn’t expect to see in elaborate action set pieces.  At the same time, Vaughn’s track record has been a bit spotty.  His sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) was a disappointing mess that sqaundered all of the goodwill of the first movie, and though it was a bit better, the prequel titled The King’s Man (2021) still couldn’t course correct well enough to salvage the waning franchise.  Hopefully Matthew Vaughn is able to get his mojo back with Argylle, but given the zealous marketing campaign so far, I’m not seeing a lot of positive signs.


At least one thing works in Dreamworks Animation’s favor this spring.  They no longer have to share the box office with their indsutry rival Pixar, Disney has moved their previously planned Spring 2024 release of Elio to Summer of 2025.  Still times are troubled for Dreamworks Animation.  The studio has failed to generate the same kind of energy at the box office that it once did in the last decade.  2023 was an especially rough year for all of the Animation titans.  Disney’s Wish (2023) failed to ignite over the Thanksgiving weekend, and Dreamworks saw it’s two 2023 releases, Ruby Gilman: Teenage Kraken and Trolls Band Together both underperform expectations, the former becoming the lowest grossing film in the studios’ 25 year history.  It’s a sad result given that they ended the previous year on a high note with their best film in years with Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022).  Thankfully for Dreamworks, their next film on the release calendar is the fourth film in one of their most resilient franchises.  Jack Black returns as the lovable Po the Panda and in this adventure he is facing off against a shape-shifiting villain voiced by Viola Davis.  While the Kung Fu Panda films have always been well-animated, they’ve been a little inconsistent when it comes to story.  In my opinion, I thought the first one was alright, I loved the second one, and thought the third one was bland and forgettable.  Thus far, this fourth film really lacks anything new or interesting to hook me back in.  Maybe long time fans will be more interested than me, but for me a film franchise on it’s fourth round needs to have something more interesting than a new villain of the week to justify it’s existence.  Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was a movie sequel that really went above and beyond what was called for with it, and to see Kung Fu Panda just revisiting the same routine just feels uninteresting to me.


This is one of those movies that could honestly go either way.  We could be witnessing the birth of a new cult classic in horror comedy, or it could be an embarrassing dumpster fire that bodes ill for all involved.  One of the red flags is that it’s written by Diablo Cody.  Cody, an Oscar-winner for Juno (2007) has in the past had a bad habit of using cringey slang words in her dialogue that make her scripts sound way out of touch with the age groups that she’s trying to connect with.  But, when used well, she can write some very funny and excessive genre films, particularly in this horror comedy mode.  One of the interesting things about Lisa Frankenstein is that it marks the directorial debut of Zelda Williams, daughter of the late great Robin Williams.  A movie like this is a big swing for a first time director, but it looks like a bold statement as well to signal that Ms. Williams is ready to put her voice out there as a filmmaker.  One thing that might be a plus for the movie is that it looks like the kind of film that Tim Burton used to make but no longer does, and thankfully Zelda Williams is coming in to fill that void.  The whole tone of the movie also seems to be refreshingly tougne in cheek, which hopefully doesn’t spoil the movie as a whole, as some horror comedies sometimes lack the right amount of laughs or scares to work as well as they should.  One thing that I do like in the trailer is that the main lead, Kathryn Newton, is really aiming for the fence with her performance; vamping it up in a deliciously comical way that could go a long way in making this movie work.  It all comes down to the execution, and hopefully all of these talented ladies pull it off and knock ’em dead.



Given the disappointing year that they experienced, Marvel is sitting out most of the next year with only one official MCU title getting released in 2024; the eagerly anticipated Deadpool 3.  While disappointing to fans, this is honestly a much needed break that Marvel desperately needs in order to recalibrate and get their mojo back.  Sadly, it seems like Sony Pictures didn’t get the memo with their own licensed Marvel films in the Sony Spider-verse.  In 2024, Sony is set to release at least 3 films all connected to their fledgling Spider-Man adjascent cinematic universe, all mostly centered around some of the webslinger’s rogues gallery of villains.  In the summer we get a movie devoted to Kraven the Hunter (2024), which was pushed back from a fall release this year during the strike, and in Fall 2024 we get the third film in the Venom franchise, starring Tom Hardy.  But before all that, we get this movie devoted to one of the most obscure Spider-Man characters in the Marvel canon.  Madame Web tells the origin story of the mystical being central to the multiversal storylines of which Spider-Man is a part of.  There’s not much to say about this movie other than it representing Sony really scrapping the bottom of the barrel in order to fill out their, I guess you can call it “Venomverse.”  Sadly, apart from Tom Hardy’s quirky performance and the stellar animated Spider-Man films, nothing about the Sony produced Spider-verse films have stood out.  Madame Web’s agressive blandness is not going to convince anyone that Sony is on their right track with their franchise, and considering that it’s the same studio responsible for the train wreck that was Morbius (2022), it’s highly likely that this movie is only going to compound the already dire state that comic book movies are in right now.


Truth be told, this was never my kind of thing to begin with, but even still, a movie like this feels doomed and unnecessary.  Basically it is adaptation of a Broadway musical version of the original 2004 film.  While I’m sure that long time fans of the original will be excited to see this, I also think that it’s likely going to disappoint a lot of people too.  For one thing, it’s just rehashing a story we already know, but doing so 20 years after the fact.  A lot of the things that felt fresh and relevant in the original are going to feel dated in 2024.  Also, the movie is attempting to adapt a musical made for the stage, but still film it like the original film.  I have a feeling it’s going to take away some of the pagentry of live performance that most musicals benefit from, and make the dance and song numbers feel awkward.  That’s what happened with the very unpleasant Dear Evan Hansen (2021) film, and I am already getting the same uncomfortable vibe from this trailer.  Can pros in the cast like Jon Hamm and Tina Fey pull this movie out from that unfortunate association, or are we looking at another Evan Hansen fiasco.  Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of parallels so I imagine we are in for another bad musical experience.


What the hell happened to David Ayer.  The action movie director was on the rise in the early 2010’s with two acclaimed movies back to back; the cop drama End of Watch (2012) and the WWII action flick Fury (2014).  When he was next given the offer to direct Suicide Squad (2016) for DC, it appeared that David Ayer was on the track for big things.  But even despite seeing Suicide Squad earn a healthy box office return, many thought his adaptation of the comics was severly lacking and uneven.  It didn’t help that his follow-up, the critically panned Bright (2017) for Netflix, also failed to live up to expectations.  Since then, David Ayer has sunk down to being a B-movie director once again, with his 2020 film The Tax Collector performing poorly even by pandemic standards. His next film looks to be continuing his slide down into further irrelevancy, as he is working on yet another Jason Statham vehicle that looks nothing more than another paycheck movie that the star can sleepwalk through.  One would hope that David Ayer can find that special project that can once again help him climb back into the upward career trend that he once enjoyed, but sadly this movie does not look the kind of movie to reverse those fortunes at the moment.

So, there you have my preview of the movies coming out in Early 2024.  It’s going to be a quiet start to the year, with very few studio driven releases of note.  Definitely Dune: Part Two is the movie that is going to dominate most of the conversation this Spring if it lives up to the high expectations that we have for it.  It’s just a shame that a grandiose movie like that had to be a victim of the studios’ mismanagement of their response to the strikes.  A lot of the missing presence of big films during these next few months is largely due to the studios misreading the situation and thinking that they could wait out the unions in order to squeeze them into negotiating towards lower terms on the deal.  It didn’t work, and now the studios have few films to show off and boost their quarterly profits in the early part of next year.  The only ones who seem to be moving forward into the next year without disruption to their schedules are the indie producers like A24, because they did the right thing and negotiated fair deals with the unions independent of the big studios, allowing them to continue production while the rest of the industry was shut down.  So, it’s going to be an overall quiet season where the movies that really shine will likely be the smaller, independent films.  Still, there are bigger movies that are certainly out there to see.  Because they’ve decided to take a time out to regroup throughout this opening part of the year, Disney is actually using this time to right a cinematic wrong and allow the three Pixar films that went straight to streaming during the pandemic (Soul, Luca, and Turning Red) to finally have full theatrical releases as a make-up to the one division in their company that defied the slump and overcame a bad start to become a sleeper hit with last year’s Elemental.  My hope is that 2024 is a healing year for Hollywood, which has gone through a rough couple of years both through circumstances they couldn’t control (the pandemic) and through a force that they should’ve handled better than they did (the strikes).  And then hopefully after that, we’ll see the industry booming again in 2025.  For right now, I hope my preview has given you a good sense of what to expect in the next couple of months.  Here’s hoping for a good start to 2024 at the movies even with all the turmoil that the last year has carried over into it.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – Review

2023 is going to be looked at as a turning point year for the super hero movie genre.  The genre was undeniably the dominant force at the box office over the last decade, led by the unprecedented success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Following Marvel’s lead, rival DC Comics began their own expansion of their cinematic presence with the creation of the DCEU.  And for several years, it was a mutually beneficial competition that looked to be unstoppable in creating big bucks for the studios.  For many years, especially in the later half of the 2010’s, putting out a super hero movie into theaters was almost guaranteed to make money.  What was especially surprising was how even the most obscure, B-list super heroes were succeeding at the box office.  A large part of this was the success of Marvel’s interwoven cinematic universe, which made every one of their movies, even the one’s with lesser know characters, essential to the over-arching narrative that they were building up.  For them, the culmination of all those story threads was the monumental team-up films under the Avengers banner.  For the DCEU, it was the Justice League that their universe building would culminate around.  This was very much a box office engine that was unlike anything else that Hollywood had seen before, and it seemed like there would be no end to that money train.  However, gravity does inevitably catch up, even with the most astronomical success stories.  This year, we saw the inevitable collapse of the once sure thing that was the super hero genre.  While it’s too early to say that the genre is dead, it certainly has stopped being a sure thing in the business now.  2023 was a year of staggering box office disappointments all around, but the super hero movies were the ones that suffered the most.  Even the mighty Marvel didn’t escape the implosion.  There were 8 super hero films put out into theaters this year, and only 2 could even be considered to be profitable; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023).  All the rest failed to justify their enormous budgets which in turn led to a catastrophic collapse across the board for the genre; some even considered to be among the biggest box office bombs of all time.

While Marvel is hurting with the low box office returns of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) and The Marvels (2023), the story is even more dire for DC.  DC perhaps benefitted the most from the rising tide of the super hero genre of the 2010’s, as their movies saw a surge in success in the latter half of the decade.  The DCEU had a strong start on the back of the Superman film titled Man of Steel (2013), and they continually produced movies that grossed in the neighborhood of $300 million domestic for several years.  Perhaps the most surprising result was that it was neither Batman or Superman that achieved the highest grosses of this era, but rather Wonder Woman (2017) and Aquaman (2018) that ended up on top.  Because DC felt confident in competing with Marvel at the box office during this period, they began to greenlight movies for some of their lesser known characters, such as Shazam, Black Adam, and Blue Beetle.  But while box office was strong, the DCEU had one deficiency that prevented them from reaching the heights of Marvel.  One of the reasons why the DCEU is often nicknamed the Snyderverse is because of the filmmaker who helped launch the franchise from the beginning; Zack Snyder.  And like most of Snyder’s movies, the most common critique that the DCEU faced was that it was built on style and not substance.  DC rarely reached the same critical acclaims that Marvel enjoyed and over time that began to take it’s toll on the box office that the series enjoyed.  The DCEU was plagued with a lot of second guessing from the executives at the Warner Brothers offices that were bankrolling the whole venture.  This led to the especially messy shake-up that doomed the Justice League (2017) movie, and the residual turmoil soured the rest of the DCEU as a whole.  Since then, the only DC movies that have succeeded commercially and critically have been the ones not tied to the Extended Universe; 2019’s Joker and 2022’s The Batman.  The ultimate collapse began with the disappointing returns on Black Adam (2022), and with the shake-up of the Warner Brothers and Discovery merger, the writing was on the wall for the DCEU.  Unfortunately, they still had four films in the pipeline, set for a year where the audience no longer had interest in a dying franchise.  Thus, we got the back to back flops of Shazam: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Blue Beetle.  Only one movie is left of the now defunct DCEU, and the question remains if Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom can sink or swim?

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom takes place a few years after the events of the last film.  Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) has taken up his birthright as the King of Atlantis, a powerful underwater kingdom unknown to most of the surface world.  He has found the job a bit tedious as he has learned that his powers are limited and kept in check by a council of high households, pretty much making him a figure head.  He desires to use his power as king to enact reforms to help his kingdom prosper, but at the same time he understands that taking power is not in his DNA, as that was the folly of his power hungry half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), who is now in prison for his crimes.  In the meantime, Arthur is balancing being king with living life on the surface world as a father.  Arthur Jr., barely a year old, lives on land with his grandfather Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison), and Arthur and his Queen Mera (Amber Heard) ensure their child is safe whenever they are away from their duties on the throne of Atlantis.  However, trouble is brewing in the ocean and on the surface world.  Rising global temperatures are creating chaotic storms above the waves, and is causing sickness in the sea life below.  The source of this imbalance is coming from the use of ancient sea tech discovered by Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  Black Manta is intentionally polluting the land, sea and air in order to melt the polar ice caps as a means of unleashing a dark evil onto the world.  And equipped with a dangerous magical trident, Manta is far stronger now than the last time Aquaman fought him.  In order to defeat Black Manta, Arthur needs the help of an old enemy who once used Manta’s power for his own ends; the fallen King Orm.  Arthur and Orm are now in a position where they have to have to put their differences aside in order to save the world together.  But, can past rivalry be forgiven so easily?  And can Aquaman still succeed against the new power that Black Manta wields that is unlike anything he has face before?

The whole team that worked on the last Aquaman returns for this sequel, including most of the returning cast, director James Wan and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick.  Considering that Aquaman (2018) is the highest grossing DCEU film of all time (the only one to gross over a billion worldwide), it makes sense that a sequel would be greenlit right away for the continuation of Aquaman’s stand alone franchise on the big screen.  But a lot has happened in between when the first Aquaman movie came out and now, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s release on the tail end of truly the worst year ever for the genre could not have come at a worst time.  It’s unfair for Wan, Mamoa and company to be the one’s given the task of closing out the DCEU, because it’s very clear that this particular movie was never intended to be the end point.  The decision by DC parent company Warner Brothers Discovery to cut their loses and start over from scratch has only happened within the last year.  As a result, audiences were all too aware that the DCEU no longer had a future beyond 2023, so interest in the ongoing narratives suddenly disappeared.  That’s why the box office for DC was so abysmally low this year, because there was no point to any of these movies now.  Still, it was possible for them to stand on their own as an entertaining movie.  Sadly, for many, that didn’t work either.  I myself enjoyed the charm of Shazam: Fury of the Gods enough to recommend it, and Blue Beetle has it’s strong points too.  But The Flash was a colossal mess of a movie that definitely spelled the doom that the DCEU was about to face, and sad to say, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom just continues that downward trend.  With all things considered, Aquaman is not the worst thing that has come from the DCEU, but it’s too unremarkable to take the DCEU out with anything other than a whimper.  Considering where I myself come from, I was not much of an Aquaman fan to begin with, as I disliked the first film too.  If there is any positive thing to take, I’d say that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is just slightly better than the first film because it’s shorter and feels less bloated.

In general, I think Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a perfect distillation of all the things that have plagued the DCEU from the very beginning.  DCEU movies, for the most part, are heavy on spectacle but light on character.  The movies within the franchise can certainly look like they were made with the GDP of a small nation, but very rarely will you see any critic or fan praise the films for their richly textured characters.  The reason why Wonder Woman and Shazam (2019) were able to rise above the formula and win critical praise is because those films did a much better job at allowing us to understand why their heroes want to be heroes.  Wonder Woman has that wonderful moment where she declares “It’s what I’m going to do,” before she storms into No Man’s Land after being told that it’s not what they came there to do.  That is a quintessential hero moment, and it’s something that strangely feels absent from most of the DCEU movies, especially the Aquaman films. I was often frustrated with how aimless the first Aquaman was, as it tried to be too many different movies all in one, and in none of them do they ever make you care about Aquaman’s journey towards becoming a hero.  It’s strange that the best character building moments we ever get of Aquaman come from the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League; you know, the version that never made it into theaters.  There was enough flashy spectacle in the first Aquaman to make audiences forget how shallow the story was, but the same unfortunately cannot be said with this movie.  It becomes very clear watching Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom that there was little to no heart put into it.  I don’t know if everyone saw the writing on the wall or not, but the whole vibe of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is that it feels like a movie made out of obligation.  Everyone involved in the movie was under contract to make a sequel, but the circumstances surrounding the making of that sequel caused the whole thing to become irrelevant by the end.  So, we have a director and a cast pretty much just giving the bare minimum so that they can fulfill their contracts and move on.  There’s just this overarching “let’s get this over with” detachment to the whole movie, which I’m sure is going to feed into the already low expectations audiences have with this movie.  The sad thing is, there are pieces in the narrative, had they been nurtured under a different environment , that could have contributed to a much better movie overall.

The movie very much rests on the shoulders of the cast, because it certainly gets nothing from the story.  And even there, we have a mixed bag.  The strength of the Aquaman series, and honestly the DCEU in general, has been the perfect casting of Jason Mamoa as the character.  Mamoa can carry so much of the movie just from his charming presence on screen alone.  Out of all the Justice League characters we’ve seen over the last decade, Mamoa’s Aquaman is really the only one with a distinct personality.  Despite so many good actors cast in the roles, only Jason Mamoa has been able to feel like he belongs in the role, and that no one could do it better.  And thanks to that ability to feel comfortable in the role, he’s able to make Aquaman fun to watch even when he’s horribly written, which happens a lot in the DCEU.  The same applies here as well, because while the script gives him almost nothing to work with, Mamoa still is able to play the character affably enough to make you smile when he’s on screen.  Another character who rises above the bland writing is Black Manta.  While the plot involving the character in this movie is pretty convoluted, Yahya Abdul-Mateen still gives him an effectively menacing presence that does work for the most part.  Kudos to the character design team to make the Black Manta helmet look as cool as it does in this movie; which is admittedly difficult to do given it’s cartoonish origins with those giant bug eyes.  There’s also some nice sincere moments with Temuera Morrison as Tom Curry, giving the movie a much needed earthbound character to help deliver some essential heart into the movie.  Sadly, very few other actors stand out.  Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman, two actresses with very important roles in the first film have barely anything to do here.  And Patrick Wilson is even more wooden in the role of Orm here than he did in the first movie.  He’s required to work a lot more with Jason Mamoa in this movie in a sort-of “buddy cop” way, and it falls flat because neither actor has chemistry with each other.     Mamoa’s charm on screen can go a long way, but there’s only so much heavy lifting he can do, and sadly most of the movie squanders the best efforts that he makes to get you to care about Aquaman’s story.

Another aspect of the low effort in this movie is the general way that the movie looks.  I hope that audiences are fine with looking at actors composited into CGI environments, because there is a lot of that in this movie.  To be fair, there really was very little choice in that manner, considering how much of the movie takes place underwater.  There are touches of decent CGI work in the movie, such as in how the characters’ hair is animated in the underwater scenes to give them a weightless flow.  But for the most part, you’re going to be looking at a lot of unrealistic looking fight scenes that are too cartoonish to ever be grounded in reality.  Much of the action is buried underneath too much visual mayhem to ever give the audience a grasp on the scenes they are watching.  The only action moments that work are the ones where Aquaman and Black Manta are dueling one on one, because it’s the only time where the movie isn’t relying on any trickery to liven up the scene.  As this year has proven, audiences are tired of action scenes loaded up with excessive CGI effects.  Movies like John Wick have shown that in camera stunt work is what audiences are finding more impressive these days.  This is a problem that really is plaguing super hero movies in general, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is just the latest example of it.  The genre has been dying because the market has been flooded with too many movies that all look and feel the same.  And what’s worse is that the budgets for these movies have ballooned to unsustainable levels.  A decade ago, a super hero movie costing over $200 million was indicative of a major event.  Now, it has become the norm, and it’s costing the studios too much.  That’s why we’ve seen a sudden re-assessing of the genre as a whole this year, with even Marvel starting to second guess their priorities.  It’s clear that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom was more of a symptom of an already ailing industry, and not nearly the worst offender.  But, considering that it is the final note on this horrendous year, it’s probably going to also be the movie that most people point to as the poster child for everything wrong with the super hero genre as a whole.

As I stated before, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is certainly bad on many counts, but it’s not by any means the worst we’ve ever seen from the genre.  By being such a low effort this time around, I think it has fewer faults than the first film.  It doesn’t have much to offer, therefore it didn’t have far to fall from my already low expectations.  In the end, I think that it’s just going to stand as a minor footnote of a film in the greater picture of the super hero genre as a whole, and I think that’s the best that can be said for it.  Better to be remembered as a minor failure than a colossal one.  Sadly, the fact that this is the movie that the DCEU goes out on is likely to bode poorly for the film in the long run.  I think it’s unfair to have put so much weight upon the shoulders of this movie that it clearly was not intended to hold.  James Wan and his team never intended to be the ones to write the final chapter of the DCEU.  They just wanted to keep Aquaman’s story going strong, but other circumstances got in the way.  The fact that they got any movie completed and released at all is it’s own kind of triumph.  But, what it certainly shows is that there needs to be a clear change in the direction of the super hero genre as a whole.  DC is certainly doing it’s part, re-launching their cinematic universe with the guidance of filmmaker James Gunn at the helm.  Marvel is also slowing things down to re-organize, with only Deadpool 3 being their sole film release in the next year.  Despite the best efforts of a lot of good filmmakers and actors, the DCEU was always handicapped by a lack of direction and interference from the studio, so it’s best that it be put to rest.  It’s just too bad that Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is such a minor film to go out on.  I should note that even though 2023 was the year of super hero movies bombing at the box office, it doesn’t also mean that each of those movies was terrible either.  I strongly recommended the films Shazam: Fury of the Gods and The Marvels as both of them were genuinely a lot of fun to watch, and Blue Beetle had a lot of charm as well despite being a bit cliché.  Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and The Flash on the other hand were deserving of their box office failure, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom falls closer to that camp as well, though it’s fall feels less steep than the others.  If you were a fan of the first Aquaman, you might enjoy it well enough, and it does benefit from being less cluttered than the original, but that’s about all the praise I can give it.  Otherwise, it and now the entirety of the DCEU, sleeps with the fishes.

Rating: 6.5/10

A Hallmark Channel Christmas – Going from Greeting Cards to Holiday Movie Titans

We all know the kinds of Christmas movies we prefer to watch every single year during the holidays.  Speaking for myself, I’m partial to Christmas themed comedies, like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1988) or Home Alone (1990).  For others, old classics like Holiday Inn (1942) or It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are what they prefer, or some like to indulge in the dark side of Christmas with horror themed holiday movies like Krampus (2015).  But if there is a particular subgenre that has emerged as the most dominant among Christmas movies, it’s the romantic comedy.  Rom Coms are by far the most prominent, and some would say over-represented of genres during the Christmas season.  But the reason they are so omnipresent during the holidays makes a lot of sense.  No other genre of Christmas themed movies knows their audience better than the rom coms, and the people who make them target that audience with laser like precision.  For many people, the holidays is all about family and home based comforts, and that’s what these movies deliver on every single time.  Some would complain that the Christmas rom com has become the most cookie cutter of subgenres in all of cinema, because the vast majority of them pretty much recycle the same formula with only minor tweaks to differentiate themselves.  But, this is where the appeal lies for many.  The predictability of Christmas rom coms can sometimes be it’s asset because it helps them to go down easier for the tastes of it’s audience, many of whom prefer the same and comfortable over the challenging and unexpected.  Though many studios have contributed to the vast library of Christmas themed rom coms, there is one producer that not only has cornered the market, but has over time created a huge money making machine based around this genre of film.  Of course it makes sense that a company specialized around warming peoples hearts through greeting cards over the last century would also do the same on the small screen as well.

The Christmas card maker Hallmark has spun off into many different branches of holiday themed merchandise over the years, which includes gift wrapping and tree ornaments on top of their base production of greeting cards.  In the 1990’s, they began their first steps towards a whole different avenue of business, which was entertainment.  Since the 50’s, Hallmark had lent it’s branding towards film and television productions under the banner of “Hallmark Hall of Fame,” basically using it’s wholesome name to steer people towards media that shared the values the company wished to promote.  In 1991, Hallmark formally created Crown Media Inc., which would be the official media wing of the Hallmark corporation.  From this point on, Hallmark would be in the business of not just giving their name to other people’s productions, but would be in charge of making their own.  Over the 1990’s, Hallmark would co-produce several made for TV specials, films, and mini-series.  One of their favorite partners to work with was the Jim Henson company, whom they collaborated with on the ambitious mini-series Gulliver’s Travels (1996) for the NBC network.  The partnership with the Jim Henson company led to the next big extension of their media empire, as the two companies acquired major stakes in the faith based cable channel called the Odyssey Network.  Eventually, the duo of shareholders re-organized the network, creating more secular programming and reducing the religious content to a minimum four hour block.  Finally in 2001, the Odyssey Network was officially re-branded as the Hallmark Channel, which would be the official home of all past and future Hallmark branded programming.  The channel proved to be an enormous success and the network has grown since then with Hallmark Movies and Mysteries being spun off in 2004 and Hallmark Drama launching in 2017.

Of course Hallmark Channel carries a variety of programming throughout the entire year, but it’s the holiday season where the channel really sees a spike in viewership, and they are quite aware of that fact.  Christmas time is Hallmark’s bread and butter, so it’s only natural that they would go all out for the holiday season.  The network premiered it’s first original Christmas themed movie during it’s inaugural year with The Christmas Secret (2001), starring Beau Bridges and Richard Thomas.  In the 22 years since, the Hallmark Christmas movie library has grown to nearly 500 titles.  That’s an average of 20 new movies a year, and we’re only talking about the Christmas ones Hallmark releases.  To say that Hallmark Entertainment has been prolific over these last several years would be an understatement.  But, it’s not particularly surprising either.  Hallmark Christmas movies are not expensive to make, and they usually run a breezy 90 minutes in length (2 hours with commercials).  They don’t require extensive post-production, as most of their films are grounded, with the only magical films falling into a modest magical reality.  In many ways, the Hallmark Christmas movie machine runs much like the way old Hollywood did in the studio system days, including the fact that they usually draw from the same stable of actors and actresses for many of their movies.  Some would say that Hallmark Christmas movies is the last resort of has-beens churned out by the Hollywood machine, but there are a fair amount of actors who have willingly pursued being a part of the Hallmark Channel stable of stars, and they have managed to thrive on that platform as Hallmark’s popularity has grown.  The current queen of the Hallmark Channel is former Mean Girls and Party of Five star Lacey Chabert, whose been the star of over 30 Hallmark Christmas movies as of 2023.  And by starring in, I don’t mean any small part; she is the leading lady of that many films, something that you don’t normally see in Hollywood over that short amount of time.  The movies may all be the same re-packaged fare re-released ad nauseum, but Hallmark certainly knows what it’s doing with the business model they’ve set up.  Their Christmas programming is now so vast that their entire programming block between late October and the end of December has been dubbed the “Countdown to Christmas,” and it is consistently their highest rated period of the year.

So what makes these Christmas movies so appealing to audiences.  For the most part, Hallmark has worked the rom com formula down to a science.  For the most part, the movies are centered around a central romance; often between polar opposites.  A lot of the time, the central character (mostly the leading lady) is career obsessed and alone during the holiday season, and through a series of holiday centric events, they find true love and live happily ever after.  In a Hallmark Christmas movie, it’s the holiday traditions that bring the people closer together.  Sometimes it’s through meeting the family of the loved one for the first time during the holidays that does the trick.  Sometimes it’s helping that special crush finally achieve success in their Christmas time competition.  There’s also quite a few of these movies that end up with one of the fated lovers having to chase down the other to tell them that they love them; most often it’s at an airport, because you know the holidays.  Along the way, there’s a colorful cast of side characters, including the sassy co-worker, the warm-hearted mother and father, and the precocious little kid.  What I’ve described is pretty much 2/3’s of all the plots of the Hallmark Christmas movies.  Even the marketing of the films features very little deviation, because it often shows the two love birds embracing in front of a Christmas tree under a starry sky or in a field with freshly fallen snow.  You pretty much know what you are going to get when you tune in to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie.  It is not high art cinema, but rather comfort food, and Hallmark is very well aware of the kind of media they are producing.  Their movies are more life-affirming than mind-opening and the fact that they continue to make the same kind of movie year after year is because they know that their audience is not expecting any more or less than what they’ve had before, and that’s a formula that is in no need of changing.

The one thing that probably defines Hallmark movies more than anything else is that they propagate the idea of traditional values.  Hallmark is by all accounts politically neutral, but their programming does very much stick to a sense of old time ideals.  The world of Hallmark Christmas movies is very much an aspirational one; where there is no violence or vulgarity, and everyone is polite to one another.  There is definitely a sense of competing values in Hallmark movies, but it often cuts down the line of complicated lifestyles versus the simple joys.  Often the countryside is portrayed as the idealized place to be, where time moves more slowly and the worries are millions of miles away.  There are people out there who point to this aspect of the Hallmark movies as being agenda driven.  Given that the Hallmark Channel started off as a Christian based network before it’s re-branding, it can be expected that some of the residual religious influence carried over into Hallmark’s mostly idealized worldview.  The romances in Hallmark movies are extremely chaste compared to most other rom coms.  For many years, it would’ve been even unusual to see a kiss longer than a few seconds in most Hallmark movies.  Though Hallmark Channel movies are for the most part extremely tame in general, they are also at the same time not pushing any particular agenda other than just wholesome Christmas tidings.  I think the critique of containing an agenda stems from the fact that religious propaganda over the years have in many ways been co-opting the Hallmark style, seeing it as an effective tool to spread their more overt agendas to the same kind of audience that watches Hallmark films every Christmas.  Hallmark for it’s part has tried to avoid dipping it’s toes into the culture war, hoping to appeal to all audiences with it’s simple greeting card messaging of hope and love.  But, unfortunately, their idealized sense of the world doesn’t always mix well in an environment that has grown more polarized.

There have been a variety of controversies that have arisen over the years with regards to Hallmark’s place in the so-called “culture war.”  In 2020, Hallmark found itself in the cross-hairs of right wing critics who protested an ad run on the channel by the wedding planning app Zola, which featured testimony from a same-sex couple who used it’s services.  The backlash prompted an immediate pull from the airways by Crown Media’s then CEO Bill Abbott.  The censoring of the ad then led to a counter protest from the LGBTQ community, who also made a point of the lack of representation on the Hallmark Channel.  This led to a quick reversal by the Hallmark Corporation, who stated that their aim was not to offend anyone by either airing the ad or pulling it from the air.  Despite their best efforts to avoid getting into the political conversation, Hallmark was unfortunately now right in the thick of it.  Given the fact that the year 2020 forced many new conversations to open up about diversity and representation in general, Hallmark began to listen to the complaint that their programming was lacking in representation across the spectrum, especially with people of color as well as the LGBTQ community.  Unfortunately, the head of Hallmark’s media division, the ultra-conservative Bill Abbott was not receptive to these changes he called upon now had to enact, so he promptly resigned after a decade in charge of the Hallmark Channel and it’s subsidiaries.  In the following year, he launched the new network Great American Country (GAC) which would now be the right-leaning alternative to the diversified Hallmark Channel.  This move then led to a very publicized departure from one of Hallmark’s biggest stars, Candace Cameron Bure, who like Abbott also objected to Hallmark’s move for diversity.  The fundamentalist Christian actress (sister of far-right actor and filmmaker Kirk Cameron) signed an exclusive deal with the GAC channel and Hallmark suddenly found itself facing competition not just for it’s wholesome image but for it’s hold on traditional value audiences.

It can definitely be said that while Hallmark wasn’t political in itself as a broadcaster, it’s audience nevertheless was made up of primarily right-leaning baby boomer generation viewers.  It was the premiere channel for middle aged to elderly women across America, many of whom gravitated to Hallmark’s simpler, idealized view of American life.  But, there is another block of audience members that has been growing over the years for the Hallmark Channel.  Believe it or not, the Hallmark Channel, and in particular their Christmas movies, are very popular in the gay community.  Of course, these two blocks of audiences are watching Hallmark movies for different reasons; the older audiences for the affirmational traditional values espoused by the films, and the gay audiences for the camp value.  But that’s a generally nice thing to think that conservative mothers and their queer children can have something to bond over during the holiday season as they watch the Hallmark Channel together.  Thankfully, this is something that the Hallmark Channel has embraced in the last couple of years.  After Bill Abbott’s departure, Hallmark has held true to it’s promise to expand representation on it’s network.  While Hallmark movies remain fairly chaste with their romances, there is a decidedly stronger mix of color amongst the couples, including far more interracial relationships.  Actress Holly Robinson Peete has emerged as one of the top stars on the channel in the last couple of years, marking a strong presence for people of color on the channel.  But, the biggest sign of Hallmark’s progression into a more inclusive studio was in Christmas 2020 with the premiere of the movie The Christmas House, the first Hallmark movie to feature a same-sex couple prominently in it’s story.  While performers of color and different sexual orientations were always a part of Hallmark movies in the past, they were now being allowed to take center stage and have their own stories told by the same studio that had shepherded their careers for so long.  And the last couple of years have shown us that embracing diversity has not hurt Hallmark one bit.  In fact, their influence on the holiday season has only grown over time.

The Hallmark Christmas movie model has expanded beyond just Hallmark’s reach.  You now can find the same kind of wholesome holiday entertainment premiering on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon each year.  There are literally hundreds of new Christmas rom coms to choose from each holiday season, and this is largely due to the fact that Hallmark’s formula has been such an effective one.  They are not expensive to make and they already have a reliable, built in audience to capitalize on.  Hallmark itself has taken advantage of the rise in streaming with an exclusive deal struck with Peacock.  Hallmark also has it’s own VOD service where people can purchase their movies directly through their app.  Despite the controversies that caused an uproar in the Studio City production offices a couple of years ago, Hallmark is finding that change is good for business.  Sure they lost a big name talent like Candace Cameron Bure, who was the face of Hallmark through most of it’s formative years in the 2010’s, but as we’ve seen there are many other talented actresses waiting in the wings ready to take the spotlight at Hallmark that don’t share her toxic aversion to diversity.  It’s also pleasing to see that longtime queer stars from many past Hallmark movies, like Luke MacFarlane and Jonathan Bennett, no longer have to remain in the closet on screen and are now able to be romantic on film truer to their own experiences.  Hallmark Christmas movies are certainly not for everyone; I myself tend to steer way clear of them.  But, despite their simple, cliched nature, the Hallmark Christmas movie experience definitely delivers for the audience that it appeals to.  What is pleasing to see is that Hallmark is growing bolder over time with how they approach growing their audience.  They rightfully recognize that their films should be more representative of the way that America looks today, which is not something that should ever been dismissed as “political.”  The reason I think a channel like Hallmark has a brighter future than a more agenda driven one like GAC is because they see that the broadest audience appeal will be the key to long term success.  GAC only appeals to a very narrow audience block of fundamental traditionalists, which is not a demographic that organically grows over time.  Hallmark knows that appealing to younger, more diverse viewers is the key to their future growth, and they are able to grow that reach without breaking out too much from their tried and true formula.  The stories remain the same familiar re-treads, but the players are changing, and for the better.  In the end, a Hallmark Christmas movie is very much the embodiment of that sweet, saccharine poetry that they’ve been putting on a card every Christmas for the last 113 years.  They may be manipulative and corny, but on a cold Christmas Day, they can be as comforting as a cup of hot cocoa while resting under a warm blanket by the glow of a twinkling Christmas Tree.

Tinseltown Throwdown – Fatman vs. Violent Night

There are a variety of flavors when it comes to holiday themed movies to choose from to watch this time of year.  There are your wholesome traditional religious themed classics, your subversive comedic classics, countless animated classics, as well as the warm hearted romantic classics, all of which will be filling your airways over the course of the weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  But, in some cases, there are Christmas movies that cross over into the less wholesome entertainment and add a bit of spice to the holiday cheer.  Specifically, these are movies that use the holiday aesthetic, but add a bit of horror and action to the mix.  This is why the debate over Die Hard (1988) being a Christmas movie is such a passionately argued one this time of year.  Not every movie about Christmas needs to be for all ages, and Die Hard is certainly the movie that proves that point.  But, at the same time, Die Hard isn’t inherently about Christmas either; it’s just a story that takes place during the holiday season.  Remove the holiday overlay, and Die Hard would be hardly different.  But, even still, many fans choose to make Die Hard part of their holiday watch list every year, and it’s without question a great movie to watch regardless of the time of year.  The interesting thing is that Die Hard has become such an influential film over the years that it has inspired filmmakers to resolve the Die Hard Christmas question by actually taking the same premise and fully making it about the holiday.  And that is accomplished by swapping out John McClane for Ol’ Saint Nick.  It’s such a no-brainer idea for a Christmas themed action movie to make Santa Claus an action hero, so it’s surprising that more movies haven’t attempted it over the years.  There have been two noteworthy attempts in recent years that work with this premise to varying degress of success.  And comparing them together, we see what it takes to make Santa Claus an action hero worth rooting for.

During the pandemic year of 2020, a low budget action movie centered on Santa Claus became available for video on demand just in time for Christmas.  Fatman (2020) features Mel Gibson as a world weary version of Santa, less motivated by holiday cheer and more about keeping his operation afloat in a changing economy.  His Santa is more factory foreman than a jolly old elf.  While he devises a plan to save his North Pole operation from foreclosure by agreeing to a military contract with the U.S. Government, a spoiled rich kid named Billy (Chance Hurtsfield) hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to assassinate Santa after being slieghted on Christmas for being naughty.  The hitman has had a longtime vendetta set on Santa, and he goes to the North Pole with deadly force.  What results is a deadly attack on Santa’s compound with plenty of military and elf blood spilling on the new fallen snow.  The movie garnered a bit of attention over the lockdown affected holidays, especially given the silly premise and the casting of Mr. Gibson as Santa.  A couple years later, another action movie centered on Santa was released, only this time it’s one that unmistakably leans more into the Die Hard formula.  Violent Night (2022) involves Santa (played by David Harbour) finding himself embroiled in a home invasion scheme by heavily armed burglars.  Like with Det. McClane in Die Hard, the burglars are unaware of Santa’s presence until he begins to use his ancient Viking warrior skills to pick them off one by one.  He also becomes aware of the situation by being in contact with one of the hostages; a young girl named Trudy (Leah Brady) who communicates with him via a toy walkie talkie.  And of course all of the mayhem ensues in bloody excess, fitting the title of Violent Night.  Despite taking on the same premise, Santa Claus being an action hero, both films are thankfully very different in narrative, and actually do interesting things with the character of Santa in general that isn’t too out of character for the Christmas icon that we know.  The only thing is, which film did a better job of achieving that goal.

“Damn chickenshit reindeer left me here to die.”

Probably the most important thing to compare between each film is how well they portray the character of Santa himself.  Santa Claus has been portrayed many different ways over the years, but in these two cases, Santa has to be believable as the central character of an action movie.  Both Mel Gibson and David Harbour are no strangers to working in action oriented filmmaking, but it is interesting to see how differently they approach their combat scenes in their respective movies.  Mel Gibson’s Santa is much more grounded and serious.  Despite the absurdity of the premise, Gibson plays the role very straight-forward, making his Santa grizzled old man whose doggedly protective of his territory.  Think of the Santa in Fatman as a Christmas version of a doomsday prepper, ready to take up arms if he finds his home base threatened by outsiders.  Basically, Mel is playing Santa not unlike his own grizzled, society shunning self, just minus the closed-minded bigotry.  In a sense, this fits the movie he’s in, given that the action scenes are brutal and not played for laughs.  Fatman surprisingly plays the action straightforward, with the violence at times being fairly brutal.  Violent Night by contrast is unmistakably an action comedy, with the violence played up to far more absurd levels.  And David Harbour matches that tone perfectly.  His Santa is not the most skilled action hero; part of the time he clumsily gets himself bruised up before he’s able to get his own licks in.  A lot of the movies best laughs come from the fact that Harbour is able to sell the sloppiness of Santa’s response to the situation just as well as he does with Santa fighting at his most competent.  And in general, his Santa is just a far more endearing character in that aspect.  The biggest problem with Mel’s Santa depiction is that he never elevates the persona beyond just that gruff center of his performance.  He does get a few great tough guy moments, but they are few and far between.  Harbour is consistently entertaining as Santa, from beginning to end; from his boozy, lackadaisical introduction to his bad ass final battle, his Santa Claus finds that perfect balance between fierce and funny, which helps to make his film much more fun in general.

“Some kids with a deer rifle put two holes in the sleigh and one in me.  All I have is a loathing for a world that’s forgotten me.”

There is also a major distinction in the films with regards to the threats that Santa faces.  In this regard, Fatman is the one that does a better job of breaking the mold.  Violent Night has a fun batch of baddies, led by John Leguizamo’s increasingly frustrated ringleader.  At the same time, the movie perhaps borrows a bit too much from it’s Die Hard inspiration, as most of the henchmen are little more than archetypes, with Leguizamo’s Scrooge being not much more than a discount Hans Gruber.  Fatman on the other hand has a fantastic villain in the form of Walton Goggin’s Skinny Man.  Skinny Man is a refreshingly different spin on the kind of hired hit man character that you would see in a action film of this type.  He takes the job of killing Santa Claus not just because of the money, but because he has devoted his life towards hunting Santa Claus down out of vengeance, making him the most qualified for the job.  We learn that he was slighted out of receiving a present as a kid because he was on the naughty list, and this was the tragic event that sparked his vengeful spirit.  Absurd, yes, but the great thing is that Walton Goggins plays the character completely straight.  He understood the assignment and he turns the Skinny Man into a legit intimidating presence in the movie.  What also makes the character work within the movie is that his deadly serious take on the character is balanced off of that of the kid playing the spoiled rich Billy; who seems to be a thinly veiled parody of Donald Trump, with the loose fitting suits, childish temperament, and malignant narcissism.  The kid definitely plays more into the absurd side of the premise, which helps to give Goggins the leeway to play more into the darker aspects of the character.  And between both this and Violent Night, the Skinny Man is without a doubt the most interesting character to have been imagined through this kind of premise.

One other thing that works in Fatman’s favor is that it is far more interested in worldbuilding around it’s premise than Violent NightViolent Night runs primarily on the belief that most of the audience will already be aware of the mythology surrounding Santa Claus.  All of the Santa related stuff is more or less there to satisfy the punchline of Santa being out of his element in this Die Hard scenario.  The movie does add the interesting aspect that Santa started out as a mercenary Viking with a high kill count in his past, and his weapon of choice was a sledgehammer named Skullcrusher.  But, apart from that, the movie sticks fairly closely to the Die Hard scenario and doesn’t build on any lore from there.  In Fatman, the movie goes much more into conforming the mythology of Santa Claus into a grounded, real world setting.  Instead of being at the geographic North Pole, Santa’s base of operations is actually in a rural Alaskan town called North Peak.  On the outside it looks like any other farm, but underground is where you’ll find the cavernous workshop, which looks not unlike most Amazon distribution centers.  It gives the Santa mythos a very 21st century aspect, but even still, the movie includes some of the fanciful elements.  His workshop is still run by elves and his sleigh is still led by flying reindeer.  The modern trappings of the workshop does a decent job of reinforcing Santa’s disillusionment with the work that he does, as he grows more weary with the increasing corporatization of the holiday season.  While I have a feeling some of the grounded look of the film was due to the movie having a very miniscule budget, I do give the movie credit for working around that and making it an integral part of the worldbuilding of it’s story.  It certainly makes it a different version of Santa’s workshop that we haven’t seen on film before, and it also makes for the right kind of setting for the violent confrontation that the movie ultimately leads to.

“Skullcrusher’s my hammer.  My favorite hammer.  I was a surgeon with that thing.  Used to be able to take three heads.  Line ’em up…”

There’s definitely one thing that the two movies have in common, which is that both genuinely earn that R-rating for violence.  With Fatman, the movie remains fairly blood free until the very end, with only short bursts committed by the Skinny Man until he eventually makes his way to Santa’s compound.  Then the blood spilling begins.  Violent Night by contrast gets to the violent stuff pretty quickly, but it does a fine job of maintaining the escalating violence throughout and even manages to one-up itself the further it goes.  Apart from the Die Hard influence, it’s clear that Violent Night was also inspired by another Christmas classic; Home Alone (1990).  Santa Claus not only fights off the bad guys in Violent Night with his bare hands, but also with whatever Christmas themed decorations he has on hand; much in the same way Kevin McCallister would’ve.  Though of course Kevin never impaled one of the Wet Bandits in the eye with a Star tree topper before.  There is a scene where the little girl Trudy even gets in on the action as she lures some of the bad guys into the attic, with traps that are pulled straight out of Home Alone, only taken to the fullest gory ends (and you guys thought the nail in the foot part was cringe inducing).  The violence in Fatman is played much less for laughs as they are in Violent Night, with the film leading to a very intense shoot out at Santa’s compound.  If you ever wanted to see a gun-touting Santa Claus duel it out in tactical combat, this is the movie.  The degree to which the audience responds to each film depends on the level of violence that they are willing to accept.  Violent Night is over the top and hilariously gory while Fatman is gritty and intense, and the two films pretty much deliver on what they promise.

But there’s one other question, which is whether one film works better as a Christmas movie than the other.  In this regard, I feel that Fatman falls a bit short.  It is more of a action movie wearing the skin of Christmas, while Violent Night brings in a lot more of the feel of the holiday season.  I think this is largely due to the way the secondary plot works in addition to the one involving Santa.  The family at the center of the home invasion function very well as an element of the Christmas style story being told, because they are a perfect distillation of a dysfunctional family trying way too hard to have a normal Christmas gathering.  I’m sure that it’s no accident that Beverly D’Angelo was cast as the matriarch of this family, since she famously played Ellen Griswold in the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), the ultimate dysfunctional Christmas comedy classic.  The way that this family plays cutthroat with each other is just as hilarious as all of the Santa bits in the movie, and probably hits close to home for some people who have tried to soothe troubled waters over the holidays.  At the same time, the family does come together through the ordeal, though they still maintain toxic elements of their personality, and helping out Santa Claus beat back the bad guys does give them a renewed belief in the holiday spirit.  This helps to make Violent Night feel more like a seasonally appropriate movie.  Apart from the mythic Santa Claus elements, there really isn’t much that makes Fatman feel like a holiday film.  The movie could have just been about a lonely farmer fighting off an intruding assassin and the story would have been roughly the same.  There’s no, shall we say, Christmas magic to it.  Violent Night by contrast definitely wants to leave it’s audience with a sense of the holiday spirit by the end, even after seeing a man get violently ripped apart after being pulled up a chimney.  That’s probably why it’s the film that likely will be re-watched more often as part of a Christmas watchlist.

“You messed up big time, fat man!”

One of the pleasing things about the attempt to officially work the Die Hard formula into an authentic Christmas story is that it feels so natural.  It makes sense that it would fit, given that Die Hard was about disrupting a festive moment with a violent threat.  Only seems fitting that Santa Claus would be the one to save the day in the end.  As far as Fatman and Violent Night go with their takes on Santa Claus as an action icon, they both fit within the rules set by their respective films.  Fatman is a grounded, gritty film, and Mel Gibson does fit that version of Santa pretty well.  Violent Night on the other hand certainly plays things out in a sillier way, but to a point where it doesn’t do a disservice to the action, and David Harbour perfectly embodies that aspect of his Santa Claus.  You can definitely look at Harbour’s Santa as being the more Bruce Willis like of the two, while Mel Gibson’s Santa is more Clint Eastwood.  Out of both movies though, the best character still remains Walton Goggins Skinny Man, who is a genuinely effective and intimidating action villain.  The two movies more or less succeed in what they set out to be, but I feel like I’m going to be revisiting Violent Night more often as a Christmas re-watch.  It’s got a lot more wild moments that manage to make me laugh out loud, while Fatman just worked out as a serviceable action flick.  Violent Night also is the one that seems to celebrate the season a bit more, while Fatman is a tad more cynical.  But, what both movies do prove is that you can indeed turn Santa Claus into an action hero.  It’s definitely a sign of the versatility of the character, where his persona is not tied to any traditional bounds.  That’s why he can remain a relevant symbol to changing times and attitudes while still being distinctly Santa Claus.  I certainly like seeing a Santa that can hold his own in a mano y mano fight as these two films managed to show.  There’s a lot of stories that you can tell with Santa Claus, but in the end, he still has to represent that spirit of the season.  As long as a movie can do that, it doesn’t matter if Santa is also packing heat or cracking a few heads as well.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight.

“Ho, ho, holy shit.”

Abandoned Cinema – How the Decline of Physical Media Could Lead to More Lost Movies

When you watch a movie, it can have a multitude of life spans in your memory beyond that first viewing.  Whether you saw that movie in a theater or at home, your degree of reaction to that film will determine how you continue to treat that movie in the future.  If you didn’t like it, you’ll probably never see that movie again and that will be the end of that relationship.  If you do like a movie, you’ll probably seek it out and watch it again, whether in the theater like before or whenever it is on TV.  And if a person really likes a movie, and would want to watch it on demand whenever they would like, for the longest time the best option in that case would be to buy the film on home video.  For the longest time, the release of a movie would reach it’s final stage with it’s premiere in the home video market, though some films over time would be so popular that several re-printings over multiple years would be necessary.  Several media publishers would even entice collectors with limited edition sets for select films, particularly if they were celebrating an anniversary.  For many people, there’s something special about reaching the point where they can purchase the film for home viewing, making the movie they love a tangible thing that they can shelve alongside all of their other favorite movies.  But, this market has recently been hit with a existential threat through the rise of streaming.  Much like how the internet transformed the music industry, with digital downloads of songs greatly eclipsing the sales of CD albums, the web based streaming market has diminished the once mighty home video market to a fraction of what it once was.  Before, it was quite easy to go to your local big box store and find a wide selection of movies from all types of genres available prominently on their shelves.  Now, what was once a huge anchor section of these stores has since been reduced to at best one small shelf tucked away in the back of aisle.  For some people, this is no big deal as they find the streaming market much more convenient, but for long time collectors this is a potential unceremonious end to decades long passion, and even worse, it could lead to a disastrous loss in the record of our cinematic history.

The dire outlook on the future of physical media came from the news this year that electronics retailer Best Buy was going to cease the sales of DVD’s, Blu-rays, and 4K UHD discs in the next year.  Up to now, Best Buy was one of the last holdouts in selling physical media with an expansive inventory.  The news was tragic for many film collectors out there, but not entirely surprising.  Best Buy’s home video sections have been steadily shrinking over the last decade, much in the same way that similar sections in stores like Walmart, Target and Costco have been shrinking or just have outright disappeared altogether.  At least Best Buy has given their customer base the heads up, as most stores just unceremoniously remove their movie sections without warning.  Still, many people who have used Best Buy as their go to retailer are now in the position of having to look elsewhere in order to find the physical copies of the movies they want to own.  Online retailers like Amazon will still likely offer physical media sales, but very discerning media collectors may be dismayed with having to deal with issues related to mail order purchases, rather than being allowed to pick it off the shelves themselves.  What the elimination of physical media sales in retail stores also means is that publisher will be less likely to ship the movies out in bulk, which in turn will increase the cost of manufacturing.  Physical media will likely cost the consumer more as a result, with the supply being so low and the demand so high.  This situation would also likely lead to a decreased interest from the movie studios themselves in continuing the practice of home video releases, seeing it as far less reliable of a marketplace than streaming.

But what makes this shift especially troubling for many is that it may lead to an increase in lost media.  The thing with streaming movies and shows exclusively through online platforms is that the consumer is at the mercy of the publisher with regards to that media’s availability.  Streaming content’s value comes from the amount of viewership that they generate, and as we have learned from the streaming wars of the last couple of years, the movie studios have no qualms about pulling content away that doesn’t perform well.  There have been several instances from Disney+, Max, Peacock, Paramount+, and even Netflix of movies and shows that have been pulled off the services for whatever reasons, simply because they weren’t getting the desired viewership compared to the rest of the programming.  Sometimes the media is moved off temporarily for licensing reasons (such as how Max and Peacock seem to trade off showing the Harry Potter films), but there are cases where a movie and show is pulled off the streaming platform so that the studio can collect a tax break for the cost of production.  The conditions of that tax break means that the studio can never profit off that select media ever again, which means that the show or film is just lost completely.  If there was a coinciding physical media release of these films or shows they could’ve still survived beyond their lifespan in streaming, but without it, those movies and/or shows are just lost forever.  This is an especially terrible situation for both audiences and the creatives who made these programs.  A lot of love and care goes into making any piece of media, and regardless of the limited viewership they may have initially, a long lifespan through home video almost always allows for audiences to discover something and grow to love it.  The recent trend of studios abandoning their body of work eliminates that potential for long term growth and worse, it increases the likelihood of that same media being lost forever.

There’s a lesson from Hollywood’s past about the dangers of losing our records of cinematic history.  A lot of that certainly has been attributable to the negligence towards physical media in the past, though physical media has also enabled us to rediscover treasures as well.  It is said that almost 90% of all the movies made before the advent of sound have been lost to time, and that’s due for the most part to a lack of care when it came to preserving the film.  Most film negatives either rotted away in terribly run storage facilities or were destroyed in fires either accidentally or intentionally.  The fact that we do have some records of the early days of cinema at all is fairly miraculous, and it’s been due to dedicated preservationists who have carefully maintained and cleaned-up these older films over the years.  But, even as the worth of film increased, there was still several instances where lack of foresight caused the loss of historic pieces of media.  The early days of television saw broadcasters re-using old tapes of now classic shows, as concepts of re-runs and home video weren’t even thought of yet, which means that entire original recordings were just wiped clean for the sake of recycling to cut down on the cost of film stock.  That’s why we have lost many legendary early episodes of now beloved TV shows like Doctor Who, or Johnny Carson’s earliest Tonight Show airings, and even the original broadcast of the Moon Landing (which we only have a record of now thanks to a lower quality dubbed copy).  Home Video saved many shows and movies that otherwise would’ve been erased over time.  The demand to have these available at home was key to getting them preserved.  But in the case of streaming, the programs have only existed in a digital format, and once the streamer deems it to have no value on their platform, that’s it.  The only record of that movie or show’s existence is whatever you have in your memory.

Thankfully, this kind of practice is creating it’s own kind of backlash.  There has certainly been backlash from fans of these cast away movies and shows that have voiced their anger at seeing them disappear, as well as from the filmmakers who worked hard to make them.  But the practice itself is drawing it’s own fire.  This was one of the key sticking points in the strikes earlier this year.  The studios were removing programming from their platforms without being transparent about the actual viewership numbers these movies and shows were generating.  The Writers and Actors Guilds wanted the studios to be upfront about how well these programs were performing, because it’s their art that’s at stake in the situation.  They wanted to know if the studios were collecting tax breaks because they were losing money on the underperformance of their work or if the studios were unfairly scapegoating their work to collect a quick buck off of tax breaks regardless of the programs performance.  Thankfully, it appears that the guilds will have that information given to them, albeit with confidentiality to keep the true numbers out of the public view.  But still, the way that the studios have gone about dealing with their streaming exclusive productions is dangerously cavalier with regards towards the long term health of their brands.  The choices of what gets the axe and what doesn’t is not as random as it appears, and it seems the more unique movies and shows without marketable franchises behind them are the ones getting abandoned.  But it’s these very outside-the-box projects that benefitted the most from physical releases in the past.  Imagine if studios had done the same thing to home video phenomena like The Big Lebowski (1998), Fight Club (1999) and The Iron Giant (1999), all because they bombed in the movie theaters.  If they started their lives on streaming and were cancelled so the studios could profit off of a tax break, we would have no record of these now recognized masterpieces.

So, with physical media in a dramatic decline, are we likely to see more media lost due to the whims of streaming.  For the moment, it appears that studios are more content in collecting out $15 dollars a month than manufacturing and shipping out physical copies that may not even get sold.  But, this way of thinking has gained it’s own wrinkles as of late.  The decline in subscriptions from Netflix last year, a first in their decade long streaming history, ended up spooking the rest of Hollywood, which had dove head on into the deep end of the streaming wars over the last couple years.  All of the studios that now were operating their own streaming platform suddenly began to second guess their aggressive growth into the market, as streaming turned out to not be the golden goose that they all thought it would be.  True, Netflix did rebound thereafter (by embracing advertisers), but the industry that was going full speed ahead had to immediately slam on the breaks and consider it’s future.  And this made a lot of them consider if it was worth causing an upheaval in the way business had been done over the last several decades.  Home video may not have been lucrative all the time, but when the movie was popular enough and the demand was there, you could just as easily make more money off of selling a physical copy of a movie than in any other way.  Some movies that flopped in theaters would later make up for it on video sales, and that’s a revenue generator that the film industry sadly has forgotten about.  There are signs that some of the studios are taking another look at the home video market as a possible revenue stream to coincide with their online platforms.  Disney is starting to put out physical copies of their Disney+ exclusives, including The Mandalorian, Wandavision, and Loki.  There’s also been a drive by Disney and Warner Brothers to open up their catalog titles for re-release during their respective 100 year anniversaries this year.  But even with these measures, it hasn’t reversed the decisions to shut down sales of physical media at some of the big chain retailers.  With that particular marketplace closed off, the likelihood of physical media becoming a large priority for the movie studios again seems pretty slim.

So what does the future of physical media possibly look like.  The market will not go away entirely, but will likely evolve into something else.  It helps to take a look at how physical media survived in other forms.  The music industry still is primarily dominated by digital downloads through platforms like iTunes or Google Play, as well as through streaming on Spotify.  But, there is still a market out there for physical media when it comes to music and the demand resulted in one of the most unexpected comebacks in media history.  Collectors were not seeking out highly compressed CD albums anymore, but were instead buying Vinyl records, a format long thought dead after the advent of cassette tapes and CDs.  In the mid 2010’s, a surprising resurgence of vinyl sales began to take over, and you can still find a vinyl record section in any music store, and even big retailers like Target.  The failure of digital readers to catch on is also another sign that many people out there are just more comfortable purchasing something that they can physically hold in their hand; a book in this case.  Whether or not that happens to film has yet to be seen.  But there are some third party publishers that are doing an amazing job of seeking films worth preserving and making them available for purchase through their own websites.  This includes valued labels like Kino Lober, Shout Factory, Arrow Video, and one that I talk about all the time on this blog, The Criterion Collection.  These publishers are still committed to making movies available on physical media and they are an invaluable blessing to both collectors and casual fans alike.  Individual movie studios are also seeing the value of this specialty market.  A24 sells copies of their movies on their own site, some not available anywhere else, and they give their movies these beautiful box art packaging that is also exclusive to their store as well.  That’s where I see the future of physical media going in the future; becoming more niche and catered to the collectors out there.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers and Universal all started launching their own legacy labels similar to Criterion and Shout Factory to get collectors to buy premium priced physical copies of their films and shows over the next decade or so.  At least that’s the hope.

For something to survive the changing patterns of the movie industry, it helps to have a champion in high places.  For physical media, such a champion has emerged in the form of filmmaker Christopher Nolan.  His most recent film Oppenheimer (2023) became the summer’s most unexpected box office hit, and just this last week it was released on Blu-ray and 4K UHD.  Before the release, Nolan was out promoting the physical sale of the movie saying that he put a whole lot of love and care into making the physical disc version of the movie just as special as the theatrical presentation.  But his most telling statement to members of the press before the film’s release was that he hoped people would buy the physical copies of Oppenheimer saying, “So no evil streaming service can come steal it from you.”  It’s a very pointed statement, but it comes from a very real concern that both he and so many others feel.  Once you have a copy, it’s yours and it can’t be taken away.  You, the customer now have control over when and where you can watch the film, without the streamers dictating if it’s available or not.  And it looks like Mr. Nolan’s words rang true for many.  As of this writing, Oppenheimer is completely out of stock in both 4K and Blu-ray formats; even on Amazon.  That’s a staggering result in the streaming dominated world of today.  The demand is so high right now that Universal is now promising to fast track a second round of orders in order to restock their supply.  Did Nolan completely save the physical media market with the record breaking release of Oppenheimer?  Probably not, but it is a clear sign that the market is not dead just yet.  There still is demand out there for select movies.  Hollywood just needs to figure out how best to balance the long standing physical media market with the newer streaming one.  It may be too late to convince retailers to reverse their decisions to cut back, but things could always change again.  What matters is that some form of physical media record should remain so that movies and shows are not lost to time based on the whims of the studio.  Media should have a chance to be preserved, and a widely available record through the physical copy marketplace is the best possible way to keep movies alive long after they first premiere.  As someone who is an avid collector of physical media myself, my hope is that I’ll still continue to fill up my shelves with all the movies I love for years to come.  It may become harder to seek these movies out now, but a library of movies stacked neatly on my home shelf is far better to look at than an endless scroll of thumbnails on a digital streamer.