Monday, March 2, 2015

A Peek Through the Hatch: Robert's Most Anticipated Films of 2015

It's time to look at my most anticipated films for 2015 the rest of this year! And what a crazy year it'll be! New James Bond, Avengers, and Star Wars films, not to mention a new film in the Jurassic Park franchise?!? Am I dreaming?

There are a lot of honorable mentions I could go through, but why bother? This year is jam packed with cinematic goodness, or at least, the promise of it. Oh, and by the way, picks 10 - 6 don't have a particular order, but 5 - 1 are truly my most anticipated movies of the year. Thanks in advance for checkin' 'em out.

10. The Martian (November 25, 2015)

Based on the book by Andy Weir, The Martian will follow Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. With Matt Damon in the title role and Ridley Scott at the helm, this flick sounds like a winner. This would probably rank higher if I'd read the book. Speaking of, here's an unofficial (?) trailer of sorts for the novel:

9. Spectre (November 6, 2015)

I don't know about you, but Skyfall was my favorite Bond film since Goldeneye. So the fact that Skyfall director Sam Mendes is returning to the director's chair for Bond's next adventure (keep in mind no one has directed consecutive Bond films since John Glen's run in the '80s) is amazing. Monica Bellucci as the Bond girl! Christoph Waltz as the villain! Sign me up!


8. Poltergeist (July 24, 2015)

A lot of things are screaming at me about having this on my list. It's a remake. It's supposedly more of a kid's film. But dammit, Poltergeist is one of my favorite movies of all time and Sam Rockwell - the dad in this Gil Kenan directed Sam Raimi produced installment - is never not good. And check out this trailer:

Doesn't look half bad, right?

7. The Fantastic Four (August 7, 2015)

To be completely honest, this movie probably wouldn't have cracked my top 10 until the trailer finally (finally!) came out. There were those rumors that it would be found footage and there was no shortage of oddities about the story and production (Von Doom is now a blogger or something? Director Josh Trank was destroying sets?) Let's hope this is better than the Tim Story flicks and WAY better than the Roger Corman movie.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15, 2015)

Look at this goddamn trailer!!!

5. Tomorrowland (May 22, 2015)

Ah, the mysterious Tomorrowland. Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and Starring George Clooney, the film has been described as "Harry Potter but with science". We haven't seen much besides the excellent trailer below, but maybe that's a good thing.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December 18, 2015)

I'm more of a Trek guy, but there's a lot to be excited for about The Force Awakens. The return of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher is fantastic, the film boasts an impressive group of new actors including Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, and speaking of Trek, J.J. Abrams - director of that franchise's reboots - traded in the Enterprise for the Millennium Falcon and The Force Awakens' directors chair. So we'll see. And this trailer? Oh, this trailer.

3. Jurassic World (June 12, 2015)

I absolutely love Jurassic Park, so this flick is a no-brainer for my #3 spot. We aren't getting human/dinosaur hybrids, but there is some genetic manipulation at play here, a logical step for the series. A fully realized park was also a brilliant idea for a sequel, and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard are fine additions to the series' cast. Speaking of, hopefully Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm and/or Sam Neill's Alan Grant show up?

2. Ant-Man (July 17, 2015)

I was beyond upset when director Edgar Wright abandoned this flick, but I'm still excited. Why? I'm glad you asked...

  1. Oscar winner Russell Carpenter serves as the film's cinematographer.
  2. Word is there are some flashbacks to Hank Pym's (Michael Douglas) tenure as Ant-Man, which could show us the likes of Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Pym working together.
  3. Adam McKay and Paul Rudd worked on the script. Sure, this is infinitely worse than Edgar Wright, but it could be worse.
  4. Paul Rudd! He wasn't my first choice for Ant-Man, but I think he'll be awesome as Scott Lang.
  5. Marvel! Let's not forget, this is Marvel. Remember last year? Winter Soldier? Guardians? Big Hero 6 (now an Academy Award winner)?

And even if this film isn't great, he'll still show up in Avengers movies down the road.

1. Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)

Yep, the first movie was at the top of my favorites list for 2012, so of course I'm excited for this sequel. Watch out for our countdown series with The Nerd Lunch Podcast crew. I'm very interested in seeing what Whedon's done with these characters, both individually, and as a group. When they're not partying, they'll be fighting Ultron and I'm excited for both.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Countdown to Avengers 2: Thor: The Dark World

We're counting down to Avengers: Age of Ultron with Nerd Lunch and Cavalcade of Awesome! Each month leading up to Ultron's release on May 1, we'll be reviewing a different aspect of Marvel's Phase 2.  


CT from Nerd Lunch and I tackled Iron Man 3 last month, and now it's time for Pax and I to take a look at Thor: The Dark World.

Beware spoilers for Thor: The Dark World and potential spoilers/speculation regarding Age of Ultron.

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World picks up after the events of Thor and The Avengers. Our titular hero is establishing order in the Nine Realms now that the Bifrost has been restored. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), now studying in London with Darcy (Kat Dennings), is done searching for Thor and is trying to get over him. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in prison. We see him interact with a hologram of his mother Frigga (Rene Russo).


So not only has much changed for Thor and his friends and family since the last film, a new villain is on the scene: Malekith, the Dark Elf. Long ago, Malekith tried to obtain the Aether, a powerful relic that can essentially destroy the galaxy and restore darkness to reality. This is bad. What's worse is that Jane of all people manages to stumble upon the Aether and becomes imbued with its powers. Thor reunites with Jane (who's very upset at him for not doing so earlier) and whisks her off to Asgard. Malkeith follows and the rest of the film is Thor battling Malkeith for the Aether.

It might be because I just rewatched this film, but it's the Thor franchise that makes me want to see more Marvel character interaction. I'd love to see Anthony Hopkins' Odin interact with Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man or Chris Evans' Steve Rogers, for instance. I think that's a testament to these characters and actors. Some of the relationships in this movie are really quite fantastic. In a nutshell, Marvel's first family is fractured. The relationship between Loki and his mother Frigga is pretty heartbreaking here. She's one of the last connections he has outside of his prison cell, and when she's killed, Loki is devastated. An especially nice touch is when Thor goes to see Loki after her death. The trickster appears calm and collected, but when Thor questions him, Loki drops his holographic facade and reveals that he's disheveled and destroyed his cell in a fit of rage. Another great relationship is that of Thor and his father Odin. The All-Father wants Thor to take the throne and Thor still passes it up. Also interesting is that Odin and Thor have essentially swapped stances on war in this movie. Thor simply craved war in the original film because he was a spoiled brat, however. Here, Odin seeks vengeance for the death of Frigga.

The strongest relationship in the film is that of Thor and Loki, of course. Hiddleston turns in a particularly fine performance. His death (which comes after protecting both Thor and Jane and avenging Frigga) not only validates Hiddleston's role in the movie, it sort of validates Hemsworth as well. The two actors play off each other with ease.

Another great aspect of the film is the visuals. The opening shots of the elf/Asgardian battle on Svartalfheim is pretty fantastic. The visuals and production design sort of reinforce the fact that Thor and his people are more aliens with advanced science than gods. One of my favorite visual effects sequences in the film is the final battle between Thor and Malekith, not just because of their portal jumping, but because Thor's hammer Mjolnir is flying around desperately looking for Thor, almost with a life of its own.

There are plenty of connections to The Avengers for fans to enjoy here. The Bifrost is restored sometime before the start of the film, which we know was still damaged in The Avengers after Thor and Loki's battle in the original Thor. There's a lot of fallout from The Avengers. We see the repercussions of Loki's actions on his entire family. Dr. Selvig (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) is now essentially crazy after Loki's brainwashing and the Battle of New York (the good kind of crazy, however - running around in your underwear, that kind of thing). In one of the movie's funnest moments, Loki briefly takes the form of Chris Evans' Captain America.

I'm sure - like me - you're wondering how Thor will fit into Age of Ultron. For one thing, I've heard a rumor that Jane and Thor didn't work out after The Dark World, so we'll have to see how that plays out for the God of Thunder.

I've also heard that Thor winds up in Asgardian hell and I guess Thor: Ragnarok will be him getting out. Maybe he goes to Asgard to get help to fight Ultron and Loki throws him in hell (where he discovers Odin has also been a prisoner?).

One thing I'm hoping for is that we see more of a Thor/Captain America bromance. Stark and Banner already have their "science bros" thing going on, so it only makes sense that Thor and Cap have something similar (muscle bros?). The brief part in the first movie where the two teamed up to fight Chitauri on the streets of New York was fun, and they seem to be friendly at the glimpses we've gotten of the party scene in the Ultron trailers. The fact that Cap almost picks up Mjolnir while a (briefly) worried Thor looks on in the trailer is something else to consider.

Thoughts from Pax at Cavalcade of Awesome...

I saw Thor: The Dark World in the theater just before it left and then I saw it again when it hit Blu-Ray. I actually quite liked it the first time I saw it but the more I moved away from the viewing my stance changed. I didn't remember why I liked it and the only thing I could think of was that Natalie Portman acted as if she didn't really want to be there and that they completely wasted the potential of Christopher Eccleston as Malekith.

So, I was not 100% looking forward to my re-watch for this countdown. But watching the film again, I am completely swept away by the charisma of the movie's cast. Hemsworth is simply a revelation when he's playing Thor. He's amazing. And I don't think I need to harp on how great Hiddleston is as Loki. And having these two team up for a "buddy" movie was a great idea. But it doesn't stop with them; Jaime Alexander, Zachary Levi and Ray Stevenson as Sif and the Warriors are also awesome. I want a Sif and the Warriors Three movie. STAT. Make that happen, Marvel. We even get to see Rene Russo and Idris Elba punch out tiny bits of awesomeness in this movie. It's also nice to see Kat Dennings' intern character come back. I had so much fun watching the movie this time and it's all based on the amazing cast.

Coming back to the bad part? Malekith. Completely wasted. Not too surprising since we keep getting visually amazing but ultimately hollow villain characters with very muddled motivations in almost all of these Marvel movies (I accuse you, Ronan the Accuser). And Natalie Portman is not great in this, but she isn't as bad as I remembered. It helps that she's gorgeous in nearly every scene that she's in.

Overall a very enjoyable movie that for some reason I forgot how fun it was to watch. And the humor was much more prevalent than I remembered as well. Not sure why I lapsed a bit in my Thor worship, but I'll be sure not to let that happen again.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Favorite Scene Friday! The French Connection: Catch the train

Last week, Will took some time to discuss a scene from Black Narcissus, a beautiful, slow-moving, dramatic moment that focussed on the relatively small action of someone applying lipstick. This week, continuing February's Oscar-Month, I'm looking at the polar opposite to that scene; 1972 Best Picture winner The French Connection's car chase.

Police detective Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) has just had an attempt made on his life by a sniper (Marcel Bozzuffi), who is making his escape on an elevated train across New York City. Doyle commandeers a car and sets out to chase the gunman down, but unfortunately he hasn't banked on the sheer volume of New York traffic in his way, leading to my favorite car chase committed to film.

What makes this scene spectacular isn't necessarily what's involved in the scene, but more the much-documented way it was made, in that most, if not all, of the segments spent careering through the oncoming traffic were filmed without permit or permission. All those cars coming in the opposite direction, narrowly avoiding potentially fatal collisions, are not manned by stunt drivers or set on rails, those are real people going about their day, unwittingly embarking on the most dangerous journey of their lives. I don't condone this kind of thing, but it harkens back to a grittier, more visceral time when studios were less terrified and took more chances. Think of Robert Redford running along the top of a moving train in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or all the antics Buster Keaton almost killed himself doing. Sure, nowadays we get Tom Cruise climbing the side of the Burj Khalifa in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but it's not like he wasn't wearing a harness, and that scene took a great deal of meticulous planning. To hear The French Connection's director, William Friedkin, describe it, the scene shown above was made almost on-the-fly after he criticised stunt driver Bill Hickman's unsatisfactory attempts to produce a chase to Friedkin's liking. Friedkin himself operated the camera from the back seat as Hickman drove through the streets and across the intersections, as the director claimed that, should anything untoward have happened, his two regular cameramen both had families, whereas he was single with no dependants.

All the dangerous shots were made in one 6 block stretch, reportedly travelling at around 90 mph without stopping (although the actual footage in the clip doesn't seem quite as extreme as that). The only thing present to warn the other drivers to get the heck out of the way was a police-style siren on top of the car, and the only way a city official allowed them to crash the elevated train was by giving him a $40,000 bribe and a one-way ticket to Jamaica, because he knew he'd get fired once his superiors found out (which, according to Friedkin, is exactly what happened).

This guerilla film-making approach left the film makers with a limited amount of footage to work with, so the chase sequence is a real feat of editing, inter-cutting between the camera in the car, over Bill's shoulder (standing in for Hackman as the driver), the camera mounted to the front of the increasingly demolished car and various shots of Hackman, presumably driving at a much safer speed without endangering quite so many people not insured to work on the film, mashing at the pedals and pounding on the horn, but it all cuts seamlessly together in a highly kinetic, pulse-pounding way. And that's not even mentioning the fragments going on aboard the speeding train, as the assassin hijacks it, holding the driver at gunpoint whilst dealing with the guards attempting to apprehend him, resulting in a shoot-out and train crash. 

I don't blame today's directors for not utilising the more dangerous methods of making movies, and I can say for certain that if I were a film-maker, I'd be doing it in the most conservative, safest, most boring way possible, but that doesn't mean I can't reminisce about the old days, when schedules were pre-padded to allow the time the actors might spend in hospital. There's something more intense about watching a scene that feels spontaneous, that is missing from the perfect sheen we see on today's blockbusters, and I miss that.

What's your favorite scene from The French Connection

 AND what's your favorite dangerous movie moment?