Dude! It’s time to talk about the summer movie season

The Fantastic Four return in 2015 with a gritty, dark reboot. Courtesy Fox

The Fantastic Four return in 2015 with a gritty, dark reboot. Courtesy Fox

Since I was a kid, summer was about going to the movies. I blame Star Wars, really. I enjoyed movies before Star Wars, but, as an eight-year-old kid sitting in a theater, Star Wars was a religious experience.

Of course the summer movie season has grown since then, with the studios putting all their big-tent movies out during the season, hoping to rake in dump trucks full of money. And while it’s easy to shrug off summer films as ephemera, many of them have remained popular over the years. Yes, the summer movie is typically “the popcorn flick” in the minds of many. But what’s wrong with that? The Wizard of Oz is really a popcorn flick, and a damn great film.

I’m excited for this summer, although last year will be hard to beat. Marvel book-ended our 2014 summer with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two great films that show just how well-oiled the Might Marvel Movie Machine is. We also got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Both are good movies based on what seemed like tired franchises.

So here’s a breakdown of some of 2015’s most anticipated summer films. I will generously rant about what’s wrong with humanity as the subject comes up. My expectations are based on the trailer and whatever general knowledge about the film is out there.

Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers age of ultron poster

Who the hell makes titles to movies these days? I miss the old days when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home came out and, rather than waste time and brain cells saying and remembering that title, we just said “the one with the whales.”

And I like that they always put “Marvel” at the front. I thought the last Avengers film was a sequel to the Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman film.

When The Avengers came out a few years ago, I expected it to be the peak of the Mighty Marvel Movie Movement. We had gotten a great collection of films: Iron Man, Iron Man 2 (not the best, but still a watchable film), The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Not only was it a fun film that used the characters and cast well, it whetted my appetite for more Marvel movies.

Again, I feel that maybe this year is the apex for Marvel. But I’m always wrong. It just seems like the property is getting so big, it is bound to crush itself.

What Marvel and Disney have done is unprecedented. They’ve created a cinematic universe. The move took balls and it paid off. They’ve developed a cinematic fabric that keeps getting larger and more complex.


I must say, Disney has become the master’s of building anticipation through teasers and trailers. The trailers to Age of Ultron tell us as little as possible about the film, yet instilling a desire to see the film. I thought Ultron was a terrible villain choice until I saw him move and heard James Spader’s voice.

Age of Ultron is the big movie this summer. My biggest concerns is some of the action scenes look exactly like the action scenes in the first film. There’s also an ever-so-slight feeling that the main cast is getting a little tired of these movies.

The Fast and the Furious 7

furious 7

Or Furious 7.

I’m not sure if the term “guilty pleasure” is a useful term or not. If you like a film, you like it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Well, if your favorite film is Fifty Shades of Grey, you should feel guilty … and see a priest. Movies are highly subjective. While a general consensus has some value, I enjoy reading reviews to get other people’s perspectives, it all boils down to whether each individual liked it or not.

I really dig the Fast and Furious series. There are some serious missteps since there was never a plan to have a franchise. It was Fast Five that really pulled the series together. That film had everything I want in an action movie (although boobs would have been nice).  And Furious 6 followed that formula. I’ve grown to like these characters. And the films deliver a lot of bang for your buck.


F7 was originally intended to come out last year, but Paul Walker died. I’m still not sure how this will be handled in the film. The biggest challenge is going to be how do the filmmakers produce a film that’s fun and exciting without disrespecting the audience’s feelings about Walker. Tough situation. I hope it’s handled well.

Ant-Man

ant-man poster

When Marvel announced Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought it had gone off the deep end. I was familiar with the characters (neerrrd!), but could not image the general public accepting such an eccentric concept.

To its credit, the Massive Marvel Marketing Machine really sold the film to audiences.

Ant-Man is another quirky Marvel concept. The effort to get Ant-Man on the screen has been challenging. Edgar Wright, who made Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, one of my favorite comic book adaptation, was all set to direct. Eventually he left and Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring It On, and The Break-Up) got the job.


The teaser left me shrugging my shoulders. I hope it’s good. Really, I never want a movie to be bad. I don’t have time for bad movies. Paul Rudd seems a bit miscast, but Marvel’s been dead-on with its casting in these films.

And for the record, clever poster Marvel.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic_Four_2015_poster

Can we just stop it with the reboots?


I admit the teaser intrigues me. It is certainly a good-looking film. But the concept of  Dr. Doom being a blogger worries me greatly. This is a franchise that Fox has, so, while a Marvel property, has no relationship with the Mega Marvel Movieverse.

I know I'd pay $12 to see this brought to live action. Come on Fox, bring it!

I know I’d pay $12 to see this brought to live action. Come on Fox, bring it!

Doctor Doom being a blogger shows a lack of confidence in the source material. Have you seen Loki in The Avengers? Marvel and Tom Hiddleston own that shit! It just feels like Fox doesn’t get it.

I used to read Fantastic Four comics. They were fun, colorful, exciting, and, at times, silly. Give it a tone like Guardians of the Galaxy. Or, if you want to be daring Fox, make it a parody of the entire genre. It needs a good ribbing.

Pixels

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Wait! A movie not based on a comic book or long-running franchise. Could it be Hollywood wants to produce something original for our summer entertainment orgy?

To quote Nelson Muntz: “Ha ha.”

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

This is blatant knock-off of an episode of Futurama. Aliens attack, using classic video games as the blueprint for their invasion. If it were clever, I’d be cool with scrumping the concept.

And did I mention, Adam Sandler? I love his older films. They are stupid, and I mean STUPID, but I laughed a lot during Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. However, the guy hasn’t had an inspired moment in more than a decade. Based on the trailer, he’s just walking through this role. And honestly, if Adam Sandler doesn’t give a shit about his career, why should I?


My feeling is that this movie exists for two reasons: nostalgia and CGI. Wouldn’t it be great if all your favorite old-school video game characters invaded earth? Not really. Hey, with CGI we can make it look like a pixilated Donkey Kong is really attacking mankind. That’s cool, right? Um, we’ve really passed the point of CGI as just a visual gimmick.

Mad Max: Fury Road

mad-max-fury-road tom hardy

Originally I forgot to write anything about Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s a shame, because I’m excited about this one. I am not one to gripe about CGI in films. But it has been overused. While this film has some CGI, the majority of the action is practical. And by practical I mean cars and trucks smashing into each other.

I love the original films, especially The Road Warrior. Beyond Thunderdome is weak, partially because it is a watered-down, kid-friendly version of the first two films. But the first two, I swear stunt men died making those.

That’s insane! Tom Hardy looks like he’s going to do a great job taking over Mel’s role. And it’s great to see George Miller, the original director, returning to Max’s post-apocalyptic world. Visually, it looks creative, not derivative.

And it looks like the film’s earned an R rating, so kick those little kids out of the theater and let me enjoy the mayhem.

Terminator: Genisys

entertaiment weekly terminator genisys

For films, Terminator Genisys is like someone (an asshole by the way) took your grandmother’s amazing apple pie recipe and added kale.


Rather than reboot Terminator, still a bad idea, a bunch of people who didn’t have a goddamn thing to do with the classic films have decided to create a change in the timeline, rewriting the events of the original Terminator film.

I was going to use this image to show what I think Paramount is doing to a classic film. But then I realized that might be an insult to Don Martin's comic genius. Image: Mad Magazine.

I was going to use this image to show what I think Paramount is doing to a classic film. But then I realized that might be an insult to Don Martin’s comic genius. Image: Mad Magazine.

It’s copying the formula used in Star Trek (2009). However, the producers of this Terminator film less interested in finding a way to reboot the franchise in a way that allows an original story, and more interested in finding a way to re-hash the first film, while pretending to create something new. Looking at the trailer, I see nothing original or even a little clever.

I thought the remake of Robocop got a few things right. First, it was a remake. It took the basic concepts and tried to make its own story out of it. Second, as a remake, it understood that certain rules from the original have to be translated over to the new version.

Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator Genisys has no input from James Cameron, the man who created the first two films. Neither situation is a guarantee of quality, but it says something about the artistic vision behind the two films.

I love Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I love the first two Terminator films — and don’t hate the other two. He’s important to the franchise, but that’s only because no one seems to be interested in truly developing an original Terminator film.

The producers recast every character in the film, except Arnold. I would be happier if they just recast the Terminator instead of going with grandpa-terminator. However, the new cast seems a bit off to me. A lot is riding on audiences embracing the new cast.

And that leads me to …

A Little Originality, Please?

I don’t expect every film to be the most original film ever. Many great films have been based on books. Many of the Marvel films are great films with compelling plots, interesting characters, and clever dialogue.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) was a remake of a film based on a short story. The film, however, is very much its own entity, full of creative visuals. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) was a remake of a film based on a short story. The film, however, is very much its own entity, full of creative visuals. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

But the current summer movie roster seems to lack any original ideas. If you look at 1982, a big summer movie season, studios released a large variety of films. Yes, many of them were franchise films (there was a Grease 2?). However, there was also E.T., Blade Runner, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

It is sad, at least for me, when Pixels seems like the most original idea out there. It’s not a very original idea, not at all.

It also bothers me that we, the audience, now use Hollywood business terminology for our films. Every film is intended to be a franchise. We don’t think of Avengers as a series of films, but as a product. Fox and Sony keep rebooting the Fantastic Four and Spider-man because they don’t want to lose the property.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”  achieves exactly what Sony Pictures seemed to have in mind; make a film that will fill seats, make a profit, and insure an “Amazing Spider-Man 3.” It’s not a bad film, just pedestrian. And it adds as little as possible to the Spider-Man cinematic canon.

The film manages to be a long, painfully long, toy commercial that does not fall into the trap of “Batman and Robin,” a film people still talk about. To Joel Schumacher’s credit, he created a Batman movie that won’t, no cannot, be forgotten. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” however, is a forgettable film.

amazing spiderman 2 posterI saw it 24 hours ago, and I’m having trouble recalling much of the film. It is ephemera, not cinema. Am I being to harsh on a comic book movie? Not at all. People still talk about “The Avengers” and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. Last month’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” featured superheroes and a strong plot.

The action scenes in this installment, or more accurately, Sony’s legally-necessary release, are typical of summer fare, full of impossible CGI shots and ultra-slow motion imagery. But the action scenes do almost nothing for the story. They just happen.

Yes, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has a story, which is almost the exact story of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. I’ve seen these chunks of plot too many times. Peter Parker’s love life is again, challenged by his career as a web slinger, aunt May is worried about Peter and sad, Gwen Stacy wants to do something with her life (it was Mary Jane in Raimi’s) and needs to figure needs Peter to figure out her enigmatic clues or she’s gone, some guy gets in an accident and decides he wants to be a supervillain, and so forth.

Yet the film is competent and, occasionally, enjoyable. The feeling is of a film written by committee, but an occasional emotion comes through. The cast is great, doing the best with what they have been given. Andrew Garfield turns in a strong performance as Peter Parker. Dane DeHaan enters the film as Harry Osborne. DeHaan has some great scenes early in the film, but, like everyone else, must turn into an insane villain before the film’s end.

My favorite scene has Peter and Harry by the waterline talking. For a moment, the film radiated sincerity. Maybe director Marc Webb — I kid you not. That’s his name — should make a Spider-Man film just about Peter’s relationships. The personal moments, along with a few Spider-Man moments, save the film from ruin.

As for the villains in this film, I don’t care. I’ve seen the same origin story many times. They exist to give Spider-Man something to do. Jamie Foxx does fine with a role that gives him little to do.  Paul Giamatti, playing the Rhino, has nothing to do in the movie. He is the film for five minutes.

If only to confuse the entire theater, Sony tacked on a teaser for Twentieth Century Fox’s summer Marvel film “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” This happens about a minute into the end credits. Unlike the Disney Marvel films, this teaser had nothing to do with this Spider-Man film or any future one.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” as its title suggest, is a product. In a few years, Sony will release “The Amazing Spider-Man 3.” Why bother with proper titles when a number will do. Kids seemed to enjoy the movie, but if you are over 12, I suggest you see “Captain America : The Winter Soldier” instead.

 

 

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

CapAmWSpos_bigThere’s something rotten at the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s up to Captain America to find it and save the world!

Seriously, if I told you more, it would give away too much. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the latest visit to Marvel’s cinematic universe. If there were concerns that the Marvel films were heading for disaster – or at least disappointment – The Winter Soldier delivers the most engaging Marvel film yet.

Steve Rogers, or Captain America, is still having some trouble adjusting to the modern world. But he keeps busy, helping S.H.I.E.L.D. with rescue missions and other assignments. However, he discovers Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has an agenda that is being kept hidden from Rogers. Meanwhile, Rogers befriends, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), an Iraq War veteran who helps other vets adjust to life after combat.

And then all hell breaks loose. The film features double-crosses, hidden agendas, political intrigue, ghosts of the past, killer computers, and a clear message about the dangers of giving up freedom for the sake of security.

Iron Man 2 aside, I have enjoyed the Marvel films. However, so many of them have been focused on origin stories. As amazing as The Avengers is, it is really 90 minutes of the characters fighting with each other and a climax featuring an alien invasion, which we knew about early in the film. The Winter Soldier, however, has more plot than the other Marvel films. I found myself being taken deeper into the story as each new plot point or twist was revealed. The plot has a 70s-conspiracy-movie vibe to it.

This is still an action movie, and The Winter Soldier delivers. It features a fantastic car chase and multiple fight scenes. The opening scene, in which Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) infiltrate a ship overtaken by pirates, features some great sequences, and some great sound editing. My son and I found ourselves cringing at the sound of Captain America giving the bad guys a beat down.

Great performances dominate the movie, with Chris Evans continuing his portrayal of a man living out of sync with the times, yet Steve Rogers never seems like an idiot. Evans acts like a man who is smart, but is still trying to absorb the changes around him. Samuel L. Jackson, who has appeared in nearly all of the Marvel films, gives his best performance as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I have never been a fan of Fury in these films, but his character gets more to do in this film, and Jackson brings humaneness to Fury that I haven’t seen before.  Anthony Mackie joins the cast, giving us a character I liked from the minute he meets Rogers.

And I can’t ignore Robert Redford, an actor not known for just doing acting jobs for a paycheck. His portrayal of Alexander Pierce, Fury’s boss, is complex. Redford shows that he is still one of our greatest living actors, and it’s great to have him in a movie with this much political intrigue.

The Winter Soldier was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, whose credits include Arrested Development and Community. While there are moments of levity in the film, these two brothers keep the focus on the plot and amazing action scenes.

I’ve only touched the surface of the story here and the twists the film takes. When one character’s identity was revealed, which, if you’ve read comics regularly, you already know, the gasps from audience members were sincere. The directors cleverly help the audience identify the character by dropping clues and then giving them a moment to digest the reveal.

The comic book film has truly matured. The Winter Soldier is outstanding entertainment with a great plot and some exciting scenes. If you’ve been watching these movies, sit through the credits – all of them – to find out where next year’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to take us.

Copyright 2014 Tony George

I Can’t Wait for Captain America to Return!

So, I usually write about what’s going on in Reno or a movie review  (because maybe you live in Reno and are wondering if a movie is worth checking out). But I try not to show my excitement about a movie. My goal is to review a movie as is, not what I hope it is. But today is an exception.


I am seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier tomorrow night with my youngest son, 14. I enjoyed the first a lot. The first half was one of the better origin stories in Marvel’s cinematic universe. The second half was a more traditional comic-based story.

What I love about Captain America, in comics and in the movies, is that he’s a good guy because he wants to be.  He has abilities superior to the average man and he wants to help. I think, a midst the tortured souls of the Marvel Universe, he does what he does because it’s the right thing to do.

I know almost nothing about the new Captain America movie, other than what has been in the trailers. It looks like Cap putting his all-American ideals against those who have corrupted the spirit of the nation. If so, I’m in. I really look forward to this film. I hope to have my review up by Friday morning.

Peace!

P.S. I may have had a bit too much red wine while writing this.

Copyright 2014 Tony George