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Review: Tomorrowland, a worthy message

*Spoilers follow throughout*

In the wake of the recent attacks in Paris I ended up stumbling upon a much needed wellspring of optimism and hope in Disney’s ‘TomorrowLand’. This is a movie I was casually interested in when it was in theaters early this last summer, but ‘Mad Max’ and others had garnered my attention and thus, it was missed. Oddly enough this timing worked well as I, personally, was looking towards more positively engaging pieces. While the film is nowhere near perfect, I love that a movie this big has a message this good.

Brad Bird’s second live-action outing gets a lot right, even if its overall execution misses a few beats. The direction, performances, and the film’s sense of awe and wonder all shine throughout earning solid praise for presenting inspiring ideas and sequences, while yet not quite going the extra mile in the end to tie everything together evenly. The problem may lay in the hands of screenwriter Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, World War Z, & Lost) as his previous works all seem to have similar issues. He tends to set up grandiose questions, and then never fully answers them. This is also the case in ‘Tomorrowland’. But let’s get back to the beginning first though.

The films three main leads are the exquisitally british Athena portrayed by Raffey Cassidy, Brittany Robertson’s curiously optimistic Casey Newton, and George Clooney’s grumpy yet lovable Frank Weller. Oh, and Hugh Laurie (Dr. House for the uninitiated) plays the monologue-requirement/cardboard thin villain, Mr. Nix. The cast is, arguably, where the film shines most. A lot of the film rides on the character of Casey Newton being swept along on a futuristic journey to save the world, and the film, from itself. She is the heart of the story as she gets a glimpse into Tomorrowland, at the hands of Athena. Casey is the type of character I wish we had more representation of in movies today. She is bright, optimistic, and she wasn’t handed a ‘romance’ laiden character arc. Eventually she’s tempted by curiosity to find a way back to the eponymous city, which ultimately leads her to Frank.

Frank is the epitome of cynicism when we catch up with him as Casey attempts to sway him into getting back to the science laden realm of Tomorrowland. Immediately these two actors bounce off of each other incredibly well and it is likely the reason, besides the quick pace that the film runs at, that we don’t pick up on overused bland plot movements. A few chase scenes and some grumpy scoffing later and the trio eventually end up in Paris to turn the Eiffel Tower into a launchpad for an incredibly old rocket that transcends dimensions. This is where the most fascinating idea is presented, that Edison, Tesla, and Jules Verne, among other great minds of their time, had worked in tandem to lay the foundations for Tomorrowland, a place where great minds could escape the trappings of everyday governance such as greed, politics, and bureacracy. I know this because the film went out of its way to let me know this. Remember that monologue requirement? The finale, unfortunately, is where the film unravels a bit.

Hugh Laurie’s Nix employs overly smiley robotic henchmen to pursue Casey and Athena in the second act of the film. These robot stalkers have reckless abandon when it comes to human lives as they have a bit of a dark sensibility about them, which was acceptable in the film as it added a sense of urgency to keep things chugging along, but the curious part is that once they finally reach Tomorrowland, Nix ditches the deadly task force for a sort of diplomatic villainy instead. Here’s where it gets clunky, almost as if the film was taking too much time to defend its own ambitions when really it should have been more concerned with winning the audience over by succeeding in those ambitions, not a lecture on why it is doing what it is doing. Simply do, or rather, take the advice from the beginning of the movie when a young Frank Weller showcases his Jetpack to a questionable Nix then, “Isn’t it enough to be inspired?”

Overall the film lands its most important hurdles, even if some of the flair gets in the way. One last thing to note on, there is a romance, of sorts, in the film. The bit of stumbling comes when the story asks audiences to believe a fully grown man is still attached to a childhood attraction in some ways, even though he hasn’t seen her in decades. It could have upended horribly but Clooney handled the material, as did everyone else involved, in a serious enough fashion that it ultimately paid off without being creepy. Kudos.

 

So, if you’re looking for something a little more optimistic than say another young adult dystopia, check out ‘Tomorrowland’ the message alone is worth it.

Final Score: 7/10

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Heroes: Roger Corman

This last summer while attending the Traverse City film festival in northern Michigan I had the opportunity to see famed genre director and producer Roger Corman, twice. The initial event was a showing of two of his films in which he gave an introduction of the films and a bit about them before the screenings that followed. That night we all sat back and enjoyed first Corman’s horror comedy ‘Bucket of Blood’, a fun and suprisingly modern feeling film depicting a waiter at a cafe that the beat poets frequented in the late 1950’s as he rises through fame and attention at the lounge by producing statues of a certain sinister nature. It’s a lovely little film and I highly suggest checking it out if you can find it. The second film shown was Corman’s oft mocked live action adaption of the Marvel Comics property “The Fantastic Four”. Oddly enough, I’m willing to bet that I enjoyed this iteration of Marvel’s first family more than Fox’s recent cox office disaster. At least this movie entertained, albeit because of its laughable performances and opaque cheesiness throughout.

The second encounter was at the end of the festival when friends and I approached our seats at a panel. Michael Moore entered and subsequently sat in an eloquent armchair set upon the stage with an equally eloquent, and empty, chair to the right of him. He then began to tell us about the legacy of the man we were about to meet. He told of Roger Corman’s litany of features under his belt, near 500 as either director or producer on all. Corman made a name for himself by churning out film after film by tapping into films that could entertain first and foremost, and the drive in film circuits continually ate those films up. Then, after a short clip show detailing the blood splattered, scream filled, explosion fraught and bullet ridden genre films of B movie’s past, Corman took the stage and said “As you can see, we specialized in subtlety.” The interview progressed as Moore, clearly a fanboy himself here, peeled back a few layers of the cult director in bringing him back to his beginnings in Detroit, Michigan. Not long after his humble start the Corman family moved to Los Angeles. Originally Corman followed in his father’s footsteps to become an engineer at Standford, but after graduating and spending four days on an engineering job he realized he wanted to be involved in film. From there he got a low level job at 20th century Fox and began to rise through his opportunities there until he was producing and directing hordes of low budget films.

Roger Corman made over 400 films including The Fast and The Furious, Little Shop of Horrors, It Stalked the Ocean Floor, Galaxy of Terror, Rock and Roll Highschool, Death Race 2000,  Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2, Dinoshark, Sharktopus, and hundreds more. From the mid 1950’s until now Corman has had his finger on the pulse of pop culture. Through his production companies New World PicturesConcorde Pictures, and later New Horizons Corman not only had a part in this monster of motion pictures but he also harbored an eye for spotting new young talent as well. Roger Corman’s reach in Hollywood stretches farther then you might think for a director known for such films. He discovered not only Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola, but also Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda,  Dennis Hopper, Joe Dante, William Shatner, and Sandra Bullock too! Not only that but he also brought an acclaimed collection of foreign films from the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, François Truffaut and others to US through his distribution companies too!

Roger Corman’s footprint on cinema is a formidible one. I consider him to be one of the more underappreciated heavies of the low budget world of filmmaking. This type of filmmaking is close to my heart, these films may never have won Oscars, earned moderate profit margins, or even be viewed by large amount of the public, but yet they exist, as if in a bubble. I have a certain adoration for films of this caliber because they fill out the spectrum of the entire filmmaking experience, for every ‘Gone with The Wind’ there are ten ‘Tales of Terror!’. Roger Corman made indie, guerilla, filmmaking cool and credible. He made films that clearly were different from traditional studio fare and anyone wanting something wildly different were sated by the master maker of “Movies your parents don’t want you to see”. These films frequently centered on counterculture ideas and topics, such as the acid influenced ‘The Trip’ or the infamous biker gang flick, ‘Wild Angels’ which was inspired by real life counterpart, The Hell’s Angels. As someone that wants to create typically genre fair pieces I owe a lot to Roger Corman, for he paved the way almost seventy years ago now. Even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’ are clearly influenced by the king of the B movies.

To me, Roger Corman is important because his work is a reminder that film can be this glorious, important medium through which we express ourselves most deeply and intimately, but it can also be an unfiltered, pure, form of entertainment, and there is beauty in that. Any pieces that are unique and different, regardless of quality are welcome in my mind. I may not enjoy a certain film or scene for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t mean that isn’t somebody’s favorite movie or moment. If you haven’t heard of Roger Corman I suggest ‘A Bucket of Blood’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ ‘Death Race 2000’ or ‘Galaxy of terror’ be warned though, ‘Galaxy of Terror’ alone is a gore fest and not for the kids, James Cameron did do the set design work for the film though! Have fun, and go watch something new!

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Review: 007’s Spectre, Superb-but its no Skyfall

*Warning: Spoilers*

Spectre opens with, quite possibly, one of the most fun, brash, and intense sequences in all of James Bond’s onscreen adventures. It’s a shame the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that standard. Heading into this movie I wasn’t entirely sure if this iteration of MI6’s most famous secret agent would be a more direct sequel to Daniel Craig’s previous films, or simply another standalone adventure in the spy’s long gestating cinematic history. Let me tell you now, this movie heavily leans on Daniel Craig’s Bond legacy. If you want to fully appreciate all that ‘Spectre’ has to offer repeat viewings of the three previous Craig films would do you well (Although it would be understandable if you skipped ‘Quantum of Solace’).

Now, you might ask, with the 007 series reaching 24 films long, is ‘Spectre’ worth the price of admission? Overall, I say yes. There is enough the film accomplishes here to merit it a success within the terms of what people come to expect from Bond films.  That being said the biggest shadow looming on ‘Spectre’s horizons is ‘Skyfall’. ‘Skyfall’ reshaped Bond’s world in a way that was unprecedented in the series’ history. What made ‘Skyfall’ a standout was that it continued what ‘Casino Royale’ started in adverting expectations and wowing us with a Bond for the new millennium. More visceral, grounded, and gruff yet still suave and classy. ‘Spectre’ has a problem though, its not entirely sure what kind of Bond film it wants to be. The film relishes in larger set pieces, more visually captivating locales, and a host of other well trodden established Bond tropes. Bond reverts to the more Sean Connery style of persuasion with women, he exhibits far more reckless behavior than past Craig offerings, and black turtlenecks. Which I might add, I thoroughly enjoyed purely out of my adoration of the cartoon, ‘Archer’. So you might ask, ‘do any of these aspects weaken the overall experience?’ Well, that depends on what you expect out of a Bond film. Were there car chases? Did Bond have/drive/crash an expensive car? Did Q and Bond have an argument/moment? Was there a torture sequence? Did he get the girl? Did Bond go fist to fist in a brawl with an overly large henchman?  The answer to all of these questions is ‘Yes, most definitely’. If that is enough for you as the viewer, then it is enough, just don’t go into ‘Spectre’ expecting a reinvented wheel. This film is in love with its own past, and it seems to be racing to check off all the boxes of Bond’s world so quickly that it doesn’t even realize that the audience can feel the expectation of the plot as it happens. Every time a box was checked I was happy that it was, though it felt as if we’d all been here before. ‘Skyfall’, again, looms large.

Speaking of Henchmen, Dave Bautista’s ‘Mr. Hinx’ is one of the truly standout performances of the film. The bulky and brooding heavy hitter barely utters a word his entire time onscreen, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t an unrelenting challenge for every second of his time with us. Mr. Hinx will definitely be remembered in the long line up of Bond baddies for his introduction alone, forgoing eloquence for complete brutality in the juxtaposition of the orderly and organized ‘Spectre’ boardroom that the scene takes place in. The organization at the heart of the film’s title is one that largely rests its image on the shoulders of Christoph Waltz’s Oberhauser. I am at the same time both content with, and let down by, this performance. It has nothing to do with Waltz’s acting ability, I think he was fine, I was just expecting a bit more out of it. This may have been unfair of me to do so because of my comparing the character of Oberhauser to that of Hans Landa, Waltz’s infamous Nazi from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Oberhauser is a far more restricted, internal character of sorts, in short, I simply had brought a different level of expectation to the role than if it had been a different actor. The slow burn of his introduction in ‘Spectre’ is handled enticingly well in my opinion though. Oberhauser is however part of the film that, in my opinion, asks almost for too much from us.

THE WORST SPOILERS

‘Spectre’ attempts, and ultimately succeeds, in asking the audience to retcon the last three Bond films into one cohesive piece of storytelling. Partly in building the mythos around the shadowy organization ‘Spectre’ the film constantly throws us little reminders of villains of Craig’s past as bits of evidence tantamount to the tentacled group being, as Oberhauser himself describes it in one particular line, “I am the Author of all your pain James Bond”. But is he really? Oh and the big reveal that Oberhauser is actually ‘Blofeld’ shouldn’t have been all that much of a surprise to anyone knowing the history of the organization in the film series’ past. I think the idea at face value is a bit of a stretch, though they handled it effectively enough in the film, but the less time you spend analyzing it, the more you will enjoy it. If they had gone further with the idea I think it would have been too much, but done as it was, it is acceptable.

It is also worth mentioning that from ‘Skyfall’ to ‘Spectre’ there was a change in the guard of cinematographer from Roger Deakins to Hoyte van Hoytema. It might not be the most apparent change from film to film but the loss of Deakins style can be felt throughout. The use of Q and his relationship with Bond was also more fleshed out than in ‘Skyfall’ so that was a welcome addition. There was also the subplot of Andrew Scott’s ‘C’ merging both MI5 and MI6 operations while simulataneously nixing the double O program in its entirety. He is also the link between ‘Spectre’ and MI6 as he hurries to get international approval for a new global initiative of blending cutting edge technology with George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Hey, a dash of ‘Winter Soldier’ never hurt, right? The film also tries, ever so briefly, to peel back more layers of Bond’s childhood past and psychology, but again, ‘Skyfall’ did this better and in a more compelling fashion.

All in all, this is a fine James Bond movie. If all you are looking for is a competent, rousing, and entertaining action spy movie, then you’re in luck, because ‘Spectre’ was made for you. If on the other hand you wanted just a bit more from Daniel Craig’s latest, and possibly last, outing as the double O, then you might be left wanting more.

Final Score: 8/10

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Marvel Studios and The Fantastic Four: Is it worth it?

*Forgive me, for my timing isn’t as relevent as it could have been with this piece*

This past summer twentieth-century fox released a reboot of the Marvel Comics property ‘The Fantastic Four’ to less than stellar results, and that’s putting it lightly. Rumors circled the production from day one as newcomer filmmaker Josh Trank was handed the reins to Marvel’s first family. Word had it the director behind ‘Chronicle’ had a particular vision concerning the characters, to introduce them as a ‘hard Sci-Fi’ in tone instead of the openly campy iterations from the 2000’s when Chris Evans was the Human Torch instead of Captain America. Oh, how the times have changed. It’s not fully certain yet exactly what the right circumstances were for this project to be the box office bomb that it became, but one thing’s for sure, we all await the eventual documentary about it. It seems as though that despite having excellent actors attached to this iteration, and a new perspective on the characters and their origins, that there isn’t any one set of shoulders that we can rest all of the blame can upon though. In fact, I’ve listed a link below to Kevin Smith’s podcast ‘Fatman on Batman’ where the indie director sits down with Trank before his Fantastic Four released. It’s the first of three long podcasts (and is NSFW because of language) in which the listener gets to know Trank’s story. It’s a worth a listen purely for better understanding where the director comes from. While Josh Trank may have gotten overwhelmed at the helm though, it seems as though heavy studio meddling could have been a major factor. With their changes to, not only the structure, but the entire third act, they scheduled massive and painfully apparent reshoots that only served to weaken the overall piece. If we take a step back though and see what possible futures the characters can have, we have to ask, even if Marvel Studios has the chance to reclaim the characters, is it worth it to them now that the characters’ image is marred even further?

As a comic book fan, as well as a fan of the films, I say yes. Admittedly, I didn’t see the new film in theaters, but knowing what could be done with the characters, and what implications they have for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, well, lets just say I wouldn’t waste any time signing them up for MCU appearances. The Fantastic Four could be an incredibly timely film if done in the right light today. With Science projects taking ahold of people’s imaginations again from the likes of an eventual mission to Mars and the potential mining of asteroids, the time is now for a superhero team that embodies that spirit of unbridled exploration. The best parts about their comics are the thrill of imagination and discovery and the power of family. Imagine the heart and morals of Captain America but with the deep space tech Iron Man dreams about, and throw a dash of adventure in too for good measure. They explore parts of the MCU that no other characters deal with on a constant basis, much like Doctor Strange does. From the Microverse to the Negative Zone and back Reed Richards and his family know no bounds when it comes to exploring new worlds. That, however, doesn’t even begin to measure everything that comes with them.

Doctor Doom is all well and good, but the real granddaddy of Marvel villainy is Galactus, Eater-of-Worlds! Obviously this storyline is the big, bombastic, showdown that everyone wants to see, and it is ultimately the Fantastic Four that save the planet from this menace, using science, and … well, err.. persuasion. Even without the cosmic terror that is Galactus though, simply having Doctor Doom around to play around with in the MCU would be sufficient. Victor Von Doom is a peculiar villain in that he is the ruler of an entire country and infinitely cunning in his knowledge of both science and magic. Not to mention the galactic thinker himself, the silver surfer, would be a fun addition. Even if only for cameos, he’s surprisingly powerful for someone so shiny. The Alien race known as the Skrulls might even be part of the net of characters specifically related to the Foursome, and truly, who doesn’t want to see the Skrull invasion onscreen, it was enough to make Nick Fury’s paranoia boil over!

Possibly the best part about integrating Marvel’s first family into the MCU would be integrating them into other series. Specifically Spiderman’s films would surely benefit from the added cohesion, plus the characters have a long history of teaming up, some of the best ‘Fantastic’ storylines include Spiderman. I still believe these heroes can be a unique part of the MCU. While a devoted ‘Fantastic’ film might not be in the books anytime soon, these characters could be excellent bit players, much like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk currently exists within the MCU. They could even be devoted to Netflix where they could thrive in their own series that defines their exploratory nature and then ultimately be utilized in the event movies when a big bad such as Galactus comes knocking. A truly unprecendented move could be something worth doing with this property as well though. While this is incredibly unlikely there is the chance that because Marvel will have to prove themselves with this property they’d have to do something wildly different in their approach. SPOILERS In issue #587 of the comics Marvel killed off Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, the firebrand hot head went down heroically and saved the rest of the team so that they might escape the monsters of the unforgiving Negative Zone. If Marvel went with this route they would be doing something fresh, heart wrenching, and (hopefully) profound. It would also free up a potential Spiderman sequel arc where he is recruited to the newly christened ‘Future Foundation’ as the Human Torch’s replacement on the team.

The potential is there, but it remains to be seen what will be done with these characters. Hopefully they will not be pushed to the wayside, but given another chance to shine within the same world that ‘The Avengers’ inhabit. I have a feeling Kevin Feige has a contingency plan for this exact sort of thing anyways.

*Kevin Smith does a podcast with Josh Trank, Part 1 of 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3s9xrzPLvm0

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A Short Take on the Long Take

Who doesn’t love a good One Shot sequence?

Busy K Blog

Birdman (2014) Fox Searchlight Pictures Birdman (2014) Fox Searchlight Pictures

In cinema, the Long Take is one long uninterrupted shot lasting several minutes and usually requiring careful and complicated choreography.  It’s a technique that is almost as old as film itself, yet over the years the technical aspects of the long take have evolved as directors and cinematographers rise to the challenge of pulling off even bigger and better “oners.”

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Birdman, which won an Oscar for best film this year, is a recent example of a long take – in fact the entire movie is intended to have the effect of one long tracking shot.  But this is nothing new.  Alfred Hitchcock employed same device with his 1948 film, Rope.  Hitchcock was limited by the technology of the time. Because reels of film were only 10 minutes long, the director was required to hide the cuts; many of the takes ended on a nondescript surface so the…

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