TIME Media

How Paramount Might Change the Way You Watch Movies Forever

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Paramount is bringing some films to your home quicker than ever before

Early July, Paramount changed things. The change won’t be immediate, nor is it guaranteed that it’ll catch on at all in this particular iteration. But they made a move that, while seemingly just a smart way of dipping a toe into the waters of alternative distribution for non-guaranteed studio projects, is also going to draw a lot of attention. If it doesn’t work, somebody else will find a way to make it happen. If it does, they have the unique opportunity of being at the vanguard of the next wave of modern film distribution and consumption. Whether that’s a good thing or not probably depends on the extent to which you, too, cringed, internally or otherwise, at the word “consumption” being used to describe the viewing of a film.

And for the melodrama of that last paragraph, Paramount’s new gambit completely warrants it. On July 8th, the studio announced that they had reached a deal with AMC Theatres and Canada’s Cineplex Inc. to release the upcoming films Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse on VOD/on-demand home rental services only 50 or so days after their theatrical releases, ensuring that people can continue to text during movies with impunity.

They’re a good pair of initial test subjects: Paranormal Activity has seen diminished returns over its three sequels and one spin-off, and The Ghost Dimension will be hitting theaters nearly two years to the day after its originally announced release date in October 2013. As for Scout’s Guide, it was bumped to the fall from March of this year, after also being renamed from the more succinct Scouts vs. Zombies.

Again, they’re both excellent guinea pigs. Even setting aside the dramatic depreciation that even the most successful genre movies typically experience from week to week, there’s the matter of the threshold for an acceptable box office return being far lower for either film than it would be if, say, Paramount decided to launch this experiment with the next Transformers. (This, at least, would allow that film to shamelessly beam advertisements into your home around a loosely assembled movie with even greater ease.) While other heavy-hitting distributors like Regal and Cinemark weigh the merits of this new model, it’s hard to fault AMC for getting in on the game. After all, times are tough for theaters, no matter how many times people race back out to see Jurassic World orInside Out yet again.

Digression time, and briefly, but 2014’s box office hit a 20-year low. Any number of reasons have been cited for this: the exhaustive parade of mega budget sequels and franchise properties, the decline of the theatrical experience in the smartphone age, the quality of modern movies, the overpriced theaters themselves. Since each of those bullet points arguably deserves its own series of lengthy essays, let’s just focus on that last bit — the theaters. Everybody has their own story (and if you want to leave a comment to this effect, please do), but since CoS is a Chicago-rooted publication, let’s talk numbers in Chicago as they currently stand.

On average, a movie ticket to a local AMC or Regal theatre is $7-13 dollars, depending on the time of day. Concessions, the real cash cow for any big-time theater giving most of the ticket income right back to the studios, will run you $6-8 for a popcorn, $4-6 for a drink, and that’s to say nothing of candy or the bars more and more theaters are installing of late. (More on that later.) So, already the trip is running you an estimable average of at least $20 for yourself. Want that screening in 3D? Add another three or four dollars. Make it another few more if you want it on an “IMAX” screen, most of which are just the “super screens” of yore re-branded and up-charged into oblivion. So, now you’re getting into the $25-30 range. That doesn’t even include parking and assumes it’s just you. Have a family of four? Suddenly you’re spending over $100 for the privilege of watching little, yellow corn men holler nonsense or something to that effect. And broken down that way, it’s not particularly hard to understand why people aren’t going to the movies.

Attendance is always huge for big summer spectacles (unless your film happens to be named Terminator Genisys, anyway), but it’s low-budget fare like Paranormal Activity that stands to benefit most from Paramount’s bold new model. In this way, for at least a while, going to see a film in a theater can be an opening-weekend event for those desirous of such a thing, and for the people who don’t care, or would rather just watch a new movie at home, now they only have to wait a month or so. And theaters have been struggling of late; Disney recently fought with theatrical distributors over Age of Ultron in an attempt to micro-regulate theaters’ abilities to offer discounts, so as to boost overall profits as much as possible. The recent monetary struggles of studio films in their theatrical phase has led to everybody getting chippy on every side, attempting to retain their part of an old structure as the whole thing starts to crumble, and therefore it’s unsurprising that, as one anonymous exec told The Wall Street Journal, Paramount’s gambit is “the edge of the sword.” Sooner or later, somebody was going to at least try it.

It does, however, cast an even longer shadow over the big question nobody really seems to want to answer: How badly do people want, and perhaps more importantly need, to see their movies in a theater? For years, the model has been shifting as streaming services have offered at least the early steps along a new path, one that sends films straight to the consumer and eradicates the middle men, at the cost of sacrificing the communal experience of the theater. Theaters all over the U.S. have been trotting out any number of new devices to attempt to combat this, from the aforementioned “IMAX” theaters to Dolby’s new Atmos sound system to electronic Barcaloungers in screening rooms to bars and restaurants in the theaters themselves. That last bit seems to be the most telling in examining audience preferences and theaters’ attempts to kowtow to them: to rouse themselves from the home, people have to be able to do an entire evening out in one shot. By letting people cut out the trip to the bar or to the restaurant across the parking lot, you cut out the chance that people could call it an early night and head home. Some may call that efficiency and savvy. Others, desperation.

The other massive change suggested by Paramount’s new distribution model, one that seems to have gone relatively unheralded in talk of it, is what this would do for the reputation of the straight-to-home film. Ever since the advent of the VHS in the ‘80s, there’s been a clear line between movies that come out in theaters and movies that don’t. Movies that come out in theaters are events worth lining up for; movies that go straight to home video usually star Dolph Lundgren. In recent years, this has changed, with VOD services allowing filmgoers both casual and serious to choose which films they’ll leave the house for and which are rented. There’s now the movie you go to the theater to see on opening weekend, the one you see after a few weeks when it’s less crowded, the movie you wait to Redbox, and the movie you wait to hopefully order right from your TV. In certain respects, it’s no different than the scenarios offered by the VHS or DVD, but now the timing is changing. Don’t feel like rousing yourself from your comfortable couch in the dead of winter to see a documentary across town? There’s a decent chance it’s already sitting right on your TV.

What’s going to change that reputation isn’t the distribution model, per se, but how it’s used. In a post-Netflix world, the best filmmakers aren’t necessarily working exclusively toward a big theatrical release any longer. Earlier this year Spike Lee released Da Sweet Blood of Jesus exclusively on Vimeo, nearly a month before its limited arthouse rollout.Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser debuted this past week on Crackle, Sony’s VOD service. Adam Sandler, perhaps that first example’s most distinct polar opposite, has signed a multi-film deal with Netflix for his upcoming releases, and the Duplass brothers recently followed suit. For filmmakers either looking for a more lucrative model in a tumultuous, focus group-centric time for studios, or even those like the Duplasses (Duplassi?) who simply prefer to play in a smaller, more controllable sandbox, streaming services like Netflix are already offering a way out of the crowded studio landscape.

To a certain extent, this is a great thing. Independent filmmaking has become its own lucrative beast in the time of the “Sundance hit” being the gold standard, and so even with studios like Fox Searchlight and Focus (at least the Focus of the early aughts, if not the one at present), the ostensible goal is still to manufacture a low-budget smash hit. Independent filmmaking in its rawest sense has largely moved online, because there, the sort of person who’d chase out to their local independent theater can find whatever they want. It’s also eradicated so many of the hurdles that used to accompany a cinephile’s early years if they didn’t live in a major urban center. (Often I lament that I didn’t become obsessed with film in high school when so many would have been at my eager fingertips. But it would’ve come at the expense of learning things like basic human interaction, so that’s probably just as well.) In so many words, streaming services have made it a lot easier for people to fall in love with the cinema, and that’s usually the point. Right?

But every frontier eventually sees a conqueror, and Paramount might be that. Much of the impetus for so many independent films’ recent reliance on VOD is the relative impossibility of getting them into major theaters. Because of chains like AMC and Regal and Cineplex Inc., the same chains hashing out this momentous decision with Paramount, so many American films released in a single calendar year won’t be seen by more than a few thousand people. VOD has offered a way for the dedicated cinephile to escape the exhaustion of going to a 20-screen theater where only a half dozen movies are playing, as they are at every other similar theater in the area at the same time, probably.

For Paramount or any major studio to move into that space, then, is to continue the problem that’s been plaguing theaters for decades now: How does everybody get a place at the table when the latecomers are taking up so much space? The answer, in its numerous iterations so far at least, is that they don’t. The heavy hitters will dominate the conversation, and the rest will clamor for whatever remains. This isn’t to say that no studio should; setting aside the crushing inevitability of it all, there’s also something to be said for the possibilities of studios taking chances on less-proven properties with a lower ceiling for success in place. But wherever there’s a takeover, there’s always a casualty.

If anything, that casualty may well be the theater, long before it’d be the micro-budget movie. And there’s something truly sad about that, about the idea that we could be watching the end of an institution in its dominant time, about how the movie theater might one day be a niche activity on par with the drive-in that some people enjoy, but from which many have moved on. Lest you assume this to be melodrama, ask anybody in your life who isn’t a dedicated film buff how many movies they’ve seen in a theater in the past one, two, five years. In the likely event that number is low, ask them why they stopped going, and you’ll hear all about the prices, the disrespectful patrons, the 20 minutes of trailers, et al.

So many disparate forces have conspired to make the theatrical experience as difficult as possible that we’re all trying to find a new way to watch movies. Selfishly, we can’t help but hope against hope that the old way isn’t beyond saving. The new way, whatever it ends up looking like in its most crystallized form, is all but guaranteed to look a lot more solitary.

This article originally appeared on Consequence of Sound

TIME Gadgets

These High-Tech Earbuds Have an Unexpected Trick

doppler labs

They enable audience members to control their listening environment

Doppler Labs may be on the verge of eliminating the concept of bad sound mixing at a concert. No, they haven’t invented a robot sound guy who never falls asleep on the job. Instead, they’re putting the power of live EQ control in the audience’s hands — and ears.

The company’s new Here Active Listening System is a set of earbuds wirelessly connected to a smartphone app that allows wearers to actually alter the sounds they’re hearing in nigh-real time. It’s not just making the audio softer or louder, either (though there is that); the app allows you to control how much bass comes through, where the midrange cuts off, and how high the treble gets. Crazier still, you can add or remove effects like reverb, echo, flange, and even one that makes it sound like an old vinyl record. Essentially, you’re curating your own listening experience.

The app comes loaded with preset filters, too, so you can instantly turn a small bar venue into a music hall, or switch it so that the huge festival field sounds to you like an intimate concert experience. While the music applications for these devices are instantly appealing, Doppler has bigger goals in mind. They want people to personalize their listening environments at all times.

“With the Here Active Listening System we want to give you the tools to have the perfect listening experience,” said Doppler Labs CEO and Co-Founder Noah Kraft said in a press release. “We all perceive sound differently, but everyone has been to a concert where the audio wasn’t quite right or has been subjected to a long flight with a screaming baby. Here changes all that, giving control back to the listener by allowing you to curate what you hear and how you hear it. Our goal is to make it so you never have to deal with noise or a bad mix ever again.”

To that end, they’ve created modes that mute the engines of an airplane, the cries of a baby, the background noise of a subway, the clacking of an officemate’s keyboard, and pretty much any aural stimulation you can imagine. You could even give yourself Superman-like super hearing, or turn off your significant other’s nagging.

Besides the theoretical argument around what controlling our audio input might do on an evolutionary level, there are some things to be cautious about with this new tech. Most apparently, the things aren’t exactly attractive; the Here buds feature a large, white circle that make it look like you’re wearing speakers in your ears. Then there’s the risk of accidentally blocking out something you need to hear, or turning a live performance into an ugly mess and not realizing it actually sounds better without Here.

But there’s plenty of stuff to awe at, as well. For one, Here reportedly processes audio at 30 microseconds, making any lag virtually inconceivable. While the buds are saddled with a four- to six-hour battery life, the case actually acts as a charging station and can hold two full charges right in your pocket. It’s like an external battery pack for your Bat-ears.

Still, with any new technology, there’s reason to be skeptical about the first generation release. (Here’s looking at you, Apple Watch.) Here is incredibly fresh; Doppler just took their prototypes out for their first real-world test at this past Coachella. But the company is getting a lot of love, having already made deals to have their Dubs “acoustic filter” earplugs become the official earplugs of Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Outside Lands. They’ve also made partnerships with artists like Quincy Jones, Tiesto, and Hans Zimmer.

Before Here even hits the market, however, it’s going to go through some changes. Doppler has just launched a Kickstarter, and some of the pledge “rewards” include being part of beta testing and prototype trials. If you just want the final product, you’re able to pre-order a set for $179, about $70 less than the predicted list price of $249. Units won’t begin shipping till December, but already the Kickstarter has raised $191,447 of its $250,000 goal from just 847 backers. There’s no denying that this technology is intriguing, and looking ahead, there are some frighteningly cool (and just plain frightening) possibilities. (Doppler really wants to take things into Star Trek communicator territory — read more here.)

Below, check the Kickstarter pitch video, which provides a more detailed explanation about the Here devices and Doppler in general. There’s also a clip of Zimmer, an investor and advisor on Here, explaining how he sees the new tech, plus video of two world-class violinists experiencing what Here has to offer. Head to the Kickstarter page for more.


This article originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

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TIME Culture

How Rappers Are Destigmatizing Mental Illness

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Rap has taken major strides simply by talking about it

There’s a lyric in Eminem’s “Rock Bottom”, off The Slim Shady LP, that sticks out: “Live half a life and throw the rest away.” You can read it as a description of depression and its impact, how a crushing vortex of internal negativity can prevent someone from living their best life. Depression manifests in many different ways, including feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest in normal activities, and even recurring suicidal thoughts. Though it often goes undiagnosed, it’s a mental health condition that plagues many, and it’s commonplace for depression to emerge as a major theme for musicians. One place it’s been creeping up more than usual is rap.

Rap has a complicated relationship with depression. For starters, it was born as an appendage of hip-hop and its young black men surging with machismo. Black masculinity has always been at odds with clinical depression, mostly because copping to it can be considered an admission of fragility. Emotional disorders carry a certain stigma that hangs over black communities like a fog, causing many to suffer in silence. This stigma has been covered by PBS, NPR, and Slate’s The Root, but lately it’s grown into more of a full-blown perception. One Yahoo Answers user posed the question “Can black people get depression?” a few years back. In an interview with U.S. News, author and therapist Terrie Williams, who herself has dealt with depression, addressed the stigma candidly: “Depression is a sign of weakness in the black community.”

On top of a sort of communal aversion to acknowledging depression, certain underlying conflicts challenge rappers specifically. Rap bravado doesn’t exactly lend itself to vulnerability or dejection; rappers are more often seen as fixtures of ruggedness or hedonism. To be an openly depressed rapper is to disassociate oneself with the image of an archetypical hip-hop star.

That isn’t to say that rap doesn’t allow its characters to be complex or that rappers have never expressed depression. But its primary ethos has always been pride, and as a result, rap hasn’t been subject to a deep psychological examination on a larger scale. A song like The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Suicidal Thoughts”, built around a concept heavily rooted in depression, grazes many of the symptoms, but Biggie writes from a position of perceived control, shutting himself off from any real internalized dialogue about why he’s feeling so empty. There’s no self-diagnosis or acknowledgment of the root illness itself.

Rap has struggled to communicate major depression, defined by the Mayo Clinic as causing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, through a personal lens. In 2015 alone, however, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Heems, and Future have already navigated that gap. Each has taken steps to personalize and verbalize his ongoing battles with depression.

On his debut solo album, Eat Pray Thug, Punjabi-Indian rapper Heems follows a similar cycle: a rough breakup leads to depression and prompts him to pursue drug use as an outlet. But unlike Future, he writes his lead-ins with far more cognizance: “I’ve been a mess since I met you/ I regret you/ You could say I love what’s regretful” and “Get low/ Now I’m f—ing sad again/ Bruh, need another drink or I be going mad again/ Mad about you when I’m on my Helen Hunt/ But I’m in the corner and I’m smoking on this blunt.” He’s direct about his lows and how they induce his intoxication. Both Heems and Future turn to drugs to avoid facing their depression head-on, but despite coping in similar ways, they acknowledge their problem through different channels. Future hides his concessions like Easter eggs for diligent listeners. Heems seems open but stays guarded.

Those methods explore facets of depression — Future dances around the fringes of woe and Heems engages on the surface — but rap can connect with the condition on an even more critical level. The more comprehensive appraisals of depression come from two MCs who have both a full understanding of their emotional whims and expert command of the English language. Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt possess the lyrical dexterity to transmit complex emotional responses into words. On top of that, they both use their recent music to communicate exactly how fame can play a role in pushing a person toward depression.

In an interview with MTV about his recent album To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick said bluntly, “My release therapy is writing the music.” He was speaking specifically about “u”, a gut-wrenching, self-evaluative song that is brutally honest about his depression and its causes. He critiques himself like he’s someone else: “I know your secrets/ Mood swings is frequent/ I know depression is restin’ on your heart for two reasons.” He speaks directly from that vortex of internal negativity: “You the reason why Momma and them leavin’/ No, you ain’t s—, you say you love them, I know you don’t mean it/ I know you’re irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can’t help it/ Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it.” If depression could audibly manifest itself, this is what it would sound like: angry, wretched, poking and prodding, telling you you’re worthless in your own voice.

Then there’s Earl. If the title of his album I Don’t Like S—, I Don’t Go Outside wasn’t a dead giveaway, Earl Sweatshirt’s prologue made it clear. On “Grief”, the album’s first single, he described his depression as “feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop.” He thinks like a psychoanalyst, studying exactly why he does things. His pleas feel like cries for help: “Step into the shadows, we could talk addiction/ When it’s harmful where you going and the part of you that know it don’t give a f—.” He writes about depression like it’s something that swallows you up. Earl has a special way with words, and his perspective comes across like he’s permanently standing under a dark cloud. It’s even how he paints in the details. On “Off Top” he raps, “I’m only happy when there’s static in the air/ ‘Cause the fair weather fake to me.” He relays his inner battle in what feels like real time. Even if you can’t relate, you sympathize.

These are the voices that can help listeners — including, especially, listeners of color — connect with depression as a real, tangible thing that may affect them and their loved ones. In the last few months alone, rap has taken major strides toward helping to destigmatize depression, both within the genre and within the black community, simply by talking about it. By opening up about mental health and discussing it on a more personalized level, rappers can help breach the dialogue about depression in their own communities. Music is a powerful medium that can help people acknowledge realities they otherwise might not have. It’s not too late for rappers to help alter the perception of mental illness. As Earl puts it, “I just want my time and my mind intact/ When they’re both gone, you can’t buy ‘em back.”

This article originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

The Top 10 Baseball Films of All Time

All homers to get you ready for Opening Day

One of my favorite baseball moments captured in a film won’t be found on this list. That’s partly due to the fact that the movie it appears in, City Slickers, isn’t a baseball film, even if Billy Crystal opts for a Mets cap over a standard ten-gallon. In the scene, the lone woman on a tourist cattle drive comments on how silly it is that men obsess over a game like baseball rather than discuss more important things like “real life” and relationships. Daniel Stern’s character, the endearingly damaged Phil, responds: “You’re right, I suppose. I guess it is childish, but when I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball. Now, that was real.”

For all the talk of pinstripes, pennants, and, unfortunately, pharmaceuticals, baseball, more than anything, remains the glue that maintains and repairs the relationships between fathers and sons. It’s the language men use to say what would otherwise go unsaid. There truly are few experiences as magical as a summer “in the hunt,” but when October ends, the stands empty, and we settle in for the long, cold days ahead, it’s not the scores, statistics, or standings that comfort us during winter’s quiet solitude. Fathers and sons think back upon those late-night calls second-guessing a pitching change or that one or two times a season they still manage to get out to the ballpark together even though they now live half a country apart. Seasons come and go, blur or altogether vanish in their memories as time passes, but those moments “talking ball,” so simple and natural, mark those lifetimes and relationships.

Another favorite moment of mine does appear on this list. One grown man asks another, “You wanna have a catch?” No matter how old I get, the answer remains the same.

Sure, Dad. –Matt Melis, Senior Editor


    Universal Pictures

    Manager (Director): John Badham

    Starting Lineup: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, and Richard Pryor

    Around the Horn: On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era. Some perspective: It wasn’t until 1948 that Truman abolished racial discrimination in the military and not until 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled that a segregated pubic school system is unconstitutional. In other words, when it came to breaking societal color lines, baseball, the American pastime, stepped to the plate first. Numerous accounts of Robinson’s story, and depictions of the Negro leagues, have been featured in films, such as The Jackie Robinson Story, Soul of the Game, and, most recently, 42, but we opted here for a film that offers a perspective on the Negro league experience rarely seen.

    The largely forgotten Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, starring Billy Dee Williams as ace pitcher Bingo Long (a Satchel Paige type) and James Earl Jones as slugger Leon Carter (based loosely on Josh Gibson), tells the story of two Negro league stars who break the slave-like contracts with their black-owned teams (“the masters”) and form their own barnstorming outfit. In many ways, the film is a farcical, cross-country romp — especially with outlandish characters like Charlie Snow aka Carlos Nevada (Richard Pryor) who schemes to break into the white leagues as a Cuban — but the indelible struggle for freedom present in this film shouldn’t be overlooked either. Beyond the gags and ridiculous predicaments that ensue, Bingo and Leon are ultimately two friends fighting for the right to determine their own destinies in a black-and-white world that simply won’t tolerate that type of radical thinking.

    Co-MVPs: Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones.

    Grand Slam Scene: In the final scene, after Bingo and Leon have won the big game to earn their own spot as a team in the Negro leagues, they find out that a much younger player on the team, Esquire Joe, has just been signed to play Major League Baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In that moment, we see Bingo and Leon’s dream fall into the hands of another generation, and no matter how coolly the smooth-talking Bingo may play it off, you can sense the initial hurt as he realizes that he and Leon had to come first so that younger black men like Joe could live out their dreams. (A clip of this scene is unavailable online, but see the film’s trailer below.) –Matt Melis

  • 9. THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976)

    Paramount Pictures

    Manager: Michael Ritchie

    Starting Lineup: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley, and Vic Morrow

    Around the Horn: In the immortal words of pint-size, white-supremacist shortstop Tanner Boyle, “Jews, spics, n——, and now a girl?” Ah, travel back with us to the un-PC 1970s, a time of foul balls and fouler language, bean balls and buzzed little league coaches. But beneath all The Bad News Bears’ delightful (and innocuous) offenses resides a classic underdog story that never gets tiresome. A down-on-his-luck, alcoholic pool cleaner-turned-little league coach, Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), pools every resource at his disposal — his ex’s tomboy daughter, Amanda (Tatum O’Neal); the local hoodlum, Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley); and even an unorthodox team sponsor, Chico’s Bail Bonds — to give his hopeless team of castoffs a shot at the pennant. In the end, the team may fall just short, but Buttermaker wins the respect of his players and learns the lesson every little league coach out there (especially the Roy Turners) needs to think about before this season starts: It’s just a game.

    MVP: Walter Matthau

    Grand Slam Scene: After Rudy Stein disobeys his manager by swinging away instead of “leaning into” a pitch, we see this sobering moment in the dugout between Buttermaker and the kids. Buttermaker finally gets it. –Matt Melis

  • 8. 61* (2001)


    Manager: Billy Crystal

    Starting Lineup: Barry Pepper, Thomas Jane, and Jennifer Crystal Foley

    Around the Horn: The made-for-HBO 61* could fairly be called Billy Crystal’s love letter to his boyhood Yankees teams. As Director and Executive Producer, Crystal drew from his encyclopedic baseball knowledge to recreate old Yankee Stadium and that 1961 team in painstaking detail, right down to the hue of the stadium’s paint and the batting stances of the players. However, Crystal’s most stunning achievement is the relationship he portrays between Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane) and Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) as the two chased after Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record during the 1961 season. It’s a friendship constantly strained by the adoration that New York feels for Mantle while Maris, a soft-spoken, small-town type, gets vilified by fans and media alike with each knock that brings him closer to the Babe’s record. While we often associate sports records solely with glory, Crystal doesn’t shy away from showing us the ugliness that Maris endured to achieve his record: media cheap shots, hate mail, death threats (to both him and his family), and around-the-clock stress that caused his hair to begin falling out. But maybe most painful of all is watching Maris secretly long to be embraced by a city that adamantly refuses to accept him.

    MVP: Barry Pepper

    Grand Slam Scene: There’s a short montage of Maris waiting in his hotel room prior to the game in Baltimore that would be his last chance to break Ruth’s record in 154 games (the length of the season in which Ruth set the record). We find Maris sitting in bed, smoking and rocking back and forth atop a pile of hurtful headlines. There’s no dialogue, only Lyle Lovett’s “Nobody Knows Me” softly playing, as he moves around the room and ends up crying at a window sill. If Gehrig was “the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” Pepper makes us believe Maris, at that moment, was the loneliest. (A clip of this scene is unavailable online, but see the film’s trailer below.) –Matt Melis

  • 7. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992)

    Columbia Pictures

    Manager: Penny Marshall

    Starting Lineup: Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell

    Around the Horn: A League of Their Own harkens back to a simpler time in the game of baseball, when World War II was happening and baseball was one of the few things that could unite a great many scared people. The film is based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. It was a stopgap when so many athletes went off to serve, a way of keeping baseball in the public consciousness that many suspected was a gimmick and little more. It was, in a way, but ended up being substantially more important. In the film’s fictionalized America, there was Dottie (Davis), a dairy farmer and industrial-league catcher, who joins the team when her sister, Kit (Lori Petty), decides to try out as well. They eventually end up on the Rockford Peaches, along with “All the Way” Mae (Madonna) and the gruff Doris (O’Donnell).

    Cynically coached by Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan, the Peaches end up an unexpected success due in part to Dottie getting it through to Life magazine that an all-female league can and does play just as hard as its male counterpart. If anything, they played harder, knowing that time was finite and that one day baseball would be an all-boys club yet again. But for that triumphant year, the Peaches disproved any and all skeptics, and even when they lost their numbers to trades and infighting, they still sold out stadiums as their own draw.

    MVP: Geena Davis’ Dottie is so deliberately unassuming to a point that it makes her evolution into the face of a revolutionary age in sports all the more heartening. Plus, that pop-up into a catch while down in the splits is a killer. Let’s see one current MLB catcher give that a whirl and see how it goes.

    Grand Slam Scene: There’s only one video that can go here, really. In case you didn’t know, there is not, in fact, any crying in baseball. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

  • 6. THE SANDLOT (1993)

    20th Century Fox

    Manager: David M. Evans

    Starting Lineup: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Karen Allen, Denis Leary, Chauncey Leopardi, and James Earl Jones

    Around the Horn: Scotty Smalls (Guiry) is, by the proclamation of his friends, something of an “L-7 weenie” at the start of The Sandlot. He just moved to suburban L.A. in 1962, and while his mom (Allen) wants him to make friends and get into trouble and acclimate to his surroundings, he doesn’t really know how. He’d rather play with Erector sets in his room, which puts him at a disconnect with his father (Leary, really an incredibly handsome man in the early ‘90s) and with the neighborhood kids, who pass their days playing pickup baseball in a local sandlot.

    Slowly but surely, the group accepts Scotty, only to be put in the biggest pickle any of them had ever seen when Scotty accidentally homers his dad’s autographed Babe Ruth baseball over the sandlot’s wall, into a yard that famously serves as a prison for “The Beast,” an animal from whom no baseball has ever been reclaimed. The Sandlot is pure nostalgia, and it lovingly chronicles the pangs of oncoming adolescence: the infinity of summer, the early rumblings of desire for the opposite sex, the terror of realizing that there’s a much larger, scarier world out there than the one you know. But it’s also genuinely insightful about what it is to be an uncertain, tentative, awkward kid in a place you don’t yet know how to grasp.

    MVP: James Earl Jones, the owner of The Beast, who gives Scotty and his to-be lifelong best friend Benny (Vitar) some lessons in manhood and not stealing your dad’s stuff, while debunking much of the mystique surrounding The Beast. He’s not in much of the film, but anybody who grew up with this film remembers his soliloquy well.

    Grand Slam Scene: The film has quite a few of them (Benny’s climactic baseball-reclaiming gambit is a great one), but it’s when Babe Ruth visits Benny in a dream that The Sandlot finds its purpose and teaches generations of young athletes and hardcore bands alike a lesson in heroes and legends. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

  • 5. MONEYBALL (2011)

    Sony Pictures

    Manager: Bennett Miller

    Starting Lineup: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Robin Wright, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

    Around the Horn: The pitch (pun most definitely intended) for Moneyball must have been a hard sell. The book upon which it’s based focuses on the Oakland A’s Billy Bean (Brad Pitt), a former prospect-turned-washout-turned-GM who discovers a new strategy in putting together a solid, inexpensive baseball team. Are you bored to tears yet? Well, wake up! With a script that pops, thanks to a dust-off by Aaron Sorkin, Moneyball takes the “Inside Baseball” approach and makes it inclusive. Scenes of Billy on the phone with other agents and GMs inside of his kitchen or office are just as enthralling as the movie’s walk-off home run.

    At the end of the day, Moneyball works because of Pitt. He never “becomes” the real Billy Bean, but he convinces you that he’s the general manager of a baseball team. Pitt’s strong chemistry with fellow Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill (as assistant Peter) is equal parts unexpected and unique; his combative relationship with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (as then-A’s manager Art Howe) is intriguing; and his relationship with his daughter endears without falling prey to pandering. Moneyball is about the ins and outs of running a baseball team, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be captivating.

    MVP: Brad Pitt

    Grand Slam Scene: The best scene in Moneyball takes place in Billy Bean’s office. We see Billy wheeling and dealing via a conference call, phone transfers, and people being put on hold. It all transpires while Peter sits on the other end of the table in stunned silence, occasionally chiming in with advice. Hilarious.

    However, this scene isn’t online, so here’s the second best moment of the film and the best moment of the A’s 2002 season. –Justin Gerber


    Samuel Goldwyn Company

    Manager: Sam Wood

    Starting Lineup: Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Babe Ruth, and Walter Brennan

    Around the Horn: Gary Cooper was an everyman on screen. Whether he was doing battle in Sergeant York or awaiting a showdown in High Noon, Cooper always seemed, well, normal is the best way to describe him. He took on plainspoken characters and thrived off of them. Cooper featured in several classic roles, and one of them is unquestionably his take on Yankees great Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. I wrote about this very film in a biopic feature from late last year. Let’s see what I said then:

    “The movie follows Gehrig’s life as a college student, his consecutive-games-played streak, falling in love, and ultimately the disease that would one day bear his name and took him too soon. It features a subtle performance from Cooper, with an ending that stops where most tragic dramas wouldn’t (well before the funeral), and also capped off a run of three consecutive Oscar nominations for Teresa Wright, who played the role of Gehrig’s wife, Eleanor. Though she wouldn’t be nominated again for the rest of her life, it isn’t as though her career tanked. Wright would go on to star in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, as well as one of the greatest post-war films of all time in The Best Years of Our Lives. And those three nominations were for her first three films. Take that, J-Law!”

    Yes! “Take that, J-Law,” indeed! Such wit from yours truly!

    MVP: Gary Cooper. Wright is runner-up in the balloting.

    Grand Slam Scene: It’s not only one of the most famous speeches in American history, but one of the greatest mike drops to ever end a movie. Perfect. –Justin Gerber

  • 3. BULL DURHAM (1988)


    Manager: Ron Shelton

    Starting Lineup: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl, and Trey Wilson

    Around the Horn: By virtually any metric of measurement, any list of the best baseball films (or even the best sports films at large) is required to include Bull Durham. It’s been imitated endlessly since its release in 1988, but you can’t touch the original story of Crash Davis (Costner), a grizzled veteran catcher and minor-league journeyman assigned to Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Robbins), a hyper-promising young pitcher. And then there’s Annie (Sarandon), the year-by-year groupie who catches both Nuke and Crash’s eyes and teaches them both a few things about baseball that not all the playing time in the world could.

    Like the best sports movies, Bull Durham captures the intrinsic appeal of baseball, but doesn’t fetishize its less savory (or less interesting) facets. As Crash exhaustedly puts it to Nuke at one point while coaching him through the paces of what he’ll have to say in player interviews to make nice with the right people, “You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.’” As the film considers it, most of life is a series of these performances, punctuated by vulnerable moments of humanity, like the one on which the film ultimately ends.

    MVP: Sarandon, on this one. Costner and Robbins are both great, to be sure, but it’s Sarandon’s sagely, sexual muse who ends up leaving the biggest impression on Nuke and Crash and anybody watching.

    Grand Slam Scene: Annie’s opening “Church of Baseball” soliloquy. It captures all the nobilities of the sport, in all its splendor, in two minutes flat. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

  • 2. MAJOR LEAGUE (1989)

    Mirage Enterprises

    Manager: David Ward

    Starting Lineup: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo, and Wesley Snipes

    Around the Horn: Bob Uecker says it best: “To hell with it.” The unnatural majesty of Major League is in the shrug off. Every beleaguered has-been is so had they’re willing to just take the bruise and roll with the quip. That is, until they start to try — or “win the whole, f—ing, thing.” That application extends outside the baseball diamond, too, which is why there’s so much heart to each character. Tom Berenger’s fortysomething Jake Taylor wants that unlikely fourth chance, and it’s in his attempt that he motivates his troubled teammates, from bad boy Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) to the speedy Willy Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes). How it all comes together in those final moments… Well, it’s a rousing argument for why baseball is (sometimes) the greatest game ever played. What a soundtrack, too.

    MVP: Wesley Snipes. First instinct is to choose Bad Knees Berenger, but the lack of Snipes in the shoddy sequel only proved how magical he was in the original. Plus, he gets all the best one-liners: “Should’ve got a live chicken.”

    Grand Slam Scene: Christ, that’s an impossible choice, but hey, bring that s— to me, man. While the spring training and winning streak montages immediately come to mind, there’s just no beating the film’s grand finale. Once Taylor bunts — eliciting a sly “S—” from the Yankees’ lanky shortstop — each second thereafter is just torturous, even if you’ve seen it a thousand times. Ward delicately frames all the right shots, wrenching the most essential emotions out of his actors, especially Berenger, who looks as if he’s going to have a f—ing heart attack before he steps on first base. He does, though, immediately hurling the action to Snipes as he races and slides toward home, slinging his leg inside just in the nick of time. Oh, I can hear Uecker screaming as I type. –Michael Roffman

  • 1. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

    Gordon Company

    Manager: Phil Alden Robinson

    Starting Lineup: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Lil’ Gaby Hoffman, and Timothy Busfield

    Around the Horn: Where do we begin? Field of Dreams is a movie about fathers and sons, hippies who grew up, redemption, farming, ghosts athletes, censorship, Timothy Busfield’s beard, and, of course, America’s Pastime. Costner’s second film to make this list (sorry For Love of the Game), Field of Dreams recalls awe-shucks filmmaking that had been declared dead circa the Truman presidency. Kevin Costner’s Ray is a family man and farmer with a plot of land in Iowa. He’s settled into a life he never guessed he’d have until the day he hears those seven fateful words: “If you build it, he will come.”

    He builds a baseball field in his backyard, and a team of banned players from the infamous Black Sox scandal return to play, led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Liotta). The movie doesn’t end here. More words follow that bring out a reclusive civil rights author (Jones) and an older man who never got to bat in an MLB game (Lancaster, in his last role). This all manages to tie together in a movie that will melt the heart of the greatest cynic (at least it melted mine) and have you hoping to get the chance to have that last “game of catch” with a loved one.

    MVP: James Earl Jones, now a three-time winner on this list.

    Grand Slam Scene: Why Jones and not Costner? Field of Dreams is a great movie, but seeing Jones grow seamlessly from a tired old curmudgeon into a man who can’t stop smiling is a beautiful thing to behold. The “People Will Come, Ray” speech isn’t just a grand slam — it’s a game winner. –Justin Gerber

    This post originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

TIME movies

8 Valentine’s Day Films Ranked From Worst to Best

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What better way to celebrate after gift-giving — or eating a pint of ice cream alone in bed — than by watching a romantic film?

Valentine’s Day, a loved or loathed holiday depending upon one’s relationship status and willingness to succumb to commercialism’s flowers-and-candy paradigm, is nigh. And what better way to celebrate after gift-giving — or throwing a Singles Appreciation party or eating a pint of Häagen-Dazs alone in bed — than by watching a romantic film? For options, look no further than the steady march of date movies released on Valentine’s Day weekend in recent years: Gnomeo and Juliet (2011), Just Go with It (2011), The Vow (2012), Safe Haven (2013), Beautiful Creatures (2013), Endless Love (2014), About Last Night (2014) and now, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Although celebrations in honor of St. Valentine date back to at least the fifth century AD, Valentine’s Day in the “Hallmark holiday” sense is only a few decades old. As such, films about Valentine’s Day, or that even include Valentine’s Day as a minor plot point, are surprisingly few. With this holiday-specific restriction in mind, we did a little digging and came up with a list of eight feature films ranked from worst to best. The list does not include television movies like the Charlie Brown shorts, as cute as they are, nor any films related to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, in which case Some Like It Hot would have made the cut.

Do you have a favorite film set around Valentine’s Day? Let us know in the comments. And if you are seeing Fifty Shades of Grey this weekend, godspeed. –Leah Pickett, Staff Writer


Remember My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The chemistry between the two leads — then-unknown stage actress Nia Vardalos and Sex and the City’s John Corbett as star-crossed Greek-American and Anglo-Saxon lovers, Toula Portokolos and Ian Miller — coupled with a funny, heartfelt story about ethnic identity and an endearing supporting cast, made it not just the surprise indie hit of 2002, but the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time.

I Hate Valentine’s Day, which reunites Vardalos and Corbett as onscreen paramours, is not that film. It’s the cracked-out Frankenstein version of that film, as Vardalos’ Genevieve and Corbett’s Greg possess none of the chemistry, not to mention the individual warmth or likability, that made the pairing of Toula and Ian so appealing. Good writing and direction might have saved them, but Vardalos is weak on both counts; as a result, both characters come across as blithering, childish idiots.

Genevieve, who owns a Brooklyn flower shop called Roses for Romance, has a “five-date rule” that she considers breaking after getting to know Greg, who owns a tapas bar called Get on Tapas (woof). The forced humor drags on for what feels like years, while the few scenes featuring Zoe Kazan as Genevieve’s dreamy friend (so good that her character might as well have wandered in from another, much better film) offer only brief glimpses of hope.

The moment of truth for Greg and Genevieve arrives on Valentine’s Day, one year to the day after their story begins. But by that point, the will to care is outstripped by the desire to watch something else, anything else, as a form of brain bleach for the painful second-hand embarrassment of watching two actors stumble through a relationship that even they don’t seem to believe in. –Leah Pickett


There are so many choices for the nadir of post-Scream slasher flicks. I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Urban Legends one and two. Halloween H20. The entire Dimension Films line-up after 1996. But for the sake of bold claims (and outrageous hyperbole), let’s just say that Jamie Blanks’ Valentine is the bottom of the barrel, the very grimmest of Wes Craven rip-offs. It’s heartless, it’s gutless, it’s not scary, and, worst of all, it stars Denise Richards.

Actually, Katherine Heigl’s in this too. She is the worst of all.

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day! Here, yet another lovelorn, love-scorned killer takes on a series of vapid young actors for gore and profit. But see, to drive the Valentine’s theme home, the killer wears a cherub mask. Of course he or she doesn’t wear a cupid diaper – that would just be stupid. Ironic death after death occurs, and oh my God, didn’t America break up with the Scream films already? Do yourself a solid, look at a few clips on YouTube, crack open a box of chocolates, and laugh your heart out. –Blake Goble


Movies like My Bloody Valentine 3D make me ashamed of watching horror movies. All base needs are on display: “Let’s give the kids the naughty goods and slap some 3D on it before they realized it was 15 bucks full of nothing.” Not only is it indicative of the modern movie industry’s biggest flaws (nostalgic cash grabbing and 3D for grotesque purposes), but MBV3D is also like cereal comprised entirely of marshmallows.

This is one of those movies that I saw in 2009 with buddies, and their lust for blood and full frontal nudity left me mortified. Never have I ever wanted to grow up more. Thanks for that, Patrick Lussier. My Bloody Valentine 3D isn’t just an eyesore; it’s a palate-destroyer, a waste of time, and its title is a mouthful.

Furthermore, the film’s a hacky, showy remake of a middle-tier horror movie, and most criminally, it hardly elicits the necessary thrills required to hold on to one’s lover. You had one job, Patrick Lussier. Way to screw up everyone’s Valentine’s Day. Oh, wait, this was meant to be camp? Eh, 3D still sucks. –Blake Goble


For about a year, it appeared as if Garry Marshall was about to make a stupid romantic comedy about every popular holiday in America starring every American idol. Fortunately, he stopped at 2011’s New Year’s Eve. To his ball-bustin’ credit, he did have a reason: In 2010, his ridiculously overstuffed rom-com Valentine’s Day opened nationwide to $52.4 million with final sales tallying over $100 million. “Cha-ching,” he probably said in a blue suit, while screaming at his sister, Penny, about the dog.

Whatever the case, Valentine’s Day is a grossly excessive film with far too many subplots and one too many Hallmark moments that only affirm one’s hesitance with the genre. Even worse, not one star ever escapes into their role; instead, they simply strut and jump and shout at the screen as if to say, “HEY! LOOK! IT’S ME!” The film is more or less an issue of People brought to life for an excruciating 124 minutes.

Still, if you’re into chummy, watered-down, unrealistic fluff, it doesn’t get better. And while the film never earns its unruly cast of A-listers, which includes “Shake It Off” singer Taylor Swift, it’s admittedly fun to watch them all read a script together. Looking at the poster above, I totally forgot Topher Grace was in this, which makes me think I sho— no, no, no, no … maybe? –Michael Roffman


Note: This is not to be confused with the awesome Irish rock band. They came out in 1983. Huge difference.

After the successes of Halloween and Black Christmas, you couldn’t turn around without bumping into some thrift-store holiday slasher exported from Canada. There’s April Fool’s Day, New Year’s Evil, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Leprechaun. Has Hollywood no shame? Must they have such disrespect for history and honoring people’s heritage?! Well, come to think of it, America has zero tact or modesty for St. Patrick’s Day either… Okay, fine, a lot of holidays are silly marketing events, but sometimes you get a day off!

Anyways, amidst all those jokey rip-offs, My Bloody Valentine came out in 1981 and has probably lasted longer because of its punny title more than anything it actually does. It’s a cult curiosity. Here’s the premise: There’s a gas-masked killer on the loose slaying couples that celebrate Valentine’s Day. How bitter. Such needless heartbreak, or heart-slash-and-lacerate, rather. If only there was Tinder for this poor and crazed killer back in the ‘80s.

My Bloody Valentine holds its own against a sea of trashy killer movies because of its dark and moody ambience, and it makes a perfect antidote for the lovelorn on Valentine’s. If you can, find the full 99-minute version. –Blake Goble


Sleepless in Seattle feels synonymous with the term “romantic comedy.” It’s as if the entire genre had been building up to that odd moment in June 1993 — only a shy two weeks post-Jurassic Park, mind you — when Nora Ephron, Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan ruled the theaters. Surprisingly, the late filmmaker’s romp about two nationwide lovers proved to be catnip for America, grossing over $126 million off a $21 million budget, making every Hollywood producer ravenous for tear-stained screenplays in the years following.

But you have to ignore the obvious imitations — including the Sleepless reunion of 1998,You’ve Got Mail — to truly appreciate this film. To be fair, it’s not that hard. Hanks and Ryan are ridiculous together, while the oft-forgotten Bill Pullman adds a bit of camp that’s just So Fucking ’90s. What’s more, there’s a nostalgic charm to the pre-Internet simplicity of this picture, and it’s one of the last films to grasp the majesty of New York City before it was bought and sold by, well, everyone.

If there’s one detriment, however, it’s the little brat playing Hank’s son: Ross Malinger. He isn’t nearly as annoying as he tends to be in the 1995 McDonald’s commercial, Bye Bye Love, but mother of god, he’s an obnoxious wee one, giving credence to why everyone’s sleepless in … yeah, whatever, just know he sucks. The film, though? Not so much. –Michael Roffman


In one of the best films from last year, certainly the best romantic comedy, twentysomething Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern (the incomparable Jenny Slate) finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, bombs on stage, meets a cute, nice guy named Max (Jake Lacy), has a drunken one-night-stand with him, and a few weeks later discovers that she is pregnant. She schedules the abortion for Valentine’s Day.

That the above description translates to a humorous, touching, and even romantic movie-going experience is a testament to not only Slate’s strengths as an actor, but Gillian Robespierre’s ability as a first-time writer-director to draw nuance and sweet, truthful moments out of Donna and Max’s budding relationship.

Throughout Obvious Child, Donna struggles with whether or not to tell Max about her decision to have an abortion. She eventually does open up about her experience on stage — on the night before the procedure, no less — as Max watches from the audience. He looks stunned and walks out before her set is finished, implying that her news was too much for him to handle.

But wait! Not only does Max show up at Donna’s doorstep the next morning with the most adorable bouquet of flowers, but he also goes with her to the clinic and sits with her in the waiting room. It’s the modern romantic gesture equivalent of Billy Crystal running into the New Year’s Eve party to tell Meg Ryan he loves her in When Harry Met Sally or John Cusack holding the boom box over his head to play “In Your Eyes” for Ione Skye in Say Anything.

The film ends with Donna and Max cuddling on the couch and watching Gone with the Wind. Yep, Max is a keeper. Deal, sealed. –Leah Pickett


“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

Few films hurt like Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The 2004 indie cult classic is beautiful, funny, enlightening, inspiring, and downright clever … but it’s also bitter, depressing, nostalgic, sobering, and painful. Anyone who’s ever broken up with a loved one knows the torturous feeling of wanting to think about anyone but them, so there’s something timeless and tangible about watching Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) delete one another and then of course immediately regret it.

Gondry won’t ever make a better picture than Eternal Sunshine. And Carrey and Winslet likely won’t find better roles. The ingenuity that fuels this film — from Charlie Kaufman’s witty, heartbreaking screenplay to Gondry’s team of practical effects — is worth studying alone for decades to come. But thematically, that’s where the rare, delicate pieces of chocolate are found, as Kaufman and Gondry dig deep into the risks and spoils and fortunes of love, questioning the basis of attraction and the motives that drive us to and from our loved ones.

Everyone brings their A-game, too. Carrey and Winslet are supported by a stellar, transformative cast that shoot far beyond their star power. A young Mark Ruffalo and a spry Kirsten Dunst add plenty of charm, a meditative performance by Tom Wilkinson injects a dose of authority, a creepy Elijah Wood winds up being the perfect foil, and David Cross has the greatest line about birdhouses ever put to celluloid. And without Jon Brion, the film wouldn’t punch the bruises left by the immaculate imagery, lensed to perfection by Ellen Kuras.

Valentine’s Day is an afterthought in this film, but there aren’t too many productions that capture the mercurial feelings that nag and berate both singles and couples on February 14th. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll probably cry some more. It’s not an easy film to experience, but it’s one of the best to watch. As recent Grammy winner Beck sings here: “Everybody’s got to learn sometime.”

And yes, I know that’s a cover. –Michael Roffman

This post originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

TIME movies

Have Young Adult Adaptations Jumped the Shark?


Eventually, the climate of the world will change again, and the interest in dystopia will transition into something else

This post originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

In the current Hollywood climate, the lust for franchises is at an all-time high. It’s a logical enough response to both the difficulties found in getting the average American viewer into a theater in the past few years, and the never-brighter future of the new, globalized audience for Hollywood tentpole features. In both cases, name recognition is the most logical (if not necessarily the most ideal) means to get people back in seats. For all the theatrical gimmickry that chains have rolled out in recent years (dine-in screenings, electric recliners, flight simulator-style seating), there’s perhaps nothing more verifiable when it comes to packing a house than a continuation of another film that people saw and enjoyed. Consider that of 2014’s top 10 highest-grossing films so far, as of this writing, six are sequels. Of the other four, you have two modern reboots of famed existing characters (Maleficent, Godzilla), a new entry into an existing franchise model (Guardians of the Galaxy), and The LEGO Movie, a surprisingly enjoyable film that’s nevertheless still based on a line of toys.

In the midst of Hollywood’s seemingly endless franchise hunt, one of the most prevalent trends of the past decade has been the renewed interest in the constant adaptation of popular young adult novels. It’s a logical enough approach; rather than greenlighting a film that’ll ideally spawn sequels, you pick up a property with a built-in following and a pre-released series of follow-up installments. Grab the next Hunger Games, and you have three or four movies ready to go from day one. In a recent article, I addressed just how many studios are trying to do exactly that, the latest Hollywood ideal being the next hot dystopian epic to follow Hunger Games, or the more recent successes of The Maze Runner and Divergent.

But what’s perhaps even more interesting than the handful of successfully launched YA adaptations in recent years is the massive volume of failures surrounding them. Vulture explored this question in brief last year, before the runaway success of Catching Fire, again primarily touching more heavily on the films that worked than those that didn’t. At one point, they quote YA publisher Ben Schrank, who explains that, “The fact that there are more people writing better books for young people than ever before, combined with a culture where fewer and fewer people think of themselves as old, makes over-saturation in the immediate future seem unlikely.” But this proliferation of books doesn’t necessarily mean that their popularity will translate; a book engenders a certain kind of more dedicated fandom by dint of its ability to establish a universe in far greater detail than the average 90-minute to two-hour film can muster.

So, back to the question at hand: why have so many adaptations failed? Vulture cites momentum at one point, which could explain Divergent and Maze Runner, especially the former; the market seems to be bullish on YA dystopian adaptations featuring popular young actresses in layered roles with peculiar first names for the time being. But it doesn’t entirely account for the phenomenon. After all, lest we forget (more on that momentarily), before Hunger Games it was Twilight. And it’s not as though studios didn’t try and fling their bodies onto that rapidly accelerating gravy train as well. But the fantasy market didn’t prove so lucrative. Between the time of the first Twilight film’s release in November 2008 and its conclusion with the underrated Breaking Dawn Part 2 in 2012, studios released at least seven other franchise hopefuls with YA pedigrees. Only one was sequelized, and even then, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters underperformed in theaters last summer.

Even dystopia isn’t a complete guarantee; witness duds like The Host, another Stephenie Meyer offering that lacked source material for additional installments but still lent studios a sense of optimism. Or, more recently, Jeff Bridges’ long-gestating production of The Giver, as canonical a YA text as you can find in the present era, and a film which grossed less than $50 million. Films like The Giver and last year’s Ender’s Game aimed squarely for the YA audience, adult and young adult alike, and were based on classic novels that frequently appear on various schools’ English class reading lists, and yet both underperformed to the point where sequels are uncertain, verging on unlikely for the time being.

It’s curious to consider the string of flops in a few different respects, and one of them ties right back to Twilight. The oft-maligned vampire series was a cultural phenomenon upon arrival, the first film’s release having been perfectly timed with the release of the final installment of the printed series, Breaking Dawn. Of the top twenty highest-grossing YA adaptations to date, Twilight accounts for five of them. And yet, the buzz seems to have died down around the series. Sure, part of this can be written off as the innately ephemeral nature of most any popular trend; after a while, the collective consciousness moves on, and the series remains bound for an indeterminate time in that fiscally terrifying purgatory between initial popularity and nostalgic sentiment.

But with Twilight, it’s important to remember that the world started changing as the series progressed, and that series happened to be one major cog in a much larger evolution in American culture. One of the simultaneous booms and busts of the internet age is the ability for audiences to access criticism of their pop culture from every conceivable angle, and to discuss it ad nauseum with others. And given the eventual burnout on Twilight’s reductive gender roles and frequently interpreted moralizing, it makes sense that audiences were already getting enough of it from one source, and weren’t as interested in others. But it still found a crossover audience, which is more than can be said for Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments or I Am Number Four or City of Ember or Cirque Du Freak or Inkheart. But now, a show of hands: when’s the last time that dedicated Twi-hard in your life brought it up at a family gathering?

And with respect to the matter of audience saturation, that’s as much a sign of burnout as anything. People had their chosen franchise. They couldn’t invest in a dozen at once, because for those who weren’t already reading the books (another desired outcome of the franchise model), it was too much to take on. The proliferation of extremely similar material didn’t help, but the failed YA adaptations even precede Twilight. One of the most notable is still A Series of Unfortunate Events, the would-be Lemony Snicket franchise starter, that failed to see a second installment despite relative success compared to many of the flops that followed. And the burnout became ever more pronounced until last summer, when The Mortal Instruments, a film for which Sony had already kicked off pre-production on a follow-up, made less than $10 million in its opening weekend, on over 3,000 screens nationwide.

This year has seen them as well; even as Divergent was a breakout hit and Maze Runner found more moderate success, albeit with tepid critical and audience reactions alike, the popular franchise Vampire Academy was an unmitigated dud when released to little fanfare in the doldrums of February. It’s not that audiences are inherently uninterested; they just want something new. And studios aren’t going to stop pushing for the next big new thing. Properties are being snapped up one after the next, some of the current dystopian flavor and others attempting to break new ground and be the first to the party. The glut is hardly stopping, and even the existing franchises are trying to stretch as far as possible; like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, this weekend sees the release of the first half of the two-part Hunger Games finale Mockingjay, and theDivergent series has already confirmed plans to split its final installment Allegiant in half.

A note on Potter, while the subject has arisen: it’s really those films that studios crave so desperately. While Twilight proved the buying power of the untapped young female demographic, Potter is the four-quadrant franchise to which others aspire. The Pottermodel was less one of a literary adaptation than it was the bellwether of what we’re seeing today with superhero franchises. Everybody saw them, and those who didn’t were still readily aware of their existence at all times. It was a market saturation, sure, but one people embraced. Perhaps what’s happening now, with the seeming disinterest in genre-based franchise offerings not focused on totalitarian governments, is the explosion of the bubble, the one that will inevitably implode in the case of most any pop trend. Buyers set out to find the next Potter, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games, and they’re likely out to find the next one as we speak.

Dozens of novels have been picked up, and it’s unlikely that the glut ends before at least a few more fatted calves have been sacrificed to the cause. But eventually, the climate of the world will change again, and the interest in dystopia will transition into something else, something unpredictable and unsolvable by most metrics until it’s too late to get out ahead. This is the inherent downside of the YA boom, after all. You can pick a winner with a devoted following, a built-in series ready to go, and even come up with a catchy Twilight Saga-esque franchise subtitle for it all. But audiences will either show up or not, and by the time a movie even sees the light of day, it might already be too late to tap into the zeitgeist. Everybody’s headed for the promised West of the next Hunger Games, and even more will likely circle their wagons when Mockingjay likely starts printing its own money in a few days. But like any riches worth having, the millions conferred by a YA hit are for the few, not the many.

TIME movies

Ranking: The Disney Renaissance From Worst to Best

Animated mermaids, lion cubs, and a bell ringer with chronic back problems

This post originally appeared on Consequence of Sound.

On November 17, 1989, 25 years ago today, Walt Disney Pictures’ The Little Mermaid premiered in movie theatres across America, swimming into our hearts and kicking off what is now known as the Disney Renaissance.

After the colossal disappointment of the 1985 feature The Black Cauldron and slightly more profitable efforts like 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective and 1988’s Oliver & Company still getting pummeled at the box office by former Disney animator Don Bluth’s An American Tail and The Land Before Time, respectively, the House of Mouse was in dire need of a transformation. Pivoting back to the music-driven, ornately drawn fairy tales of the studio’s heyday, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, then-CEO Michael Eisner hired lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, known for working together on the successful Off-Broadway production Little Shop of Horrors, to write the songs for an ambitious new film: an animated adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid.

Thankfully, the result was a critical and commercial success, garnering a higher weekend gross than Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven, which opened the same weekend, and eventually breaking The Land Before Time’s record of highest-grossing animated film. The Little Mermaid also won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and for Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”), and breathed new life into what had hitherto been a fading empire. After struggling through a string of commercial flops from the early-’70s to the mid-’80s, the Walt Disney Company was finally back on top, with 1989 marking the dawn of the studio’s new golden era.

Disney would go on to release one animated musical a year for the next decade, resulting in 10 motion pictures that are widely recognized as the Disney Renaissance oeuvre. So, get ready for some prime millennial nostalgia as we rank each of the outings from meh to magnificent, and let us know in the comments section which films you still love, which ones you can’t stand, and which VHS tapes you broke from rewinding and playing over and over.

— Leah Pickett
Film Staff Writer

10. Pocahontas (1995)

If you prefer your history whitewashed, then you probably won’t be too offended by Pocahontas, the weakest and most vapid entry in the Renaissance Ten. As the first animated Disney film to be based on a historical figure, one would expect our main character, even with the rest of her story bastardized and kid-proofed to death with cuddly animal sidekicks (Meeko the Raccoon and Percy the Pug) and a talking willow tree (Linda Hunt), to be at least somewhat interesting. But no, she and her equally boring lover, John Smith, voiced by famed anti-Semite Mel Gibson, are the Barbie and Ken of the New World, with not much to offer besides dramatic poses and platitudes.

Iconic Disney Moment: Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue-corn moon, or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? Perhaps you should try jumping off a cliff and letting the colors of the wind carry you down; that looks fun.

Leah Pickett

9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Taking a nearly 500-page novel by Victor Hugo and turning it into a 91-minute, animated extravaganza suitable for children is risky, to be sure. But the main problem with Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not in its reach for the dramatic — on the contrary, the grand leaps into gothic spectacle and pathos are the films high points — but in its yielding to the requisite tomfoolery, like the gargoyles dancing and singing (for the kids!), that creates several jarring shifts in tone. Perhaps the studio was reticent to go too dark, considering how The Black Cauldron turned out. But when the villain, Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), is the most electrifying screen presence, and Esmeralda (Demi Moore) and Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) barely register, well, that presents quite a conundrum. Perhaps if the sidekicks had been less hackneyed and if Quasimodo had been performed with more gusto (Tom Hulce’s voiceover is adequate, but ultimately forgettable), then Hunchback, which isn’t all that bad in retrospect, might have left a more lasting impression.

Iconic Disney Moment: That’s easy: Frollo singing to the shadow of Esmeralda’s naked, dancing body as it erupts into flames. “Destroy Esmeralda, and let her taste the fires of hell, or else let her be mine and mine alone!” he wails, torn apart by the horror of his forbidden lust. Um, holy shit.

Leah Pickett

8. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

And so it began. Thirteen years after the release of The Rescuers, Disney dipped its toes into the sequel pool for the first time with The Rescuers Down Under, another of the earliest entries in the Renaissance era. As a film, it’s an exciting enough adventure flick and one which offers Disney’s characteristic sense of genuine danger, even in a film about cute, anthropological animals who govern their own animal rescue squadron (the Rescue Aid Society). Like The Rescuers, which was primarily built around an anonymous plea for help by a kidnapped orphan, Down Under sees Bernard (Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor, in her final film role) attempting to save Cody, a young boy unwittingly captured and very nearly fed to crocodiles by a maniacal big-game hunter in search of a golden eagle. Down Under is far from the most memorable Disney movie, but it’s absolutely noteworthy for one reason: not only was it Disney’s first sequel but also its first foray into the hybridized hand-drawn/computer-generated animation that would characterize the studio’s next and best phase.

Iconic Disney Moment: The point at which Bernard saves Cody from the aforementioned crocodile trap by furiously riding in on a razorback pig he tamed with an animal-whispering technique. It’s quintessential Disney: beautifully animated, exciting, and with just a dash of reckless child endangerment.

Dominick Mayer

7. Tarzan (1999)

For a time, Tarzan was Disney’s most expensive animated production ever. And despite its budget being trumped within a few years by the underrated but still notorious flop Treasure Planet, Tarzan still stands as one of Disney’s most lushly animated, visually memorable films. It’s also a moving one, as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters are brought to life in a film that at once pays homage to Burroughs and stages its own powerful arguments about the modern world, about man’s violation of nature and its propensity to act in ways more savage than the animals it forever hopes to tame. It’s the chronicle of Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn), who’s torn between his loyalty to his given family of apes and Jane (Minnie Driver), the gentle scientist who offers Tarzan the opportunity to live among his own kind. While it’s an often simplistic film, and hardly strays from the long-established Tarzan stories of yore, it occasionally offers some surprisingly complex lessons about loyalty and what it is that defines a family, and even briefly returned Phil Collins to top 40 prominence. The renaissance more or less ended here, but it’s an impressive way to go out.

Iconic Disney Moment: Tarzan’s introductory journey, as he pursues game through a thicket of trees by flying effortlessly between them. It’s a truly breathtaking sequence that stands among Disney’s best individual scenes.

Dominick Mayer

6. Hercules (1997)

Greek mythology seems like a perfect springboard for a Disney movie, given the amount of them that trade on the basic iconographies of the mythic. But what’s most pleasantly surprising about Hercules isn’t necessary its retelling of Herc’s trials, an aspect of Greek lore that had been done to death for years before Disney ever took aim at it, or even the music, which doesn’t linger well after viewing in the same way as some of the soundtrack cuts from other films on our list. (Well, the refrain of “Herc-u-les” notwithstanding.) It’s how surprisingly quick and fun the film is. Bolstered by a score of studio-best voice performances, from James Woods’ perfectly jaded and sarcastic Hades to Susan Egan’s seen-it-all Megara, Hercules makes up for whatever it may be lacking in the iconic, universal appeal of Disney’s best films of this period with sheer entertainment value. Whether it’s Danny DeVito cracking wise as Hercules’ trainer Phil or Hades callously informing Hercules of Meg’s mortality with a smirk and a couple one-liners, Hercules is Disney animation at its fleet-footed, oddly comical, darkly tinged best.

Iconic Disney Moment: Hercules conquering the Hydra, only after removing several of its heads and trapping it in a landslide. Woods’ running commentary and DeVito’s screaming panic give the scene a perfectly pitched, off-kilter tone.

Dominick Mayer

5. The Little Mermaid (1989)

If you’re wondering why The Little Mermaid is placed in the middle of our list, and not closer to the top, the truth is that the story doesn’t hold up as well as it should. Sure, the very best elements retain their magic: the striking animation, the infectious songs, the fabulous villain (“And don’t underestimate the importance of body language!”), the memorable side characters, and the tenacious, likable lead still shine. But the whole girl meets boy, girl gives up her voice to be with boy scenario is harder to swallow as an adult than, say, as an impressionable child dreaming of true love’s first kiss. The biggest problem is that, after literally giving up her voice to be with Prince Eric, Ariel doesn’t change. She gets what she wants in the end and all for a guy she’s known for grand total of three days. King Triton is the only character with a real arc, and, to the movie’s credit, he is the most impressive Disney dad. Also, if you reframe The Little Mermaid as being Triton’s story, of how he learns to love his daughter by letting her go, that makes the film even better in hindsight. Granted, that could just be my inner old person talking.

Iconic Disney Moment: “Part of Your World”. If you are a female-identified child of the ‘90s, chances are good that you have belted this song into your hairbrush or showerhead on more than one occasion.

Leah Pickett

4. Aladdin (1992)

As animation goes, you can’t get much more fluid or imaginative, at least within the boundaries of the early ‘90s, than what Aladdin had to offer. John Musker and Ron Clements, who already had The Little Mermaid under their belts and would go on to helm Hercules, Treasure Planet, and The Princess and the Frog as well, made use of Disney’s continually growing interest in the potential of computer animation. But never before (and rarely since) had it been used to such stunning effect. From Aladdin’s initial footrace through the streets of Agrabah to the magic carpet ride to the Genie’s cave and right through Jafar reaching his final form late in the film, Aladdin offers one jaw-dropping step forward for animation as a medium after another. That sense of endeavor into the unknown and unconquered, combined with Alan Menken’s bouncing, infectious music, makes for one of Disney’s most lovable and enduring films.

And while it’s easy to come down on the film with respect to most modern metrics (the racially problematic villainy, Jasmine’s relative ineffectuality when compared to most other Disney princesses), Aladdin is still a visual and aural pleasure of substantial caliber. It’s also among Disney’s warmest films, a tale of love and friendship and how one or both of those things can only be truly achieved when you set selfishness aside and look out for those who’ve been good to you. Given the events of the past few months, viewings will never quite be the same again, but in the Genie, Robin Williams left one of his most indelible and timeless characters, and one of the very best in the Disney canon.

Iconic Disney Moment: That flying carpet ride. The maudlin nature of “A Whole New World” has been parodied to death over the years, but it’s still one of the most unabashedly breathtaking and romantic sequences Disney’s ever put together.

Dominick Mayer

3. Mulan (1998)

Before Disney’s more recent girl-power epics Brave and Frozen came along, there was Mulan, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to defeat the Huns (hwah!). Yes, Mulan is a badass, but she also has nobler aims: to protect her family by taking her elderly father’s place on the battlefield and to prove that she has value above and beyond being married off to the highest bidder. And while the movie gets off to a slow start, the training camp montage is a Renaissance high point, with the budding, gender-bending magnetism between Mulan and her commander, Li Shang, providing some compelling sparks alongside her main focus, which is to find the strength within herself to be brave, follow her heart, and save China.

Plus, most of the main characters, with the obvious exception of Eddie Murphy as the dragon Mushu, are voiced by Asian-American actors. Ming Na-Wen is Mulan’s speaking voice, and Lea Salonga is her singing voice; BD Wong voices Li Shang; Pat Morita is the Emperor of China; George Takei cameos as one of Mulan’s ancestors; and Soon Tek-Oh plays Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou. Okay, Harvey Fierstein also pops up as one of the army dunces, but with such an impressive female lead, enticing story, moving message, and in my opinion, the catchiest song in the Renaissance catalog, “Be a Man”, this one bizarre admission is easily forgivable.

Iconic Disney Moment: “Let’s get down to business / to defeat the Huns!” This song is everything.

Leah Pickett

2. The Lion King (1994)

Yeah, it’s basically Hamlet with lions. But let’s move on from the obvious note, because The Lion King is so much more than a kid-friendly (well, friendly-ish) rendition of Shakespeare. While our top film edges it out by just a hair, The Lion King is the sort of generation-defining masterpiece that Disney does with the best when it’s at its best. Particularly for those who grew up during the film’s salad years, this writer included, it’s hard to start talking about The Lion King without highlighting the power of that stampede sequence and Mufasa’s subsequent death. “Get up, Dad” is not only one of Disney’s most instantly recognizable bits of dialogue, but it was also a bold maneuver. Through that impeccably animated moment, Disney taught a generation of kids about death and mortality and the responsibilities that the living have to the dead they once loved. It’s affecting, troubling stuff even by Disney’s standards.

But this, and the surprisingly bracing showdown that eventually transpires between an adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) and his uncle Scar (a deliciously vampy Jeremy Irons), take The Lion King from a story of a young cub coming of age in a starving kingdom to a transcendent piece of filmmaking, one that treats its ostensibly young audience with a respect and esteem that few family-centric filmmakers typically do. It’s a crash course in moral relativism for kids, offering lessons in forgiveness, redemption, the virtues of Hakuna Matata juxtaposed with the importance of being willing to grow up and take responsibility for the people who depend on you when the time comes. And when Simba tugs on his father’s cheek, begging him to get up, it’s not only heartbreaking, but a reminder that those we love will eventually leave us. Where another film might simply let that tragic life lesson sit on its own, The Lion King is about where Simba goes from there, how it shapes the course of the rest of his life, and how there is indeed life after death, even if it’s not the one you plan on.

That’s to say nothing of the soundtrack, which is one of Disney’s most iconic in a walk. Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” is as touching an approximation of a sex scene as Disney’s ever done, via John’s powerful delivery and no shortage of meaningful glances and feline necking. “Hakuna Matata” taught countless kids the value of taking it easy at a time when the world was becoming more worrisome and high-strung than ever before. And then there’s “Circle of Life”, the background to the film’s classic opening shots of the African savannah and an easy way to teach kids (and their parents) that if death is one of the most inevitable and life-changing parts of the human comedy, the coming of a new life into the world is perhaps the one that most powerfully surpasses it.

Iconic Disney Moment: The entire film is like a gauntlet of one after another, really, but it has to be Mufasa’s death. Not since Bambi’s mother was gunned down had a Disney movie so starkly stared mortality in the face.

Dominick Mayer

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It makes sense that the top two films on our list, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, also became the two most successful Broadway musicals from Disney’s wheelhouse. Simply put, they are the best; they have the best stories, the best characters, the best settings, and the best songs. But what gives Beauty and the Beast the edge over The Lion King is its groundbreaking importance. While The Little Mermaid was the turning point for Disney’s resurgence and The Lion King a sturdy mid-Renaissance tent pole, Beauty remains the studio’s crown jewel.

First and foremost, it is a truly great film: enthralling, beautiful, dark, humorous, thought-provoking, suspenseful, complex, and grandiose. Belle is a delightfully nerdy heroine who loves to read and doesn’t care what other people think of her. The Beast is also a well-developed and multi-dimensional character, with more emotional complexity in his fingernail than Prince Eric, Hercules, and John Smith combined. And as for the “Stockholm Syndrome” argument, re-watching the film and looking into the finer points all but disproves it. The Beast is angry, yes, because he has been cursed to live in the body of a hideous animal unworthy of love, or so he believes. Of course, he’s not perfect, but he also is the exact opposite of bland, which is more than can be said of many a cookie-cutter Disney prince. The Beast also grows and changes more than any other character of the Renaissance set, in large part because a strong, intelligent, passionate, and independent woman has inspired him to be better.

In the beginning, the Beast yells at Belle and locks her in the castle after allowing her father to go free, but he never lays a hand on her or Maurice, and his bitterness begins to melt fairly early on, as Belle refuses to put up with him until he starts treating her with some respect. He lets his guard down; they take time to get to know each other; he eventually realizes that he can’t force anyone to love him to save himself, and he lets Belle go, resigning himself to misery so that she might find happiness. And, it is important to note, as soon as he says that she can go, she leaves.

When she does return in the film’s climax, it is because Gaston is marching to the castle to kill the Beast, and she realizes that she does love him for who he really is, and he loves her, and she cannot bear to see him sacrifice himself. Although perhaps a bit too on the nose, Belle’s line, “He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!” sums up the prevailing theme quite nicely. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and while the Beast is ugly on the outside but actually gentle, kind, and thoughtful underneath, Gaston’s evil seeps grotesquely from the inside out, proving that wolves all too often exist in muscle-man clothing. And in the end, the Beast is the one to do a complete 180, realizing that to love is to be completely unselfish, and that only then can his curse be lifted and his love returned.

As the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and perhaps the most critically lauded animated film of the 20th century, Beauty and the Beast is a stunning achievement. The dialogue is well-written, the scenes are gorgeously rendered, and the songs, especially “Belle” and “Be Our Guest”, are sublime. In sum, Beauty is a love story for the ages, “a tale as old as time,” and the ultimate Disney Renaissance classic.

Iconic Disney Moment: Belle and the Beast waltzing to the titular lullaby. Not only is this the most romantic sequence of any Disney animated film, but also, over two decades later, still one of the most visually dazzling and, of course, iconic.

Leah Pickett

TIME Music

Ryan Adams Goes Punk on 1984

Ryan Adams 1984
Ryan Adams, 1984

Adams dwells on love, fear and creatures of the night on this speedy release

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Call me crazy, but my favorite latter-day Elvis Costello album is Momofuku. Recorded on a whim with whatever collaborators he had access to at the time (including a perfectly utilized Jenny Lewis), it’s easy to disregard. Then again, to do so would mean missing out on The Imposter at his most urgent and energized. Costello put a strict limit on how much time he spent on the record, which naturally gave the whole thing a sense of stakes. Momofuku was the sound of a man trying — and succeeding — to beat the clock.

I don’t know if Ryan Adams put similar restrictions on himself with 1984. Probably not, as it’s being filed under his own “PAX-AM Singles Series” rather than being marketed as a proper album. But, let’s pretend he did. Let’s pretend he locked himself in the studio, rose every day to the sounds of Minor Threat’s Complete Discography, and went to work on a tribute to the halcyon days of storied punk labels like Dischord and SST. Let’s pretend he had to get it all done over one weekend in August, prompting him to call the opening track of yearning slop-pop “When the Summer Ends.” Most importantly, let’s pretend the whole thing turned out great, because — surprise, surprise — it did.

Punk purists be forewarned: 1984 isn’t any more punk or hardcore — I’m using these terms traditionally regarding sound, not modernly regarding mindset — than Orion was metal. This is Adams’ version of the genres, much closer to early Replacements than Jawbox or Fugazi. Like Paul Westerberg, he can’t shake his uncanny ability to pull a hook out of his ass every time he reaches up there for another song, even when most of them are under 90 seconds. The gift of catch is just in his blood, from the gleefully out-of-tune guitar intro of “Wolves” to the paranoid chorus of “Rats in the Wall.” “Rats in the wall/ I can hear ‘em crawl,” he repeats over nervous G-B-A chords. As both titles point out, 1984′s preoccupations seem to be love, fear and creatures of the night. And thanks to its brief runtime, none of these themes grow boring.

While the bone-headed words are a far cry from the socially charged lyrics of most of the bands Adams is citing as influences, they also possess his forefathers’ go-for-broke spirit of a kid — or, in this case, a youthful 39-year-old man — jumping up and down on his bed with a broomstick guitar, shouting along to his favorite song. Adams has never lost touch with his adolescent spirit, and punk — not alt country — just might be the perfect medium for this sensibility.

Essential Tracks: “When the Summer Ends,” “Rats in the Wall” and “Wolves”

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TIME Music

Review: FKA twigs Makes a Beautiful and Devastating Debut on LP1

FKA twigs
Young Turks Recordings FKA twigs, LP1

The singer proves she's one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

To live is to want. The process of doing so doesn’t get any easier with the knowledge of this facet of human nature. It’s one of those things that can never be succinctly and completely explained. Not through religion, science, common sense. Nothing. What’s more, coming to grips with desire and all of its complications gradually becomes difficult: There’s a profound difference between wanting after-school Twizzlers and, later in life, human connection — physical, romantic, and everything in between. To desire is to struggle, and great art comes not through explanation, but expression.

FKA twigs, once known as a go-to video dancer (Jessie J, Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue), has made that transition to one of the most compelling and complex acts in R&B. If she was testing experimental limits with her first two EPs, LP1 finds her eccentricities and emotional rawness fully realized. Her recorded persona now feels closer to her onstage persona. Watch a video of her. Take note of the fluidity of her body movement and the confidence radiating from her as she performs. The album’s layered production varies from lush to lucid, but it all bends to twigs’ whim. While a number of her contemporaries poeticize the desire to feel free in wanting, twigs’ constantly warped vocals mark her as a flawed omnipresence. She’s free as she juxtaposes lustful indulgence (the likes that reveal the whites of eyes in orgasmic joy) and the constant attention to the unavoidable doom of experiencing loss. LP1 is beautiful and devastating in equal measure, and it’s all foreshadowed by the album-opening “Preface.” She quotes a line from Sir Thomas Wyatt’s poem, “I Find no Peace”: “I love another, and thus I hate myself.” A chorus of voices repeats the line, part meditative, part mournful resignation.

A majority of LP1 focuses on those beauties and tragedies of desire. What makes it a thoroughly compelling listen is its kaleidoscopic focus on the feeling’s multiple dimensions. “Lights On,” a song less about f-cking with the lights on than a commiseration of physical vulnerabilities, finds twigs twirling in an emptiness softly touched by a xylophone-like riff. It then transforms into something entirely different: a sonic carnival carried by a smoky bass line and a slightly superfluous but adventurous eastern bridge. “Two Weeks” is pretty blunt in its intentions: “I know it hurts/ You know I’d quench that thirst.” The single came accompanied with a video that portrays twigs as a goddess. Although it’s worth a viewing, you don’t need it to grasp the extent of her sexual autonomy. The natural range of twigs’ voice isn’t necessarily a wow factor, but there’s a certain mysticism in its softness that makes it convincing. That’s true whether she’s lusting (album closer “Kicks”), merely peeking at sexuality with a childlike curiosity (“Hours”), or recalling her biography (“Video Girl”).

“Video Girl” is a comedown from easy highlight “Pendulum,” which appears at the middle of the tracklist. Emotional depth is spread evenly throughout LP1, but “Pendulum” feels particularly singular; twigs’ charm and allure is more potent, as the soaring hook takes the listener to ethereal realms. Tropical staccato guitar and orchestral sounds intensify without becoming overly maudlin. This is not to elate, but to crush: “So lonely trying to be yours/ What a forsaken cause/ So lonely trying to be yours/ When you’re looking for so much more.” Throughout, twigs’ character is never a victim in the search for connection. The addition of the second line in the chorus implies a sort of masochism, but at the same time, there’s a deep sense of loss. Separating reason and human nature isn’t that simple.

LP1 isn’t anything revolutionary; it’s a frankly expressed project focused on the dualism between love and lust, reality and fantasy. “Give Up” is the most euphoric and optimistic of the 10 tracks. Over aquatic production and colorful synths, twigs coos about the possibility of a relationship that could persevere. We don’t get a payoff. We just get twigs resolving to touch herself in her lover’s absence on “Kicks.” And then silence.

Essential Tracks: “Two Weeks,” “Pendulum,” and “Kicks”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: The Raveonettes Tackle Childhood Trauma on Pe’ahi

The Raveonettes
The Raveonettes The Raveonettes

The band's subject matter remains as grisly as ever, but it's tough to hear the pain through the noise

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The Raveonettes begin their seventh studio album with the same beat that opened The Doors’ first. The first lyrics that follow are “I have sand in my shoes and death on my mind.” If that’s not enough to situate you, the Danish duo (who now reside in Los Angeles) helpfully named the record after the north shore of Maui. Pe’ahi is a Pacific album through and through, and it doesn’t stop reveling in buzzed-out West Coast noir until it wraps things up with a tune called “Summer Ends,” in case you had any lingering hopes that anything gold could stay.

Dropped onto the world Beyoncé-style (or maybe it’s Wolfmother-style) the same day as its announcement, Pe’ahi marks a change in dynamics for a band that had more or less settled into a continuous stream of static. For their last three albums, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo worked a reliable assembly line of scuzzy dream pop songs bunched together under faux vintage, black-and-white album covers. Now, they present their latest with an aquamarine splash, even though the subject matter remains as grisly as ever.

Early on, Pe’ahi features one of the Raveonettes’ strongest moments of contrast to date. “Sisters” cuts from blissful walls of noise to clean harp strums while cruising a vintage West Coast hip-hop beat. It’s the first time I can remember the band playing around with silence instead of trying to cram as much noise into one place as possible. But aside from a brief foray into bells on “When Night Is Almost Done,” it’s really the only instance of experiment among the album’s offerings. Everything else wears the same thick coat of fuzz they’ve been messing with for more than a decade, the same digital decay that now ostensibly obscures some of the band’s most deeply personal lyrics.

Rather than noir for noir’s sake, Pe’ahi arrives packed with the more personal fruits of the grieving process. Wagner lost his father to alcoholism last December, and much of the album grapples with both his death and the trauma he inflicted while he was alive. On “Kill!,” Wagner sings bluntly about the time he, at age 10, walked in on his dad committing adultery with a stranger. It paints a scene you might expect from a Xiu Xiu album, as industrial noise flickers and tortured samples loop. “What if you fell to a hell below?” Wagner asks his father’s ghost on “A Hell Below.” “Would it hurt the same way you hurt me?” It’s a sweet-sounding song from a bitter place, but without context, it melts easily into the Raveonettes’ back catalog.

If we’re to believe the commentary tracks the band dropped on Spotify, Wagner uses the record to grapple with the question of how anyone can escape the shadow of their parents. How can you grow to be better than the trauma that shaped you? It’s a worthy question, but it’s not one that Pe’ahi shines much light on. “When you left, you destroyed my life,” growls Wagner on “Summer Ends”, but he could be talking about an ex-lover as easily as he could be singing about his dad. He delivers everything with such a flat nonchalance, backed by Foo’s gentle harmonies, that it’s tough to feel his pain through the noise.

The Raveonettes still come off shy, almost numb, sequestered in their own bubble of effects and casual irony. Despite its ambitions, Pe’ahi ripples through without much fanfare, another breeze fallen short of a storm.

Essential Tracks: “Sisters”

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