Teaser Trailer for ‘The Incredible Jessica James’ with Jessica Williams

The Incredible Jessica James Teaser

Have You Met the Incredible Jessica James? Netflix has debuted the first teaser trailer for The Incredible Jessica James, the latest film from talented indie filmmaker Jim Strouse (of Grace Is Gone, The Winning Season, People Places Things — all three are great films). This upbeat indie comedy stars Jessica Williams from «The Daily Show» in a major breakout role as Jessica James, an aspiring playwright living in New York City struggling with the dating scene and the career scene. She meets a goofball guy that she slowly starts to fall for, played by Chris O’Dowd (not seen in this teaser). Also starring Lakeith Stanfield, Noël Wells, Megan Ketch, and Zabryna Guevara. I saw this at Sundance and it’s wonderful, providing some much-needed optimism along with an outstanding performance from Williams. Don’t miss this one, it’s so good. ›››

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He Just Wants to Have a Cookout — Trailer for Andre Hyland’s ‘The 4th’

Andre Hyland's The 4th Trailer

«Aw, sorry about your bike!» Gravitas Ventures has unveiled an official trailer for an indie comedy titled The 4th, which actually premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year (not this year). The 4th is the feature directorial debut of a comedian/actor named Andre Hyland, who takes us on a wacky trip through Los Angeles. Hyland also stars as the main character, Jamie. The story is simple — a scruffy dude in LA tries to throw a cookout for his friends during 4th of July. But on his way to the store, he gets into an accident and everything goes nuts, throwing his whole life into disarray. Co-starring Anna Lee Lawson, Yasmine Kittles, Dugan O’Neal, and Jeff Carpenter. This doesn’t look that good, but maybe it’s just the trailer. ›››

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The Lessons Universal (and Hollywood) Should Learn From ‘The Mummy’

Lessons From The Mummy

Remember The Mummy? It hit theaters…*checks notes*…two weeks ago? Wow, time sure flies when you’re trying to forget you saw a certain movie.

The Mummy was sold as a film featuring Tom Cruise doing battle with a recently resurrected mummy, but mostly it sat there, lifeless and entirely void of any entertainment value, all thanks to a muddled script, slipshod editing, and bland direction. The film underperformed at the box office, an inauspicious start to Universal’s proposed “Dark Universe” franchise, which, for some strange reason, is supposed to turn the classic Universal Monsters into action heroes akin to the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Mummy also ended up being one of the worst-reviewed films of Tom Cruise’s career, second only to Cocktail. Truly, this is a dark time for mummies and Tom Cruises everywhere.

What happens next? Where does Universal go from here? What lessons, if any, can Hollywood and Universal Pictures take away from this lifeless corpse of a film? Let’s light our torches, break the seal on this tomb and go exploring. 

The Mummy trailer 3

Star Power is a Thing of the Past

I’m not here to besmirch Tom Cruise. I like Tom Cruise as an actor. He’s an entertaining showman who loves risking his life to make (mostly) fun movies, and every once in awhile, he appears in something like Eyes Wide Shut or Magnolia to show people he has some range. Recently, a story in Variety had Universal Studio insiders trying to push all the blame for The Mummy onto Cruise. Per Variety, the original Mummy script was much more of an exciting summer horror movie, and Sofia Boutella’s eponymous mummy had as much screentime as Cruise’s character. Once Cruise came in, however, everything changed as he and his team reworked the film to better complement the actor. “This is very much a film of two halves: before Tom and after Tom,” the Variety story quotes Frank Walsh, The Mummy supervising art director, as saying. 

I don’t doubt this story for a second. However, this is nothing new. Cruise more or less has done this on all of his films for the last decade. According to Kim Masters in The Daily Beast, at one point the actor had a team of screenwriters “picking up $ 250,000 a week to rework scripts that Cruise might pick for his next project.” This is the sort of thing that comes with hiring a big movie star. Here’s the problem, though: the age of the movie star is over. Indiewire’s David Ehrlich summed things up nicely in his article “Alden Ehrenreich Playing Han Solo is Proof That Movie Stardom is Dead” when he wrote “We used to create movie stars, but now we only create movie stardom.” There was a time when a little-known actor like Alden Ehrenreich would never have been considered to play such a big role in a major blockbuster tentpole such as the Han Solo movie. But audiences don’t generally think in terms of star power anymore when deciding on what movie to see. Star power means very little these days.

Chris Pratt has gone from goofy sitcom player to big budget megastar, but does anyone – other than Pratt’s agent, perhaps – honestly think that Jurassic World did boffo box office because Pratt was in it? If that were the case, then why did Passengers, a film that paired Pratt with another big star, Jennifer Lawrence, fizzle at multiplexes across the country? Cruise may be the last of the true original movie stars, but studios need to realize that doesn’t carry the same weight as it used to. Universal seemed to think that by putting Cruise front and center for their first Dark Universe movie they didn’t have to worry too much about pesky little matters like “plot” and “coherent editing.” The Variety piece even somewhat acknowledges this sea change in audience reaction to stars with this excerpt: “Universal knew that if it wanted The Mummy to compete against the likes of Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 it needed every ounce of Cruise’s waning star power. As the studio scrambled to deal with weak tracking, it released a portrait in late May of Cruise with other actors from the Dark Universe franchise, including [Johnny] Depp and Javier Bardem (who will play Frankenstein). Yet the studio couldn’t even assemble all the actors in the room at the same time, and the image had to be Photoshopped. The Internet reaction to the last-ditch marketing effort was tepid at best.”

None of this is Cruise’s fault, but it is unfortunate that he failed to realize the state of things while he was reshaping The Mummy. The Mission: Impossible films became truly engaging when they started to focus more on the team Cruise’s character surrounds himself with than just Cruise himself. The recent Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation was less a showcase for Cruise than it was for Rebecca Ferguson, playing ass-kicking double-agent Ilsa Faust. And Cruise wisely let Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat., if you want to be a weirdo about it) shift focus away from his character and on to Emily Blunt’s. These were two of the most-celebrated films of Cruise’s recent career, so you’d think he’d realize that had he let Boutella share the spotlight in The Mummy, the film would’ve been better-off. Hell, it’s bad enough that the mummy in The Mummy barely has any screentime, but equally bad is the way the film handles leading lady Annabelle Wallis, who doesn’t so much play a character in the film as she does a fountain of pointless exposition. If Universal’s Dark Universe wants to expand, it needs to realize that a universe is bigger than one man. Relying so heavily on one actor to launch an entire world is just silly.

dark universe!

Focus on One Film at a Time

I can’t believe I even need to say this, but it’s okay to make a big movie that doesn’t launch a cinematic universe. I know Marvel cracked the formula and created a license to print money in the process, but they’re the rare successful example. I get it: studios want a return on their investment. If they’re going to shell out the cash, they want to turn a profit. What better way than to create not just one film but a whole universe of films?

Counterpoint: you can make a big movie that stands on its own that still makes plenty of money. The best modern example is Christopher Nolan, who has spent a large chunk of his career creating big blockbusters that stand alone without launching entire franchises. Even when Nolan was working within the confines of a franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy, the filmmaker would frequently say he wasn’t thinking about sequels, he was only focusing on the film at hand.

Perhaps that’s the example studios would be wise to follow. If they must start their own cinematic universes, why not worry about them one film at a time. The Mummy feels like a 2-hour warm-up act. There’s nothing distinct in the film; nothing to make it stand-out on its own. Every frame seems tailor-made to set-up this cinematic universe, which completely robs The Mummy of any power it might have had.

If you want to get audiences excited for the next film in your series, you need to excite them with the film at hand. Personally speaking, had The Mummy been a fun summer movie with its own unique charms, I’d be thrilled to see where the Dark Universe goes. With The Mummy being the drab mess that it is, however, I’d be perfectly content if Universal never bothered to make any more of these films. If you go out to dinner only to find broken glass ground up into the first course of your meal, you probably wouldn’t feel like sticking around to find out how the second course tasted.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, audiences clamored for more because they were excited about the characters Marvel was focusing on. It was thrilling to imagine how these comic book heroes would eventually intersect into each other’s worlds. What characters are we supposed to be excited about with the Dark Universe? It’s certainly can’t be the human heroes, who as established by The Mummy are all bland and unremarkable. Is it the monsters, then? That’s hard to believe too, since The Mummy spends a good amount of its runtime ignoring its central monster, only to quickly dispatch her at the end in order for Cruise to take over.

If studios want audiences to return to the worlds they create, they have to make those worlds exciting, and populate them with individuals worth giving a damn about. Otherwise the entire endeavor is pointless. Universal would be wise to make their next Dark Universe film, The Bride of Frankenstein, distinct and memorable, or else they’re wasting everyone’s time.

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Screenwriting Lessons: “The Social Network” — Part 2: Narrative Framework

A five-part series exploring lessons we can glean from Aaron Sorkin’s script.

The Social Network won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011. It is an audacious script which breaks many so-called screenwriting ‘rules’ and thus is worth analyzing.

Today: The Social Network — Narrative Framework.

Aaron Sorkin has a reputation as a great writer of dialogue, as well he should. One need only read the opening scene of The Social Network, 9 full pages of rapid-fire dialogue, to see proof of his talent with what characters say. But perhaps the single most creative choice Sorkin made about this story was its narrative framework. To spotlight the value of that decision, consider this issue that confronted him: How to tell the story not only of a complicated anti-hero such as Zuckerberg, but also the origins and phenomenal growth of Facebook? From this interview Sorkin did with Written By magazine, we learn how Sorkin solved the problem:

There’s a lot of available research, and I also did a lot of first person research with a number of the people that were involved in the story. I can’t go too deeply into that because most of the people did it on the condition of anonymity, but what I found was that two lawsuits were brought against Facebook at the roughly same time, that the defendant, plaintiffs, witnesses all came into a deposition room and swore under oath, and three different versions of the story were told. Instead of choosing one and deciding that’s the truest one or choosing one and deciding that’s the juiciest one, I decided to dramatize the idea that there were three different versions of the story being told. That’s how I came up with the structure of the deposition room [which Sorkin uses as a narrative frame from which to tell the story in chronological sequence].

Sorkin used the “structure of the deposition room” to allow him to cut from two different legal settings in the present to critical narrative moments in Zuckerberg’s past. Furthermore this allowed him to use the exposition offered in those legal depositions to transition the story in and out of the past, and help construct that Plotline into a coherent whole. In other words:

  • Plotline: Zuckerberg and Facebook (Past)
  • Subplot: Zuckerberg vs. the Winklevoss twins (Present)
  • Subplot: Zuckerberg vs. Eduardo Saverin (Present)

There you have Sorkin’s “three different versions of the story.” It’s reminiscent of other notable narrative frameworks in movies such as Citizen Kane (the reporter interviewing multiple characters in Charles Foster Kane’s past in an attempt to learn the truth about the story’s Protagonist) and Rashomon (multiple versions of the same events, each with their own perspective).

So yes, Sorkin is great with dialogue. But in the case of The Social Network, we must not forget the crucial creative decision he made that enabled him to tell a complex saga in a coherent way — the story’s narrative framework.

It’s a good lesson for writers. While most Hollywood movies will have a straight linear narrative, one of the beauties of cinema is we can manipulate time. How about that script you’re currently writing? Might it benefit from a different approach to the narrative?

Part 1: Compelling Protagonist

Tomorrow: Theme.

UPDATE: Some excellent insight provided in comments by James. Here is a copy/paste in its entirety:

From script to movie, it also appears Fincher had a hand in this effect as well. The script I read had Zuckerberg literally leave one court case to walk into the next.

Fincher’s take actually intercuts the two cases that works as both a humorous effect (that isn’t present in the script) and gives the same “exposition” without ever needing a setup.

The setup is literally, talking about the other case and its defendant/witness in one room, cutting to it, seeing a piece of that case, and then coming back.

While not exactly the same, the opening to SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION has a similar effect. The court case, a supposed affair, Andy Dufrane in the car with booze and a gun, are all written as completely separate scenes, but when assembled are part of a retelling of the court case –

I always find this process of intercutting to be interesting as it seems that film captures it quite well, but illustrating it on the page can be somewhat problematic.

That and I think it points out one universal truth. Court cases are boring. What we really want to see are the actions and relationships behind the case and not the deliberation in the court room. They are almost always framing devices.

I noted the same thing about Shawshank in a post here, how the movie is cut differently than the script, cross-cutting between the nights of the murder and the court case. Much more cinematic.

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Screenwriting Lessons: “The Social Network” — Part 2: Narrative Framework was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 2)

Videos and transcripts from Milch’s legendary 2001 and 2007 WGA series.

David Milch

In September 2010, I ran a week-long series featuring key excerpts from a memorable series of presentations in December 2001 by David Milch at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Then I stumbled upon this: An entire series available on YouTube called The Idea of the Writer by Milch from a second WGA presentation, this one from December 2007. Since Milch is both an amazing writer and thinker about writing, each day this week I will reprise my posts featuring transcript excerpts from Milch’s 2001 presentation and embed videos from his 2007 series.

Television credits (as creator)

  • Beverly Hills Buntz (1987–1988) — co-creator, writer, producer of this Hill Street Blues spin-off
  • Capital News (1990) — co-creator, writer, producer
  • NYPD Blue (1993–2005) — co-creator, writer, executive producer
  • Brooklyn South (1997–1998) — co-creator, executive producer
  • Total Security (1997) — co-creator, writer
  • Big Apple (2001) — creator, writer, executive producer
  • Deadwood (2004–2006) — creator, writer, executive producer
  • John from Cincinnati (2007) — co-creator, writer, executive producer
  • Last of the Ninth (2009) — creator, writer, executive producer
  • Luck (2010) — creator, writer, executive producer
  • The Money (2014) — writer, executive producer

Awards and recognition

  • 1993 Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Hill Street Blues)
  • 1994 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “4B or Not 4B”)
  • 1995 Emmy Award, Best Drama Series (NYPD Blue)
  • 1995 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “Simone Says”) (shared with Steven Bochco and Walon Green)
  • 2006 Austin Film Festival, Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient

Not to mention the 259 episodes of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” he’s credited with writing.

I did this post back in July that featured some great video of Milch sharing his thoughts about writing. At the time, I noted this:

What leaped to mind when I read the news about the new HBO series was a series of presentations Milch gave at the WGA Theater several years ago. They were covered and excerpted in the fine WGA journal “Written By” over the course of several months. I remember reading them, both fascinated and inspired by Milch’s ideas.

I contacted “Written By” and they have kindly offered to create electronic versions of the original hard copies, so I can excerpt them on GITS. Look forward to that sometime soon.

Here are some of Milch’s comments from those presentations at the WGA Theater from back in 2001, excerpted from the “Written By” journal. Part 2:

A psychiatrist will tell you — well, a psychiatrist won’t tell you shit. But in psychiatric terms, the psyche is differentiated into the ego sense of self, the id — which is everything that gets us jammed up — and the super ego, which is the idea of form, or structure, or the accommodation in the world for our behavior. And the super ego is the internalization of the parental voice. Now, it’s obviously an oversimplification. But in particular, a writer — for reasons we will get to in another part of this discussion — stands in a particular kind of doubleness, typically, in his or her emotional makeup, toward experience. Stands both within it comfortably, and, for whatever combination of reasons, stands outside it. That’s the cards you’re dealt. That’s what predisposes you to be a writer as well as predisposes you to be a few other things.

Often, that doubleness is caused by a traumatic association with the idea of form. Here’s a for-instance. The Irish are regarded as a great storytelling people and also as a country full of drunks. There’s a reason for both reputations. It’s a tough country — weather’s tough, they had a lot of problems. One way you learn the doubleness that is typical of the writer is that you are both within the [tavern] and you’re standing outside wondering where the next punch is coming from.

— —

The second maxim that I can give you, the thing that I always try to communicate to an aspiring writer, is that no one can teach you anything that you don’t already know, and each of you has, in your heart, the capacity, when encouraged by a benign organizing presence, to identify the deepest truths of the human story.

That last line is great takeaway:

…no one can teach you anything that you don’t already know, and each of you has, in your heart, the capacity, when encouraged by a benign organizing presence, to identify the deepest truths of the human story.

Day 2: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

For Part 1, go here.

Tomorrow Part 3 of “The Idea of the Writer” with David Milch.

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David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 2) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Spec Script Deal: “The Best of Adam Sharp”

Vocab Films acquires drama spec script “The Best of Adam Sharp” adapted by Graeme Simsion from his own novel. From Deadline:

The Best of Adam Sharp (published via St. Martin’s Press) is about a man (Adam) on the cusp of fifty who is restless as his marriage has gone stale. He can’t quite forget a romance he had twenty years ago with an intelligent and strong-willed woman named Angelina Brown who taught him what it meant to find — and then lose — love. He wonders how different would his life be if he hadn’t let her go. Out of the blue, he gets a one word email from Angelina. He responds and his life takes a significant turn.

This is an option deal.

By my count, this is the 31st spec script deal in 2017.

There were 26 spec script deals year-to-date in 2016.

This represents a 16% increase in deals this year compared to last.


Spec Script Deal: “The Best of Adam Sharp” was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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‘The Emoji Movie’ Trailer: Yep, Here is a Movie That Exists

the emoji movie trailer

The Emoji Movie is a thing produced by human beings. Countless artists and animators toiled away to bring it into existence. It paid for medical bills and college tuitions. It kept a number of skilled people employed so they could pay their mortgages and put food on their table. Kids did not starve because The Emoji Movie exists. In that way, The Emoji Movie‘s mere existence cannot be written off entirely. Good job, The Emoji Movie.

But the new trailer for the actual movie? Yikes. This looks like exactly what we were dreading when the film was first announced.

To be perfectly fair, I’m surely not the audience for this one. This is a movie that feels specifically aimed at younger kids growing up in the age of the smartphone, people for whom emojis are part of an ingrained language and not just a weird thing you use to make sure your friends know a text was sarcastic. I’m sure children will love this. And that’s okay! I liked a lot of nonsense when I was younger, too.

And yet, The Emoji Movie feels very much like the latest chapter in “What hath The LEGO Movie wrought?” That film’s unexpected critical success (it is, against all odds, a legitimately terrific movie) opened the floodgates to movies like this, where “brands” take center stage and demand that we let them into our hearts. The whole thing makes me feel icky, if we’re going to be perfectly honest.

Otherwise, The Emoji Movie looks like it hits the usual beats. It’s loud and colorful and full of pop culture references and loud and full of recognizable celebrity voices and loud. It’s possible that the frantic mania of this trailer is not representative of the final film and it’s even possible that this pacing actually plays well in execution (see, once again, The LEGO Movie), but this whole endeavor looks like a headache and a half.

But could this movie surprise us? Speaking with Fandango, star T.J. Miller promised that this isn’t your average kids’ movie, saying:

In this movie, they talk about death. They talk about being deleted. One of the things I like about this movie – and I knew it would be this way from meeting them, but now having seen the movie I didn’t realize just how much it would be – it is a lot about expressing yourself and not hiding who you are, and talking to people instead of just texting them. That kind of stuff. But it’s also very much about – and I’m not going to ruin it for you – but it’s about women not needing to be just one thing, like a bride or a princess or a dancing flamenco girl. […] It’s about friendship, which I think is always important to teach kids about loyalty and friendship. And strangely it’s about family. It’s a good message for kids in general. All of these are helping develop a moral compass in children that we think is a progressive mindset, to be kind to everybody, to not hide yourself.

My eyebrow is raised suspiciously, but I’m willing to let myself be surprised by this one.

The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis and opens on July 28, 2017. It features the voices of T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Patrick Stewart, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Rob Riggle, Jennifer Coolidge, and more. Here’s the synopsis:

Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression – except for Gene (T.J. Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak (Ilana Glazer). Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever.

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Movie Mixtape: 6 Movies With Connections to ‘The Circle’

the circle movie connections

(Welcome to Movie Mixtape, where we find cinematic relatives and seek out interesting connections between new releases and older movies that allow us to rethink and enjoy what’s in our theaters as well as the favorites on our shelf. In this edition: James Ponsoldt’s The Circle.)

So far on Movie Mixtape, we’ve danced with a beast and tangoed with Scarlett Johansson’s ghost, and now we’re dipping our toes in a dystopia that feels a bit closer to our home screens.

Based on the Dave Eggers novel, The Circle sees entry-level tech employee Mae Holland (Emma Watson) swimming through the hipster-bait open office of a Hooli-esque search engine company. Her life perks up as she rises through the ranks of the company, but success is a matter of compromising. Mae has to trade away something that most of us trade away everyday by using Facebook and Twitter and Instagram: her private life. At the heart of the company is its rock star founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) who wants to help society by making it more open and free.

Yes, the whole thing is one big trigger for introverts. It’s also a case of too-good-to-be-true revealing its price tag.

the circle movie connections devil's advocate

The Devil’s Advocate

Always remember to read the fine print. The Devil’s Advocate is the perfect message movie about winning everything in life while losing your soul. A real Matthew 16:26 type situation.

As Kevin Lomax, Keanu Reeves smooth-talks his way through Floridian court rooms and Manhattan murder cases by twisting the letter of the law and his own moral compass. The American Dream is handed to him and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) on a silver platter. The gorgeous apartment. The massive salary. The high life. The only catch is that they’re working for Satan (played by Al Pacino, doing some of the best scream-acting of his career). Like The Circle, it presents a corporate reality where being a team player in a deeply flawed, unethical system, is the key to success, and the whole world is on the line.

the circle movie connections tomorrow never dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

Speaking of which, there’s an unmistakable Bond villain quality to Tom Hanks’ Eamon, who exudes evil as benevolence. A mad genius who sees beyond society as it is to what it could be if “perfected.” Like a fictional Elon Musk.

Bond’s nemeses have been toying with tech for a half-century, but the grandest (dumbest?) experiment with global social tools came from Tomorrow Never Dies‘ Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a Rupert Murdoch figure who angled to start a major war in order to boost profits for his media empire. It turns out that unchecked power over the informational flow isn’t a good idea. Neither is getting lax on missile security.

the circle movie connections hackers

Hackers

Travel with me now, 22 years into the past, to a magical time when floppy disks were king, hacking into the FBI only took typing super fast, and modems were laughably slow. It’s fascinating to get a double-feature view of Zero Cool (Johnny Miller), Acid Burn (Angelina Jolie), and the gang matching wits with the skateboarding corporate hacker The Plague (Fisher Stevens) as the latter attempts to extort millions by threatening the ballast programs on oil tankers.

Hackers is a perfect example of how films of the time treated the emergent internet, giving us a mystical view of game-changing technology that many people didn’t have access to. Ridiculous as it was even then, there’s something quaint about the film’s targets: telephone networks, street lights, banks. The internet’s nefarious intrusion is on physical spaces while everything in the era of the social network shows how far the internet has come (with us as willing conspirators) to invade our very personalities and behaviors.

Continue Reading The Circle Connections >>

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