Walt Disney Pictures/Warner Bros/20th Century Fox via Everett Collection
It's been a busy year for superhero films, and whether it be on screen or inside closed boardrooms, film studios were making moves to create or continue their ongoing franchises. While 2013 could be seen as the calm before the storm, with a huge number of big superhero films making their way towards cinemas in 2014 and 2015, It's still an exciting time to be a comic book fan at the movies. In order to wrap up 2013, we've decided to grade each studio based on the films they've released this year, and look forward to what they have planned for 2014 and beyond.
FilmsIron Man 3Thor: The Dark World
Disney proves that there are still stories worth telling outside of The AvengersWith The Avengers, Disney capped off the first phase of its ridiculously ambitious superhero multi-tiered plan with an emphatic exclimation mark. But that question that was no doubt rattling around the heads of Disney's executive board was: what happens now? How do you keep people interested in stories with lone heroes when they've already seen the big superhero team take form? Is there still interest in touching base with Iron Man or Thor when they're not assembled into something bigger and greater? The answer to these queries turned out to be a wholehearted yes from both audiences and critics. Disney succeeded in continuing its franchise of super hero films by telling well-made adventures that still resonate with each individual hero's storytelling strengths, while simultaneously gearing up the universe for a second Avengers film. Iron Man is still telling stories about corporate evil and white collar super-villainy, while Thor is still blending myth and science in super-sized tales about clashing universes. While neither film reached the dizzying height of The Avengers, they are both welcome additions to Marvel's ever growing cinematic universe.
Looking aheadIf the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier is any indication, Disney will continue to tell stories steeped in each character's own story telling strengths, and the second Captain America film looks to be a politically charged action film that duly fits the first Avenger. Disney is also expanding their universe with other film projects outside of The Avengers: Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring a rag tag group of the Marvel Universe's underdogs, is slated for August 2014, while 2015's Ant-Man has just found its hero in Paul Rudd. The big Kahuna, The Avengers: Age of ultron, is coming in 2015.Grade: A-
20TH CENTURY FOX
Fox gambled with different story telling and came out aheadAfter the one-two punch of disaster that was X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins, Fox decided to save its fledgling X-Men franchise by taking it in a different direction. Instead of rebooting the series, Fox took a hard left and used all of the messy continuity it has built up over the years to create X-Men: First Class, which threw the franchise into the past and told a 1960s prequel film featuring younger versions of both Professor X and Magneto. The film fed off of that era's social and political touchstones to create an engaging super-powered period piece the crackled with cold war tension and slick spy thrills. With this year's Wolverine, the studio took an even harder left by telling a stand-alone Wolverine tale set almost entirely in Japan, and told a story that almost feels more like a moody a Japanese melodrama, with Wolverine getting embroiled in the machinations of a wealthy Japanese family. When the film finds time to take a break from all the claw slashing and Yakuza fighting, it stops to focus on what makes Wolverine's character tick, and delivers a mostly successful Wolverine film. Fox is making its X-Men series one of the most exciting superhero franchises, by not being afraid to be daring.
Looking aheadFox is taking the biggest chances in super hero cinema by not being embarrassed by their comic book origins, and instead embracing them for all of their oddities, something that other studios sometimes feel too afraid of doing. They threw the X-Men back into their original decade and adapted one of Wolverine's best stories successfully by keeping it set in Japan. Now with X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Studio is bringing one of the X-Men's most important story arcs to the screen, and they seems to be fully embracing the original time travel narrative that made that story so popular and resonant with fans in the first place.Grade: B+
FilmsMan of Steel
Warner Bros. went too dark but is still moving forwardWarner Bros. has long stumbled in trying to create a superhero franchise outside of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but in 2013 they've finally managed to get their feet on the ground and release Man of Steel. But just because they're finally getting somewhere, it doesn't mean they are doing so gracefully. Man of Steel was a clunky Superman origin story that had critics and fans divided into an all-out war of opinions, and we stand firmly on the side of its detractors. Man of Steel was a dreary, unweildy mess of a film that was to focused on being gritty and dark, and forgot to embrace the virtues that make Superman the big blue boy scout that he is. With all that being said, credit still goes to Warner Bros. for finally making Man of Steel a financial success that can support future films, after its previous missteps.
Looking aheadWarner Bros. isn't fooling around anymore, and in a series of volley of emphatic moves since Man of Steel hit theaters, they've announced that: 1) They're making a Batman/Superman film, 2) They will have Ben Affleck, of all people, playing an older version of Batman, and 3) Wonder Woman is also going to appear in the film played by Gal Gadot. Something has lit a fire under the studio, and whether it be desperation or confidence at their latest success, the studio is quickly moving forward to compete with Disney and 20th Century Fox's upcoming big blockbuster team-up films, without slowing down to make individual films for the characters. Only time will tell if these moves are good ones, but hopefully fortune favors the brave.Grade: C
When Peter Berg and Marcus Luttrell sat down in front of the press to talk about Lone Survivor, it was immediately clear that these two men couldn't be any more different from one another. One was an acclaimed director of several successful Hollywood films, while the other was a war veteran and the survivor of a horrific tragedy. But there was a clear understanding between the two. And it is this very understanding, specifically of Luttrell's experience at war, that Peter Berg sought to pass on in his latest film.
Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch, primarily tells the true story of Luttrell and his three brothers in arms. The men are sent on a mission that quickly goes south, and the four of them are slowly hunted down by the Taliban on the rocky cliffs of Afghanistan. But surprisingly enough, Peter Berg isn’t interested in the political and moral motives that sent those men up that mountain that day. Instead, his main goal is to impart understanding to the viewer of what Luttrell and the others went through in those trying hours. To convey, through film, the understanding that he's gained from Luttrell in making this movie. Berg want to inform viewers that they'll never truly know, never really feel or experience what it was to be Marcus Luttrell on that day, but for the next two hours, they'll, at the very least, understand.
This idea of gaining an appreciation for the sacrifice of the men behind the story of Lone Survivor was something on Berg's mind from the very beginning, and the filmmaker spent a great deal of time immersing himself in the culture of Navy SEALs before filmming. According to Berg, "Marcus made sure that I understood as much as I could, not by talking but literally by spending the time to be with those communities to understand, not just how they hold their guns, and how they put their equipment on, but how they talk about each other, and how they feel about each other, and he wanted me to get as comprehensive of an understanding of what that culture is." But understanding what it's like to be a Navy SEAL isn't for the faint of heart, and Berg wasn't given any special treatment when he signed on for the film. Berg says, "Next thing I know, I’m in a military plane with three marines sleeping on top of me, flying for 18 hours with an outhouse on board as a bathroom. Thank you, Marcus, for that." Clearly, Berg had to earn the right to make this film.
And there is certainly a sense that Berg and the rest of the crew had to work for their stripes when shooting this film. The crew treated this project like something bigger and more sacrosanct than just another job. They regarded it as a privilege and a duty to serve the soldiers that have risked life and limb to serve them. The stuntmen especially felt the pressure to give their jobs their all, especially during the film's gruesome cliff jumping scene. Berg says, "Because Marcus and other SEALs were there, these stuntmen wanted to push a little harder than they might normally. Often times, a lot of my job ended up being to calm people down because everybody wanted to get it right, and those stunts were done without any dummies, without any wire work. Those were human beings literally throwing themselves off of cliffs, and you know, some guys got hurt and some guys got bumped up, and a rib was broken, and a lung was punctured, some concussions, but these guys were determined to try and do everything they could to capture what Marcus described in the book."
Even the actors themselves wanted in on the action. Berg goes on to say, "The actors would try and sneak in... I’d get a call that Ben Foster snuck in there and he’s trying to jump. We'd have to run over there and tell Ben 'no.' And then Marcus is of course going, 'Go on, Ben, do it, do it.' Everybody wanted to do it right. We knew we could never be Navy SEALs, we don’t have that ability, that’s not who we are, That’s who [Marcus] is, but we do have the ability to imitate and try and mimic, and that’s what we tried to do." According to Berg, this strive toward authenticity is something that informs every frame of Lone Survivor.
But foremost, Berg doesn't want to proselytize or preach with this film. When asked about any message that he hopes to express, he says, "I never really go into a film and say 'Okay, here’s the grand thesis, here’s my goal.'" He wants to show, as purely as he can, what Luttrell and his fallen friends have sacrificed, and maybe give them a chance to show their gratitude "One thing that I think Lone Survivor does, and certainly its book did is give the audience a chance, in its own way, to acknowledge what these guys are doing and pay respect. To give people the opportunity to say, 'Wow, thank you and I understand a little bit about what you may have gone through.'"
Director David O. Russell casts a bright light on the glitz and grime of '70s era New York with his latest film, American Hustle. While the big hair and flashy suits that dot his work could have easily outshone its story about a couple of con men hoping to scam their way to the top, he doesn't forget to examine the people hidden under all that disco-era pastiche.
We got a chance to sit down with David O. Russell and talk about how his affections for the film's setting and characters guide his vision when he directs, and how a mutual love of music and culture helps to shape the character relationships of American Hustle.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Splash News / Marvel
The size of Marvel's casting pool has just shrunk to one. According to Variety, Paul Rudd is in early negotiations to star in Marvel's developing Ant-Man feature. Both Rudd and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt were in the running to portray the character in Edgar Wright's upcoming superhero flick, but Rudd has apparently won out. While we're enthused by the idea of Rudd in general, we should still consider the pros and cons of his casting. So what us excited about the casting, and what has us a bit worried?
Paul Rudd and Edgar Wright have the makings of a great comedy duo.It's almost criminal that Rudd and Wright haven't crossed paths at some point in their respective careers until now. The actor and director both have a finely-tuned motor for comedy. With Wright's work on Simon Pegg's Cornetto trilogy and Rudd's continued residence in the Apatow world, the two have reveled in comedic absurdity, and a certain amount of absurdity is necessary what adapting a film about a man whose powers involve shrinking his body to the size of a peanut.
But does this mean the movie will shy away from the character's dramatic backstory?Rudd and Wright are both amazingly funny individuals, but there's a danger that their Ant-Man might be too busy trying to make us laugh to remember the weight of the Ant-Man character. The reason Ant-Man is such a controversial and popular figure in the Marvel Universe is because of his complexity as a character. In the comics, Hank Pym has been characterized as a troubled individual with an almost insatiable need to prove himself next to Marvel's more prolific minds. He also had an unforutnate spout of domestic violence that has given the character an sullied reputation among some of the ranks of superheroes in Marvel's printed universe. With Wright and Rudd solidly building their reputation on laughs rather than tears (unless we're talking tears of laughter), there's a danger that the film will neglect to hit the darker notes of Ant-Man's story.
Rudd is older than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and could more convincingly play a genius.Hank Pym is a scientist first an foremost, and his identity as one should be a huge part of what makes the character tick. While Rudd's competition for the role, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, could have handed in a fine performance as Ant-Man, he simply doesn't have the years on his belt to convincingly play an accomplished scientist the way that Rudd does.
But Rudd doesn't have experience in the action genre.The one area wherein JGL had Rudd beat was with his plethora of action film experience. For all the good will the Rudd has gained over the years as a comedic actor, he doesn't have a single film on his resume that even comes close to resembling an action film... aside from the newscaster brawls in the Anchorman flicks, of course. For Rudd to pull of a sucessfull Ant-Man in this movie, and whatever future cinematic adventures Marvel has cooked up for the character, then he needs to be able to play action hero just as well as he can crack jokes with Tony Stark.
So... where do we stand?All in all, as long as Rudd and company are mindfull of the film's possible pitfalls, they should deliver a fantastic Ant-Man film, and we can't wait to see Rudd put on the tights in the upcoming film.
Dawn of The Planet of The Apes/YouTube
Things aren’t looking up for humanity. War, famine, and a deadly virus have thinned our numbers, and that's not even mentioning the army of super-apes waiting in the wings to demount man from its place at the top of the food chain and become the new apex predator. If you’re at all familiar with the Planet of the Apes series, then you know things don’t fall in man's favor when all is said and done, but everything sure looks tense and exciting on the path to humanity's destruction. The first trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is here, and the film looks to start up eight years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The virus we saw at the tail end of the first movie appears to have bloomed into a full-blown plague, and Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke seem to be just barely getting by after years of war and disease. Clarke goes to talk to Caesar (the head ape mo-capped by the talented Andy Serkis), but the face paint and the simmering simian glares tell me that Caesar and his army of apes aren’t really in the mood to sit down and chew the fat over drinks — unless it's chewing human fat that is.
In addition to the trailer, we’ve also got our hands on a new viral video from the film that takes the form of a nicely produced PSA for the film’s viral outbreak, Simian Flu. The clip gives us some statistics about the outbreak in a nicely minimalist format, and the numbers don't look good. The PSA is pretty much a stylish way to inform the viewer that they’re basically screwed. At the very least, you can take solace in the fact that some talented graphic designers found some work in the middle of the ape-ocalypse.
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While nothing will ever fill the hole left in our hearts after Freaks and Geeks was canceled so many years back (some wounds never heal, NBC!), seeing Lindsay Weir pop up in our favorite shows is the next best thing. After her short stint on Mad Men, Linda Cardellini will play a recurring role on New Girl as Jess' outrageous sister Abby.
Abby is “the wild-child sister who brings a real Springer energy to every situation,” and her first episode will feature Jess trying to bail her out of jail, all the while keeping her from meeting Jess' boyfriend Nick. Cardellini’s first episode is slated to air in February; Jamie Lee Curtis, who has played Jess’ mother in previous episodes, will also appear.
And of course, there's a handful of sibling enmity in store. A young Jess and Freaks and Geeks' Lindsey would never have gotten along, thanks to Jess’ tendency to attack every situation with her quirkiness dialed up to about a 14 on a ten point scale. Likewise, there seems to be some animosity burning between the two sisters judging by Abby's character description. Maybe that's why she hasn't been mentioned by Jess before?
It will take some serious creative wizadry in New Girl writing room to convince us that Jess suddenly has a sister we've simply never heard about, especially after all of the flashbacks to her childhood and visits from her parents that were noticeably absent of any siblings. But sitcoms often play fast and loose with canon, and a sister suddenly being retconned into or out of existence isn't terribly egregious (after all, we're still waiting for Judy Winslow to come down the stairs on Family Matters). As long as the character is funny and adds a creative spark to New Girl, which has yet to hit its comedic stride this season, then Jess' mystery sister is welcome, especially if she's played by an actress like Cardellini.
The English dub of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises is finally taking flight, and there's a load of A-list talent on board for the ride, including the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and John Krasinski.
Said to be his final film, Miyazaki ended his decades long career with a graceful swan song that tells the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, a young man with dreams of flight. Jiro would eventually becomes the aeronautical engineer that designs the fighter planes that Japan would go on to use during the second World War. The cast features a wide range of talented performers, and it seems like many of the actors simply couldn't pass up the chance to be a part of Miyazaki's last directoral project. While speaking about the film, Gordon-Levitt said that The Wind Rises was "clearly the work of someone who's a master at their craft." Hopefully, Gordon-Levitt and the rest of the English-speaking cast can do justice to Miyazaki's final project. The full cast list is below:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt — main character Jiro Horikoshi
Emily Blunt — love interest Nahoko Satomi
John Krasinski — Honjo, Jiro's college pal and fellow aviation engineer
Martin Short — Kurokawa, Jiro's grumpy boss
Stanley Tucci — Caproni, Italian airplane creator
Mandy Patinkin — Hattori, senior designer at Mitsubishi
William H. Macy — Satomi, Nahoko's father
Werner Herzog — the mysterious Castorp
Mae Whitman — Kayo, Jiro's younger sister, as well as Kinu, Nahoko's caretaker
Jennifer Grey — Mrs. Kurokawa
Darren Criss — Katayama, one of Jiro's engineering colleagues
Elijah Wood — Sone, another of Jiro's colleagues
Ronan Farrow — Mitsubishi employee
Elijah Wood — Sone, another of Jiro's colleagues
Ronan Farrow — Mitsubishi employee
(Via USA Today)
Lars Von Trier’s four hour sex epic, Nymphomaniac has taken on a variety of forms in its path to release - including the original four hour cut, and an even longer five and a half hour cut that promises to be somehow more explicit than the original - but according to producer Louise Vesth, there's at least one more version of the film in the works. Vesth recently told Cineuropa, after being asked if they ever thought about turning the film into a mini-series, that "We are planning to do a series for internet distribution as well."
While it still remains to be seen whether the actual film is simply being sliced into separate webisodes, or if this internet series will consist of all new material, it seems that Von Trier and his producers are doing their best to ensure that at least some version of Nymphomaniac will be available to people that want to see it.
Fans eager to see Von Trier's latest project will certainly have to Google carefully, since searches for the Nymphomaniac web series might lead one to some of the more lurid corners of the internet. Just don't be surprised when 14 year-old boys the world over develop a sudden and studious interest in modern Danish filmmaking.
New York is probably America's most filmed and depicted city, but few films really capture what the city actually feels like. Since David O' Russell is doing his best impression of 1970's New York with American Hustle, we've picked out a film or a television show for each of the past nine decades that we feel perfectly encapsulates New York at that time.
1920s: The Great GatsbyBaz Luhrmann’s adaptation explodes with glitz and glamour as it depicts New York’s 1920s opulence with bold colors and blaring hip hop billowing through the scenes. While being terribly anachronistic, in an odd (and intentional) way, Luhrmann’s peculiar choices still help give The Great Gatsby a maximalist vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that suits the roaring '20s, and New York, perfectly.
1930s: King KongThe image of King Kong straddling the Empire State Building is one of cinema’s most iconic scenes, and it’s as New York as it come. It’s a massive beast taking on man’s tallest and most lofty achievement in the center New York at the height of its power.
1940s: The GodfatherWhile America was in the midst of war overseas, there was a war unfolding on the streets of New York between the crime families in The Godfather. Michael Corleone comes home from WWII and gets himself wrapped up in his family’s ongoing battle for mob supremecy. The Godfather offers an elegant and romanticized version of New York where the criminals still had class.
1950s: Rear WindowNew Yorkers tend to be cramped up pretty tight on the city that only lets us build up rather than out, and this feeling of claustraphobia is captured perfectly in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window. James Stewart finds himself getting a little too involved in his neighbors' lives when he begins snooping on them with a pair of binoculars.
1960s: Mad MenThe '60s was a time of great cultural change in America and Mad Men puts New York at its nucleus. The traditional suits of the Madison Avenue ad world begin to feel their world closing in on them when traditional values are ripped from their seams, and a new normal is stitched in its place.
1970s: Taxi DriverTaxi Driver painted a dark portrait of New York filled with the grit and gristle of crime, prostitution, and corruption, all seen through the cracked vision of Travis Bickle, an unhinged cabbie who will go to great lengths to clean up the streets his own dangerous way.
1980s: Do the Right ThingEven though Hollywood sometimes forgets, New York is more than just the island of Manhattan. There are four other boroughs, each with their own unique flavor and character. Spike Lee crafts a loving letter to Brooklyn with Do the Right Thing. Lee showcased a slice of Brooklyn in the 80’s you couldn’t see on the 11’o clock news — one brimming with life, culture, and vibrancy, but one that also crackled with racial tension and unresolved issues.
1990s: SeinfeldIn the show about nothing, four friends bounced around a '90s New York contemplating life’s funny curiosities and generally being terrible to each other and everyone else they came in contact in.
The 2000s: Spider-ManIn Spider-Man, Sam Raimi made Peter Parker’s identity as a New Yorker just as important as his identity as the super hero. Peter Parker crammed his way into tiny studio apartments and took on crappy jobs just like any other 20-something New Yorker would. The only exception was that he spent his free time fighting evil and trying to get the girl. The film also showed how New Yorkers come together in the face of a tragedy, whether it be something like Hurricane Sandy or the latest Green Goblin attack.
The 2010s: GirlsNothing on television feels like such a pertinent snapshot of New York circa right now than HBO's Girls. Modern day gentrified Brooklyn comes alive as we follow the mis-adventures of Hannah Horvath and her friends as they navigate aimlessly towards adulthood, and stumble on every step along the way.
You're about to have a lot more Spider-Man.
Not to be outdone by Marvel's multi-phase monolith of a film franchise, Sony has announced that they plan on expanding the Spider-Man universe over several movies, by creating films that center on different members of Spidey's rogue gallery. In addition to a third The Amazing Spider-Man film, which is currently being written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, the studio now plans to expand the The Amazing Spider-Man franchise with upcoming Venom and Sinister Six movies. Venom will be written by Kurtzman and written by Goddard, while Sinister Six will be penned by Goddard, who also has an eye to direct.
Venom is an alien symbiote that attaches itself to a human host and endows that person with super-human abilities. The parasite first attached itself to Spider-Man himself, before taking over other hosts, the most prolific of which being Eddie Brock. Through the years, Venom has become one of Spider-Man's most fearsome and popular foes, and fans have been clamoring for the character to re-appear on screen after he was mishandled by Sam Ramni's overly bloated Spider-Man 3. Conversely, The Sinister Six is a group of Spider-Man's most prolific enemies that decide to team up after losing out to the web-slinger individually. There have been numerous incarnations of the Sinister Six throughout Spider-Man's history, but the classic lineup includes Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman, and Mystereo. While Electro is the only member of the team to be introduced in the series so far, hints about the Vulture and Doctor Octopus can be seen in the latest trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
So What do we want in the Sinister Six and Venom movies?
The Sinister Six Should Be Goofy.The ranks of the Sinister Six include a geriatric geezer with metallic wings, a man who conjures illusions with a fish bowl on his head, and a hunter with a thing for Leopard-print fringed collars. At the end of the day, these are some goofy villains, and that fact should be celebrated, not hidden away under layers of faux-darkness. What's charming about Spider-man's rogue gallery is how silly most of his villains are, and there should be no attempt to make the Sinister Six overly serious or gritty, because there's nothing gritty about Leopard print anything.
They Should Also Have a Loser's MentalityThe Sinister Six came to be because they were collectively tired of losing to a wise-cracking teenager in a spider costume. That sad fact should burn in them like napalm, and fuel their desires for revenge. They shouldn't even like each other, but simply tolerate each other just enough to work together towards the end goal of finally killing Spider-Man.
They Should Also be Fun to Hang AroundIf we're going to spend an entire movie hanging around a couple of villains, then they need to be a pretty entertaining group to watch. This should feel like The Avengers with villains, and even though these characters will presumably be evil, they need to make being evil look fun, or at least fun to laugh at. There needs to be both a good team dynamic and diverse and interesting characters to make this film work.
On the Other Hand, the Venom Movie Should be CreepyVenom is an alien symbiote that turns its user into a big gelatinous monster made out of slimy black sinews. While the Sinister Six has license to be a little silly, the venom movie should definitely take itself more seriously. Venom is a creepy character, and that should play into the tone of the film.
And Spider-Man should be scared witless by VenomWhile Spider-Man always feels confident enough to hurl jokes at his other villains, Venom has always brought forth the web slinger's more serious side, and the film version should be no different.