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Bloys Will Be Bloys
Plus: Some thoughts on 'The Killer' and 'Priscilla.'
I received a lot of positive feedback on the format of my last newsletter, so here again are some of my thoughts on what’s happening in the world of TV, film, tech, and the media:
The CEO and chairman of HBO trolled TV critics using anonymous Twitter accounts. Powerful and rich execs who run the most important companies in Hollywood: turns out they’re just like us! They also don’t like people on Twitter criticizing their work. According to Rolling Stone, in several instances over many months, HBO head Casey Bloys requested that anonymous Twitter accounts be used to strike back at (beloved!) TV critics like Alan Sepinwall and Kathryn VanArendonk who dared express mild criticism about HBO TV shows. These anonymous trolls deployed cutting bon mots like “don’t get your panties in a bunch, the show just started,” and “Alan [Sepinwall] is always predictably safe and scared in his opinions.”
A few things stick out to me about this story. The first is how personally folks like Bloys take their work. Which is somewhat normal! But the logic and incentives of social media sites have so warped everyone’s minds (TV execs included) that this course of action seemed like a reasonable one. “He’s mad at Alan Sepinwall,” read a text from one of Bloys’ lieutenants — which I think is just a bizarre reaction to have to a completely reasonable and generally kind-hearted critic like Alan! The other thing to note is how easily and casually the language of progressives is weaponized by corporate executives. Critics like Sepinwall and Adam Sternbergh aren’t just wrong, they are “middle aged white men…shitting on a show about women,” according to one of the burner accounts. Alan Sepinwall doesn’t just have a bad opinion about Mare of Easttown, he’s “busy virtue signalling.” In other words, I’m not even necessarily opposed to execs reacting to critics, but maybe argue about the merits of the show in question instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks!
Full credit to Bloys: He faced press and critics at a press event yesterday and apologized for this “very, very dumb idea.”
Marvel is in chaos, according to a new piece in Variety by Tatiana Siegel. Siegel’s piece has some juicy quotes from anonymous sources about all the challenges Marvel is facing but many of the issues detailed in the piece were already well-known. It’s easy to look at films like Quantumania and TV series like Secret Invasion and understand that things are kind of going off the rails over there. There are also a few new tidbits in the piece, like how The Marvels director Nia DaCosta started working on her next film before Marvels postproduction completed, and how Mahershala Ali almost left Blade because of where the script was heading.
I haven’t liked most of what Marvel has made over the course of the past year or so but I also think it’s a bit too early to count Marvel head Kevin Feige out quite yet. He’s shown himself to be one of the most talented producers alive, he’s likely aware of the issues plaguing his studio, and he probably has a lot of latitude from both fans and his bosses to figure out how to right the ship. It’s also not like there are a bunch of other Kevin Feige types out there just waiting in the wings to take his job if he falters. We’ll see how things play out after The Marvels comes out next week. I break this story down a bit further in the below video:
Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) was found guilty on all seven counts of fraud and conspiracy. I’ve been following this trial pretty closely and this outcome didn’t really surprise anyone. All of SBF’s inner circle had already turned against him and his defense essentially amounted to “I was too busy or incompetent to have done the fraud and everyone in my inner circle is lying about how I did the fraud.” Neither the judge nor the jury seemed convinced by any of this and that’s why, after a five-week trial, it took only four hours to return a verdict (by comparison, the Elizabeth Holmes jury had a week of deliberations before handing down its guilty verdict). It seems likely that SBF will face significant jail time, although we won’t know until he’s sentenced in a few months. For now, it’s just nice to see a grifter face some consequences — a rarity in our society these days.
Elizabeth Lopatto’s work on The Verge has been an essential guide to the trial. Here’s her write-up on the impact of the verdict on SBF’s parents.
Apple’s latest video event was shot using only iPhones. There have been two very different reactions to this. On the one side is a general sense of skepticism that so much additional equipment was needed, as captured by this piece in The Verge. On the other side, actual creatives and videographers have had a backlash to the backlash because they believe that this is still extremely freaking impressive. Count me in with the latter group. I love my iPhone 15 Pro Max and the fact that it can shoot in Log format directly to an SSD is a game changer for production workflows you can achieve with it. It really feels like the iPhone is on the cusp of achieving its full potential as a critical filmmaking tool. Maybe it’s already there.
I appreciated Todd Vaziri’s reaction to this whole kerfuffle: “Some people see ‘Shot on iPhone’ and people think it’s just some bumblefuck named Frank standing there all by himself holding the iPhone with his hand and shouting ‘action!’” Indeed.
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Movies That Are Out This Week
The Killer - I had a chance to watch David Fincher’s latest in theaters last week and I found it highly enjoyable. Michael Fassbender plays a grizzled contract killer who’s just trying to make his way through the modern gig economy, man. This is Fincher in the mode of Girl with Dragon Tattoo, Panic Room, and Gone Girl doing what he does best: Taking us into the minds of criminals amidst the gritty trappings of an amoral and uncaring world. The Killer is fun genre fare with a high degree of polish and a significant sense of humor. I’ve seen a lot of critics read this film as some kind of metaphor or commentary on Fincher’s career. For now, I’m unconvinced. Everything about the tone of this film makes me feel like even the filmmakers don’t want us to take it that seriously. It’s just a fun (but occasionally weird and upsetting) time at the movies.
The Killers is out in theaters and will stream on Netflix on November 10th.
Priscilla - Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla tells the story of Elvis Presley’s rise from the perspective of his long-suffering wife (played with great pathos by Cailee Spaeny). In concept, I think movies like these are highly valuable — it’s always good to understand that our cultural gods were not perfect and Priscilla certainly takes that position. Elvis treats Priscilla poorly and the film wants us to understand that fame and stardom are no picnic for those who must cling to it or risk being ripped away.
The film’s attempt to narrow our perspective is a praiseworthy one, but unfortunately I think it narrows it a bit too much? It gives us brief glimpses into Priscilla’s life at various points along Elvis’s career but we rarely understand what’s motivating her or how she feels in any given moment. To what degree is Priscilla motivated to stay in their marriage by her love for Elvis? By her appreciation of the fame and its accoutrements? By the family and life they’ve built together? Not only could I not discern, I didn’t even feel like I was given the raw materials with which to come to an interpretation. As a result, the film’s titular character largely remains a mystery. I went into the theater wanting an understanding of what it was like to be the wife of one of the most famous people to ever exist. I left disappointed.
Priscilla is out in theaters this weekend.
Other Stuff David Chen Has Made
I had a great time discussing this week’s episode of Loki with my longtime collaborator Dan Gvozden. Check out our Decoding TV episode here.
On The Filmcast this week, we discussed Anatomy of a Fall — one of the best films of the year. Listen here.
[PAID ONLY] On my personal Patreon, I do a podcast called Dave on Dave, where media strategist David Cho gives me life advice and critiques my work. This week, I talked about my advice and tips for job interviews.