A World Without Tony Soprano

What would the world be like without Tony Soprano? Unfortunately we have found out with the passing of James Gandolfini yesterday at the too soon age of 51. It can not be understated that Gandolfini was one of the most (if not the most) influential actors ever in television history. Its a fact.

The Sopranos changed the way we watch television. A lot of television was seen as background noise for the casual viewer before David Chase’s series forced the viewer to watch intently to follow his broad storytelling. Would the show have been as good without Gandolfini as Tony Soprano? How could it? His portrayal of the depressed mob boss from North Jersey gave us the original character we always rooted for despite all of his indiscretions. Without the success of Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano who knows if we would have gotten Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Don Draper or Nucky Thompson (even though he was a real guy).

Gandolfini made Tony Soprano who was in most ways a monster, a relatable human being. I can’t help but smile whenever Tony starts singing a random song, because its just so real. The depth of the character is enhanced so much by Gandolfini’s work, who also made us feel bad for an asshole with everything he could want. Tony Soprano at his core was just another guy from Jersey, trying to figure out his problems and live his life, just like Gandolfini himself. The difference being Gandolfini’s humble, calm and sometimes even shy nature compared to Tony’s violent and larger than life persona. He never chased fame, he was a man who just loved his craft.

I will never forget one time I saw Gandolfini in person, a section away from me at a Rutgers Football Game (his alma mater). Everyone noticed him as soon as he walked in, popcorn and soda in hand, his son trailing behind him. He was a hero to all of us yet could not have acted more normal, smiling and waving at all the “Jimmy!” calls before sitting in his seat. He could have probably sat in nicer seats, but that wasn’t who he was.

James Gandolfini made us care about Tony Soprano like we never cared about a television character before. We became a part of his family. Losing him is like losing a part of our family, and I truly cannot recall ever being this saddened by the death of someone I never knew, which speaks once again to his incredible relatability. I feel like I knew him personally because of all that we went through over the course of The Sopranos, his performance is that powerful and helped ushered in an entirely new era of cinema quality television. Unfortunately we will have to get used to a world without James Gandolfini…somehow, but will always remember him for his influential portrayal of one of the greatest characters of all time.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For pushed back…again

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the sequel to Robert Rodriguez’ 2005 Sin City, was originally scheduled to be released in 2007, the same year that the original iPhone was released. It is now 2013, and the release of the sequel to the adaptation of Frank Miller’s neo-noir graphic novels has been pushed back…again.

After years of being in development, Sin City 2 was set to start production in 2012 with a release date of October 4th, 2013 attached. However, the release date has now been pushed back to August 22nd, 2014. That means it will be just under nine years after the first film was released, and that’s if (a huge if) it is actually released on the new date. Rodriguez’s other sequel, Machete Kills is already coming out on September 13th this year, and he made the original just three years ago.

This happens way too often, audiences miss out on the sequels they actually want for the sequels that are easier for studios to make. Machete was an exciting and fun mainstream B-movie, but can the fun continue for a whole second movie without becoming stale? I’m more than skeptical. Meanwhile, Sin City has an expansive universe with an abundant amount of story lines to tackle, they could easily make it a franchise.

Think about all the sequels that we have gotten and all the ones we have been deprived of. They decided not to do sequels to Todd Phillips’ hits like Old School or Wedding Crashers, but gave us two pretty bad (I’m kinder than most) sequels to The Hangover. Hollywood can’t seem to get planned sequels that audiences want to Zombieland, The Italian Job or Ghostbusters off the ground, but can put out Son of the Mask, Blues Brothers 2000, Babe: Pig in the City, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Basic Instinct 2. Just reading the names of all those sequels makes me cringe.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For will hopefully hit theaters on August 22nd, 2014, but will the nine year gap between movies affect it? It almost has to. However, if the sequel is finally released as planned and lives up to expectations, Sin City could easily be turned into the franchise it was supposed to be all along.

We’ve seen this before

Remember in 2011 when we all got irked at Hollywood for releasing two nearly identical movies in the same year? In fact those two movies (No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits) even had the same IMDb description for a while until someone noticed and it went viral. And that’s not even close to the first time this has happened. Hollywood has pulled this on us many times specifically in 1996 (Twister/Tornado), 1998 (Armageddon/Deep Impact), 2006 (The Illusionist/The Prestige), and its happening again this year.

Let’s go back to February this year: the Oscars have just wrapped up, Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx are on Jimmy Kimmel’s live after show to promote their upcoming movie, White House Down. The movie’s premise: a terrorist attack on the White House leaves an unlikely but capable “civilian” in charge of protecting and saving the President of the United States. Now wait a minute, isn’t this movie coming out in a few weeks? Nope. That’s Olympus Has Fallen, a film about an unlikely but capable civilian who helps to save the president after a terrorist attack. Only that one is the one with Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman. Wait, so Hollywood is releasing two of basically the same movie in the same year…again?! Yes, and not only that, the two titles are two ways of saying the exact same thing.

Olympus Has Fallen was released on March 22nd of this year (this guy’s birthday), towards the end of the worst movie season of the year: The Post Oscar-Pre Summer Season, which generally runs from January to mid-the end of April, depending on when the first summer blockbuster is released. It is the lowest grossing time of the year as average to below average movies are generally released during this time because they cannot compete at the box office in the more crowded and quality seasons (Oscar and Summer). Think about the movies that were released from January-April this year. The highest grossing was Identity Thief. This is not all to hate on Olympus Has Fallen, which actually did pretty well grossing close to $100 million domestically, it is just a fact. No Strings Attached was released on January 21st and Friends with Benefits was released on July 22nd. Guess which one was better?

Sure, its difficult to say with complete conviction that White House Down will be automatically better than Olympus Has Fallen just because it is being released in June, but the signs are all there. When Friends with Benefits trailers started popping up more than a few people quickly dismissed it as the “other” movie where friends try to have casual sex resulting in inevitable complications. But a deeper look at the two films would tell you different. Right off the bat for a romantic comedy which combination would you rather see? Ashton Kutcher, who mostly just does commercials for cameras and Natalie Portman who usually does dramatic roles OR Justin Timberlake who is generally hilarious and Mila Kunis who does mostly comedic roles? I’ll take the latter anytime. Whose movie would you rather see Ivan Reitman, whose last comedic hit was legitimately Kindergarten Cop OR Will Gluck fresh off of directing Easy A? See what I’m getting at. Add better supporting cast and a slightly larger budget to the comparison and Friends with Benefits is a much more appealing movie, before you even see either and thus became the more successful of the two.

White House Down stars Channing Tatum, who is one of the biggest stars in the world right now and Jamie Foxx coming off of Django Unchained is a better one two punch of front line stars than Gerard Butler, who is still living off of 300 and Aaron Eckhart, who I generally don’t believe in unless he’s Harvey Dent (had to). Does anyone have more experience destroying the home of the President than White House Down director Roland Emmerich? Antonie Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen’s director) certainly does not, especially considering his only above average film, Training Day, came out in 2001. White House Down also has a much bigger budget and a marginally better supporting cast.

The situation is nearly identical to what happened with No Strings Attached/Friends with Benefits. White House Down is destined to be the better and higher grossing film, barring the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted implosion of the film industry happening much sooner than they anticipated. We have seen this situation before from Hollywood and we’ll see it again. It’s on us to decipher which of the two movies will be the one worth seeing.

Even Will Smith can’t save M. Night

The new Will Smith movie that stars him and his  genetically replicated clone son, After Earth premiered in theaters Friday. What’s more interesting than the movie itself (currently a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes) is that even without M. Night Shyamalan’s name in the trailer the great Will Smith could not remove the stigma associated with the once promising director’s name.

After Earth’s budget is estimated at $130 million, which is not surprising considering its an action adventure film and has Will Smith’s paycheck of $20-30 million to deal with. However, after coming in third this past weekend at the box office with a disappointing $27ish million intake its already looking like a disaster. Especially when you consider that it lost out to Fast Six in its second week (despite its sharp -63.9% drop from last weeks intake) and to the more modestly budgeted magician movie Now You See Me. My point: it didn’t lose out to a big time Superhero movie, it got beat by two movies it was expected to beat. I don’t know why it failed, I really don’t need to know why it failed. Think about it like this: even John Carter, which was a historic flop out grossed it by about $3 million on its opening weekend. The difference: Will Smith should be able to out gross any Tim Riggins movie considering the fact that Taylor Kitsch went from budding star to praying that they make a new Friday Night Lights movie within the last year. So why didn’t it?  As I said before, even Will Smith, the man who turned Hancock, a below average film (at best) into a $624 million grossing movie with just his name and a decent trailer, cannot save M. Night Shyamalan’s career.

Will Smith is unflopable, I would argue that he has never even had one a single flop as the lead actor of a film, until now. Shyamalan is on the other end of the spectrum, this can no longer be categorized as a slump, the guy just can’t hack it. Has a director ever started with this much success and had this much of a decline into nothingness? Find me one. Shyamalan’s first four films: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village all grossed in the $250-$670 million range, hell even The Happening somehow grossed $163 million (for some reason a lot of people outside the US saw it) to which my natural response is:

Even as those films made money Shyamalan began to wear out his welcome with audiences as his movies became predictable and stupid with their twists. But now  its gotten to a point where Sony purposely left name out of the trailers and advertisements for fear that the audiences stay away (their fears came true anyway). This comes after The Last Airbender was suppose to be three films until Paramount cancelled it after the first one underwhelmed mightily and when his name was openly booed/mocked in theaters when the Devil trailer premiered before Inception. And now having his biggest star he’s ever worked with and safest box office bet in Will Smith he has again failed to captivate audiences. I see dead a career and I’m not talking about Haley Joel Osment’s.