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Posts Tagged ‘Marvel’

As I’m sure you have heard, since the launch of Disney+ all Marvel TV shows on other networks are coming to an end.  This seems like a good time to have a quick look back at the TV shows based in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  It is worth noting that none of these shows had any impact on the MCU; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Agent Carter has featured characters from the movies, but to the best of my knowledge, aside from a small appearance from James D’Arcy in Endgame (that has no impact on the plot), nobody has gone the other way.  Something that I understand is set to change.  In an interview with Bloomberg Marvel chief Kevin Feige said: “If you want to understand everything in future Marvel movies, he says, you’ll probably need a Disney+ subscription, because events from the new shows will factor into forthcoming films such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” I was always disappointed that none of the key characters from the TV shows made it into the movies, but am not sure this isn’t a step too far.  Below is a quick synopsis of the shows and what I thought of the ones I watched:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (2013 – 2020) – S.H.I.E.L.D recruit new agents, have personal problems, and save the world numerous times, all under the watch of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) resurrected from the dead following the events of The Avengers. I watched this from the start.  The events of Captain America, The Winter Soldier threw them a real curveball that derailed the plot.  Surprisingly they recovered from this and the series improved.  They have also had some memorable antagonists; Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, and Bill Paxton.  It was also the first time I had seen the amazing Ruth Negga.  I gave up early in the sixth season.  I understand there will be a seventh and final season next year. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Agent Carter (2015-2016) – After the end of WWII, British Agent  Peggy Carter is working in America for Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a forerunner to S.H.I.E.L.D.  She is mostly relegated to secretarial duties while the men in the office haplessly blunder around.  This series took forever to make it to the UK, I eventually saw it on Amazon, after it had been cancelled.  I watched both series, the pacing is a little up and down, but the period setting looks great and Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy make likeable leads. Agent Carter

Daredevil (2015 -2018) – The first of the MCU shows made by Netflix.  Charlie Cox stars as Matt Murdock a blind lawyer who uses his superhuman senses to moonlight as the crime fighting masked vigilante Daredevil.  The first season was excellent, but lost its way in the second before returning for a fantastic third and final season.  I binged all three seasons as soon as they came out. Daredevil

Jessica Jones (2015 – 2019) – The second Netfix show: Following a short stint as a superhero, with a tragic ending, Jessica Jones reinvents herself as a New York private detective with a drink problem.  Running for just 39 episodes over three seasons, this was my favourite  Marvel TV show.  Krysten Ritter was perfectly cast as the snarky, sarcastic lead, the supporting cast was also great.  The stories, particularly season one were amongst the strongest too.  As with Daredevil, I binged them all!Jessica Jones

Luke Cage 2016 – 2018 – Having already been introduced in Jessica Jones, Luke Cage (Mike Colter) gets his own show.  Reluctant hero Cage is a former convict with superhuman strength and unbreakable skin.  Set in Harlem with a largely African American cast, the series made a refreshing change to the usual super hero shows and movies.  The villains are excellent, particularly Alfre Woodard, and a pre Oscar Mahershala Ali.  The supporting cast includes the always excellent Rosario Dawson, reprising her role from Daredevil.  It ran for 26 episodes over two seasons, I watched them all and largely enjoyed it.  The first season started really well but lost its way, the second season was up and down.  Luke Cage

Marvels Inhumans (2017) – I understand the plot goes something like this: After a military coup, the Inhuman Royal Family escape their home on the dark side of the moon, to Hawaii.  They must put aside personal differences to save the world!  The first two episodes were shot in IMAX and screened in cinemas.  I didn’t get around to seeing them, but understand they are terrible.  I didn’t bother with the series, and it seems no one else did either, it bombed and was swiftly cancelled, the eight completed episodes were retiled a mini-seriesMarvels Inhumans

Iron Fist (2017 – 2018) – The weakest of the Netflix shows.  Finn Jones plays Danny Rand, A young man who returns to New York after being presumed dead for fifteen years following a plane crash. Rand has heightened martial arts abilities, and the ability to call upon the mystical power of the Iron Fist.  The character isn’t very well written, and the plots are less engaging than those  in the other series.  It is helped by a strong supporting cast most notably Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing.  I watched all 23 episodes (across two seasons) but took longer over it than any other Netfix/MCU show.  As a side note Danny Rand appears as a supporting character in a few episodes of Luke Cake, and works better as a supporting character. Iron Fist

The Defenders 2017 –  Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, join forces to fight a common enemy, the Hand.  It was been suggested that it was the least-viewed Marvel Netflix following mixed reviews and word of mouth.  I enjoyed it and watched all eight episodes in quick succession. the defenders

The Punisher (2017 – 2019) – The final MCU/Netflix show.  Probably the most consistently excellent MCU show, and at its best it is as good as Jessica Jones, and Daredevil.   Jon Bernthal plays Frank Castle a former cop turned vigilante “the Punisher”, after the loss of his family.  First introduced in Daredevil, the first season goes back to tell the well trodden origin of the character.  The second season is actually better.  Another show that deserves more than the 26 episodes it got. The Punisher

Marvel’s Runaways (2017 – 2020) The plot (copied from wikipedia):  “Six teenagers from different backgrounds unite against a common enemy – their criminal parents” sounds interesting.  There are twenty episodes to date, with a final season of ten due out later this month.  I haven’t seen any of them yet, but may get around to it. Radio On

Cloak & Dagger (2018 – 2019) The unsung hero of the MCU TV.  Two very different teenagers  with seemingly unconnected powers find they are more effective when working together.  An excellent show that combines all the tropes of a teen romance, with a superhero show.  Sadly cancelled in the Disney+ cull of competing Marvel properties, it deserves a third and final season.  It has been rumoured that stars, Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph are reprising their characters in the supporting cast of the final season of Runaways, another reason to catch up with it.AUBREY JOSEPH, OLIVIA HOLT

So what does Disney+ have planned for us to replace everything that has been cancelled?  The following shows have all been slated and are at various stages of production.

  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Filming – due: late 2020)
  • WandaVision (Filming -Due: early 2021)
  • Loki (Pre Production – Due 2021)
  • What If…? (In Production (animated) – Due: 2021)
  • Hawkeye (Ordered – Due: 2021/2022)
  • Ms. Marvel (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • Moon Knight (Ordered – Due: TBA)
  • She-Hulk (Ordered – Due: TBA)

The interesting thing, the first three are only set to have six episode first seasons.  Is this because they are so expensive, or are Disney spreading their properties too thinly?  Are they a toe in the water before a longer full season is ordered, or are has this just been misreported? Given the level of the MCU movies, I expect the new shows to be top quality.  I’m just not convinced cancelling excellent shows that still have millage in them the best way to do it.  Maybe there is truth to the rumour of a Disney+ reprieve for Jessica Jones and Daredevil! 

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We lost Stan Lee this week at the age of 95.  Many people first became aware of him from his cameo’s in Marvel movies, but his impact on popular culture goes far beyond that:  For better or worse, make your own mind up; without Stan Lee we probably wouldn’t be seeing all the comic book movies that are dominating cinema screens.  Like many people I first became aware of him from the animated shows of the 1980’s.  These animated show were the start of a push to develop Marvel properties into other media.  Initial results were mixed at best but eventually led to what we now know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Stan Lee 1922 2018

But it all started before that, growing up Lee born (Stanley Martin Lieber) loved swashbuckling movies, and dreamt of becoming a novelist.  One of his earliest jobs as a writer came writing obituaries before at the age of 17 a family connection got him a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, the precursor Marvel Comics was at the time a new division of a pulp magazine.

Lee’s first job actually writing in a comic book came with the text fillers for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.  This was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee, which later became his legal name.  Before long he moved from fillers to writing the backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”.

His early creations Jack Frost, Father Time, and Destroyer may not be household names now, but things were about to change.  At the age of just 19 Lee was made interim editor, a position that quickly became permanent, one that he remained in for just over thirty years before becoming Publisher.  After the war, were Lee served in first the Signal Corps, and then the Training Film Division, he formed a partnership with artist Jack Kirby, together they created a few characters you may have heard of: the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. x men fantastic four thor iron man black panther hulk ant man

He also created Daredevil with Bill Everett. And with Steve Ditko with, Doctor Strange and his (and Marvel’s most successful character) Spider-Man. Doctor Strange Daredevil Spider-man

As significant as the characters they created, in 1963 gathered them together along with some older character, most notably Captain America to create the  Avengers, a rival to DC’s Justice League (originally Justice League of America). With various reboots, relaunches, spin-offs, alternate universes, and ever changing line-up, The Avengers have been a constant fixture within the comic book world.     The Avengers

In 1981 Lee moved from New York to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s movie and TV, while the live action of these were forgettable at best, the cartoons introduced a whole new generation to Marvel.  They also provided the springboard of what was to come.  The success of Blade for New Line Cinema, X-Men with Fox Studio’s and Sony’s Spider-Man movies proved there was a market for quality comic book movies that snowballed into the MCU, and who knows where that will take us? Excelsior!

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In a particularly meta moment in the oh so meta Scream 2, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) tells us “Sequels suck!” and “By definition alone, sequels are inferior films!”. Classmate Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) disagrees “It’s bullshit generalization. Many sequels have surpassed their originals.”  He suggests T-2, another classmate played by Joshua Jackson thinks “Aliens. Far better than the first.”  While I don’t totally agree, I prefer The Terminator to T-2, and love Alien and Aliens equally, there are however, some horror sequels and second films is series that I prefer to the first:Aliens and T2

Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I love the original, but the sequel has the edge.  Together cinematographer John Mescall and art director Charles D. Hall, director James Whale created Expressionist masterpiece that isn’t just a horror movie, it’s also a social satire and a comedy.  The greatest of the Universal horrors. Bride of Frankenstein

Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero’s masterpiece came a whole decade after the original film, Night Of The Living Dead. Tom Savini (who also appears in the film) provided the zombie makeup that makes the film so effective.  The allegory of modern consumer society is more and more relevant as time passes.  A film that manages to be both a truly gruesome horror and a clever satire.  Dawn of the Dead

Evil Dead II (1987): Bruce Campbell returns as Ash in Sam Raimi’s sequel to The Evil Dead.  It is essentially more of the same from the first film but more polished, more gory and a hell of a lot funnier. Evil Dead II

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): Most fans will tell you the first Hammer Dracula, Horror of Dracula from 1958 is the best.  While a great film and one of the studio’s best, it is a retread of Bram Stoker ‘s original often told story.  Prince of Darkness is an original story, and a really effective one. It lacks  Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (except a prologue recap of the previous film) but Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor is a suitable substitute.  Famously, Christopher Lee doesn’t speak in this film (as the dialogue in the script was so bad), this makes his performance is more chilling.  A true horror that has a feeling of dread from start to finish. Dracula Prince of Darkness

Blade II (2002): Wesley Snipes is perfectly cast as the half human, half vampire “daywalker” vampire hunter.  Predating the MCU, Blade (1998) proved what Marvel movies could be.  It works as both a horror, and an action movie, with suitable amounts of both gore and humour.  How could you make this better?  Hire Guillermo del Toro to direct it!  del Toro brings even more style, but also, as always  he plays with the idea of who the monsters are. blade II

The Devil’s Rejects (2005): Admittedly this one has something of low bar, 2003’s House of 1,000 Corpses wasn’t great, but this second instalment of the (mis)adventures of the Firefly family is a really solid grindhouse inspired gore-fest.  By far the best Rob Zombie directed movie, and the end is fantastic.  A third instalment 3 from Hell is in post production and due out in 2019. The Devil_s Rejects

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016):  Totally different to the original, telling a very different story, and dropping the now tired found footage gimmick.  Most of the film is a claustrophobic three-hander; John Goodman is fantastic, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is even better. 10 Cloverfield Lane

I have only included horror movies, there are plenty of examples from other genres, I have also stuck to examples where I think the sequel is better than the original movie, not merely good sequels.  

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I subscribed to Netflix, predominantly for TV, namely the Marvel TV shows.  I have enjoyed them all, Jessica Jones being the best of them.  I have since mainly watched TV show, including: Breaking Bad, The OA, The Expanse , 13 Reasons Why, Hannibal, and Orphan Black (that I had started watching on the BBC).  I have recently also started watching Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter, both of which are excellent from the couple of episodes I have seen. 

I have also watched several movies, mainly older ones that I have wanted to re-watch.  This is because I see most films that I want to see at the cinema.  Netfix (and Amazon Prime) can be useful for catching up on films that I missed at the cinema, and those that didn’t get a wide enough release to make in to a cinema near me.  And this is the problem.  With Netflix (and Amazon) getting more into the business of making movies are the chances of seeing some films on the big screen diminishing?  Is this a 21st century version of the vertical integration of Hollywood’s studio system? A system ended in 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Paramount decision, aka the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948.  Not exactly but there are similarities.  I hope the industry can find a solution to the issue without the need for legislation, or one of the methods of screening suffering.mcu-netflix

The reason I have come to this conclusion; I have seen two films recently on Netfix that I would have liked to have seen on the big screen.  The first, Gerald’s Game is a Netfix Original, the second The Bad Batch skipped UK cinemas after Netflix acquired SVOD rights.

Gerald’s Game: Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Mike Flanagan who had previously made the excellent Oculus.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood play a married couple who visit an isolated lake house in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.  Gerald (Greenwood) suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed without the hope of rescue.  At times it goes where you expect it to, at others it will surprise you. Geralds Game

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  A young woman (Suki Waterhouse) dropped inside a vast fenced-in wasteland, declared to be outside of the U.S. and thus, American laws no longer apply.  There she encounters many strange people, most notably a group of cannibals.  The movie drifts along with a strange dreamlike narrative occasionally finding its way back to a plot.  It has been compared to every near future or exploration movie you can think of, none of these are appropriate, although the look and tone sometimes make me think of Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park.the bad batch

I really enjoyed both movies but with one big reservation.  I really wanted to see them on the big screen, but for different reasons.  The Bad Batch is beautifully shot in a vast landscape that needs a big screen.  As a horror/thriller, Gerald’s Game has moments that are best enjoyed with an audience.  But my thoughts go deeper than this;  if Netflix are making movies, or buying distribution rights before they make it to the big screen, this is surely the start of a new era of filmmaking.  A two tier system where cinema can be the only loser, and if cinema is a loser, the ultimate loser is the audience.

It is clear that streaming is the future of the home cinema market.  I don’t have a problem with movies being released on VOD at the same time as at the cinema; letting people watch movies at home legally and cheaply is a good way to cut down on piracy, but not when it’s at the expense of cinema screenings.  Streaming needs to be an addition or alternative to cinema not a replacement. 

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With Mixed reviews, you may be wondering if The Defenders is worth watching.  The Simple answer if you have seen and enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, yes, if you haven’t, No.  This doesn’t stop me expressing my thoughts: 

Story: If you are reading this, you probably already know all you need to know; the stars of their respective shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to fight The Hand in New York. Although not the best story we have seen so far in Marvels TV universe, it is probably the most focused.  The meeting of the quartet is less forced than it could have been.  The villains are believable with coherent motives.   After a little build up and a brief introduction of the characters for the uninitiated, the action kicks in and doesn’t really stop.  Each ending on note that strikes the perfect balance between narrative closer and making you want to watch, just one more episode, it is the closest Marvel have come to recreating for the screen what it is to read a comic book; but its on Netflix so you don’t have to wait a week for the next part!  The Defenders

Main Characters: All four characters are archetypes and this is exacerbated by the scenario, they each become an even more extreme example of who they are.  The story does play a little on their individual abilities and character traits, but not as much as you would expect.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): remains the best character. The cynical, hard drinking private detective is possibly the most clichéd of the characters but Ritter pulls it off with such charisma and fun that it really doesn’t matter.  It is like she is in a different show to the others, but in a good way.

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox): A great charter in his own show; dramatically, he shrinks a little in the presence of the others, he does have some great dialogue with Ritter, and some of the best fight scenes.  Daredevil is a more interesting character the angst/catholic guilt ridden Matt Murdock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): The boy scout of the crew, Luke Cage can’t help but do the right thing regardless of personal consequences, the Captain America of the group.

Danny Rand (Finn Jones): The weakest link from their own shoes, Iron Fist has the most significant role within the plot.  The billionaire needs to be a little more fun, a little more Tony Stark.   Defenders

Secondary Characters: Most of the secondary characters have already been seen in the individual shows.  While a few of these characters have previously been the most interesting and compelling characters in the shows, they are largely sidelined here to make space for the leads:

Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson): The MVP of the individual shows isn’t given anything to do, but is as great as you would expect with the little she has to do.

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): The weakest character in the show has one perfunctory role within the plot.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick): Joins up a few tots in the plot and provides a little sass. We also get a hint at where her character is going.

Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick): Has her moments in the latter episodes but is largely sidelined.

Stick (Scott Glenn): Given the dual role of (deadpan) comic relief and Basil Exposition Glenn performs admirably.

Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor): Has one interesting scene and does nothing else.

Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): Given precisely nothing to do, the character could have been totally dropped without any real impact on the plot. The Defenders Secondary Characters

Villains: We have already seen The Hand in Iron Fist and Daredevil, now they are out of the shadows, front and centre with an agenda.

Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver): Ever wondered who is in charge of The Hand? Sigourney Weaver leaves us in no doubt, Alexandra Reid is the epitome of the Alpha Dog, Weaver plays her with determination, but also in a believable way.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung): Brought back from the dead, Elektra provides both the antagonist and strangely some of the heart of the show.  As you would expect, she also gets a lot of the best action.

The five “fingers” of the Hand also include Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) reprising her role, and Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) who we met in Iron Fist as Wing’s former sensei. The Hand

Conclusion: The show has its issues but with a punchy high action plot it is compelling and binge worthy in the way Netflix must have hoped.  In keeping the characteristics of the individual characters undiluted the show can still work for an audience that hasn’t seen, or doesn’t like all the previous shows.  This takes us back to the beginning; if you have enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, you will probably like this. 

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At a time when action movies have become CGI laden and often dull, there are occasionally films that break the mould.  Shortly before his short live retirement,  Steven Soderbergh made Haywire (2011).  The story goes that while channel surfing late at night Soderbergh spotted Gina Carano fighting in an MMA fight on TV.  He quickly developed the idea of Mallory Kane, a highly trained operative working for an independent contractor.  One of the notable things about the film is the way the fight scenes are staged.  Shot at mid range with long takes, much the way MMA and Boxing is shot.  This is a world away from the ultra close-up highly edited style that can make anyone look like an action hero.  Then came John Wick (2014); former stunt men and stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch made their feature debut.  Making the most of Keanu Reeves martial arts skills the fight scenes and gun fu are highly choreographed making the whole spectacle like a ballet. The photography and editing combines styles with a mixture of long takes and quick cuts.John Wick Haywire

While Chad Stahelski made John Wick Chapter 2, his former directing partner, David Leitch went his own way and made Atomic Blonde.  An action spy thriller the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s.  Charlize Theron stars MI6 field agent sent to Berlin in the last few days before the fall of the wall to retrieve a McGuffin that anyone who has seen Mission: Impossible or Skyfall will be familiar with.  The film is so stylish it makes a Luc Besson look passively plain, the action is fantastic and Charlize Theron is a  charismatic and likeable lead.  The film is a little too plot heavy to be as fun as John Wick; there are a series of twists and turns that you will see coming a mile of, but none of this matters, it is still an enjoyable movie.attomic blonde

In the near thirty years since the film was set films have changed a lot so I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the spy and or action movies of 1989:

Starting with the spy thrillers: Licence to Kill was Timothy Dalton’s second and final James Bond movie.  A more violent and action based movie than earlier Bond movies, it recived mixed reviews on release.  I loved it and am happy to report it has aged well and in the era of Daniel Craig’s Bond people are beginning to re-evaluate Timothy Dalton’s time as 007.Licence to Kill

The same is not true of The Experts; a  John Travolta vehicle in the pre Pulp Fiction wilderness years.  I seem to remember enjoying it at the time but re-watched it about ten years ago and was surprised just how bad it was.  It was also considered a box office bomb at the time.the experts

Technically a 1988 move: Red Scorpion was released in the USA and UK in ’89.  Significant as it portrays Dolph Lundgren as a soviet soldier who ends up fighting African freedom fighters against Soviet oppression.  I remember liking the film at the time, it did however receive poor reviews, I must re watch it to see.Red Scorpion

We think of Marvel and DC comic book movies as a modern thing, with about three each a year as well as TV spinoffs, but both comic book giants had movies out in 1989.  The more significant of the two: Batman; Tim Burtons vision of the dark knight was revolutionary.  A dark brooding gothic fairytale Batman a world away from the camp of the60’s TV show.  The Batmobile looked amazing and the black sculpted latex batsuit was revolutionary.  I’m not sure if Michael Keaton is the best Batman, he is certainly the best Bruce Wayne.  Over at Marvel, Dolph Lundgren was staring as Frank Castle, aka: The Punisher.  Taking the idea of the Marvel character but changing many details of his origin.  The film isn’t great, and is a world away from current Marvel movies, but it isn’t terrible either and has a certain charm.Batman The Punisher

Cop movies, particularly buddy cop movies were all the rage at the time, the best of the bunch was Lethal Weapon 2. Almost as good as the original, this first sequel had all the action and excitement of the first in the franchise but with a lot more comedy.   Other entries to the subgenre worth watching are: Black Rain and Tango & Cash.Lethal Weapon 2 Black Rain Tango & Cash

One of the best movies of the year and possibly my favourite of the franchise: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Taking a big risk with a very self indulgent origin or the character prologue that not only works, it enhances the film.Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Two years after Dirty Dancing and two before Point Break, Patrick Swayze’s star was on the rise, he had two movies out in ’89 the better of the two was: Roadhouse. Dumb action fun, it isn’t a great film but its impossible not to like it. Roadhouse

One of the biggest action stars of the time, Jean-Claude Van Damme had two movies out in ’89: the sci-fi action adventure Cyborg, and the fight movie Kickboxer.  I saw Kickboxer around the same time as the previous year’s Bloodsport and can’t differentiate between them in my mind. cyborg and kickboxer

Finally: Blind Fury is a Zatôichi inspired action movie starring Rutger Hauer.  Robot Jox is a low budged B movie masterpiece from Empire Studios about people fighting giant robots similar to the Jaegers from Pacific Rim. Blind Fury Robot Jox

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AAvengers: Captain America: The Winter Soldier set the Avengers franchise in a new direction and Marvel announced phase Three schedule covering films up to 2019.marvel-avengers

B  – Boyhood: What could have been a gimmick turned out to be the best film of the year.boyhood poster

CNick Cave: 20,000 Days on Earth was neither documentary or a narrative film, but was one of the best movies of the year.20,000 Days on Earth

DDoug Liman: Edge of Tomorrow was the enigma of 2014.  The Doug Liman directed movie received solid reviews and great word of mouth but underperformed at the box-office.edge of tomorrow

EEgypt & Exodus: Gods and Kings – Ridley Scott’s biblical epic was released on Boxing Day in the UK and few weeks earlier in some countries.  The film has been banned in Egypt as the courtiers censors are unhappy with “historical inaccuracies”.Exodus Gods and Kings

FFincher & Flynn: Director David Fincher turned Gillian Flynn’s bestselling Novel Gone Girl into an excellent movie.Gone Girl

GGuardians of the Galaxy –  Made up of a cast of largely unknown characters, it was considered a risk for the franchise.  Not only was the film great fun but was the Highest grossing film at the US box-office (and 2nd highest worldwide) for the year.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

HThe Hobbit: After more than 20 hours screen time, The Battle of the Five Armies brings Peter Jackson’s time in Middle Earth to an end.Peter_Jackson_Hobbit

IThe Interview:  The release for the movie The interview was cancelled following threats from hackers.  Barack Obama and George Clooney joined the debate and the film received a limited Christmas day release earning $1million from 331 scenes in independent theatres.the-interview-poster

JJennifer Lawrence: With an Oscar win and two other nominations as well as a starring role in two of the biggest movie franchises, Jennifer Lawrence is probably the biggest young star in Hollywood.  She was also the most outspoken victim of hackers who stole nude images and posted them online.jennifer-lawrence

KKickstarter: the big names to come from kickstarter in 2014 were the Veronica Mars movie and Zach Braff’s ;Wish I Was Here.  Blue Ruin and Obvious Child also raised a little to help get them released.veronica-mars-movie

L Luc Besson & Lucy: After numerous movies with his name attached as a writer or producer Besson is back in the director’s chair with the surprise hit Lucy.  Making back its $40million budget back in its opening weekend.Lucy

MMcConaissance: Matthew McConaughey’s resurgence was completed with a best actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club.Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

NNightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career in Dan Gilroy’s feature debut.Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal

OOprah Winfrey: as well as producing two movies: Selma and The Hundred-Foot Journey Winfrey proved her Hollywood power by lending her support to the independent British film Belle.Oprah Winfrey

PPaddington: What could have been a disaster turned out to be charming and funny.paddington

Q – Quvenzhané Wallis: The young star of Beasts of the Southern Wild retuned with a small part in 12 Years a Slave and starring role in the remake of Annie.Quvenzhané Wallis

RThe Rover: After his début feature, Animal Kingdom in 2010 David Michôd is back with The Rover, a movie full of subtext, foreboding and great acting from Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy. The Rover

SScarlett Johansson: It’s been a busy year for Johansson with the UK release of: Her, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chef, Under the Skin and the surprise hit of the year Lucy.Scarlett Johansson under the skin

TAlan Turing: The imitation Game finally told the long overdue story of war hero and farther of computing, Alan Turing.the imitation game

UUnreleased: A region 2 DVD of Snowpiercer is available from a well know online retailer but the film is still yet to receive a UK release.Snowpiercer

VVampire: Forget Twilight, with Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows there are two original ideas to kick-start the genre.Only Lovers Left Alive

W – Mia Wasikowska: After appearing in Stoker my favourite film of 2013 Mia Wasikowska is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses with appearances in Maps to the Stars, The Double, Only Lovers Left Alive and Tracks in 2014.Mia Wasikowska

X – X-Men: Days of Future Past: Bryan Singer returned to the X-Men franchise with a seminal story form the 80’s. It beat Captain America: The Winter Soldier at the world box-office, dragging the franchise from the shadow of Marvel Studios.X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-chess-game

Y – 12 Years A Slave: Winner of Oscars for Best picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and best supporting actress for Lupita Nyong’o in her first feature film.Lupita Nyongo

ZThe Zero Theorem: Terry Gilliam is back after five years, and back to what he does best, making interesting films that look like the cost a lot more to make than they actually did.The Zero Theorem

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I am not going to review Iron Man 3, why bother there are probably already three hundred reviews online, most of them by better reviewers than me and some of them who actually got paid for the privilege! However I couldn’t let the movie come and go without passing comment, after all, it is a significant movie in the history of Marvel and given the significance of Marvel in recent movie history that makes it a significant movie full stop!iron man 3

When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not direct the third Iron Man movie no one would expect the chosen a director to be one whose only other movie was flop nearly a decade ago. However anyone who has seen the fantastic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will know that Shane Black was the perfect choice. Possibly the first step in the resurrection and reinvention of Robert Downey Jr.s career. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was smart, funny and dark, the perfect movie of Downey Jr. just like Iron Man. Better known as a writer, Black is responsible for the Lethal Weapon movies, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight as well as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It therefore comes as no surprise that he brings a lot of dark comedy to the charter, possibly even more than in the first two movies. This really works taking the movie to a different level, making it equally as good as, if not better than the first movie and certainly righting the wrongs of the second movie. It is also filled with other Black trade marks: kidnapping as a plot device, black comedy, set at Christmastime. But these are little more than window dressing and comfort blankets for the director. The real flair is the self awareness he brings to a character trying to rebuild himself.kiss kiss bang bang

I started writing something a few years ago (I don’t think I ever finished it) about how the characters in films (if they were real people in the real world) would go back to their daily lives after a significant event. For example, John McClane may be good at taking down a group of terrorists, but what’s he like as a detective doing a day to day job? This was touched upon in the third Die Hard movie but never explored. I didn’t expect to see it explored in a superhero movie through the eyes of the hero character, a brave and risky plot with a character that is seminal to the future of The Avengers franchise as well as the hugely profitable Iron Man movies. This is achieved through Stark’s inability to deal with the aftermath of the events of The Avengers. This along with a plot device that I won’t spoil, results in Stark spending a lot of time out of the Iron Man suit, this is a good thing and a brave choice. The film is at its best at these times. Without straying into reviews or risking plot spoilers, the villains are perfectly conceived and portrayed, there are also seamlessly intertwined with the stark/Iron Man plot. This is a movie written as a movie, a complete and integrated story and not one where a committee has listed all the elements and plot points that have to be shoehorned in.

Thor The Dark World

Back to the significance of the movie. The first Iron Man existed as a sci-fi movie set on the edge of reality, this places the character closer to The Dark Knight than Thor (leading to the question how will Batman fit into DC’s hero collective, The Justice League?), whose introduction, along with the rest of the Avengers marked a movement more towards total fantasy. Where the Avengers dropped the characters, if not the audience into this new world without warning, Iron Man 3, drags us back, takes a look at what happened then lets us move on. This is an important step for the franchise to take to give it a future, it creates a neat bridge between the world of the first Iron Man and the future of the franchise. And that is the important thing. A film has to exist in a believable world that obeys its own rules or it risks alienating or distracting its audience by taking them out of the story.

captain america and  black widow

So what next? The Avengers 2 is set for release in two years time and little is know about it yet. Before that Thor: The Dark World is in the can and will be in cinema’s towards the end of this year, early synopsis’ suggest a plot surrounding protecting Jane Foster from “the denizens of the dark world of Svartalfheim”. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out next spring and is set to feature a prominent role for Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. There is no sign of a further Hulk movie. This makes me wonder, where will the Avengers villain come from? Loki from the first Avengers movie had been introduced in the first Thor movie. Will the primary villain of the next movie be introduced in a similar way, in either Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Thor: The Dark World? I would suggest Captain America the more likely of the two simply for balance, and the balance of power in the collective. But then you have the curveball, Guardians of the Galaxy is set to go into production shortly and scheduled for release next year. It is being made by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (owners of Marvel) and not a co production, will it exist in the same universe or cross over with The Avengers? In comic books the Guardians of the Galaxy originally existed in an alternate universe within the Marvel Comics continuity but now exists in the mainstream Marvel Universe with Tony Stark/Iron Man as a member. Only time will tell, but based on what I have seen so far I am looking forward to finding out.

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Following last weeks thoughts on where the Batman franchise may go from here, I thought I would take a look how we got to where we are now. The Dark Knight Rises didn’t just happen, a comic book movie this big and epic but also this dark could not have been made in the 80’s or 90’s. Is the world in a darker place making such filmmaking a product of its time? Probably, but there is more to it than that. The billion dollar gross of The Dark Knight (2008) ensured that there would be a third film but things were very different before that. Batman Begins (2005) had a reasonable but unspectacular profit (it grossed around two and half times its budget). A few years before that would a big budget comic book movie have been made especially after Batman & Robin (1997).

When I started getting into movies as a kid the only comic book or super hero movies that had any credibility were Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981). Batman was best remembered for the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show from the 60’s that although it has gained a cult status now it something of a joke for a long time. Then things changed in with Tim Burtons Batman (1989). Although it is a long way from Christopher Nolan’s (very dark) Dark Knight version of Batman it was a million miles from the camp TV show. Gotham City became stylized Art Deco world that didn’t know if it belong to the future or the past. Futuristic gadgets existed alongside old cars and villains carrying Tommy guns. Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is a gloriously awkward character, only just the right side of sanity and probably closer to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark than Christian Bale’s Batman. The big name and star turn is Jack Nicholson as the Joker who has been unfairly forgotten in the shadow of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Batman Returns (1992) offered more of the same, it didn’t expand on the first film or offer anything new or different the way The Dark Knight did after Batman Begins but did boast an unforgettable Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. But then it all went wrong when Joel Schumacher took over.

Before all of that Frank Miller wrote two seminal comic book series The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Batman: Year One (1987). As well as introducing characters and storylines that their way into Nolan’s films, both books had a dark tone and themes of rebirth and redemption that we have come to associate with Batman. It also popularised the name “The Dark Knight”.

Then in a true comic book way, an unlikely hero came forward to save the genre, Blade (1998). After years of the rights to Marvel comics being sold off for TV shows and rubbish films (often with a tiny budget) Marvel studios first film was a co production with New Line Cinema. Not risking one of their big name comic books their first film and in some ways their most important was Blade. The character originated in the 1970’s as a supporting character in The Tomb of Dracula comic book. He went on to star in his own comic book as well as making appearances in various other Marvel Titles. Released in 1998 written by David S. Goyer (who also has writing credits on all three Nolan, Batman films), directed by Stephen Norrington and starring Wesley Snipes. Snipes is perfect in the lead role giving the right blend of stone faced killer, brooding hero and a little deadpan humour. The production had a relatively modest budget of around $45million and produced worldwide Gross revenue of $131million. This does not appear to be much when compared to the near $600million Iron Man took or the or the $2.5billion the three Spider-Man movies have made however without the relative success of Blade these films and the X-Men may never have been made. The sequel directed by visionary geniuses Guillermo Del Toro is even better and also introduced comic book audiences to a darker more melancholic view. Like many of his movies, there is an underlying question of who the monsters really are, and more importantly who are the real monsters.

So these are the films that created the environment that made The Dark Knight trilogy possible but what about its director. Christopher Nolan’s first feature Following (1998) is a low budget, low key affair that is well worth a look. He really made his name with the innovative and brilliant Memento (2000) before making Insomnia (2002) a remake of a Norwegian. Both films made a decent profit received critical praise. Between the first two Batman movies Nolan made The Prestige (2006), another financial success that received largely positive reviews. After the success of The Dark Knight he embarked on what appeared to be an expensive vanity project, Inception (2010), but that too was a runaway success taking over $800million and appearing at the top of many people top ten movies of 2010 (including mine). The net result of each of these movies is the same, they prove Nolan to be a bankable director that studios what to work with.

This leads to the part Warner Bros. played in the production of Nolan‘s Batman trillogy. Ultimately they hired him to make A Batman film. Prior to that, there was always going to be a Batman film but which Batman film? Early ideas involved a fifth film in the existing series and a return for director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher preferred the idea of a reboot bases on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One he was reported to have said: “[I] owe the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight.” This is the first suggestion I have heard of for both a reboot and a darker movie. Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise pitched an idea to Warner called Batman: DarKnight. It involved the character Man-Bat as well a plot centred around Dr. Jonathan Crane and his experiments into fear (sound familiar). This idea didn’t get off the ground, the studio instead deciding to hired Darren Aronofsky to write and direct and adaptation of Batman: Year One. He quickly brought Frank Miller in on the project as a co-writer and approached Christian Bale for the role of Batman. This idea fell by the wayside along with Clint Eastwood’s The Dark Knight Returns and a Wolfgang Petersen directed Batman vs. Superman.

I’m not necessarily saying all of these movies or events had a direct influence on Nolan and his trilogy but they are all the building blocks that made the movies possible.

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With The Dark Knight Rises bringing an end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy there is a lot of talk about where the character should go from here. It would be naive to think this is the end of Batman on screen. There is too grater appetite from viewers and too much money to be made from the studio point of view for it not to happen.

WARNING this paragraph contains The Dark Knight Rises plot spoilers 

Firstly a little background. You may remember the whole thing about all Marvel characters who couldn’t appear in the Avengers movie because the rights have been licensed to other studios; Fox’s has dibs on Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer while Sony/Columbia have the big money Spider-Man. Batman has no such problem, Time/Warner owns DC Comics giving Warner Brothers exclusive rights to do whatever they wish with the character. The result of this is that the true power lies with the studio. If they want to continue the Nolan universe going with a new director, Joel Schumacher for example, they can. The way The Dark Knight Rises ended leaves great potential for spin-offs. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is set up to become Robin or even a second Batman, this has endless possibilities. Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) came to the Nolan Batverse as an established character with a slinky costume and a shady back-story. This gives her character the option for an origin story as well as a spin-off. And then there is Batman himself, depending on your interpretation of the end of the movie, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) may or may not be alive. If he is alive, he has certainly left Gotham, what will he get up to in a different country. As tantalising as these possibilities are, it is probably best they remain unmade leaving customers wanting more. Fortunately, my understanding is that Christian Bale has said he won’t play Batman for any other director so they will need to change him to. I would like to think the rest of the cast would do the same. So where do we go from here.

But the Nolan Batman universe doesn’t have to end here, there is something that could happen. What is possibly the best Batman story, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns remains un-filmed (an animated version is due out later this year). Did Nolan avoid using the title because he wants to save it for a future movie? Probably not but you never know. They will have to wait at least fifteen years until Christian Bale is approaching his mid fifties, and that is the interesting thing. Christopher Nolan is yet to make a bad film, and more importantly from a studio point of view he is yet to make a flop, but that is a career has lasted just fifteen years to date. Given another fifteen years and another half dozen movies there is no way of knowing what position Nolan will be in and what his motivation will be. We also don’t know if the world climate will be right for a movie like The Dark Knight Returns. With all this in mind I haven’t given up on a new Christopher Nolan Batman movie somewhere around 2027! To keep continuity with the existing movie a rewrite will be required removing Superman from the story, this isn’t as big a problem as you would think. Superman would be replaced by a government sponsored elite team who are sent to take Batman down. And best of all the timing fits, there is enough time between now and then for another actor and director to take on the character before Nolan and Bale return.

Before then there is something else we have to contend with. The Justice League aka the Justice League of America first appeared in comic books in 1960, for those not familiar, it is a sort of DC equivalent to The Avengers. Rumours of a Justice League movie have been around for years but is yet to happen. The big problem; all the other original members (Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter) are all supernatural, superhuman or alien. But the problem goes deeper than that, none of them have appeared in a decent movie for thirty years. The long and short of it, there can be a Justice League movie, but it can not include Christopher Nolan’s Batman. They will also struggle to make it as successful as The Avengers. The sensible thing to do from an artistic point of view would be to make a Justice League movie with its own story, its own cast and its own continuity outside the other movies. If successful it could create its own franchise, if it flops it would do so without harming other franchises.

There is sure to be a reboot, but when and how. Although it seems like longer, there was less than a decade between Batman Begins and Batman & Robin suggesting a reboot could happen as soon as the end of the decade. Or have things been accelerated by the quick reboot of Spider-Man? While I am not suggesting a Joel Schumacher style farce, the tone and style of any reboot has to be dramatically different to Nolan’s vision. This is essential for its own good as well as avoiding the impact on Nolan than way Schumacher’s movies taint the memory of Tim Burton’s movies.

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