The News Podcast: Butts In Seats 🎥

This week on the podcast: What makes a movie a summer blockbuster in 2018? Also, the Fake News Quiz makes a strong comeback.

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Summer Blockbusters — 00:40

Julia Furlan: Summer blockbuster season is upon us. Which means that it's peak time for people to watch the movie equivalent of junk food. I'm talking rom-coms, I'm talking car explosions, I'm talking superheroes, that kind of stuff. So senior film reporter Adam B. Vary and film and TV reporter Alanna Bennett are here to tell us what is getting butts in seats in movie theaters around the country.

Alanna Bennett: Hi.

Adam Vary: Hi.

JF: So Adam, you wrote a wonderful piece that sort of like lays out what is going on at this moment in time in the movie business. And one of the things you focused on is that representation is actually great business. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

AV: Well, yeah, I mean first and foremost the biggest movie of the year in the United States is almost certainly going to be Black Panther.

TAPE: "The Black Panther lives. And when he fights for the fate of Wakanda I will be right there beside him.

As will I.

I'm in too. What? You're going to need all the help you can get."

JF: Yes!

AV: And uh, I just I just want to repeat that: the biggest movie in the United States in 2018 is going to be Black Panther.

JF: Wakanda forever!

AB: Yeah!

AV: Yeah. I mean that is an incredible stereotype-shattering accomplishment. Uh, Black Panther is going to make 700 million dollars just in the United States and Canada and for the longest time Hollywood didn't think that that was possible with a movie with a predominantly black cast. So like this is a great example of the enormous amounts of money that Hollywood has been leaving on the table for decades under-serving audiences of color. And also giving just general audiences something that they've never seen before and that clearly was something that really resonated with a lot of people.

JF: Alanna how many times did you go see Black Panther?

AB: Uh three, I believe? I would like to go see it again. They should put it back in theaters.

JF: And what do you think from where you sit?

AB: I think that people have been proving over and over again for many years that diversity sells. And I feel like we might hopefully, cross your fingers knock on wood, be approaching a time when Hollywood maybe hears that lesson, because the numbers have been there for a lot of the TV shows and movies in the past, but they've always been treated as anomalies, and I'm hoping that this doesn't just go away that they actually take a lesson from it. But they have not taken that lesson in the past, so hopefully we actually move forward from here.

AV: I mean the thing about Black Panther that makes it so remarkable is that it's also one of the I think in some ways the first time that Hollywood has invested this amount of money, not just in the budget but in the marketing, globally for a movie with mostly black faces. Uh, it just this is not been an investment that Hollywood has been interested in making in uh years passed and it paid off enormously. So the idea that this is something that can't happen was in some ways untested until Black Panther and I and I really think that Hollywood is paying very close attention to just how enthusiastically that movie was received.

JF: And Adam your piece also touches upon a couple of other pieces of representation that are significant. Like the movie Book Club, which had three women over 60 as the stars.

AV: Four women, actually. Four women over 65.

JF: Wow, over sixty-five look at that!

AV: ...As the starting roles. And that's been a nice tidy hit.

TAPE: "I would like to introduce you to Christian Grey. No, we started this book club to stimulate our minds. From what I hear this book is quite stimulating."

AV: Oceans 8. You know with the cast of all of these incredible actresses,

TAPE: "In three and half weeks the Met will be hosting its annual ball and we are going to rob it."

AV: There's Love Simon, which is the very first studio movie about a gay teenager.

TAPE: :So I'm just like you except I have one huge ass secret. Nobody knows I'm gay."

AV: And that did really well, especially for a teen movie. So, you know, there's a lots of different dimensions in which it's very clear that it isn't just that representation matters. It's that it's really good business.

JF: Which ultimately is the way that Hollywood learns anything right is capitalism.

AB: Money.

JF: So there have been some films that weren't quite as successful that were reaching for this thing that I feel is everywhere is nostalgia. Adam, tell us about those.

AV: The biggest real flop of the year so far has been Solo: A Star Wars story, which is an amazing thing to say that a Star Wars movie has been about office disappointment, but I think it's made something like just over 200 million dollars domestically and that's less than the previous two big Star Wars movies made in their opening weekends. That's just like huge audience rejection there. And there's a lot of different possible culprits; they replaced the directors very well into production and that got a lot of press, and there's some chatter among some of the fanboys that there's disappointment about Star Wars: The Last Jedi and somehow that's affecting Solo. I think the bigger issue is that people weren't that interested in a Han Solo origin story. What do you think, Alanna?

AB: Yeah, I think that we saw this year that you can have successes with old IP and old ideas like Oceans 8 or continuing Star Wars, but it needs to be an element of that story that gets people excited and feels like they're seeing something new. So Oceans 8 it wasn't, "oh, here's here's another heist film with George Clooney and all of them again." It was here it is with all of these women who are A-listers who you've loved in all of these movies before—

JF: And Rihanna!

AB: And Rihanna, um, but with Solo we know the basics of Han Solo's story, we picked up at the most exciting part of his story already. We've seen that and there's not as much new ground in that past time.

AV: Yeah, and it wasn't just the only movie that had that issue too. Um, there was a movie called Rampage with Dwayne Johnson that was based on that cheesy sort of 80s video game where it was like a giant lizard and the giant gorilla and a giant crocodile. I don't even know; it was a bunch of giant animals and they were fighting each other in the middle of a city and this movie sold itself as, "it's the video game, but with the Rock and it cost a lot of money!"

TAPE: "Is he the only one? Oh, you didn't know about the 30-foot wolf?"

AV: No one really cared. And even worse was this new Tomb Raider movie with Alicia Vikander, which is based off of a reboot of the video game that was really popular in the 90s that was rebooted as a gritty video game this decade, and I'm already exhausted by just saying that out loud. And clearly audiences were too. I remember when that movie came out, my cousins were all talking about how they were so excited to go see this movie, "tom-B hider," and they were like "tom-B hider tom-B hider" and I had no idea what it was and then when I showed up at the movie theater, I was like, oh Tomb Raider?! Anyway, we're getting off the point. But the stories have to be interesting too which I think is something people sometimes overlook shockingly.

AB: I think studios underestimate the power of word of mouth that goes into all of this. I think Black Panther was so huge partially because it did look really good versus Solo: A Star Wars story you're like, well this seems like any other movie. The story didn't seem like it was as punchy or as there.

AV: It just is just such a very basic idea that is so often overlooked which is you know, giving audiences something that they just haven't seen before. You haven't seen a movie like Black Panther before, and you certainly haven't seen a movie in which a bunch of really awesome actresses all steal diamonds together. But you have seen Han Solo a bunch of times. So why would you want to go see him as a kid? You know the movie and the marketing for that movie never really answered that question. Obviously.

JF: Another trend that you noticed Adam that I think is very indicative of these times is that people are dead inside and don't want to laugh.

AV: Well, I mean I was being when I wrote that I was being a little facetious. The bigger issue is that there's just no like comedies are not really resonating right now. In years past you would have a few movies every year that were truly blockbuster comedies and there have been movies that have done okay, but none of them are really runaway hits. And then there were several movies like Melissa McCarthy's Life of the Party and Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty that didn't really resonate at all and people just sort of shrugged about. Um, there's also the comedy Tag that is a bit of a shrug and the new Johnny Knoxville movie Action Point.

JF: Wow, a new Johnny Knoxville movie. A thing I didn't even think existed.

TAPE: "What this place needs is an excitement enema. We're gonna make this place fast and loose!"

AV: It made five million dollars in its first 14 days and then disappeared from theaters all together. It just was around for two weeks and then poof gone! And I don't know why exactly other than maybe people just didn't think that they were going to be funny. It could be just that basic.

JF: Do you guys think that it's also because there's so much on streaming? That like Hulu and Netflix are working so hard to get audiences with clever comedies and like interesting casting and "look at this person who you've never seen before but should be a huge star." Do you think that that's a part of it? That these streaming services are really eclipsing the audiences?

AB: I think that could be part of it. I think also it's like last year we had Girls Trip. Which looked so big that you kind of wanted to see it in a theater with a bunch of people screaming at the screen. But these don't seem to require that. It's like what is actually yeah, I think it's like there's streaming; what is going to get me in the movie theater seat with all those people having this communal experience?

JF: Right.

AV: I totally agree and the other thing is that the two movies that I've laughed the hardest at this year were Incredibles 2 and Deadpool 2; neither of which really sold themselves as comedies but both had really funny really really funny sequences in them. So I think like in some ways people got what they needed out of that sort of audience laughter experience from these bigger, sort of more crowd-pleasing superhero movies instead.

JF: People are into superheroes right now. It is happening: capes and superpowers and webs from your fingers or whatever, are all the deciding factors in whether or not people get up and go to see your movie. Tell me more about that Adam.

AV: Well, I mean it's it's it's happening... I think much to the chagrin of people who would rather not see superhero movies, but it's just sort of undeniable the top four movies domestically so far this year were Black Panther, Avengers Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Deadpool 2, all movies that we've already talked about, and that's because those are the movies that people have run out to see.

JF: And so Disney is dominating. Incredibles 2 is doing extremely well and Black Panther was also a Disney movie?

AB: Yep through Marvel.

AV: Black Panther was done by Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney, as was Avengers Infinity War. The box office is way up, attendance is way up. It should be a really exciting year for all of all of Hollywood, but really all of that success is concentrated in just a very small handful of movies. Most of which were released by Disney. And it sort of makes you wonder exactly what kind of future we're heading into. Over 30% of the domestic movie market this so far this year has been Disney movies. The next studio, uh, the next highest studio is 20th Century Fox which released Deadpool 2, and Disney is trying to buy Fox right now. So there is you know, if that had happened last year there would have been one company responsible for nearly half the domestic box office market. That's just an insanely high degree of power for one company to have.

AB: I also feel like superhero movies are kind of going to be this mega microcosm of all of these other things we've talked about. The movies that don't rise to the standards of storytelling or representation are going to be the ones that don't stand the box office and the test of time.

JF: What would be a film that you would recommend people going out and going to see, Alana and Adam?

AB: Can I pick three or should I pick one?

JF: You can pick three.

AB: Okay, um Black Panther is no longer in theaters, but see that if you haven't. Otherwise you're missing out on a lot of things.

JF: Agree.

AB: Um Oceans 8, I really enjoyed. And upcoming is Crazy Rich Asians, which is going to feature the first all Asian cast since the Joy Luck Club.

JF: Whoo!

AB: It's also a very high budget rom-com, the highest budget rom-com I've seen in years, and I think it's going to be a big event. It's going to be interesting to see what the turnout is for a rom-com, for a cast of all Asian people; It's going to be interesting to see how it all pans out. I think it'll be good.

JF: Adam what do you recommend for people?

AV: Other than the ringing endorsement I made earlier for Incredibles 2, I'd actually recommend two documentaries: one is called RBG and it's about Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Supreme Court Associate Justice and feminist trailblazer.

TAPE: "Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed the way the world is for American women."

AV: And the other is Won't You Be My Neighbor which is a biographical portrait of Fred Rogers who was the late host of the PBS show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

TAPE: "If you take all of elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have Mister Roger's Neighborhood. Low production values, simple set, unlikely star. Yet, it worked."

AV: Both movies are sort of really great examples of deeply moral people. Taking a very gentle but firm approach to the world, and becoming icons of their chosen professions. And they're by the way, two of the biggest documentary hits of the year, but beyond that they're just really great movies that make you feel much better about humanity when you're done with them.

JF: You two make me feel good about the world. Alana, Adam, thank you so much.

AB: Thank you.

AV: Thank you for having us.

JF: That was Adam B. Vary and Alanna Bennett, entertainment reporters for BuzzFeed News.

JoJo! How you living my friend? So if you don't know JoJo, they are the star of the show actually. JoJo helps all of us learn a little bit more about the stories we're talking about. So here's how it works:

Step one: open your messaging app on your cell phone.

Step two: Type in JoJo’s number, it’s 929-236-9577 that’s 929-236-9577.

Step three: Text JoJo the word we give you.

If you want to read Adam B Vary’s piece on what’s happening in Hollywood, text JoJo the word “movie” right now and you’ll get it right to your phone.

Fake News You Can Use — 16:35

JF: And now we bring our old pal Jane Lytvynenko back! Jane is the official BuzzFeed News person responsible for wading through the trash on the internet. You know, fake stuff. Hi Jane!

JL: Hi Julia. I've really missed doing the fake news quiz with you and our terrible metaphors as well.

JF: I'm so glad you're back! Except for your terrible metaphors. I'm not glad those are back.

JL: The mugginess in the air is like walking through the fake news, uh stench. And so we're gonna we're gonna fan that all away. That's gonna be the air-conditioning.

JF: Wow bless you Jane. OK. What do you got for us?

JL: Um, all right, here we go. The head of a Russian advertising agency, which was tasked as decorating Moscow ahead of the World Cup, used it as an opportunity to commission a 12-story high mural of his wife. Is that real or fake?

JF: I'm gonna say that this is true because the way that World Cup money is spent is like Monopoly money almost, and FIFA is such a corrupt organization that I got to believe that like if you get World Cup money, it's like pretend money that you can do whatever you want with. And I want to keep romance alive in this world, you know, maybe this guy just really loves his wife. And a 12-story high mural was the way that he decided to show it.

JL: So you're correct, it's real.

JF: Are you kidding me?

JL: Um, it is a 12-story high mural of his wife in sports gear. Um, this very beautiful blond tall clearly, very tall lady.

JF: Well, um she's 12 stories tall.

JL: 12 stories. Um, and she's surrounded by birds. Um, she's holding a soccer ball. And I guess this is just now forever part of Russia's art landscape. All right, here's the next one: A priest in France slapped a baby during a baptism ceremony Is that real or fake?

JF: Okay, I'm gonna say it's real because of old cartoons where they smack the baby and the baby comes out.

JL: Old cartoons? What cartoons are you watching here?!

JF: In the in the 50s? I don't know! These like old—

JL: How old are you Julia!?

JF: I'm a hundred! I'm a hundred.

JF: Yeah, I'm gonna say that the priest definitely slapped the baby, which should be illegal and the priest should have some consequences for that. But you know, the Catholic Church isn't great about consequences.

JL: Fair enough. Uh, wow, really, uh, pessimistic today. Um, yeah you're correct this is real. Um, this was verified by a French fact checker and uh, essentially the baby just kept crying and the priest lost his patience and started shaking the baby and then eventually just slapped the baby. Um, the baby was still baptized but the parents were not very happy that this ceremonious occasion was kind of tarnished.

JF: I am both not surprised and also completely shocked that this is true. Wow, that French priest should go to some sort of French priest jail thing.

JL: All right, here's one. So as you know, Mexico just had its election and elected a new president and the claim is that Mexico's new president called for the invasion of the US. Is that real or fake?

JF: So AMLO, the Mexican president who is like a super populist, I can imagine somebody making a lot of claims, but I think that ... An invasion of the US is probably where I'm gonna say that's fake. I don't think he wants to care that much about the United States frankly.

JL: You're once again correct! Well done, you're really nailing it. Time away has not uh, negatively impacted your fact-checking.

JF: My instincts are sharp Jane.

JL: Well done. Um, so this story was published on a very trustworthy, uh website called

JF: Oh wow of course, my my my favorite homepage.

JL: My go-to. And what it did is it took a quote from the new Mexican president out of context. What essentially he said is that he will defend, the migrant movement and the right of people to um, enter new countries if there's danger in the countries where they live. And of course this got immediately misconstrued as "New Mexico president calls for migrants to invade America," which of course is not true. Um, so I think we're gonna be seeing a lot more fake news about this guy and we've actually seen a lot of fake news during the Mexican election as well. So this is something to keep an eye on.

JF: Okay, I feel I feel like cleansed with your knowledge, Jane. Thank you so much.

JL: Like a cold shower and a hot day, huh?

JF: It is! Exactly!

JL: I'm gonna just keep running with this metaphor here.

JF: It's perfect. It's very true though. You are wonderful Jane.

JL: Sometimes you need to sweat out the fake and just wash it off.

JF: Jane thank you so much as always.

To take Jane’s fake news quiz for yourself, just text Jojo the word “quiz”!

And if you’re like, wow I feel like the people on this episode are probably smart and interesting and I’d like to know more about them. Just text Jojo the word WHOMST and once you do, Jojo will send you a liste of everyone who appeared on this week’s episode. Text JoJo the word ""WHOMST"" -- that's W-H-O-M-S-T -- And once you do, JoJo will send you a list of everyone who appeared on this week's episode.


This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That's Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and me, Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch. And special thank you to Jojo, who fun fact: auditioned for the role of Wall-E but was considered too "clean cut" to get the part.

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