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Popflick Confidential: Studios' Strategy Pins Theaters Against Strike

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It’s Day 87 of the #WritersStrike and Day 15 of the @sagaftra strike. We stand with writers, actors, crew members, and every creative worker fighting for a livable wage. #sagaftrastrong

The third week of the Double Strike approaches, and there is no sign of willingness in the studios to return to the negotiating table. If anything, they pinning actors and writers against theater owners, delaying the opening of their movies. Sony pushed "Kraven the Hunter" and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" to 2024.

On the other side, there are heartening shows of solidarity among actors. SAG-AFTRA revealed that Dwayne Johnson made a 7-figure donation to the Strike Relief Fund to help out guild members under duress. Stars like Collin Farrell and Shea Whigham joined the picket lines. The Writers Guild of America shared they are taking steps to add animation screenwriters to the union once the current strike ends. In the past, their lack of inclusion deprived them of benefits - it also left the studios with some oxygen since they could keep working on animated projects while live-action films shut down.

Picket lines had to be canceled in New York for two days straight due to the record heatwave punishing the northern hemisphere, but the demonstrations picked up towards the weekend.

Barbheimer Will Go On

The perfect storm of blockbusting power formed by the double-premiere of "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" goes into its second weekend unabated. According to Box Office Mojo, Greta Gerwig's film has amassed almost half a billion dollars worldwide. Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" arrived on Friday with $229M. Quite a feat, considering we are dealing with a talky, demanding 2-hours plus drama, lacking in the hyperbolic action that usually drives the box office.

The #Barbheimer phenomenon goes against the philosophy that Marvel and DC have imposed. Yes, you could say that “Barbie” is an IP product, but Gerwig and star and producer Margot Robbie jockeyed enough creative control out of Mattel and Warner so that the final movie feels personal, the exact opposite of the rigid control exerted by Marvel over its MCU franchises. Remember that the studio approached Art House darling Lucrecia Martel to direct “Black Widow” (2021), but she dismissed the idea when it became clear they would not allow her to do what she wanted with action sequences.

It's her world now, we only live in it: Robbie surveys her kingdom in "Barbie" / Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.-Mattel.

It's her world now, we only live in it: Robbie surveys her kingdom in "Barbie" / Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.-Mattel.

We'll see if "Barbie" is an anomaly or a harbinger of a new way of doing things. There is no word yet of a sequel. Robbie remains mum on the subject, and Gerwig said she gave her all to the project - her next project is a new version of "The Narnia Chronicles" under the aegis of streamer Netflix -. A troubling sign came when Mattel unveiled plans to produce a full slate of movies inspired by their trademarked toys. There is a "Barnie" movie with Daniel Kaaluya in the works. It is supposed to be an "adult" take on the character and its ethos, in the line of Charlie Kaufman movies.

Based on those two projects, it seems like Mattel is sticking to self-referential meta-humor. These movies are not necessarily for today’s children but for their parents. Will they sustain this tone or diversify? Announces trickle-down in different media outlets. There will be a “Polly Pocket” movie with Lilly Collins. There are plans for Tom Hanks to lead a “Major Matt Mason” movie written by Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) and novelist Michael Chabon.

Will Mattel grant the same degree of freedom to other directors? Will they be able to put a personal spin on these products? Chances are Mattel will distill Gerwig’s movie into a formula that will grow stale with time. As things stand now, with the superhero faltering creatively and commercially, it seems like the suits will raid the toy box to keep attracting the masses. Different fountain of inspiration, same modus operandi.

Mattel is not reinventing the wheel. Hasbro has been exploiting their brands for quite a while now, but their run of "G.I. Joe" movies and "Transformers" already petered out - "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" raked in $156M at the box office this year, which at its price range, qualifies as a failure. The first few movies, directed by Michael Bay, were commercially successful, and Travis Knight's "Bumblebee" (2018) got the franchise's best reviews.

Nolan Cashes In His Chips

“Oppenheimer”’s success gives hope not just to theater owners but movie buffs everywhere. When was the last time an adult, talky historical drama achieved this level of popularity? Since 2006, Nolan has been cultivating his status as a brainiac hit-maker, capable of making challenging, commercially successful movies. By now, he can do anything he wants. This is the one farthest from the blockbuster mentality that reigns in the market.

His "Batman" movies feel personal in a way Marvel has never been interested in achieving. Their success allowed him free reign to use massive amounts of resources to do whatever he wanted. So far, audiences have responded, and he has used his clout wisely.

Nolan arrived at a place where he can forego spectacle even when that is what the market demands. He can give you a spectacle, but consciously folds in with an Art House mentality. You can imagine executives drooling at the prospect of a spectacular set piece recreating the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was, ultimately, the fruits of Oppenheimer's labors. You can even find in social media people casting the narrative choice of not showing the event as a moral failure on the filmmaker's part, a way to whitewash the scientist's legacy.

Nolan conveys the ultimate horror with light in "Oppenheimer" / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

Nolan conveys the ultimate horror with light in "Oppenheimer" / Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.

I do not agree, not at all. Nolan takes an elliptical approach and puts Oppenheimer and everybody through the wringer. During a celebratory rally in Los Alamos, the scientist gets drunk on the adulation of the crowd and makes light of the human cost of dropping the bomb.” It’s too early to determine what the results of the bombing have been,…” he says in a measured tone. But it is just a setup. He suddenly turns into a ghoulish stand-up comedian and snaps, “…but I’m sure the Japanese didn’t like it!”. The crown laughs hysterically, and he imagines an intense light engulfing the auditorium. He cuts to a close-up of a girl. The skin on her face peels in the blinding afterglow.

It’s not even subtle, but the narrative choice of not showing the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki folds elegantly with the contemporary sensibility regarding cultural and historical appropriation. It would be unseemly for a British filmmaker to recreate the devastating effect of the bomb. The tragedy belongs to the Japanese people, the heirs of the victims. One can imagine the pile-up that would have resulted if Nolan had decided to make a spectacle of the tragedy.

If you want to take the discussion further, one could argue that any fictional recreation of the event would be insufficient to measure the real-life tragedy, if not frivolous. Check out Glenn Kenny’s amazing piece, which digs deeply into Alain Resnais’ classic “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959), a perfect movie to expand your view of this history chapter and cinema’s limitations to deal with unspeakable horror.

It’s William Powell’s birthday…and we have a movie to celebrate

Fans of black and white movies, this one is for you. Actor William Powell was born on July 29, 1892. The Golden Age Hollywood star led a busy career but hit his stride with “The Thin Man” (1934). Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, the sophisticated murder mystery introduced Nick and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), a private detective and his socialite wife, with a penchant for swinging cocktails during Prohibition and solving crimes. The movie earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Powell. Five sequels followed up over the next 14 years.

Try to check out his classic "My Man Godfrey" (1936), a prime screwball comedy. Powell is the titular character, a homeless man recruited by a madcap heiress to help her win in a Scavengers' hunt. His chemistry with co-star Carole Lombard remains crackling. This is not a museum piece. It's a vital, hilarious comedy. Don't miss it.

Carole Lombard and William Powell in a publicity still for "My Man Godfrey" / Courtesy of Creative Commons.

Carole Lombard and William Powell in a publicity still for "My Man Godfrey" / Courtesy of Creative Commons.

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