Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The First Purge trailer

Tonight is President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address. Those who were invited to the State of the Union may have noticed a slight misspelling on the tickets. Instead of Union, the tickets say "Uniom." I guess a guy who will say the word "bigly" on national television wouldn't mind if he calls tonight's festivities the State of the Uniom.

"The Purge" franchise has been an interesting social satire about our country adopting a law where one day each year, all crime is legal for twelve consecutive hours. Somehow, this law has brought unemployment and crime rates down. It's got an interesting hook, but I am just not sure this has become everything it could be. With that said, the movies get better as they go along, and James DeMonaco, who has written and directed all three "Purge" movies, edges closer to making the movie I believe he wanted to make in the first place.

On July 4th, a date that also seems perfectly timed, we will get the prequel to DeMonaco's story. He will only be a writer on this film, Gerard McMurray will take over directing duties. On this night of Trump's first State of the Uniom, a trailer for the film was released. We don't really see any footage, its just a faux commercial for Purge Night. Clever.

I'm not sure either date could be more perfectly timed if they tried.

This franchise has been fine, I guess. I don't have strong feelings for it one way or another. I don't think its really embraced its material in a fun or innovative way. It seems like Trump will be highlighted in the film due out this summer. I just hope heading into prequel territory doesn't set the whole franchise back. I usually hate prequels, can this one win me over?

The First "Ant-Man And The Wasp" trailer

The new poster for "Ant-Man and The Wasp" is above, can you find where they are?

I'll give you a hint: Those aren't smudges on your screen.

The new trailer for the upcoming film landed on the internet too, and while the heroes in this film maybe small, the trailer made a gargantuan impression.

If you wondered why Evangeline Lilly's "Wasp" wasn't a player in "Captain America: Civil War," you'll find out here. In fact, it looks like the story will kind of involve how Ant-Man's action in that film put the Pym family in some danger. It looks like Ant-Man might be on house arrest too, which I guess isn't surprising. I wonder how this will tie into Infinity War though, will this take place before Thanos lands on Earth? I suppose we'll see.

I like that this movie looks like it will once again be delightfully weird. The image of a giant Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser flying at a car full of bad guys? Yeah, that pretty much sold me on the movie. As if I wasn't already sold on the film. Wasp gleefully dodging a knife and our first look at her movements, wings and her "stingers" was pretty awesome too.

This looks super awesome

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Review: The story of National Lampoon's comes to stuttering life in "A Futile And Stupid Gesture"

A Futile And Stupid Gesture Review

I've got a serious question here, is the story of everyone who has ever been famous boil down to addictive drugs, cheating on wives and daddy issues?

It feels like we see this happen time and time again in all biopic movies. So much so, that it feels like all of these biopic movies begin to look the same after awhile. A poor person finds out they are very creative. They have parents who don't believe in them. Sometimes they are an outsider or they meet the right person at the right time for something creative. They fall in love and get married. They struggle to rise in their given field. They cheat on their spouse. Their spouse leaves them. They hit it big. They spiral out of control. They discover drugs. They shatter relationships. No matter what they do, their families never admit that their children did good. Somewhere in between, they meet a new spouse, one that reminds them that the newfound fame doesn't represent who they truly are. Am I describing every biopic ever made? Or every movie about fame? It sure sounds like I am.

"A Futile And Stupid Gesture" tells the story of the birth of National Lampoon. I knew that it was a group that made some funny movies released before my time. What I didn't know was that National Lampoon began as a magazine, along the same lines as Mad magazine. But highly controversial upon its arrival. It took some chances in its humor, and everybody except the American Nazi Party wanted to sue the company's ass off. National Lampoon was the brainchild of Douglas Kenney (Will Forte) and Henry Beard (Domhall Gleeson), two people who met at Harvard. Douglas never felt like he really belonged at Harvard, and he noticed he had a knack for making people laugh. He wanted to start a magazine, and he wanted his best friend to join him. After much persuasion, Beard agrees. Everything else I mentioned above more or less happens next, but I want to put more emphasis on the more.

I will say that Domhall Gleeson absolutely disappears into his role. He has a completely new voice, new look, and a new stature. I've never seen Gleeson do anything like this before, and its an impressive performance. I will also say that Joe McHale appears as Chevy Chase. You know how Chase has a very specific type of deep voice? A voice you'd recognize anywhere? McHale nails it, flawlessly. In fact, everybody in the movie does impressive work. The movie is full of recongizable, subtle comedic actors like Joe Lo Truglio, Matt Walsh, Matt Lucas, Finn Whitlock, Seth Green, Thomas Lennon, Emmy Rossum, Annette O'Toole and Lonny Ross. These are all actors who may not be the top billed comedic actors of the time, but they have always been strong in their past appearances, and they make a truly good movie here. Will Forte also does some good dramatic work here, as well as creating a good character here.

The thing that kind of blows my mind that the movie is barely funny. There is a huge collection of funny people in this movie, working with material as the beginnings of National Lampoon, and I didn't laugh very much. Even though there are some dramatic beats in the movie, the whole film is told as a joke. Martin Mull plays the narrator in the film, and he has a good time playing around with the cliches and tropes of having a narrator in any movie, and he's clearly having lots of fun. There is a fun tone to the film as well, I just wish that I laughed more.

It's weird that our biopics are starting to assert their own cliches. I am wondering if we've seen the most a biopic can produce, especially if that biopic centers on someone with Hollywood dreams. Is it true that what all these people do is have day parties with day drinking and snort cocaine and cheat on their spouses? Is that it? While the film is well acted, it does absolutely nothing in separating itself from the rest of the herd.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Four- "Thor" 2011)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Four


After “Iron Man 2,” superhero movie fans were treated to a vacation to Asgard in order to meet Thor, God of Thunder.

The year 2011 was going to be a big year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So much so, that it could have possibly decided whether or not the MCU would continue or not. We had “Thor,” which was easily going to be the weirdest of the MCU movies up to this point, and a month later, we would be getting “Captain America” who is the leader of The Avengers. These were the two most important Avengers to cast. These were the two Avengers that Marvel had to absolutely get right. There was no guarantee that they could get these characters right. How many A-list stars are over 6’5 and are built like Vikings? How many actors can perfectly embody the American ideal and the American spirit with no nuisance, no sarcasm or no tongue-in-cheek bullcrap? It was hard to imagine. I read lots of movie websites, and many people were trying to figure out who Marvel would cast as Thor and Captain America. For Thor in particular, lots of fans were suggesting any and all supertall actors. It didn’t matter evidentially if those actors were good or not, everybody just expected a tall actor because Thor is tall. Would it be possible for the studio find an actor who had some talent and be as tall as the dear God of Thunder?

Marvel struck gold when they found Chris Hemsworth. Up to that point, which was the year 2011, the only thing anybody really saw Chris Hemsworth in previously was “Star Trek.” In the 2009 film, he was in the first five minutes, his character quickly becomes captain of his ship once his previous captain is captured by Nero. He only appeared in the film for ten minutes, maybe five. But he was able to captivate the audience in his wee bit of run time. Here was a guy who had the ability to move an audience, to keep them engaged, and he just happened to be tall. As I said, they struck gold, and I think Marvel has realized how epically they hit that gold when they found and cast him. Thor needed to be a homerun, and he was not just a homerun but a grand slam. But with a tall good actor, could Marvel still get him to convey the very weird world of Asgard? Would there be a way that this actor could get the audience to believe in a world of gods and magic? There were some people on internet forums in 2008 and 2009 who thought that Thor shouldn’t participate in The Avengers, simply because his power base was so incredibly out there that they wouldn’t fit into the franchise Marvel was building. So far at this point, Marvel had put together Hulk and Iron Man. While both of those characters are rather comic book-y, they are more realistic and there was a tone to the movies at the time that was smothered in realism. So, there was no way that Marvel could get modern audiences to believe in this god of thunder, right?

“Thor” was kind of a magic trick that came together when Marvel needed it most. They needed to prove to the world how far they were going to take things, how far they were willing to expand the universe they were creating. They found a great Thor in Chris Hemsworth. They were putting together a stellar cast with Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore, and while I didn’t know anything about Tom Hiddleston at the time, I knew Hemsworth would be good, so I figured Hiddleston wouldn’t be that bad. (And boy it seems really weird saying “that bad” in regards to Hiddleston, since as far as villains go, he has emerged as the fan favorite.) But even with all this talent in front of the camera, something could still go wrong. Marvel hired Kenneth Branagh to direct the film, and that made me groan out loud when I read that.

Sure, it’s easy to think of Branagh in regards to his recent hit “The Murder on The Orient Express,” but before recently, I wasn’t crazy about Branagh’s films. I didn’t feel he could make a compelling “Thor” movie. When the first few shots from “Thor” started popping up online, I wasn’t impressed by the look of Asgard or the costumes. I was dumbfounded that everything looked so metallic and, dare I say it, cheap. The armor seemed exaggerated on all the characters, and it’s weird that the armor looked so cheap. I was hoping for a “Lord of the Rings” style look to the film. Heck, maybe something Shakespearean. Since Marvel was aiming for an authentic world, I figured we’d get an Asgard we’d believe in and I figured that this movie was sure to be a disaster. Mind you, this was all based on my initial reactions to the set photos and stills from the movie, it would be a year or so before seeing the actual movie.

When “Thor” was coming out, it was at the tail-end of my junior year of college. Once again, like with many of these Marvel movies, I was only days away from finishing another year at school. I couldn’t believe that my junior year was nearing to the close and that I was going to be a senior. Four years of college was flying by and I wish I had a way to slow the time down, it was falling off the clock at a rapid pace. During my freshman year of college, I had a friend named Pat, a guy I met on my floor during that year. We spent lots of time talking TV shows, sports, Stephen King and we found out fast that we both shared a mutual fascination for Thor. As the Thor movie was moving closer and closer into production, I was always discussing it with him, every step of the way. We’d been talking about this movie since freshman year of college, so I had no better a buddy to see this movie with. We picked a slow Saturday afternoon to map the movie out, and we went to go see it.

On the other side of the movie, I couldn’t believe how much of a naysayer I was when it came to Kenneth Branagh, because he made one great “Thor” movie. Chris Hemsworth proved that he was a perfect Thor, and I was certain that he would grow into a well-known, popular actor. All the problems I had with the look of the world of Asgard evaporated quickly. I ended up liking the world of Asgard. I wasn’t completely sold on the design of it, but there was an epic quality to the place, and I was engaged in the world. As I stated above, Tom Hiddleston also emerged as a talent. He is so incredibly good as Loki, and you all know that. If you’ve seen a single Marvel movie, you know how good Tom Hiddleston is as Loki. There is a reason why he’s a fan favorite folks, he completely made the role his own. Not only is the world of Asgard addicting to look at, but so was the world of Jotunheim, the world of the Frost Giants, who were some antagonists of the first movie. What’s amazing is that they pulled off exactly what they set out to do. The movie does a fine job of blending magic and science into one cocktail. Yes, the movie spends lots of exposition explaining the correlation between magic and science, but thankfully it works. This isn’t a movie that is constantly reminding the audience that they are watching a fantasy movie. There was not an obnoxious use of strange words. While I wasn’t crazy about the look of Asgard, I did like that it felt like a world that had been lived in. Much like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” Kenneth Branagh did a good job of creating a world that you felt like you could go visit if you found the right transportation. What’s really amazing that he created this world while also making it feel like a comic book world too.

As I rewatched “Thor” earlier today, I couldn’t help notice something about the action sequences of the Marvel movies up to this point. Not just “Thor” but “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.” At this point in superhero movies, the budgets weren’t as big as they are today, especially in the superhero realm. “Thor” much like the “Iron Man” movies” and “The Incredible Hulk” all featured some action sequences that I felt ended before they really began. I see so many people these days ridicule the older superhero movies, simply because there were things that they couldn’t pull off due to budgetary concerns. Marvel had to set up the world that they would use to make twenty other movies in, and they needed to take their time setting up this world and the rules of the world. Setting up these universes and the huge amount of world building makes the storytelling easier, so as the audience got more flexible in this world, the storytelling got better, chances started to be taken and yes, action sequences got more epic. You can’t really do that when you are setting up characters and worlds. It seems a little unfair to me to try to compare what came before with the now, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed and evolved so much, it just wasn’t capable of that right at the beginning of its birth.

What was most important about this first “Thor” adventure was setting up the world of Asgard and explain its relationship with Midgard AKA Earth. I felt like the movie did that. It had to find some great actors to portray Thor and Loki, and even though Hiddleston and Hemsworth were general unknowns at the time, they have grown to capable actors now, as well as homegrown celebs. (This may have just been a rumor, but there was some speculation that Marvel almost hired WWE superstar Triple H to play Thor, what the hell would that have looked like?) They made a movie that was both entertaining and fun and action-packed. It still had a story to tell though, and I think Branagh was able to juggle lots of things in order to make a good movie. He also created a fantasy world that felt real in a way. I think for the most part, “Thor” is a mission that was accomplished. What started as a huge gamble for the studio ended up paying off in spades and in royal flushes. Hemsworth set up a style for these movies that has payed off for his individual franchise as well as the greater MCU.

Join us next week as we head to World War II with “Captain America: The First Avenger”

For my look back at "Iron Man" click here!

For my look back at "The Incredible Hulk," click here!

For my look back at "Iron Man 2" click here!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dundee Announcement

My God. I can't believe this is a real thing.

Danny McBride. Chris Hemsworth.

The return of Dundee. The Crocodile Dundee.


Okay, this is just an announcement for tourism in the country of Australia. But it was certainly treated like a trailer. This idea, which was selling the idea that Danny McBride would be playing the son of Crocodile Dundee and Chris Hemsworth would be a tour guide was all just hogwash. But it had fans in quite the uproar over the past few days. I will even admit that I relieved this isn't a real thing.

You'll see more information on this during the Super Bowl!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review: "12 Strong" is a bombastic yet bright military movie.

12 Strong Review
The story told in "12 Strong" is a good one, a story ripe to be adapted to the screen. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, a "Task Force Dagger" team is sent to Afganistan to combat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The team consists of CIA officers and US Army Green Beret Operational Detachment Alpha 595 and they join forces with members of the Northern Alliance; a group of Afghans who stand against the terrorists. Together, they plan some unorthodox combat against the Taliban, and of the twelve Americans who went on the mission in Afghanistan, all twelve came back. Apparently, the Taliban considers it the worst defeat they've ever had. Around 2014, a statue of a soldier riding a horse, which was common during this battle, was placed at the site of the World Trade Center.

The military movies coming out these days, by and large, just don't compare to the movies we got in the twentieth century. Most military movies these days rely too heavily on jingoism and propaganda instead of genuine character development and storytelling. There is a fine line between action movie and realistic warfare that each of these movies must walk, and it seems there is too much action going on in lots of modern war movies. Sure, some are still good and worth seeing, but many don't compare to "Patton" or "The Longest Day" or "Platoon" or even "Saving Private Ryan" and I thought the best years of military movies were behind us.

I'd say that perhaps you can add "12 Strong" to that list of good modern military movies. Its packed full of great actors and they sure do their very best at making this count. On that fine line I mentioned above between action movie and realistic warfare, "12 Strong" plays tonally and visually correct, never tipping into straight-up action, but keeping the thrills high for the audience. It's a hard rope to walk, and director Nicolai Fuglsig and writers Ted Tally and Peter Craig (working from a book by Doug Stanton) is able to treat the material with a delicate yet strong hand at the same time. No easy feat that, and they deserve kudos for their work.

Fuglsig really got a great cast together, and they do outstanding work here. Chris Hemsworth is very good, even though I am not sure he totally ever loses his Australian accent, something he'll have to work on in future films. Michael Shannon just adds another wonderful performance to his already remarkable filmography. Michael Pena always does strong work, and his time in this film is no different. And the big discovery from 2016's "Moonlight" Trevante Rhodes proves that that film was no fluke. He's got some slight comedic chops in the film, but its never overused or out-of-place. The biggest discovery here is Navid Negahban, who plays the leader of the Northern Alliance who eventually has to warm up to the American soldiers. It's a fairly cliche story-point, but the actors involved do what they can to make it relevant, and I think they pull it off. Yes, Rob Riggle is in the movie, and no he's not his usual self. Which I think is a good thing.

It's not a perfect movie. There are some cliches here and there are prominent in most military movies. On the surface, perhaps some will say it is your typical military movie. But the work put into this film is well done in the slightest way that it put itself up high on the list of modern military movies. The cinematography by Rasmus Videbaek is happily fitting, grimey and gloomy enough to set the right tone. The editing by Lisa Lassek does splendid work here as well, making sure there is absolutely no un-needed shaky cam shots in the movie, something I feel lots of military movies are guilty of. In a slow time at the theater as January is, this might keep you warm in these cold weeks.


90th Annual Academy Award Nominees

Welp, their in. The nominations for the 90th annual Academy Awards are finally in. Like many a year of Academy Award nominating, there are some surprises and some obvious snubs this year. Here's the full list of nominees:

“Call Me By Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Phantom Thread”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel,  Esq”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All The Money In The World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos, “Baby Driver”
Lee Smith, “Dunkirk”
Tatiana S. Riegel, “I, Tonya”
John Gregory, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Sidney Wolinsky, “The Shape of Water”
Roger Deakins, “Blade Runner 2049”
Bruno Delbonnel, “Darkest Hour”
Dan Laustsen, “The Shape of Water”
Rachel Morrison, “Mudbound”
Hoyte van Hoytema, “Dunkirk”
“Abacus: Small Enough To Jail”
“Faces Places”
“Strong Island“
“Last Man in Aleppo”
“A Fantastic Woman”
“On Body And Soul”
“The Insult”
“The Square”
Alexandre Desplat, “The Shape of Water”
Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread”
Carter Burwell, “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
John Williams, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Hans Zimmer, “Dunkirk”
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Darkest Hour”
“The Shape of Water”
“Beauty And The Beast”
“Beauty and the Beast”
“Darkest Hour”
“Phantom Thread”
“The Shape of Water”
“Victoria and Abdul”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2“
“Kong: Skull Island”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“War for the Planet of the Apes”
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Baby Driver”
“Blade Runner 2049”
“The Shape of Water”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
“Darkest Hour”
“Victoria And Abdul”
Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjani, “The Big Sick”
Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
“The Breadwinner”
“The Boss Baby“
“Loving Vincent”
“DeKalb Elementary”
“The Eleven O’Clock”
“My Nephew Emmett”
“The Silent Child”
“Watu Wote/All of Us”
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405”
“Knife Skills”
“Traffic Stop”
“Dear Basketball”
“Garden Party”
“Negative Space”
“Revolting Rhymes”
Some of the biggest snubs to me include "The Disaster Artist" only getting one nomination. I mean, I kind of get it. I figured with everything circling around James Franco these past few days, the Academy wanted to play it safe. But Casey Affleck went through the same thing last year, and not only got nominated but got the win as well. I think James Franco still delivered one of the years best performances, and I do kind of wish he got the nod, even if I do understand why he didn't. The most unbelievable sub in my mind is the little love for "The Florida Project." I mean, maybe I am just biased, since that was my favorite film of the year last year. But I figured, for all the buzz it created, that it would get more than one nomination, but Willem Dafoe absolutely deserves to be on the list. I also have to say, "The LEGO Batman" movie got totally snubbed in the Animated movie category, I'm sorry did anybody actually see "Ferdinand?"
"First They Killed My Father" got totally and utterly snubbed in Foreign Pictures this year. My goodness, my goodness.
Even though it didn't make my end-of-the-year list last year, and I'd even argue that there were some better horror movies of last year, I love that "Get Out" is getting the respect it deserves. It's still a great movie and this shows that the Academy really dug deep to choose their nominations this year. This gives me hope that certain genres won't get overlooked. I'm sure some will challenge and debate this decision this year, regarding the OscarsSoWhite controversy and whether it deserved it or not, but this is an important nomination whether you liked the movie or not. I was pleasantly surprised that "Logan" getting a Screenplay nod, that made me happy. I was unpleasantly surprised that "Kong: Skull Island" got nominated for Visual Effects, out of all the special effects-rich films we got this year, that landed an nomination? I think movies with better visuals should have been recognized. I loved the "Big Sick" and "Baby Driver" love. I wish "Blade Runner 2049" got a little more love than it got. With all the exposure it got this year, I am surprised "Wonder Woman" didn't get a nod in any category this year.
It will be a little longer before I make my final predictions, but I am willing to bet "The Shape of Water" dominates this year, and from those nominations, it should. It certainly should.
What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Three- "Iron Man 2" 2010)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Three

Iron Man 2

After “The Incredible Hulk,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe went back to Malibu, California to take a look at what Iron Man was up to. Not that I can be that surprised. If it weren’t for “Iron Man” being such a success, this huge franchise would not have been built. Of course, he got a sequel so soon.

When “Iron Man 2” came out in theaters, it was the weekend right before the last week of school. I was in college, it was my sophomore year and my girlfriend and I needed a break from studying for finals. Not the same girl I took to see the first “Iron Man” though. Nope, that relationship withered away and I met someone better in college. The girl I met in college went on to be my wife and this summer, we will be beginning to raise our first child together. So yes, this girlfriend was incredibly important to me, still is to this day. I couldn’t believe we were mere days away from being done with sophomore year and only had two more years of college left before we’d be done for good. It was a crazy prospect to think about. We were happy, and all we needed was a great superhero movie to go along with our happy buzz at the time.

When I walked out the theater at the end of “Iron Man 2” I remember enjoying the movie very much. I told all my friends about it. When I got back to my hometown for summer, I went with all my closest high school friends to see the movie again. I remember the conversations I had in my last few days of sophomore year, as well as the conversations I had in the early summer. They all seemed to revolve around the same topics. As I got older, I remember just how big those conversations were and I really began to sort out my feelings. Even after re-watching the movie last night, I still feel the same way. I have felt this way every single time I watch “Iron Man 2.” The conversations I kept returning to every time the movie came up was all the extra tidbits dropped in the film. The “Easter Eggs” as they were to be called in the future. The Easter Eggs were hints of other movies and other characters, and how they set up future storylines. There were some in “Iron Man” and there were some in “The Incredible Hulk.” If you missed them in those first two movies, it wasn’t a very big deal since they didn’t impact the stories of those films at all.

I won’t say that the Easter Eggs in “Iron Man 2” really impact the film’s plot, but they are so miraculously distracting that they take up all the air in the room that is “Iron Man 2.” The film feels so dependent on the Easter Eggs that it feels like nothing else really exist. This movie highlights the major problem that the Marvel Cinematic Universe possesses. Every once in awhile, for the sake of their larger storytelling, we have movies in the MCU that both tell a story regarding the main character, as well as setting up future storylines and movies. The movies end up feeling more like commercials for what’s to come, instead of being movies that can stand on their own legs, instead of being movies that tell a story about the character in question. This is heavily prominent in “Iron Man 2,” and unfortunately, this is not the last time we will be discussing this when looking back at the MCU at large. This problem is so abundant that I do worry if Kevin Feige and Marvel and Disney and all these incredible casts and crews can pull off what they plan to pull off in 2019 that is both creatively and commercially satisfying.

All I could really talk about when regarding “Iron Man 2” was the Easter Eggs. I loved Colonel Rhodes transition into War Machine. I loved seeing Captain America’s shield. I loved seeing more Nick Fury. I loved the introduction of Black Widow. I loved meeting Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell and Ivan Vanko, played by Mickey Rourke. I loved it when Tony Stark is digging through a crate that belonged to his father and seeing a map of the artic in it, and I always harbored the suspicion that Marvel toyed with the idea of including The Savage Land in the MCU, and who knows maybe they still might. I loved that one of the race cars in Monaco has Roxxon written on it. I also loved finding out that Phil Coulson got whisked away to New Mexico because he found Thor’s hammer there! I love that when Stark meets Fury near the end of the movie, news reel footage from “The Incredible Hulk” is playing in the background. Then there is the hotspot map that we are going to have to discuss into a paragraph by itself. It’s all so interesting, and I know there are things I am still not thinking of at the moment that are packed into this sequel. The only thing is, none of those things really have to do with Stark or his journey in this movie. But they became the main takeaways for most people while leaving the theater. When I saw this movie with friends, all they could discuss was the extra stuff, and we didn’t really talk about Iron Man’s journey in this movie.

I think its telling that when people talk more about the Easter Eggs of the movie instead of the movie itself, that “Iron Man 2” kind of failed as a movie. This movie should have taken another step forward in the journey of Tony Stark, first and foremost and all the Easter Eggs should have been extra. The Easter Eggs were so overwhelming in this movie that it was hard to focus on anything else. It also didn’t really help that there wasn’t much of a story to tell. If you don’t focus on the setting up of other movies and characters, and if you just focus on Tony Stark and his supporting characters and his villains, nothing much happens. There is a struggle between Stark and the government for his suits. Stark makes Pepper Potts the CEO of Stark Industries. A shady rival of Stark wants him to look bad and hires someone who wants Stark dead to help him and Stark gets drunk at a party. To be completely honest, that’s “Iron Man 2” in a nutshell. Whether they meant to do this or not, the dependency of the Easter Eggs become the only thing the audience can really hold onto.

I even admit that the film coasts on its amazing cast. Robert Downey Jr is still incredible as Tony Stark. Gwenyth Paltrow is still amazing as Pepper Potts. I have to say that Don Cheadle is great as Rhodes and now I can’t picture anybody else in the role. Believe me, I tried, I wasn’t sold on Don Cheadle when he was cast in 2009, mainly because I didn’t think he really looked like a soldier. I missed Terrance Howard, even though I knew in my heart why he got shit-canned. But I believe Cheadle in the role, and I can’t imagine anybody else in the role. Originally, Emily Blunt was going to play Black Widow, but she had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict, so the role was given to Scarlet Johansson. Johansson has certainly made the character hers and I can’t imagine the role in anybody else hands at this point, but I do find myself wondering what Blunt would have done in the role, simply because I like her. I was hoping Marvel would go back to Blunt for Captain Marvel, which sadly didn’t happen. I hope they go back to her for something in the future. Sam Rockwell was great as Hammer, and I thought Mickey Rourke was equally great as Whiplash, even though he’s kind of a lame villain, Rourke did what he could with the material he was given. It’s a miracle that Rourke was in the movie too. You see, back in 2009, Marvel was kind of cheap. They had trouble offering salaries to the actors they wanted to hire, and the word on the street is that they offered Rourke $250,000 to play Whiplash, but apparently he wanted more. So, it wasn’t for sure he’d play Whiplash. I guess Downey Jr ended up talking Rourke into it. I don’t know how much of these stories are true.

Let’s talk about the hotspot map for a little bit. In one of the last scenes in the movie, Tony Stark is having a conversation with Nick Fury about Stark’s inclusion into The Avengers. There is a semi-humorous moment when Fury wants Iron Man for the team, but not Tony Stark and he invites Stark to be a consultant for The Avengers. In the background, while news footage of “The Incredible Hulk” plays out, there is a map of the world. There are S.H.I.E.L.D. symbols on specific spots on the map, which apparently signal hotspots of activity within the universe.

One spot is on a spot in Africa, and its pretty clear to me that there was always a plan for Black Panther to be included in the MCU and I am happy that in just a few short weeks, we’ll be able to see the first “Black Panther” movie. I’ll talk more about Chadwick Boseman in the future, but let’s say for now that I am excited. Another spot was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I think it’s safe to say that, at one point, Marvel was considering a Namor The Sub-Mariner movie. For those of you not familiar with the comics, Namor is the prince of Atlantis and has served as a hero, an anti-hero and villain at different points in the comics. Universal still has character rights to some of Marvel’s characters, which is why we haven’t had another solo Hulk movie yet, Namor is one of those characters. So, I don’t know if we’ll ever see Namor in the MCU, and with Aquaman being an inaugural part of the DCEU, we definitely might not. Another spot is on the island of Manhattan. Some people thought that this spot is highlighted due to the Hulk and Abomination fight at the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” but since the news footage in the background is from the university scene, doesn’t that mean that Hulk and Abomination haven’t fought in Harlem yet? Others say that it is the spot where Tony Stark and Rhodes fight Whiplash for the last time, I think that’s the best answer. There is another spot in what looks like Greenland, which I think signifies were Captain America crashed at the end of his movie. There is a spot in the Scandinavian region of Europe, and some of theorized that this is the village that Red Skull gets the Tesseract from in the first Captain America movie. There is a spot in New Mexico, which I think means Thor’s hammer. And the last one is located in Malibu, but why would S.H.I.E.L.D. have to keep such tabs on Tony’s house? Because of all of his suits?

The hotspot map was one of the biggest theory-making moments in the movies and it further highlights my point I am trying to make tonight. “Iron Man 2” generated more theories about what’s to come instead of getting the audience to focus on the story about Iron Man. Perhaps the movie shouldn’t have been called “Iron Man 2,” but maybe “What’s next for the Marvel Universe” but perhaps that’s not fair. There is enough Iron Man-centric stuff in this movie to not have to go to the extreme. There is a tender moment when Tony Stark finally learns that his father loved him more than he ever thought, a moment that makes a great highlight of acting by John Slattery. There are some funny moments with Phil Coulson. There is a moment between Tony Stark and a United States Senator named Stern, who is the guy who wants to Stark to hand over his suits for the United States Army to use, and I looking back on it now, that scene has more meaning than we realized at that point. We’ll talk more about this when I revisit “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but its later revealed that Senator Stern was in league with HYDRA. Could Stern have been trying to get Stark’s suits under HYDRA control? I think its very possible.

It was a little shocking to me, rewatching the movie, how little action there is in this movie. I would say I liked the first “Iron Man” better than this because it was more fast-paced, more entertaining. There are slower moments in “Iron Man 2” and I think I could have appreciated those slower moments if they were filled with character development and depth, not an opportunity to include some fan lip service about another character. There is the moment on the Monaco race track, there is the duel between War Machine and Iron Man, and then the grand finale at the end. It feels like all of these action sequences are over before they really begin, and we don’t have time to really enjoy them for what they are.

I think the overt use of Easter Eggs didn’t become more prominent until 2015, when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was released. That movie made me realize everything I had been accidentally holding up inside myself about “Iron Man 2.” We will definitely talk more about it when we revisit “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In the near future. There are definitely moments I still enjoy from “Iron Man 2” and ultimately, it gave me thrill to rewatch it. I think that has to do with the idea that I hadn’t seen it in a while. To be honest, I am still amazed that with all the tension going on behind the curtain during the making of this movie, how they got anything on-screen is actually a minor miracle. But I believe “Iron Man 2” will be on a short list of MCU movies that I revisit the least for pleasure.

Next week, we take our first trip to Asgard, for "Thor!"

Review: "The Commuter" is a typical Liam Neeson movie

The Commuter Review
At this point, Liam Neeson has had an extensive career. He wowed us in such films as "Schindler's List," which is an experience I don't think I'll ever forget. He was great in such films as "Les Miserables," "Seraphim's Falls," "Star Wars: Episode One," "Kinsey," "Husbands and Wives," "Rob Roy" and "The Grey." He made us laugh in "Anchorman 2" and "The LEGO Batman Movie." He made a meaningful cameo in "Gangs of New York" and he made quite the mentor in Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies, "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Chronicles of Narnia." He was even pretty good in the wacky movies "Darkman" and "The A-Team." He seems like a smart enough guy, so I'v always wondered why in his late career he started making a name for himself in making the same action movie year after year.

Make no mistake about it, whether you have been to the movie theater to see "The Commuter" yet, let me just tell you, you've seen "The Commuter." Whether you realize it or not, you have. I promise you. If you've seen any of the "Taken" movies, you've seen "The Commuter." If you saw "Non-Stop," you've seen "The Commuter." If you've saw "Unknown," you've seen "The Commuter." How about "Run All Night?" Yep, you've seen "The Commuter." I don't see how anyone in their right minds could argue that any of these movies are different from the other, because their not. 

Liam Neeson is basically playing the same man in each of those movies listed above, and its no different in "The Commuter." In each of these movies, Liam Neeson plays an every day Joe Schmoe who is just trying to get home or is just trying to live a normal life, but gets pulled into an extraordinary situation, and must punch his way out of it. It is revealed to the audience that Neeson was secretly someone else, an invulnerable superhero if you will before becoming a Joe Schmoe. Why? So that the movie can explain why he's able to kick the bad guy's asses when the movie turns into action mode. Each of these films proceeds to Neeson into an abysmal "mystery" until he is able to figure out why he found himself in the said situation.

"The Commuter" is just like those movies, except its on a train! Whoopie!

If it's true that Neeson is planning to retire from action films after this, then I would gladly welcome it. I hope he starts making meaningful films again and not just these savage retreads just for the sake of monetary profit. He talks the same, he acts the same, and heck, he even fights the same in each of these movies, and "The Commuter" is no different. Heck, I think Neeson wears the same wardrobe from film to film, but don't quote me on that. It's the same movie wearing a different skin every year.

Sure, "The Commuter" wants you to think that Neeson was put into a strange situation by Vera Farmiga to explore sociology and how the mind works. But that's just pretty window dressing. The movie doesn't explain human behavior or human nature in any significant way. It's just an excuse to get Neeson into action mode. I am using the actors names instead of character names specifically because these actors aren't playing characters, they might as well be cardboard cut-outs, they only serve Neeson to get from point A to point B. Patrick Wilson, Sam Neil and Jonathon Banks all appear, but not with meaningful roles, just devices used to help Neeson tell some sort of a story, even if that story is half-assed at best.

What looks like a character study with an action beat about what someone will do for $100,000 only becomes a typical Neeson action movie. When we discuss Neeson's work in the future, and we will I am sure of it. His obsession with making the same movie over and over again will be a piece of his greater career that film scholars won't mind glossing over.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Most Anticipated Movies of 2018

I know, I know, there is only roughly two and a half weeks left of January, and I am just now getting to my Most Anticipated Movies of 2018. But hey, better late than never I always say. I do always like giving you ideas, giving people a heads up on everything that you might enjoy as far as movies go for the year. So as I always say, get your calendars out!

The Art of the Blockbuster
Every year, there are just those movies that will suck all the air out of the room. The year 2018 will be no different. Get ready for more superheroes, more sequels, more movies associated with an ongoing franchise, more world-building, more adaptations, etc, etc. I could go on and on. Sometimes it feels like we are starting to get sick of all the glossy product, but studios can still manage to keep churning them out. So, someone somewhere is doing something right. It's not all bad though, there are some mainstream blockbusters that I am absolutely looking forward to. Black Panther kicks off another exhausting, yet thrilling stack of Marvel releases, coming to theaters on February 16th. Then Avengers: Infinity War on May 4th. Then then the MCU films will conclude with Ant-Man and Wasp on July 6th. Non-Marvel Cinematic Universe movies will include Venom on October 5th, then X-Men: Dark Phoenix on November, finishing with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse on December 21st. Also being released on December 21st will be DC's Aquaman.

On the non-superhero side of things, get ready for more sequels and franchise-fair. There's Maze Runner: The Death of the Cure on January 26th. There's Fifty Shades Freed on February 9th. The remake of Death Wish will splatter the theaters in blood on March 2nd. A Wrinkle In Time will come the following weekend on the 9th, then Tomb Raider the weekend after that on the 16th. I know not everyone liked the first "Pacific Rim" film, but I did, and I am looking forward to Pacific Rim: Uprising on March 23rd. I've been powering through Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and highly anticipating the release of the movie on March 30th. Not sure how I feel about Rampage on April 20th, but on that same day, I will be first in line for Super Troopers 2. Deadpool 2 will dance into theaters on May 18th. We'll get the all-women Ocean's 8 on June 8th. I will be interested to see Incredibles 2 on June 15th. I am hoping to God its good, the first film is my favorite of the Pixar films, but their track record with sequels has been pretty poor so far. Jurassic World:Fallen Kingdom will come June 22nd, which looks like bland fair, but I never thought we'd get a sequel to "Sicario," but Sicario 2: Soldado will come June 29th. Early July will grace us with The Purge: The Island, and Hotel Transylvania 3 and Momma Mia! Here We Go Again! August will grace us with reboots/retoolings/reimaginigs of classic films such as The Predator and Scarface, and if you can imagine it, the first in the beginning of a film franchise based on Barbie. A new Robin Hood movie not connected to Russell Crowe will come out September 12th. A new Halloween franchise and a second "Jungle Book" adaptations titled Mowgli will be released on October 19th. Creed 2 and Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 will hit theaters on November 21st. The year will punch out in December with a "Transformers" spin-off called Bumblebee: The Movie and Emily Blunt's Mary Poppins film called Mary Poppins Returns.

The Weird and the Quirky
I am not going to only suggest franchise films, sequels, prequels, adaptations and world-building films. There is plenty of stuff, not associated with a current franchise, that will be worth your time I bet. Alex Garland's new film Annihilation seems like another engaging science fiction film, and he's putting together a stellar cast for it. That will be released on February 23rd. I think J-Law's upcoming, gritty spy movie Red Sparrow looks interesting, that will hit theaters on March 2nd. Thoroughbreds was an indie that made some noise at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. I didn't get a chance to catch while I was there, so I look forward to March 9th. Wes Anderson is one of those directors who, no matter what, I always get excited for new projects. I can't wait for Isle of Dogs, and his triumphant return to stop-motion animation, coming March 23rd. A Quiet Place looks like a different kind of horror film, and I look forward to that on April 6th. I've been drawn into the Cloverfield movies, and I am highly intrigued by God Particle coming April 20th. I watched a documentary last year about The Slenderman urban legends, and it was quite thought-provoking. I will look forward to the Slender Man movie coming in May 18th. Perhaps the thing I am looking forward to the most this year is The Happytime Murders, a different kind of muppet movie being made by Jim Hensen's son, Brian Hensen, with Melissa McCarthy, Joel McHale and Maya Rudolph starring. I'd ask you to seek out trailers for Like Me and Bodied, I think certain circles will be talking about those films once released.

Solo: A Star Wars Story was originally going to be released in May, now I think its moving to December. Mission: Impossible 6 is coming later this year, as well as a Benedict Cumberbatch-lead The Grinch. And I do wonder if Peter Jackson and his talented crew can make another big thing out of Mortal Engines, coming early December. The trailers certainly look promising. I think there are plenty of things I am not thinking of and I certainly don't know everything coming out. I always say every year that trying to predict your top ten of a year is next to impossible, and I just can't wait to see the year play out.

What are you most excited for?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Slow Start in January: It Happens Every Year

It happens every year.

I even made mention of it on Monday night. January is a slow start to the year of movies. That's not to say that nothing gets released. It's just that nothing of real consequence gets released. For some reason, January is a month where the studios take an ex lax and relieve their bowels, if you will. Unfortunately, the audience is the loser in that situation and every year, cinemas are flooded with crap. Sure, every once in awhile there will be a January release that surprises and astonishes, but that's as rare as winning the lottery.

Last night, I watched "Day of the Dead: Bloodline" which is a quasi-remake/sequel, but its not really, but sort of. All I was hoping for was a silly, stupid zombie movie, and what I got was a waste of time. I was so unimpressed by it that I couldn't bring myself to write about it. If I'm so appalled by a movie that I can't even bring myself to write down why I don't like it, then I hope that's a clear indicator on how bad it got my goat. It's lazy, its ugly, its predictable, and its poorly acted. Throw in a needless, sleazy, tension-less near-rape scene that feels forced more than anything else...god, it's the prime definition of "in bad taste."

January isn't all bad though, if you live in the Midwest like me, or somewhere which is nowhere close to New York City or Los Angeles, then all the big award-worthy movies are slowly trickling down to our neck of the woods. I am working on reviews for "The Post" and "Molly's Game" and I hope to have those published soon. Overall, I did fairly well as far as seeing the award-centric films of 2017 before the year was out, so that was a win for me this year.

But a slow movie month gives me time to work on other things for the site. I am gathering some good thoughts on my "Ten Years of Marvel" column, and getting ready to write about "Iron Man 2," and I am gathering thoughts on a special piece that I meant to write earlier, but didn't get to. I will be publishing that tonight.

January through March is usually slow for movies, but perhaps the February mold will break with "Black Panther" next month. That looks amazing!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sly Stallone teases Expendables 4

Sylvester Stallone loves hyping up his own projects.

He's actually kind of funny, when you think about it. Only because I truly think he's being sincere, but sometimes things don't always work out the way he says. Like a five-year-old kid describing their sixth birthday party, and they're imagining giant robots, and spaceships with trips to the moon, and getting a pet dragon. When in reality, their sixth birthday party ends with pizza, cake and ice cream.

When "The Expendables 2" was getting closer to release, Stallone gave a huge list of people who would be in the movie. He described that Bruce Willis' Mr. Church would turn out to be a villain, and that another CIA agent played by Charlie Sheen would recruit The Expendables to stop Church. The second Expendables film didn't quite end up like that. Nor did Vin Diesel, The Rock, Lorenzo Lamas, Jeff Speakman, Hulk Hogan, Carl Weathers or Ryan Seacrest (Yes, Stallone said he was thinking of putting Ryan Seacrest in a film) end up being the "Expendables 2." For "Expendables 3" Stallone said that Nicolas Cage, Jackie Chan and Milla Jovovich were on "fast track negotiations" to be in the sequel, which turned out be untrue. Oh, and for some reason, Stallone wanted both Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jean-Claude Van Damme to re-appear as twins of their villains they played in previous movies. Why? Not sure.

So yes, Stallone talks his head off. But the idea of an "Expendables 4" has been on the table for a couple years. It was supposed to be released two years ago. But there was some kind of disagreement between the studio and Stallone. Stallone said he wasn't coming back for the fourth, then Schwarzenegger said he wouldn't either. Then any and all rumors, speculation and news around the sequel just died. I figured this potential franchise would be a mere trilogy.

Today though, Sly Stallone has confirmed on his Instagram page that a fourth Expendables movie is happening. Stallone also confirmed that he will be returning as Barney Ross and the whole crew is returning, with "some new members"

Who will these new members be? Jackie Chan? Nicolas Cage? I know he's tried hard to get Steven Seagal on these movies, will he finally enlist? I'd personally love to see Vin Diesel and The Rock join. If I was in charge of casting, I'd throw Michael Jai White on the roster, as well as Chow-Yon Fat, Tony Jaa and Michael Biehn.

Who would you like to see in The Expendables 4? Or will they call it Expend4bles?


Review: "Proud Mary" never quite becomes the badass blaxploitation it wants to be

Proud Mary Review

January, February and (sometimes) March are the slow months out of the year in movies. I don't know how this came to be, I don't know if the studios came together and just decided to drop all their crap in these months. I don't know if, since its cold and miserable and the holidays are over, they just don't try this time of year. But for many years now, these are slow months of the year. Sure, every once in a good while, you'll get ONE great January release or ONE great February release. But its mostly a slow time of year.

I had faith that "Proud Mary" would be one of those rarities that I ended up loving. An action thriller produced and starring Taraji P. Henson with a blaxploitation feel couldn't possibly go wrong, right? With so many great action movies as inspiration, how could you go wrong? Well, the answer is way wrong and I am sad to announce that "Proud Mary" gets more wrong then it does right. 

The film certainly starts like its going to be strong. We see Mary (Henson) getting ready for a job. Not an everyday nine-to-five either. She has an apartment full of guns and tactical gear. Mary is a hitwoman, and very skillful one at that. As the blaxploitation inspired opening credits finish, we see her at the very end of a job. A job she realizes that leaves a boy orphaned. That boy's name is Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) and five years after the death of his father (by Mary) he's an errand boy for the Russian Mob. So of course, he comes into contact with Mary. And of course, she takes him in out of pity and guilt. And of course, she gets him out of the dangerous life of errand boy by killing the Russian's mob boss. I didn't know what to expect here, but another predictable "hitman with a heart" story wasn't it.

The fun doesn't stop there though! It seems that the Russian boss Mary killed is the rival of her mob family, so his untimely death poses a problem for her crew. Mary pins the death on someone else in her family, but the Russians also want to negotiate for some territory. Why do they want to do that in the wake of a death in their mob family? To put a ridiculous action story-line that really doesn't belong. A person who dug a dangerous whole for themselves that they have to climb out of isn't a new idea. But that doesn't mean that the filmmakers couldn't have pulled some tension and entertainment out of the movie. "Proud Mary" only dissolves into a big, shoot-em-up movie. Which is also fine, there are plenty of shoot-em-ups that have hit my sweet spot. This movie can't even make some action sequences thrilling.

What we do get is Danny Glover's most comically stiff performance of his career, playing the mob boss Mary works for and who she eventually comes into conflict with because...surprise, surprise...she wants out of the crime life. Why? So she can raise Danny as her own! But hopefully before Danny finds out the slow, agonizing truth of what Mary did. I can't honestly believe that what I am exposing here are spoilers, since movies like this are a dime a dozen. Whether you've been to the theater recently or not, you've seen "Proud Mary." The most disappointing thing about it is that it doesn't even dare to be different.

Taraji P. Henson acts her ass off here, and she's trying. Her career isn't going to suddenly plummet. Even the greats have a couple bad eggs in their filmography. I would also say that Winston is pretty good here, and makes some flat moments surprisingly emotional. I think he's got a shot at a good career if he keeps it up. Xander Berkeley and Neal McDonough show up, but sadly are not given anything significant to do, so it feels like they wasted their time. What a shame.

Sadly, "Proud Mary" is just another January release and its the most disappointing thing I can say about it.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years With Marvel (Part Two- "The Incredible Hulk" 2008)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Two

The Incredible Hulk-2008

In 2003, I visited New York City with my family. We saw “The Lion King” on Broadway. We took a boat tour that went around the entire island of Manhattan. We walked through the museum where they shot “Ghostbusters 2.” We walked slowly, human-to-human throughout Time’s Square. We saw the Statue of Liberty. We took those red bus tours that showed us an up-close look at every possible building you’d want to see in the city. We went and took a look at ground zero. After so much sight-seeing, we went to this cool-looking, old school movie theater and saw “Hulk.” The one with Eric Bana, Jennifer Connolly and Sam Elliot. I wasn’t much of a fan of that movie. In fact, if I remember correctly, there weren’t too many admirers of that film. You can’t really take an action-packed superhero character, make an art film out of him, and expect the target audience to be satisfied. A writer once did a near-perfect comparison. 2003’s Hulk was like “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Both movies took geek material and tried to make experimental, arthouse films out it. Both films were beautiful to look at, no doubt. But they both failed to move mainstream audiences.

In 2008, I figured anything would have been better than what we got in 2003. After much back and forth, Universal Studios was ready to give The Big Green Meanie another roll. But this time, Marvel had much more control, and that meant planting The Hulk in Marvel’s new deal. Which in 2008, a mere month after “Iron Man” had been released, that plan was still unclear at the time. All we really knew at the time was we were getting a new Hulk movie. Was it a sequel, to the film that came out in 2003? Well, that was tough to say. Universal pushed for a sequel to that film. But Eric Bana didn’t want to be in it, stating that being The Hulk was a “one time thing.” I remember reading a rumor that Universal approached David Duchovny about the sequel, but when he turned it down, Hulk sequel news fell flat. Then suddenly re-emerged with Edward Norton attached. Was this new movie intended to be a sequel? It’s hard to say, I mean this new film picked up in Southern America, where Bruce Banner fled after the events in the 2003 film. But the more you watched the new film, the more it took after the Ultimate Marvel version of the Hulk. But hey, the further we were from 2003’s stupid version of Bruce’s father, the better off we were.

“The Incredible Hulk” was a massive improvement on the first film in every way. Sure, it wasn’t sequel, this was a reboot set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it took the bad taste left in my mouth from 2003 and it replaced it with something lemony fresh. In this film we don’t get the Hulk starring at fungus on a rock for five minutes. We don’t get muddled flashbacks of the same thing happening behind a green mushroom cloud. We don’t get a near three hour film that direly needed an editor. No, with “The Incredible Hulk,” we got a big, fun, wild and crazy Hulk movie. That’s how this character was always intended to be seen on screen. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t get any character development. Bruce Banner, played by Edward Norton, is a tortured soul in this movie. He’s trying so hard to get his curse out of his body. Away from General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) who wants the Hulk monster to weaponize it. He wants to get back to Betty (Liv Tyler) so he can have somewhat of a normal life for the rest of his days. Banner is proactive about getting rid of his curse, this rage monster that could unleash itself, even if Banner does something has harmless as going on a jog. There is a scene late in “The Incredible Hulk” were Betty and Banner are on the run, and in a hotel room, they rediscover their love and affection for one another. Without getting too graphic, things start to get hot. But when Banner notices his heart-rate going up, he stops. I sympathize with Banner there. If I couldn’t have sex anymore thanks to my Hulk powers, yeah those powers would be a deal-breaker for me too.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, Mark Ruffalo is the MCU Hulk. Well, you’re not wrong, but Edward Norton was first. Edward Norton was intended to star in “The Avengers” and beyond. The events of “The Incredible Hulk” are indeed canon to the MCU. In “The Avengers,” Ruffalo talks about “leveling Harlem,” which is a reference to his fight with Abomination at the end of “The Incredible Hulk.” Tim Roth, who portrays Abomination, has a couple more movies left on his contract. In fact, Joss Whedon put Abomination in some of the earlier drafts for “Age of Ultron,” but the character was written out eventually. The events of “The Incredible Hulk” do take place in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, even though that movie barely feels attached the greater shared universe. (Even though Coulson mentions Abomination in an early episode of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and General Ross did show up for “Civil War.”)

So, what happened? Well, in the early days of the MCU, they had a knack for hiring actors who are notoriously difficult to work with. There are rumors that Terrance Howard is difficult to work with, and the same is said about Edward Norton. Norton loves having control over the characters he plays, whether they add up to the vision of the director or not. He’s fought for changes in movies he’s made, he’s had bad blood with directors, with studios. That was totally the case with “The Incredible Hulk.” He re-wrote pieces of the script. He had fights and disagreements and feuds with “The Incredible Hulk” director Louis Leterrier. Apparently, it was a nightmare to shoot thanks to Mr. Norton. Joss Whedon met with Edward Norton for lunch before he began shooting “The Avengers,” just to gather ideas for the movie. According to Norton, the lunch went really well, but we also heard that Norton wanted to push for The Avengers to fight Hulk, that he would be a secondary villain in the movie. (Again, Norton apparently loves the Ultimate version of the character!) Before we knew it, Edward Norton was kicked off the movie, and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Because they wanted someone who believed in the Marvel vision.

I understand that nobody wants to work with difficult people. Edward Norton has since talked about his experience with Marvel, and he sees it as a silver lining that lead to the career he has now. He’s been a good sport about things, and that’s always good. But I have to say, I love Edward Norton. Yes, I get it, he’s difficult to work with, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a damn fine actor. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that a part of me wishes he stayed on. I wish we could have got Edward Norton sharing space with Robert Downey Jr and Scarlet Johansson and Jeremy Renner and the Chris’s and Samuel L. Jackson and everyone else. I am not trying to slam Ruffalo, because he’s done a great job in the role, but I just love Norton. If a multiverse does exist, I hope Norton stayed on the franchise, and I hope I swap with a different version of me someday to see that version of “The Avengers.”

I think some people are still surprised when I tell them that “The Incredible Hulk” is apart of the MCU, not just because Norton was replaced by Ruffalo. But the entire film feels pretty disconnected to the rest of the franchise. We just now saw General Ross again. But we haven’t heard from Abomination again. We never saw Liv Tyler’s Betty again. Ty Burrell, who plays Doctor Sampson in the film had expressed interest in playing Sampson again, and getting superpowers. Ty Burrell with superpowers in a Marvel movie is the best damn idea they’ve had. And I mean, how do you set up The Leader and just never return to him? Better question, how do you cast Tim Blake Nelson as The Leader and just never return to him? Well, apparently Universal still has character rights for The Hulk. That’s why Hulk has been a supporting character in other heroes’ movies and has never had another solo film since. Disney needs to get on that, if you ask me. They just bought Fox assets, now its time to bring ALL the characters home. I want to see superpowered Doc Sampson, I want to see Ross turn into Red Hulk. I want She-Hulk. I want Red She-Hulk. I want a movie where The Hulk faces off against The Leader. It’s just some of the many plot-threads that have been dropped from the MCU, and it makes me want to cry.

Re-watching “The Incredible Hulk” tonight, there were a couple things that I couldn’t help but laugh at. Yes, there is a Stan Lee cameo. Yes, this being a Hulk movie, we also get a funny Lou Ferrigno cameo. I have to say that my favorite cameo of the film was when Bill Bixby shows up on a TV screen in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. For those of you who never saw the original Hulk television show from the late 1970’s through early 1980’s, it was Bill Bixby who played Banner. When he turned into Hulk, Ferrigno played him. I loved seeing the Bill Bixby cameo. Also, on the show, Bixby’s character was named David Banner, not Bruce Banner. (Even though, I am pretty sure Bruce was his middle name.) At the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” Hulk flees after his big fight with Abomination, and he secludes himself in Canada. He gives himself the new alias David Banner. I always got a good laugh out of that too. Of course, this is all just extra stuff that will make any true Hulk fan smile with delight.

These were the early days of the MCU, so it was getting quite fun to see all the extra tidbits that connected this movie to the greater shared universe. There is a moment when General Ross is trying to capture Banner after he tried to meet up with Betty, and the results are less than great. When Banner “Hulks Out,” one of the weapons Ross attempts to use to subdue him are these sonic cannons. They look like Jack Kirby drew them, which makes me smile. And you learn at the beginning of the film that they were designed at Stark Industries. Before Emil Blonsky becomes The Abomination, he works for Ross in trying to capture Banner, and Ross injects Blonsky with a serum that is closely resembles the serum that was given to Steve Rogers the day he became Captain America, they even discuss the Super Soldier program from World War II. There is a small Tony Stark cameo and an even smaller S.H.I.E.L.D. cameo, but we began to see, much clearer than even a month previous, that Marvel was going to try something that went beyond ambition. (In the "Incredible Hulk" DVD, there is a deleted scene where Banner goes somewhere in the Arctic to commit suicide. The suicide goes wrong, and Banner ends up "Hulking Out," and breaks a huge sheet of ice while he does it. If you look really close at the crumbling ice, you'll see an outline of Captain America's body in the ice.)

  No, this was batshit insane. Only because we’d never seen anything like it before. I remember leaving the theater the first time I saw “The Incredible Hulk” and my mind was racing. What was the future going to look like? What was The Avengers movie going to look like? Who else would be included? Who would play Thor? And more importantly, who would play Captain America? This was the movie that really got me obsessed with this shared universe. I couldn’t believe there was going to be a day where I saw all these heroes, side by side, after being introduced in their own franchises, together in one movie. The future never looked so bright.

Next week, we’ll visit with Iron Man once more for “Iron Man II!” Hulk smash!