Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Disney Renassaince Part 8: Hercules

Do you remember Aladdin? Sure you do - fun Disney movie, critics loved it, big hit with the public, memorable comedy from famous movie stars. And it was notable in being a rare Disney film that was arguably a bigger hit with the younger male audience than the girl demographic that historically responded so well to princesses like Ariel, Belle, and Cinderella.

The House of Mouse never forgot Aladdin either, and if there's one thing they were obsessed with during the Disney Renaissance, it was trying to make lightning strike twice. So in 1997, they took the formula that had worked so well for the Arabian Nights and applied it to Greek mythology.

With varying degrees of success.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: A Fun-But-Bloated Journey

Short version? It's good. Just make sure you approach it on its own terms - this isn't The Lord of the Rings (nor should it be) and luckily the film mostly remembers this. But even so, your mileage may vary.

Long version...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

PACIFIC RIM is the next "Big Thing."

I was pretty sure of this when the curtain was pulled back from this one prior to San Diego Comic-Con. Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labryinth) making a movie about giant robots built to fight giant monsters? Huge budget and marketing push from WB prior to a prime mid-July 2013 release? That got me excited on a level usually reserved for stuff like "Someone's making The Lord of the Rings as a live-action trilogy."

And now it's on the horizon, and IT. LOOKS. AMAZING.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Waiting for Superman

Warner Bros. has a bit of catch-up to do. With the help of director Christopher Nolan (a brilliant outside-the-box gamble they have yet to repeat), the Batman franchise wasn't just brought back form the cinematic graveyard, but the rebooted series became one of the most successful trilogies of all time. But their plans to do the same with their OTHER heavy hitter didn't turn out quite so well.

Admit it, when was the last time you thought about Superman Returns?

And now, in a post-Avengers world, WB is keen to get their own superhero team project out of the gate, but before that can happen, there's a question that seems to be at the forefront of their minds.

Is there still a place in the world for Superman?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott's Man on Fire and beyond

Between 2004 and his untimely death in 2012, Tony Scott made five films, four of which were collaborations with Denzel Washington. The two had worked together before in 1995's Crimson Tide, but now began a streak of films that combined Scott's decades of experience as a studio blockbuster veteran with a much more kinetic and experimental visual style.

Here are three of those films, starting with. . .

Friday, December 7, 2012

Star Trek: Why So Serious?

One could make a solid case that - after Iron Man 3 - J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness is the most widely-anticipated release of Summer 2013. And for good reason. The 2009 Star Trek reboot was a smash hit with audiences and critics, raking in over $250 million at the US Box Office. And this success is mostly due to the fact that, while the movie lacked the philosophical undertones and narrative complexity of classic Trek, the cast had great chemistry and the director brought a great sense of fun and energy to the proceedings.

The result was a big, fun, colorful blockbuster, the sort of rollicking sci-fi adventure that led some to nickname it the best Star Wars movie in decades. I personally enjoyed it a lot, especially after the dreary slog that was 2002's Star Trek Nemesis.

Which is why I'm somewhat perplexed and a little worried that the sequel seems to be chasing the dragon of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movies. . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 7: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Time for some personal history. After The Lion King and Pocahontas, I took a break from Disney in the theater. Partly because of my disappointment with those two films, and partly because I was starting to "age out" a bit. I'd gone from being a wide-eyed young lad square in the midst of Disney's target demographic to a jaded pre-teen, sneering at the attempts of a bloated corporation to capture my attention. Even worse, I was reading, so when I heard that Disney was going to tackle the literary milestone The Hunchback of Notre Dame for their 34th animated film, I turned up my nose and skipped it in theaters altogether.

A major mistake as it turns out. Several years later I watched it on a lark when it came on TV, and I was absolutely enthralled, captured by a visually and aurally masterful presentation of a powerful and surprisingly adult story. Blew my socks off.

Cards on the table - a large part of the reason I started this retrospective was for an excuse to write about this very film.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Let the Sky Fall - James Bond is Back!

I think it says something grand about the film industry and Hollywood in particular that you can still get absolutely floored by a franchise that's a half-century old. James Bond has been through the Cold War, the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the digital revolution, and now lives in a world of global terrorism. He's driven outrageous cars, fired uncountable weapons, visited seemingly every corner of the globe - you'd think there wouldn't be any surprises left in 007.

But you'd be - if you'll excuse the expression - dead wrong.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. . . Looks Sexist as Hell

There's been this interesting trend of genre films that fall squarely into the category of "sounds like a joke but is totally a real movie" making the rounds in Hollywood recently. Sometimes it works, producing something as singularly ridiculous-but-hilariously-enjoyable as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But sometimes you get movies like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a movie that seems cut from a more blood-soaked end of the same cloth as Van Helsing.

A movie that just released this red band trailer. (content warning!)

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 6: Pocahontas

By 1995, Disney knew their business. Their animation department had risen from the ashes of the 80's and had become a commercial and critical powerhouse, and they'd gotten very good at assembling the parts needed to produce a hit. For their 33rd animated film, Disney went big, went bold, delving into history to create a story of environmentalism, cultural tolerance, peace, and the temporary and hollow nature of material wealth. A noble effort with the best of intentions.

Of course, you know what they say the road to Hell is paved with. . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Age of High Adventure

In a fairly dramatic turn of events, Universal has taken the Conan franchise from a property eagerly rebooted (which fizzled in last year's tragic remake of Conan the Barbarian) to courting the original Conan himself in an attempt to resurrect a direction the franchise was set to take before a certain fateful election in California.

Yep, Arnold Schwarzenegger is apparently back in the loincloth.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 5: The Lion King

This movie was HUGE. Rather than the traditional holiday release, it opened in the middle of summer and went on to be the highest-grossing animated film of its time (a record it held for nearly a decade). Many people would say that the quality of the Disney Renaissance - and maybe all of 2D animation of the last generation - peaked with The Lion King.

Short version? It didn't. Not even close.

Long version? Okay. . .

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Good Day to Die Hard

Die Hard is one of the greatest movies of its kind - arguably the greatest "pure" Hollywood action film ever made. The fact that it was also phenomenally successful ensured that there would, of course be a sequel. . . or three. And while none of them are as good as the first, they're all entertaining enough, and even seemed to be improving as the franchise went on. Yes, I'm one of those people who thinks Live Free or Die Hard is not only worthy, but freakin' awesome and even better than Die Hard With a Vengeance. Especially in its unrated version.

Only now they've gone and made another sequel and set it in Russia. No, really. It's even embedded after the jump:

The Darkest Knight of All

I'm probably done writing about Batman for a while after this, but I've had this particular piece - or versions of it - gestating for a very long time now. Now seemed as good a time as any to write this article, partly because Batman has kind of had a big year at the box office, but more because Batman: The Animated Series celebrated its 20th anniversary on the 5th of last month.

And next year will mark the 20th Anniversary of what may be the Caped Crusader's best film ever.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott's Enemy of the State

The late Tony Scott was many things during his roller coaster career - a visually arresting pulpster, a slick studio action director, an experimental genre auteur, but as he began to re-invent his directing style near the end of the 1990's, he proved himself to be something else: surprisingly prescient.

In 1998, Will Smith was one of the hottest superstars on the planet, and after two audience-friendly sci-fi action films he made move of teaming with Tony Scott character-driven R-rated spy thriller. It was written at the dawning of the digital age, and predicts - with some seriously scary accuracy - the ubiquity and power of global surveillance technology and ease with which it could be abused.

I'm not being sensationalist at all (or at least not without reason) when I say that Enemy of the State predicted the Patriot Act.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 4: Aladdin

Fairy Tale adaptations marked the beginning of the Disney Renaissance. Hardly surprising, as this type of story having been synonymous with Disney animation since Walt's first feature film, and so it was rather fitting that it formed the cornerstone of the first few years of the late 80's/90's comeback. With The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast the House of Mouse went for a classical tone - they may have been mixed with modern technology and sensibility, but the films more or less played it straight. And were aimed with laser focus at the younger female demographic.

With Aladdin, all that changed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott's Revenge

Late this summer, movie-making lost one of its most influential and interesting voices when Tony Scott unexpectedly took his own life. The man was - by all accounts of those who worked with him - honest, encouraging, self-deprecating, and friendly in a gruff and course way. His career took off as a highly sought-after studio director, then after a few years began to experiment with the scripts he chose and - a bit later - with his entire style of film-making.

In the first two parts of this memorial retrospective I examined two of his slightly more mainstream offerings, but here we'll find a much darker film. Revenge was a movie made after a string of Scott's successes, and near the height of actor Kevin Costner's career - and the resulting film is somewhat out of step with the careers of both men. It's dark, depressing, and at odds with itself. But at the same time it is, like much of Scott's work, undeniably fascinating.

I don't think that it's Tony Scott's masterpiece as Quentin Tarantino has been quoted as saying, but it's certainly impressive in its own way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Defense of Popcorn Entertainment

So the suckers - I mean, the editors at WHATCULTURE! have seen fit to inflict my latest article upon the world. This one goes a bit far afield - I stated earlier that I'd try to alternate "lighter" pieces (basically fluffy hit-bait that is fun to write) with more "serious" in-depth works, and this one ended up being a bit more of a plunge than I expected.

Hopefully, it's worth it, but you can judge for yourself - the link is after the jump:

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 3: Beauty and the Beast

If The Little Mermaid kick-started a new public love for Disney animation, then this next film launched it into orbit. It shouldn't have been as successful as it was, considering its tumultuous development. Swapping out directors, bringing in a musical team well into production, a schedule and budget that paled in comparison to that of its predecessors. For all that, it transformed into a beautiful film, a cultural touchstone, and a gorgeous story that became the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture.

Of course, that film is Beauty and the Beast.

Final Check-In - A Library Action Thriller!

A good friend of mine had the crazy idea - sprung from her job - to create a trailer for a mythical action movie set in a library, full of homages to junk Hollywood action flicks as well as filled with librarian in-jokes and settings. This was shot in a couple of days, guerrilla-style with limited equipment, make-shift locations, and no budget whatsoever. It's rather amusing.

And not just because I play a hulking henchman in it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Okay Warner Bros., Here's the 1st Step of Your Justice League Movie

You'll love it - it involves Batman. I know you want to keep the Batman money train alive even in the aftermath of Nolan's record-breaking Dark Knight Trilogy, and I know you want to instantly get audiences hyped for the Justice League movie you're so keen to make in the wake of The Avengers taking the world by storm.

So here's how you do both...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

About Those Interesting Developments. . .

In a rather sudden turn of events, I'm a semi-legitimate contributer to entertainment web site Whatculture.com. My debut article "After The Dark Knight Rises and Harry Potter, What's Next For Warner Bros?" can be read HERE. It's exactly what it sounds like - post-franchise profit pontification (yes, I like alliteration).

So how'd that happen?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Release Dates and Titles for The Hobbit Trilogy confirmed!

You can look forward to completing your journey with "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" on July 18, 2014. According to Latino Review, the third film of The Hobbit Trilogy will be releasing on the very same juicy mid-July date that The Dark Knight occupied in 2008 (a window that, between Nolan and Potter, Warner has had "dibs" on ever since). So WB has at least one sure-fire mega-hit that summer. Which, judging from the release schedule for that year posted on Box Office Mojo, they kinda need. A lot.

By the way, am I the only one who finds it odd that The Hobbit Trilogy will release on Fridays rather than the yearly Wednesday dates used by the LOTR trilogy? If they held off until December 19th, they could release The Hobbit Part I eleven years to the day after Fellowship. I dunno, just seems a bit odd to pass up publicity like that.

More after the jump...

The Disney Renaissance Part 2: The Rescuers Down Under

In the story of the Disney Renaissance (the legendary animation comeback of the late 80's and 90's), there's one film that's always lost in the shuffle, glossed over in favor of its more successful - or more controversial - movies of that period. In fact, when starting this retrospective, I had to correct myself on what year it was released (1990 incidentally).

The Rescuers Down Under was a rare beast, a direct theatrical sequel to one of the company's animated films (the first time Disney would do this, and the only time until they released Pixar's Toy Story 2 in 1999). A much cheaper version of this kind of animated sequel would become standard fare for bad Home Video releases during the latter half of the decade, and well into the 00's. This saturation of junk product is a huge part of what diluted the Disney brand to a dangerous degree before Pixar more or less took over, and nearly killed the company's animation department all over again.

Which is a shame, because The Rescuers Down Under really deserves a better legacy than that. Incidentally, don't be surprised if this installment runs a bit longer than Part 1, because while the film itself may have been modest, its history and what it accomplished in the medium are anything but.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott's The Last Boy Scout

Continuing the theme from last Tuesday's post on Crimson Tide, I'll be covering another Tony Scott film in memory of his recent passing. This time we'll be examining something a bit more uncomfortable, a bit more confused, more violent and foul, but possessing a certain genius in calamity and cynical comedy. It showcased a character type that Bruce Willis would revisit many times AND features a rare great performance from one of the Wayans brothers.

Let's explore the trashy magnificence of The Last Boy Scout.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Disney Renaissance Part 1: The Little Mermaid

So at the end of the 80's, a funny thing happened: Walt Disney Studios' animation branch, which had been all but destroyed in the wake of box office duds like The Black Cauldron, came back with a couple successful movies leading to a film that became a modern classic, revitalized the company, and - for better and worse - helped change the face of animation forever.

The Little Mermaid.

This is something I've thought about and danced around doing for quite some time now, even though this particular subject has certainly had its share of coverage from far more qualified people (if you haven't, check out the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty if any of this sounds remotely interesting). As a child of the 80's I grew up during this time of transformation/rebirth. The rise from the ashes of Disney animation played itself out right as I was smack dab in the middle of their target demographic, and not coincidentally, I quite like a lot of the films this era of Disney produced. So I want to write about it. Also, I'm thinking that alternating this with Tony Scott entries will make the whole blog a bit less depressing.

With that in mind, I'll spend ten posts discussing the ten films that are recognized as making up the Disney Renaissance, from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan. Needless to say, these might run a bit on the long side.

So without further ado, let's dive under the sea.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Memoriam: Tony Scott's Crimson Tide

As many of you are aware, Anthony "Tony" Scott (younger brother of the renowned Ridley Scott), a British-born Hollywood director, died from an apparent suicide on August 19th. While I can't claim any personal tragic stake in the death of a total stranger, losing an artist is always a terrible thing. Especially when such an artist has enriched your life to any measurable degree.

There's also the little fact that Tony Scott helped change the face of action film-making in the industry in no small way with films like Top Gun, and continued to heavily experiment with his own directorial style well into his 60's, a time when most directors start taking fewer risks. It would be easy to dismiss his accomplishments, especially in the face of his older brother's resume, but this would be a mistake.

So in memory of him and his accomplishments, I'm going to revisit some of his hallmarks, starting with the runner-up for his single best movie - 1995's Crimson Tide.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

This is one of the hardest movies for me to write about in recent memory.

 For the sake of posterity, let me say up front that I enjoy Christopher Nolan's Batman films a hell of a lot. Batman Begins was incredibly impressive, but its successor just knocked my socks off. I LOVE The Dark Knight. It was far and away my favorite movie of 2008, I was every bit as upset as everyone else when it was snubbed at the Oscars, and I maintain to this day that it is - more than any other - the movie that gave a certain amount of legitimacy to the comic book genre (though Whedon's Avengers has now legitimized it as MULTIPLE genres). It made for interesting and stimulating discussion, made a conscious choice to shake things up and not just play by comic book "rules" and explores some really interesting material. All in addition to being an enjoyable movie.

Which is why it really bums me out that The Dark Knight Rises is ONLY a pretty enjoyable movie.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Depressing Spider-man

Once upon a time in movie-land, Sony had the rights to one of Marvel's most popular comic book heroes and put a film into production. They hired a director who had very little blockbuster experience, a lead who had one or two roles that gained him interest from critics and discerning audiences but was nothing close to a movie star yet, and a cast full of reliably great character actors. The result was a good movie that not only made money, but managed to capture the elusive "feel" of the classic Spider-man comics that made the character so enduring.

Unfortunately, that movie came out 10 years ago - the new one is pretty crap.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BRAVE is a Home Run

Even if it's not an unqualified Grand Slam. Baseball metaphors!

If you want proof that Pixar gets graded on a curve - and a pretty steep one at that - look no further than the critical reaction to Brave. Any other animation studio on the planet not named Studio Ghibli - including Disney itself - would KILL to be able to turn out a film as good as Brave. Especially after all the problems the film faced during production. Make no mistake, Brave is good. It's very close to great in fact. It has fantastic emotional highs because of well-drawn and believable characters (who have enough flaws to make their arcs compelling but enough merit to make you root for them in the first place), it has thrilling set pieces, and some amazing comedy.

But that's not all. . . though it could have had a bit more.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a great joke. A brilliant one really. It trusts its audience enough to know that they - of their own free will - bought tickets to a movie called ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. So instead of obnoxiously winking at the audience, it plays it earnest (key difference from "serious"). Which is FUNNIER. For anyone who's seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (and if you haven't, stop reading and watch it now), you'll know that it never had an insipid character making "Hey, look at how funny it is that the normal people and the cartoons are IN THE SAME WORLD" comments toward the audience every 15 minutes. It expected the audience to be on board rather than transparently pointing out the obvious for a cheap gag. Ghostbusters had a similar attitude, as did Galaxy Quest - though those were comedies, the humor was character-based rather than trying to ridicule their own premise. Because again, that's funnier.

Abe Lincoln gets this, and it's rather refreshing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dark Knight and the Bush Endorsement Myth

Okay, this is something that's needed addressing for, well nearly four years now, and as much respect as I have for Devin Faraci as a nerd culture columnist, I feel that his recent article on why the Avengers has been so resonant with audiences has quite a few mistaken assumptions and/or interpretations regarding The Dark Knight.

So let's just clear that up, shall we?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

BluRay Assemble!

So The Avengers is coming to BluRay and DVD this September, according to JoBlo's feature-filled article. Earlier than I might have thought (shrinking release window ahoy!) but we already knew it was coming. What we didn't know - for sure - is what kind of feature set we could look forward to.

Well, there's good news and bad news.

Friday, May 18, 2012


So remember when I said that I considered most of the "Avengers review ground" to be already covered? Serious oversight on my part, as one person who had not weighed in completely on the film was a person who I consider one of the most well-versed, insightful, and downright entertaining film/culture critics on the net.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Film's Mightiest Heroes

As a film enthusiast, I'm somewhat torn. On the one had, The Avengers is pretty much THE thing happening in the world of movies and the world of geekdom at the moment, and there's a lot I feel compelled to write about in regards to it. On the other hand, the one thing I don't want to do on this blog is go over the same ground that other (arguably much more talented and definitely more public) critics/commentators already have.

Frankly, the Escapist's Bob Chipman and BADASS Digest's Devin Faraci between them cover pretty much any and all "is it a good movie?" ground that I feel needs covering. So rather than bothering to write up yet another standard review of this film (as if there weren't enough of those) I'm instead going to offer a few things that I've noticed during my (3 so far) viewings of The Avengers, and a few reasons I think that has resonated so well with audiences.

Needless to say, as this goes into a great deal of detail, there will be plenty of SPOILERS.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Every Action Movie Can Learn From 1938

What does it say about the state of American action films that most of them still need to attend a few lectures from The Adventures of Robin Hood 101?

So back in 1938, Warner Bros. released what was at the time the most expensive movie they'd ever produced, a lavish production of the Robin Hood legends shot in full-color photography and staring the up-and-coming Errol Flynn. . . and in doing so cemented the blueprint for a perfect action movie. One followed by the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, and The Matrix, but not nearly enough others.

As was sometimes the case under the old studio system, two directors ended up headlining the project: William Keighley and Michael Curtiz (of Casablanca fame) shared credit on the film, the latter responsible for the now-legendary action sequences. And while plenty of other directors have aped some of the movie's trademarks (such as the Chatty Swordsmen or the iconic Dueling Shadows), most seem to have forgotten the care that went into the rest of the film to make a truly perfect action film.

So here are some Cliff's Notes:

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Retaking of Mass Effect 3

Okay, so I know I'm not the only person on the internet to think that this whole business has been a giant cluster-cuss. Things have gotten so skewed and murky and loud on all sides that I don't think there's a "right" or "wrong" anymore. But there is something that I found a bit. . . well, unique. It'll take me a while to lay it all out, but I think it's fairly interesting.

Now I've gone on record already as saying I'm okay with the way Mass Effect 3 ended. Not thrilled (at least, not by the last 10 minutes or so - nearly everything else was orgasmic), but it felt. . . I guess "appropriate" for my personal Shepard. It also raised some questions and introduced some, shall we say, poorly-established wrinkles to the series in terms of how it chose to handle some story reveals and wrap up (or not) various plot and character threads. It definitely bears the hallmarks of either a confused or rushed ending development cycle (anyone who played Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is all-too familiar with this), and this is unfortunately a symptom of how game development has progressed this generation.