Thursday, March 28, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
I give Olympus Has Fallen an A-!
Ever since Lucasfilm Ltd. was sold to Disney for $4 billion last year, the internet has been abuzz. Not only has Disney announced a new trilogy of Star Wars films since then, but this move now effectively solidifies a future for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises beyond George Lucas, because let's face it, he isn't getting any younger. However, while there has been a lot of good that has come with this transition, there has also been a lot of bad, and in my opinion, some just downright ugly things that have resulted from Disney now taking full ownership of the Star Wars universe. With that all said, I decided to take a look at the current state of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and dissect the good, the bad, and the ugly points of this new future for Star Wars. How about we start with some good.
Well, I think the greatest good that has come from Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm are the new Star Wars films in production. Not only is a sequel trilogy in production, following the Skywalker family a few decades removed from Return of the Jedi, but there will also be standalone films made about individual Star Wars characters like Bobba Fett and a young Han Solo that don't play into the larger Skywalker story of the already established episodes. With some of the most talented folks in Hollywood tackling this new trilogy and these standalone films, from J.J. Abrams directing Episode VII, to Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt, all the way to original Empire and Jedi scribe Lawrence Kasdan writing one of the standalone films, it's impossible not to be excited about these new films when such amazing talent is involved. Then there's been all the rumors that the original trilogy's cast will reunite for Episode VII, meaning Mark Hammil, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
George Lucas essentially let the cat out of the bag a few weeks ago, stating that it was pretty much a done deal that the original trio were returning, before he backpedaled and said they were merely in negotiations. Then, Disney CEO Bob Iger came out and said that what George said was false, and I personally don't buy that. While George is no longer in charge of Lucasfilm, he is a creative consultant on this new trilogy and would be privy to such information, and I don't think he'd speak out of turn like that if it wasn't true, not to mention some coy comments from both Fisher and Ford recently pretty much have sealed the deal for me. Even Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams, has sort of let it slip that he too is likely to return. For me, this is the greatest news there is regarding these new Star Wars films. Seeing the original cast back, passing on the torch to the new heroes of the Star Wars universe will fit very well with the already established episodes. Now, this does not mean that all is so clearly good about these new movies though.
The could-be-bad about these new Star Wars films is in where they choose to set this new trilogy. Since the release of the novel, Heir to the Empire, in 1991, there has been what is now known as the Expanded Universe, telling the official stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, following Return of the Jedi. George Lucas himself commissioned these novels, comics, and video games, that now make up the vast tapestry of what has transpired since Return of the Jedi. Now, nearly two decades later, the current Star Wars timeline has told the stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, up to nearly thirty years after the original trilogy ended. If the new filmmakers tried to set this new trilogy within that thirty year timeframe, then the movies would be highly restricted to what they can or cannot do, but if they went the other way and changed what actually happened in that thirty year timeframe, then fans would be upset. The only way to fully satisfy fans is to pick up right where the Expanded Universe is at right now, which is what all of the latest rumors are suggesting. However, the biggest drawback to this is that casual moviegoers are not familiar with all that's transpired in these books and comics since, and therefore it creates a huge burden on the filmmakers to have to fill in all of the blanks before they can tell this new story.
In the current Expanded Universe storylines, Han and Leia's son, Jacen Solo, turned to the dark side and had to be killed by his Jedi sister, Jaina. Well of course, Jacen had a daughter who's now having to be raised without a father. Then there's the fact that in this timeline, Chewbacca is dead, as is Han and Leia's other child, Anakin, as well as Luke's wife, Mara Jade. This is a lot of information to catch viewers up on, not to mention this is some pretty dark, tragic stuff that just doesn't feel very Star Wars-like, which has often been my complaints about many of the more mature-themed stories that the Expanded Universe has offered. Star Wars is first and foremost a series of kid's movies and I don't want to see that discarded so easily, and this is why this is the could-be-bad of these new films. However, if Abrams and Arndt play their cards right and make it work, it could all be good. We'll just have to wait and see. Now, what is truly ulgy though about the Disney acquisition is what's happened to animated Star Wars on television.
I only recently got into the Cartoon Network TV show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, telling the official adventures of what happened between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. To be perfectly honest, I have never seen a more high quality animated show in my life. The CG animation was top notch, the voice talent was amazing at mimicking the actors that portrayed these characters in the movies, and the writing was better than the actual prequel movies, making Anakin an extremely likable hero and infusing these stories with the sense of hope and adventure that the original trilogy exuded. Well, let it be known that The Clone Wars is the first official casualty of Disney's acquisition. To me, this is not just bad, it's ugly what Disney's done here, cancelling The Clone Wars after its fifth season, and not allowing the folks at Lucasfilm Animation to properly send off the series. Sure, they said they'll somehow release the final few episodes that had been produced, but that will not tie up all the loose ends of The Clone Wars, and to be perfectly honest, I am just flat-out ticked off.
Sure, majority of funding for the show came from Time Warner, who owns Cartoon Network and Warner Bros., and I know that the show was very costly to make, but it was still one of the highest rated animated TV shows of all-time and was still getting rave critical reviews episode after episode. Disney pulling the plug on it, rather than funding to give the series a proper finish, is just flat-out wrong. These were the best Star Wars stories told since Return of the Jedi in 1983, and Disney should feel ashamed. Of course, they obviously don't care.
While in their press release Disney said that there is something exciting on the horizon, probably an animated show that will fall into the timeline of the sequel trilogy coming out to help catch viewers up to speed, Disney has gone and disbanded The Clone Wars team and fired over 350 of the best animators and writers in the business. It's pretty clear that they aren't interested in just shepherding the already established Lucasfilm Animation branch under the Disney umbrella, with it now looking more and more likely that they'll just use their in-house animation departments to make whatever this new Star Wars show will be, and probably at a lower production value than The Clone Wars was.
This happened after Disney bought Marvel and they pulled the plug on the high quality show, The Spectacular Spider-Man, not brining any of that show's cast and crew onboard of their "official" Spider-Man show, Ultimate Spider-Man. Ultimate Spider-Man is nowhere near the high quality storytelling that Spectacular Spider-Man was, and I fear the same is going to be true for whatever replaces The Clone Wars. Speaking of Marvel, this leads to another of the bad things that have resulted from this Disney acquisition.
Way back in the '70s and '80s, Marvel published all Star Wars comic books and they were never really that good (obviously, seeing as how they aren't considered official canon), but since the '90s, Dark Horse Comics has been publishing all of the Star Wars comic books and they have been consistently of high quality. Now, with Disney owning both Marvel and Lucasfilm, it's been widely assumed that when Dark Horse's contract finished within the next year or so, Marvel will start publishing all Star Wars comics again. While this is by no means ugly, seeing as how Marvel does feature so much top notch talent nowadays, Dark Horse Comics are still cranking out some of the finest Star Wars stories out there right now, such as the current Brian Wood comic simply titled Star Wars, telling the stories of Han, Luke, and Leia, immediately following the Death Star's destruction in Episode IV. Great comics like this will come to an end, and therefore, more great Star Wars stories will be silenced. However, even though Marvel will more than likely start publishing new Star Wars comics in the next year or so, it's not like what has happened with the animation. With Marvel's vast talent pool of some of the greatest writers and artists currently working in comics, there's no reason to believe that these stories wont be of high quality, it's just sad to see such high quality comics come to an end so that another company can take over.
Now, I know I've been talking negatively a lot about this acquisition, but I am still a supporter of it, because Star Wars has to become more than George Lucas if it wants to survive for generations to come, and nothing quite symbolizes it better than the good that is coming from this acquisition for the Disney theme parks.
I recently visited Orlando, FL, where I went to both Universal Studios and Disney World. At Universal I checked out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I have never seen anything else quite like it at any other theme park, including Disney. It's just so highly detailed and clearly made for fans, I could have easily spent a whole day in that small part of the park constantly finding new Easter eggs. Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, the rumors have begun that Disney is thinking of creating their own Star Wars-themed land at the Disney parks. These rumors are actually not that far-fetched considering that Disney has sent out surveys to selected Annual Disneyland Pass members asking them what they think of the possibility of not just one ride at the Disney parks, like there is now, but an entire land devoted entirely to Star Wars. After seeing the awesomeness of what Universal has done with Harry Potter firsthand, not only would an entire land devoted entirely to Star Wars be the perfect thing to combat that for Disney, but if any single movie franchise deserved a land entirely to itself, it's Star Wars. There are so many different worlds and characters in Star Wars, there are limitless possibilities to the types of rides, restaurants, stunt shows, and gift shops that could be constructed to take you into the Star Wars universe. I for one am fully behind this idea and hope that this isn't Disney just yanking our chain.
All in all, there have been good aspects to Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd., as well as some bad and just downright ugly things, but at the end of the day I'm still a supporter of this acquisition. While my faith in Disney has been a little rocked in recent weeks, in particular with the announcement of the cancellation of The Clone Wars and the firing of its staff, I don't think there has ever been a more exciting time in history to be a Star Wars fan. These new films are something that I never thought were possible and I couldn't be more excited just to see more live action Star Wars on the bigscreen for decades to come.
I give The Sapphires a B-!
Friday, March 15, 2013
Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who gets a 911 call from a kidnapped girl, portrayed by Abigail Breslin, being held in the trunk of a car. What follows is a tense, at times preposterous thrill ride.
Where The Call works is in creating suspense. While I typically feel it's a touch overkill to accentuate the intensity with bombastic strings and drums, the believable performances from Berry and Breslin make it work. To be honest, there's nothing wrong with this movie, it's just safe and predictable. The only area where it tries something different is in the weird ending.
The film manages to defy convention for the last two minutes, and it didn't really come across as believable for the characters that had already been established. Perhaps it would have been better had the filmmakers just gone full on with the genre conventions and given the film the predictable ending.
I give The Call a C!
Saturday, March 9, 2013
This Wizard of Oz prequel follows a conman magician from Kansas who goes by the name of Oz, portrayed by James Franco. When Oz boards a hot air balloon and is sucked into a tornado, he finds himself in the wonderful world of Oz itself, where due to his magic tricks and conman persona, he is mistaken as the Wizard of prophecy who will defeat the Wicked Witch and free Oz. Thus starts the journey of this film, so on and so forth.
To be perfectly honest, there is a lot to love here, but there is just as much that just irked me at times. I loved Michelle Williams as Glinda, but I found that James Franco was trying too hard at times to try and realize the Wizard of Oz that was in the script. Franco seemed to find that overacting was the way to try and sell the illusion of Oz's conman ways, but he still overacts when Oz has revealed he isn't a wizard and has become a good man. There isn't any real warmth or authenticity that Franco exudes in the role that makes me like Oz, or believe that he's changed, which is why the film so often missteps. Not to mention, the film never takes time to slow down and let the story breathe to take in the wonder that is the land of Oz, like the 1939 musical did, and neither does it allow the characters much time to become more than two-dimensional beings. This is the biggest drawback of Oz the Great and Powerful, because you never really get the sense that the land of Oz is a living breathing place that isn't just a bunch of computer wizardry, making the film often feel as fake as Oz's magic tricks. However, Oz the Great and Powerful is not a terrible movie.
While the movie never truly takes much time to develop the characters, the plot is rock solid and tells a simple enough story that will definitely entertain children, that is if they haven't already burst into tears at how scary Sam Raimi has made the flying monkeys this time about. It's definitely noticeable that this is a Sam Raimi film. Like he did in his Spider-Man movies, he uses many of his horror movie visual tricks to make the Wicked Witch, as well as her flying minions, genuinely terrifying, which is fine for me as an adult, but perhaps it's too much for children, so do heed caution before you take a small child to this movie. Moving on from the well-done scares, the movie also features a very likable supporting cast, with actor Zach Braff stealing almost each scene his CGI flying monkey, Finley, is in. Then, there's the black-and-white Kansas set-up at the very beginning, where we meet Oz and learn about who he is. This set-up takes nearly the first thirty minutes, but it's the strongest and most sincere thirty minutes of the entire movie.
While I don't think Oz the Great and Powerful is by any means an instant classic, it will delight it's targeted fanbase, which is children. The movie, while too simple for an adult like me looking for a little more character and grandeur to the tale, is very funny, and its heart is always in the right place, teaching that one can make themselves whatever they wish to be. However, I do strongly advise parents seeing this movie first without their kids and then deciding whether or not their kid is old enough for it.
I give Oz the Great and Powerful a D-!
Friday, March 8, 2013
To be released on November 7, 2014, the film will be co-produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. (Nolan's home over the past decade or so). A few years back, Steven Spielberg was initially attached to the film, working with physicist Kip Thorne to create a film about Thorne's theories on wormholes and how that could relate to interstellar travel. At that time, Spielberg commissioned Jonathan Nolan, screenwriting brother of Christopher, to write a film around the ideas that Thorne had proposed. In all honesty, news has been very mum on this film since. All that was known was about a year ago Spielberg left the project, but then news broke a few months ago that Christopher Nolan had been working out a revised version of the script with his brother, making this his next film, and now it's official.
To call Christopher Nolan anything other than one of the most creative individuals in Hollywood history, would be wrong. While I was dissatisfied with his last film, The Dark Knight Rises, I love pretty much every other film he's ever made and am thrilled to see him delving back into original territory after doing so many adaptations over the past few years. Inception was his last original film, and if that film proved anything, is that Nolan could make thought-provoking sci-fi films that are also highly entertaining, and I expect nothing less from Interstellar. While little is known about the story other than the released logline of the film, stating that it will, "depict a heroic interstellar voyage to the furthest reaches of our scientific understanding," it's safe to assume that the film will fit in comfortably with Nolan's already established filmography, balancing blockbuster thrills with thought.
Honestly, this seems like a logical move for Nolan. He's hot right now, he literally could make anything he wants, and I think he realizes that and is striking while the iron is hot, making these big budget thinking man's films that had he not done his three Batman films, no studio would have entrusted so much money to do. Not to mention, Nolan is a gigantic fan of Stanley Kubrick, who directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Nolan has spoken on many occasions about how he'd love to make a film like 2001 someday. While I find 2001 boring, I think Nolan has enough sense of adventure to make something that wont be. We'll see when Interstellar hits in 2014. For the full look at the press release, check out this link.
Monday, March 4, 2013
So far I've been pretty quiet about any news regarding DC's Justice League movie that is in production over at Warner Bros., primarily because there's been nothing worth talking about. Other than WB setting a tentative Summer 2015 release date, there's nothing known about the film, and for that matter, it seems WB doesn't know what they want to do with it either.
It was reported last year that Gangster Squad screenwriter, Will Beall, was hired to write a draft of Justice League for WB, but since, WB has discarded the script and are now actively searching a new avenue. It was believed that Beall's script was to not have any real connection to the other DC Comics based films, like The Dark Knight trilogy and the upcoming Man of Steel, but starting around Christmas, that started to sound like the route WB was wanting to go with word that they were so happy with Man of Steel that they wanted to take the realistic tone and style of that film and use it for a Justice League movie with Man of Steel's Superman, Henry Cavill, reprising his role.
Immediately around that time, rumors began swirling that WB was wanting to bring back Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises, and have him carry on the mantle of the Batman, fighting alongside the Justice League, alongside a retooled, more serious version of Ryan Reynold's Green Lantern, however that rumor was quickly squashed with WB stating that they were waiting to see how Man of Steel performed with critics and audiences before they made a decision.
This brings us to now, with the latest bit of information scooped by Latino Review pretty much squashing Warner Bros. own comments about waiting, and that they are in fact wanting to use both The Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel as the structural foundation for either Justice League, or a film version of World's Finest (Batman/Superman team-up). Not only that, but Latino Review is reporting that The Dark Knight trilogy director, Christopher Nolan, will produce, with Man of Steel director, Zack Snyder, directing, but here's the real kicker, not only would Henry Cavill reprise his Superman role, but so would Christian Bale as Batman.
Now, if you have not seen The Dark Knight Rises, I'm giving you a fair SPOILER ALERT before I go any further...
Okay, still with me? The biggest surprises for me are the ideas that: A.) Nolan would agree to his version of Batman playing alongside other costumed superheroes after he's been so outspoken about his Batman existing in a world where there are no other heroes, B.) Bale's Batman would return to the cape and cowl after faking Bruce Wanye's death and giving up the hero lifestyle at the end of The Dark Knight Rises so he could live happily ever after, and C.) The fact that last Summer, Christopher Nolan was saying that The Dark Knight Rises was it for his version of Batman, there would be no more. For all of the reasons listed above, this leads me to doubting Latino Review's report, however one must always take into account their almost perfect track record at scooping big news stories before they break. Need anyone be reminded that they were the first ones who found out Heath Ledger was playing the Joker, or that they were the first to announce Brandon Routh's casting as Superman in Superman Returns, or the first to announce that J.J. Abrams was directing Star Wars: Episode VII. So what if they're right once more?
Honestly, Latino Review's track record is the reason that almost every movie news website has been reporting this story. The odds are actually in their favor that this may be true, and if so, then this would be quite possibly the biggest superhero movie news in quite sometime.
Personally, if you ask me, this is the best thing that could happen in regards to a Justice League/World's Finest movie. While I am not one hundred percent sold on Man of Steel, there is no denying the fact that the movie, having been written by The Dark Knight trilogy writer, David Goyer, and produced by Christopher Nolan, makes the film look very similar to the realistic style and tone of Nolan's Batman movies. This is a striking similarity that more than lends credence to this idea. However, many fans are questioning why Nolan would change his stance on not only continuing his Batman story, but also the idea that his Batman would now interact with super powered beings, something that Nolan shied away from.
My only thought is that after working on Man of Steel, Nolan's possibly rethought his idea that his Batman could not exist in a world with other heroes, and that he's come around to the idea that his Batman should continue on with this new Superman that he's helped shepherd to the screen. I can't say for sure, but what I can say is that, if true, this will not only heighten my anticipation for both Man of Steel and Justice League, but might also right some of my complaints with the ending of The Dark Knight Rises.
I was not a fan of the ending of the The Dark Knight Rises. I did not like the fact that Bruce Wayne would give up the cape and cowl. If you've ever picked up a Batman comic book, you'd realize that being Batman is who Bruce Wayne is. Batman is a compulsion for him, he will always feel guilty for his parent's deaths and he will always feel the need to rid the world of evil for that very reason. The ending to that film just did not ring true to what I know of the real Bruce Wayne from the comics. What continuing his story could do is show that Bruce Wayne may have left Gotham, but he hasn't left crime fighting entirely, especially if a big enough threat came along that forced him to come back out of retirement and join forces with the likes of Superman to ensure that the world is saved.
But what about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake? Well, they could assume the idea of what happened in the comic books with Batman, Inc., where Bruce Wayne left another person as Batman in Gotham, and he spent his time traveling the globe and working on making Batman a global threat to where there were no more shadows where evil could hide. But not only would this right some of my complaints with the last Batman movie, but this would also allow DC and WB to explore the fertile ground that is Batman and Superman's friendship for the very first time on the silver screen.
In the comics, Batman and Superman have been the best of friends for decades now. It's arguable whether or not there is another character in the DC universe that knows Batman as well as Superman does, and vice versa. This is a relationship that we've never been able to see explored on film before, and nothing would excite me more than seeing this rapport played out between two great actors. This relationship would separate Justice League/World's Finest from Marvel's The Avengers and make it it's own thing. For all of the creative reasons listed, I think that's reason enough to think why this might be true, but I would have to say the biggest reason I feel that Latino Review's report has legs is the sheer financial impact that this could have.
Business wise, the idea of Christian Bale's Batman teaming up with Henry Cavill's Superman, especially if Man of Steel is a hit, is akin to Marvel gathering all of their hit properties together and doing The Avengers. The Dark Knight trilogy has been among one of the highest grossing movie franchises of the past decade, and if Cavill's Superman strikes it rich at the box office as well, then Justice League/World's Finest just became a guaranteed success. I can bet you that WB has been thinking about this ever since last Summer when The Avengers was so huge, and it wouldn't surprise me if they haven't been courting Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale this whole time and the two just finally caved, possibly for some of the creative reasons I've mentioned above, or simply because the pay was too much to pass up. This is Hollywood after all.
Bottom line is, though, this should all still strictly be considered rumor, seeing as how WB probably wont make any official announcement until they do see the success of Man of Steel, at least that's my opinion. However, it would not surprise if WB didn't already have a vague deal with Nolan and Bale in place, to where they'd be ready to go if WB gives it the greenlight. While Latino Review was only speculating when they said that they'd be willing to bet that writer David Goyer would write this Justice League/World's Finest movie, it is very likely as well, seeing his association to both franchises. Maybe he cracked how to make his and Nolan's Batman work alongside superpowered Superman? As I said, this is all still rumor, but it's a rumor that I wouldn't be surprised to see revealed to be true. As for now, all we can do is hope.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
If you even have a passing knowledge of the, "Jack and the Beanstalk," fairy tale, then you know the story of Jack the Giant Slayer. Where director Bryan Singer's film finds its footing and stands on its own is that it doesn't try to reimagine the fairy tale as something darker or more twisted, but rather makes the film like a Golden Age Errol Flynn adventure film, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Jack the Giant Slayer is a very simple film in that you know who the heroes and the villains are from the first time you see them, it's not looking to overcomplicate the fairy tale or create surprise. The film utilizes the archetypal characters from the Hero's Journey, just as the original Star Wars did, and from the first moments you see farm boy Jack and princess Isabelle, you know their motivations and you're already in love with them. Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson have very good chemistry as Jack and Isabelle, but the performance I loved the most was Ewan McGregor doing his best Errol Flynn impression as swashbuckler, Elmont the knight. Rounding out the cast is Stanley Tucci as bad guy Roderick, and he's the type of mustache twirling bad guy you remember from all those great adventure flicks of your youth.
What really sells this film as a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, is that the film never takes itself too seriously and always remains lighthearted and adventurous, with jokes even in some of the more serious moments where Singer and company could have made it darker. Then there's the spot on musical score by John Ottman, who channels the best of Old Hollywood's go-to adventure film composer, Max Steiner, with a recurring theme that is memorable and heroic. However, what really separates this film from being like those Errol Flynn swashbucklers, is the sheer scope of the story.
A film like this could not have been made in the Golden Age of Hollywood, and I would argue that this film could have not even been made ten years ago, in live action at least. To effectively pull this concept off, the film required tons of special effects to work, and while some of the CGI work isn't always photorealistic and a little cartoonish, all of the giants are created through motion capture performance technology, and without it this film could not have been realized. It's this ginormous scale that makes the film modern and not simply a throwback to a bygone era of moviemaking. Though, to assume that Jack the Giant Slayer is so simple that it doesn't actually have anything to say, would also be wrong.
The true brilliance of Jack the Giant Slayer is the thematic idea that ties the entire story together of how stories are told, and how stories change over time and become myth or are taken out of context, to where people often forget that something they read in a book actually occurred and is the truth. I found this commentary hitting very close to home. Whether it's history, myth, or a religious tome, many people nowadays seem to not ever think twice about the stories that exist in our society and refuse to believe, and Jack the Giant Slayer has me genuinely thinking about the truths so often ignored in those stories.
I give Jack the Giant Slayer an A!