Monday, July 06, 2015

Ava Duvernay's Rejection of Marvel Is a Win for Independent Filmmakers

I've already discussed Ava Duvernay turning down Marvel's offer to direct Black Panther on this morning's podcast with Scott, but another major talking point ripping through this news item is how utterly pointless it has become to get excited about talented independent filmmakers being hired on for big studio tentpoles. The evidence has been stacked this summer with movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World that are special effects focused spectacles with the number one goal being to extend their series to infinity and beyond; they only show glimmers of the personality and creativity of their respective directors Joss Whedon and Colin Trevorrow. In the case of both movies, I think they were much better due to the director that they had but neither are anywhere close in quality of the director's smaller works that clearly had their voice and passions aligned. Almost every movie with hopes for a strong box office and especially one with intentions to become a franchise are essentially studio manufactured creations where the filmmaker is little more than a pseudonym. Yes, they are involved and work incredibly hard, but how different would any of the movies really have been if a "lesser" director was put in the chair.

Mad Max: Fury Road and most Pixar productions feel very personal and are sprung fully from the imagination of their creator (or at least feel like it), but they're the glaring exceptions that causes them to be so far superior to everything else. As Marvel Studios had continued this game, they've allowed each movie to be superficially different but they have a strict formula and a rigid vision of what is a tentpole that will suffocate any filmmaker who believes otherwise. I actually think control issues are much worse from all the big studios that are fiercely playing catch-up to Disney and Marvel.

My first instinct is to groan that Marvel's narrow-mindedness has stopped Duvernay from making the movie she wanted with Black Panther. As I said on the show, Marvel likely just wants a superhero movie where the protagonist just happens to Black rather than a picture that really explores issues or challenges the viewer. The Marvel version is sure as hell not a Duvernay movie, which makes it rather pointless to bother having her attached.

So, this is the state of cinema that we are in. I still get excited when a talented independent filmmaker gets a shot to helm a gigantic production and have hopes the magic they made on the independent level can be repeated with the bonus of a massive budget (I'd love to see David Robert Mitchell or Amma Asante be given a big movie). Deep down I realize it doesn't matter who directs them because it is the studios heads calling the shots.

This is why Duvernay must be applauded. She is going to continue to make the movies she wants to make and likely have a lot more creative freedom. They may not make the multiplexes or be seen by the masses, but they'll likely be much more creative and captivating pictures. The independent scene is continuing to grow and there are way more platforms around now to make it easier to access these movies. I think we are currently entering into a golden age of independent films where hot new talents are rising but also veteran filmmakers are returning so they can make the stories that fuel their passions.

I'm almost rooting for independent filmmakers to stay away from the big studio system. Put their trust in film critics to champion them and Netflix or other outlets to give them the necessary exposure. Allow them to make real art and delve into experimental filmmaking, and craft new and exciting movies.  My hope is in this new environment where Netflix willing drops a few million that a budget conscious and talented filmmaker can make a decent living and continue to make the motions pictures that drive them and allow their voice to shine.

I Should be Terminated for Forgetting J.K. Simmons

On this morning's podcast, both Scott and I completely suffered from extreme brain farting by not mentioning J.K. Simmons's performance and role in Terminator Genysis. Simmons proved once again that he is the shining gem in almost any movie that he appears. This time he brings some of the comic relief but he is also the audience's conduit into the ridiculous sci-fi action as he is the average person working through the chaos that is always necessary in these type of movie but is missing in all our main protagonists since they're all up to speed before the opening credits. I'm shocked I completely blanked on mentioning it since it really was one of my favourite parts of the movie and added some extra meat and grounding. Unfortunately, it is also incredibly underwritten and eventually proves to be superfluous as his character's story never gets a proper pay off or seems to justify a reason for his inclusion. So, it speaks more to the immense talent of Simmons that I feel the need to give it special mention rather than any brilliance with the character.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 98: 'Terminator Genysis' and 'Magic Mike XXL' Reviews Reveal if They Can Keep Their Franchises Alive

This week Scott and I review the two major releases in Terminator Genisys and Magic Mike XXL. Then we head to the vault to review and discuss the original Magic Mike and Barbarella. We also talk some movie news including Ava Duvernay turning down Black Panther and what that means about the big studio system and as well, we bid farewell to Maria (played by Sonia Manzano) who is leaving Sesame Street.

As always if you enjoy the show then please spread the love.

The Movie Breakdown Podcast Outline:

0:00 - 4:30 Intro (Sepp Blatter talk and Scott reveals second international hero)
4:31 - 10:38 Political correctness altering pop culture artifacts
10:39 - 21:12 TV Remakes, Commercial cut-aways, Reality TV exploitation, dangers of child stars
21:13 -38:39 Terminator Genisys review
38:40 - 48:14 Magic Mike (2012) review
48:15 - 55:56 Magic Mike XXL review
55:57 - 1:02:42 Barbarella review
1:02:43 - 1:07:31 Box Office Game Update
1:07:32 - 1:12:57 The implications of Ava Duvernay turning down Black Panther
1:12:58 - 1:19:20 The loss of imagination by movies no longer leaving things unseen
1:19:21 - 1:25:54 Good-bye to Maria from Sesame Street (discussing childhood crushes)
1:25:55 - 1:30:47 Quick The Martian book review
1:30:48 - 1:34:26 Review rundown
1:34:27 - Closing and analyzing if Montreal Screwjob was a work

Star Ratings:

Terminator Genisys *** (CS) & **½ (SM)
Magic Mike ***½ (CS & SM)
Magic Mike XXL *½ (CS & SM)
Barbarella *** (CS & SM)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Being a Teenager in 1980s New York Can Be Super Heroic According to the 'Ten Thousand Saints' Trailer

Asa Butterfield must now live in a world where he won't shoot webs from his wrist or fire off witticism while awash in snazzy blue and red. Butterfield was at one time rumoured to be the heavy favourite to play the next Spider-Man, but Tom Holland, the real next Spider-Man, proves why you don't put betting money on potential casting choices. Even though Butterfield won't be in one of the next big blockbuster pictures, he also gets to avoid being accused of killing a beloved franchise (so, win?). Also the new word is that the next Spider-Man will be a John Hughes-ish high school coming of age tale that just happens the bullies are super-villains. This means that Butterfield hasn't really missed out that badly since his next picture, Ten Thousand Saints, is a coming of age tale set in the streets of New York -- so, basically the new Spider-Man except with far less webs and swinging.

This isn't just a coming-of-age story in New York, but it is 1980s New York with its punk music, AIDS fear, and crazy hair. I like that there is a definite flavour of the decade throughout the trailer, but it isn't the blatant pop-culture dropping and nostalgia over-load that can hamper the authenticity in many period pieces. There is a more timeless feel that teenage angst and fears carry from every generation, such as pregnancy fears or doubt in parents. While New York seems to be a defining part of the feature, it is at its core looking to be a character driven story that focuses on a boy navigating through the city with his immature father and potential love interest.

It helps that the father is the great Ethan Hawke who is delivering his usual energy and charisma and feels to be channelling a bit of his father from Boyhood. Hailee Steinfeld is a great potential girlfriend and its looks like the movie is interested in making her character deep and nuanced rather than just the object of the lead's affection. Steinfeld is a fantastic actor that has been wonderful in everything she has done and hopefully this is another stand-out role. There is some pretty great supporting roles with Emily Mortimer and Emile Hirsch (who may be playing the hard-edge corner of a love triangle).

I'm a sucker for all the things that are promised in this trailer, and the only downside is that it is probably the type of movie that just gets played in New York and I'll have to wait 5 years for it to come to Netflix.

'No Escape' Trailer Shows You What Not to Do with Your Kids on a Saturday Afternoon

I'm not really sold on Owen Wilson as an action star, even if No Escape isn't his first foray into the genre (Behind Enemy Lines, Armageddon), but that is why Pierce Brosnan is around to mentor him on how to hold a gun and kick ass like a middle-aged wrecking ball. I'm a little torn over the Lake Bell casting as I love that she is in a bigger budget wide-release picture that will earn her more eyeballs but she looks to be stuck in the "wife who needs to either be rescued or patiently wait with her kids as her husband saves the day" role. Though considering Bell's disdain for such roles, I have hope the trailer is just misleading.

The trailer is largely showing the same clips and scenes offered in the previous trailer. Including what is one of the more stomach pounding scenes for a father to witness in Wilson tossing his daughter from the top of one building to another where his wife must catch her (and he must have a hell of a throw). My sense isn't there won't be anything as nail biting and arm-rest squeezing as that moment, which makes me wonder why it wouldn't be saved for the paying customers. Director John Erick Dowdle frames it well and makes it a nerve zapping moment, which at least gives him one thing I can credit him for as his past portfolio doesn't light my world fire with stuff like Quarantine (I haven't seen either Devil or As Above, So Below but neither rocked it critically).

The original trailer focused more on the uprising and Wilson's family being stuck in the middle of the violent rioting and escalating confrontations. The promise was for violence and chaos and maybe a little political messaging. This time around the trailer is going the more personal route. With a scenes of Wilson reflecting on the chaos and shots of his family to show the stakes of his situation. Hopefully, Dowdle realizes that a genre picture like this would be out of its depth to try to explore the uprisings that have sprung throughout the world in the last several years but rather make it more about the family's own personal struggle and need to survive.

In that way it will be a disaster picture but rather earthquakes and tsunamis, it is gunfire and rebels. But at least this time, the hero will get to punch something. If disaster flick is what this will be best labelled, I'll have to say I happily got my fill with San Andreas already.

'Snowden' Trailer Shows Very Little Yet Still Manages to Unsettle and Excite

This morning on the "Best of the Mid-Year" podcast I listed Snowden as one of my most anticipated movies for the second half of the year, despite not seeing any trailers or photos. The interest was largely due to it being the latest Oliver Stone picture, and even though his output has been inconsistent quality-wise the last two decades, he is still one of the most audacious and irreverent directors around. Plus the story of Edward Snowden leaking classified NSA documents to the press so the public can know about the government's privacy breaches is not only one of the major news stories of the last ten years but is also the kind of challenging and conflicting material that is perfectly suited for the very left-winged and political Oliver Stone. The director of JFK will assuredly intertwine some fiction and exaggeration to put forth his message and story, but the scope will likely be immense and the brains will be kicked into gear while viewing it.

To be honest, even after this teaser I can say my anticipation comes from knowing very little. The only real revelation for me was that I was unaware that Nicolas Cage was in this picture, which actually makes me all the more excited (though I assume he won't be punching women dressed in animal outfits or screaming about bees). The cast is pretty impressive and hopefully, Stone call pull out the kind of performances that put stars like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, and Melissa Leo in Oscar talks. It will be a busy fall for Gordon-Levitt, though but The Walk will turn out to be the more mainstream friendly picture (thus maybe the one more likely to give him an Oscar shot).

The teaser does feel like an on-his-game Stone even if all we see is the American flag with an ominous version of a Sunday school song playing in the background. It is a rather eerie rendition of "This Little Light of Mine." The long shot of the American flag makes one feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Stone is a proud American but one who isn't afraid to shake his country up and challenge it. Though Snowden will likely be a complicated and nuanced character, I'd be shocked if Stone doesn't side with him and make him the hero in this narrative.

This is the kind of material Stone seems passionate about. If he can avoid getting preachy, overt with the message or even didactic, this should be a complex and thought-provoking thriller that is incredibly relevant and controversial.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 97: The Best of the Mid-Year

We're already six months into 2015, and I've now seen 31 movies from this year. Obviously, not that many compared to most movie critics, but still more than enough to get an idea of how 2015 is turning out. Scott and I look at the year so far and celebrate it by us both giving our "Top Ten of the Mid-Year" lists. Then from there, we look at the movies we're most looking forward to seeing that are being released in the second half of 2015.

As always if you have a great time with the show then please spread the love.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 9:49 Introduction and overview of 2015 so far
9:50 - 1:06:50 Top Ten Movies Lists (10-2)
1:06:51 - 1:09:23 Honourable mentions and stand-out performances
1:09:24 - 1:14:16 Worst movie of the mid-year
1:14:16 - 1:20:19 Best movie of the mid-year picks
1:20:20 - 1:29:04 Most anticipated movies for the second half of 2015
1:29:05 - Top Ten List rundown and closing

Christopher's Top Ten Movies of the Mid-Year:

10. Tomorrowland
9. Paddington
8. Insidious: Chapter 3
7. The DUFF
6. Cinderella
5. Focus
4. Spy
3. It Follows
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
1. Inside Out

Scott's Top Ten Movies of the Mid-Year:

10. Jurassic World
9. Insidious: Chapter 3
8. San Andreas
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
6. These Final Hours
5. Spy
4. Kingsman: The Secret Service
3. It Follows
2. Inside Out
1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Movie Breakdown Episode 96: Can't Get Enough of 'Inside Out' and Return to the 'Titanic'

Last week, I offered my review of Inside Out and now Scott has seen the modern classic and so, we enter into further discussion. We also look at the potential impact the feature will have on cinema. As well, we review a massive hit from the past in Titanic. From there we have several more movie reviews including the original Ted, War of the Worlds (2005) and Housebound.

As always, if you love the show then please spread the word.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 10:33 Intro (Discussing the Confederate Flag and its symbol of racism)
10:34 - 22:03 Inside Out review part 2 (how success proves female driven movies can be hits)
22:04 - 28:39 Ted (2012) review
28:40 - 46:48 Titanic (1997) review (and remembering the legacy of James Horner)
46:49 - 58:52 War of the Worlds (2005) review
58:53 - 1:06:01 Housebound (2014) review
1:06:02 - 1:12:44 Standard Operating Procedure (2008) review
1:12:45 - 1:16:30 Box Office Game Update
1:16:31 - 1:21:46 Dumbing down of Terminator: Genysis ads
1:21:47 - 1:23:51 Ben Affleck producing FIFA scandal movie
1:23:52 - 1:27:46 Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension trailer
1:27:47 -  Review rundown & closing

Movie Ratings:
Inside Out **** (CS & SM)
Ted **½ (CS & SM)
Titanic **** (CS) & ***½ (SM)
War of the Worlds *** (CS & SM)
Housebound ***½ (CS & SM)
Standard Operating Procedure ** (SM)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

'Sleeping with Other People' Trailer Promises a 'When Harry Met Sally' With Jerks

I never saw the Leslye Headland directed Bachlorette, but it occasionally goads me on Netflix but I've been able to dismiss it as a Bridesmaids knock-off. Though it has an appealing cast with talented and funny people like Rebel Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan, which makes me think maybe one day I should allow it to lure me in. I also was delightfully surprised by the humour and smarts in the 2013 remade About Last Night that was written by Headland. Her second directorial effort is Sleeping with Other People, which feels like a far more cynical and edgier When Harry Met Sally. So, maybe Headland's thing is taking popular movies from the past and throwing in a modernized spin (because you know, Bridesmaid is so ancient and needing to be refurbished).

Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie get me excited about any project they're in because their energy is so contagious and warm (so, essentially I am saying they give people fevers, so don't share straws with them). In the trailer, they have a sizzling chemistry and both are naturally likable, which is pretty crucial here since their characters are assholes. It is a rather steep uphill wanting me to wish happiness for two players and cheaters, but to be fair, the history of romantic comedies tend to start us off with pretty disposable and retching characters, and at least this time around the picture seems aware that they need to be redeemed.

It look to be a hard-edged raunchy comedy type with ample amounts of sweetness that pulls it off in clips like Brie stoned out of her mind while teaching kids how to dance. The supporting cast is pretty great with Adam Scott always endearing in whatever he does. There is nothing here that makes me think this won't be predictable, but it also look like it could be surprisingly fun and engaging. So, essentially this year's About Last Night, so that pesky Headland is convincing me more and more to try out Bachlorette.

It Isn't Just Hollywood Obsessed with Remakes

As much fun as it is to whine about the state of Hollywood and like to believe foreign studios are pure places that create fresh and original movies, facts seem to get in the way of that pleasant daydream. Hollywood Reporter has revealed that German film production company Bavarian Studios is dipping into their film library and looking to remake the cinematic classic and the picture that turned Wolfgang Petersen into a hotly sought after director in Hollywood, Das Boot. 

The picture is not only considered one of the best to ever come out of Germany but has made it high on many respected critics' lists for best of all-time. The late 1970s and 1980s was filled with memorable and insightful war pictures that carried a rather strong "anti-war" message and even though there isn't any in the trenches action sequences and the majority of the story takes place in the claustrophobic setting of the submarine, Das Boot deserves to be remembered alongside other movies of the time like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and The Deer Hunter.

I'd consider all those pictures in the subgenre of "anti-war" pictures that use the action and violence to convey the banality and cycle of deep seeded destructions that comes from most wars. Das Boot's narrative is very different without much gunfire or heavy-hitting battle sequences that push most of the above movies, but the emotions and atmosphere and tension all comes from the ideas and dangers of war. For simplicity sake let's call it a war picture and as far as war movies go, it is the E.T. or Gone with the Wind or Casablanca or The Good, the Bad and The Ugly or Goodfellas or Jaws of its genre (I tried to avoid the easy Citizen Kane comparison). And if anyone announced a remake of those above pictures then blasphemy would be screamed and pitchforks would be brought out.

It might not be Hollywood or American, but it is one of the most important works in cinema. It is pretty brazen to even contemplate remaking a movie held up in such high esteem by film critics and fans. Yet I guess that is what happens now, but I have a feeling this might be an It's a Wonderful Life situation where suddenly someone realizes what they're actually trying to do.

The reality is that the masses don't hold dear to Das Boot like they do E.T. (or even The Last Starfighter or The Goonies for some), which means the outcry may be minimal, especially since the production will likely be away from the American system. In all honesty, anything can be remade and all I ever hope is that someone has a reason and a creative purpose for returning to the material. If they have a different take on the story or are being driven by inspiration and passion then it may all work out great. I sense the motivation may be a little green though.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

They Must Have Finished that 'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension' Script

It looks like Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension isn't just a threat used against naughty critics to make them go to bed on time. There is now a trailer to prove this is going to be an actual movie and to really strike fear, it is going to be in 3D. This movie has been talked about ever since Paranormal Activity 4 was released back in 2012 and has been haunted by several delays and pushing back of the release date. One obstacle would have been the focus on the "spin-off" The Marked Ones, though I'm still not sure why we don't call that one the fifth other than it wasn't about stupid, rich white people.  Then there was that pesky script that they still had to write with three months left before the then schedule released date. I have a sneaky feeling for the last two years all they've had is a title and a knowledge they weren't ready to end the franchise but lacking a story to justify a next chapter.

The trailer looks like a pretty typical Paranormal Activity movie with little children being spooky, people examining videos instead of running, and a whole slew of those popular jump scares. At least in the case of this franchise, the scares mean a legitimate threat rather than a neighbour patting the protagonist on the back or a cat jumping out from the shadows. I also thought the opening sequence where the girls on the old videos could see guys in the present was creepy and a little chilling.

It was also announced earlier this week that this is going to be the final instalment of the series (it hasn't been specified if that counts the spin-off too -- but I sense that will be their way around that promise if this one shovels mountains of money). Jason Blum and company are promising answers will be given, we'll finally see Toby, and even get to jump into that fabled ghost dimension. This also seems to be the most special effect heavy of the franchise with more than just moving blanket and closing doors but rather actual CGIed ghoulies swirling about. I'm not really sure if it is the upgrade that the filmmakers believe though.

This series just hasn't been my thing except for the surprisingly good Marked Ones. That also means it is on a streak for quality (one), and even if I can't muster much excitement, I know there has been a crowd dying for this series to return. It look like it wants to end with a bang and maybe a "boo" too.

The Rise of Amazon and Netflix in the Movie Business is Great While It Lasts

Amazon is continuing its push into the movie industry by purchasing the rights to distribute the Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon starring Elvis & Nixon.  Both Amazon and Netflix have turned into the equivalent of mid-sized film studios by making aggressive purchases of potential award challengers and financing movies that the big studios no longer back outside of Oscar time.  If you ignore Netflix's four picture deal with Adam Sandler, the streaming services' upcoming slate of original movies will fall under mid-budget adult-focused fare that has largely been missing from the multiplexes now that every major studio is obsessed with their own version of The Avengers.

There is many reasons to get excited about the emergence of Amazon and Netflix as players in the movie industry, but the biggest is just the promise of some actual variety at the mainstream level. Likely most of their pictures aren't entering the multiplexes, but the streaming services are legitimate powerhouse in the entertainment business and their pictures will likely get more mainstream attention than if they were being distributed by a smaller group like A24 or Magnolia (great companies with solid movies but rarely do they have something that catches the masses attention).

It reminds me of the 1970s and 1980s when there were several smaller film studios like Cannon or Orion that specialized in mid to low budget pictures that still had the backing and finances for wide release. They weren't in the league of the big six and they didn't knock out the big summer event spectacles (though Orion birthed the original RoboCop) but they made popular movies that were able to reach all the cinemas with healthy TV advertising and trailers before the big budget tentpoles. They were smaller studios whose pictures that weren't doomed to the arthouses and videos like today.

Netflix and Amazon follows these studios' philosophy as they want to make commercial and popular features but give the filmmaker a large degree of creative control and assure the vision be fulfilled by not following the cookie cutter formula expected from most big budget movies. It is an exciting prospect to see some of the more creative filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Cary Fukunaga, Jim Jarmusch and the Duplass brothers given a chance to make the movies their passionate about and have a budget to carry it out. Gilliam's deal with Amazon will finally make the long anticipated and never believed would happen passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, finally become a thing we can watch rather than just hear it be moaned about over how big studios are unwilling to finance it.

Those smaller studios that made wide release mid-budget pictures are no longer around for a reason. The movie culture changed and it was too hard to compete with the big guns and their pictures eventually just didn't earn enough to keep the companies alive. This is where I wonder if Netflix and Amazon trying to become legitimate film studios will become a short term bit of euphoria. The plans are great and great movies will come out of this but do they have a business model to actually sustain film production?

I'm still baffled how this new movie strategy is actually going to make them money. I know Amazon has plans to release their pictures in the cinemas and then after four to eight weeks put it up on their Amazon Prime streaming service. While Netflix is avoiding movie theatres by putting it straight up on their service. Both strategies may not end up being that different as the major movie theatres have proven to throw hissy fits when a distributor doesn't follow the traditional model of putting a movie in the theatre and then waiting three months before going on video. It may be a challenge for Amazon to get any kind of wide release, but with Netflix set on coinciding release dates, it will definitely kill any chance of their movies being screened in any theatre chain of significant size.

The reason this is a problem is that movies make back a budget on theatrical release and in a much smaller degree VOD. The theatrical release isn't going to be substantial unless major theatre chains suddenly feel the pressure to relent on their stringent release windows (which will only happen if they fear losing money by missing out on a big hit). Yet Netflix and Amazon are dropping millions and millions of dollars to buy movies and also have some rather expensive production deals in place. In the case of the Sandler deal it has been reported to be close to what he had with the big studios,which is around $60 million.

I'm baffled in how this is a profitable strategy for the streaming services. Do they think that the promise of a potential Oscar nominated Best Picture or brand new Sandler fart jokes or a new indy darling will trigger a massive jump in subscribers? I'm not sure with Prime but I know with Netflix that there aren't any visible sponsors or advertisers. As I mentioned, there will likely be minimal money recouped at the movie theatres. I'm not master of economy or business, but it seems to me that the only way these movies are going to make money and justify their higher price tag is increased subscriptions. Or maybe this is why Sandler has a deal in place, as he can mentor all filmmakers on how to cram a movie with product placements.

The foray into the movie business seems to be creatively driven. Netflix and Amazon want to give talented directors and writers a chance to make fresh and innovative movies. A chance to give opportunity for creative folks that aren't getting a chance at the big studio level, I love that and it will likely make great movies. I just don't know how long this party can last in the current movie environment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Example of Why "Mission Impossible" is Much More Fun Than "Fast and the Furious"

When it comes to big stunt, globe-trotting, special effects action spectacles with a liberal dosage of tongue-in-cheek humour, Mission Impossible scratches that itch far more effectively than Fast and Furious. I'll admit the car smashing through the window of one high-rise into another high rise was a pretty great visual in Furious 7, but it can't really compare to Ethan Hunt desperately clinging to a flying plane (which from everything I heard was a legitimate stunt without any CGI assistance). The fact it is a human on his own doing the dives and leaps and rolls rather than someone in a decked out sports car is what makes it a great thrill and gives the action sequences higher stakes. It is all fantasy and ridiculous, but Tom Cruise throws himself into this role and in recent years has been able to be both kick-ass and make an ass out himself with equal skill. If you want any example of his pure dedication then watch him run, because nobody takes it more serious than Cruise. Not too much running in this trailer, but a pretty fantastic array of action sequences and stunts, and looks to be a pretty fun popcorn muncher for the end of July.

The plot in these type of movies are completely secondary. We know it is all just an excuse for some exotic locales, ear popping jams, and sequences that defy physics and reality. Though IMF having to battle its evil doppelganger sounds fun and Ethan seems to be on the run, which is always best for this series. I also am intrigued to see if Alec Baldwin turns out to be the devious mastermind behind the Rogue Nation that each trailer has hinted. But again, all that is just secondary and the real show is what massive stunts are they holding back from the trailers that will drop all the jaws on opening night?

RIP James Horner: His Innovative Scores Turned Good Pictures into Epics

The two time Oscar winning film composer James Horner died yesterday in a plane crash near Santa Barbara. For many of us it is easy to remember the actors and directors that make great movies, but often ignore some of the other immense talents that are responsible for ascending a good movie into a classic. Music is undoubtedly one of the most crucial parts in making a picture emotionally connect with an audience and is often the injection that turns a scene into an adrenaline rush Most directors are well aware that music is essential in turning a story into something grand and momentous, which is why you'll often see filmmakers turn to the same composer for their scores.

Director James Cameron turned to Horner on three occasions, Titanic (where Horner picked up two Oscars), Avatar, and Aliens. Horner's music played a major part in transforming Cameron's genre movies into high-class prestige pictures. Titanic is a 1970s style exploitative disaster flick that has a slick gloss that pretties it up to be awards-worthy and the music plays a huge part in making it artful and prestigious. 

The three pictures were grand special effects spectacles, but it was the music that dug memorable scenes into our guts and lifted us up to soar along with the action. It brought forth the artistry and amplified the magic. Aliens has one of the most pulse-pounding and nerve-crushing scores for an action picture that both rockets you forth with energy but then chills your spine in the darker and quieter moments. It is a masterpiece of scoring that helped turn the movie into an instant sci-fi classic.

Horner knew how to make emotion pulling compositions that heralded the pictures as something epic and can't miss. Pictures like Field of Dreams, Apollo 13, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind and Glory are big event movies that stirred our feelings and emotions. Each of those movies have scenes that plunge right to our souls and linger inside us for years, and they're buried deep because of the perfectly accompanied scores that were innovative and unshakable. When I reflect upon my favourite moments in movies like Field of Dreams, I always hear the music playing in the background due to it being intertwined with the events as if it was a character. The movies that got Oscar nominations like A Beautiful Mind and Bravheart became awards-worthy thanks in a large part to Horner.

He played a big part in adding thrills and excitement in action fare that allowed us to race right along with the heroes. Movies like Patriot Games, The Rocketeer, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Troy, and The Amazing Spider-Man flew above their genres due to their engrossing scores. Scores that trumpeted the big moments and most importantly, sucked us right into the adventure. 

We have three more picture that will contain Horner scores this year in Southpaw, Wolf Totem, and The 33. All movies that are about the human condition and will be emotional roller coasters, which needed the Horner touch to pull them off. He was one of the truly great composers and he will be deeply missed.

RIP James Horner 1953 - 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Miles Morales as the New Spider-Man for Marvel Comics Exposes the Diversity Problems with Marvel Studios

Marvel Comics is continuing to outshine Marvel Studios when it comes to diversity in it characters. New York Daily News is reporting that when the Spider-Man comic book series gets relaunched in the fall that the person under the mask will be half African American and half Puerto Rican Miles Morales. Morales was Spider-Man in the Ultimate series, which was set in an alternate world where Peter Parker had died. The Ultimate universe is now being amalgamated into the "real" Marvel Universe this summer in the "Secret Wars" storyline. This now means an upgrade for Morales who will be the actual Spider-Man while an older Peter Parker will play an Obi-Wan role.

Brian Bendis, the writer of the series and along with artist Sara Pichelli created Morales, understands the huge significance of turning one of the biggest and iconic Marvel characters into a minority. He tells a story about how many Black kids wouldn't be allowed by their friends to play Batman or Superman because they didn't look like those characters but they could be Spider-Man since anybody could be under that mask. Now, the modern Spider-Man is someone many kids can actively identify.

Identification is a crucial element in entertainment when trying to connect with a diverse audience. For too long Black and Asian characters have been subjugated to roles of the comedic sidekick. There is rarely a character that many young children could see themselves in. Something a white male like me never ever had a problem, as almost every hero was easy for me to imagine could represent me but with muscles and athletic skills.

We seem to have stumbled upon a period when certain entertainment groups have suddenly recognized the value of creating a diverse array of characters that can resonate with a rather large portion of the audience that isn't white males. Fox landed a massive hit with the largely Black starring Empire, a series about a hip hop record company, and ABC's new hits came from shows like Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder (the second has the double whammy of a Black female lead).

Marvel Comics in the last year has probably showcased the greatest amount of progression towards diversity. Along with Morales as Spider-Man, there is now a female Thor, a black Captain America, and female Muslim as Ms. Marvel.  Lo and behold, none of these additions have led to rock-bottom book sales. If anything, Morales was so popular that the demand for him to get the main role was likely a big step towards Marvel making this change.

It is these shifts that make things at Marvel Studios look so archaic. The movie industry as a whole is clearly behind as is apparent with their big tentpoles that almost always have while male leads with females left with damsel-in-distress roles and minorities playing the trusty friend for a scene or two (in the case of Jurassic World then disturbingly forgotten after he served his purpose). The fear is likely that a minority or female can't be a major box office draw for a big budget spectacle. Though Maleficent and Lucy would inconveniently contradict that belief and television is proving audiences are starving for diversity. Despite what some huffy and puffy types grasping to the "nothing needs to change" lie may spout, there are Blacks or Asians or Indians or First Nations or woman that want to see themselves represented and be able to have their own fictional hero that they can cheer.

Marvel Studios is doing some token playing in the diversity game. A Black Panther picture starring the fantastic Chadwick Boseman is on the way and we'll be getting the Carol Danvers' version of Captain Marvel (a comic book series that has proven to be really successful and have an incredibly loyal audience, which means the picture will be one of those "huge surprise hits"). But these movies just feel like a tossing of the bone that sadly makes them secondary in the same way that Ant-Man isn't the real Marvel event of 2015.

The tone deafness from the movie studios is proven by the blocking out of fans cries for the next cinematic Spider-Man to be Miles Morales. Both Sony and Marvel studios have confirmed that yet again it will be Peter Parker. All the names tossed around to play Parker have been white males. I have a sneaky feeling that both studios have it set in their minds that if they're going to get a hit out of the Spider-Man franchise then the lead must be white.

It is a huge misstep not only because it would allow Marvel Studios to make a really giant push towards diversity and please a large group of movie goers that get shortchanged in representation during the big summer movie season, but it is also a lost opportunity at a real fresh start for a franchise that has become a little rusty and corroded.

In 18 years, we're now coming upon three reboots for the Spider-Man movie franchise. This is absolutely ridiculous. There was already a lot of backlash the second time around that they essentially served up the same characters and stories. Now, we're supposed to get excited by yet another reset button pushed Parker, just because Marvel Studios is sharing the controller. It is hard to escape the deja vu or the urge to reach for the Gravol, when we're stuck on a spinning wheel. We've been here and it was fun, but what it really needs is a major redesign.

Putting Miles Morales on the big screen and casting a fresh face to play him would be a gigantic symbol that Sony and Marvel Studios really are going to try something new. It would open up some fresh stories and allow us to avoid getting the exact same origin story disguised as the first movie. There has been an argument that Black actors don't draw well overseas, but I think most of the time it is a self-fulfilling prophecy as they are not given movies and stories that are big draws overseas. The constant reboots have become a bad joke, and abandoning Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man was a real chance to create something intriguing and different. It's time for Peter Parker to stop losing his Uncle Ben and avoid any nasty radioactive bites for a change.

We're left with a Marvel Comics that is flowing with diversity but a Marvel Studios failing to measure up. The big over-arching Marvel Universe story that is connected in every movie is set to wrap up when the next two Avengers are released in a few years. When the whole universe hits that reboot, will Marvel Studios then have a female Thor or an African American Captain America? Will people even care by that time? Will superhero movies still even be draws at the box office?

Marvel Studios won't be the powerhouse forever. A new action sub-genre will emerge in the summer eventually and despite movie studios' current obsession, the super hero craze will fade. Hopefully, before that time comes Marvel Studios recognizes that times have changed. They need to embrace diversity and try to appease all the different types of movie goers, the same way they are actively doing in comics. The time for a different Spider-Man on the big screen is now. Since casting of that character still hasn't been announced, the clock hasn't struck on that change of direction. I don't see that happening, but hopefully, movie studios start paying attention to what is actually happening in comic books and television.

The Movie Breakdown Episode 95: Pixar Weaves Cinematic Greatness Once Again with 'Inside Out' and Celebrating 'Jaws' 40th Anniversary

The movie I'v been eagerly awaiting for over a year and the much-needed downpour to quench the year long Pixar drought, Inside Out, is reviewed this week. It is also a little over 40 years since the very anticipated and hyped original big summer movie, Jaws, chomped its way into cinemas, so we review that picture and discuss its historical significance,

As always, if you love the show then please spread the word.

The Movie Breakdown Outline:

00:00 - 00:40 Intro
00:41 -23:27 Jaws review
23:28 - 27:33 Rob Zombie providing music for Planes trailer and recycled songs for marketing
27:34 - 39:35 Inside Out review
39:36 - 57:32 State of minorities depicted in cinema and the undercurrent of racism in soceity
57:33 - 1:05:14 The Wood review
1:05:15 - 1:13:06 Prince Avalanche review
1:13:07 - 1:14:42 Scott's Communication Breakdown
1:14:43 - 1:17:10 Box Office Game Update
1:17:11 - 1:23:16 Trailer reviews
1:23:17 - 1:30:00 FIFA Propaganda movie and history of corporate commercials disguised as features
1:30:01 - Review rundown & closing


Jaws **** (CS & SM)
Inside Out **** (CS)
The Wood *** (CS & SM)
Prince Avalanche ***½ * (CS) & *** (SM)