Friday, April 24, 2015

'The Visit' Trailer Bring Back Intrigue in M. Night Shyamalan

I am aware the narrative that every film writer is taking with the first The Visit trailer is the chance for M. Night Shyamalan to resurrect his career. I'm not being original here but the director taking on a micro-budget horror traps me in thoughts of him returning to his roots. Roots that signify where his greatest strengths lie and his best chance to obtain acclaim again.

It is fitting that Johnny Depp's trailer for Black Mass dropped around the same time (and both movies will be released in September). These men where once the golden boys of Hollywood but veered into becoming caricatures. Hopefully, these movies are chances for redemption.

Shyamalan's fall could be blamed on his obsession with the twist but the bigger problem was straying away from his strengths and no longer making smaller and more intimate scary thrillers. His first few movies were great less for the plot or twist and more for his ability to create a disturbing atmosphere and slowly fraying at our nerves. The Visit has garnered interest because deep down many critics remember movies like Sixth Sense and Signs, and want the director to prove he still has some of that dark magic left.

The Visit throws us into an old horror setting standby with the isolated farmhouse. The horror gets ramped up with everyone's greatest fear, the grandparents. We all remember waking up in a cold sweat while being haunted by the memories of the whiskery kiss causing mild rug burn and the smell of decade old hard caramels.

The big criticism by many is the appearance this is "found footage." I write "appears" because it contains music, professional angles, and scenes that make no sense for someone to be shooting. But after years of railing against the "found footage" genre, I've realized it doesn't matter if the camera being on makes no sense or if footage couldn't possibly been compiled a certain way. It is better to just see it as a stylistic choice and give it the same leeway we afford all fiction we enjoy.

I see signs of a moody and atmospheric horror picture here that in the trailer provided a few spine tingles. There is something wrong about the grandparents and I don't think it is just old age. But the trailer also makes me a bit apprehensive that it may sometimes slip into unintentional comedy. We've got the goofy frantic scratching at the wall and the grandmother doing her best witch from Hansel & Gretel impersonation. These over the top scenes don't work when a movie seems to be trying so hard to be a deadly serious horror.

It has something that most modern horror trailers lack and that is being genuinely unsettling. It leaves many disturbing questions like if the kids' own mom is aware and why she is so unwilling to listen and is the grandfather involved or just clinging to his "sick" wife?. It looks to be a mainstream jump-scare fest, which is a bit of a downer after seeing the slyly paced and unsettling masterpiece in It Follows. There is a market for "this place is haunted and damn, that cat made me jump" kind of movies and the trailer shows promise that this one might be one of the better PG-13 scares of the year.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Black Mass Trailer Shows a Very Different Johnny Depp

Black Mass has been highly positioned on my most anticipated pictures of 2015 just based on the promise of Johnny Depp playing one of the most notorious criminals in American history, Whitey Bulger. Based entirely off the two minute trailer (as far as I know the movie won't be screening anywhere until the fall), many movie critics and pundits have already marked Johnny Depp as a lock for an Oscar nomination. The Academy does have a soft spot for actors who physically transform themselves (unless there name is Jake Gyllenhaal) and make major overhauls to their physical appearance. Depp isn't really a stranger to changing his looks and putting on costumes, but this time he isn't a swaggering pirate or whatever the hell he was supposed to be in Mortdecai. The very exciting thing is that Depp is finally taking on a very dramatic role and playing an unrepentant, ruthless criminal in what should be a hard-nosed, violent, provocative drama.

It has been too long since we've had a good crime drama, and this feels like at least in tone to follow the lead of the classic Goodfellas. The protagonist of this story is a violent and irredeemable psychopath that terrorized Boston and one of the more controversial figures in American history. From the brief clips, the picture seems completely willing to allow Bulger to be vile and not try to make him relatable or justify his violence. Making a dislikable protagonist that you must follow for over two hours is a hard thing to actually pull off in cinema. Martin Scorsese is one of the few masters who can create complicated and unforgivable protagonists but keep the viewer riveted. Black Mass is bound to be compared to much of his works, which I'm doing already and admit isn't fair.

Director Scott Cooper has two features to his credit in the critically acclaimed Crazy Heart and the rather disappointing Out of the Furnace. One thing Furnace has is a strong atmosphere and it isn't afraid to be very dark and showcase complicated characters. I trust Cooper to embrace the complexities of Bulger and not try to dial things back. The scenes demand to be uncomfortable and disturbing.

The trailer also has a great sense of style cutting to Bulger's violent acts in-between a very awkward dinner conversation. Even without the slick edits, the scene at the table looks like it has potential to be a classic and has loads of tension. Plus it also likely works as foreshadowing for things in the future. The scene also shows the inauthenticity of Bulger as he becomes an infamous informant for the FBI (largely believed to have done it to take down his rivals).

Depp does look great here and this may finally be the redemption he's needed over the last few years. He is a great actor that many have lost faith in due to his increasing acceptance of cornball roles. This is drastically different than anything he has really done. This looks like it can be a fast-paced and stylized adult drama. From the brief clips, there is a strong potential this could be a runner for one of the best of year. Yes, it is yet another biopic but a dark and kick your teeth in type of movie that has become increasingly rare in Hollywood. Consider my excitement appropriately ramped up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tap Dancing Over the News that the Coen Brothers are Going Musical (Even Though They Really Always Have)

I don't want this site to become a place where I just "report" movie news that is essentially nothing more than marketing material like casting announcements, trailers, or plot synopsis. I have read many movie critics and writers bemoan the current state of journalism that they feel has become nothing more than a hype machine for the upcoming big films. My goal with this blog and the eventual movie site is that it becomes a place to discuss and analyze the impact, importance, and relevance of classic (and not so classic) movies and also continues the conversation of current movies long after they've been released.

I also believer modern culture has made it important to talk about trailers and press releases and the hype surrounding movies because it has become embedded into the current conversation. Part of the excitement of movies is the anticipation, which is fine as long as we remember to talk and analyze the movie long after the trailers and hype have been forgotten. The art is the most important thing, and the art is the actual living-breathing movie.

Sometimes I just can't stop myself from getting giddy over a movie that is still almost a year away. This is exactly the case with the Coen brothers latest feature (scheduled to be released next February), Hail, Caesar! I bubble with excitement over anything that has the Coens attached as directors even if I don't know anything about the plot. Prior to this morning, all I knew about the latest feature was that it was based on a story set in the 1950s about real-life Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix. Essentially, a fixer was someone who was responsible for covering and toning down the many scandals running rampant with high profile stars (Mannix worked for MGM and from what I know, that seems to be the studio that largely employed them -- also probably the biggest movie studio at the time).

The Coen brothers' recurring collaborators and musical composers, Carter Burwell and Skip Lievsay were present at the "Dolby Institute: Sound of the Coens" Master Class that was part of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It was there they revealed the plot synopsis of the movie and gave a bit more info on what to expect. The fixer storyline was confirmed with additional information it would be based on a single day and Mannix will be solving major problems while walking through many of the sets of movies being filmed at the time. There is no confirmation if these will be completely fictionalized pictures, fictionalized pictures based on actual movies, or actual movies being produced at the time. The peaks into several different movies seems to be a crucial part of the picture's structure and likely the provider of a healthy dose of nostalgia and atmosphere (things the Coens had proven to be great but also subtle masters in period pieces like True Grit, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Miller's Crossing).

The big whopping news, or at least something that I was completely unaware of prior to this, is that it will be a musical comedy. Though Burwell was quick to state the bigger narrative wasn't actually a comedy but rather a very serious movie about faith. The comedy and lightness will come from the scenes of the movies being filmed. Having large chunks of comedic scenes amongst a somber and dark tale is also a really common Coen trait. Coens actually have to be one of the best directors at making drastic tonal shifts while keeping the narrative true and cohesive. Their movies always feel like a complete story despite the massive shifts in genres and style.

The thing that makes this movie really stand out from Coen canon is the fact this is being labelled as a musical. Based off the comments, you have to assume the plan is to make this a true musical, which means people working through problems through song and dance. It is a brilliant move based off it being set in the 1950s and that genre being the ultimate blockbuster powerhouse at the time. It fits with how many younger cinephiles view the 1950s. As far as I know, people actually sang to each other and danced in the rain and broke into tap-dancing during board meetings. Even if the musical numbers are stuck to the "filmed movie" sequences, it still will help elicit the feelings and emotions of the time period and pull us into the movie.

Coen brothers are known for making almost genre-less pictures. Movies that can jump from thriller to biopic to drama to slapstick comedy. True Grit was different than most of their other movies because it really was a true Western. Though they have a trademark style and it is hard to not know you're seeing a Coen brothers' movie from the cinematography, dialogue and sets, they have mastered making very different movies with varied messages, themes and plots. The brothers like to challenge themselves, which is why a musical is so compelling as it seems to be the hardest genre for a director to really throw themselves into (when they often do distinctly different pictures). Along with True Grit (and possibly Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing) be their only other true easy to label genre picture.

The crazy part is even though up to this point I'd never peg the Coen brother for a "musical comedy", they may actually be perfect for it. Music and score is one of the most important parts of the Coen filmmaking process. It is often how they draw you in and bring the atmosphere to life. You feel the movie and believe the setting often due to their musical choices. The score to Fargo is something burned into my mind and instantly pulls me into the tone and feel of that movie. You can feel and taste and be plunged into movies like No Country for Old Men or Barton Fink or O Brother, Where Art Thou? thanks to carefully crafted score and songs. I can't think of a single Coen movie where the song isn't one of the most important players.

This is also a natural progression for the Coens because in many ways, Inside Llewyn Davis was already a musical. The music was a main character in that movie and defined the movie far better than an actual labelled musical like the dull 2014 Jersey Boys. I believed music was a defining part of Davis' life and that the song choices by each character helped add to their personality and traits. It had several full length songs and every single one made you feel something like sadness or anger or laughter. The songs were marvellously crafted and blew away many of the songs from recent movie musicals for emotion and personality. I still remember watching Davis up on the stage and feeling like I'd been pulled back in time to the New York folk scene and literally being in the night club listening to him. A musical movie done well must be seen on the big screen, and Inside Llewyn Davis is a cinema experience.

Though I have to believe it will be an actual musical based on the things said, the comedy won't be central. Most musical are comedies, because singing brings a certain lightness. It is hard to do a dark and gritty musical. Sure, Les Miserables exists and isn't a giant cheerfest. It is a challenge to make a darker and somber work in the world of song and dance. I'm intrigued to see how they balance catchy tunes with a story about covering up dangerous scandals and heartbreak. Coens are the best filmmakers for tackling such a task.

The other exciting part is that musicals are potentially on a comeback thanks to the popularity of Frozen and Into the Woods. Josh Gad just recently landed a lucrative deal with Universal to make a musical movie, so it is a genre studios have renewed faith (Universal also happens to be behind the Coen movie). This also gives me hope the movie will then be positioned favourably by Universal and give the picture a fair shot at wide release. It also has the talented star power with George Clooney, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson to convince Universal they could have a hit if they promote it. Even if I'm forced to await its arrival on Netflix or have to make a road trip to see it on the big screen, this has secured the top of my most anticipated for 2016 (until it gets bumped to 2017).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sony's Eternal Struggle for a Cinematic Universe Lands on Valiant Comics

Sony Pictures has been the snotty nosed kid on the school bus promising anyone who walks by that they could go to their birthday party if you'd just sit with them when it comes to the great big race of creating a "cinematic universe." They've tried or may still be trying to do that with Spider-Man as they've promised a Sinister Six and a Venom movie as well as some still to be mentioned female super hero picture based in the Spider-Man universe along with obviously more Spider-Man sequels. Of course the mass disappointment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has stalled that party and now that they're loaning the hero to Marvel and shoving him back into high school, it seem like at least some slight white flag waving over Spider-Man being their launching pad for a humongous expansive universe that launches countless spin-offs.

Failing that they still have eyes on the big cinematic universe Robin Hood that also every other studio is yearning for, because apparently, we don't live in a world where we've had an endless stream of movies based on that character and had a flop directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe a few years back. Also it is best to ignore the fact that The Lone Ranger and John Carter proved that recognizable brands that reigned on radio and serials don't mean modern hits.

All this shows that Sony really wants to play the game that Marvel studios has mastered and will desperately gobble up anything that can lead to a big "Avenger-like" accumulation movie after a string of successful build-up movies. Sony will do it even if it means being in bed with a smaller comic book company like Valiant. This isn't to say that Valiant isn't a successful company, but they sure aren't Marvel or DC. Unless you're a major comic book fan, you likely can't name a single character created by the company. It seems like a gamble to have major box office dreams riding on a smaller comic book company just because Marvel (a brand even non-comic book fans knew about before it became a major movie studio) is now a juggernaut.

Sony hopes movies based on any comic book series are enough to launch a major franchise. They have hopes the big cinematic universe dream will come true as they launch their destined to be hits Bloodshot and Harbinger movies.

I have to confess that I don't know a whole lot about Valiant other than it followed what seemed like a big craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s of Marvel writers and artists leaving the company to create their own. I remember reading in Wizard magazine about what was supposed to be the massive rebirth of independent comics where the actual creators retain rights of their works. The company that got the most buzz was Image comics, which is best known for Spawn that also had its own TV series and movie. Though hopefully Valiant's goal isn't to make something similar to the Spawn picture.

It isn't like Valiant is setting the world on fire even if their comic books have their diehard fans. The comic book movie craze seems to be at its peak, despite what studios want to believe, and by 2017 Bloodshot might be screened to an apathetic market. I am definitely hesitant to believe there is a market for two Bloodshot and two Harbinger movies that build to a giant accumulation movie. Actually, the whole plan of doing this with two relatively unknown comics seems like a parody ripped from a Saturday Night Live sketch. Except it is sadly true, and probably would have been better severed to just see if there are fans for one Valiant movie. Of course, that isn't how the industry operates anymore, we need those 2025 dates locked up now for the fifth sequel to a series that hasn't even screened an original yet.

If Sony and Valiant believed in making a mid-budget movie with modest goals then it could be a surprise hit. Based off how crazy movie budgets have become and the fact I sense expectations are this is tentpole (even if most haven't even heard of these comics), this is going to need to be one of the highest grossing movies of its year to justify continued life. The bigger problem is these are unrecognizable characters in really recognizable stories. Super-powered beings on the run from an evil corporation sounds like something I've seen a millions times before (Harbinger). At least it seems more original than a soldier being brought back from the dead by a secret government agency (Bloodshot).

As always, I want to be made a fool and be proven wrong when slagging an unseen work. I really want to be forced into confessing my ignorance and singing the praise of the eventual movies. Even if this franchise doesn't seem to be something the masses are begging to see, it does have some incredibly appealing talent behind it so far.

Matthew Vaughn has become the master of comic book adaptations as he brought life back to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: First Class after Brett Ratner's X-Men: Last Stand squashed it. He has made some of the most vibrant and irreverent comic book movies in Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kick-Ass. He is only a producer for Bloodshot, but his name still brings lots of hope.

If directing is what is needed for optimism then it is here with David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. They rocked on the scene with last year's John Wick, which was a fast paced action picture with not only a great sense of humour but some of the best choreographed and directed action sequences in the past decade. I may not know a thing about Bloodshot or Harbinger, but Sony is smart by putting them in very creative hands.

Tomorrowland Trailer Lets the Imagination Soar (and not Just for Boys)

In the early 2000s, I'd probably have sworn off cinema forever if I was told that in the eternal search for the next franchise that Disney would start mining its theme park rides to the point we would have three different possible ride-based franchises. Of course, that would be before Pirates of the Caribbean proved to be a ridiculously fun movie (they only ever made one, right?) and the other two most recent attempts have superstar talented directors attached with Guillermo Del Toro slotted to redo The Haunted Mansion (ignore the Eddie Murphy version, everyone else has) and Brad Bird ready to unveil this May, Tomorrowland.

Brad Bird established himself as one of the hottest and most respected directors by creating instant classic animated features like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Then he shook everything up by showing he can do great action too with the critically acclaimed, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. He was the name that many fans desperately wanted to be attached to Star Wars but passed on it so he could make this picture for Disney.

This is now the third trailer (okay, okay, fine one was a teaser) and while each one has showcased great set designs and spectacular special effects, the tone of the movie has effectively been quite different. The first was just pure mystery with Britt Robertson's coming across the button and being shocked when touching it transports her to a wheat field that has the view of some magnificent future city (almost like some kind of Tomorrowland). The second revealed important things like George Clooney and a grumpy House-like Hugh Laurie along with knowledge this magical land has had to stay a secret for some reason. The second seems filled with fantasy and hope and possibly dealing with big concept ideas and willing to splash in some real emotion for the summer tentpole season (a thing often absent).

Now, we have the trailer clearly designed to draw in the teenage boys with a long stream of action sequences. Not only action sequences but ones with robot soldiers and laser blasters and plenty of explosions. It was almost like it was begging you to not pass this movie off as something touchy and feeling but really it does want to kick ass.

But the action sequences are well done. It has opened up some interesting story tidbits. I'm curious to see who is behind sending out the robot officers designed to capture poor Robertson. Of course, what caused hermit Clooney to hide away and be so grouchy about a young woman coming to his door. Amongst the action, there are still things I want to find out. I can still see some grander attempts at dealing with social issues through fantastic fiction (actually something Bird did masterfully in The Iron Giant, which is a touching and deep tale that avoids didacticism).

There is definitely enough room for two family-oriented action space operas. I saw enough evidence in the past trailers to believe that this movie does have an ample amount of heart and wants to be more than high tech crashes and smashes. Bird has proven he can also choreograph and design engaging action sequences, and I'm glad a female talent like Robertson is allowed to play along (more importantly, be the central focus). He is also a director that cares about more and understands the best science fiction has always been about something. Even if you don't want to dig, this looks like a marvelous family friendly adventure.

As a kid I once made up a treasure map and then pretended to have found it in my math book. I convinced many of the kids in my class to follow the map during recess and try to find the ancient treasure hidden away in the playground. I was always drawn to the stories of the common and simple kid who gets plunged into an epic adventure like The Goonies or E.T. or Cloak & Dagger or Star Wars (though that kid has the advantage of already living in space so not the same). I still find something incredibly appealing about a story where the average person gets thrown into a magical world and goes on an epic quest, and I'm sure there are many kids that will have their imaginations run wild with modern movies that serve that up. I'm really excited that for a change it is now a girl that gets to go on this adventure and have a chance to be a hero.

Run for Your Lives, Because 'Fuller House' is Now for Real

Much like that hideous scar on your left leg from excessively scratching the chicken pox when you were a kid, Full House refuses to ever go away. The last two decades since the series finally stopped churning out new episodes. I've comes across many series box sets lying about people's homes or folks openly admitting they spend hours of their free time watching reruns. The actors may have gone to other things like rehab or voice work for better series, but the legacy of the show has never died. It will haunt and stalk us forever just like the creature from It Follows (which just so happens to be something that I'd like to watch a hundred time more than another episode of Full House).

Confession time, back in the late '80s, Full House was indeed must-see Friday night viewing for me. I remember even looking forward to the new episodes during the day at school. I even imagined being on a date with D.J. I'm clearly now divulging too much information. For me, Full House seems to be a series that perfectly encapsulates another time when TV was very different. A time when it was largely believed to be a thing that played in the background as you folded the laundry. There wasn't any character development or challenging stories or feeling that any episode actually mattered for progression. It was also beyond schmaltzy and sappy with a message that a little light piano music can solve any problem and a cute little girl spouting "You got it, dude" is the epitome of comedy.

Despite my less than ringing endorsement, Netflix has decided to go forward with Fuller House the series sequel to the original series. Now, we get to see D.J, Kimmy, and Stephanie play the single parents with all the crazy hijinks of managing precocious kids. Since the original series keeps popping up on the "Popular on Netflix" list, there is an audience for it and they are likely doing cartwheels over this bit of news.

I think Netflix is the right place for it. It is the place people binge all the shows from the past and so it clearly is the spot where nostalgia can reign supreme. This show's entire appeal is going to be on the nostalgia crowd and pulling up the memories from past episodes and seasons. It needs to be a built set (preferably the old one pulled from the dumpster) in front of a live audience with all the necessary catchphrases and there must be a silly conflict that can get wrapped up in 22 minutes after a heart to heart. It has to be light and mushy and cheery and take itself completely serious. It also must be something no one in my family wants to watch, but now with that declaration, I now know what will be Danika's favourite show ever.

Nostalgia seems to be the trend in series right now. We've got Craig T. Nelson returning to NBC so he can be Coach again, The X-Files will be doing a six episode events series on Fox, Heroes is doing a big event for NBC, Twin Peaks even without David Lynch seems to still be a thing, and The Muppets Show is very close to being a reality (I endorse that one though, so it might not happen). I'm pretty sure I'm missing fifty other revivals and by the end of the day we'll likely have an announcement of a brand new gritty Golden Girls reboot.

Gritty or mature or "reimagined" is the big hoopla for returning properties. In some of these cases, I think that modernizing the series is crucial for its success. But Fuller House must play entirely to the old memories and nostalgia of those who've destroyed their DVDs by replaying every episode for the last 10 years. This must reek of mothballs because it is so dated.

I'm still convinced a fan could save lots of money by just rewatching the same episode over and over again. They'd get all the major plot points and value of the entire series from any single episode. But Netflix doesn't seem to see the genius of just releasing the same episode every week.  

Fuller House will presumable be 13 "different" episodes. It must scream late 1980s and early 1990s sitcom with maple syrup overflowing out of the screen and with sweetness that will rot teeth. It must be formulaic and predictable. This is the series that panders to all those that have looked at the last decade that most see as the new Golden Age of TV and grumble that actually they just don't make them like they used to. Now they do, and it will be called Fuller House.

Monday, April 20, 2015

'Jurassic World' Trailer is Chewing Away my Excitment

Jurassic World is one of the most highly anticipated big special effect spectacles of the summer from a franchise that somehow continues to have incredible good will and bubble up mass excitement despite only the first movie actually being great. It is interesting how much love can remain for a franchise that hasn't really earned it; it is sort of like people willing to continue going to a theme park that has rides that turn you into the main course.

In my review of the original Jurassic World trailer, I compared it to the Jaws franchise as both have a classic original movie but never really had the material for a sequel because no matter how it is jazzed up, it will always be the same running/swimming away from a carnivorous predator.  

The one major plus is Chris Pratt is dripping with charisma. From what can be seen in both trailers, he plays a perfect balance of humour and intensity. He easily shifts from a "I realize this is all ridiculous" to having the chops of a real action star. A perfect casting for the silly, over-the-top Saturday matinee adventure hero that this script clearly demands.

On the downside, Joss Whedon seems to be rather correct that Bryce Dallas Howard has been left with being the picture's dull stick in the mud. Her job seems to be rolling her eyes at the charming and lovable Pratt and try to defend why she stupidly made a genetically enhanced dinosaur that is now killing all the other attractions. I had hope from the previous trailer where she was wielding a safety flare she would kick ass, but her greater purpose seems to be the humorless, egotistical, workaholic female who either needs to be saved or gets eaten for her mistakes. She doesn't even get to be the smart one as Pratt has to inform her about the fact that dinosaurs hunt and this is why everything is going to hell.

To be fair, despite the fact I'm in agreement with Whedon on this, you can't really judge the character off a trailer or clip. There may be whole lot of story missing here and Howard's character may turn out to be far more important. It doesn't look good here, but maybe the marketing team is scared a strong female will cause all the fanboys to cower in their mom's basement or spend time engaging in Twitter wars against female celebrities instead of going to the theatre to see the movie.

I was pretty overjoyed with the announcement that Colin Trevorrow was directing and Derek Connolly was writing as they were the same team that made the critically lauded comedic drama with sci-fi sprinklings in Safety Not Guaranteed. It gave hope for a character-focused tentpole that doesn't forget we need to care about those running from the giant hungry dinosaurs and the people in the end are more important than the CGIed monsters.  Failing that, it would at least have a sense of humour.

The sense of humour seems to be intact, but this trailer is absolutely ridiculous. Pratt leading a velociraptor army, a pterosaur making off with a park patron, large dinosaurs being eaten by giant dinosaurs, somehow every creature got out of it cage once again, guns blasting everywhere while body fly and I'm sure the dancing dinosaur with a top hat is being saved for the movie. It is all absurd and that can be a glorious thing actually, if the insanity has a focus and a story. But the trailer is just a collection of quickly churned out craziness. If the movie tries to keep that pace with non-stop dinosaur stomping with nothing but Pratt's snark to substitute for real characters we care about then this is just Transformers replaced by giant hungry lizards. It need pacing and atmosphere, but I'll say it again, people we want to cheer.

Pratt is oozing personality to spare and I still trust the instincts of Trevorrow and Connolly. Even if this trailer is just a flurry of images from someone's dream after a binging of rocky road ice cream sprinkled with Doritos then chased by whiskey, I have faith there is still a heart, real story, and characters to be found. No matter what I foolishly think, this is still going to be an insane hit.

'Fantastic Four' Trailer Serves Up Super Hero Deja Vu

It has been a crazy week for dropping trailers for the big heavy hitters lined up for 2015. Due to my already aforementioned fiery nosedive in writing here, I missed them all (but covered a few on this morning's podcast). I may still try to write some pieces on a few of those trailers (specifically one that contained an old furry pal and his scruffy scoundrel friend), but probably best to kick-off my "why yes, I'm writing on here again" with an analysis of the newest trailer for a big summer tentpole in the rebooted Fantastic Four.

Apparently, the last trailer that was released a month or so ago was only a 'teaser', though I'm struggling to decipher the different between those and trailers anymore. Except one is longer and more likely to spoil crucial plot points.

The biggest strengths of this movie reboot has been the great young cast that has actors who have earned their reputation in highly acclaimed works with Miles Teller (Spectacular Now, Whiplash), Kate Mara (127 Hours, House of Cards)  and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) along with having director Josh Trank who made his name on the supernatural teenage adventure Chronicle. Though the found-footage element was a bit of a detractor for me in Chronicle, it had a depth and focus on characters that has been absent in most every other superhero movie. He also proved to have a knack for bringing out great performances as this is where I discovered the great talents of Jordan and Dane DeHaan.

Prior to the first teaser dropping, several sites grabbed snippets of Trank interviews that had him saying his filmmaking style would be very evident in this version of Fantastic Four. This led many to believing we'd end up with a found-footage movie, because apparently, that is all anyone got out of the really good Chronicle. The first teaser quickly dismissed that and proved that wasn't what Trank was hinting at.

The first teaser was more subdued and quieter than every other super hero movie trailer I had seen. It seemed to be spotlighting the humans behind the super powers. It got me to believe this would be a far more character-driven story that much like Chronicle would delve into the internal struggle that occurs when one is suddenly being blessed or cursed with super powers. I had hoped for an allegorical coming of age story that elevated drama and character development over action. I was always aware this was still a big budget tentpole and so it still needed some dazzling special effect laden action sequences, but my deep hope was this movie would stand out from a very overstuffed mainstream film scene by almost trying to be a bit of different genre than all other super hero movies.

This trailer seems to be designed to punch me in the gut and scream, "Hell no, we want to be like every other super hero movie that has flooded the marketplace." Don't me wrong, that isn't the same thing as being bad. I've enjoyed every movie that Marvel Studios has churned out and I like many of the movies that have come out of the other studios (though the track record is far spottier). What I'm saying is that it is time for something different and attempts at change that aren't just cosmetic (to be fair, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Captain America: Winter Soldier are real attempts at that but still action trumps all).

I also much concede this is the official main trailer and not the movie. The trailer is usually the creation of marketing folks with the number one goal of enticing the masses. This usually means making the new movie to look like all the other movies that made Mount Everest size amount of millions. A trailer isn't always what a movie truly ends up being (last year's Lucy is a great example) but you're still getting glimpses of scenes from the actual movie that will be screened (usually).

My first reason for reservation is that the majority of the trailer is the origin story. Though a slight twist, essentially one we've seen twice now in regards to the Fantastic Four. In 2015, I think most of us can agree we're pretty much sick with origin stories especially since they now exist in movies that aren't even with super powers anymore like The Lone Ranger and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It is often a blatant first chapter with the sole purpose to launch several more movies rather than being its own compelling story. I really hope this iteration of the origin story gets wrapped up in the first 30 minutes and we can move on to an original story. Actually, we got all we need to know about their transformation in a 2 minute trailer so maybe we can skip it and call this our primer.

There seems to be a darker and more somber tone in this picture. There are hints that the powers aren't gifts or wanted. We get an intriguing emotional punch with Reg E. Cathey's Dr. Franklin Storm declaring he wants his children back. The statement opens up some interesting story possibilities as either it means there is a long stretch of them truly trapped in another parallel dimension where he wants them to literally return or referring to him not connecting with them in there transformed forms.  There are hints of the new group having to work through the major upheaval in their life. The stars have the talent to bring in that pathos and add lots of subtext to the story.

But "darker" also means it reminds me a whole lot of last week's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer where Scott and I complained about how everything had to be shot at night and the visuals seemed to be overcompensating with an overly bleak visual sense. The Nolan-esque gritty and somber looking comic book movies are growing tiresome since that visual style isn't distinctive anymore. It is partly what made Guardians of the Galaxy or Kingsman: The Secret Service stand out since they were both visually bright and cheery (even if both still were violent and action intensive).

Speaking of not being distinctive, the Thing smashes stuff and gets to fly through the air, Johnny Storm bursts into flames, and Dr. Doom looks menacing. The special effects are updated and as stated it is all darker, but I didn't see anything all that different from the Fantastic Four movies that aren't that much liked. Based on the trailer, this looks pure special effects action that at this point doesn't seem all that dazzling or distinctive.

At this point, it would better to be almost a bubble gummy callback to the Christopher Reeve Superman pictures that has that "gee whiz" and tongue-in-cheek charm or to dare to use that gritty visual to make an actually hard-edge picture with intense dramatic story arcs. Otherwise, it is just another Man of Steel or X-Men or Iron Man but now called Fantastic Four.

I realize every other site had already spent countless words on Dr. Doom. Yeah, he looks cool even though we see very little. I hope we continue to see very little until it comes time to pay to watch this movie. One gnarly looking villain doesn't make the most anticipated movie of the summer. The very different and rebooted Fantastic Four we were promised seems to be very hidden in this latest trailer. I still cling to hope though that it will show itself, because I do love this cast and director.

Gareth Edwards May Make 'Star Wars: Rogue One' a Cool Prequel

My ambitions of writing on here (more than) daily have been shot down into a fiery rumble this past week, but I have dug down deep to avoid spending a thousand plus words on an excuse disguised as a "State of the Blog Address." Especially since recent Star Wars news has tractor beamed me back here on the site and instilled me with the Force to write several articles on here this week, including several trailers, reviews, and think-pieces that should have been posted here last week.

At the moment, I must talk about news that broke yesterday at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, because it is still real hot and feisty.

Director Gareth Edward, best known for helming 2014 very well-done Godzilla and became an indy darling with Monsters, dropped some pretty big news regarding the first of the Star Wars spin-off/standalone movies, Star Wars: Rogue One.

We finally know to not call them spin-offs or standalone pictures but rather they're "anthology films." It is about time we've got yet another studio buzzword that already had a perfectly suitable name but clearly needed to be "branded" so that every other single studio can parrot it. So, now we live in a wondrous age that every corporate bean counter tries to rally the paying customers with words like "cinematic universe", "reimagining", and finally, "anthology films." I can hardly hold my excitement for "anthology films" of Ghostbusters, Transformers, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Okay, maybe there was something a bit more exciting than new corporate movie talk. Edwards also revealed the plot of next year's Star Wars movie, and it has done something that is rather rare, actually get me excited for a prequel.

I usually stand by the belief that if the story contained in a prequel was really worth telling then it would have been included in the original story and it was left out for a reason. Most prequel movies have largely confirmed that belief with the Star Wars prequels often standing up as the ultimate example for most (my hate isn't as strong but still feel it diminished rather than enhanced the canon while also made one of the coolest villains ever into a whiny dork). The only movie prequel (novels are much better at this) off the top of my head that I can really endorse as an absolute "must-watch" experience (though I openly admit I must be missing another or unaware it is a prequel) is Rupert Wyatt's 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In in that case, it was less an actual prequel and more an entire reworking and restart of the franchise that only loosely followed rules established by prior movies (the main one being fixing the silliness of Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes reboot by putting it back on Earth and making humans the cause of the uprising).

Rogue One's synopsis tells us the movie will be about a band of rebels going on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star. And yes, it is that DEATH STAR, Edwards confirmed that the events will be taking place in-between Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars (that some persist on calling A New Hope). The stealing of the plans by the rebellion, which essentially kicks off the major events of the original trilogy, is probably the one unseen event that I've always wanted to witness. It was the rebels first known victory and likely one that took espionage and a daring heist that stars characters that remained unknown in movie canon. There clearly is a fast-paced story that contains a lot of possibility for complex characters and subplots.

The interesting thing is that Edwards claims the picture won't have clear-cut heroes and villains, which is drastically opposed to every previous Star Wars movie that really has never dealt with shades of grey (yes, Han Solo was a scoundrel but there was never any hiding he was one of the good guys), Edwards' comments also oppose the knowledge that the stolen plans were done by the rebels (clearly good guys) from the Empire (very definition of bad guys). How can you have blurred lines with those two groups clearly being what should be the focus of the movie.

The movie is being marketed as a rogue group going on a mission to steal the plans of the Death Star, which leads one to believe these are the event that happen right before the original Star Wars and is about the successful Rebel capturing of those plans. It isn't specifically stated that is the case, though. There is potential this could be a failed attempt at getting the plans. It also isn't necessarily the well-known rebel alliance that tries to get these plans but rather a rogue group with a potentially dastardly agenda for those plans (that is happening while the Civil War rages on). This would then darken the picture considerably with criminals going against the Empire. If it does turn out to be another rogue group that would also solve any need to have characters like a young Princess Leia present in the movie.

Even if this is supposed to be a very different, darker and more ambiguous Star Wars, I can't see the filmmakers ready to serve up a downer ending in a standalone picture where the Empire triumphs by protecting their plans. Plus everyone who is going to watch this particular movie is not only expecting but really wanting to see the Rebels steal the plans. Star Wars is always a crowd pleaser even if our favourite smuggler ends up frozen in carbonite or an appendage goes spiraling down a chasm.

My prediction is that this will be the movie about how the plans actually get stolen. It will also turn out that the Rebel Alliance may have to acquire some outside sources like some less than savory smugglers or bounty hunter to help them out. This may be where Lucasfilms wants to cast Ben Mendelson who is eternally destined to play slimy and untrustworthy folks and would make a fantastic ruthless gun-for-hire that helps out the Rebels for a price.

The picture is also being sold as a war story. I'm sure there will be some in-the-trenches action sequences that are used to provide atmosphere and create the stakes for the big heist. The opening scrolling words of the first movie also makes it clear the plans get stolen during the Rebels first victory that is achieve by a secret base going boom.  At one point I heard an Ocean's Eleven style movie but I'd assume it won't be as light or wacky or comedic, but rather much more action focused. It will likely jump between the first big battle victory to the spies and rogues uncovering the sought after prize.

The other exciting part of this movie is that Felicity Jones is currently being billed as the star. Based off that news and the trailers for The Force Awakens, we will have two straight Star Wars pictures with females in a major role that has them jumping into the action. There was also word bouncing about that we may have our first female fighter pilots in this movie. It is safe to assume Jones is going to have big part in the heist and may even be the leader of the group. All that is clear is she is part of Rebellion and has a strong chance to be the lead. A rather substantial make-up for Edwards' last picture that had the talented Elizabeth Olsen relegated to damsel in distress.

That pesky Star Wars once again has slashed down my pessimism. They've made me actually care about one of these spin-off movies (sorry, anthology), and actually, I'm almost as excited for this movie as I am for this December's big kick-off movie to the newest trilogy.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 85 Podcast: Follow Us in Seeing One of the Best Horror Pictures in Years

Scott and I have been big horror movies fans, but this podcast would often make you feel otherwise. We've had our recommendations like the classic Don't Look Now, but haven't been very kind to most modern horror pictures. This week we're absolutely ecstatic about David Robert Mitchell's foray into the world of horror, It Follows. Following an in-depth discussion of that picture, we also share our thoughts on the latest trailers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (we're killing them on number of episodes produced) and Terminator Genisys (we're beating them on properly spelt titles). Then from there, our regular listeners get another rare treat in a very passionate and enraged Scott as we discuss the recent craziness surrounding Wonder Women directors.

As always, if you love the show then please pass on the word.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 00:33 Introduction
00:34 - 11:44 The highly anticipated Devil's Backbone, Texas review ("it was all a ruse" movies)
11:45 - 49:06 It Follows review
49:07 - 53:17 Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens trailer review
53:18 - 57:55 Terminator: Genisys trailer review
57:56 - 1:04:27 The Rover review
1:04:28 - 1:07:17 Monkey Kingdom review
1:07:18 - 1:15:09 Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer review
1:15:10 - 1:18:44 We eat crow as we now gush about potential Flash Gordon movie
1:18:45 - 1:28:58 The chaos and ranting about the Wonder Woman director craziness
1:28:59 - Closing (review rundown)

Movie Ratings:

It Follows **** (CS) **** (SM)
The Rover *** (CS) *** (SM)
Monkey Kingdom *** (CS)

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Episode 84: No Movies Watched so We Talk Bodily Functions Instead

Scott and I talk movies this week despite the fact we were able to narrowly avoid the intoxicating lure of the latest Nicholas Sparks epic. Neither of us ended up watching movies since the last show, but we found a whole bunch to talk about -- some of it even had to do with the world of cinema. We discussed and debated such crucial things like the latest movies trailers (that includes Sinister 2), what is happening with upcoming comic book adaptations, the pointlessness of a She's All That remake, the many works of Stephen King that have turned into movie, and of course, my farts. If you love the show then please spread the word around.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 03:09 Introduction and why we aren't reviewing a movie this week
03:10 - 12:36 Look at how The Longest Ride did at the box office and state of Nicholas Sparks 
12:37 - 18:33 The Roman Polanski Cinematic Universe Pitch
18:34 - 28:08 Me and Earl and the Dying Girl trailer and the state of modern teenage centric dramas
28:09 - 34:39 Sinister 2 trailer
34:40 - 48:08 Stephen King adaptations and why the novels are often better than the movies
48:09 - 55:30 She's All That remake and is it better to just rip it off
55:31 - 57:38 Hot Pursuit trailer
57:39 - 1:02:44 Is 2015 signaling the rise of female-centric summer time movies
1:02:45 - 1:19:56 Crack down on pirated movies and the need to adapt to modern times
1:19:57 - 1:37:30 Dark Tower series looks to finally be a thing and the obsession with cinematic universes
1:37:39 - 1:40:08 The false conclusion and talk about my constant farts and need to pee
1:40:09 - 1:43:49 Pinocchio live-action adaptation and Guillermo Del Toro doing Disney
1:43:50 - Conclusion and threats to review Paul Blart: Mall Cop and things squirt and getting off Facebook

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

'Twin Peaks" Isn't 'The Muppets' and Still Needs its Creator, David Lynch

It is largely accepted that we're currently in a new creative Golden Age of television with critically beloved and original series like The Americans, True Detective, and House of Cards (to name a very few). Of course, House of Cards doesn't fit under traditional definition of television as it is an exclusive series to the streaming service, Netflix, but I'm sure a large group watch it on their TV. Despite a wealth of fresh and innovative programming, we've witnessed networks and cable channels following the sad path of the movie studios by eagerly gobbling up reboots, remakes or extensions of "popular" works (not sure if anyone was demanding a Problem Child series).

While I've rolled my eyes and sometimes even groaned over what is dragged out from the far reaches of the closet, Twin Peaks was the returning series that I was genuinely thrilled to see. In the very least, it gave me a reason to revisit the original and have a reason to sell around the concept of writing retro-reviews. Of course, then Netflix suddenly dropped it from their service when it would have been at it hottest. Then again, maybe they had a crystal ball handy.

David Lynch announced this week that he will be departing from the Twin Peaks series that is scheduled to be made for Showtime. At this point it looks like Showtime has every intention of moving forward with the series. It looks like they aren't quite willing to write-off Lynch as directing and being involved quite yet.

There is a good reason they aren't eagerly moving past Lynch despite his public declaration he is off the project.

As ridiculous as many of these rebooted or reimagined series sound, I know that I have to look past recreations that seem to exist for money rather than creative reasons and accept that each has the potential to be delightful surprises. Fargo sounded like an awful idea, especially with Coen's having minimal involvement, and it ended up being one of the very best series of 2014 and I'm eagerly anticipating the second season. It worked because despite likely being greenlit over the established name, it became its own series and also extended the canon of the original movie and played homage to many of the Coen brothers' movies. 12 Monkeys was another series that seemed like a bad idea, but then it became clear they were also using the initial idea of the movie to launch a very different sci-fi adventure serial. The first episode jarred me a little as it totally lacked Terry Gilliam's visual style and evocative imagery, but then I got hooked on the new story and accepted it as something completely different. The point being that many of these works that can be remade can exist and be good without the hands-on involvement of the creator.

Twin Peaks absolutely needs David Lynch. There isn't any possible reason for the series to relaunch without his direction and vision. "Lynchian" is an accepted adjective in pop culture for a reason, because the director has a very distinct style and storytelling sense. He established himself with films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet, but the term is most associated with Twin Peaks. Of everything he has done in his renowned career, it is this series he is most tightly associated with among most and you also don't mention Twin Peaks without thinking David Lynch.

Lynch created an almost idyllic and postcard like small suburban town that exudes warmth and friendliness at the surface but hides an unshakeable evilness. It is a cynical gaze upon small town America, the place that is supposed to be safer and better than the big cities. Lynch unveils the dark side and the nasty secrets while also sprinkling in his own brand of bizarreness and eccentricities. He has a directorial style that feels contemporary and straight from the arthouse with a mix of classic filmmaking of the 1940 and 1950s. Even if his expert incorporation of music and ambitious camera shots didn't exist, he crafted an original and haunting tale.

I recognize that David Lynch isn't the only reason that Twin Peaks is a respected, beloved, and ground-breaking TV series from the early 1990s that has now become one of the most anticipated series to ever be relaunched. Mark Frost is the co-creator of the series and is still attached to write all the scripts for the new series. There is still a very strong chance it will be a high quality series. But the perception always has been that Lynch is Twin Peaks and that is almost impossible to shake, as there are very few series that are so synonymous with one person.

The concept of the picture-perfect small town that is nothing more than a facade hiding dangerous secrets has been revisited several times under different titles after the original series went off the air. The investigator or protagonist that is on a case and believing one thing at first to then be plunged into a labyrinth of bizarre and supernatural twists is even less rare. Twin Peaks has influenced many shows but has also meant that it isn't drastically different anymore and the basic story itself isn't one that viewers are starving to consume. It was largely what came with Twin Peaks -- David Lynch.

We've got a rather Twin Peaks like show coming up in less than a month in Fox's Wayward Pines. Even the title can't really avoid evoking memories of the series. The May premiere slot sort of hints that it may not turn out to be that very good, but we could be surprised and then left wondering if Twin Peaks has what it really takes to truly stand out. The fact "clones" are cropping up again and the potential there will be for competing series filled with the supernatural and macabre, it might be time to revisit how important the actual brand name of Twin Peaks is without David Lynch.

The series may need a renovations and massive upheaval or even a tossing off a cliff and keep the elements of what made Twin Peaks work but not actually be Twin Peaks. Rather follow the lead of Wayward Pines and just become something eerily similar and to be less kind, a knock-off. It is far easier to be compared to a M. Night Shyamalan production than David Lynch's baby that many have been eagerly awaiting to hold and rock again.

Or I could be completely misguided here and fail to see that the Twin Peaks name has usurped the creator. Or it is long enough that the most coveted viewers are only vaguely aware of Lynch. I don't think I'm wrong that the series needs Lynch, but the past week has proven that some creations do far outlive the creator.

Jim Henson has always been connected with the Muppets. In the 1980s, it would have been impossible to imagine a show or movie without his involvement,. Now, it is impossible for him to be attached other than acknowledgement he was the creator. Yet Muppets are at a revitalization stage and have the potential to be at their strongest in decades.

Part of that is that Henson's family is still involved and those close to him are ensuring his vision stays alive. It is also a stable piece of pop culture art that has permeated through many childhoods for several decades and it has a strong enough foothld that other artistic folks can come in with their own touches without causing it to topple. The last few years have also helped in proving it can remain a top notch series.

Right after I watched the great 2011 The Muppets movie, I felt a powerful nostalgia for the old series. Probably partly because the movie was about resurrecting the show and making the Muppets relevant again. It seemed to be the time was right to relaunch the series, but it looked like Disney didn't quite trust it even though the picture was a hit.

Variety shows are now making a bit of a comeback. The idea of event television is even a bigger deal. A short-run The Muppets Show can serve both. It is also just the right kind of nostalgia that will draw back people like me but also be just as appealing to my son and children. It could work to many generations, which is another major thing in modern strategies as it becomes harder and harder to get a foothold in the crowd entertainment arena.

My bubbling excitement for The Muppets Show proves that the art can surpass the artist. I didn't have a single hesitation of the announcement the series was returning despite there not being any Jim Henson. It doesn't flatten me out the same way the announcement of a Lynch-less Twin Peaks.

There is a chance Lynch returns. If he doesn't the series will have a chance to prove it can be so much more than just the original director's vision. For now, I am whole lot more excited for the frog.