Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Batman Beyond: What Will Happen Next?

The Next Batman (*Major Spoilers*)

As established by the ending of The Dark Knight Rises and the profits realized from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Batman will undoubtedly endure on the big screen. But where exactly will the franchise go from here?

The Dark Knight Rises leaves many unanswered questions, but perhaps the most contemplative are those questions that surround Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, John Blake, or rather “Robin” Blake.

At the end of Rises, we learn that John Blake’s legal name is Robin when he picks up a duffle bag left behind for him at Wayne Enterprises. But does that necessarily mean that John/Robin Blake will become Batman’s red tunic wearing sidekick?

Not likely. In the duffle bag, now under Blake’s ownership, are the tools one would need in order to gain access to the Batcave. That’s “Bat” as in Batman, not Robin. Christopher Nolan has stated on numerous occasions that he would not include “Robin” in his Batman universe. Now, that’s Robin the superhero sidekick as we know him from the comics, not Nolan’s depiction.

When you modernize one of the oldest and most iconic comic book characters of all-time into arguably the greatest trilogy in the history of cinema, you are allowed a little creative latitude. And with that latitude Nolan created a character (John/Robin Blake) that mirrors Bruce Wayne/Batman’s code of ethics and morals while paying homage to perhaps the most famous sidekick in superhero history.

In the last scene, we watch as Blake enters the Batcave using the cables and gear from the duffel bag. And then we witness one last taunt from Nolan. Blake, starts to rise unceremoniously on the platform that contains the Batsuit, but the image cuts off before we can really see anything. Well, unless a more fashioned sense Bruce Wayne replaced “his” suit with the colorful Robin ensemble from the comics, it’s pretty safe to say Blake will become the next Batman, or at least follow in Bruce Wayne's footsteps to some degree.

Now, I know that Blake becoming Batman isn’t everyone’s view on the ending, and yes until the next film it will be left open to interpretation. With that being said, Blake will definitely without a doubt be the next Batman, if Warner's decides to maintain continuity with the future of this franchise. You have to remember that movies are essentially art fused with business. And you also have to remember that the business gets substantial authority in the creation of that art, because...well...they’re paying for it. Taking that into account, Warner’s is not about to let one of their most lucrative franchises fizzle out. Batman has brand power that takes decades to build. There is no possible way Blake can become Robin, because Robin does not possess  any stand alone brand power. Secondly, Blake is not going to fight alongside Bruce Wayne as Robin either, because Bruce is now retired. Wayne is out of the picture, that way Warner’s doesn't need to replace such a popular character with a different actor.  And thirdly, there isn't a chance on God’s green Earth Blake will become Nightwing. Over half of the general public doesn't even know who Nightwing is. I think audiences would be pretty shocked and disgusted if the Batman franchise was replaced by a character that they had no prior knowledge of.  

So, that leave’s one last available option...Blake becomes Batman. In the end, it’s all about what will make the “majority” of audiences happy, because if you make the “majority” of audiences happy, well, you've essentially maximized your profit as a studio. Warner’s hit the jackpot with Nolan’s Bat-trilogy, seeing as how it is by far the most profitable Batman adaptation to date. They’re going to do everything they can to continue to milk more dollars. With that being said, if you were Warner’s would you rather try and manufacture a continuation of Nolan’s vision, reboot the character or introduce a new character entirely?

If you chose, “continuation,” congratulations you are correct. The conclusion to The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end for Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale and Warner’s. It allows Nolan and Bale to exit and move onto other projects, but it also allows someone else to pick up where Nolan left off, without forcing Warner’s to reboot the character entirely. However, that does not mean it’s going to be easy for Warner’s to find someone that will be able to follow Christopher Nolan’s tough act.

That brings us to our next question...

Who will take over for Christopher Nolan?

Every time this question is asked, self-proclaimed “film fanatics,” blurt out Darren Aronofsky. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of Aronofosky’s work, but there’s more than one blatant problem with this answer. For one thing, the biggest budget Darren has ever worked with is $35 million, on his Sci-fi wonder, The Fountain. The Dark Knight Rises had a budget of $250 million. That is a significant difference. Now, I’m not saying that Aronofosky wouldn’t be able to rise to the challenge. Budgets don’t always mean everything, but it is something to take into account. 

Perhaps the more obvious reason Darren will not helm the next Bat project is due to the fact that his Batman script was rejected by Warner’s back in 2000. This was the period in which an influx of Batman scripts flooded the doors of Warner Bros., back when they were trying to figure out which direction they wanted to take Gotham’s greatest detective.

Ultimately, Aronofosky understood why Warner’s didn’t want to roll with his project, but he did believe in his vision. And that’s the problem. To put it simply, if Aronofosky were to continue Nolan’s vision, it would be “Nolan’s” vision and not his. That can be a tough pill to swallow for a creative mind such as Aronofosky’s. And I believe it would be enough to deter him from the project, at least until a complete reboot. I also believe that the same will ring true for other rumored “big name” directors.

Directors are visionaries; they want to carry out the images they see in their mind when they read or write a script. They want to be able to create the way they see the world and they often don’t like restrictions. And although it is not confirmed, it appears as though the future Batman films, at least the first one, will come with some restrictions in order to continue off Christopher Nolan’s vision. That poses a problem. Because how do you exactly find a director that will be willing to abandon that sense of individualism?

Well, I can think of one way...you keep it in the family.

Left: Jonathan Nolan Right: Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan has stated that this is “his” last Batman movie, but that doesn’t mean this is Jonathan Nolan’s last Batman movie. Jonathan, Chris’ younger brother, has helped pen the scripts for the last two batman films, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. In addition, he co-wrote The Prestige with his brother, wrote the short story that Memento was based on, and now he has a TV show called Person of Interest in which he has 24 writing credits. That’s a pretty solid writing resume, but it doesn't mean he has the ability to direct, especially a big-scale film running north of a $200 million budget (there’s that budget problem again). Unless...

Unless his brother has been silently mentoring him for the past four years. And it’s really not that outrageous to think so, especially because Chris has not been afraid to mention Jonathan’s involvement in the past two Batman films. It has been stated that Jonathan’s primary task during the writing of The Dark Knight was to focus on The Joker. Now, I don’t think I need to further explain how big of detail this is, considering those words that Jonathan wrote helped the late Heath Ledger earn a posthumous Oscar. Make no mistake, Heath’s performance was simply incredible and completely his own. All I’m saying is those chilling speeches Jonathan conceived were unquestionably brilliant and it shows that he truly has an understanding for his brother’s vision.

Jonathan also had a substantial impact on The Dark Knight Rises. “I was nervous how Catwoman would fit into our world. But Jonah turned me around,” Chris said in interviews with Empire Magazine. Meaning, the inclusion of Catwoman was completely thanks to Jonathan. So, if you liked Catwoman, the Joker, or both then you like Jonathan’s style. But in any event, the man has been responsible for a significant amount of what you have seen from this trilogy.

So, if you want to see the Nolan Bat-Universe continue, I think this is your best shot. I also think Jonathan would do a fantastic job. Christopher Nolan has undoubtedly proved himself as one Hollywood’s elite directors over the past 5-10 years; I would imagine Jonathan has learned a trick or two by now. Moreover, Jonathan has said in interviews he would like to direct. The stars are aligning...

If you look at Christopher Nolan’s power over at Warner’s, you’ll see that he now has a substantial influence on their DC adaptations, as he seems to be God-fathering the Superman reboot, Man of Steel. This means that if Chris wanted to pass the torch to Jonathan, Warner's would more than likely jump at the idea. 

However, Chris is a mysterious filmmaker . He doesn't like to let fans in on any details until the absolute last second. I mean, most people thought The Riddler was going to be the villain in Rises until late 2011. With that in mind, I think it is entirely possible he could have been planning to hand it over to his younger brother. It could be days, months, maybe years before we find out, but it's possible. Anyway if it is true, I would speculate that Warner’s would fully endorse the idea.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Apes "Rise" in Vegas

Most of us have at least heard of the titular 1968 sci-fi classic, Planet of the Apes. And for those of you who haven’t you’re probably at least conscious of the more recent Hollywood reboots, specifically last year’s visual wonder, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Rise, starring James Franco is a bit different than its predecessors. The story follows scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) as he vehemently tries to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But like all modern scientists, he is forced to produce positive results before any of his potential cures can be FDA approved. So, Will tests his most recently developed drug on our distant ancestor, a chimpanzee named “Bright Eyes”. Initially, the drug called ALZ 112 appears successful. Bright Eyes becomes more sociable and she appears to be calmer than the other apes. But the next day, a series of unfortunate events ensue. When the caretakers at the lab try to get Bright Eyes out her cage she exhibits aggression and ultimately runs rampant through the building. The incident results in catastrophe as Bright Eyes is killed by the building’s security guards. Bright Eyes' death does not bode well for Rodman’s allegedly successful experiment. His boss, Steve Jacobs declares the drug project “dead,” fearing the drug has a violent side effect. However, we later learn that the real reason for Bright Eyes’ aggressive behavior was because she had given birth to a newborn. She felt threatened by the caretakers and her actions were that of her protecting her baby. Will, feeling responsible for the ill-fated disaster finds the baby ape hidden in the cell and ultimately brings it home with him to care for it himself.

Through the years, “Caesar” named by Will’s father, shows unusual mental growth, which is undoubtedly a result of Will’s drug during Caesar’s conception. Later, Will explains to Caesar about the drug that made him more intelligent and how his mother was accidentally killed. Enraged and betrayed, Caesar attacks one of his ape neighbors, but that is just the beginning of his new found anger. Caesar becomes so disgusted with his human captors he ultimately stages a revolt against the entire human race.

Well, a few chimpanzees in Vegas might be following a similar strategy. Earlier today July 12, 2012, Las Vegas Metro police shot and killed one chimpanzee and another was tranquilized and captured after the animals ran amok inside of a northwest Las Vegas neighborhood.  One woman who saw the wild chimpanzees told FOX5 that one of the chimps was acting “aggressive” and further explained how it began banging on the roof of her car. Now that's something you don't see every day. Police are currently unaware of where the chimps came from or how they got loose. Officer, Laura Meltzer said, “It is not immediately known where the chimps came from or to whom they belong.” 

They didn't see the movie...did they?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oliver Stone Revisits His Roots

If you've seen the TV spot for Oliver Stone's new film, Savages, you've probably also seen the way Universal chose to market it. Borrowing from the micro-trailer, “Not since Natural Born Killers and Scarface...Has Oliver Stone been this...SAVAGE.” When I first saw that marketing ploy I thought to myself, here’s another sub-par Oliver Stone movie, similar to the rest he’s put out in the past decade. But after seeing the film, I have to say Universal was right.

In Savages, Stone goes back to his roots. He takes the three common ingredients; sex, drugs, violence and then manipulates them enough to create a film that is gruesomely scandalous, plot-driven, and satirical. Savages has all of the classic Stone characteristics embedded in it. It’s controversial, clever, violent and sexy. So if you've missed 90s Oliver Stone, Savages is what you've patiently been waiting for.

The film’s structure is built around two best friends, Chon, an ex-Navy Seal played by Taylor Kitsch (John Cater) and Ben, a college-grad who majored in business and botany played by Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass). Together, Ben and Chon have a modest business. They manufacture and sell some of the purest dope in the country. Okay, so Chon’s background may not exactly make him an expert marijuana grower, but his role is vital to the upstart of their business. After his tour in Afghanistan he brings home some seeds which he ultimately gives to Ben. The result, Ben harvests plants with 10 times the normal amount of THC. Jackpot! They now have absolute competitive advantage in the marketplace. But being the best has a price of its own. When you are the best at anything people know who you are. And when you are the best at growing dope, the cartels know who you are. Well, complications down in Mexico force a particular drug cartel to look for new “business partners.”  And since the cartel wants to maximize profit, they need to be in business with the best. That’s where Ben and Chon come into play. But there’s one problem, Ben and Chon no longer want to be in the dope business and they are looking to shut down for at least a year. Well, that doesn’t go over very well with the drug lords.

These people are, well...savages. They will do whatever it takes to prosper. And that’s exactly what they do when Ben and Chon cop out of their business deal. They hit them where it hurts.  It’s no secret that in the trailer Ben and Chon are both in love with the same woman, Ophelia, who prefers to go by “O” (Blake Lively). And it’s also no secret that “O” is kidnapped by the cartel (there’s that extreme act I was talking about). You can see where this is going. Ben and Chon have to either comply with the cartel’s outrageous demands or fight. They choose the latter. The two best friends do whatever it takes to rescue their communal love interest. In fact, they might even get a bit savage themselves, stealing a page from the cartel handbook.  So if you’re looking for a Traffic-ish storyline that has a Tarantino-esque pastiche, then go see Savages.

The script is very well written and part of the reason may be because one of the screenwriters is also the author of the novel in which it is based on, Don Winslow. One thing I'd like to point out without giving anything away was Winslow's masterful job of using technology to enrich the film's motifs as he used it to move the story forward and sometimes sprinkle in some dark humor when he could. I'd also like to mention, Savages has a great soundtrack, particularly the rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" that plays during the credits, which proved Oliver still has a great ear for music.  

In addition, Salma Hayek is vaingloriously unstable as the drug lord Elena Sanchez, and Benicio Del Toro, Elena’s top runner is senseless and darkly hilarious. John Travolta gives one of his best performances in years as the two-faced Federal Agent as he changes sides more times than a Miami Marlins fan. Blake Lively walks a fine line between sexy and innocent and Taylor Kitsch puts on a pretty good performance himself.

I know what some of you might be thinking, “If it has Taylor Kitsch, it’s going to be a flop.” I actually thought the same thing. There’s no denying that Taylor was the lead in two of the biggest box-office flops in cinema history, John Carter (-71% profit margin) and Battleship (-70% profit margin), but there’s also no denying that in Savages, Taylor sort of steals the show. His character is cold and militant, but he makes you like him. He really plays the role well.

So anyway, if you like a film with violence, sex and some dark comedy, Savages would be a wise investment. Rotten Tomatoes’ currently has the film locked at a 54% rating, but I think that is way too low. Some critics are unable to go to a movie and enjoy it for what is, especially when it has a big name like Oliver Stone attached to it. I think most of them are probably citing the ending as their reason for a poor rating. I will admit the ending is not the best, but it didn't make forget all the things I liked about the film. But then again, I wasn't really expecting an Oscar quality ending, and I also didn't expect this to be one of Oliver's best works either. To be honest, I didn't really expect much, which is why it probably blew away my expectations. Anyway, I’m not sure where Savages ranks on your “want to see” list, but if you like films with this kind of content I would bump it up a little bit higher.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spidey Has a New Face

If you want to eradicate that horrific image seared into your mind by Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 back in 2008, a dose of The Amazing-Spider-Man should do the trick. Marc Webb’s (Yes, his last name is really Webb) re-imagining of the web slinging hero almost makes you forget Raimi’s dreadful third film, thanks to its more competently reversed script.

However, some of you might be asking, “Why would I want to see another Spider-Man origin story? It can’t possibly be any different than the first Spider-Man I saw.” Well, I don’t blame you if you currently possess that preconceived notion. In fact, my spider sense was telling me the same thing. But here’s the truth, Webb’s reboot is an entirely fresh take on our favorite creeper crawler and I’m going to tell you how. So let that be your warning. If you plan on investigating Sony’s The Amazing-Spider-Man with fresh eyes and a clear mind, I suggest you stop reading now. For those of you who still need some more convincing, I’ll get started. 

I’m sure all of you remember when Tobey Maguire first swung into theaters as Spider-Man back in 2002. In fact, I’m certain you do, considering the first spidey flick grossed $114,844,176 its opening weekend and $403, 706,375 overall. Back then, that kind of cash was a close cousin to this year’s smash hit, The Avengers. Don’t believe me? Compute the figures adjusting for inflation and then you’ll believe me. Adjusted for inflation, Spider-Man’s overall domestic take would be $550,319,200. Okay, now that I know we’ve all seen the same movie. In Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) was portrayed as the traditional Hollywood nerd with a crush way out of his league, the girl-next-door, Miss Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). We watched Peter get bullied, out casted, and stereotyped as he fought hard for Miss Mary Jane. And then, we watched him metamorphose into Spider-Man, and then everything seemed to come easy. Well, that’s probably the biggest difference in Marc Webb’s (500 Days of Summer) new take on the teenage super hero. Peter’s personality is completely reversed, as is the romantic element of the film. In the Amazing-Spider-Man, Peter Parker, now played by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) is portrayed as an average kid with nerdy ambitions. He likes skateboarding and he likes science. Yeah, I’d say that balances out somewhere in between rebel and nerd. Oh, and this time instead of having to chase his love interest, which is now Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), she chases after him and I have to say it was nice not having to watch the classic portrayal of female indecisiveness for a change.

In addition to the change in protagonist archetype and counterpart motive, The Amazing Spider-Man offers us more insight on Peter’s past. Raimi’s film never once mentioned Peter’s father, so if you’re looking for some clarity in that department Amazing is worth checking out. Webb’s iteration also takes a more scientific and in my opinion more realistic approach as to how Peter actually becomes Spider-Man.  So if you were worried about seeing the same transformation sequences, don’t, because they’re not. In Amazing, Peter’s transformation has purpose in that he becomes Spider-Man inadvertently while sweeping up clues at Oscorp. Sorry, I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, because this is truly a story you’ve haven’t seen. Webb’s film also captures more of Spider-Man’s chattering wit and immaturity (this is required due to the absence of Jonah Jameson) in the manner in which he disposes of small time criminals as well as Peter in the high school setting.  Other obvious differences include, swapping the Green Goblin for The Lizard and Mary Jane for Gwen Stacy.

 Is it better than the original Spider-Man we saw back in 2002? It’s hard to say, at least for me. If Raimi hadn’t ruined the franchise with the abomination that was Spider-Man 3 and the brutal murder of my favorite super villain, Venom, I’d probably say the original was better. But because Spider-Man 3 left such a bad taste in my mouth I am almost inclined to say that the new one is better, because there is hope they can create a better overall franchise. In any event, I was a big fan of the way this new iteration flipped the script and I actually enjoyed Andrew Garfield’s performance and Emma Stone wasn’t too shabby herself. But in the end it’s up to you to decide for yourself. Whatever your initial feelings may be toward the Spidey flick, it’s worth a watch, because there will be at least one thing about it you’ll like even if it doesn’t completely surpass the original in terms of your standards. Oh, and also make sure you stay for the mid-credit scene after the movie. You will have absolutely no clue what it means, but just stay for it anyway.

The Hunger Games, Brave and Avengers Provide Financial Aid

Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Lionsgate Entertainment proved they could hang with the big boys this past March with the mega success of their clever book acquisition, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In its weekend opening, The Hunger games adaptation brought the studio $152, 535,747, making it the biggest movie opening the month of March had ever seen, as well as the biggest opening for a non-sequel and fourth biggest opening overall. Produced on a $78 million budget (excluding marketing costs) the film was quickly on its way to blockbuster success and it would eventually round up over $400 million at the domestic box-office, where it currently has accumulated $404,066,654.

Now the twelfth highest grossing film of all time, The Hunger Games has certainly helped Lionsgate clear a spot at the table of studio super powers.

Claiming their now well deserved spot, the humble, but inherently wealthier Lionsgate Entertainment joined the ranks of the major players in the industry, such as Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, Paramount and 20th Century Fox. Feeding off their acquisition of Summit Entertainment and the success of The Hunger Games, Lionsgate’s stock (LGF) has shot up from $8.40 a share to the mid-teens. That makes Lionsgate one of the best performing stocks of the year at a current return of 75%, if you bought it back in early January. Evidently, Christmas came early for Lionsgate, but they weren’t the only ones to get an early visit from Santa. The successful release of The Hunger Games film has also helped spike the sales of its source material, The Hunger Games novel. Scholastic (SCHL) now expects an adjusted 2012 profit to exceed $3.40 a share, ahead of its earlier estimate of $2.60 to $2.90. Amazon (AMZN), the world’s large online web merchant also rode The Hunger Games’ coattails as they were on track to sell more digital and physical copies of the three books in the first four months of 2012, than they did in all of 2011.

Movie theater chains such as Regal Entertainment (RGC), Cinemark (CNK), AMC Theatres (AMCX) and Carmike Cinemas (CKEC) have also benefitted from the success of The Hunger Games, specifically Carmike Cinemas, who have experienced tremendous growth over the past six months. Carmike opened at 6.79 a share after the New Year, but thanks to this year’s box office explosion they are now trading in the mid-teens and they still continue to climb. Currently, Carmike has grown nearly 117% just this year, but I suspect that number will ascend even higher before the year’s end. (Especially with many big blockbusters still on the horizon, including The Dark Knight RisesThe Bourne LegacySkyfallTwilight Breaking Dawn Part II and The Hobbit). However, that still doesn’t cover all of the different industries The Hunger Games has had a financial impact on.

Coincidentally, the success of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games has also made a substantial contribution to the boosts in archery sales. Actually, not just The Hunger Games, but a trio of this year’s biggest box-office movers, who all happened to have archery embedded into their themes. I’m talking about, The Hunger Games, Disney and Pixar’s, Brave, as well as this year’s biggest box-office success, The Avengers.  In economics we would call that an unintended effect, in the real world I would just call it inspired action. Whatever you want to call it, you can’t deny the monetary impact these films are having. Together, the three films have thus far accumulated a collective $1,174,275,654 at the domestic box-office (a significant reason why the box-office is currently up 9.5%, in comparative to last year) but again, that’s just the film industry.  Let’s take a look on exactly how much these films have helped promote the archery business. 

Paul Haines, a salesman at the Ramsey Outdoor Store in Paramus, New Jersey told NBC reporters, “All of the sudden sales of bows have tripled." Well, Paul is not alone. Archery and outdoor stores all over the country have been experiencing this influx of aspiring archers. Don Smith, who works at Archery Sports in Simi Valley, California, told ABC reporters, “I can’t tell you what the percentage increase in our business is because we can’t get enough bows in here to meet the demand.” The impact on archery sales has been so big businesses are now incorporating these films into their marketing scheme by hanging signs that read, “Quality bows for serious archers and girls who saw the movie,” as did Ramsey Outdoor Store. But how long can this fad really last? Well, it doesn’t look like it is dying anytime soon. The wildfire like desire to become an archer has been boosted even more with the release of The Avengers and Brave, and with the Summer Olympics coming into view it seems as though the craze will at least be perpetuated through the summer. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Avengers and What's Next

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for, when six of our favorite superheroes would take over the big screen to fight alongside each other in what we all hoped would be a cinematic wonder of comic book inspired action and fun.

But wait a minute, six superheroes in one film? Four of the aforementioned six had one film dedicated to just their characters alone and in the case of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, two films...how exactly is that going to work? In Joss Whedon we trust, said Disney’s Marvel Entertainment as they tasked the fanboy with the galactic challenge of sorts. And boy did it pay off. The Avengers opened to an astonishing $207, 438, 708, dethroning the previous record holder, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II ($169, 189, 427). Well, I guess it’s safe to say audiences liked it, considering The Avengers obliterated the opening of every film ever to reach the big screen, including the final installment in J.K Rowling’s heralded phenomenon, which collectively earned $7,706.1 billion worldwide in adjusted ticket sales. Never underestimate the power of the comics, roared Earth’s mightiest heroes in what proved to be the superhero masterpiece we had so patiently been waiting for. But it wasn’t only the fans who were satisfied beyond belief.

Disney hit the jackpot with their recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment as The Avengers assembled what is currently $608,959,760 at the domestic box-office, placing it third on the all time list and making it the studio’s top grosser to date. Luckily, their winning lottery ticket knew exactly what they were doing. Marvel had so brilliantly been building up to what ultimately became the framework for The Avengers by introducing each of the heroes separately.

It all started back in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Manfollowed by Edward Norton’s portrayal of our favorite, as Tony Stark condescendingly states in The Avengers, “enormous green rage monster,” in The Incredible Hulk. Then our heroes took a break and we didn’t hear from them again until Downey reprised his role as Tony Stark two years later in Iron Man 2. Refueled by the sequel’s $312,433,331 domestic gross, Marvel then released both Thor and Captain America a year later in 2011, only two months apart. Everything was in place, the after-credit clips interspersed among the five films created the structure for what was going to be The Avengers, and the only thing left for Marvel to do was to decide on who was going to helm the project they had been building up to for the past four years. Again, Marvel knew exactly what they were doing as they hired Joss Whedon.

Joss, a lifelong comic book fan and author of the Astonishing X-Men popular line of comics was the man for the job.  He allocated the perfect amount of screen time for each character, while blending in humor, emotion, dazzling action sequences, and not to mention he never lost the story. In short, Joss gave fans everything they could hope for. He also made a film that even adults with no prior comic knowledge, or interest could enjoy, so they didn’t have to mull in utter boredom when their kids forced them through the theater doors. Joss’s superhero opus proved in ticket sales that people of all demographics could relate to these suited heroes (with the exception of the Hulk) as it moved past The Dark Knight on the all-timebox-office listThanks to the collective success of Iron Man, The Dark Knight and The Avengers, the preconceived notion that the superhero genre is just a fad has been laid to rest, much to the benefit of aspiring superhero aficionados. But what’s next for the now pop culture phenomenon, Marvel’s other franchises and of course, Mr. Whedon?

Let’s start with Joss. The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and recently added member to Hollywood’s 1 billion dollar director’s club (thanks to The Avengers) has finally transcended his old iconic-cult-status, but what’s really in store for him? We can debate all day about what Joss’s future holds, but here are the facts.

Joss has just recently started a production company, Bellwether Pictures and has already shot his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is due out later this year. He has also written a film titled, In Your Eyes, which according to IMDB.com, is about two seemingly polar opposites that are connected in ways neither could have ever imagined. In addition, he remains committed to Dr. Horrible 2 and he also has an upcoming web-series called Wastelanders, which is reported to have a sort of post-apocalyptic storyline. Moreover, Whedon has publicly stated on his website, Whedonesque.com that he wants to do more television. As you can see the man is busy with a slew of smaller projects, but that does not necessarily mean he won’t return to his recent blockbuster success. I like to think he will follow the same path taken by The Dark Knight’s director, Christopher Nolan. It’s been reported that Nolan’s now Batman trilogy was not initially envisioned as a trilogy at all, nor did Nolan even think he would return for a sequel (The Dark Knight). In fact, it wasn’t until he completed The Prestige, his magic based mystery-thriller that he knew he wanted to make The Dark Knight. Nolan also used the same methodology before starting work on his final Batman installment and this summer’s most anticipated movie, The Dark Knight Rises when he shocked audiences around the globe with his sci-fi masterpiece, Inception. That being said, I think it is reasonable to assume that Whedon will employ a similar strategy and it could be he already is. As of now, it appears Whedon is torn on the subject of an Avengers sequel. In an interview with the L.A Times he has stated, “It’s an enormous amount of work telling what is ultimately somebody else’s story, even though I feel like I did get to put myself in it. But at the same time, I have a bunch of ideas, and they all seem really cool.” Sounds a little bit like Nolan’s feelings after Batman Begins. But everyone is different and only time will tell what Whedon’s final decision will be.

Now, let’s talk about the future of Marvel’s franchises and possibly the inception of some new ones. Currently, the schedule has Iron Man 3 slated for May 3, 2013, Thor 2 on November 15, 2013, Captain America 2 on April 14, 2014 and an Untitled Marvel Movie #1, which will be released on May 16th, 2014. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel studios recently sat down with Bloomberg to discuss these projects as well as the studio’s goals. He stated, “We want to do two films a year. Avengers, is our only film this year, but in a week and a half we begin filming Iron Man 3. By the end of the summer we’ll be working on the next Thor film, early next year the next Captain America film. Those are the three we’ve announced so far; we’ve got two beyond that we haven’t announced yet, but we’re working on.” If that didn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will. The most interesting subject is that of the Untitled Marvel Movie #1, what is it? If you couldn’t have guessed this statement by Fiege has ignited the fingers of bloggers everywhere as people are weighing in with their opinions. Some popular beliefs contend that the movie will either be Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy, the latter especially after Marvel so adroitly introduced Thanos in the mid-credits scene following The Avengers. Like many, I also believe this first untitled Marvel movie will be some sort of Guardians of the Galaxy film. Mostly, because I believe Thanos will be the primary villain in Thor 2, but that is just my opinion. Only the minds at Marvel truly know what the film will be, we will just have to wait patiently like we always have.

Okay, last, but certainly not least, The Avengers sequel. When will it happen? Well, all we can really say is that it will most likely follow the same formula as the original in that our heroes will have their own sequel before there can be an Avengers sequel. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the release date of The Avengers sequel will fall somewhere in 2015. Who will join the alliance of Earth’s mightiest heroes? This is a question I really cannot answer with certainty. It is probably likely that Ant-Man or Wasp will join the squad as well as maybe even Black Panther. It really all depends on what that second Untitled Marvel Movie #2 is. As for me, I’m hoping for the hopeful long shot that Spider-Man will join our heroes. Now, I know this goes against the storyline structured in the comics, but I’m going by my favorite heroes and who I’d like to see take the screen. Anyway, this is highly unlikely, because Sony currently owns the rights to Spider-Man and it would take a complex negotiation between Sony and Disney for it happen. However, I think it would be more than practical for them to try and strike a deal, because it could add another dynamic to the team, regarding Peter Parker’s age and immaturity when it comes to detaining criminals. Plus, what do you get when you factor in Spider-Man's box-office success with The Avengers? I would guess somewhere north of The Avenger’s record-breaking  $608,959,760, especially considering the  recent success of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which just became the biggest Tuesday opening of all time with $35 million and had a six-day haul of $140 million. But that’s just me. What do you think?

Prometheus Explained

When Prometheus was announced back in 2010 and originally titled Paradise, cinephiles and xenomorph faithfuls across the globe began to show their excitement for Ridley’s Scott prodigal return to the sci-fi genre. But did his “shades of gray” Alien prequel really live up to the hype set by his 1979 groundbreaking genre film?

The answer to that question isn’t simple, nor is the storyline to Prometheus. The premise lies heavily on the skepticism of creationism, while it also takes shots at the evolutionary principles formulated by Charles Darwin. Confused? Yeah, join the club. Prometheus has an elaborate plotline that juggles multiple hard-to-follow sub-plots that can easily escape the attention span of the average viewer.  

Skipping the prologue (we’ll get there in a second), the story begins with archaeologists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan-Marshall Green) as they discover a not-so-primitive cave painting on the Isle of Sky in Scotland. The painting resembles some sort of “star map” and it seems to coalesce with some of their prior archeological discoveries.  Astounded by their latest breakthrough, Shaw and Holloway momentarily exchange a brief string of dialogue that alludes to...let’s say, “Grander philosophical questions.” They believe that this painting (as well as the other similar artifacts they found earlier) represents an invitation. From whom you ask? Well, they seem to think that these congruent artifacts are essentially a trail of breadcrumbs left by humanity’s engineers. In layman’s terms, Holloway and Shaw contend that the human race was not a product of divinity, but rather a result of biological experimentation (don’t tell the Vatican) and they plan to prove their claim.

The inquisitive pair of archaeologists team up with a mysterious corporation known as Weyland Corp. and they follow their “star map” to a distant moon called LV 223, aboard the titular interstellar spacecraft, “Prometheus.”  Determined to find their alleged “puppeteers,” Holloway and Shaw explore the moon in search of clarity, but will they find the answers they’re looking for? Yes and no.

Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost) don’t really make it easy for us to fully understand the film’s motifs as they are constantly barraging us with sub-plots. So, for those who thought Inception was difficult to interpret, I would suggest not wasting your time or money on this film. But if you did go to the theater in anticipation of Ridley’s return to sci-fi, for the remainder of this article I will break-down Prometheus to shed some light on some of the questions you still might have. If you were like me, then you probably watched the credits roll with a feeling of overwhelming ambivalence and turned to your neighbors hoping they’d have the answer, only to find they were even more lost than you were. Well, the good news is I think I might be able to help. I caught a couple things on my second viewing that I missed the first go-around and I am fairly confident I can clear up most, if not all of your lingering questions. So consider this your spoiler alert, because from here on out I will be breaking down the main themes of the film in an attempt to unravel the mysteries. However, if you haven’t seen the film and you are still interested in my overall critique, scroll down to the final paragraph and check it out. Okay let’s dive in.

 What is the meaning behind the practically incomprehensible prologue?

 The film opens with truly stunning visuals, but it is confusing, open-ended and the entire sequence utterly lacks any context whatsoever. We are introduced to one of the “Engineers” (the blue-ish muscle bound humanoid), and we watch him drink a mysterious black liquid as he stands on the edge of a magnificent waterfall. As his body begins to digest the liquid, it begins to break-down, literally. His body disintegrates into the crashing falls and the last image we are left with is a strand of his DNA. To be honest, I don’t think I have ever been more confused after watching the first couple minutes of a film, but after hours of pondering I think I understand the message that Ridley and Lindelof are trying to convey. 

What I believe we are seeing is terraforming. The engineer was dropped off, as we can infer from the spacecraft floating behind him, to essentially make life itself sustainable on Earth. I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to spend time pretending I am, but somehow the engineer’s DNA will initiate a slow evolutionary process, which will then result into life on Earth as we know it. How do you feel about that?

What exactly is the black liquid?

The black liquid is really the most important character in Prometheus, as the island is the most important character in Lost (most likely Lindelof’s influence). Throughout the course of the film, the black liquid has profound effects on anything it comes in contact with, but what is it? And why do different organisms react differently to it?

 It is never revealed what exactly the black liquid is. So what is it?! Well, I believe that the black liquid is some sort of chemical that alters an organism’s evolutionary process as well as speeds it up. Let’s examine all of the different organisms that come in contact with the black liquid. The first, and you have to look real closely to catch this, are the worms that were preserved in the chamber in which the black liquid rests. Ridley provides for us a short angle cut on the soil-like floor of the chamber and holds for a moment as worms navigate through the soil. This is masterful foreshadowing at its finest, but the only problem is it takes a second watch to fully understand its brilliance. After David (Michael Fassbender) removes one of the vials from the chamber it causes the black liquid to go haywire. The liquid begins to cover the floor and thus comes in contact with the worms. The result, are the snake-like translucent creatures that attack and dispose of Fifield (Sean Harris) and Millburn (Rafe Spall). The creatures don’t really serve a purpose other than that they are our first glimpse of what the black liquid does. But that isn’t our only hint.

The second organism that comes in contact with the black liquid is Dr. Holloway when David slips a drop of the liquid into Holloway’s drink. But we never really get to see the full effect of the liquid on Holloway, because Vickers (Charlize Theron)  prohibits him from re-entering the ship and torches him with a flamethrower, fearing he will infect the crew and most importantly herself. However, we do get to see the genesis of Holloway’s transformation as his skin begins to turn black and his veins begin to bulge. If Vickers hadn’t incinerated Holloway, I speculate that he was destined for a path...well, let’s just say I don’t think many of you ladies would have wanted to bring Holloway home to mom.

The third is Fifield. This one I am still a little hazy on, because it appears as though Fifield was killed by the snake-like creature, but somehow the black liquid brings him back to life so he can annoy the crew one last time.  Basically, the liquid infuses Fifield with super strength and super rage and we get to witness it first hand as Fifield tosses his crew around like rag dolls, brutally killing a number of his former shipmates.  

The fourth and most important organism the black liquid affects and essentially creates is the xenomorph. Shortly after David spiked Holloway’s drink with some tasty black liquid, Holloway and Shaw engaged in sexual intercourse. Shaw, who ironically was unable to get pregnant, is pregnant a few hours later. Well, that’s weird, but it makes sense. The black liquid had already begun to run its course on Holloway during the time of fornication, so it is reasonable to assume that Holloway’s sperm was affected. Therefore, it is also reasonable to assume that the black liquid is now inside of Dr. Shaw’s uterus, causing her process of evolution to change and thus becoming pregnant with the earliest (facehugger) form of the xenomorph.

Why does David spike Holloway’s drink with the black liquid?

David is a robot, meaning he is incapable of feeling emotions. That being said, what drives him to intentionally poison Holloway with the black liquid? 

David never states why he spikes Holloway’s drink; therefore it is left open to interpretation. There really are only two reasons that explain David’s action. One, David was following an order. It is clear by the end of the film that David’s primary objective on the mission is to find a way for Weyland to live forever, which also explains why David is always running off on his own. That being said, we can assume that David put the black liquid in Holloway’s drink to test the water. He was simply trying to see if the black liquid was the key to Weyland’s request. Another reason for David’s actions (I think this route to be highly unlikely) would have to do with David’s programming. Prometheus takes place prior to Alien, and in Alien the robot Ash has a few technical problems to say the least. Therefore, we can assume that it is entirely possible David could have some kinks as well, causing him to go rogue. I am fond of the former argument, but I will leave it up to you to decide.

Why did Ridley Scott cast Guy Pearce as Weyland?

At first, it may seem like a waste of resources to cast a talented and good-looking actor as a barely clinging on to life old man. That got me thinking. Why would Ridley do that? There has to be a reason...and then it hit me. An iconic filmmaker like Ridley Scott wouldn't cast someone like Guy Pearce as a wrinkled old man for no reason.

I think Ridley cast Guy Pearce as Weyland, because there is a lot more to Weyland than we see in Prometheus. I also don’t think Scott returned to a franchise he gave birth to, just to make one film. I think he was thinking about a new franchise. Therefore, I think Weyland will play a much bigger role in the sequel to Prometheus (yes, there will be one) and he will do so in the form of flashbacks. So, in the sequel I am fairly confident we will get to see the Guy Pearce that we are used to.

Now, the only questions that remain are; why do the engineers want to destroy Earth and where is their home planet? And who engineered their race? Is there a divine power after all? These questions are pretty much un-answerable...until the sequel. I think that the sequel will clear up a lot of our questions and yield better results overall in terms of both box-office success and audience feedback. Lindelof was given a tough challenge and that was to incorporate the Alien franchise, while also creating a new one. However, I think that he did a rather brilliant job. If you are able to comprehend all the sub-plots in Prometheus and you aren’t exhausted by the time the credits roll, it actually turns out be a very action-packed and intellectually stimulating film. I think a lot of people were disappointed, because they thought the xenomorphs would play a bigger role, but that was never Ridley’s intention. He wanted to create a spin-off franchise that existed in the same universe as Alien and that’s exactly what he did.

All considered, I think Prometheus warrants a watch. I’m not going to tell you to rush to your nearest theater, but if you are intrigued, it is a fun movie. Michael Fassbender is brilliant as the android and he will certainly trigger some laughter. Noomi Rapace is marvelous as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and Charlize Theron and Idris Elba both play exciting characters. Just make sure you pay attention to every intricate detail throughout the film and make sure you don’t go into it feeling fatigued. If you miss one thing it could change whether you like the film or not, so hit Starbucks beforehand. But whatever your feelings toward the film may be, the most important thing to note is that Ridley is back in the sci-fi universe and I think he still has a few tricks of his sleeve. Maybe you will have more luck with his Bladerunner sequel...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

21 Jump Street Shakedown

21 Jump Street follows the Superbad formula and adds to it a little muscle. It’s raucous, entertaining, action-packed and utterly hilarious. Academy award nominee, Jonah Hill who produced and co-wrote the story is hysterical as expected, and if Channing Tatum failed to capture your hearts earlier this year with his performance in The Vow, he will certainly romance you as Jenko in this raunchy spin-off of the 1987 TV series starring Johnny Depp.

 The action-comedy about two police officers begins with a flashback and a hard to watch cringing awkwardness as Schmidt (Jonah Hill), the loser-nerd, musters up enough courage to ask the girl of his dreams to the Prom. As he clumsily stumbles over his words, his valiant effort quickly goes up in flames and Jenko (Channing Tatum), your stereotypical jock, makes sure to rub some dirt in the wound as he observes from his vantage point at a nearby locker. Don’t worry though, karma is a bitch. Jenko is momentarily summoned to the principal’s office due to his failing grades (bringing even more truth to the jock stereotype) and is deemed ineligible for the Prom, even when he is a shoo-in for Prom King. Ouch!

Interestingly enough, Jenko and Schmidt both choose to sulk on parallel benches outside of school, but their common interest still isn’t enough to induce a conversation between the polar opposites. They exchange a perceptible glance and part their separate ways. Oh well, you usually never have to see the people you went to high-school with ever again, right?

Well, usually you don’t, but serendipity is always a hanging possibility, I guess. Coincidently, Schmidt and Jenko both have decided to enroll themselves into the police academy. However, when they spot each other things play out a bit differently from that of their high-school experience together. They quickly recognize that they can actually help one another and they become friends...friends with benefits. No, not the Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, kind of friends with benefits, but rather the nerd tutoring jock, jock training nerd kind of friends with benefits. Jenko and Schmidt learn from each other’s strengths and successfully make it through the academy and brace themselves for, as Jenko says, “Lives as bad-ass mofos.”

Well, not quite, unless of course the life of a bad-ass is measured in how many times one is able to effectively prevent a toddler from feeding ducks in the local park. Yeah, I didn’t think so either. But wait, on park patrol they spot a group of shady characters puffing on a joint and the perps actually happen to be part of a local drug ring.  This could be their big break, if they can make the arrest who knows what the future may hold. Maybe even a promotion? Well, they certainly go for it, but it doesn’t exactly go as planned due to a...let’s just say, a minor “procedural error.”

Following their little mishap, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) assigns them to the 21 Jump Street division, spearheaded by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). Jump Street is a ressurected program where police officers who look young are sent in as undercover high-school kids, i.e Schmidt and Jenko. Dickson’s mission involves stopping a new synthetic drug, called HFS, from circulating while unmasking the suppliers in the process. Although it may sound easy enough, their task is one that will throw many challenges their way, mentally, physically and even romantically.

Michael Bacall showcases his concise storytelling and witty dialogue yet again and follows up his work on the stylish indie, Scott Pilgrim vs.the World in a big way. 21 Jump Street has a Judd Apatow sense of humor with explosions that are worthy of a Michael Bay film. Ice Cube is profane, Dave Franco is hilarious, Rob Riggle is a riot and the synergy between Hill and Tatum is absolutely tremendous as they almost make us want to relive our high-school years...almost. Oh, and there is a brilliant surprise near the end that surely proves that this spin-off was not a mistake. Don’t make assumptions based off the trailer, because it is an inaccurate account of what this film actually is. Jump Street is a fun and raunchy film that you will undoubtedly enjoy.