From the Archives: The Progression of 3D Cinema

Originally published September 20th, 2011. Layouts & titles by Nathan Carter.

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Ryan’s Top Ten of 2013

2013Before I kick off my annual reflection on the past year in cinema, I’d like to take a brief moment to say how annoyed I am having to wait until halfway into January before I can even come close to completing my conclusive Top Ten list. Many of the year’s best offerings came either at the tail end of December or the very beginning of January, technically still counting as part of the prior year (in the Academy’s eyes, anyway) due to limited theater screenings. It’s an irritating practice which continues to be a thorn in my side; why not just keep the 2013 movies in 2013, instead of delaying their release to a month when Top Ten of the Year lists have become largely irrelevant?

I digress. On with my best ofs, beginning with a few honorable mentions:

42 – In spite of some of the more recent racially-minded biopics of Awards season, I toss my hat behind a more inspiring, enlightening film about African-American social liberation. Great performances and a solid script make 42 a poignant film about overcoming social hardship.

Don Jon – Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is a touching look at modern sexual relationships, and the way both men and women carry distorted perceptions of them. It’s a romantic comedy that doesn’t feel concocted in a studio, instead living and breathing in the real world.

The Place Beyond the Pines – Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance’s latest is a mesmerizing odyssey of family pain. We watch two generations embody their father’s flaws, doomed to repeat their lineage. Shifting in characters and perspectives seamlessly, this April release proves a surprisingly meaningful experience.

Lone Survivor – While it doesn’t do anything new with the genre, Peter Berg’s pet project is a film about the qualities that separate humanity from the inhuman, the peacemakers from the warmongers. It is a film about why, in spite of overwhelming pain, we choose to sacrifice our lives for the good of others. And it’s powerful stuff.

The Counselor – Director Edgar Wright believes Ridley Scott’s epic crime drama to be a future cult film, and I completely agree. The unfairly reviled Counselor is one of the year’s most unforgivingly truthful films, boasting a great, if labored script by Cormac McCarthy. I suspect most critics had read the leaked script beforehand, and what they saw didn’t measure up to what they’d imagined. Or maybe they’re just dense. Probably a bit of both.

And finally, my picks for the best films of 2013:

10. Out of the Furnace

out-of-the-furnace-still-4One of the many things I admire about Scott Cooper’s modern western is its defiance of Hollywood and revenge-thriller conventions – the hero doesn’t get the girl in the end, its shootout sequences only take place during the third act, and even after its conflict is resolved, so many questions remain about its protagonist’s choices. Most importantly, Cooper understands that the best revenge stories aren’t about the chase or the final kill. They’re about people, and about pain.

Out of the Furnace is dirty, down-to-earth, and deliberate, staging a family where brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) are torn apart in their differing ideals. One makes an honest living in the steel mill, the other is a fighter, unwilling to work with steel the rest of his life and ignoring his brother’s protests. After a fight for a dangerous drug-addicted employer (Woody Harrelson), Affleck’s character seems to disappear, leaving Bale’s character to determine how to deal with his pain.

With some great performances and thoughtful direction, Out of the Furnace is a simple, yet subtle film that sucks you in to its world of hurt. I’d love to see Cooper helm an actual period-piece western next.

9. Her

her-joaquin-phoenix-8Like last year’s Joaquin Phoenix-starring The Master, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Her, a story of a geeky, lonely man named Theodore (Phoenix) who falls in love with an artificially intelligent program (voice of Scarlett Johansson). It portrays, rather objectively, a disturbingly impersonal world not far removed from our own. Here, personalized letters are dictated by staff writers in the buyer’s own handwriting. Everyone in sight is looking down at his/her phone and holding a Bluetooth device in one ear. Technology has sensationalized, altered, and masked us from reality. It has become pornographic, turning us into selfish people craving on-demand updates and searching for instant gratification. Real human relationships are fewer and more far between.

Observe the brief scene with Olivia Wilde, who plays a beautiful woman on a date with Theodore. She essentially throws herself at him, desperate for a connection, but Theodore disconnects when he learns she wants a serious relationship. She recoils, saying, “You’re a really creepy dude.” And he is; despite his people-reading skills, a lost love has kept him from forming connections with others. It’s a commentary on the world we may soon occupy; before the date, Theodore pulls up her Facebook pictures during a video game session, and a kid playing the game with him online sees the pics, telling Theodore, “She’s fat.”

One could go crazy analyzing all there is to experience in Her. It is a profound study of love and human relationships, a timely look at today’s world’s generally declining ability to cultivate connections with one another. What forms does love take? How do we define it? Can technology define and convey human emotion? The film poses infinite questions about this technology’s relationship with humanity, many of which parallel that of real-life committed relationships – how two people can grow apart, meet other people, etc.

Her is also one of the most challenging films of the year, and yanked me out of my comfort zone with its innately polarizing portrayal of humanized machinery. I’m cold to its romantic conventions (which adhere a bit too closely to formula between the second and third acts), but that’s not really the point. Technology can be a great tool in forming and maintaining new relationships. It can appear wonderful and understanding on the surface at first. But technology doesn’t feel, and when we let it take control of us, well…it can only end in loneliness. There are powerful and gripping qualities about Her, and I hope to god society hears its message.

8. Rush

Rush-2013In my review of Rush, I described a film about the contrasting ideologies and bitter opposition of two men driven in their professions. It is a film not so much about the racing of cars as it is the people behind the wheel. It’s an important stipulation, one which writer Peter Morgan indeed channeled while writing the film:

I thought no one was ever going to come to me and say ‘Please will you write a story about an Austrian and an Englishman and examine the cultural differences between the two?’ That would never occur to anybody. So I thought ‘I’ll write it because it interests me.’

The approach is all the better for Rush, an accessible yet sophisticated blockbuster in the typical Ron Howard biopic vein – it details both James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda’s (Daniel Bruhl) backstories, their characters, their respective love lives, and their tragic hubris. In the end, Rush has no winners or losers, just a lifelong relationship between two men with very different outlooks on racing, and in turn, life.

7. Saving Mr. Banks

Saving-Mr.-Banks-Reviews-starring-Tom-Hanks-and-Emma-Thompson-2013It took John Lee Hancock’s latest period piece to remind me just how much Mary Poppins meant to me as a kid. Is it strange that I still catch myself whistling “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Step in Time,” and countless others at my age? No matter; even more passionate than I about the film was the original novel’s author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). And in her and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) conflicting visions for the film, Saving Mr. Banks presents the timeless and important message that even a reconciliation of truth and imagination can be just as, if not more poignant than the truth itself.

We watch Travers’ heartbreaking childhood as her father (Colin Farrell) fosters her creative energies, yet begins drinking himself into oblivion. We feel for her and her fight for her work as she clings tightly to the most minute details of the novel’s story, really her life story, on her quest to redeem her father. We feel for Disney, who just wants to make a fun, engaging picture for children, something to mask them from the reality of the world they live in. Both Thompson and Hanks nail the speech and mannerisms of their respective characters, and the script is an excellent one.

Saving Mr. Banks is one of the most heartfelt films of the year, a delightful walk down memory lane which hits all the right emotional notes. It’s charming, it’s poignant, and it’s sugarcoated, but…just a spoonful.

6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

dos4What shines most in the second act of Peter Jackson’s epic Hobbit saga is the incredible stuntwork and action sequences. The returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) once more flies around in gravity-defying fashion, no doubt to the seething of die-hard fans still cringing from the archer’s shield-surfing abilities in The Two Towers. But above all, these stunts provide something we’ve never seen on film before – a fantastic mid-film barrel-riding sequence, which sees Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Co. travelling down an out-of-control river trapped in barrels, all while being pursued by a vicious pack of Orcs. Jackson’s camera is so integrated in the action, you’d swear you’d been whisked away onto a wet theme park ride.

As I’ve endlessly gushed before, The Hobbit films are some of the most well-designed, enchanting fantasies put to film. Not only are the effects outstanding, but the storytelling, combining the more fantastical leanings of the novel with Jackson’s more blockbuster approach, is equally brilliant. How do they get around the many talking animals of the novel, not present in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films? Make it so their speech can only be heard when Bilbo (Martin Freeman) puts on the ring. Smart. Then there’s the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, providing not just a deliciously evil voice for the dragon, but a deliciously evil mo-cap performance.

People will continue to bitch and moan about the Hobbit films not covering nearly as much story ground per film as the Lord of the Rings films did. And no, unfortunately, the films don’t seem to want to have much to do with their title protagonist. But The Desolation of Smaug is another Middle-Earth outing from a master of the escapist adventure yarn that yet again manages to deliver a brilliantly-crafted, outstandingly-designed piece of storytelling.

5. Nebraska

nebraskaIn discussing his latest film’s back-and-white color palette, writer/director Alexander Payne says he chose the look because, “[he] just knew it from when [he] read the script.” Yet only a true master of the art could make such a decision and have it work so beautifully. It’s a testament to Payne’s ability to downplay the thoughtfulness he exudes so fluently in his work.

Nebraska is a film about fathers and sons, families and legacies. We laugh watching the older members of the family having short, trivial conversations with siblings they haven’t seen in ages. It always seems like family reaches a point where they simply run out of things to talk about. The exception is of course June Squibb’s character, who speaks candidly about her sex life as if she were 50 years younger. She has a great scene defending her husband Woody (Bruce Dern) against the vultures that are now their family members, asking for a share in Woody’s purported million-dollar winnings.

It’s another of Payne’s dramedies that captures both the pain and the humor of life, examining the true nature of people and creating characters that feel so genuine they could easily be real. This time, Payne provides quite a few flattering shots of the Midwestern state, painting a pitch-perfect image of the setting in gorgeous black-and-white. I’d speculate that color scheme is intended to reflect Woody’s single-mindedness in collecting his million. Maybe Payne just has an innate sense for these things.

4. Man of Steel

ffa54_man-steel-trailer-supermanLike Batman Begins before it, Man of Steel isn’t merely an excellent comic book movie, but an excellent film period. The traditional Superman mythology is rebirthed into something fresher and closer to reality, yet remains as hopeful and heartfelt as any of the character’s greatest adventures. And like Begins, it answers the simple question of why its hero exists as one of the greatest of his kind, not just for modern times, but for all time.

Henry Cavill was born to play this more human Superman, making for one of the best onscreen incarnations of the character yet. The rest of the cast, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, and more, all fill their roles memorably and ably. Clark’s relationship to Lois Lane is the story’s heart, the latter no longer acting as his damsel in distress, but his connection to humanity, his savior just as much as he is hers. The film’s final scene proves the most interesting moments of their new dynamic are yet to come.

It’s a shame that so many, including Superman: Birthright author Mark Waid, were so quick to dismiss Man of Steel based on its controversial resolution, which I felt to be the perfect way to illustrate exactly how Superman came to his immovable, unwavering ideals. Since my original review, I’ve come to the conclusion that the film is no Superman: the Movie, but truly, there is something here for every Superman fan to love, bits taken from every era of comicdom, yet a whole that rings an entirely new tune. For all his faults, director Zack Snyder musters a heroic iconography, a visual palette to this point unseen in the subgenre. And kudos to Goyer’s smart script, taking what could’ve been another predictable, mundane origin story to some unexpected places. Luckily, it doesn’t neuter the character in the slightest, only his surroundings, boiling the Superman mythology down to its core of a man lost and alone in the world, looking to find his niche and help people wherever he goes. It’s real, it has pathos, and proves that, above all, Superman is like us. A man.

3. American Hustle

American HustleHustle’s original script was titled “American Bullshit,” and for good reason – the film is a defining look at the fronts we put up, the masks we wear, and the lies we tell. There’s a reason why every character in the movie has bad hair – watch Christian Bale in the opening sequence, going through a lengthy morning comb-over ritual to mask his insecurities.

American Hustle sees bullshitters bullshitting each other in its tale of con men in search of riches. But no character is able to escape his/her flaws – Bale’s character’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) has a set of lipstick and makeup which she uses to “keep him coming back.” The accessories are flower-scented, but “with a hint of garbage.” It’s that hint of garbage that Bale’s character can’t stand, and which is always there to send well-laid plans up in flames…literally.

I had a blast watching and dissecting director David O. Russell’s latest. His style doesn’t always work in the film’s favor, but when it does, it does beautifully. Set to a fantastic retro ‘70s soundtrack and boasting some excellent performances (including a surprise Russell alum who’s perfectly cast), Hustle is my early prediction for a well-deserved Best Picture win.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

wolfofwallstreetI saw Martin Scorsese’s bombastic new film in a packed Saturday matinee showing, where I was seated next to two elderly ladies, both of whom clearly hadn’t the slightest idea of the kind of film they’d walked into. Every time a scene involving over-the-top sex or drug use played, the women were taken aback, thoroughly offended. “This is disgusting,” one of them groaned in protest, amongst shared complaints about the film’s length and how much longer their bowels could stand to be held.

Ordinarily I’d be pissed. I wasn’t. I smiled at every comment, because their whining told me Mr. Scorsese had done his job and done it beautifully.

The Wolf of Wall Street packs three hours of hilariously indulgent black comedy portraying the unbelievable life of Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Belfort occasionally addresses the audience directly, taking us through his exorbitant lifestyle fueled by greed and excess. Like a sort of Bizarro-Jesus, he inspires those around him to act the same way, saying, “Give me them young, hungry, and stupid, and in no time I’ll make them rich.” Eat your heart out, lady liberty.

It’s DiCaprio’s unforgettable performance that makes the film, his sheer amount of range bringing Belfort to life in a way no other actor could. If this film doesn’t prove to be his first Oscar win, the Academy are thieves. And it’s his director Scorsese, whom DiCaprio convinced to do the film in the first place, who once again knocks it out of the park, proving he’s one of the few remaining American New Wave directors who hasn’t lost a beat. Many have spread the idea that Wolf advocates for Belfort’s lifestyle. Are they daft? It’s no more a celebration of Belfort’s life than Goodfellas was of Henry Hill’s. And it has me praying that Scorsese isn’t as close to retirement as he may think.

1. To the Wonder

ttwI regret to admit that 2011’s Tree of Life led me to write off director Terrence Malick as pretentious, his lofty intentions exceeding his abilities to tell a coherent, compelling story. I was nonetheless inclined to check out this, the subject of critic Roger Ebert’s final, glowing review. To the Wonder is everything he claimed it to be and more, and I was left awestruck by the magnitude of its simple, majestic beauty.

It’s a story we’ve heard before: boy meets girl, boy plans to marry girl, boy has doubts, girl leaves, boy has flings elsewhere, boy returns to girl. And yet, there is a profound sense of unfamiliarity here, the story told more meaningfully than perhaps I’ve ever seen it told. Stars Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko shine in their deeply nuanced performances, conveying so much with so little.

In my original review, I described the film to be like a moving painting, or a homemade video of a family member stumbling upon a series of intimate moments. Perhaps To the Wonder is best described as visual poetry; as we listen to the monologues from character to character, we are inundated with Malick’s graceful, naturalistic visuals, the very grace that Javier Bardem’s priest character is struggling to find. It’s a style all it’s own, and truly, Malick’s work represents some of the highest-caliber art a film can reach. Many will dismiss it as too demanding, but I maintain To the Wonder rewards every ounce of attention you lend to it.

Ryan’s Most Anticipated of 2014

So excited was I for 2014’s potential slate of films that I’d actually had a draft of this list written up back in July. Several release date changes, new additions, and comprehensive rewrites later, and here we are at my final list of eagerly-awaiteds. And I haven’t settled for just ten.

15. Exodus

exodus-christian-baleAs an atheist, formerly a COFC (Child of Forced Christianity), biblical films have often rubbed me the wrong way. In part, it’s people’s cultish fanaticism, the outdated lies the church feeds to gullible geriatrics, and the sick way it lends its “seal of approval” to certain films dealing in its scripture. It’s also why I’ll likely be skipping Darren Aronofsky’s Noah – the director spoon-fed me enough Christian tripe in The Fountain to last a lifetime.

Yes, I am an atheist. Happily, so is Ridley Scott.

So it seems Exodus is aiming for something a bit deeper than propaganda. The smartest religion-based films all have a sense of spirituality about them, not in a pandering sense, but to appeal to the similarities we share as a species. Our fears, our hopes, our desires, these emotions transcend organized religion and speak to each of us on a personal level. Scott, who handled even the most heavy-handed Christian themes in last year’s Prometheus admirably, should be able to strike that cord with a more universal tone. On top of that, Christian Bale will almost certainly prove a fantastic casting choice as Moses.

14. Maps to the Stars

file_177163_1_map-of-the-stars1I prefer director David Cronenberg when he’s making hard-edged mystery movies like A History of Violence over winking, meta works like eXistenZ, but the director’s latest film dealing with, according to star Julianne Moore, “the pursuit of fame at any cost,” has me intrigued. And already the signs of Cronenberg’s trademark meta-ness are there – this is the first film the 70-year old Canadian filmmaker has ever shot in Los Angeles, a film being produced by the very people he’ll be criticizing.

Maps to the Stars began as a screenplay by Bruce Wagner, who turned it into the novel “Dead Stars” after the project fell through, then re-adapted it into a screenplay when it was picked up again. The New York Times described Wagner’s novel as, “Stomach-turning, sick-making, rancid, repugnant, repellent, squalid, odious, fetid, disgusting.” Sounds right up Cronenberg’s alley.

13. 22 Jump Street

16-22-jump-streetI’d forgotten just how much I loved last year’s 21 Jump Street until I bought and re-watched the film on a whim during Black Friday. It is a truly hilarious movie, one of the funniest I’ve seen in a while, with its self-aware sending-up of the action genre. The film also did some really clever stuff portraying the generational gap between this and last decade’s high schoolers, which spoke to my funny bone more than even the passing years ever could.

Its sequel presents a similar premise, with Schmidt and Jenko (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) heading to college to find and bust up a new drug ring. I love the fact that the film unabashedly revels in the absurdity of its new title, being named as such simply because the cops now occupy the church across the street. My only concern is that the original screenwriters aren’t present, but luckily its directors are, so hopefully 22 Jump Street won’t fall victim to the typical comedy sequel pitfall of, you know, completely tarnishing the original film (ahem, Hangover).

12. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Andy-Serkis-as-Caesar-in-Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was easily the best Apes film since the 1968 original, effectively relaunching the dormant franchise by going back and telling the backstory behind the simians’ takeover of Earth. It was smart about paying homage to the series’ legacy, while doing enough of its own thing to justify its own existence. One of the best surprises of the year was hearing the familiar, “Get your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” followed by Caesar’s bellow of, “NO!” All I remember thinking was, “oh shit!”

Now it’s four years later, and the hyper-intelligent apes have been training and populating the forest where James Franco left them. The humans are now contemplating war against the apes to take back their land. How will the apes continue developing their speech? Will they start using obscenities? Have they perfected their British accents yet? Either way, with some likely incredible effects work from WETA and a motion-captured Andy Cerkis, let’s hope newbie Apes director Matt Reeves can keep this fire stoked.

11. The Expendables 3

expendables-2-logoTo call the Expendables films a guilty pleasure would imply some sort of guilt. I am completely, totally, unabashedly in support of Stallone’s biennial teaming of the best and boldest action stars for one big, fun ass-kicking session. And this time around the roster additions are even more impressive: Wesley Snipes, Jackie Chan, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Antonio Banderas round out an already outstanding ensemble of action veterans.

Behind the camera is Red Hill director Patrick Hughes, an interesting choice, one which matches Stallone’s desire to inflict the series with new blood. Let’s just hope the casting of several pretty-boy nobodies won’t take the focus off the more established actors who better deserve the pat on the back. Let’s also hope this isn’t the last we see of Stallone’s franchise; with stars like Nicolas Cage (sought out for this installment, eventually replaced by Kelsey Grammar due to scheduling issues), Kurt Russell, and several other action greats who’ve still yet to enter the fray, it’d be a damn shame for Stallone to retire the team without giving them their time to shine.

10. A Million Ways to Die in the West

amwtditw2Last year’s Ted proved Seth McFarlane wasn’t just a capable showrunner, but a capable film director as well, seamlessly translating his self-referential, gross-out, 80s-referencing, gut-bustingly funny brand of humor to the silver screen. I can’t wait to see what he does with his latest, a parody of the western genre featuring a mess of celebrities in either major roles or cameos (Liam Neeson!). It’ll be a true test of McFarlane’s abilities, seeing if he can’t handle the bigger budget and star-studded cast. But with the way he gracefully took it on the chin during his  unfairly reviled Oscar hosting gig, I have no doubt McFarlane can pull it off. And hey, it can’t be any worse than the current state of his familiar animated cartoon show, which has long outstayed its welcome.

9. Maleficent

maleficent-watch-first-trailer-movie-angelina-jolieWith Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland pushed back to 2015, I’ve turned to another film for my classic Disney fix – this retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of its antagonist, starring Angelina Jolie in a role she is absolutely perfect for.

The film should prove an intriguing re-invention of the timeless Disney mythology. The spindle, the thicket forest, it’s all there thanks to production designer-turned-director Robert Stromberg, who also worked on Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a film which certainly can’t be faulted for its design. There’s also Beauty and the Beast scribe Linda Woolverton and DC Animated writer Paul Dini on scripting duties, both of whom are sure to bring something special to the film.

On top of that, the character herself was the stuff of my childhood nightmares. There’s just something  innately terrifying about her appearance on a very primal level, and the film’s trailer already showcases a doozy of an exchange between her and Aurora:

“Don’t be afraid!”

“I am not afraid.”

“Then come out!”

“Then you will be afraid.”

*shivers*

8. Gone Girl

gone-girlLately I feel as though I’d been unfair to the subject of my first full blog-based review, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I should’ve better appreciated the film’s atmosphere, its slick mystery plot and unique character portrayal. I very much hope to be better singing Fincher’s praises on his next novel adaptation.

Fincher, whose talents are probably better suited here than on Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remake, will direct the story of a man searching for his lost bride from a script by the novel’s original author Gillian Flynn. I haven’t read the novel, but the promise of neo-noir-like themes of deception and paranoia between the couple intrigues me. It’ll prove interesting to see how Flynn chooses to adapt her novel’s way of revealing plot points entirely from the perspective of its leads (Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike). And on a side note, Affleck himself has been making some very smart career choices lately (Runner Runner excluded), so I have to give him credit for really growing up in a big way. This is definitely a film I’m watching out for.

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past

xmdofpIt wasn’t until very recently that I began to truly appreciate what director Bryan Singer had done on X-Men. Yes, I’d reasoned, the 2000 film rejuvenated the comic book movie. Yes, it spurred studios to begin taking pulp properties seriously. Yes, it balanced an effective ensemble. It also spawned a series that still hasn’t quite mined the heart of its source material, a series filled with blaringly obvious metaphors and thinly-drawn characters (read: walking sets of powers) in its earliest installments.

Now, I see and appreciate what Singer was doing. His films aren’t about the script or the characters. They’re about the staging, the gravity he lends to the proceedings, the real-world application he brings to the pulp, and the spot-on casting of these actors. With that in mind, I’m even more excited for Days of Future Past, which will not only unite the cast of Singer’s films with their younger, equally brilliant counterparts from First Class, but also boast a script that’s been toiled over by First Class’ Matthew Vaughn and Simon Kinberg. It all feels like one big culmination of everything the series has been building up to.

A dystopian future spurs Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to travel back in time to fix the past and save the present; I like this idea that out of ultimate despair, out of complete hopelessness, comes hope for the future. I also like the idea of Professor X meeting himself at a very different time in his life (as in the above image), comparing and contrasting the two Xs. Days of Future Past’s trailer provides a dark gravity the series hasn’t seen since X2, and could easily wind up being the best of the series.

6. A Walk Among the Tombstones

liam-neeson-filming-a-walk-among-the-tombstones-3Two Liam Neeson-starrers will grace the silver screen in 2014. The first is February’s airplane heist thriller Non-Stop from Unknown director Jaume Collet-Serra, which looks to be along the same silly, fun lines as the first Taken. The other is this, the long-gestating adaptation of Lawrence Block’s 10th Matthew Scudder detective novel about a retired cop investigating the rape and murder of a drug dealer’s wife. And while Taken sold me on the prospect of more action-centric Neeson vehicles (which even he doesn’t take seriously), it’s great to see such a talented dramatic actor bringing his considerable gravitas to something a bit more…well, serious.

The adaptation, to be helmed by writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) has been heavily praised by Block himself, who wrote, “I couldn’t be happier about either the star or the writer/director, both of them genuine artists and brilliant professionals. My book’s in good hands.” You rarely hear such a ringing endorsement from the author of an adapted novel these days, so I fully expect to enjoy my walk this Fall.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

capwsThe second Captain America faces an uphill battle. It must make up for time lost after the all-too-humble characterization seen in The First Avenger, better expanding on Cap’s authoritative voice as written in The Avengers. It must balance the blockbuster thrills of team-based conflict involving newcomers Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), while still depicting the more intimate inner turmoil of Rogers (Chris Evans), a man out of time who has lost both a lover and a best friend, forced to face a world he no longer recognizes. It must take audiences through the tragic arc of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), another sorely underdeveloped character in First Avenger. Most importantly, it must convince audiences that good-guy Rogers is as interesting a character as Batman or Iron Man. Indeed he is, in the comics anyway, which is why I’m happy to see the excellent Ed Brubaker-written Winter Soldier arc being translated to the silver screen. With “Community” directors Anthony and Joe Russo taking over for the safe, mechanical direction of Joe Johnston, Winter Soldier looks to be the smarter, edgier political/spy thriller to better tap into the heart of what Cap is all about. And finally, a suit that looks great and lets Cap’s ears breathe.

4. Interstellar

interstellar_lead-449006It’s a former Spielberg project back on track thanks to the Nolan brothers, and it’s just as shrouded in mystery as when it was last buzzing about. A 2008 draft of the script by Jonah Nolan suggests ties to black holes and alternate planes of existence, a fascinating prospect which should prove to be smart sci-fi material for director Christopher’s first venture into the genre.

I like Nolan as a filmmaker, but despite what Batman fanboys hailing him as god’s gift to cinema will tell you, he really isn’t at his best directing action. It’s the suspense, the intrigue, the sheer storytelling ability showcased in Memento and The Prestige that make Nolan special. Those abilities seem to have suffered a bit after the overwritten Inception and the underwritten Dark Knight Rises, both of which experienced overblown hype that may very well have gone to the director’s head. Still, with admitted influences in sci-fi greats Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick, Nolan’s own space odyssey has potential to be something truly special.

3. The Hobbit: There and Back Again

the-hobbit-there-and-back-again-postponed-until-december-2014-129368-a-1362124090-470-75There’s not much praise I haven’t already heaped on Peter Jackson and his team for their outstanding work bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit to life. The third and final installment of the trilogy will be their last-ever outing to Middle-Earth, making for all the more reason to be excited for the epic, bittersweet conclusion to Bilbo and the Dwarves’ saga.

As such, the storied Battle of Five Armies of the novel is sure to be the most epic of Jackson’s entire Middle-Earth saga. It’s a lofty expectation, given that these Hobbit films haven’t quite taken the world by storm in the same way the Lord of the Rings trilogy did. But they are a nice throwback to those films, showcasing a great mythology worthy of praise for WETA’s brilliant design work alone. Something tells me Jackson’s Tintin sequel and whatever other New Zealand-based projects the director has planned after ending his tenure with Tolkien just won’t compare.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

josh-brolin-sin-city-a-dame-to-kill-forDéjà vu…Robert Rodriguez’s highly-anticipated follow-up to 2005’s Sin City teased us with an official 2013 release date before the director revealed it was all a ruse to hold that date for Machete Kills. The film, which will take another year for its effects to be completed, will now see release in August, yet the delay has done little to dampen my enthusiasm for the sequel to one of my all-time favorite films. Everything I said in last year’s Most Anticipated post still applies, so there’s little I have to add to what will hopefully jump-start Sin City into a full-blown franchise. And I can’t be the only one who’s praying for Clive Owen to make a surprise reprisal of post-face-operation Dwight for the climax of the film’s title segment.

1. Knight of Cups

knight-of-cups-stillIt’s rare these days for any one film to completely blow me away, but what Terrence Malick achieved in To the Wonder was nothing short of spellbinding. I’m expecting equally big things from his next, a story of Hollywood excess starring two of my favorite working actors, Christian Bale and Natalie Portman, among a cast of equally impressive players.

As is sadly the standard with Malick’s work, the question of whether or not these actors will actually make the final cut is another matter entirely. Malick is notorious for shooting hundreds of hours of footage and constantly changing the focus of the final cut during his films’ lengthy post-production period.

Malick shot Cups simultaneously with his next, an as-yet untitled film about the music industry which starred, among others, Michael Fassbender, who recently expressed doubt he would make it into the final cut. Yet to read Fassbender talk of what a privilege it was to work with Malick regardless is telling enough. Truly, Malick’s meticulousness is the work of a master director, one who has spawned some of the most profound, intensely detailed, meticulously crafted films of the past half-century. As far as I’m concerned, he can take all the time he needs.

Happy New Year all! Expect my 2013 Top Ten list very soon.

Top Ten of 2012, Part II

5. Lincoln

Lincoln_Day-Lewis_ImmensePower_JPG_C[1]I’ve never been more surprised by my peers’ reaction to a particular film than I have been with Lincoln. My recommendation to them came with the postscript that they might find it dry or boring, as I expected many of them to come back and complain of falling asleep at the film’s more theatrical presentation. Yet even after my prodding, not one of them admitted to growing tired of the film, a feat that speaks volumes to Lincoln’s ability to engross. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is of course outstanding, in addition to an equally empowered supporting cast. Lincoln is easily Steven Spielberg’s best and most personal film in over a decade, and a fascinating look into a time when equality was desired, nay, desperately needed, in the face of a nation torn in two.

4. Argo

Affleck-Argo_thumb3Much has already been said of Affleck’s first real awards behemoth. Not only does it poke fun at the US government’s practical joke of a rescue operation, but it provides a serious, dramatic look at it too, an operation that still managed to save the lives of six Americans in need. As an actor, Affleck knows how to bring out the best in his cast, bringing an excellent script by Chris Terrio to life. It’s a great balance of art and entertainment that probably earned Affleck at least a Best Direction nomination. Next time for sure.

3. The Master

The-Master_thumb1I’ll be honest, I still don’t have a damn clue what much of The Master was all about. And yet, it is indisputably the work of mater director Paul Thomas-Anderson. If ever a filmmaker earned the title, “the Next Kubrick,” it’s him.

There’s more to the film than meets the eye for certain. We have a broken young soldier (Joaquin Phoenix) returning home after World War II, stumbling upon a mysterious scholar (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who sets him up with a strange religion he dubs, “The Cause,” in an obvious riff on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Is he crazy? A genius? Over the course of the film, we begin to question his methods. Even his son tells Phoenix’s character, “He’s making it up as he goes along.”

Rich in memorable imagery and boasting beautiful cinematography, The Master is one of the most layered experiences of the year. Paul Thomas-Anderson continues to be one of those rare filmmakers that regularly reaches into the ether and pulls out something spectacular.

2. Prometheus

Prometheus_Med_pod_11_12_12_thumb1What I hailed as Scott’s best film in the last decade turned out to be one of the most divisive movies of the year. I’m shocked, honestly; this is a bold, brilliant film filled with fascinating ideas, inspired design, and brilliant direction from a great filmmaker that hasn’t made a sci-fi movie in over a quarter of a century. No, it’s not the Alien movie most were expecting, but that’s part of what makes it so great – it’s evolutionary, using the template set forth by the 1979 film to tell a story with an even broader scope.

In my original review, I compared and contrasted both films, and honestly, I think I may prefer Prometheus a bit more. It has so much more to chew on, so much more story-based intrigue, than the mere “Thing From Another World” plot of the original. And that Medpod scene is outstandingly horrifying, another fascinating sexual/birth metaphor in the vein of the chestburster sequence of the original, that will be talked about for years to come.

Somehow I doubt a sequel will ever really get off the ground, what with the backlash, the film’s barely making back its budget domestically, Ridley Scott’s increasingly busy schedule, and unjustly reviled writer Damon Lindelof dropping out of the project. Still, great sci-fi these days is rare, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing a master of the genre back doing what he does best. If you haven’t already, check your expectations at the door and prepare to experience the finest 3D epic since Avatar.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

bilbo-x-large_thumb1Not many filmmakers can take us on a journey quite like director Peter Jackson. An Unexpected Journey is his grand return to Middle-Earth, and a welcome return it is. This is a film that faced many, and I do mean many pitfalls before even a single frame was shot. MGM’s financial troubles, issues with the Tolkien estate, a lawsuit over Jackson’s compensation for Lord of the Rings, and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, a self-admitted non-fan of heroic fantasy with radically different ideas for the film, signing on, only to drop out after pre-production stalled. All these things and more might’ve proved disastrous for The Hobbit, and yet, Jackson and his team of incredible visionaries have once again brought the magic of JRR Tolkien’s creation to life, transporting us on a fantastic journey that I can happily commend as one of the best films of 2012.

Seeing An Unexpected Journey finally come to fruition was a thrill for so many reasons. On top of Peter Jackson and Co.’s colossal effort, evidenced by the film’s incredible music, direction, sound, makeup, acting, and digital effects, I loved seeing so many classic scenes from the book brought to life. I could write forever about the endless visual and thematic brilliance of these movies, but suffice to say, this is a beautiful looking, thoughtful, emotionally satisfying experience.

Let’s briefly touch on 48 frames per second, since I haven’t yet shared my thoughts on the subject. I’ll say this: it wasn’t not good, but I wouldn’t watch the film again in the format. I’m a traditionalist, and while I have no issue with 3D or IMAX, 24 fps has given film a distinct, defining look over the years. It may not be the most up-to-date presentational format, but it does establish a certain mood that one can only get watching a movie. The new look, which takes some getting used to when at first you perceive things to be moving faster, simply doesn’t enhance the story in any significant way. Not to mention, in some respects, even Bilbo’s comfy, cramped Hobbit hole which we first saw in Fellowship of the Ring over a decade ago feels somewhat alien in the new format. The Hobbit has the unenviable task of re-introducing and re-immersing us in the familiar world of Middle-Earth we saw over ten years ago. By changing the format, you’re changing the look of the whole movie, and creating an unnecessary barricade for viewers who just want to return to the fantasy of the universe.

Still, despite having a few more kinks than the director’s earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly stemming from the fact that this is part one of a completely unnecessary three-part epic (seriously, two films is more than enough), the film is still a grand epic, infinitely charming, that has earned every bit of its success. Jackson hasn’t lost a beat, and he’s once again created an epic that Tolkien himself would be very proud of.

Top Ten Most Anticipated of 2013

 

It’s Heraldic Criticism’s belated one-year anniversary, and I’m once again kicking off the New Year with my top ten most eagerly anticipated films of the next twelve months.

You can expect my Top Ten list a bit later, as I still need to watch quite a few movies from 2012. Until then, enjoy my hopefuls of 2013!

10. Gravity

gravityConsider this a placeholder for all sci-fi films coming next year. Of the bunch, Alfonso Cuaron’s (Children of Men) long-delayed Gravity looks to be the most promising. While little is known of the actual plot, Gravity will star George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

 

9. Iron Man 3

iron-man-3-teaser-poster_cmykI was just as shocked as everyone at the more serious, less jokey tone of the trailer for the third Iron Man film and follow-up to The Avengers. But it was almost certainly the right way to go – the ballsy, epic feel aims to prove that serious shit can go down even in these heroes’ individual worlds. Among the film’s many draws are Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin, the armored avenger’s greatest foe, playing what could easily be one of the most memorable villains in years, and co-writer/director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) providing a healthy change of pace from the meandering Iron Man 2.

 

 

8. The Wolf of Wall Street

First-Look-at-Leonardo-DiCaprio-in-Character-for-The-Wolf-of-Wall-StreetMartin Scorsese’s follow-up to 2011’s Hugo sees the return of frequent leading man Leo DeCaprio for a 90s-set true story about a broker who refuses participation in a mafia-tied Wall Street. To say that the fifth Scorsese-DeCaprio collaboration would be one to watch this year would be a no-brainer.

 

7. The Counselor

ridleyLooking at director Ridley Scott’s body of work over the past decade, I’m thrilled to see him tackling anything other than another hackneyed historical epic. Prometheus proves the director still has it in him to direct a great thriller, and with a script from Cormac McCarthy, it seems he may be able to add another to his already brimming resume. And while I haven’t read the author’s work, both The Road and No Country for Old Men are fantastic. Topped off with an all-star cast, this could easily be one of the highlights of the year.

6. The Wolverine

wolverine_jackman_660If Fox’s recent track record is anything to go by, the mistake that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine is all but a distant memory. Using the outstanding Chris Claremont/Frank Miller miniseries as inspiration, the new Wolverine solo outing promises to get to the heart of the character like no movie before. Director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) will helm, citing a strong influence from films like The Outlaw Josey Whales. Spot on. Fox’s original choice to direct was Darren Aronofsky, a tantalizing prospect, but one which suggests a more A-list approach from the studio than in the past. Everything’s looking great, but what would really, truly sell me is the inclusion of the classic yellow-and-black suit in some form, provided it’s not ridiculous. Hey, they made it work for First Class.

5. Saving Mr. Banks

tom-hanks-as-walt-disney-in-saving-mr-banks-first-lookI can still point to Mary Poppins as one of the first films I ever saw, and one that inspired a strong bond between me and classic Disney. Some days, I still find myself humming Step in Time, We Love to Laugh, or Let’s Go Fly a Kite. As such, this Black List script-turned major awards contender is generating some serious buzz. I don’t know much about how the rights to the book were sold, but I’m very eager to hear the “based on a true story” version.

Plus, there’s Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Why not?

 

4. Man of Steel

1man-of-steel-posterI am terrified for this movie. This is Superman’s last chance at being a box office draw, and it’s clear WB have gone balls-out to try to make a movie as A-list as the character deserves. As I’ve discussed, the approach leaves ample room for failure, and yet, a universally reviled movie will be forgotten. Worse yet is the chance that the film will blow and STILL manage to find an audience, guaranteeing an inferior version of the character permeating throughout all Superman media for years to come (see Captain America: The First Avenger).

I’ve been inclined to dismiss the film entirely for reasons I’ve already mentioned – the bizarre casting, WB’s cluelessness of how to handle DC properties, writer David Goyer’s sketchy track record, and most of all, the choice of Zack Snyder to helm. That last one especially – this is a man that not only directed three flops in a row for the studio, but arguably hasn’t made a good movie yet. Or at least one absent of the director’s trademark soulless, thoughtless visual ejaculate better suited to car commercials than the greatest superhero of all time. Top that off with DC Comics’ own misguided reinventions of the character, including a military presence that portrays the character as more Hulk than hero, seemingly being used as a partial influence. Suffice to say, there is more than enough potential for this movie to be dead on arrival.

The latest trailer, while still largely just an HD version of the leaked Comic-Con trailer from last July which I praised, polarizes me. Distracting faux-artsy flair, blinding high contrast, borderline pretentious musical selection…it’s all so completely unnecessary to simply telling a great Superman story. If they go with such a self-serious tone, trying too hard to go beyond the pulp roots of the character, they may very well end up with something even more moody and unpleasant than Superman Returns.

Having said all that, this is still Superman we’re talking about, and isn’t Superman all about hope in the face of certain doom? I’m optimistic for perhaps a more modern silver screen take on the character in spite of my better senses. In the end, this is a movie that will live and die based on how well it tells its story, not its overwrought presentation, looking to be a retelling of the character’s origins from a more grounded perspective, and perhaps treating Superman as if he were a real thing. It’s more important the filmmakers do the character justice and tell a meaningful, compelling story than stage a scene with a sun setting in the background and let the mindless, drooling masses hail it as “visionary.”

There exists plenty of potential for a great Superman series, on par or better than even The Dark Knight. And for what it’s worth, I have no reason to complain just yet. Consider my words more of a defense mechanism brought on by failures like Green Lantern. It’s all still, so to speak, up in the air.

3. The Lone Ranger

MV5BNDczODgyMjYzNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQ1OTU1OA@@._V1._SY317_Growing up watching Star Wars and playing Cowboys and Indians with Legos kind of gives one a false perception of what a western really is. Case in point, watching The Searchers for the first time after learning of its influence on the latter film, expecting Star Wars in the old west, leaves one bound for disappointment. I’ve since grown to appreciate the genre through films like Unforgiven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, but I’ve never lost the desire to see a more fun, kinetic (and well-made) western blockbuster. I get a sense that The Lone Ranger may very well be that film.

Here’s another yarn from my childhood – back in 2003, I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean at a drive-in and was suddenly infused with purpose. Film was where I wanted to be, and Pirates had everything I loved about blockbusters and more – an epic feel, great characters, explosive action, memorable writing, solid direction, and a score I’d be humming for years to come. Ten years later, watching The Lone Ranger trailer left me feeling that, maybe, that pure Disney magic I’d felt at seeing such a brilliant, fun, original film had returned.

Many will still scoff at my lofty placement for such a seemingly ho-hum summer tentpole, this grittier reimagining of an old radio hero. And sure, there have been valid concerns over the out-of-control budget and a first draft that boasted werewolves and other oddball supernatural occurrences. I still say the chance that The Lone Ranger delivers on its promise to do for westerns what Pirates did for pirate movies outweighs them. Verbinski looks to have delivered some breathtaking shots, and lines like, “There come a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask,” are already infinitely memorable. Not to mention, the good sense of humor Pirates had in droves appears intact. I’m not expecting a masterpiece, just a fun time at the movies like I first felt all those years ago. Hi-ho indeed.

2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin-City-A-Dame-to-Kill-For-teaser-posterEight years after 2005’s revolutionary Sin City, the sequel is finally arriving. It’s high time, given that the stories being adapted for this film also overlap with those of the first. And already, both former players Brittany Murphy and Michael Clarke Duncan have passed, making perfect continuity with the first all but impossible. By any account, eight years was eight too many.

One of the greatest adaptations of all time, the first Sin City brought comic writer Frank Miller’s magnum opus to life and stood as director Robert Rodriguez’s greatest achievement. The visual style, the faux-noir dialogue, the style, the look…I love just how dark and dour this world is, and how many opportunities for great storytelling it yields. Adapting further tales from the depths of Basin City, A Dame to Kill For looks to be more of the same inspired CGI-based filmmaking, and hopefully not too far from the look of the first as Rodriguez suggests here.

Naturally, Frank Miller’s co-direction and co-writing of the script, which includes two original Sin City stories, leaves plenty of room for question. As great as the writer was in the 90s when the Dark Horse series was at its peak, the man’s work in the past decade has devolved into self-parody at best, twisted abomination at worst. Luckily, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Departed William Monahan was on hand to rewrite Miller’s draft, so pray A Dame to Kill For is more in the vein of the first than The Spirit.

The fact that the film adaptation didn’t explode into a full-fledged franchise is nothing short of a crime. Depending on how this film goes, let’s hope we won’t have to wait nearly as long for the third.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

hobbit-desolation-smaugNo surprises here. An Unexpected Journey was excellent, a grand return to the kind of epic storytelling we’ve come to expect from director Peter Jackson. Though the trilogy conceit is a bit much, and even Unexpected Journey suffered from a meandering, over-elongated script, the second installment should prove to contain even more titillating moments for fans of the book. Among those will be an appearance from Smaug the dragon, voiced and acted via motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbacht (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). And as someone who regrettably skipped through the appendices of Return of the King when I read the book as a kid, I’m also very eager to see more of the Necromancer and how it all ties in to Lord of the Rings. In any case, more is not at all a bad thing.

Men of Iron, a Raccoon, and a Hobbit: San Diego Comic Con 2012 (Day Three, Part II)

 

SDCCRR

Continued from Part I.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

The highly-anticipated Warner panel kicked off with a look at Pacific Rim, the latest in a series of long-gestating projects (hell, the guy was actually attached to all three of the following films at some point in their development) from director Guillermo Del Toro. The footage screened at the panel was described by ComingSoon as “impressive” and compared to a live-action Iron Giant. The film is reportedly about giant robots, able to be controlled by humans, fighting giant monsters.

I’ve never been a fan of Godzilla movies so it hasn’t really been on my radar, honestly. Some of Del Toro’s decisions are already just flat-out baffling…what exactly is Charlie Day doing in this movie? For that matter, what is his appeal to begin with? I actually read a very interesting interview with Del Toro after the panel that I found much more satisfying. Next were WB’s two big surprises: a tease of the new Godzilla movie in development, and Will Ferrell and Zack Galfinackis’ The Campaign. the latter two comedians showed up in person. The comedy looking pretty funny in trailers I saw, so I may check it out. Really, by this point, I was too busy itching to hear about Man of Steel to really pay much attention.

Finally came the moment I was really holding my breath for, out of both fear and excitement. Director Zack Snyder is sub-par at best, flaunting his lack of appealing style or substance and generic slo-mo trademarks as “visionary”. Hearing that he would be directing the next movie to feature my favorite superhero nearly two years ago was devastating, but I couldn’t bear to overlook this rare first look at the new movie. The full panel is available to watch here, sans footage, which itself is apparently NOT the same footage attached to The Dark Knight Rises this week. I actually got a chance to see the footage separately in a blurry, distant, recorded version online, and after seeing the other trailer in front of TDKR, I’ll have my reactions written up and posted within the next week or so.

superman-man-of-steel

Amidst Snyder’s most awkward moments were playing it vague when posed with a question about the film’s villain General Zod, something long been confirmed by others involved with the production. But perhaps the most awkward bit was when a sobbing fan came up to the mic and could barely even ask his question, he was so “emotional” over the footage. I’m sorry, I’m as big a fan of these kinds of movies as the next guy, but to quote William Shatner, “get a life.”

Someone also asked about the potential for a future Batman/Superman or Justice League movie. Snyder answered expectedly that they needed to see how this film turns out before they start thinking about it. And understandably so; if you ask me, after Green Lantern WB should be sitting around a desk figuring out a new approach before they move forward and potentially ruin any more of these properties.

Then came The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with director Peter Jackson coming onstage to introduce both a new video blog of the production and over 12 minutes of footage from both this film and Part 2 in 2013. The footage was not screened in the film’s native 48 frames per second and 3D, but 2D and 24 fps as is the standard. After a screening of 48 fps footage a few months back the received a thrashing from bloggers, Jackson claimed he wanted the content to be on display first and foremost. FirstShowing called it “cold feet”, and I’m inclined to agree with them; I want to see what people have to say about 48 fps so I know what format I should be seeing the movie in for the best possible presentation. A film like The Hobbit doesn’t need the approval of the Comic-Con crowd to be successful, so the team really should’ve just gone for broke. Granted, filming in 48 fps on such a huge film like this, where the goal should be more about replicating the feel of the Lord of the Rings trilogy’s presentation than anything, was a huge risk to begin with, but whatever.

148260480PB00028_Warner_Bro

The panel, which can be viewed here, followed the screening. Cast members like Ian McKellan and Andy Cerkis came on, as well as surprise guest Elijah Wood. Many commented on just how outstanding the footage looked, and even blindly, I have to say that I have nothing but positive things to say about the production thus far. Peter Jackson really does go above and beyond for his films, and everything from The Hobbit is looking fantastic. One fan asked about a Silmarillion movie, which Jackson replied by talking about the other books being owned by the Tolkien estate and that they “don’t like these movies at all.” I’m familiar with the legal entanglements The Hobbit had to go through thanks to the estate, and all I have to say is…fuck those guys.

Overall, Warner’s panel was hugely improved from when they last held it back in 2010, if only because they have three fantastic films coming out next year. But even more excitement was yet to come…

Marvel Studios: Iron Man 3

The last major event of the Con has experienced so much rampant speculation over the last several months that the main topic of conversation it’s even Iron Man 3, but what’s coming afterward. And Marvel was eager to oblige, revealing at the panel (available here) that Thor 2 (now Thor: The Dark World) and Cap 2 (now subtitled “The Winter Solider”) were in development. I can’t say I’m particularly enthusiastic about the latter; Joe Johnston and the Narnia screenwriters completely butchered any meaningful build-up to Bucky Barnes’ return, so it’s obvious the film isn’t going to have nearly the impact that its comic counterpart did. Besides, Cap needs some time to get re-acclimated to the modern world and really reflect on what he’s lost before being thrown into such a personal conflict.

Marvel also revealed their fourth upcoming film, Guardians of the Galaxy, and revealed some concept art of the team:

2012-07-14-marvel_guardians02-533x474

Which is…weird. I haven’t read any of the comics, but I think Marvel has gravely misinterpreted the commercial viability of some of its properties. We’re talking about a little CGI raccoon as a character here; it’s far too cheesy and obscure to really appeal to a mainstream audience. Are there no other, more viable properties like Black Panther or Doctor Strange ready for production? I have a hard time believing anyone outside of Comic-Con, including a credible director, would be able to take this property seriously enough to want to be involved in it, let alone watch it. Either way, best of luck to Marvel on getting through this with their credibility intact.

And just before the main event, director Edgar Wright showed up onstage to offer a brief update on the seemingly endless development process on Ant-Man. “I’m taking the Terrence Malick approach to super heroes,” he jokes. I don’t think the crowd even knew who Terrence Malick was. Wright proceeded to screen some test footage he shot recently in preparation for the film, which has received unanimous praise online for making the whole shrinking/growing dynamic work. Sadly, the film did not receive a release date, but my guess is that after his next film The World’s End, Wright would have more than enough time to deliver the final film around late 2014 or early 2015.

Marvel, ever knowing of how to play to the crowd, brought out Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr. following that and immediately rolled new footage from Iron Man 3. From the descriptions, the footage sounded pretty cool, and Shane Black’s writing and direction has me more excited for the project than I ever was for the last two films. But what is up with that armor?

Iron-Man-3-armor-1-550x733

It looks so…yellow. So weird. The Marvel tools on the company’s liveblog assured us that the armor would look better in action, but even director Black acknowledged people’s criticisms according to ComingSoon. Still, I’ve grown tired concerning myself with such trivialities; the film itself is looking good.

Producer Kevin Feige, Shane Black, co-star Don Cheadle, and former Iron Man director and Happy Hogan actor Jon Favreau. Surprisingly, having Favreau on the panel wasn’t awkward in the slightest; the actor seemed very pleased to be taking a backseat this time around and even compared himself to a “grandfather” who “gets to play with the baby” without having to “change the diapers.” From the descriptions, it seems his character Happy Hogan will actually quit being Stark’s bodyguard, a humorous parallel to the director’s own departure from the franchise.

Black heaped praise on the villain of the ensemble, Ben Kingsley, playing the Mandarin, the Joker to Stark’s Batman. The production is halfway through filming, and Black was quick to slip in that the film wouldn’t be bogged down by its characters like Spider-Man 3 was, which got a laugh from the crowd. The panel featured quite a few funny moments from Downey Jr. and Cheadle, especially one bit on how long it takes them to get into their respective suits. Be sure to watch the video above, it’s well worth it.

 

Stay tuned for my Day Four post as Comic-Con begins winding down; I give my overall reactions to the festivities and more!