The internet is constantly awash with backstage stories about blockbuster movies, be it Tom Cruise's shattered ankle, Superman's digitally shaved mustache, or anytime someone remotely connected to a Star Wars production so much as spills burrito juice on their pants. But some of your favorites from this year that don't involve purple bodybuilders wielding magic marbles also contain fascinating tidbits of trivia. So here are some fun facts you may have missed ...
A Quiet Place is the surprise smash hit about a family weathering a post-apocalyptic Earth infested with sound-sensitive alien monsters -- presumably extraterrestrial librarians looking for payback. The film was directed by The Office's John Krasinski, who also stars with Emily Blunt as the parents of a family clever enough to meticulously soundproof their house, though not clever enough to just install hundreds of boomboxes blasting AC/DC a few miles from their property.
In case you live under a rock without a subscription to Us Weekly, Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life. Originally Blunt didn't want to be in her husband's movie, likely in the same way most people wouldn't want to get involved in their partner's goofy project, be it a monster flick or fantasy bowling league. Instead, Blunt recommended another actress who was a "good friend" -- but after reading the script, she told her husband "you need to call her and fire her." Thus living up to her surname.
After 86ing his wife's friend, the cast was solidified, except for the noise-hating creatures. Since opening a portal to a real monster dimension was apparently too much trouble for the production, they merely employed some good ol' CGI. On set, the usual bored-looking dudes in checkered motion capture suits terrorized the Abbott family:
What you might not know is that for some scenes, Krasinski himself donned the mocap suit to play an alien ... which didn't go over well in early test screenings. Or went too well, depending on how you look at it. With unfinished visual effects, instead of Giger-esque beasts, audiences were somehow expected to recoil in terror at the sight of Jim from The Office bouncing around in a leotard. Not surprisingly, people "burst out laughing." Sadly, that footage hasn't surfaced online, likely incinerated by the producers of Jack Ryan.
For summer movie fans who were disappointed that Avengers: Infinity War wasn't an absurd dark comedy tackling race in America, there was Sorry To Bother You, rapper and activist Boots Riley's debut feature. It's set in an alternate reality in which black men use magical white voices to climb the corporate ladder, slavery is basically legal, and there's a sci-fi twist that wouldn't look out of place in a porn parody of a certain Netflix cartoon.
While Sorry To Bother You may have seemed to come out of nowhere, it did anything but. Riley finished the script back in 2012, but couldn't get funding. Despite the fact that he was an established hip-hop artist, he lacked the proper tools to break into Hollywood, such as being John Landis' son. So to generate buzz, Riley's group The Coup released an album "inspired" by a movie that didn't exist yet. It's called ... Sorry To Bother You.
Riley even took the bold move of publishing the full script in an issue of the McSweeney's literary journal, presumably sandwiched between Dave Eggers essays on the state of modern essays. Originally Riley was shopping the script around, hoping for a director to come on board -- but after asking actor/director/maze-based game show host Richard Ayoade to helm the project, Ayoade instead convinced Riley to take the job himself, telling him: "You're the only one who can do this. Anybody else is gonna ... it up." (Huh, wonder what he said that The LA Times elided. Something clean, probably.)
And so the project finally got off the ground, though part of us is sad that Riley didn't try to turn it into a stage musical, a video game, and a theme park ride first. Incidentally, Riley wasn't a big fan of ...
After outliving his archnemesis Spike TV, Spike Lee has been on a roll lately. His most recent work is BlacKkKlansman, a critically beloved blistering dark comedy inspired by the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado Springs cop who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan in the 1970s. The movie features John David Washington as Stallworth, Adam Driver as his partner, and Topher Grace as KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Thankfully, no one at the studio rebranded it as Venom vs. Kylo Ren And The Guy From Ballers.
Apart from the fact that he has tons of "pretending it's the '70s" experience, Grace might seem an odd choice to play a wizard outside of anything but a D&D game. But he's actually very good. Grace took great pains to research his role of the urine-soaked mattress of a human being that is Duke, reading his autobiography, listening to tapes of his lectures, and even watching his appearances on the '80s talk show Donahue.
So how to unwind after delving into the mind of a racist turd? By painstakingly re-editing a crappy prequel trilogy, naturally. In 2012, Grace famously assembled a fan edit that condensed the three Star Wars prequels into one movie -- something that had surely been done before, but not by the star of Win A Date With Tad Hamilton.
So as a kind of "zen" self-therapy, Grace turned his attention to another bloated, unnecessary prequel trilogy, whittling Peter Jackson's Hobbit series down to one two-hour film. You know an acting job is rough when the only joy in your day involves exposing your eyeballs to this "rejected animatics from early PS3 games" bullshit. Of course, all of this makes it seem like Grace is building up to giving us a megacut of Spider-Man 3 and the Amazing Spider-Man films that somehow makes more sense than the originals.
Following up the acclaimed sci-fi drama / inexplicable dance party that was Ex Machina, director Alex Garland's next project, Annihilation, found Natalie Portman and an all-women team of badasses journeying into an alien "shimmer" to battle mutants. It's the kind of movie you might get if Michael Bay was a stoner grad student.
Garland's movie was based on a popular novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, the first in the Southern Reach trilogy -- a series of books, not a colloquialism for awkward foreplay. Despite the fact that the film and the book share the same title and general premise, the movie is way different. Garland's version shuffles events, scraps key pieces of the novel's world, and even offers a different meaning for the title itself (although he missed a huge opportunity by not naming the main character Ann I. Hilation).
Part of the reason for the discrepancy may be Garland's approach. Bizarrely, he made the conscious decision not to re-read the book after deciding to adapt it. Instead he adapted his "memory of the novel" -- not the novel itself. His idea was to recapture the atmosphere of the book and its "dream-like nature," but not necessarily the story or characters. Surprisingly, this resulted in zero scenes of Portman's teeth falling out as she shows up late for her midterms. Even more surprisingly, VanderMeer was totally OK with this unorthodox plan.
On the less positive side, it was perhaps this slapdash technique that led to accusations of whitewashing. In all of his not-reading, Garland missed that certain characters he cast with white actors were identified as Asian or Indigenous in subsequent books in the series. But since the rest of the cast was pretty diverse, you have to imagine that this was due less to cultural insensitivity and more to the "hungover high school student giving a book report" approach to screenwriting.
The creepiest movie of the year that doesn't take place in some kind of ABBA-filled hell dimension, Hereditary stars Toni Collette as the matriarch of a family plagued by death, ghostly visions, and an unhealthy Wes-Anderson-like obsession for insanely detailed dioramas.
The twist-filled plot eventually reveals that Collette's older son, Peter, is in the process of being possessed by a demon. Instead of making Peter super awesome at basketball, as would happen if this movie was made in the 1980s, it's just profoundly upsetting. Not only that, but Peter's corporeal Airbnb for Satanic guests has been masterminded by an evil cult that worships the demon prince Paimon (not to be confused with Pie-Man, Lord of Pastry Land).
While all of this sounds kind of ridiculous, it stems from real-life demonology. Director Ari Aster did some "disturbing" research, and based the movie's demon on one of the spirits mentioned in the 17th-century text The Lesser Key Of Solomon, which describes Paimon as an obedient servant to Lucifer. Plus, it turns out Paimon is a "Djinni" -- meaning that the demon from Hereditary is a goddamn genie, "like in Aladdin and the Lamp," but without the catchy songs about friendship.
The movie even gives you several clues that Paimon is going to show up, assuming you're an experienced demonologist. When we first meet Collette's character, she's wearing a necklace that looks like bootleg Prince merchandise, but is in fact Paimon's symbol:
According to the literature, Paimon's entrance is "heralded by trumpets" -- and we hear trumpets at the very end of the movie, when those creepy cultists give Peter a janky crown like he's a Medieval Times patron.
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