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Rant Time: Moments don’t make the movie

Over the last few years there has been a common concern between fellow filmgoing friends and myself. Mainly that while popular films might have incredible moments sparsed throughout their runtimes, those moments don’t represent quality storytelling overall and that spectacle drives ticket sales while cinematically speaking some films have been lacking. I know there comes a time to debate what type of film deserves what level of expectation, but this has happened enough, even discounting blockbuster carnage a la ‘Transformers’ aside, that it is a legitimate concern.

This was most recently brought back into the forefront of our minds upon an initial viewing of ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’. Yes, a bit late, but none of us had been particularly enthused with the first outing with Andrew Garfield’s attempt at the character, so it took awhile before any of us were that excited to see the sequel that ruined Sony’s Spiderverse anyways. This film is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Many, but not all, of the Spiderman scenes in the film were fun and more accurate to the character than the initial film, bombastic, aerial, slow-mo fun. That being said, those were almost entirely the only points of the film that either made sense (When did Peter Parker become so whiny and quote “Edgy” anyways?) or were even all that engaging. I could probably cut twenty minutes of the film where Garfield is simply staring open mouthed like an idiot for no reason at all. Admittedly, I am biased here, this film is not my cup of tea, or my Spiderman to be honest. There are fleeting moments when Garfield pulls off aspects of the character wonderfully, but they are tarnished by its overlong runtime, questionable tonal shifts, and musical score throughout.

Godzilla was another hit that confounded me entirely. Let me say first however that I do have a love for monster movies, particularly for ‘The King of Monsters’ himself. Gareth Edwards adaption’s popularity is so very odd to me in that it A) killed off the only compelling character in the first twenty minutes, B) focused on easily the most useless and uninteresting protagonist I’ve seen onscreen in years, and C) ignored its title character for most of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome moments here and there, but the film denies us several fight sequences, tries desperately to get us to care about a character that doesn’t even seem to want to be involved in the story much less lead us through the plot, and wastes the few good actors they do have in its ranks, namely Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen. If only they had killed off Aaron-Taylor Johnson instead, the film would have been far better.

James Bond returned this year in ‘Spectre’ which brought Bond back to the Whiz-Bang adventure stylings that would be more fitting for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond than Daniel Craig’s. While there are indeed moments of excellence, that opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission, they cannot mend serious flaws that hurt the film otherwise. What’s particularly disapointing here though is that the last James Bond film ‘SkyFall’ had been a profound story for the character, questioning whether or not He is still needed, the film challenged the audience to rethink what Bond meant to them and his relevancy in the medium, ‘Spectre’, on the other hand, nestled back into the tired tropes of the double O agent and neglected to challenge the character, or audience, hardly at all. Relying on a formula that’s been done time and again can only do so much, especially when the shadow of the previous film stands as tall as ‘Skyfall’ does. Audiences’ memories aren’t that bad.

So, we should come to expect more from our films given how many we churn out each year, right? As an informed audience, we should want our art to challenge us, ask us the hard questions, show us the hard truths, and be better than we expect. Not all movies have to go through the gauntlet because of audience demands though, and I get that, but shouldn’t we want more substance out of our stories than just being entertained? Some films are simply pure entertainment, and that’s fine! However we shouldn’t let this permeate a majority of the movies being made. A variety throughout the cinematic landscape is certainly wanted, and needed! Personally, I want to see more films that inspire people, make emotional connections, and showcase ourselves onscreen in the best light.

It should also be noted that this is by no means to say that we don’t have nuanced and complex films solely relying on spectacle. This year alone has had many worthy additions, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Inside Out’, & ‘Creed’ are all magnificient in their own rights and are only a fraction of the quality content out there. So, my point is get out and see a film outside of your comfort zone, it might challenge you in a way you never thought possible! See something new!

 

 

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Marvel Team Ups: Why they should happen more often

In recent news it was confirmed that Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk would be joining Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his third solo movie subtitled ‘Ragnarok’. This is excellent news for any and all comic book fans, and most cinema goers are probably down for the added Avenger in ‘Ragnarok’ as well. In my opinion this is representative of the change Marvel Studios is going to need to keep up with as their movies keep coming out. Soon it won’t be enough to have just one character in any given movie anymore. You can’t go around saying ‘everything is connected’ when it seems that the solo movies barely have any reprecussions or connective tissue to the larger ‘Avengers’ model (With the exception of Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, but only because of the much hyped Infinity stone focus in the latter). They’ve already *SPOILERS* given us a taste of this in ‘Ant Man’ with Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang running into Anthony Mackie’s Falcon during a raid Ant Man does on the new Avengers Facility seen at the end of ‘Age of Ultron’. This is a great first step towards making the solo films feel more integrated into the series as a whole. Although, admittedly, it must be quite the series of flaming hoops for the creative teams that are routinely swapped in and out of each film. There is a difference between setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether and having a fan favorite  character depict a smart and sensible cameo a la ‘Ant Man’ though.

Possibly more important though is the inclusion of characters from both the television side of Marvel and their big cinema brothers. This is especially true for the Netflix shows that Marvel has begun to roll out. The addition of the Punisher to Daredevil season two is a slam dunk in this ideology of connectedness. Hopefully this is what will happen with other similar heroes that typically fall under the Marvel ‘Knights’  paradigm. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight in particular could all benefit whatever series they are introduced in, just as long as it makes sense in service to the story being told. That was intrinsically the best aspect to this new iteration of Daredevil, the story. It was well written and heavily relied on dialouge with crushingly violent and dark sequences spattered throughout to avoid lag or boredom in the script machinations. As long as we aren’t simply tossing in cameos for no good reason.

I believe this to also be true for the upcoming ‘Jessica Jones’ series. Since she is mostly unknown (in the real and print world of comics) she would benefit from the inclusion of a character or two dropping by. Who wouldn’t be pleased as punch to see Paul Rudd’s Ant Man in an episode? Even a simple Foggy, from Daredevil, cameo would blow people’s minds. There’s also a rumor, with a heaping pile of salt, going around about the possibility of Spiderman making an appearance in the second season of Daredevil, which would make all the sense in the world. Spiderman and Daredevil have collided and teamed up previously many times in the past several decades of comics, why not use Tom Holland while we’ve got him? This would also highly benefit Sony, the more people come to recognize this new Actor as THE new Spiderman that gets to interact with all of Marvel Studio’s properties, the more money comes back to them when his solo movie opens. It’s a win-win for everyone barring this kid doesn’t become the new Hayden Christensen.. he’d have to try pretty hard to commit to that level of terrible though. There’s also the circulating rumor that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange will appear in the ‘Defenders’ show once that hits, which is appropriate in my mind as Doctor Strange doesn’t show up all that much, but when he does, it’s usually a big deal, this would only serve to bolster whatever threat level has been introduced to the street level heroes of New York City.

It’s this type of interconnectedness that’s so exciting about what Marvel is doing. In the comics when Spiderman shows up out of nowhere in a Punisher storyline, or Black Panther in an Iron Man book, it’s exciting, scintillating, thrilling. Seeing these characters interact with each other is the basis of why the comics are so fun to begin with because the storytelling options can be endless. It doesn’t always work out, some will be destined to fail by their very nature, but what in God’s name is the point of having Avengers movies and tie ins if you aren’t going to utilize the characters you have access to? This was the downfall to phase two of Marvel Studios’ films in my opinion. I enjoyed those films, but why wouldn’t Tony Stark call for some sort of help when the President of the United States is in Danger? Or any of the scenarios that took place in these films? I understand, that’s part of the allure, an eventual collection of heroes in a “One Shot Annual”, but at least if we’re going to do that, can we make the sparing team ups of a revered quality? Age of Ultron was entertaining and did some things very well, but ultimately failed because of its weighty ambitions (Setting up multiple storylines to pay off in another movie altogether, clear marketing decisions etc). My point being, yes, we should definitely get more team ups, but lets give the creative teams some time, quality is important.

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Movie-Pitch Mondays! [Early Bird Special] Marvel Studios “Dark Reign”

Recently Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying that he believes that the Superhero genre will eventually “Go the way of the Western”. There is probably a good deal of truth to that statement. As people tire of the same old song and dance studios will be forced to make more creative, and riskier, filmmaking choices. Personally this excites me even more so than what is currently being produced because it means really niche films within this sub genre will flourish just as some storylines and characters already have begun to do so, such as “The Guardians of The Galaxy”.  Marvel in particular will have to deal with these reprecussions sooner than DC purely because they’ve been doing it longer. In turn as Marvel takes more creative risks DC will have to play ball in order to keep audiences returning in droves to see their particular spectacle over their competitors. The consumer wins yet again.

One of the storylines that I think Marvel would greatly benefit from adapting is that of the “Dark Reign” comic book event that took place in print after the fallout of Captain America and Iron Man’s “Civil War” and the “Secret Invasion” event where the shapeshifting aliens known as the Skrulls were making a move against Earth’s heroes in plain sight. As the movies have taken a slightly, and understandably, different turn with their series of events than their published predeccesors things will obviously have to be different. First and foremost Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin of Spiderman nemesis fame for all you, albiet few, uninnitiated out there) needs to be, at the very least, a presence in the new Spider Man film. He is integral to the storyline as his power play is the source of every involved hero’s problems.

What is key to this “Dark Reign” pitch is that it is not any one hero’s story, it’s just an event that is taking place within their universe. Not everyone is a part of it, but it is widespread enough to include many characters. In the comics it is Norman Osborn who unexpectedly kills the Skrull Queen at the end of the Secret invasion after Deadpool accidentally sends pivotal information to Osborn instead of Nick Fury. Osborn is then thrust into the heroic spotlight afterward as he is seen by the public as their savior, not the superheroes. He uses this public opinion advantage to garner himself power, and lots of it. He even becomes the president of The United States for a while, donning some Iron Man knock off armor to boot. This being the star spangled Iron Patriot armor, to be specific, that we’ve already seen Don Cheadle’s War Machine wear in the movies.

So, yes, as it begins it’s already a bit muddled when comparing the potential, and past, storylines. After this it gets very interesting as the core storyline involves many characters that Marvel Studios either has the rights to, or has recently gotten back from competing studios. There is a rich potential to be mined here. What we need to set this all into motion is a timetable for these movies and what needs to happen, and when, to set up this event. As far as any of us can tell the Skrull invasion probably isn’t going to be an active storyline right away, Kevin Feige has to save something for Phase four anyhow, right? (besides Kang the conqueror) So, we have to replace Osborn’s public redemption event somewhere pivotal. I’m thinking in the second half of the Infinity War movies. It doesn’t have to necessarily be Osborn that hits the kill switch to become the “hero” and save everybody, he just has to at least be seen doing some good, fighting off alien hordes, or something of that ilk. Anything that can be spun in a sensational fashion to get him positive public support. From there it’s all about his cabal of evil.

Norman Osborn starts his takeover by forming the Cabal. An alliance of powerful villains that all have ties to particular heroes, and other organizations. In the comics Osborn’s Cabal consisted of himself, Loki, Doctor Doom, Namor, The Hood, Emma Frost, and Ms. Victoria Hand. In my version, I would have his Cabal enlist the efforts of the Kingpin, Loki, The Hood, The Real Mandarin, and a few other smaller characters of use that were in both versions: namely Justin Hammer of H.A.M.M.E.R. industries and Bullseye, the assassin that never misses. In case you’re curious, yes, the real comic-book character version of the Mandarin does exist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just check out the Marvel One Shot that accompanies the Thor 2 home video, “All Hail The King” that focuses on Trevor from Iron Man three in prison being interrogated by what turns out to be a representative of the real Mandarin who is furious at a pretender to the throne using his moniker openly. Fun stuff.

Norman Osborn utilizes these people as pawns in his war against the superheroes. He sends the Hood after Frank Castle (The Punisher), orders Bullseye to impersonate Hawkeye and go after Daredevil, and he utilizes a lot of energy trying to kill Spiderman, obviously. The Hood by the way is connected to Doctor Strange’s world of Mysticism, “Created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artists Kyle Hotz and Eric Powell, The Hood first appeared in his own self-titled MAX limited series in 2002, which featured his origin, as a character who possesses a cloak and boots stolen from a Nisanti demon, which grant him invisibility and limited levitation ability, respectively….Since Bendis gained control of the character, he has not appeared with his boots, and the Nisanti demon, a tie-in to Vaughn’s Runaways series, was revealed to be a disguise for the Doctor Strange nemesis, Dormammu.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hood_(comics) ).

The excellently gritty Netflix show “Daredevil” has opened up a world of possibilities to the realm of the MCU that can be greatly utilized here. Not only will the show have evolved to the point to be near where the comics have placed Matt Murdock by this time, but it will also be another pertinent connective tie to all corners of the MCU, plus it will be great to see Charlie Cox on the big screen with everybody else, he already deserves it. Here’s the info on that, “After a group of black-clad ninjas kill a group of crooked cops and lawyers, Osborn turns his attention to the Hand and their new leader, Daredevil. Sending Bullseye out in his old suit along with H.A.M.M.E.R. agents, Bullseye and Daredevil clash. The two duel until they make it to the top of a condemned building that is about to be demolished. Bullseye announces that the building will be destroyed, but the 107 people inside refuse to leave. When Daredevil does not help the people, the building explodes and kills all of the people. Bullseye then retreats and Daredevil is shocked. It turns out later that the ninjas were led by Lady Bullseye and the Kingpin, and were used to set up Daredevil.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Reign_(comics) )

With this beyond excellent cast of villainy there obviously has to be a great counter balance. In the comics Osborn essentially blurs the playing field by confusing all of his separate opponents in tandem by utilizing their weaknesses. Loki uses Osborn’s help to make Thor kill Bor (Odin’s father), and cause Thor’s banishment. The Hood, who has an unholy alliance with Dormammu (a larger-than-life Dr. Strange villain), is made to hunt down Frank Castle and kill him. Kingpin’s resources are used as constant threats to both Spiderman and Daredevil as usual. While in this pitch version I would have the real Mandarin force a retired Tony Stark out of the shadows to face his greatest enemy yet. Black Widow, Black Panther, and Banner could all be utilized in certain scenarios as well, possibly to showcase the extent to which Osborn is willing to take things. The character that really brings it all together in the end is Spiderman/Peter Parker. Eventually he does his journalistic duties and hunts down corroborating evidence against Osborn and reveals him to be the Green Goblin to the public and thus begins Osborn’s unraveling. If Chris Evans’ Captain America is still alive by this point it would be a fitting role pairing the two together in the face of insurmountable adversity, to do the right thing. These two characters (in my opinion) best represent that superhero factor, plus it would just be a wonderful interaction between the two characters. I imagine Daredevil, Punisher, Hawkeye, Iron man to be prominent figures in this storyline as well. It is possible this could be a two-parter movie, but if there is adequate set up in a sprinkling fashion throughout the other movies, and even TV shows, first then it could be a fascinating three hour event that encompasses many of the existing Marvel Studios properties in one form or another. Which is exactly what they will need to do to keep people interested. Especially after the two part Infinity War movies.

At one point I had considered trying to tie in the Red Skull with the Cabal, and he would be an excellent addition, but I feel as though he would just be thrown in for added measure and not be as essential to the storyline. The Mandarin might also fall into this scheme, but ever since Iron Man three I’ve curiously wanted to see this character’s power and presence felt in the MCU if possible, and the studio has already made enough effort to nod and wink knowingly at fans that want the real macoy, so, obviously the character has potential to pop up sometime down the road. I recognize there are a lot of angles you could take with this pitch, but that’s sort of the beauty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you have clashing characters, but with that comes the world colliding tonal shifts, especially when combining the likes of Spiderman and say, The Punisher. In fact if I was pressed to squeeze this idea under one title character’s name, or banner if you will, then I’d have to go with Spiderman, maybe this could be his sequel of sorts, although it does cover a lot more than just his actions. It ultimately is his villain that focuses most of the attention, and he would be the one to make the biggest move against Osborn that unravels his power scheme. If it did go this way it would have to be similar to what “Captain America 3: Civil War” is shaping up to be. A movie that has that respective main character heavily utilized, but not always being focused on. Giving up a larger role to serve the wider machinations of the story.

So, that’s my movie pitch for this week. Have any questions or comments? Feel free to bring them up in the comments section! Oh and yes, I’d be okay with that rumor of Matthew McConaughey starring as Norman Osborn, I think he’d have fun with the role, and it might challenge him in ways a single film role might not be able to do. Anyways, thanks for reading!

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Who is the most American Superhero?

When you think about American cinema lately you might conjure up images of a household name actor or director a la Bradley Cooper or the much maligned Micheal Bay. It probably won’t take the average person long to mention a superhero movie. The superhero movie in and of itself has taken over our culture’s attention for more than a decade now. Personally, I’m biased, I quite enjoy the genre as a fun escapist two hours to get away from the world and enjoy a little fantasy every now and then. The other day however, as I was considering just how popular Marvel and DC movies have become I came upon an interesting question. Who is the most American superhero?

There might be a fair amount of you that immediately spout off your “Superman”, your “Captain America”, maybe even a “Batman”. I believe it demands a bit more deliberation than that though. It can be argued that certain characters represent American ideals better than others, while others represent modern American society and our current culture’s mindset to a whole other degree. Now, to be fair, anyone that said Superman right off the bat does have a whole lot of points going for them already.

Superman was the first superhero, he began, and currently still perpetuates the comic book genre to this very day. Recently celebrating seventy-five years of publication he has some clout for the argument at hand, specifically the fact that he’s an immigrant, essentially the most American part of our own history. Clark Kent embodies the traditional “American Way” in too many ways to count, he’s resilient, his Kansas upbringing in a small town, he doesn’t want a fight- but won’t back down from one, and his handle on keeping his powers in check under stressful social situations proves that he is the better man (a point I believe the latest film iteration “Man of Steel” did well). Those are just a few examples, but I’ll move on just to speed things along.

Captain America. America is in his very pseudonym. However, Cap still falls into the same category as Superman. Half of the stories involving Captain America play off of him trying to relate to current American society, or referencing his traditional take on situations. He is a man stuck in tradition, and he, just as Mr. Kent, plays up the reserved, quiet, but strong and determined male model of masculinity. They both represent what most, but certainly not all, men strive to be at times in their lives, but it’s impossible to be at that level of responsible and level headed functioning all the time. Which is why Marvel wisely capitalized on the relatable superhero.

Spiderman is the quintessential icon of relatable superheroes. Peter Parker is a young, smart, and hard working individual that’s always rushing from crisis to crisis. A superhero that has trouble paying the rent but works tirelessly to help the average joe was a brilliant stroke of the evolution of the American superhero. The student with a secret always has far too many problems going on at once. From Doctor Octopus to getting to class on time, he is the epitome of a modern millennial, constantly juggling as much as possible just to get by and keep his loved ones safe and close. For every yin there is a yang however and the 1% must have a hero to call their own in this day and age, right? Why not, they’ve got everything else.

Tony Stark is the aged vintage wine of the elite superheroes. He not only represents America’s lust for consuming merchandise and wealth, but also our unrivaled American Ingenuity. He’s constantly renovating and rebuilding the world of technology around him. Tony has gone through changes that mirror in many ways what America has gone through in the last twenty-to-thirty years. They’re both now more invested in the green market, both have pretty shaky pasts at times, and both are working towards bettering their own images to transcend and excel. I believe The millennial generation is working hard to change the social stigma of our country across the globe to better represent ourselves in every field. I may be biased in this argument, but as an American, at least I can relate to Tony Stark in that way, confident enough to boldly make the changes we so desperately need, however I can’t snark like Stark, let’s leave the pros to do what they do best.

Speaking of professionals, I doubt there’s a more unprofessional professional than the Merc with a mouth himself, Deadpool. Now, I include Deadpool on this list because he represents a fervent and ever growing, ever changing, subculture. The internet. It has given us many things, but chiefly relevant here is the warped sense of humor and a desensitization to violence that oddly, yet successfully, merges cartoonish antics and adult content. This essentially is Deadpool, with his ridiculously short attention span and lust for silly violence, he vividly represents the “Call of Duty” modern subculture that is prevalent among a wide swath of American youth today. While Wade Wilson is void of the hard moral lines that make Captain America and Superman such icons for the values of American tradition, I say he is a much needed force to represent the balance of our culture. Deadpool represents the flip side of that coin and rightly so, The United States of America is a massively diverse place, with wildly different opinions driving everything we do.

Thus it stands to reason that there is no one supremely “American” superhero because it would defeat the purpose of our country in itself. Maybe the angle here isn’t that any one super powered individual best represents us because we are all so different. We’re akin to a gigantic machine with millions of different gears and cogs, coils and springs, all moving independently of each other, and at the same time, in unison with one another. It’s probably more accurate to say that simply the idea of superheroes by itself is a truly American invention because they’re beginning to represent more and more of the rest of us as time goes on. The New Ms. Marvel is a teenage Muslim American, the new Thor is be a woman, and Sam Wilson (The Falcon) has taken up the Mantle of Captain America himself proving that diversity is starting to reach the arenas of entertainment that has had a harder time changing decades old fan favorite characters. On DC’s behalf even Victor Stone, the African American superhero known as Cyborg, has become an unbridled force for good on the Justice League standing with the legends themselves, Batman and Superman.

When you really boil it down to its core the idea of someone imbued with a significant advantage in life that chooses to stand against the evil intentions of others, to protect those with less, is a truly human thing. Maybe it’s not about flags or borders, but just about the nature of good people that take action and stand as a symbol to others that injustice, lies, thievery, and rape (physical, emotional, or mental) will not, and should not, be acceptable in a community of decent human beings. To be human though, is to tell stories, its how we started recording history by oral traditions. Thousands of years later our imaginations could no longer be contained by a single medium and we grew in the world and in the way we tell our stories, by speech, on paper, in print, within our music, and even with film. So, to be a true American, to be more like a superhero, to be human really, go out there and tell a story, any story, it doesn’t even have to be yours. Get Vivid, and have fun.