Classic Review: “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Atlantis poster“Atlantis: The Lost Empire”

Animated, Action, Fantasy

Rated PG: for Action Violence

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

It’s one of Disney’s most underrated animated features.  Coming out the year after “Titan AE” Disney’s attempt at a similar mix of CG and hand drawn animation was “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”.  This is a film that doesn’t get referenced much in Disney’s pantheon.  Likewise one of it’s main characters, Princess Kida, is never included in collections of Disney princesses.  This is a tragic injustice as “Atlantis” is one of Disney’s most unique films that deserves more attention then it’s gotten.

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise who worked on the animated “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and Disney’s take on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in 1996.  Kirk Wise also served as director on the english dub of Hayao Miyazaki’s award wining “Spirited Away” in 2001.  “Atlantis” boasts an impressive cast featuring Michael J Fox (“Back to the Future”), James Garner (“The Note Book”), Lenard Nimoy (“Star Trek”) and Cree Summer (“Batman Beyond”).

Atlantis is based on the Platonic legend of an island kingdom with advanced technology that was destroyed by the god’s for their arrogance.  Set in 1914 the film centers on Milo Thatch voiced by Fox.  Milo inherited an obsession with Atlantis from his grandfather who was himself an explorer and adventurer.  Milo however finds himself literally stuck in the basement as the maintenance worker for the British Museum.  This changes when Milo is approached by Preston Whitmore, an eccentric business man, who knew Milo’s grandfather.  Whitmore passes on a book that supposedly contains the way to find Atlantis.  What’s more Whitmore has an entire expedition prepared to take Milo and a crew to discover the lost kingdom.  What they find however, isn’t what they expect.  Though buried under the ocean the city of Atlantis is still very much alive.  Milo and the Atlantean Princes Kida form a fast bond in their mutual search for the answers to the mysteries of Atlantis.

Drawing inspiration from writers like Jules Vern “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is a love letter to classic adventure stories.  This is evident from the setting in the early 20th century and the pacing as nearly 40 minutes of its hour and a half run time is devoted just to getting to Atlantis.  Then there is the ensemble cast of characters with distinct personalities.  This last aspect is one of the film’s most successful and engaging qualities. From Joshua Sweet the expedition’s medic to the eccentric Vinny the demolitions expert most of the characters are well flesh out and well acted making for entertaining interactions between them.  Milo’s introduction to the various members of the crew is a good example.  But more than that the film allows for compelling character arcs as Milo starts out as an maligned outsider but gradually becomes an important member of the crew.  Not all the characters are well rounded as a couple of them have third act reveals that feel too cliché, devoid of appropriate motivation.  It’s a problem the plot has as well.  While “Atlantis” attempts some unique things with the myth of Atlantis there are other parts that feel obligatory.  Plot twists that are motivated by genre conventions rather then earned natural developments.  While it’s disappointing it doesn’t break the film.  I do want to call out the character of Princess Kida.  Kida is the daughter of Atlantis’ King but is also a warrior and guardian.  Her curiosity about the outside world draws her to Milo but she isn’t afraid to fight when the occasion calls for it.  Cree Summers imbues Kida with a lot of charm, whit and toughness.  Kida is one of Disney’s strongest female characters and her absence from any promotional material is tragic.

Atlantis still
The submarine Ulysses.

The CG element in Atlantis are a bit more refined then how they were used in “Titan AE”.  There is less of a disconnect between the environments and characters which makes the film feel a little more natural.  That is once you buy into a fantastical steam punk-esque world in which the film is set, a world with gigantic submarines, steam powered subterranean drilling machines and self-inflating dirigibles.  The lighting and special effects are also top notch further giving “Atlantis” a stylized look that hasn’t really been duplicated in any other Disney film since.

Like “Titan AE” I feel I must also point out “Atlantis” has an amazing soundtrack.  The score composed by James Newton Howard, captures the adventurous tone raising the level of several scenes.  One of Howard’s pieces in particular ranks among my favorites in any film period.  It’s an amazing score that like the rest of the film hasn’t gotten proper recognition.

For all the good “Atlantis” does have a bit of a problem with tone.  It tries to be a casual Disney animated adventure with more then its share of comedic moments.  At the same time “Atlantis” is a bit more violent then some of Disney’s other films of the time.  When the submarine carrying Milo and the crew is attacked a harrowing action set piece ends with only a handful of characters left and a pointed memorial scene marking the deaths of the rest of the crew.  While the film handles most of these scenes appropriately within it’s PG rating the conceptual nature of some of the violence doesn’t fit well next to the more cartoony elements.

“Atlantis: The Lost Empire” is a fun adventure film that just so happens to also be a Disney animated film.  It hits enough highs to balance some of its lows but more importantly it does something more bold then Disney’s other films from the early 2000s.  It’s currently available on Netflix and is well worth a look.

 

 

 

New 4 stars
Final Score: 4 Stars

 

For more information on the ratings please see the ABOUT page.

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Classic Review: Titan AE

Titan AE

Animated, Sci-Fi, action

Titan ea poster

Rated: PG for Action/violence, mild sensuality, brief language

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

The early 2000’s were a transitional time for animated films.  Disney and Pixar had changed the game with “Toy Story” the first fully computer animated feature film in 1995.  It’s follow up “A Bugs Life” in 1998 established that “Toy Story” was not an anomaly.  DreamWorks “Shrek” proved Pixar wasn’t the only one who could be successful in the  computer animated space.  At this time there were still those strongly holding to 2D hand drawn animation convinced its CG cousins may just be a passing fad.  At the time there were a few films that sought to have the best of both worlds with 2D hand drawn characters set in computer generated environments.  One of the earliest films to test this concept was “Titan AE.”

“Titan AE” or “After Earth” is an animated sci-fi film produced by Fox Animation Studio.  It’s directed by Don Bluthe and Gary Goldman the directing duo also responsible for “Secret of Nimh”, “Anastasia” and “All Dogs go to Heaven”.  With an all-star cast of Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, and Nathan Lane “Titan AE” was a hugely ambitious project that sadly didn’t pay off.  The film bombed at the box office and the resulting fallout ended with the closure of Fox’s animation studio.  Fox managed to come back a couple of years later when they teamed up with Blue Sky Entertainment to produce the 2002 hit “Ice Age”.  Regardless “Titan AE” is a forgotten classic that deserves another look.

The film starts out a good way into the future taking place in 3028.  It opens with the main character Cale, who is about 8, playing with a toy.  But things take a dark turn as Cale’s father scoops him up and carries him to a field of shuttles that are taking off.  It seems a race of evil aliens known as the Dredge are attacking Earth.  Cale’s father puts him on a shuttle leaving him with a caretaker while he boards a different ship, the Titan.  As the ships leave the Dredge mothership destroys the planet.  A 15 year time jump brings us to Cale as an adult working as a salvager and voiced by Matt Damon.  Cale has been raised by a surrogate and lives in a world populated with aliens where humans are second class citizens.  As a result Cale is understandably jaded about his lot in life.  That is until Capt. Joseph Korso, played by Bill Pullman, shows up with stories about Cale’s father and the Titan, a ship that can supposedly save humanity.  Korso’s arrival kicks off an intergalactic adventure as the Dredge are also seeking the Titan intent on destroying it and anything in their path.

titan ae still
Matt Damon as Cale (Left) and Drew Barrymore as Akima (Right)

When “Titan AE” first came out in 2000 it’s mix of animation styles was different and its CG was impressive.  Today the effects have started to become dated though they hold up enough that they still work.  The escape sequence at the beginning of the film is still  impressive, bolstered by Graeme Revell’s score.  There are a few times the integration between the characters and environments falters looking more awkward than natural.  However, the exteriors and space scenes are done incredibly well.  For instance a scene where Korso lets Cale pilot the ship inside a nebula cloud while it’s being chased by winged space aliens is beautiful and mesmerizing.  Likewise a cat and mouse chase through a field of giant ice crystals near the film’s climax is visually stunning. Even when the effects fall short there is still something to be said for the ambitious attempt which the filmmakers fully committed to.  The use of CG also helps heighten the cinematography with some very cinematic camera moves.  Taken together the visuals remain solid enough to still work and in some cases still produce a sense of awe.

In some ways “Titan AE” is reminiscent of other Don Bluthe films as caries it darker more mature tone then a lot of animated family films.  However, like “Secret of Nimh” Bluthe handles his subject mater well enough to keep the film from being over burdened.  Unfortunately “Titan AE” suffers from being more style then substance.  The plot is simple and moves too fast in places which prevents a level of emotional investment.  This is further hurt by some poor characterization.  While there a few nice moments that help build the cast and their relationships this work is undermined by character turns that don’t feel natural or earned.  Further the primary antagonist force, the Dredge, are a faceless adversary who’s motives are too vague.  These shortcomings don’t prevent the film from accomplishing what it needs to in the most basic terms but it does hold it back from being a more compelling and successful piece of science fiction.

One thing that is rather successful is the film’s soundtrack.  Graeme Revell’s score undergirds the sense of scale and punctuates some of the films more dramatic scenes.  Along with the score there are a set of songs written and preformed by rock bands such as “Lit”.  These songs give “Titan AE” a sense of personality and fit perfectly with Cale’s attitude.  They also fill a couple of music video style montage sequences that do help move the film along in an entertaining way.

“Titan AE” has a lot of shortcomings but it also has a few moments that make it special.  As far as the industry goes the use of CG and hand drawn animation proved to be a gimmicky artifact of a dying art form but looking back on it has a certain amount of nostalgic charm.  If its been years since you’ve seen it, or if you never have, “Titan AE” is a worthwhile way to spend an hour and a half.

 

 

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score 3 1/2 Stars

 

For more on the ratings please see our ABOUT page.

Sound and Fury: The Tension Between Creators and Fandoms

Media | Opinion

Written by: Benjamin Ferrarini

There’s no denying some franchises would not exist if it wasn’t for a loyal group of fans who came together to support it.  The original “Star Trek” ran only 3 years 1966 to 1969 after which NBC canceled it citing low ratings.  However, once it was in syndication the show developed a large following with enough demand that NBC launched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1987 a decade after the original premiered.  Since then the “Star Trek” franchise has spawned four additional TV series and 13 feature films with more on the way.  “Star Trek” became a cultural and social phenomenon influencing generations in the way they viewed science and technology.  None of this would have come to pass if fans had not banded together around the OG series.

To a lesser extent we could look at the television series “Firefly” which Fox cancelled

firefly
Fox’s Firefly

after just a few episodes.  The studio allowed series creator Joss Whedon to finish out the 13 episode order but even so a couple of the episodes never aired.  During this time fans petitioned Fox to reverse their decision.  They also went to advertisers and sponsors asking them to continue their support of the show. Even with all of these efforts the fans did not save the television series. However Fox allowed Universal Studios to produce a feature film which served as a continuation of the show.  Fox also released all 13 episodes and the hour and a half pilot on DVD.  These concessions have allowed “Firefly” and its fandom to continue to this day.

 

Fandoms are the reason there are so many “Star Wars” novels creating what is known as the “Expanded Universe”.  Disney may be ignoring this body of work in episodes VII through IX but there are plenty of fans who hold to elements of the “Expanded Universe” as the true “Star Wars” canon.

However, fandoms don’t always have positive effects on franchises.  Sometimes the fan base can become so dogmatic about their interpretation of a series’ lore, so set in their desire for how the material should develop that the fans themselves become toxic.  In such an atmosphere the fans threaten to wrangle creative control from the writers and creators.  Sometimes the producers bow to public pressure and sometimes they have the will and resources to resist it.  Either way this often leads to a waning if not outright destruction of an established franchise.  Consider a couple of examples.

star wars the last JediMost recently “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has left many fans irate.  Disgruntled at where writer director Rian Johnson took the story and characters, they are petitioning/ demanding Disney to strike “Last Jedi” from the cannon and to start over by putting George Lucas back into creative control.  This isn’t likely to happen as Lucas as himself publicly stated that he has no interest in “Star Wars” anymore; having washed his hands of it after Disney decided to depart from his original outline for episodes VII, VIII and IX.  But the furor for a mythic version these fans believe exists illustrates the sense of personal investment and even entitlement to get what they want.

CW’s “The 100” suffered a dramatic and damaging hit in season three when the show runners killed off a popular character.  Lexa played by Alycia Debnam-Carey (“Fear the Walking Dead”) was introduced in season two as the leader of a primitive set of tribes on a post apocalyptic Earth.  Throughout season two the show runners built a angst ridden sexual tension between Lexa and the series lead protagonist Clark played by Eliza Taylor.  Their relationship which carried over to season three was a big sticking point for a sizable number of “The 100”’s fan base.  However between season two and three word came that Alycia Debnam-Carey was signing a contract with AMC to appear as a regular on “Fear the Walking Dead”.  This contract essentially prevented Debnam-Carey from continuing on with “The 100”.  As a result the show runners wrote Lexa out of the show with a sudden and tragic death.  The episode caused an immediate and ferocious backlash.  Some fans went so far as to have the show cancelled believing the show shouldn’t be allowed to continue without what to them had become the core tenet of the show.  These efforts did not succeed and “The 100” went on to be renewed for a fourth and fifth seasons.  However, the show did take a hit in its ratings and was down voted on popular media websites such as IMDB.  Some of the backlash was understandable as Lexa’s death played into a demoralizing television trope of killing gay characters.  The series creator and lead show runner Jason Rothenberg came out later saying he was unaware of this trope and apologized admitting Lexa’s death should have been done better.  For some though Rathenberg’s apology was too little too late.

Clark and Lexa
Eliza Taylor  and  Alycia Debnam-Carey on CW’s “The 100”

Despite this, the truth is “The 100” wasn’t about the relationship between Lexa and Clark.  It was an on again off again subplot that wasn’t even introduced until two-thirds of the way through the show’s second season.  “The 100” is a show with an ensemble cast and many parallel sub plots.  However, that didn’t matter to the group of fans who had clung to the one narrative thread they connected with.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and could even be seen as a strength of the show.  That “The 100” can attract such a wide following with stories that resonate with different groups should be commended.  It’s understandable that some were upset when they felt the element that mattered to them wasn’t handled with respect, but in trying to destroy the show for everyone who still enjoyed it they effectively became what they hated.

So there are two sides of the equation.  One side love their favorite media and help to build it into something beyond what it originally was.  The other side is the group that attaches to their own view or interpretation so heavily that they end up cannibalizing the original work and suffocate the life out of it.  Between these two a question arises.  Does fiction belong to creators or consumers?  It’s a question the written works tend not to deal with because there’s still a certain amount of autonomy given to authors in the literary world, though that is changing.  Still there has been a steady push  to recognize mass media like film, television and video games not as art but as consumer products.  Thus a film is not under the control of a set of artists, the final piece a work unto itself which people interact with and judge on its own merits.  Instead mass media is seen as a product  and thus susceptible to the laws of supply and demand.  That is to say audiences want creators beholden to their wants, to pressure them to create content that satisfies their desires.

Personally I think this is a horrible shift with disastrous consequences.  If every creator is held accountable to the whims of his or her audience then creativity will lose to market forces.  Signs of this are already showing themselves in some areas.  2017’s “The Mummy”, WB’s “Justice League” and even some of Marvel’s phase 3 films have had

justice league
WB & DC’s “Justice League” (2017)

issues with feeling too manufactured.  Created around a formula that dictates everything from a requisite number of jokes to casting and action set pieces.  There’s an air of frailty to these films as they bleed out risk taking for a safe blueprint that all but guarantees positive reception by the greatest number of theater goers.  Contrast these films with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” which threw convention in a blender, eviscerating expectations and pushing “Star Wars” in a new direction.  There is something fresh and unexpected about the choices Rian Johnson made, his Star Wars film is difficult to predict and almost takes on a life of its own.

 

My point is art is still the realm of artists.  As a viewer, when I approach a film, television show, or video game I have no greater control over the creative direction it takes then I do walking up to a painting in a museum.  As a consumer I can speak with my money and avoid things I dislike or disapprove of.  There is still a lot of room for critical analysis and merit based judgements.  Reviews and analysis are what this blog is built upon.  But there is a difference critiquing how successful a film or television show is and demanding a fundamental change in creative direction it’s narrative took.

What do you think?  Should filmmakers and a show runners be beholden to their audiences allowing them to dictate what direction franchises take?  Or are fans passive participants that grow around and elevate fictional works but don’t have much of a say in its content?  Leave your thoughts in the comments bellow.

Top 10 Films of 2017

Top 10 Films of 2017

2017 has been a big year for the cinema.  It’s seen a lot of big releases some of which are quite good while others fell miserably short.  Following you will find a list of the films I feel rose to the top.  To be clear this is a list of films that impacted me, moved me or else stood out from the rest.  There a quite a few films I wasn’t able to see so if there some you don’t see on this list it’s entirely possible I simply didn’t see it.

Each entry is followed by a brief spoiler free explanation for why its on the list.  For more information there are full reviews for each entry on The Glitch.

 
Baby Driver Poster1. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s music fueled action, crime drama about a young getaway driver drifted onto the scene in June.  Carrying Wright’s unique style and sense of humor this ensemble hits all the right notes with equal parts entertainment and heart.  The practical driving stunts elevates the action and performances from a top notch cast lift the film above the rank and file.  If your looking for a fun popcorn flick this is one of the best.

 

 

war-for-planet-apes-1000x14802. War for the Planet of the Apes

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is the conclusion to the “Planet of the Apes” prequel/reboot trilogy.  After the first two films built the inevitable conflict between humans and Caesar’s hyper intelligent apes, “War” pays it off in a surprisingly subtle and introspective way.  It’s not just a film about two species fighting for survival but about the personal journey of Caesar and his battle with his own demons.  It is a brilliant cap on this fantastic trilogy and easily one of the best films of the year.

 

 

Blade Runner 2049 poster3.  BladeRunner 2049

35 years after Ridley Scott’s original was released in theaters “BladeRunner 2049” attempted to continue the legacy.  A difficult enough task but the fact that they attempted a honest sequel with a continuation of Deckard’s story seemed problematic at best.  However, Director Denis Villeneuve along with original “BladeRunner” screenwriter Hampton Fancher proved to be up to the task.  With the help of Cinematographer Roger Deakins and a stellar cast including Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright “Bladerunner 2049” captured the essence of its predecessor beautifully.  It may not have the same philosophical depth, but “2049” feels like “BladeRunner” and that is an achievement in and of itself.  The film is well written, gorgeously shot and carries enough relevant reflections to be worthy of its name and its spot on this list.

 

star wars the last Jedi4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There’s almost too much I could say about this film.  It’s not what I was expecting, I’m not even sure if its what I wanted but “The Last Jedi” did fulfill the one thing it absolutely needed to accomplish.  That is it did something different, something new, pushing the franchise forward in a way that can sustain new ideas and birth new possibilities.  As such it’s become quite divisive with lovers and haters and some in the middle still trying to figure out how they feel.  But such strong reactions on all sides points to the power of Rian Johnson’s film.  I applaud Disney’s fearlessness in backing Johnson’s bold choices and the possibilities they open up.  I acknowledge it has some flaws but this is a case where the things that work far outweigh the things that don’t.

 

Thor Ragnorok poster5.  Thor Ragnarok

The third and quite possibly best “Thor” film “Thor Ragnarok” also upset some conventions and introduced a new style and flavor to the MCU.  It advanced the world, the characters and some key relationships in ways desperately needed.  It also marks the addition of a weighty villain and some of the best art design of any MCU film so far.  Thor is a thoughtful and just over all fun film that surpassed all my expectations.

 

 

 

Dunkirk Poster6. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s first war film focusing on a little known story from World War 2.  I really liked Dunkirk and thought it did a brilliant job of putting audiences on that beach along side a group of desperate men.  Nolan provided an immersive experience that isn’t easily forgotten, especially if you saw it in Imax as I did.  However, it isn’t higher on the list because “Dunkirk” is more of an experience than a film.  It has a scant plot, vague characters and minimalist dialog.  All of these elements work for the goal but outside that very specific intent there is very little to define it.

 

 

Wonder Woman Poster7. Wonder Woman

DC and Warner Brothers first overwhelming success in their DCEU “Wonder Woman” is a significant film for a few reasons.  It’s the first comic book movie to be led by a female superhero and the first comic book film to be helmed by a female director, Patty Jenkins.  It’s also the first time “Wonder Women” has been credibly brought to life thanks to the charisma and talent of Gal Gadot.  “Wonder Women” also carries an impressive supporting cast with the talents of Chris Pine and Robin Wright that help bring an emotional weight that propels the film forward.  It’s not only one of the best comic book films this  year but one of the best over all.

 

 

IT 2017 poster8.  IT

No “IT” isn’t very scary in a traditional sense.  It likely won’t feed your nightmares or sour your stomach, but “IT” is a great adaptation of Steven King’s original novel.  King doesn’t tend to bank on scary as much as creepy.  A slow sinister sense of dread that slowly builds to a crescendo before ebbing and then building again.  This lyrical, almost dancing, kind of horror is what King excels at and it is something the new adaptation attempts to capture.  It understands what made King’s novel work and transplants those ideas onto the big screen.  The film isn’t always successful, at times relying too heavily on cliché horror tropes but overall I thought “IT” was a fun summer film that delivers enough thrills to get on this list.

 

 

Cars 3 Poster9. Cars 3

Cars is likely my least favorite of Pixar’s franchises.  I don’t  get the logic behind the world and the second film is a mess from just about every angle.  However, Cars 3 like some of the other entries on this list stands out because it isn’t afraid to do something unique with an established concept.  “Cars 3” takes the focus off the gimmicky setting of a “carsified” version of the world and places the emphasis squarely on the characters.  It carries some rather mature themes about life, passion and legacies.  It asks it’s main character to change in ways not often seen in fluffy kids movies.  As such “Cars 3” is one of the strongest family movies of the year.

 

 

american made poster 210. American Made

Full disclosure I didn’t enjoy “American Made”.  I had a problem with it’s sensationalism and its focus on excess.  It seemed to glorify the worst parts of Berry Seal’s story and didn’t do enough to humanize or ground him.  The morally aberrant things Seal does are treated with the same kind of whimsical levity as a Steven Soderbergh heist film.  However, Doug Liman’s film is well written and acted with good pacing and solid cinematography.  While I may not personally like the film it is a very good take on an unknown story and worthy of recognition as one of the best films of this year.

 

That is my list of the top 10 best films of the year.  For a look ahead you can find a list of the top 10 films I am most excited for in 2018 here.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

Bright Review

Bright Review

Fantasy, Action, Crime Bright Poster

Rated: TV-MA or an equivalent R: For Some brief nudity, strong violence and language throughout.

“Bright” is a Netflix Original film starring Will Smith (“The Pursuit of Happiness”), Joel Edgerton (“It comes at Night”) and Naommi Rapace (“Prometheus”).  “Bright” is directed by David Ayer known for his dark gritty crime films such as “End of Watch” and more recently the DC comic book film “Suicide Squad”.  Ayer also wrote the script for the 2001 film “Training Day” which won Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar.

It is written by Max Landis who was responsible for the 2015 “American Ultra”.  “Bright” signifies a rather significant step in Netflix’s ambitious push in original programing.  Netflix has produced a couple of original films before now including the critically acclaimed “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015 and “War Machine” earlier this year.  “Bright” marks the biggest most expensive project and comes at a critical moment for Netflix.  “Beasts of No Nation” received critical acclaim but reaction to “War Machine” was much more tepid.  Thus there’s a lot riding on “Bright” to prove Netflix can become a legitimate force in film just as they have with television.

Set in an alternate version of LA “Bright” sees a world where humans and fairytale creatures live side by side.  Orcs, elves and fairies represent minority races with each inhabiting  a different social sphere.   Elves represent business elites and top one percenters  living in luxury while, Orcs are relegated to social ghettos forming gangs and Fairies are little more than winged pests.  In the midst of this social disparity the story focuses on Daryl Ward a veteran LAPD officer and his new partner Nick Jakoby the department’s first Orc officer.  Most of the police force isn’t happy about this as Orcs are seen as dregs of society and not worthy of serving on the police force.  Ward himself has in issue with Jakoby because he isn’t sure he can trust him.  All of this comes to play when Ward and Jakoby are called to the seen of a disturbance which quickly spirals out of control.

“Bright” is trying to be a lot of things, gritty crime drama, buddy cop, and fantasy action film with a decent amount of social commentary.  It succeeds at some of these better than others as not all of them are equally fleshed out.  The crime drama and buddy cop aspects work fairly well but aside from the setting and basic premise there isn’t much of anything new here.  The film barrows and repurposes elements from a lot of other movies including some of Ayer’s own work.  Reinterpreting their elements and packaging them in an uncommon setting does give them a bit of freshness but there’s no denying a lot of this has been done before.  That said the film does a decent job of setting up the world and  defining its characters.  Ward is a typical cynical police officer nearing retirement.  It feels appropriate Will Smith plays Ward as the part is emblematic of the action heroes that helped launch his filmic career in the mid to late ‘90s.  Joel Edgerton does a terrific job as the conflicted Orc cop Jakoby.  The supporting cast likewise does a good job though Noomi Rapace is woefully underutilized as one of the films chief antagonists Leilah.  Max Landis’s script has a few moments where it stands out but over all surfs along doing just enough to get by.  Like the well trod elements there’s something overly familiar with the corrupt cops, gangbangers and undeveloped villains.  There’s nothing particularly bad about any of this but it isn’t very deep or new.

bright still
Joel Edgerton as Nick Jakoby and Will Smith as Daryl Ward in “Bright”

The cinematography is handled by Roman Vasyanov who has worked with David Ayer in some of his other films such as “End of Watch” and “Fury”.  The visual look and feel of “Bright” is reminiscent of old school action films from the late ‘80s and 90’s.  It’s another thing that has a few stand out moments but otherwise remains a homogeneous tribute to other films of it’s genre.  For example one scene features a slow motion pan during a rather dramatic shift.  It’s a great moment that slows down and highlights the tension of the moment.  The most interesting aspect of this film is sadly one that gets very little attention and that is the setting.  “Bright” presents a world with a long history.  The Orcs are derided for something they supposedly did close to 2000 years ago.  Magic exits though considered something dangerous and aberrant.   There’s just enough world building to make the plot work but it would have been nice to see more of the mythic landscape the film presents.

The social commentary is there  but doesn’t really go anywhere.  At the beginning it seems “Bright” might be trying to offer insight into social inequality.  The way Wards neighbors react to him along with the evident corruption among his co-workers seem to point to current criticism of police behavior.  However, none of this really pans out as the film pivots more to its storytelling and any deeper commentary takes a back seat to the narrative if it emerges at all.

Boil it all down and “Bright” isn’t a complex film.  Despite the fantasy elements “Bright” is a call back to 90’s era action films and taken this way it’s an enjoyable ride.  If you enjoy classic buddy cop action films with influence from directors like Michael Bay and John Woo then “Bright” is a passable fun action film that stands out among Netflix’s catalog of original films.  But it has some short comings as it doesn’t offer anything truly unique enough to call its own.

 

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedistar wars the last Jedi

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Rated: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-fi action violence.

Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini

It’s been two years since Disney brought us back to a galaxy far far away.  With Kathleen Kennedy heading Lucas Film and J.J. Abrams serving as director “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens” was the first numbered Star Wars sequel since “Episode III Revenge of the Sith” in 2005.  “The Force Awakens” was criticized for its lack of originality with some going so far as to say it could have been a remake of “Episode IV A New Hope” rather than a proper sequel.  However, my position has been that “The Force Awakens” was meant to zero the clocks.  It recognized what came before and laid the ground work for where the series was to go.  It preformed most of those tasks admirably enough and was an okay film in its own right.  That said expectations are high for “Episode VIII The Last Jedi” to do something with the potential left by its predecessor.  So the question is, does “The Last Jedi” rise into the light or does it fall to the dark side?

In the driver’s seat for this outing is Rian Johnson who wrote and directed the film. Before now Johnson was better known for his indy films “Brick” and “Looper”.  He also directed a few episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad”.   This sequel sees the return of most of the key cast including Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Oscar Issac as Poe.  There are also appearances from classic characters such as Leia played by Carrie Fisher, Luke Skywalker played by Mark Hamill and of course C-3PO played again by Anthony Daniels.  This is already a large and diverse cast, but there are a couple new characters in Rebel Admiral Holdo played by Laura Dern and the morally questionable crypto expert DJ portrayed by Benicio Del Toro.  Picking up shortly after the last film “The Last Jedi” sees the First Order armada pursuing the rebel forces while Rey attempts to convince Luke to train her and return to help fight the First Order… and that’s about all I can say without descending into spoilers.  However, this film does take audiences to new places and offers twists on familiar ones.

The biggest question going into this film was if we would get something new or a remake of “Empire Strikes Back.”  Would Lucas Film take some risks or stay with Abrams formula that traded on nostalgia.  The answer, for better or worse, is the former.  “The Last Jedi” takes some rather bold risks as it attempts to push the saga into some uncharted territory opening new possibilities for where the franchise can go.  This does come at a price as some of the things set up by “Force Awakens” aren’t fulfilled and some questions aren’t answered. Instead Johnson pivots away from them sometimes quite harshly.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will inevitably leave some feeling cheated at being bereaved of the answers they were expecting. The writing is a bit mixed, the dialog accomplishes what it needs to, but next to Johnson’s other films like “Brick” this isn’t a high point for him.  Where Johnson’s scripts shines is in the area of his narrative.  “The Last Jedi” plays with expectations building up a plot point and then subverting what you think will happen.  There are more than a few twists and a couple of the most arresting moments from the entire series.  In other words when “The Last Jedi” works it works really well, delivering some great moments.

kylo ren still
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

However, sometimes the film doesn’t work so well and when it stumbles it does so somewhat significantly.  There are issues with pacing especially in the second and third acts.  The middle of the film slows down too much and the last 45 minutes or so fly by at a break neck pace.  The film has trouble balancing the speed at which the resolution moves and the sheer number of things taking place simultaneously.  Which means you lose sight of characters who shouldn’t be absent for as long as they are.

Since I picked on “Justice League” for its CG dependent villain I feel I must levy the same criticism at “The Last Jedi”.  In this film we do get to see Supreme Leader Snoke in person not just in holographic FaceTime calls.  Unfortunately Snoke is entirely a CG creation which just doesn’t have a level of authenticity needed to be convincing.  This isn’t a criticism of Andy Serkis’ performance which is spot on but more the effects themselves.  With so much of Star Wars consisting of special effects and green screens the practical elements grow even more important to ground the film.

“The Last Jedi” exists in a strange place.  In some ways it is a progression from “The Force Awakens” upping the ante both in terms of intensity and world building.  The film fleshes out more of the world and helps set up a lot of potential going forward.  At the same time it has a lot of moments of George Lucas goofiness involving cute CG creatures providing comic relief.  At first these moments add much-needed levity but become taxing after a while.  Add all this up and what you have is a unique and highly divisive entry in the “Star Wars” franchise.  It has some very strong moments and others that simply fall short.

New 4 1:2 stars
Final Verdict: 4 1/2 Stars

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10 Most Anticipated Films of 2018

10 Most Anticipated Films of 2018

The following films are not ranked in order of interest but listed by release date.

12 strong poster1. “12 Strong”  (January 19 2018)

Based on the true story of an Army Special Forces “Green Berets” who mounted the first counter attack in Afghanistan just days after the 9/11 attacks.  The film is based on a book “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton and is directed by new director Nicolai Fuglsig.  It stars Chris Hemsworth, William Fichtner, Taylor Sheridan and Michael Shannon.  There are a lot of good people involved in this project and having its roots in a relatively unknown story could add some weight.  Also the trailers highlight some beautiful photography and art direction.  It may just be a good note to start 2018 off on.

 

2. “Annihilation” (February 23 2018)

Written and Directed by Alex Garland in his follow-up project to the 2014 “Ex Machina”.  This film will follow a biologist who signs up for a dangerous expedition where “the laws of nature don’t apply.”  It seems to take place in a not too distant future after some kind of disaster has befallen earth.  Or perhaps it takes place on some partially terraformed planet.  It stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Lee,  and Oscar Isaac.  “Ex Machina” was one of my favorite films from 2014 and it cemented Garland as a force to be reckoned with.  The first trailer for “Annihilation” is vague, confusing and appropriately creepy.  Here’s hoping Garland isn’t a one trick pony and that “Annihilation” will be his next sci-fi masterpiece.

 

3. “A Wrinkle in Time” (March 9 2018)A Wrinkle in Time Poster

Based on the classic children’s book by Madeleine L’Engle this film gains quite a bit of credibility with the involvement of Director Ava DuVerany (“Selma”) and screenwriter Jenifer Lee (“Frozen”) However, given the beloved nature of the source material I was a bit skeptical until the first trailers dropped.  The cinematography and over all tone seem to have been carried over from the novel and as a result I am fully anticipating this adaptation.  If you’re looking for a fantastical good vs. evil story which should be safe for the whole family “A Wrinkle in Time” is likely to deliver.

 

4. “Tomb Raider” (March 16 2018)

Tomb Raider Poster

Tomb Raider is a long running video game franchise which started in 1996 and ran through the early 2000’s.  Angelina Jolie stared in two film in 2001 and 2003 taking on the game’s iconic Heroine Lara Croft.  The Jolie films weren’t based on any of the games per se but instead used the character of Lara Croft for generic but fun action fodder.   In 2013 Square Eunix and Cristal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider games with a darker more survival horror tone and the new film is based directly on the 2013 reboot.  In it a young Lara Croft is shipwrecked on an island, the home of an inhospitable cult, while following in the footsteps of her lost father.

The film is helmed by Norwegian Director Roar Uthaug who directed the 2015 film “The Wave”.   “Tomb Raider” stars “Ex Machina’s” Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. Along with Vikander, Walton Goggins, and Dominic West play supporting roles.  I’m not convinced they will be able to translate Cristal Dynamic’s brilliant game to the big screen but there’s enough raw talent to make this a promising pre-summer action film.

 

5.  “Ready Player One” (March 30)

Based on the pop culture novel by Ernest Cline “Ready Player One” is one of my favorite novels of the last few years.  A love letter to geek culture and the 1980’s, Cline manages to tell a unique and compelling story dripping with pop culture references.  The book takes place in the near future where a crumbling society has fueled the rise of a massive virtual reality network known as the OASIS.  Upon his death the creator of the OSIS announces a massive hunt for a hidden “easter egg” promising fame and fortune to the one who finds it.  The story centers on a group of young people who band together to race the henchmen of an evil corporation to win the contest.

Knowing Cline helped write the screenplay and that it is directed by Steven Spielberg makes this a tantalizing film on the horizon.  I will say I look forward to it with some reservations.  There are large portions of the book that wouldn’t translate well to the film and have likely been replaced.  However, the first trailers have featured some key imagery straight from the novel, most notable in the club with the floating dance floor.  Regardless of potential deviations from the source material I am still really looking forward to this adaptation.

 

6. “Avengers: Infinity War”  (May 4)avangers post

This is the capstone of Marvel’s Phase 3 and the first part of what promises to be the conclusion to the MCU as we know it.  Directed by the Russo brothers who were responsible for the widely popular “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” this film will finally pit the Avengers both new and old against the Mad Titan Thanos.        A villain who has been the shadow puppet master behind the scenes.  Based loosely on the comics   “Infinity War” will see Thanos assembling the Infinity Stone into his gauntlet, seen at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.  Together the gauntlet and stone supposedly make Thanos one of the most powerful and dangerous beings in the universe.

This film boasts a huge cast containing nearly ever character from Marvel’s MCU thus far.  While “Black Panther” looks plenty promising in February, it’s “Infinity War” that is on pace to be one of the biggest blockbusters of next year.

 

7. “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (May 25)

Solo poster

Last year Disney and Lucas Film proved they cared about the stand alone “Star Wars” films that would take place in the off years between numbered “Star Wars” sequels.  “Rogue One” ranks with the best “Star Wars” surpassing “Force Awakens”.  So “Solo” has some potential.   Like “Rogue One” this film takes place before “Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope.”  It will explore some of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s early adventures.

It stars rising star Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo and is joined by Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.  “Solo” will also star “Game of Thrones’s” Emilia Clarke,  “Avengers’s” Paul Bettany, and “Hunger Games’s” Woody Harrelson.  The question is, will the drama behind the scenes, including a late switch in directors mare the end result.  Ron Howard isn’t an intuitive match for “Star Wars” but he has a long body of work with enough success that could add a unique voice to “Star Wars” lore.

 

8. “Incredibles 2” (June 15)

The first “Incredibles” was a high point for Pixar all the way back in 2004.  It attempted to balance a fun Disney adventure with some family drama that was rather mature.  After all not every “kid’s” movie contains conflict surrounding suspected marital infidelity.  I thought, for the most part, “The Incredibles” walked this line effectively creating something both adults and older kids could enjoy.  Now 15 years later Pixar will release a direct sequel with “Incredibles 2” reportedly picking up where the first film ended.  With Helen, Bob, Violet and Dash taking up hero work.  The catch is none of them are aware the Baby Jack Jack actually has powers.  Thus Bob somehow finds himself staying home with the baby effectively becoming a stay at home Dad.

This setup is rife with potential giving the filmmakers ample room to explore more of the mature commentary and drama the first one is known for.  I am a little concerned about how long it actually took this film to be released.  Large time gaps don’t usually bode well for sequels.  That said I have enough trust in Pixar and the Director Brad Bird to bring something fresh and new.  Pixar has a history of taking the time they need to develop good stories.   Even at a time when Pixar is reportedly pivoting from making sequels this has a lot of potential.

 

9.  “Mission Impossible 6” (July 27 2018)

In another example of a franchise that keeps going “Mission Impossible 6” is coming next summer.  Christopher McQuarrie who wrote and directed “Rogue Nation” is back for this installment.  Honestly I thought “Rogue Nation” was the best “Mission Impossible” since Brian De Palma’s original in 1996.  The plot is still unknown but   since McQuarrie and a good number of the cast are returning I have high hopes they will be able to continue the upward trend and deliver a compelling sequel… Henry Cavill’s mustache aside.

 

Honorable Mention:

“Captive State” (August 17 2018)

IMDB’s plot blurb says “Captive State” is “Set in a Chicago neighborhood nearly a decade after an occupation by an extra-terrestrial force” and that it “explores the lives on both sides of the conflict.”

I don’t know too much about this film, however it is directed by Rupert Wyatt who also co-wrote the script.  Staring Vera Farmiga and John Goodman this one has my interest piqued.  Maybe it’s coming from Wyatt’s work on “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” but so far this is my pick for 2018’s sleeper hit.

 

10. “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” (November 2 2018)

dark phoenix poster

I may be a glutton for punishment putting this one on the list but some of the early reports and images recently released about this film are enough to give me the faintest glimmers of hope.  The Dark Phoenix is one of my favorite sets of stories from the X-Men comics.  It’s pathetic treatment in “X-Men: The Last Stand” is the key reason I hated that film.  However, this new iteration is promising something different.  Bolstered by the success of darker more mature Marvel films like “Logan” and “Deadpool” Fox seems to have given Director Simon Kinberg some freedom to shake up the X-Men formula.  While I am interested in “The New Mutants” I don’t feel like I’ve got enough sense of what that film is going to be so it’s “Dark Phoenix” that wins the spot on this list… (Though I realize it may be a terrible mistake.)

 

There you have it, my list of 10 films I am most excited for in the coming year.    I will also be doing a list for my top films of 2017 which should be coming shortly after Christmas. If there are any films that I didn’t mention that have you hyped let me know in the comments below.

The Alternate History of Wolfenstein The New Order

Gaming | Opinion

Written by Benjamin Ferrarini

Wolfenstein poster

Wolfenstein is a long running video game series with roots that stretch back to the early days of the medium.  programmer Silas Warner created the first Wolfenstein game “Castle Wolfenstein” in 1981 as a top down stealth action game.  Warner published a second game “Beyond Castle Wolfenstein” in ’84, which was a more dynamic and functional version of his original.  Ten years after Warner’s first “Wolfenstein” ID Software was working on their 3D game engine pioneered by lead programmer John Carmack.  The team at ID were fond of Warner’s “Castle Wolfenstein” games and decided to remake it with their 3D engine.  The earliest version still ran on a top down engine, the 3D was simply a shell that ran over the 2D rendered maps.

“Wolfenstein 3D” is credited with being the first true First Person Shooter (FPS).  A follow-up “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” was released in 2001 and a reboot titled simply “Wolfenstein” followed in 2009 published by Activision and developed by Raven Software.  Both of these found moderate success, adding more supernatural elements and emphasizing combat while keeping their narratives simple and superfluous.  The same year “Wolfenstein” was released Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax bought ID Software.  In so doing they acquired the rights to some of their old properties such as “Wolfenstein” and “Doom”.  Bethesda decided to reboot these old properties. “Wolfenstein the New Order.” was developed by Machine Games and released in 2014.  A big improvement in “The New Order” is a more fully realized narrative with fleshed out characters.  William “BJ” Blazkowicz has been the series main protagonist since John Carmack’s original but has mostly been a silent, trigger happy, meat head mowing down everything in his path.  In “The New Order” Blazkowicz is given a some personality, motivation and humanity bolstered by the voice acting of Brian Bloom.  Blazkowicz is joined by a cast of characters that are each well written and portrayed enough to make them interesting and compelling. From Anya, the nurse who took care of Blazkowicz, to the charismatic and terrifying nazi general Deathshead voice by “Star Trek” alum Dwight Schultz.

BJ Blazkowicz
BJ Blazkowicz in Wolfenstein The New Order

However, one of the biggest things that makes “The New Order” distinct is the alternate history in which the game is set.  In this world the Nazi war machine won World War 2 through the use of superior technology.  The game is set in an alternate 1960’s where Nazi’s rule the world and the only resistance exists in a smattering of disorganized cells living underground.  Playing as BJ Blazkowicz you are a grizzled veteran trapped in a vegetative state for 14 years.  Blazkowicz emerges into the reality of Nazi dominance and proceeds to connect with resistance fighters.  Through out all this it is possible to find scraps of journals, news paper articles and other bits of history that flesh out this world.  Some of the information is reminiscent of actual Nazi propaganda while others offer eerily uncomfortable alterations on historical events.  One such news piece recounts the first moon landing by a young nazi officer and his planting of the flag of the Reich on it’s surface.  The idea of a nazi swastika standing on the moon in place of a America’s stars and stripes is a stark and unsettling image.  “The New Order” also plays with history in art with the reimagining of classic songs.  German rerecordings of The Beatles “yellow submarine” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” can be uncovered and listened to.

These elements don’t make up any of the core gameplay which at its heart is a flashy FPS.  But, there are a lot of games with gruff protagonists carrying bullet hoses that mow down wave after wave of baddies.  “New Order’s” extra elements are what set it apart and make it compelling.  Of course the question can be asked, why set the game in this alternate history?  Why speculate on a world where the Allied forces lost and the world is controlled by Nazis?  Plenty of WW2 shooters set themselves in real history.  The original “Medal of Honor” offered recreations of missions similar to ones actually undertaken by Allied soldiers.  “Call of Duty” in its early days likewise offered levels based on the Normandy Beach landing and battle of Stalingrad.  Though “Wolfenstein” is not, nor has it ever been, a military shooter but the broad success of the aforementioned title prove there is interest in historical shooters.  So why go through the trouble to create this fictional world?

Because there have been so many FPS games set in WW2 it’s well trod territory.  Gamers know the setting, the stories and how it all ends.  Alternative takes on WW2 in which the Nazis won isn’t new either. Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle” which is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel explores this idea.  So does a 2008 FPS game “Turning Point: Fall of Liberty” which saw the player fight against a Nazi invasion of America.  However, “Turning Point” was a critical and commercial flop.  So there is still ample room for “Wolfenstein” to play in.  Creating a different world does a couple of things.  It takes you from being apart of the dominating allied forces and makes you the underdog, the rebel, facing off against an unstoppable opposing force.  Further witnessing what the world could have looked like under Nazi rule is a stark and motivating thing.  London remade as a Nazi capital, political prisons  in the heart of Berlin, and word of Nazi occupation all over the world offer ample motivation to fight back, to fix something broken.

Wolfenstein still
Secret enemy moon base in Wolfenstein The New Order

There are a few other possibilities as well.  For one it allowed Machine Games to play with the technology side of things.  In “The New Order” Blazkowicz learns of a secret order of men who were charged with protecting a collection of advanced technological marvels.  The nazi’s found some of this technology and were able to reverse engineer it.  As such “The New Order” is a world with Mech suits,  giant robots, military bases on the moon and advanced laser weapons.  To be honest ever since “Wolfenstein 3D” the series has dealt in anachronisms with weapons or technology not appropriate to the setting so it makes sense as a natural progression.  Further the alt-history allows the developers to indulge in some fantastical elements without dipping into the supernatural the way “Return to Wolfenstein” and “Wolfenstein (2009)” did.  The otherworldly technology offers something unique but keeps things grounded enough to make it feel as if it could be real.

On a final note, alternate histories can allow us some room for creativity; to imagine how things could have been different.  A lot of historical fiction plays in this space.  Sometimes this is done well while others it’s little more than a gimmick.  Thankfully in “Wolfenstein: The New Order” it has been done well using history and fiction to flesh out a dynamic world to set the player in.  Little touches like news articles and reigned music adds a layer of depth lacking in other WW2 shooters and FPS’s in general.  A sequel “Wolfenstein: The New Colossus” just launched in October and promises to continue Blazkowicz’s story as he journeys to America to continue his fight against the Nazis.  “New Colossus” has been met with praise among critics and popped up near the top of Black Friday sales charts signifying some commercial success as well.

If you have any thoughts on Wolfenstein or alternate histories drop a comment below.  Also remember to take some time out today to remember some real history as today is December 7th the 76th anniversary of the attack on Perl Harbor.

The Past, Present and Future of Marvel’s MCU

News | Opinion

Written by: Benjamin Ferrariniavangers post

Vanity Fair has released a massive Marvel centric issue celebrating 10 years of Marvel films.  Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson visited the set of “Avengers 4” for an epic photo shoot and interviews with a huge number of Marvel actors and Producer Kevin Feige.  The cover story shares a wealth of information on the Marvel Studio’s beginnings, the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and it’s future beyond “Avengers 4”.  You can read the whole cover article here, but I will endeavor to break it down and summarize the most important bits for you.

In the article Robinson interviews several of Marvel’s cast; Chris Evens, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo just to name a few.  When asked about the resounding success of the MCU both critically and commercially praise fell on Kevin Feige the head of Marvel Studios.  In fact when Robinson asked “Avenger’s Infinity War” director Joe Russo why other studios have been failing where Marvel succeeded Russo responded “They don’t have Kevin”.  But who is Kevin Fiege, where did he come from and how has he built a filmic empire worth billions of dollars?  Fiege is a soft-spoken individual with a penchant for baseball caps and rarely talks about himself.  But Robinson manages to eek some history out of him which gives some amazing insight into how the MCU got started.

Feige has been working behind the scenes in the film industry since the early 2000s when he worked as an assistant to Producer Shuler Donner, wife of Director Richard Donner.  Feige worked with Donner on the first X-Men film in 2000.  It was Feige who pushed the set hair stylist to create Huge Jackman’s iconic Wolverine hairdo.  Apparently Feige’s enthusiasm and, as Robinson puts it, his “geeky attention to detail” got the attention of higher-ups who raised Feige through the ranks.  At that time Marvel was looking to finance their own films instead of licensing them out to other studios as they had done with “X-Men” and “Spiderman”.  Feige was in the center of this conversion and was instrumental in putting together Marvel Studios first film “Iron Man” in 2008.  At that time there was no plan for a slate of movies, no multi picture contracts, no connected universe… in short there was no MCU.  Back then Marvel’s producing of “Iron Man” was seen as a bit of a risk and while hopes were high there was no assurance it would be a success.  Feige did have a desire to one day bring Marvel’s catalog of heroes to life, but at the time they were still just the dreams of a fanboy.

In 2008 “Iron Man” blew everyone away winning critical and fan praise while going on to be a financial success for Marvel Studios.  One of the best surprises though was how people reacted to the end credit scene in which Samuel L. Jackson appears as Nick Furry.  Feige claims the little stinger was meant as a fun nod to comic books fans and that it was placed at the very end to keep it from being  “distracting”.  However, the reaction to this small scene cemented to Feige that building a bigger universe with connected films could be possible.  Such a plan would take a lot of money and with only one film to their credit it would be difficult to launch a venture so large in scope.  However, help arrived soon after because Disney swooped in and bought Marvel in 2009 for $4 billion.  With Disney as their benefactor and the proven success of “Iron Man” Feige was allowed to move ahead signing actors to multi picture deals and producing a line of Phase one films.  Feige’s plan seemed validated with the resounding success of “The Avengers” in 2012.  According to Vanity Fair, Marvel has gone on to produce 17 films totaling $13 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

mcu phase 3

The article does talk about some of Marvel’s not so stellar moments, films like “Iron Man 2” and “Thor the Dark World” which were misses with critics and audiences.  There have also been some high-profile drama with directors such as Edgar Wright who  penned the script of “Ant Man” but left before directing it.  Joss Whedon’s exit from Marvel was likewise met with much speculation and rumor.  Wright and other directors have made comments about feeling restricted in their creative control.  However, despite these bumps Marvel’s success is an undeniable and much sought after.

So that brings us to what’s next.  Feige dropped some hints at what’s in store for the Future of the MCU.  Specifically he said “Avengers 4” the untitled sequel to “Avengers Infinity War” would offer a definitive conclusion to the MCU as we know it.  Feige believes people will not expect what’s to come.  But the message is clear “Avengers 4” will mark the end for several of the main cast of characters including Chris Evans’ Captain America, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye as well as a number of others.  This means phase 4 of the MCU will be marked by new heroes and new actors.  Feige hinted that Marvel is already laying the ground work for this with Chadwick Bosseman’s “Black Panther” and Brie Larson’s “Captain Marvel”.  However there will be some heroes that carry over as we know another “Spiderman” film is in the pipeline as well as more “Guardians of the Galaxy”.  It will be interesting to see if Marvel can continue their winning streak while building a compendium of new actors in new roles.

There is certainly a good amount of hype and anticipation building as the new trailer for “Avengers Infinity War” broke records for most views in a 24 hour period.  According to some reports the trailer saw upwards of 230 million views in 24 hours.  To give some perspective the previous record holder was this years “IT” which earned 197 million when its first trailer was released back in March.   The “Avengers” trailer is light on details but gives a good sense of tone.  If you missed it you can check out the trailer here.

 

 

You can find my review of Marvel’s most recent film “Thor Ragnarok” Here.

Stay tune to The Glitch for more information on Marvel and the MCU moving forward.

Stranger Things Season 2 Chapter 3: “The Pollywog” Review

Drama, Fantasy, Horror  Stranger Things Season 2

Rated: TV-14 Violence and Some Language

This review does contains spoilers for Episode 3 “The Pollywog”

This episode picks up moments after the end of the last with Dustin sneaking to his room with the little critter he found in the trash.  A weird amphibious looking creature with a taste for candy bars.  Dustin is enthralled with the creature and names it D’Artagnan or Dart for short.  This moment plays innocent at first but quickly turns toward the sinister when it’s apparent Dart isn’t a normal creature.   When Dustin shows Dart to the rest of the group they all marvel at it but it’s Will’s reaction, remembering the slug like thing he coughed up at the very end of season one, that cements Dart is almost certainly something from the Upside Down.  Will’s reluctance to reveal this fact matches the scene from the last episode in which he didn’t tell his mom about the drawing.  It further supports the idea that Will doesn’t want to deal with his situation.

The ensuing conflict between the boys which results in Dart escaping into the school introduced a new dynamic.  Until now the main group of “misfits” have been relatively united.  The only exception was Lucas’s temporary defection in season one.  However, in season to there are a growing number of threats to the stability of the group.  More then any building dynamic tension it feels true to life as minor conflicts often arise among friends as they get older.

This episode also continues to tell the backstory between Eleven and Hopper showing how they wound up at the little cabin in the woods and the beginning of their stay together.  The inter season story is cut back and forth with how their relationship is crumbling in the present.  Eleven is tired of hiding out and Hopper is loosing any control over her.  Their fight over Hooper’s definition of “soon” was a perfect way to underscore her frustration with the status quo.   It also set up Eleven’s escape and excursion to find Mike.  That she finally comes across him while he is with Max searching for Dart is an understandable, if annoying, way to pay it off.  It’s clear they are holding off on an actually reunion.  Something needed to drive Eleven back to Hooper’s cabin but I can’t help feel this moment of cliche misunderstanding wasn’t necessary to accomplish that goal.  However, I will say it was good to give Mike and Max a moment together to flesh out Mikes feelings about Max hanging around.  It helps explain his behavior and evidences how much Eleven’s disappearance is still affecting him.

Stranger Things season 2 episode 3
Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler holding “Dart”

Elsewhere they continued the Nancy/Steve Nancy/Jonathan subplot.  I mentioned in the last episode that separating Nancy and Steve felt forced.  They tried to to back fill the motivations of this split by having Nancy talk to Steve at school.  Even though Nancy didn’t remember the fight Steve pressed her to disavow what she had said and declare her love for him.  She couldn’t or wouldn’t do so and she even admits to Jonathan that she doesn’t actually love Steve.  While it offers more of a reason to break them up, at the moment, it’s still overly convenient.  Nevertheless the episode charges forward with Jonathan deciding to help Nancy on her new quest to do something about Barbs disappearance leading to the scene in which Nancy calls Barb’s mother.  While this could become a compelling subplot I still feel like it’s being rushed.  Does Nancy think she can get away with what she’s doing or is she setting up some kind of test to see how close the Hawkins lab people are watching them?  It may be a reveal their holding back for later but it makes her reasoning and motivations a bit too murky as you wonder if she’s being smart or foolish.

The last really important part of this episode concerns Will and Joyce’s boyfriend.  Bob, played by Sean Astin, has some of his best material yet in this episode.  Bob tells Will how he overcame nightmares about a clown by confronting it in his dreams.  Bob’s well meaning attempt to help Will predictably backfires with grievous consequences.  When Will’s attempt to confront the shadowy entity seemed doomed from the start.   The attack and Will’s apparent possession by the shadow entity is a terrifying development and one that will surely complicate matters moving forward.

“Stranger Things Season 2” is still trying to hit its stride as it seems to be rushing some elements and taking its time with others.  While I’m not on board with some of the subplots I think there on good footing over all.  The show has managed to keep and build a certain amount of tension while remaining appropriately creepy.  Especially the scene in which Joyce is watching the video of Will trick or treating.  Her tracing the distortion in the video to find it matches Will’s drawing carries a similar spookiness to the Christmas tree lights in season one.  As long as they continue to build these areas and drop the melodrama this season will be come a worthy successor the the first season.

New 3 1:2 stars
Final Score: 3 1/2 Stars

 

You can find a spoiler free review of the premier episode “MadMax” HERE.

My spoiler filled review of episode 2 “Trick or Treat, Freak” is HERE

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