Film in 2017: the Star Wars saga continues

When Lucasfilm was bought by Disney, and a new Star Wars trilogy was announced, a lot of people met the news with skepticism, accusing Disney of cashing in on a pop culture phenomena at the expense of the classic trilogy, a stance which gained ground in the wake of the three spin-offs being announced sometime later. However, the decision to hire J.J. Abrams, who had resurrected the Star Trek franchise and is a huge fanboy of everything geeky, gave a lot of people like me hope, especially when they announced the cast, which outside the big three, included few people I had ever heard of.

One element about the failed Star Wars prequels was that it felt like George Lucas went against the grain of casting relatively unknown talent, and trying to make them stars, opting instead to cast Natalie Portman and Ewan McGreggor, who although not huge stars, still carried some weight. Liam Neeson was a solid casting, as was Samuel L. Jackson; there is a solid argument to make, however, that in terms of established stars, those two really should have been it, with Padme, Obi-Wan, and Anakin all cast with relative unknowns; the irony being that although Portman and McGreggor were successful, albeit in the limited window Lucas could write into, Lucas’s attempts to cast relative unknowns as Anakin Skywalker, aka the most central character in Lucas’s vision, he failed completely, casting two actors whose performances were less than stellar, although Jake Lloyd gets a pass because of his age and the fact that Lucas probably couldn’t communicate with him that well. These decisions, combined with bad writing and directing, culminated in a massive creative failure.

With The Force Awakens, however, Abrams opted to bring in fresh blood, along with the experienced cast. Bringing in people who truly love their work, and have something to prove is always a good starting point, and given Abrams casting of his television series over the years, I trusted his eye. What we got was something incredible, which revitalized the franchise, and may have given a new generation their first Star Wars experience. Rogue One, the following year, took Star Wars and put a darker spin on it, whilst using a more experienced cast to provide the depth the story would need from the get-go, allowing us to see aspects of the Star Wars universe we had never seen before. It was a wonderful accomplishment that complemented The Force Awakens in terms of re-energizing the franchise for a new era.

So, where are we now? Well, it is an amazing and awesome time for the Star Wars universe, with Star Wars land being built at Disneyworld, Episode XIII coming out later this year, and constant news updates about the Han Solo film giving fans new things to chew on. I also like that there are new people tackling each film, giving a fresh perspective to each film as we move along through this new era in the franchise.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me is that the quality of work has been great, even though Disney took possession of the franchise. Given the massive amount of money they paid to get the rights, there were legitimate and quite serious concerns that the studio would meddle with the film and ruin it (SEE: Suicide Squad if you want a good example of that). However, Disney is letting the filmmakers make their movies, something that works out well when you hire the right people. Indeed, Disney is on the road to recouping their massive investment by the time The Last Jedi completes its theatrical run, if not before.

Obviously, the passing of Carrie Fisher is a really sad element to this story, and the fact that she won’t be able to make Episode IX, which was reportedly to feature her prominently, in the same way Episode VII featured Han, and Episode VIII features Luke, but her estate has been very gracious with both Lucasfilm and the general public, and although we don’t know what changes will be made, it can be surmised that Leia will receive a proper tribute in some form or another. However, Carrie Fisher completed her role in Episode VIII, which means that we all get to see her in action one last time.

I am very intrigued about the franchise and where it is headed, since the trailer seems to hint at flashbacks, something the franchise has never done before. It also seems to hint at a broader plot point involving Luke coming to terms with the fate of the Jedi, not only his students, but the Jedi Order exterminated before he was born; has he had a realization that a dedicated order simply does not work? That, like the Order Palpatine destroyed, a set in stone Jedi Order, with a full code and bureaucracy, is doomed to become stagnant, complacent, and possibly even corrupt? That last line in the trailer is a missile that seems to have a precision target, and I look forward to learning what it all means. Perhaps Kylo Ren’s fall to the dark side awakened in Luke a realization that the Jedi had failed centuries before they fell, it just took that long for it to manifest.

Of course, there will be action and battles, but this philosophy of the Force, as shown by Luke’s books, and the dialogue allude to serious stuff I want to know answers to, but like everyone else, I’m stuck waiting until December to find out.

Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you.

 

 

 

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Film in 2017: Universal’s Dark Universe

SPOILER WARNING: this article contains spoilers for The Mummy (2017) and Dracula Untold

AS mentioned in my last article, shared movie universes are all the rage at the moment, with pitfalls and rewards a plenty. We all should know the story of Marvel, and how it built the MCU, as well as Fox and DC’s subsequent and on-going attempts to mimic Marvel’s success. Likewise, Universal is getting in on the fun with their Dark Universe, a shared universe based on their multiple horror properties, and loosely based on their shared universe of monster films from the 1930s.

The Mummy (2017) was the first formal outing; Dracula Untold, a few years ago, was the original attempt, but a lukewarm reception led to Universal changing their plans, which for the record, is actually a shame. Granted, Dracula Untold was not the greatest version of the classic story, but the way it would have started the Dark Universe was actually much better than what The Mummy did, although props to Universal for outdoing DC in the “let’s get this shared universe going” department.

Background: Dracula Untold was about the man who became Dracula, from the machinations of an older, seemingly eternal vampire tempting him into becoming Dracula, and how his vampirism and humanity clashed. It ended in the modern day, with Dracula meeting Mina Harker, a major character in the Dracula stories, and the older vampire following him, proclaiming that “the games have begun.” In essence, replace Agent Coulson with Nick Fury in the main part of Iron Man, and this is what you get; the main character interweaving the stories is a supporting, but significant, character in the film. However, like stated above, the film is about Dracula, not the original vampire, just as Iron Man focuses on Tony Stark and the people surrounding him, not SHIELD.

The Mummy (2017), on the other hand, is seemingly told from the perspective of Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, who heads the Prodigium, which is pretty much SHIELD, except they fight monsters instead of supervillians and terrorists. Now, don’t get me wrong here: I like this shift, especially in light of Tom Cruise’s “jerk without enough redeeming charm” performance, and Annabelle Wallis’s “d-in-d: damsel in distress” portrayal (although in both cases, future films could let them carry these characters to better places, here’s hoping). Indeed, Crowe’s performance is quite brilliant, balancing the good Jekyll and evil Hyde quite well, and watching him try to suppress his darker half is quite entertaining. However, as the Dark Universe moves forward, the Prodigium should remain as a background element, now that it has been established.

I reference Dracula Untold because of its simplicity. Having one character, who is quite dark, although morally ambiguous for the most part, be the focal point is a solid step. Organizations can be unwieldy to script, as shown with SHIELD on occasion, and Charles Dance’s Master Vampire would have worked brilliantly, on the strengths of the actor, character, and portrayal. Alas, it’s not what we’re getting.

I honestly cannot blame Universal for wanting to get in on the shared cinematic universe pie, especially since the studio had done it before in the thirties. Unlike DC, which could have maintained separate franchises, and eventually done Justice League, but instead rushed into the DCEU, Universal seems to grasp that slow and steady is a solid formula, albeit with the connecting threads firmly established early on. Personally, I think the Dark Universe would have been better served being set in the late twenties, since mysticism and other elements would not have been subject to modern technology, something that detracts from many stories, including The Mummy.

The Dark Universe is in a great position, because even though The Mummy has gotten bad reviews, it was successful at establishing Prodigium, Jekyll as a Nick Fury-type, and the power of the organization. Given that Sofia Boutella’s mummy, whose real name is Ahmanet, is extremely powerful, and Prodigium nearly overpowers her, we can see them becoming an important part of future stories, with the hope that the screenwriters get the organization right of course.

Perhaps the one redeeming element from The Mummy, in terms of its frankly bad characterizations (including the substantial sin of wasting Tom Cruise’s charisma and Jake Johnson’s brilliant comedic talents) is the ending, which actually sees Ahmanet’s plan come to pass, only to backfire on her, in a brilliant reversal of what happened earlier with Prodigium capturing her only for her to break out. Tom Cruise’s Nick becoming an almost godlike being on Earth, seeking to find his humanity and redeem himself, whilst questioning his own nature, sets up future movies brilliantly, as well as providing development for a character denied it most of the movie.

The one hope I have for the Dark Universe is that they bring in better screenwriters to round out the characters, sharpen up dialogue, and tailor characters to the actors playing them better. Ironically enough, I think that Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson would have been better cast in the other’s role, since it would have let Cruise unleash his sense of humor (which he doesn’t showcase enough), and Johnson could have played the overgrown frat boy a lot better. The fact that the screenwriters didn’t take the actors into account during later rewrites is a major concern. However, I do have some faith in Universal. They avoided some of the issues DC faced, and I trust them to address and remedy a lot of the issue plaguing The Mummy going forward.

With any luck, we’ll get a better shared universe with Bride of Frankenstein than we got with Batman vs. Superman.

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Film in 2017: The Comic Book Superhero Trend Continues

As we plunge yet even deeper into 2017, Hollywood has continued to pump out superhero movies at an increasing rate, although the saturation point is approaching. I predict that either this year or next year will see the maximum amount of superhero films per year for a while, especially given that unlike the 3D boom of five years ago, studios are probably smart enough to realize that there is such a thing as too many of them.

However, that does not stop us from getting them at a rate of one every two months. (For the record, I am referring to mainstream superhero films that are getting national releases, not necessarily smaller studio ones.) Marvel is more active this year than most, giving us Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Spider Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok yet to come. DC has had its first solid release with Wonder Woman, with Justice League to be released later this year. Fox, in conjunction with Marvel,  released Logan, which was celebrated as bucking most superhero trends, giving Fox a boost when it really needed it.

Given the amount of films due to come out in 2018, how should we look at the continued growth of these cinematic universes? It is no longer a surprise, nor is it odd that films that once upon a time would have taken place separate from one another, i.e. the old franchise system, are all linked together. The subsequent nonstop feeling of wanting to keep up, to be in on all the jokes and easter eggs, to catch every reference, is what Marvel has cultivated, with DC, Fox, and now Universal all trying to cash in on the trend.

A few years ago, Avengers: Age of Ultron came out to a largely mediocre reaction. It was heavily criticized for being to linked to everything that preceded it, whilst further stifling creativity by having to subtly set up what was yet to come. It was such a tall order that Joss Whedon left Marvel, quit Twitter, and has only recently re-surfaced, fittingly enough taking over DC’s Justice League, consequently complaining about the way Marvel treated him during Phase II. However, Age of Ultron was an inevitability, the film that would encapsulate all the issues a shared universe creates; too many characters, too many intersecting plot lines; in short, too much for one film to realistically be able to handle without comprises, which in retrospect makes Age of Ultron a huge accomplishment for being as good as it could have been.

Now, we find ourselves in a more complex world of heroes and villains. Wonder Woman was a triumph for DC, both in reaction, content, exceeding expectations, as well as beating Marvel to the punch with a female-led superhero movie. Logan saw the retirement of Hugh Jackman from the role of Wolverine, which was very sad, but fitting, allowing audiences to appreciate the end of an era, whilst looking to the future. Marvel is steaming ahead on full, and still doing it better than any of its competitors, constantly teasing their fans of what is to come, whilst delivering on their promises… most of the time. For all three major cinematic universes, times are looking up, especially with the X-Men on the brink of a major overhaul, DC finally attaining positive fan and critical reaction, and Marvel driving the train towards Infinity War with no sign of letting up.

Which is why I am only cautiously optimistic. I was very hopeful that DC could make its strong-armed tactic of kicking off the DCEU with Batman vs. Superman work, and that Suicide Squad would be the dark, brooding superhero film fans had been deserving of for several years, only to be disappointed on both counts. X-Men films have been hit or miss, and although it appears the franchise is in good hands, I’ve thought that before and been wrong. Finally, Marvel is long overdue for a major disaster, and with 67 speaking roles and a reported $500M budget for the first part alone, Infinity War has all the signs of that disaster finally happening. Now, I’m not partisan when it comes to DC/Marvel/Fox, I’d like all three to do great year in, year out, but that just doesn’t happen.

Fox’s run is checkered with disasters like Fantastic Four (2015) and X-Men: Apocalypse, DCs’ first three entries in the DCEU all received mixed-at-best reactions, and Marvel’s run has been seen to have its shares of ups and downs, albeit not as badly as the other two. I think that where we’re going is good, but we all need to be realistic when it comes to films nowadays. Wonder Woman succeeded because it has limited ties to the DCEU; being standalone also helped Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 work so well, although Marvel has shown great skill as interweaving different franchise plot lines together, something which remains to be seen in the DCEU.

Cautious optimism is probably the best approach, but nothing changes the fact that I am really excited for this year in movies, both superhero and in general. 2017 shown great promise at the start of the year, and its largely lived up to it. I am hopeful for the remainder of the year, but don’t be surprised for a follow-up in December lamenting a second half collapse of the genre if things start to sour.

Fingers crossed.

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ROGUE ONE: what it accomplished

 Rogue One is storming through the box offices worldwide right now, and is still trouncing all opposition, not unlike the Death Star tackling a planet it doesn’t like. So, I wanted to write a piece on what I thought the film accomplished in the context of the Star Wars universe.

SPOILER WARNING! DON’T YELL AT ME! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

Part I: The Rebels

Something fans may not have noticed from the classic trilogy at first glance, but which becomes apparent in Rogue One, is that A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi all depict the Rebellion from the top-down. We see the leadership, the big meetings, the nobility of those fighting, and an emphasis on honor and dignity even in the face of an evil enemy. Rogue One, in a way, corrects this within the first fifteen minutes, by showing rebel operatives kill innocent people to protect a secret, the extremism of some rebels, and the disunion of the early rebellion. We see rebels act in manners both villainous, cowardly, and dishonorable ways; hell, the eponymous task force steals a valuable ship, which was originally stolen in the first place, of course, which helps to define what I’m going on about: the honor is not in the action of leaving, or the theft, but rather by the characters putting aside their differences, acknowledging their own faults, and deciding to do what they feel is right. They are not new characters, they have still committed horrible acts, acted in cowardly ways, and been willing to do “whatever is necessary” for the rebellion, and we are not asked to forgive them, but just to cheer for them.

Part II: The Imperials

We see a far different side of the Empire as well, with an implied battle between the scientific and military factions of the Empire serving to remind the audience how ruthless and cruel the Empire is to their own people. Tarkin’s appropriation of the Death Star, along with Vader’s apparent endorsement of the change of command, reveals how the military is the foremost power within the Empire, and all other forces are subservient. The ability of the film to depict this without hitting it too on the nose is a brilliant stroke, with the revelation that the military was always going to take over the Death Star as soon as it was operational. Another factor, both obvious and subtle, is that whilst the rebellion is quite diverse, and indeed, the rebels in the main cast are women and minorities primarily, the imperials are all white men; although the expanded universe (now Star Wars legends) novels show that women are in positions of power, Rogue One purposely chooses not to show this at all.

Part III: Expanding the universe

One of the major issues I had with The Force Awakens was that it really did not expand the Star Wars universe in a substantial way. Granted, it had to also fill in thirty years of continuity, but it would have been nice to see more worlds and other parts of the galaxy. Rogue One shows us many different worlds, each one unique and with its own character, including the imperial data center, something I find amazing, since the visuals were quite stunning.

The character of Jyn Erso is one which I truly did enjoy watching on screen. Someone who has been effectively abandoned by society, who may have been taken care of by the Old Republic, but is left to fend for herself under the Empire, which in turn leads to her becoming a rebel. The abandoned peoples of the galaxy are a theme not touched upon by any of the other films, and I’m glad it’s being introduced here prior the Han Solo film, which will undoubtedly double down on this theme. It’s also implied that her mother is a freedom fighter, which helps explain her aimlessness; she knows what happened to her parents, but fears that fate, but in embracing their passion and beliefs, she also risks her life and has a monumental impact on the galaxy, something her parents would have been proud of.

Cassian, by contrast, is a hardened individual; when Jyn confronts him about his orders to kill her father, he doesn’t deny it, and tells her he doesn’t need to justify it because the rebellion is justification enough. He ruthlessly kills an informant to slow down the Empire from finding out about the leak regarding the Death Star; he willingly accepts orders to kill someone who may be innocent. In turn, his affinity for rough work, coupled with a growing respect for Jyn, leads him to get a group together to raid the Imperial archives, knowing that everyone is probably going to die in the process.

The expansion of the universe is handled brilliantly, largely because Gareth Edwards does not overdo it. It’s enough to see the great battle, without trying to outdo the Battle of Endor; it’s nice to see Darth Vader’s castle, without showing it off too much. He is a Star Wars geek above all, and that makes the film worth watching.

Part IV: Bridging the gap

Rogue One achieves more in bridging the gap than any other Star Wars property, largely because a lot of people will ignore the animated series. The wise decision to bring back Jimmy Smits speaks volumes to this, since he was pretty wasted in the prequel trilogy. Bail Organa is a key figure in linking the films, since he was there in the Old Republic and his daughter is a key figure in the rebellion, and that adds to the film’s mystique for any dedicated Star Wars fan. The references to the demise of the Jedi, including a subtle reference to sending Leia to retrieve Obi-Wan, the destruction of a Jedi temple, the Erso’s moisture farm, the AT-AT’s, the AT-ST’s, red and gold squadrons (including unused footage of their leaders), as well as Tarkin saying “you may fire when ready” all link past and present, bridging the stories we have seen thus far, and providing closure in a sense. It also serves, to me, as further proof that Lucas mishandled the prequels, since he could have done part of this story in Episode III.

Part V: The darkness and the light

Arguably, Rogue One’s greatest achievement is getting the tone just right. It balances the darkness inherent with an imperial ruled galaxy with the hope of a new day. Empire is a dark movie, with imperial power overriding rebel hope; A New Hope and Jedi both balance the darkness with the hope of a better day, with an implicit acknowledgement that all the sacrifice and death is justified to bring down such a horrific enemy. Rogue One captures this feeling perfectly, from the characters, the dialogue, and the action, all the way to the ending, with Jyn and Cassian’s embrace signifying their hope and sacrifice. The deaths of the major characters reminds us that wars cost lives, and when men and women are willing to die for a cause, anything can be accomplished.

Part VI: What it accomplished

Rogue One is a great film, but more importantly, it is a great Star Wars film. It does more than add to the Star Wars universe, it expands it with a synergy that does not come without hard work and dedication to the saga. However, what it truly achieves is helping to perpetuate and expand a love of Star Wars for another generation, so that yet another generation will grow to love Star Wars as their parents and grandparents did.

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Director’s Cuts and Special Editions: Artistry or Profit?

So, home video has provided us with more options for film than ever before. However, a lot of people are not fond of subsequent new versions of films coming out, whereas others are intrigued and liked the idea of an advanced cut, which is the umbrella term I’m using for any non-theatrical version sold to the general public. Now, for me it depends on how interested I was in the original movie; after seeing Kingdom of Heaven for the first time, I was very interested to see what was in the Director’s Cut, especially after noticing the run time was substantially longer. I’m a huge Ridley Scott fan, and was very impressed with his work, especially knowing that he is a master of editing his films; why would he cut so much out? Well, it was the studio, which didn’t feel the Baldwin V subplot warranted wide release, whereas others disagreed. The result is a profoundly different, and in my opinion, better movie, in which you understand the characters more clearly and without difficulty.

We can grabble over semantics, but suffice it to say there are two versions of any post-theatrical release; director-driven, or producer-driven. Pretty much every other term is marketing; after all, Zach Synder was being destroyed by fans, so packaging Batman vs. Superman as an ultimate edition was probably viewed as a smart move, which it was. On the other end, Warner Bros. assembled a new cut of Blade Runner in 1992 without Ridley Scott’s involvement, but based on his notes, which means the director’s cut isn’t really the director’s cut, but rather the 2006 Final Cut is the director’s cut, because he oversaw the HD transfer, re-edited a few portions, and actually shot a scene using modern techniques to deal with a public continuity error. Likewise, Peter Jackson just used the term extended version for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

However, all these issues aside, the real questions are: are they worth it? Should you watch them? Should you buy them?

I suppose a lot depends on timing. If a studio decides to release an advanced cut, it is not inherently bad, but a lot of fans feel like it’s a cash-grab if you need to buy two copies of the same movie, which is very fair, and one reason why few studios do that. However, many times studios wait months after the release of the first wave of blu-rays have gone out before releasing them, and it drives me nuts when I cannot find out ahead of time if they are going to do so before deciding whether or not to buy the movie sooner or later. (Usually, by the way, it’s later; after an initial wave of enthusiasm, prices come crashing down, and you get them at half the price six months later.) I also want to note that in some cases the advanced cuts come out to commemorate anniversaries or special occasions, which is usually fine by me.

I also feel like some people don’t understand how films are made, and how some filmmakers really don’t get a clean shot at the editing process, with Josh Trank and the disaster known as last year’s Fantastic Four being a great example; if Fox had patched things up with him, he would have been willing to release a director’s cut before fans lost all hope, which may have saved Fox’s attempt to reboot the franchise. On the other hand, after he was forced to remove an entire subplot from X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fox allowed Brian Singer to release his director’s cut, called the Rogue Cut for a key character in the missing subplot, which gave us a much longer, more thorough telling of the same story. Fans may complain about an advanced cut, or lack thereof, but I wonder how many of them take the time to wonder who’s behind the decision-making. People can be vocal without having the knowledge to back up their statements, which is hilarious in the right context, and downright dangerous in the wrong one.

I think that we need to remember that studios are run by people, and filmmakers are also people, and that people are not perfect, nor do they make perfect decisions all the time, so what I’m going to do is run through some advanced cuts and run over why I like them or not.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Peter Jackson’s masterpiece has been released several times, which is the problem. I love the extended versions, especially since they add more material relevant to the books. I also got a real kick out of how they were able to add proper introductions for some characters, as well as resolve subplots, which were really necessary, and should have been in the theatrical cut proper.

However, the new DVDs just kept coming out, each one with more “new” material, and therein lay the problem. After the second wave, it is a money grab, which is a bold capitalistic move, but only if it works and doesn’t tick off your fan base. I do know that after a while the only major release was on blu-ray disc, so I guess they learned their lesson.

X-Men: Days of Future Past: the Rogue Cut

So, rumors of the Rogue Cut came out around the time of the initial release, but there was never any news about it. It seemed like it was a nice story, but we’d never get to see it. However, the announcement came, relatively out of the blue, that the Rogue Cut would be released two weeks later, and indeed it was. I was a huge fan of the film, and I’m a fan of Anna Paquin, so I got it quickly, and to my relief, it did have both versions on it, and I appreciated the longer cut.

What I appreciated was that I don’t think there were plans to release it, but fans asked, so Fox decided to go for it. It didn’t feel like a money grab as much, because there was an artistic logic behind the release, and it also felt like Fox was making a serious effort for the fans, which was a nice change of pace.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

So, I haven’t seen the ultimate version yet, so this one will be brief, but I appreciate that Warner Bros. and DC recognized the faults in the second film of their would-be cinematic empire, and decided to offer the director’s cut right away.

The Alien Quadrilogy

When the Alien franchise released its nine-disk set on DVD, each film had two versions, an alternate cut, and the original cut. None of the alternate cuts were director’s cuts, though, because for Alien, Aliens, and Alien: Resurrection, the directors were happy with their efforts and viewed the theatrical cut as their preferred one. However, they were happy to work with the material and rework some old material that they had liked back in, and those versions of the films, especially Alien, all give me different views on the originals; how some concepts that were not on screen until later down the line actually had originated earlier, but were not used in that film. Alien 3 had an alternate cut based on David Fincher’s vision, but he refused involvement, due to his history with the film.

I like this approach because it gave you the best of both worlds, whilst celebrating a great franchise.

Blade Runner / Kingdom of Heaven

So, like I mentioned, the 1992 Director’s cut was not actually a director’s cut, but the 2006 Final Cut was. I will say that, based on what I know, Ridley Scott lost creative control of the project, and so coming back to it to truly fulfill his vision was the right move. Having seen the original theatrical release (with the narration), his version is better, but more significantly it is undeniably his. It is also worth noting that the set came out with all versions, plus Dangerous Days, one of the best making of documentaries I’ve ever seen.

Ridley Scott’s team was forced to heavily cut Kingdom of Heaven, as I mentioned above. I love the director’s cut, which is less confusing, and more enjoyable, and probably saved the legacy of the film, as far as I’m concerned.

Star Wars: Episodes I-VI

So, this is where the argument usually begins, which is why I haven’t mentioned it until now. George Lucas was at one point a marketing genius, who truly lost his touch when he tried to assert full creative control over the franchise, more specifically by limiting the versions released to his vision, and not the original. I’m not saying he can’t tinker with it until the end of time, but he needed to make the original versions available on all formats, along with his modified ones, and it is to the detriment of him and his films that he failed to do so.

SO, that wraps up my write up. Let me know if you agree, or disagree, the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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Analyzing Films and their impacts: DEADPOOL

So, I’m switching gears here, and going to look at the impact a film has had, both on the film industry, and on pop culture. Warning here: spoilers abound.

Deadpool (2016) – directed by Tim Miller

For a few years, I wondered why the MCU never bothered being more… adult. It seemed like every time Tony Stark was about to go on a violent, vulgar-filled tirade about SHIELD, he held back and gave something more diplomatic, and well, PG-13 friendly. After a few films, I stopped noticing this, something I refer to as cinematic Stockholm Syndrome, but I was shaken out of this by a combination of the dark subject matter of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket Raccoon, who felt like the perfect character to rant angrily about his mistreatment and again, was held back for a PG-13 rating. Now, contrary to what Hollywood took from Deadpool, I’m not saying all comic book movies would be better with an R rating. Indeed, I’m actually pointing out specific examples of films where it may have worked, if handled properly, because it feels like the filmmakers had to take a few steps back from their original vision, and possibly compromise it, to make it work. That’s what I’m against: not a particular rating, but filmmakers being forced to compromise their vision, or tone things down for “marketability.”

R rated films were not used in comic book films for the same reason the Fast and Furious franchise keeps sticking with PG-13 ratings; money. PG-13 pulls in the grade school kids, along with younger children accompanied by parents, and that means dollar signs. Deadpool, however, showed that the older crowd will swamp theaters just as much, and that R-rated comic book films can be profitable; now you would think Marvel and DC would celebrate given the amount of overly dark material they need to either ignore or gloss over, meaning it’s useless in their film franchises, but it seems like the Fox-Marvel is the only one willing to gamble on it for now, which is understandable, and will help to forestall inundating the market with badly made, gory comic book films for the sake of making and releasing badly made, gory comic book films.

The one thing Deadpool did best of all was its use of satirical humor alongside honest humor, violence, and a lot of non-PC topics you should never bring up on a first date; its release date on Valentine’s Day weekend was perfect, by the way. Ryan Reynolds’ performance perfectly depicts the craziness that occurs in Deadpool’s head in the comics on-screen, along with a child-like resentment of authority, and the coarse mouth of a drunken sailor. The film is pretty much a Ryan Reynolds vehicle, but I don’t care; when you have an actor/producer who has worked so hard just to get the film made, and made properly, it would make sense that you tie your wagon to him; and although the awards circuit will probably ignore him, I feel he deserves a Golden Globe or something beyond a kids’ choice award, hang on, I don’t that’s going to work out; in any case, he deserves something.

I really love the joke that played out with critics, without them realizing they were actually making it. A lot of critics commented the story felt derivative and over-simplistic, unaware that that was the actual point of the story being derivative and over-simplistic; in essence, Deadpool was lampooning every origin story comic book films had been using, but did a small twist by presenting it non-linearly, and wound up trolling the critics who didn’t get it as an added bonus. Few films get people to play along with one of your jokes without them realizing it, and when it’s the critics, you win. There is also the added thing about Deadpool that the film could write off nearly any continuity error as saying “f*** it, it’s Deadpool, our fans will get a kick out of it”, which also deftly helps it get around most other forms of criticism too.

The meta-ness of the film is what really makes it work for me, especially how it drives the film’s humor. Beyond Deadpool’s endless fourth wall breaking, though, there are also the rips on Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds himself, and my personal favorite, the studio’s stinginess, especially when you realize that Fox pulled $7 million from the budget right before they were set to commence shooting; although I’m sure that the studio pot-shots were already in there, that fact makes the film that much funnier; and awesomer too, since I didn’t realize how little money Fox invested in the film until afterwards, and thought to myself, “damn, Miller and Reynolds really knew what they were doing.” I’m actually kind of glad about that, though, because it is a reminder that great filmmakers, and dare I say it, they are, can truly make great lemonade from fewer lemons than others can from a whole tree, i.e. Zach Synder, and his $200M+ Batman vs. Superman movie. Some of the best jokes, beyond the studio bashing, seemed organic, like the guys got together and just said random stuff that made them laugh; for example, the teenage obsession with cell phones… okay, not just teenage, but the general obsession with looking at people’s cell phones, complete with Deadpool’s “that’s all right, finish your tweet,” comment, perfectly tapped into frustrations some people feel every day; I can see Miller getting frustrated with people always being on their phones during production meetings, and throwing that one in for the hell of it.

Perhaps the film’s second greatest asset is that Ed Skrein walks the line between villain-villain, and nearly being a satire of himself. Comic book films, even Deadpool, are only as good as their villains, and once you realize that Ajax really doesn’t take himself that seriously, akin to Deadpool himself, he becomes a lot of fun to watch on screen, and is probably the best “love to hate” villain I’ve seen in a comic book film in a while; it was also nice to see Gina Carino, whose previous work in Haywire (highly recommend that one by the way) and Fast & Furious 6 was much more serious, make some jokes and play a more humorous ass-kicking woman.

I think the film’s real impact is that it was good; little more than that. For a film with high expectations to smash them, especially a blockbuster within an established franchise, it takes a lot of work, and Deadpool proves that with persistence and maximum effort, filmmakers can pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and create something epic and better than anyone could have imagined.

A few stray points:

  • I thought that Stan Lee’s cameo was hilarious, but also his comment that he didn’t like being whisked out of the strip club so quickly
  • The opening to the film should be shown in film schools as the perfect opening, in setting up the tone and satire that is to follow.
  • The film’s pacing seems unusually fast, but I liked that about the film; it keeps with Deadpool’s ADHD personality that the film would not slow down too much
  • I bet you never think of International Women’s Day the same way again; I know I won’t, haha

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Stupid, stupid, worth it!” –Deadpool
  • “You will come talk with Professor Xavier.” “McAvoy or Stewart? These timelines are so confusing.” –Colossus dragging Deadpool
  • “A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like, sixteen walls!” –Deadpool
  • “Oh no, finish your tweet. It’s not… that… just give us a second.” –Deadpool to Negasonic Teenage Warhead right before battle
  • “Maximum effort!!” –Deadpool
  • “Dead pool… Captain Deadpool, No just… just Deadpool.” “To you, Mr. Pool. Deadpool. That sounds like a f***ing franchise!” – Deadpool and Weasel toasting
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Analyzing Films and their directors: Michael Bay’s THE ROCK

In this series, I analyze a film and the filmmaker behind it, from how the film is reflection of their style, to how it relates to the rest of their filmography, and finally just talking about why the film is awesome.

Michael Bay – The Rock (1996)

I know what you’re thinking; Michael Bay?! Seriously? Before you click onto that food blog, though, please hear me out, because I’m actually making a serious point here. For every person who says Michael Bay is a rubbish filmmaker, and starts singing the “Pearl Harbor sucks” song from Team America: World Police, there are at least five people who pay to see his films. For all the criticism, you do need to respect Michael Bay, if only for his box office numbers; I’m not alone in this assessment either, and if you click the link above it’ll direct you to a video which reveals how far the respect for him goes.

Arguably is his greatest trait is his indifference to his critics; something he earned whilst making The Rock, though, was an ability to be indifferent to the studio as well. That’s not why I picked it, I picked it because it is a great moment in his career, symbolic of everything he does right, and it was a turning point when he went from being a fringe guy who did commercials and some films, to a filmmaker; and like Ridley Scott and Blade Runner, it was Bay’s second film.

So, Bay launched his filmmaking career with Bad Boys, which had script problems; Bay’s response was he let Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, and the rest of the cast just go; they improvised so much of the dialogue that when they did the sequel Bay insisted they improvise some scenes to catch some of the old magic again, and some of the best moments from Bad Boys II were ad-libs. However, working again with Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson on The Rock, Bay was not taking chances, with no less than six writers working on the script to hammer it all down; as a matter of fact, The Rock exposed some issues with the WGA’s crediting system, with Michael Bay openly denouncing it since the Jonathan Hensleigh, the writer he said he worked closest with, not getting credit. Sean Connery also asked that a team of British writers make a pass to improve his dialogue, and as they did a lot during the 90’s, Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin did passes to sharpen up dialogue and add pop culture references. As a result, you have multiple writers and perspectives, which coupled with Bay’s vision, works brilliantly.

Michael Bay is known for quotable dialogue, campy yet touching moments, and awesome action sequences; post-2002, there is also a boatload of CGI. He is fond of showing American flags, and pulling on your heartstrings. He had a period when he actually succeeded on all fronts, whilst making genuinely moving films that had amazing spectacle at the same time. The Rock is about Stanley Goodsby (Nicolas Cage, in a slightly toned down performance), an FBI chemical weapons expert, who works with Hollis Mason (Sean Connery), to infiltrate Alcatraz with a special forces team and stop a rogue general (Ed Harris), who has taken over the island and is holding San Francisco hostage because the government is not taking care of its soldiers from black ops missions, many of which he oversaw.

Something that amazes me is how well Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery work together; Connery’s deadpan delivery of every line, be it a joke, one-liner, or a serious conversation, contrasting with Cage’s “what the hell have I gotten myself into” ranting in the second act holds the film together, when in the hands of a lesser director it could have ridden off the rails. That chemistry, as Mason teaches Goodsby to be more of a man, and they work together to fight the bad guys, although let’s face it you do feel some sympathy for Ed Harris’s character, is one reason this is Michael Bay’s best effort, or definitely top three. Bay lets us into the characters, we get to know them, and realize that Mason is actually a really good guy, who just doesn’t trust the American government, instead of the bad guy he himself is reported to be at the beginning of the film.

When I started looking at Bay’s body of work, I realized that his problem, especially in films like Pearl Harbor, or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is that he tends to let himself go too far. Pearl Harbor pulls way too hard on your heartstrings, and Transformers II goes over the top with the twin robots, and the emotional arcs of most of the characters. By contrast, Bad Boys II is an amazing use of buddy comedy, but unlike the first one, where it’s the two guys against the world, this time around, the buddies are all the cops, but Bay reminds us that, yeah, Smith and Lawrence are still the stars. Films like The Rock, Bad Boys II, and Armageddon all hold back just enough for us to take it seriously, and when he does that, Bay’s style of filmmaking, and his blend of explosions, laughs, and heart actually works.

The Rock remains his greatest triumph, though, largely because he had to make it work without over the top on effects. It is actually more human than the war-torn world of Pearl Harbor, and I love how quotable the film remains even today, eighteen years later. Of course, Bay also gives the audience a perfect cherry on top with the ending, one of the best ending moments in lines in the past twenty years.

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