Movies

Best Picture Nominee: Mad Max Fury Road

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mad-max-posterDirected by: George Miller

Cast:
Tom Hardy
Charlize Theron
Nicholas Hoult

When the Oscar nominees were announced I couldn’t believe Mad Max had actually made the list of Best Picture Nominees. Now, after watching the film … I still can’t believe Mad Max made the list of Best Picture Nominees.

Don’t get me wrong, this certainly isn’t one of the worst films I’ve seen. Far from it. It just isn’t at all what I expect from a Best Picture. I honestly had trouble even getting into the film. I remember enjoying the first Mad Max movie way back when, but since then I stopped caring, and I guess that impacted my excitement over this one as well.

As far as story goes, this really didn’t have a lot. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a plot – there definitely was. It’s just that the story and the world didn’t feel three-dimensional to me. I also found myself thinking that if I hadn’t seen any of the original Mad Max movies (especially the first one) I would have been very confused about all of Max’s flashbacks and hallucinations – even though they’re trying to appeal to a new generation of fans, none of his backstory is really explained in this film. Also, Max isn’t even the star. Honestly, I felt like most of the time he wasn’t even needed. Imperator Furiosa was definitely the main character and star of this film, and she was the only thing about this movie that I felt lived up to the hype.

Despite Furiosa’s awesomeness, I felt like Nux (Nicholas Hoult’s character) was the only really developed character in the film. He’s the only one who really grew and changed over the course of the film. The rest of the characters seemed to be the same people from beginning to end. Aside from Furiosa, Nux was probably the most interesting to me.

Overall, I just don’t feel like the movie lived up to all the hype it received this summer and I just don’t see why it deserves this nomination. Perhaps Miller deserves his nomination, but the film itself, not so much. I’m sure there are many more films much more deserving of the nomination than this one.

Rating: 6.5/10

Memorable Moment: There was definitely some great cinematography going on, but I feel like most of the really great shots and memorable moments were all the ones we had already seen in the trailers.

Ranking:
1. The Revenant
2. Mad Max: Fury Road

Building a Comic Book Universe

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avengersOne of the things you may have noticed while visiting this blog is that I love Superheroes. In just about any shape or size. I’ll watch any film or TV show about them, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of comic book reading, I am currently working my way through quite a bit of Marvel’s back catalog via their Unlimited service (which I highly recommend if you’re interested in reading a lot of the older comics).

One of the things I love most about Marvel films is the joined Marvel Cinematic Universe. When I first started realizing it was happening, I was so excited about the originality of the idea. To take so many different franchises and combine them into one universe – it was unheard of, yet made so much sense. I loved watching the films and picking out all the Easter Egg-type references to the other characters and movies. It also amazed me how long Marvel must have been planning this in order for it to work.

The world building within the MCU is one of the reasons large team movies like The Avengers are able to work. The audience has already been introduced to most of the characters in their separate movies (except for Hawkeye and Black Widow; when is that happening Marvel?) so there isn’t a lot of time needed to explain who these people are and where they’re coming from. Under normal circumstances putting that many stars and that many characters together shouldn’t have worked so well, but it did.

This is also one of the reasons I’m so nervous about the DC Universe films. They’re attempting to build their Cinematic Universe the exact opposite way and throw as many characters as they can into Batman v Superman and see what happens; the cinematic version of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. Even Suicide Squad could benefit from having a few of those characters show up in other films before all coming together at once. That’s a lot of stories to explain in just a two-hour period. I have some definite concerns about how it’ll all balance out.

flash arrowHowever, while I have concerns about DC’s big screen universe, they’re small screen universe on the CW has been expanding and appears to be doing everything correctly. While the MCU is definitely winning at the Box Office (in my opinion) I think they could learn a thing or two from DC as far as television goes. Don’t get me wrong – I love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but I love them in a completely different way from the way I love The Flash and ArrowS.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, while good shows, don’t necessarily feel like comic book shows at all while The Flash and Arrow are terrific examples of a comic book show done right. With the introduction of Daredevil on Netflix, I think Marvel is finally starting to learn what makes a good comic book show, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the Netflix shows fit together, and how they interact within the larger MCU.

I love The Flash and Arrow, because they understand the concept of how building the stories separately makes it that much better when the heroes do come together. One of my favorite aspects of these shows is how connected they are – and I’m looking forward to seeing the overlap with Legends of Tomorrow next year as well. So often when a show is spun off from a series you can easily forget that they’re technically still a part of the same world. I think there was one three-way crossover between CSI, CSI:NY and CSI: Miami in the entire time they were all on the air together. That’s boring. I want to see these characters talking to each other once in a while, consulting on cases, etc.

The team behind CW’s DC Universe understands this. There’s frequent reference to each other, and frequent crossover, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I also loved the episode of The Flash when Joe and Cisco went to Starling City. That rarely happens in other crossovers. In the CSI franchise, on CSI the Miami team would come to Vegas and then on the next episode of CSI: Miami, just Grissom would go to Miami. I’ve never seen any of the Chicago shows, but I suspect they have a much better understanding of the crossover than CSI did as well. When shows are from the same world, you want to see them interacting and living in that same world, not just going through the motions.

With the introduction of Legends of Tomorrow, they will probably be going in reverse and taking already existing characters to create a new show, but that’s okay. Because those characters have already been introduced individually elsewhere, so like Avengers the show will most likely be focused on te team coming together. I suspect we’ll be seeing even more groundwork laid for the show throughout next fall, before the series premieres midseason.

I haven’t heard anything yet about crossover potential for Supergirl and the CW DC shows, but since they’re all DC and produced by Greg Berlanti you have to consider the possibility (also, CBS and CW are owned by the same company). I think it would be fun to see Barry Allen show up in Supergirl, or vice versa. I’m also extremely disappointed we’ll never see that Arrow/Constantine crossover that was supposedly being discussed by producers and writers. I think Gotham should remain it’s own entity, however. Partly because I was extremely disappointed in that show and felt it didn’t live up to it’s potential. It’s probably the weakest of the DC properties on television, in my opinion.

If DC took it’s time and built their Cinematic Universe more like they’re building the television universe, I would be a lot more excited about their upcoming slate of movies.

On Screen: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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age of ultronA word about spoilers: I hate spoilers. I avoid them at all cost. In return, I avoid spoiling anyone. Therefore I will attempt to make this review spoiler-free, but everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a “spoiler” so proceed at your own risk.

Now where was I? Right, The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I have been looking forward to this movie for the past three years – almost exactly because three years ago today the first Avengers movie was released. I knew there was no way the follow up would disappoint, especially if Joss Whedon were still at the helm. Every film in Phase III just made me that much more excited about the movie.So the question becomes, did it live up to the hype? Was it worth waiting for? I believe the answer to both those questions is a definite “YES.” It’s not a perfect movie – it had some flaws, which I will get to – but the film as a whole was fast-paced, action-packed, hilarious, and just plain fun to watch.

Age of Ultron begins with the Avengers already assembled and searching for Loki’s scepter, which is in the hands of Baron von Strucker. Their intel tells them Strucker has been experimenting on “enhanced” humans, so they’re not that surprised when they run into two of those individuals on the mission. While I loved this sequence, and it contained one of my favorite moments of humor (which then gets carried through the rest of the film) this also presents the first flaw in the film. Prior to Age of Ultron, Strucker was only ever seen in a post-credits scene for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and there isn’t a lot of explanation as to who he is, what he’s up to, or how the Avengers received the intel to even lead them to Strucker. If you’ve been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the past few weeks you probably wouldn’t have even asked those questions. Which is the first weakness of this film – the Strucker plot seems ill-used and really only makes sense if you’ve been following the whole of the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. included.

I was a little uncertain about the use of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in this film, mostly because Marvel is extremely limited in how they are able to use those characters. Unfortunately, the fact that Marvel doesn’t own the rights to mutants or Magneto, and possibly even the names “Scarlet Witch” and “Quicksilver” means that the Maximoffs origin story gets rewritten. I was hoping for some sort of Easter Egg type nod to Magneto, but if there was one I missed it. I ended up really liking these characters and the arc they had in the film. In some ways I even liked this version of Quicksilver better than the one that appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, though part of that could be just because I liked the actor better.

The Vision was the other addition to the team in this film, and I just wish we could have seen more of him in action. I did like the few scenes we had with him, and he even got a few humorous beats (more situational humor than actual lines) but I like what I’ve seen so far. I’m hoping we’ll get to see much more of him in Infinity War, if not sooner.

One of my favorite parts of this film was the expanded role Hawkeye plays this time around. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I was pleasantly surprised with what we learned about Hawkeye – and Clint Barton – in this film, and I found myself liking him even more. Considering Hawkeye has had the least amount of screen time in any of the standalone films (only appearing for about five minutes in Thor) it’s about time we actually got to learn more about the Avenger we knew the least up until this time.

Which brings me to another aspect of this movie that I enjoyed. The first Avengers was about the team coming together and learning to work together and be a team. By this movie they are already a team, and you can see that they’ve grown as a team. This movie lets us get to know each of them a little more, and get to know how they feel about their place in the team. There’s a more personal feel to each characters’ arc in this movie, and you get to see how the relationships and dynamics of the team come into play and I really liked that.

As much I loved this movie overall, it wasn’t perfect (as I stated above). If you look at The Avengers in general as a trilogy (with both parts of the Infinity War counting as a single film) this movie fell into the typical second movie trap. You come into the story already in the middle of the action – there’s no more origin stories to tell, unless you count the twins and Ultron – and a lot of the film seems to be devoted to moving pieces into position for Phase III. Don’t get me wrong, I really did love this movie, but there was a distinct lack of focus with a lot of threads going off in random directions.and not all of them gathered together again.

If you thought Andy Serkis‘ appearance as Ulysses Klaue was short-lived and took note of his escape, that’s probably because he and all the references to Wakanda were there to set-up Black Panther. Thor’s vision of Heimdall could be heralding the arrival of Ragnarok in the next Thor film, and the frequent reference to the Infinity Gems is setting up the two-part Infinity War. Meanwhile, the animosity between Captain America and Iron Man was there to foreshadow the events of Civil War. The first Avengers film was able to focus just on bringing the team together and defeating Loki’s army, while this one spent more time setting the stage for what’s coming which left it feeling a little disjointed at times.

However, despite its flaws, Age of Ultron is still a lot of fun to watch, and I definitely plan to see it again (and again…). I wouldn’t be surprised if you still think The Avengers was better, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Age of Ultron either. The one thing Whedon does masterfully is insert just the right amount of humor at exactly the right times. Even in the height of battle the heroes toss out one-liners that feel entirely natural and well-placed. Age of Ultron certainly has that patented Whedon blend of humor, action, drama, and heart. It’s one of the reasons I love everything he does, and it’s one of the reasons I love both Avengers movies so much.

Where Has All the Creativity Gone?

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Full HouseLast year, shortly after NBC announced it’s intended revival of Heroes, I wrote a column about shows I thought were much more deserving of a revival than one which peaked in its first season. One of the shows on that list, Twin Peaks, is now scheduled for its own revival as well. This is something I can get behind. However, it seems like within the past year all networks have been doing is announcing revivals or remakes in one form or another.

It’s not that remakes have been unheard of until now. The Hawaii Five-O remake has been doing fairly well for years. Other attempts – Knight Rider, Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels – haven’t been so lucky. I suspect H5O‘s success had more to do with it’s cast than nostalgia.

It seems like remake plans are everywhere these days. CBS just launched an Odd Couple remake starring Matthew Perry, and plans are in the works for revivals of Coach, Full House, and The X-Files, not to mention that Heroes reboot. MTV just announced last week they plan to revive their claymation program, Celebrity Deathmatch.There are also reports indicating a TV version of Galaxy Quest is in the works, which just seems like blasphemy.

I’m not saying every remake or reboot is a terrible idea. I’m actually looking forward to Shadowhunters, mostly because I think television will be a much better medium for telling that story than a two-hour film. Twin Peaks and The X-Files also aren’t necessarily bad things – and there are a lot of other shows that I’d like to see get limited revival series, either to catch up with where those characters are, or just to offer closure we may not have gotten previously.

What I am saying is, why does it feel like every single series lately is a remake, reboot, revival or reinterpretation? How many different versions of The Wizard of Oz are currently in the works? And at one time, three different networks had plans for a Beauty and the Beast inspired series, though only the CW has actually produced theirs. Has Hollywood really run out of original ideas?

I don’t have a real answer, but the obvious one seems to be ‘yes,’ and this issue doesn’t just affect television. Take a look at films being released this year (or the ones currently in development). You will find a number of familiar titles: Star Wars, Jurassic World, Mad Max, Terminator, The Crow, and the list goes on. These aren’t just one-off films that someone has decided it’s time to remake – these are large movie franchises being completely rebooted or extended.

Star WarsNow don’t get me wrong, I completely geeked out over the new Star Wars trailer last week, and am as excited as any other lifelong fan. I’m not quite as excited about Jurassic World, but seeing as Chris Pratt has been added to my list of favorite action heroes, I’ll be going to see that too. But the question is, where is this generation’s Star Wars? When was the last time there was a truly original mega franchise like Star Wars? Why are we building onto the ones already in existence and not coming up with something new? I’m not talking about a film series based on YA novels, but something completely new and original.

You could perhaps make an argument for the Marvel Cinematic Universe attempting to be this generation’s Star Wars – and in some ways you’d probably be correct – but those films are still not entirely original, as they are based on the comics. That’s not to say that a television show or movie based on source material isn’t as good as something original. I am a HUGE fan of the MCU and everything associated with it, plus a lot of what I consider the best shows on television right now were adapted from some sort of source material – Game of Thrones, Daredevil, Arrow, even Justified was based on a novella by Elmore Leonard.

One could possibly argue someday Avatar and its sequels could fill this void, but it’s taking so long just to get one more movie made, let alone three more. And let’s be honest, how original is Avatar really? Sure the effects were great, but we’ve all seen Pocahontas and Fern Gully.

Which then brings up another debate: How original is anything anymore? Even the stories that may seem the most original to us are built using elements of storytelling dating back centuries – the Hero’s Journey for example, which can even be found in Star Wars. There are no truly 100% original stories anymore, as everything is inspired by something, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be as unique as possible.

So where is all the creativity in Hollywood? Why are they just remaking films from our childhoods? At this year’s Oscars the two front-runners for Best Picture – Boyhood and Birdmanwhich ultimately took home the prize – were both original screenplays, showing creativity and originality can be rewarded. However, neither one of those were box office hits like Star Wars is expected to be. Are they falling back on the tried and true popular films because they were so popular the first time around that it’s less of a risk? Fans all over the world will tell you how bad they thought the Star Wars prequel trilogy was, and yet there were still people waiting in line for every film.

I don’t have an answer, and probably never will, all I know is that I cringe a little more every time one of these remakes is announced, and a little piece of my childhood dies every time there’s a bad remake of something I once loved dearly.

Throwback Thursday: New York Comic Con 2014

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NYCC PressIn October 2014 I had the extreme pleasure of attending New York Comic Con as a member of the press. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had; I loved every minute of it. It’s hard to believe it’s already been 6 months! Hopefully 6 months from now I’ll be returning a second round at NYCC.

I don’t usually follow the whole TBT trend, but I thought today I would share the review of the NYCC I wrote for the fanzine my book club, Watch the Skies produces. This was originally published in their October fanzine.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is it May 1st yet???

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Now that you’ve had nearly 24 hours to watch and rewatch the latest trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, let’s discuss.

What did you notice? How do you feel about the possible romance between Bruce and Natasha?

What do you think of The Vision?

Are you frustrated that Fox’s ownership of the X-Men rights means Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch aren’t technically mutants? (And will have to have a different backstory?)  Also, did they get away from Baron von Strucker? (And, how will Quicksilver compare to the X-Men’s version? better or worse?)

What is Tony doing with Loki’s staff?

Will Avengers lead directly in Civil War? (Do you think it will end with Captain America and Iron Man at odds already?)

What did I miss (a lot I assume)??

Oscars 2015 – My Picks

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Last year was the first year I actually watched all of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars aired, and I really enjoyed having an opinion on who I thought would take home awards. Not only that, but I was right about most of the awards. This year is much harder though. I think the categories are much tighter, and it’s definitely going to be harder to pick the winners for the major categories. Adding to that, this year the Actress categories are much more spread out, and I haven’t had enough time to see all of those performances. But I will do my best based on what I do know, and then we’ll see who actually wins Sunday night!

Patricia ArquetteBest Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette
Laura Dern
Keira Knightley
Meryl Streep
Emma Stone

I have not seen Wild, so I can’t speak for Laura Dern’s performance, though I do know she’s a great actress.  While I love Emma Stone, I don’t really feel that her performance stands out as deserving of this award over the other women in this category. However, I really think this award belongs to Patricia Arquette. I thought she was one of the best performances in Boyhood and one of my favorite parts of the film. I will be really disappointed if this award goes to anyone else.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall
Ethan Hawke
Edward Norton
Mark Ruffalo
J.K. Simmons

This category is a really hard one to choose from, as all are terrific actors who gave great performances. In my opinion Duvall is probably the only one I’m sure won’t win – not because his performance was lacking in any way, but because I just think the other four have a really high chance of winning and it’s hard to pick a best between them. However, my favorite by far is J.K. Simmons. He was absolutely fantastic in Whiplash. He’s my pick to win, though I think you could also make a really strong argument for any of the others.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard
Felicity Jones
Julianne Moore
Rosamund Pike
Reese Witherspoon

This is another hard category, but this time because I haven’t yet seen three of the five performances being nominated (I hadn’t even heard of Two Days, One Night before the nominations came out). However, I think we can cross Rosamund Pike off the list of likely winners; like with Duvall above, she gave an excellent performance but I think the others are probably more likely candidates. While I loved Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything and think she’s very deserving of an award, I suspect this one may go to Julianne Moore.

Michael KeatonBest Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carrell
Bradley Cooper
Benedict Cumberbatch
Michael Keaton 
Eddie Redmayne

I might as well just start every category off with “This is a really hard one…” because they all are. Again, all the performances in this category were excellent. I’m slightly biased towards Benedict Cumberbatch because I love him, as well as Bradley Cooper (who did give his best performance to date) but I suspect neither will win this one. Steve Carrell gave a fine performance in Foxcatcher, but I just don’t think it’s one that stands up against some of the others in the category. While Birdman wasn’t my favorite of the nominees, Michael Keaton gave a fantastic performance and I think this is his year.

Best Directing

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

I honestly don’t know who is going to win this category and I hesitate to pick one name. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be either Alejandro G. Iñárritu or Richard Linklater because their films felt the most original and innovative of this year’s nominees. I loved the concept and execution of filming over twelve years, to show the actors actually aging and I loved the way Birdman felt like one fluid shot through the whole film – though I suppose that speaks more to the cinematography than directing. If I had to pick one I would go with Linklater here, but I definitely could be wrong.

Still7.JPGBest Picture

Whiplash
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
Selma
American Sniper
Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Last year when I walked out of the theater after seeing 12 Years a Slave I was certain that film deserved to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. I never once doubted that it deserved it, or that it would win. There is no clear front-runner in my mind this year. I know who will likely win based on reviews and other evidence, but I’m not sure any film is a clear winner for me. Whiplash is by far my favorite, and I think it’s one of the best in the category even though I don’t think it will win. And American Sniper stuck in my head longer than any of the other films, but part of that is due to the controversy it raised.

Judging from the evidence I’ve seen so far, I suspect this category will come down to either Boyhood or Birdman. Both were original stories told in unique ways, and even though neither one was a film I particularly loved, I see why they made it into the category. While I easily could be wrong, I am going to pick Boyhood as the winner this year because I think the story and the film itself resonates with a wider audience than Birdman. 

So there you have it, my picks for this years Academy Awards. I’ll be tuning in Sunday night to see how many (if any) I chose correctly.