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Popflick Confidential: Stars Come Out to the Picket Line


It’s Day 78 of the #WritersStrike and Day 6 of the @sagaftra strike. We stand with writers, actors, crew members, and every creative worker fighting for a livable wage.

The big stars are coming out of the woodwork to join the picket lines, achieving virality in social media. David Duchovny brought a lot of sympathy with an "X-Files"-themed sign - "The residuals are out there" -and Mark Ruffalo got some blowback, probably because his long tenure in the Marvel MCU makes him a less-than-ideal avatar of working actors everywhere. Remember, he went the extra mile, defending the corporation from Martin Scorsese's mild disregard for superhero fare. There's also some toxic name-calling for his openly liberal ideology.

Let’s give the guy a break. He is on the right side of history by joining fellow actors in the picket line. And if you are a movie buff into star-gazing, you might as well take advantage of the picket lines. If the strike extends, you will not see your favorite stars parading down the red carpet in the upcoming film festivals. Even worse yet, even their movies might go MIA.

The Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival are just two of many film festivals setting up alternative programming, anticipating US studios and distributors might decide to pull their films from the events and delay premieres. There is an economic rationale behind such a move. Without a star rising awareness by the sheer power of her presence, the box office might suffer - fewer people will be aware of "Challengers" if Zendaya is nowhere to be seen.

On the other hand, it might also work as a pressure tactic. A delayed opening can hinder careers, stalling or derailing an upward trajectory. There is a silver lining in this situation. European and Asian films, which might lose prime spots to Hollywood fare, would gain better positions in the schedule, and they, in turn, would open up slots for other movies.

Brace Yourselves for #Barbheimer

A brave group of moviegoers rises against Hollywood pettiness. Opening “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” sounds like a masterstroke of counter-programming, a surefire way to get two different audiences off the couch and into the cinemas. Alas, it was soon evident a seizable overlap of interested fans for both exists. And they need to see them ASAP.

Maybe they are wary of spoilers, or they are overly aware of the business side of the film industry and want to make their tickets count in the all-too-important box office score. No matter the reason, these brave souls purchase tickets for “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” on the same day. According to The Hollywood Reporter, AMC Theaters reported that 40,000 people put their money down to see them back to back.

That is 4 hours and 54 minutes of film viewing. And if we go by my local AMC standard, add 30 minutes of trailers before each show. And some downtime you might spend watching Maria Menounos’ Noovie content because showtimes rarely align to facilitate surfing from one theater to another. Being conservative, these brave souls will spend 6 hours in the theater, watching a double bill of totally opposed movies to turn a meme into a long flash mob. Or performative moviegoing. Or something.

I don’t mean this as a putdown. Ages ago, I might have tried to pull off this stunt myself. But after catching “Matrix Revolutions” in an opening midnight screening back in 2003 and falling asleep, I decided to forgo this sort of thing. Double bills should be reserved for rare arthouse fare. I suspect “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” will remain in theaters well into the Fall season. But I salute those brave souls making #Barbheimer a thing. Godspeed!

What Do You Get the Diesel Who Has Everything?

It’s Vin Diesel’s birthday! The actor and producer at the heart of the wildly popular franchise “The Fast and The Furious” is 56 today. He can thank Roger Corman, Pope of Pop Cinema, for his good fortune. The producer came up with the title while doing one of his legendary B-movies in (Year)

Diesel was just 34 years old in 2001 when the first movie became a hit. By then, he was a well-established player. His autobiographical short fiction film, “Multi-Facial” (1995), earned good reviews at Sundance. He directed himself in the feature film debut “Strays” (1997). A supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) made him a reputable actor, and “Pitch Black” (2000) became a cult hit and a franchise starter.

In a way, “The Fast and the Furious” was the best and the worst thing that happened to him. It highlights the bullish segmentation of the acting business. Once you make a successful, it’s hard to branch out. When Sidney Lumet’s “Find Me Guilty” (2006) came along, the mixed reviews and middling box office pushed him further down the human-action figure racket.

Indie roots, blockbuster fruits: birthday boy Vin Diesel lives it up / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

Indie roots, blockbuster fruits: birthday boy Vin Diesel lives it up / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

In a way, the narrative arc of his career is similar to that of his on-screen and behind-the-camera nemesis, Dwayne Johnson. The wrestling star was making inroads in Hollywood and scored a coveted role in Richard Kelly’s eagerly-awaited apocalyptic comedy “Southland Tales” (2006). He gave a beautifully calibrated performance in the film, but it failed to ignite the box office and proved divisive for critics. Since then, he dedicated himself to the most commercial projects around: disaster movies - “San Andreas” (2015) -bottom-barrel IP - “Baywatch” (2017) -, and superhero dreck - “Black Adam” -. There is something deliberate and bullish in these choices, an embrace of the sure thing and a renunciation of risk. His upcoming projects include four sequels, two remakes, and one spin-off.

Can you blame them for taking the path of least resistance? Media coverage in the run-up to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike lifted the veil of studio business and the asymmetries of the system. Critical accolades are a small price to pay in exchange for a mountain of money and the security it brings. Diesel's next movie, "Fast X: Part 2," will be released in 2025.

If you want to be a completist about the most successful franchise of our times, check out the original "The Fast and The Furious" (1954) and stream it now on Popflick. It's just one of many of Corman's cult classic movies available in our classics section.

Director Paul Verhoeven, Blessed at 85

It’s Paul Verhoeven’s birthday! The Dutch director built his fame on homegrown hits “Turkish Delight” (1973) and “Soldier of Orange” (1977), which also provided impressive showcases for Rutger Hauer. He conquered Hollywood with blockbusters “Robocop” (1987), “Total Recall” (1990), and “Basic Instinct” (1992). The box-office and critical failure of “Showgirls” (1995) put a dent in his career, although in time, the movie was re-appraised as a misunderstood gem - and to be fair, actress Elizabeth Berkley was the one who suffered the most out of all the creative team -. There is no better argument in its favor than Vinegar Syndrome’s beautiful home video edition.

Paul Verhoeven and actress Isabelle Huppert promoting their movie "Elle" (2016) at Cannes. / Photo by Dreamstime.

Paul Verhoeven and actress Isabelle Huppert promoting their movie "Elle" (2016) at Cannes. / Photo by Dreamstime.

Verhoeven eventually returned to the Netherlands and developed a late-career comeback, invigorated by shedding Hollywood constraints and prudishness. It would be impossible to make such a bawdy exploration of sex and faith as “Benedetta” (2021). The master is still going strong at 85. A series based on “Bel Ami” remains unseen in America, and he is developing two new movies.

Lupe Velez, We Hardly Knew You

Lupe Velez was born today in 1908. She was part of a contingent of Mexican talent that conquered Hollywood in the first half of the XX Century. The group includes Dolores del Rio, Ramon Novarro, and Lupita Tovar.

Velez became a big comedy star in Hollywood in the 30s and early 40s. Her beauty matched her comic instincts. Producer Hal Roach cast her in Laurel and Hardy shorts. Box-office king Douglas Fairbanks hired her for “El Gaucho” (1927), opening the door to dramatic features. She eventually returned to comedy, headlining a franchise built around the character of Carmelita Lindsay, beginning with “The Girl from Mexico” (1940). She did eight movies as “The Mexican Spitfire” in just four years.

By 1944, the franchise fizzled out. She staged a dramatic comeback in México with a version of Emile Zola’s “Nana” (1994), directed by Mexican Cinema Golden Age star director Roberto Gavaldón. Alas, romantic disenchantment and professional stagnation led her to take her own life. She died in 1944.

It’s tragic that whenever a generation of cinephiles thinks of Lupe Velez, their reference is a gruesome, false account of the circumstances around her suicide invented by Kenneth Anger for his book “Hollywood Babylon.” There is more truth in a single clip of this sparkling comedian at work.

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