Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All in one Day: Disney buys LucasFilm, 3 new Star Wars films announced, AND Bryan Singer to direct X-Men

What; A; Day!  Wednesday October 30th is a day that will live in geek-infamy.  Cases of nerdgasims have swept the nation.  Disney has purchased LucasFilm for an estimated 4 billion dollars.  That's right, the Star Wars franchise, characters, merchandising, are all property of Disney.  Not just that; Disney will acquire special effects house, Industrial Light & Magic, as well as the sound effects company, Skywalker Sound.  Ready for the icing on top?  Disney ALSO gets the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise.  Ho-ly wow!  This is just too much.  But for founder of all these goodies, George Lucas, it's brilliant.  He is 68 years old and is ready to retire.  And Lucas put it best, this is a 'retirement plan' for him because Disney will allow a whole new generation to continue his work.

Almost immediately after announcing the purchase, news came that a new Star Wars film would be released in 2015.  And yes, it is a continuation of the first 6 films.  An Episode 7 is coming folks, hate it or love it.  2 additional sequels will be released after that.  I personally don't care for the Star Wars franchise and don't really feel one way or another about this piece of news.  I know there are millions of Star Wars fans, but it just doesn't do it for me.

And finally, this gem.  We were all sad about Matthew Vaughn dropping out of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the sequel to X-Men: First Class.  But wait.. director Bryan Singer will indeed take over the franchise he helped pioneer!  Singer directed the first two X-Men films, and left the franchise before the quality of the films went down hill.  I'm very excited by this news and trust that Singer will bring quality to this franchise.  I'm still waiting to hear Vaughn's excuse for leaving... nothing yet.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Official still from The Wolverine, and where in the X-Men time line it takes place

Empire Magazine just released this awesome still.  Hugh Jackman, playing Wolverine, appears to be trapped.  But notice something interesting?  His claws are made of bone.  Maybe it's a flashback?  I thought this little piece of information was interesting.  There's been a lot of speculation on where in the X-Men time line The Wolverine will land.  Continuity was a big problem with X-Men: First Class and where it fit with the four previous X-Men films.  Director of The Wolverine, James Mangold, has helped to answer this question.  His film will take place after the events of X-Men 3: The Last Stand.

This is kind of interesting.  It takes our buff hero back to where we found him in the very first X-Men movie, alone.  He's depressed about what happened to the love of his life, as well as his friends, and now he's on his own.  So it only makes sense that he would seek friendship and love in Japan.  And I really appreciated Mangold's justification for this.  If his Film was set anytime before the previous trilogy, there would be constraints to his story.  It would have to fit a previously created mold.  Let's hope this new found freedom let's Mangold and Hugh Jackman tell us an amazing story.

Matthew Vaughn will NOT Direct the X-Men: Days of Future Past, but another X-Men director might

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears that Matthew Vaughn has decided not to direct the X-Men: First Class sequel, X-Men: Days of Future Past.  The news actually came out yesterday.  No reason has been given just yet.  We'll have to wait a few days to hear the PC excuses.  But there might be a silver lining to all of this...  Bryan Singer could be directing the sequel instead.

All of us nerds remember Singer directed the first two X-Men movies, as well as Superman Returns.  His visual style and storytelling launched the comic book movie genre to a whole other level.  Vaughn revitalized the X-Men franchise after the atrocious X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  And perhaps the most impressive thing about it was, he did it in just over a year.

Even though I was really excited for Vaughn to come back, if Singer does take over, I'll be more than okay with it.  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Iron Man 3 poster and trailer

It's time!  The first trailer for Iron Man 3 has arrived, and it's a doozy.  There are a few new additions to the threequel.  Director of the first 2 films, Jon Favreau has gracefully exited the franchise; making room for Shane Black to take over.  Actors Guy Pierce, Rebecca Hall and the great Sir Ben Kingsley are also new to the comic book franchise.  Veterans, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle return.   Check out the trailer below and my thoughts after.


Much darker than you expected huh?  Because of its serious tone, fans have dubbed it, 'The Iron Man Rises'.  I thought that was great.  It is definitely not the same Tony Stark/Iron Man we've seen in the first two films, or in The Avengers.  And I'll be the first to say it... that may not be a good thing.  What I loved about Iron Man was, tonally he was somewhere between The Dark Knight and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.  Not has dark and brooding as Batman, but not nearly as campy as Spider-Man.  Is that the case here?  I don't know, it's too early to tell.  I'm not the biggest fan of the Iron Patriot armor either.  I think it looks cheap and cheezy, in comparison to the Iron Man suit.  I'm also curious how the filmmakers will make Ben Kingsley's villain character, The Mandarian, work in the real world.  Either way, the trailer has hit and the anticipation for the film is through the roof.  What do you think?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taken 2 review

Taken was released in 2008, and was never expected to become the international hit that it did.  In fact, it was supposed to be released straight to DVD at one point.  Luckily for all of us, it wasn't and we all got to experience Pierre Morel direct Liam Neeson in a great action film.  Luc Beeson is back, as writer and producer of Taken 2.  Liam Neeson returns, this time directed by Olivier Megaton.   Famke Janssen also returns as Neeson's ex-wife; and Maggie Grace (who was taken in the first film), returns to play his daughter.  In this sequel, the father of a man Neeson kills in the first film, seeks revenge for his death. The villain is played by Rade Serbedzija. Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
Fast Paced Storytelling
Every spy franchise has something distinct about it.  For 007, it's his cool, suave demeanor.  For Jason Bourne, it's his rough, grounded style combat. And in the Taken franchise, it's all about fast paced, no time wasted, action.  And I love what they did in the sequel.  The first act is definitely reserved for setup.  The second and third act are non-stop action.  Very little time is dedicated to anything but car chases, shoot outs, and hand to hand combat by our aging star.

Megaton definitely gets the credit here.  He keeps the story going.  Even when the main characters are in just one location, the story is constantly moving forward.  That's as vague as it gets without giving anything away.  But I can tell you that the camera angles, swooping shots, and choice of lighting, show Istanbul in a way we've never seen it before on film.  The past paced storytelling is solidified when we realize most of the movie takes place over the course of just one day.

In the first film, we learn that Neeson's character has "a very particular set of skills; skills [he] acquired over a very long career".  And we get to see more of those skills in the sequel.  Take for example his mapping skills.   I'm not telling you anything here that the trailer didn't already give away: he and his ex-wife are taken and blindfolded.  Neeson then times the turns the van is making in his head, to later retrace the drive.  I thought that was a very clever way to explain how he knows where to go later in the film.  We also get a glance at his weapons and supplies.  That's something we didn't get to see in the first film.

The action is more of the same from the first film.  Neeson plays a little bit detective, a little bit spy, mix in a few shoot outs, and finish it off with some hand to hand fighting.  I'm not complaining about the action, just want to make it clear, it's more of the same.  What is not more of the same is the involvement of Neeson's daughter in the film, Maggie Grace....
Minor Spoiler:
Neeson and Janssen must escape their captors, and they need Grace to help them do so.  Using a spy sized phone, Neeson gives her very simple, step by step instructions to Grace.  In my opinion, this was a clever way to include Grace in the action. Ignoring how absurd it is of course.
End Spoiler

What I didn't like about the film:
No character arcs 
There is absolutely no arc to these characters.  Minus a romantic element to the main characters, there are the same people at the end of the film, that they were at the beginning of the film.  The same goes for the villain, just an empty, lame duck bad guy.  Serbedzija is a great actor too, it's too bad there wasn't better material written for him.  He's reduced to nothing more than a statue in a penthouse awaiting updates from his henchmen.

Same movie, just with a high gloss finish 
Taken 2 suffers from the same thing The Hangover 2 did; it's essentially the same movie as its predecessor.  Action films like The Bourne Supremacy and The Dark Knight pushed the envelope to tell the evolving story of its characters.  Taken 2 and The Hangover 2 just repeated a successful formula, with very little risks taken (no pun intended).  Another thing the movies have in common is, the element of surprise is gone.  The first films in these franchises brought something fresh and new to audiences, that is now gone with the sequels.

The Verdict:
Still a fun movie 
Even though there is little to no character development, and it's beat for beat like the first film, I still enjoyed it.  The setting, fast paced action, and espionage kept me interested.  I really liked how Megaton portrayed the skills the Neeson character has.  It was clever and new to me.  To enjoy the film, you must watch it with suspension of disbelief.  You're going to see a timid, teenage girl, drive like James Bond, and you're asked to just go with it.  And if you should so choose to "just go with it", Taken 2 will be a fun, albeit empty, ride.

Argo review; a thrill ride you don't want to miss

For those of us in our 30's, the story behind the film, Argo, is totally new to us. It's the late 1970's and Iran has taken Americans at the US Embassy hostage. 6 American employees manage to escape, and seek refuge at the home of the Canadian Ambassador in Iran. What happens from there, to get them back to the United States, is unbelievable. Ben Affleck directs and stars as Tony Mendez; a CIA agent enlisted with the retrieval of the 6 hostages. Let's go.

What I liked about the film:
"The unbelievable true story"
How many times have you read that line describing a movie based on a true story? The CIA asks for Hollywood's help in creating a fake movie; so that a CIA operative can go to Iran, and rescue 6 Americans, and fly them out of there as a Canadian film crew? Yep, it may be crazy enough to work. What is the title of this fake film?  Argo; a science fiction rip off of Star Wars.  What's also interesting is, the team that successfully pulled off the mission had to keep it a secret for decades; before the case was finally declassified under President Clinton. This type of thriller is right up DIRECTOR Ben Affleck's ally.

The Director
Speaking of Director Ben Affleck, he does it again. This is the third film on his directing resume, and he doesn't disappoint. Everything from the choice in actors (I'll get to that in a moment), to cinematography, to score; are all brought together really nicely. The costumes, vehicles, backdrops, are all convincing, and help to tell a story that took place 30 years ago. Affleck did a great job of cutting in real news coverage of the events surrounding the film. He reminds the audience, just how bad the situation in Iran was; and where the current distaste for Americans may have stemmed from. I also appreciated how Affleck did not try to make any political statements, one way or another. He just told this particular story. He is a natural born storyteller and I can't wait to see more of his work in the future.

The Actors
Affleck does a fine job in the movie, and has a great character arc. At the beginning of the film, he is trying to juggle is "secret" life from that of his real one. Affleck is definitely the star, but there is a lot more help in the cast. Bryan Cranston plays his boss, and is so good! Fans of the hit tv show, "Breaking Bad", will see a much different side of Cranston. He is Affleck's boss and mentor, and looks out for him. I really enjoyed the sincerity he brought to the role. 

John Goodman and Alan Arkin add so much humor to the film. They play a Hollywood make-up artist and producer respectively. They assist the CIA in "selling" the fake movie to Hollywood press. This makes it easier to believe the 6 people to be rescued really are who they say they are. Goodman and Arkin have a chemistry that is so convincing, you have to ask yourself if the actors are friends in real life. While I will not list them all, I think it's important to note that the 6 actors/actresses playing the embassy personnel are all wonderful. They sell the anxiety and fear that the real men and women must have felt hiding in the country.

What I didn't like about the film:
Forced Suspense
I enjoyed so many aspects of this film, but I did not appreciate the forced suspense. There are a few scenes in the film that are meant to build suspense, or have us fear that the escape will not be successful, and it falls flat. I'm not giving anything away here; but there is a scene at a bazaar where the "film crew" are scouting with a local translator. One of the women to be rescued takes a picture, to appear as though she's really doing her job. A local doesn't appreciate this, and craziness ensues. I think this is a bit of a stretch and could have been handled differently. That's just one example by the way. But the climax of the film had my heart racing. So it's a small price to pay.

The Verdict:
A great story that needed to be told
I really enjoyed this film. The story, acting and directing were all great in my eyes. And one has to remember the time in the world during which this all took place, to fully appreciate it. The tension between Iran and the United States still lingers today. And without siding on either side of a political fence, the characters in which this movie is based on, can be the real spotlight. Ben Affleck has a long and bright future ahead of him if he keeps churning out great stories like this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

UPDATE: Quickie: Shailene Woodley could be cast as Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man sequel

UPDATE:  It's now official; Shailene Woodley will play Mary Jane Watson in both 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' and '3'.  I'm happy, how about you all?

Shailene Woodley is a beautiful young actress and has an extensive resume. But I have to admit, the only thing I've seen her in was the Oscar hopeful film, The Descendants starring George Clooney. I absolutely loved her performance and even made note of it in my review of the picture. She was even nominated for a Golden Globe.

This weekend brought news that Woodley might be cast as Mary Jane Watson in the sequel to this Summer's hit, The Amazing Spider-Man. Many of us know the character from the popular comic book series, as well as the Sam Raimi directed trilogy of films. In that trilogy, the character was played by Kristin Dunst (whose acting I am not fond of at all).

I'm very pleased with the addition of Woodley and think she'll fit perfectly into the world director Marc Webb has created (Webb has been officially signed on to direct the sequel).  IF... if they do something completely different from the Raimi trilogy.  The Mary Jane character in that trilogy was utterly pointless and was a damsel in distress in all three films.  She added nothing for me (I'm bias because of my distaste for Dunst).

While I'm not the biggest fan of the character, I am of the actress.  With the younger cast of Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacey), Woodley will do great. Once it's official I'll update you. What do you think?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quickie: Sony hires a writer for Jon Chu's He-Man film

Sony has hired Richard Wenk to write the Jon Chu directed reboot, He-Man.  Wenk has written such action films as The Mechanic starring Jason Statham, and The Expendables 2 starring Statham and everyone else as well.  I think he'll do a great job of writing the mythology, settings and set pieces; but what about characters?  The movies I mentioned above, as well as his other work, lacked one thing.... character.  For me to really care, this can't be another Green Lantern film.  We've got to care about the characters for us to care about the action.  Here's hoping Wenk doesn't ruin my childhood hero.

In the spirit of Halloween coming up, here's a fun pic of me as a kid.

The Lone Ranger trailer; NOT what I expect!

This movie has been rarely talked about on this blog.  And if it has been mentioned, it's never a good light.  Not because I wrote off the film, but the drama behind the scenes can not be ignored.  The film is directed by Gore Verbinski and stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp.  Now here's the trailer below.  Check it out and read my thoughts after.


I. Am. In! I never pictured the film could look this good. Granted it's too early to tell what the final product will look like, but as far as a trailer, I love it. The tone, cinematography and set pieces have me sold. I thought it was going to be a campy version of the television show, and I don't think it's going to be at all. I like the story formulating around the construction of the railroad system, very clever. I don't know how the lone ranger's mask will hold up in the final cut, but I guess alongside Depp's face paint, it's not too bad. I'm in.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Armie Hammer as Batman in The Justice League film?

Artwork by JPRart on deviantART

Armie Hammer is definitely a talented actor.  His work in The Social Network was phenomenal (playing the Winklevoss twins).  But then again, there was that snafu, Mirror Mirror.  In any event, he's being rumored to play Bruce Wayne/Batman in the new Justice League film.  Here's an interesting tidbit: this isn't the first time Hammer has been rumored for this role; in fact, it's not the first time he's been rumored for THIS movie.

Before the writer's strike a few years ago, a Justice League film was full speed ahead at Warner Brothers.  Back then, Hammer wasn't the name he is now, but it was ok because the entire cast was relatively unknown.  Hammer was set to star as the Dark Knight a.k.a., Batman.  That movie was killed during the strike and was recently resurrected.

So, about Hammer, I like him, I do.  But Bruce Wayne he is not. He's physically capable of playing the character, but I don't know if he is, emotionally.  I have to be upfront and say I have not seen all of his films; but of the films I have seen, nothing comes close to the angst, and the depth, that Christian Bale brought to the character.  It's important to note, that this franchise will be totally independent of next Batman franchise.  So maybe it's a lighter Batman than we've seen in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.  I hope not, but it's a possibility.  What are your thoughts on the rumor that Armie Hammer could be our next Batman?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Matt Reeves taking over directing duties for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves is taking over as director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Today comes confirmation he's picking up where Rupert Wyatt left off.  Wyatt directed the very successful, Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco.

Reeves' claim to fame is Cloverfield, the J.J. Abrams produced monster flick, and Let Me In, the ChloĆ« Grace Moretz starring horror film.  I never saw Let Me In, but I did not enjoy Cloverfield at all.  The monster film was more annoying than innovative to me.  However, I loved 'Rise'.  It was such a refreshing reboot of a franchise I never cared for.  I'll be interested to see what he can do with the sequel. Does anyone else want Wyatt to come back?

Looper review; a sifi film heavy on character, and not so much the sifi

If you've never heard of Rian Johnson, don't feel too bad.  Not many people have.  He made a very delightful film in The Brothers Bloom a few years ago, that unfortunately no one saw.  Now comes something a bit more mainstream.  Johnson is the writer/director of Looper, a science fiction film about the future, as well as time travel.  The mob controls time travel in the future.  When they want to get rid of someone, they send them to the past; where a looper, like the one played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, awaits to kill them.  This is a great system until the mob decides to "close the loop".  Gordon-Levitt is ready to kill his next target.... until he realizes it's his older self (played by Bruce Willis).  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Story/Theme
I kind of hinted at this in the title, but most will be surprised by the depth of this film.  It's not just about the future and time travel, it's about so much more!  Emily Blunt plays the mother of a child who has a very important role in the future.  And instead of beating a dead horse with the notion of time travel, Johnson pulls us into the story of life, death, love and redemption.  It's going to be difficult to write this review without spoilers, but I promise I wont.  Films with a big spectacle can totally flop if we're not invested in the characters, and in this film, we're definitely invested in these characters.

The Actors/Characters
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is just getting better with every movie he stars in.  I am a really big fan of the actor's work.  He is very grounded in this movie.  Never going over-the-top and never short changing the audience in pivotal scenes.  And as for his older self, Willis puts in a terrific performance.  With no duologue, you can see the character has been beaten down in his life.  He's a tired old man who just wants peace for the remainder of his life.  The irony is, to achieve this peace, he starts his own war.  The characters are so richly written, you can't help but be intrigued.

There is a great scene between Gordon-Levitt and Willis at a diner.  It's their first real confrontation.  The two actors play this perfectly!  An older, beaten down man, trying to knock some sense into his younger self.  The younger self, unapologetic about the decisions he's made in his life, argues back in the face of his older self.  Really great stuff!  Emily Blunt really annoyed me at the beginning of her performance, but we quickly realize how important she is to the story arc.  The climax of the film involves all three of the lead actors, and offers up so much more than a special effects spectacle.  There is real heart, love, hate, conviction and redemption all in the same scene.  Awesome.

And I would be wrong not to mention a killer, albeit small role, for Jeff Daniels.  He plays a mob boss in the past, who communicates with the mob bosses of the future.  Very clever writing.  Daniels also resists playing it over-the-top.  Intimidating other characters while never raising his voice.  He was a great addition to the already talented cast.

The World
The universe Johnson created for these characters, is very believable.  Much like Inception, there are rules these characters live by.  Johnson works out all the rules without the boring exposition of Inception.  Very few special effects shots of the future are used.  Some CGI work to show the futuristic city, but nothing crazy.  Again, Johnson forces us to focus on the characters, not the spectacle.

What I didn't like about the film:
Just go with it
The movie is so well written, the characters so rich and developed, it's a shame the movie often asks us to 'just go with it'.  In some reviews I've read, critics are saying it's all on purpose.  That Johnson wants us to ignore the science and focus on the characters.  I agree with this to a certain extent.  The characters actually say it out loud, 'don't worry about how it works'.  But it doesn't take a genius to say, "but if that is happening now, wouldn't that affect him in the future?"  I must stay this vague in order not to spoil anything.  So if you watch the film, tweet me @atdmovie.  I'd love your hear your opinion.

The Verdict:
So much more than an "action film"
These reviews are often my opinions of the film backed up with examples; but I just can't do that here.  This is the first movie I've reviewed where I want to write a spoiler-filled review; and I just might do that later this week.  But for now, let me assure you, this is not an "action film".  It is so much more.  And Sony was very smart not to advertise it for what it is, a film about life, death, redemption and most of all parenting.  Yes, parenting.  You have to see it for the explanation.  And I apologize for the weak review, but there really is no way to describe it without ruining the genuine surprises the film has to offer.  Go see the movie and let me know if you agree to disagree.