Welcome to August, the month when studios, having already fired off all their high-profile (not to mention high concept) summer guns, unleash what amounts to their second tier of releases, the stuff that doesn’t automatically trigger broad media attention, things with a more… “culty,” shall we say?… appeal, and things that are, let’s just say it, no durn good. However, since even the big tent-poles can now be somewhat inconsequential in their story-telling and quality (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, anyone?), it’s become less surprising that a dog-day release could have been just as welcome, if not more so, in the weeks preceding.
Such is the case with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a fun space adventure based on a Marvel comic book that racked up record box office in its opening week, and earns its goodwill in a number of ways. I take a look at the film in my latest review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF — click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click on the title to download.
Time is, time was, time’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. There were clearly commercial reasons why the latest chapter in the X-MEN franchise had to be a time travel tale: Having previously flubbed the introduction of a new, younger Professor X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the producers clearly wanted to recover a bit of the franchise’s mojo by bringing back the old band — namely Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen under the direction of Bryan Singer (plus Hugh Jackman) — while also trying to finesse the audience into a better appreciation for their replacements. The side benefit is that the time period decided upon for this film has interesting significance for the themes explored in the X-MEN universe. After my quick review of the surprisingly decent MALEFICENT, I turn my attention to what Singer has wrought. Click on the player to hear the review.
To be perfectly blunt about it, big studio blockbuster releases typically don’t fail as spectacularly as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Oh they can be bad, but a comforting buffer of test screenings, focus groups, top-level executive intervention, and directorial and editorial wisdom tend to at least modulate them into some form of narrative coherence. Watching them isn’t akin to witnessing a trained chimpanzee trying to explain quantum physics.
Between the two super-villains, the romantic troubles between conflicted super-hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his ambitious girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the ongoing corporate espionage/missing parents story-arc, a new will-Spidey-share-his-blood-for-a-dangerous-but-possibly-lifesaving-procedure subplot, the ever-present exploration of the with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility theme (featuring a guest appearance by Denis Leary as Dolefully Glowering Ghost), Paul Giamatti in a tragically wasted role, and somewhere on the order of 23 discreet endings, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is one astoundingly awful mess. This is BATMAN AND ROBIN-grade disaster, so stunningly bad that the Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get a little giddy trying to suss out what went wrong. Click on the player to hear the show.
Well, they can’t all be NOAH, but then again, they all don’t need to be VAMPIRE ACADEMY, either. On the spectrum of the Marvel Comics franchise films, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER doesn’t reach the cinematic heights of the Raimi SPIDER-MANs (oh, okay, the first two SPIDER-MANs) or Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, but doesn’t crater out anywhere near the THOR or (shudder) FANTASTIC FOUR efforts. Filing my review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, I was happy (relieved, even) to note the not inconsiderable pleasures of this new chapter in the chronicles of America’s most patriotic superhero, even if I also feel duty-bound point out the ways it could have been better. Click on the player to hear the review.
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And so commences the Marvel Onslaught of 2014. Four movies, three studios, and more opportunities for the true believers to nudge each other knowingly when Stan Lee makes his expected cameos, even though your great-great-grandmother could probably recognize him by now. That said, there are far worse ways to kick off this flood than CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, a well-mounted, surprisingly well-acted (hey, you’ve got Sam Jackson and Robert Redford in there), and all-around entertaining actioner that finds the stalwart Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) facing a test to his WWII-bred notions of right and wrong as he finds himself suddenly at cross-purposes to his masters at S.H.I.E.L.D and confronting a formidable assassin called the Winter Soldier.
The Cinefantastique Spotlight crew of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons are no little grateful that THE WINTER SOLDIER goes down as easy as it does, but are in accord that there were ways it could have been much better. We compare notes in this latest episode — click on the player to hear the show.
It’s felled the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men. It’s a more daunting foe than Lex Luthor, Bane, and Magneto combined. It is, of course, the third installment of a superhero franchise, and now it’s time for comicdom’s snarkiest hero to face the figurative music in IRON MAN 3. With Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, and Gwyneth Paltrow returning to their roles as, respectively, Tony Stark/Iron Man, James Rhodes/War Machine (here redubbed Iron Patriot), and Pepper Potts/Pepper Potts (somebody’s gotta stay in civvies), plus Ben Kingsley donning a bin Laden beard and a Hugo Weaving/Agent Smith drawl as the politically-incorrect terrorist the Mandarin, and with direction by pop-ironist Shane Black, can this third go for the power-assisted crime fighter break film’s most notorious curse? Turns out Cinefanatastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons form a decidedly mixed jury on that front, differing on whether IM3 is one of the best comic book films to come around in a while, is just solid if undistinguished entertainment, or is an affront to all right-thinking fans of Marvel’s steeliest superhero. The conflict will be resolved with a massive, twenty minute fight scene, heavily enhanced with CG. (No it won’t.)
Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
Walt Disney Pictures releases the third IRON MAN movie during the lucrative month of May (“summer” blockbusters don’t wait for summer anymore). Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, the man in the iron suit, along iwth Dwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan. However, Favreau (who helmed the first two IRON MAN films) is out of the director’s chair, replaced by Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON), who also had a hand in the script, along with Drew Pearce, based on the Marvel Comics character. This time, the story pits Stark against a new villain, The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley. Also in the cast are Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian and William Sadler as Sal Kennedy. And we’re sure Stan Lee will show up in there somewhere.
U.S. Theatrical Release: May 3, 2013
The father of the Amazing Spider-Man is still pretty amazing himself — at NYCC, Stan Lee not surprisingly packed the house during his Saturday appearance, and managed to have journalists lining up afterward to speak with him.
Dan Persons was one of those lucky enough to get a few minutes with Stan, and was able to get some insight into his newest project, the web video channel STAN LEE’S WORLD OF HEROES, as well as a benchmark on how he regards his side-career as a big-screen actor. (Dan was also able to restrain himself from asking Stan to shout, “Excelsior!” but doesn’t guarantee he won’t do it the next time.)
Nothing like using the patriotic holiday of the Fourth of July to re-introduce the U.S. to a beloved New York Commie liberal. Or THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, if you will: Big Apple native and irradiated-arachnid-bit crime fighter. Sony has decided to punch the reboot button for what is actually the fourth installment of the franchise (but should we start counting from one again?). Gone is the post-college, working-joe Peter Parker; the revenge-obsessed Harry Osborne; and romantic shuttlecock Mary Jane. Here instead is Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), humble high-school student; big bad villain, the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and alt love-interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Plus the wrinkle of a whole new conspiracy theory added to the tragic death of Parker’s parents and his eventual transformation into the cocky web-slinger.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they determine whether going back to square one was worth the effort, how director Marc Webb’s approach to the legend varies from Sam Raimi’s, and whether there are limits to Chekov’s observations on introducing a gun in the first act. Then, Dan will give his takes on the indie horror comedy SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, and the cult animated kids show, ADVENTURE TIME: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
There are so many ways a grand conglomeration of super heroes could turn into a car wreck (case in point: THE FANTASTIC FOUR), that we should be grateful when a film manages just to clear that bar. Fortunately, and quite happily, THE AVENGERS not only manages that base-line feat, but goes far beyond it, becoming a rare example of a top-notch comic book movie. Granted, the team-up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), aided and abetted by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), doesn’t boast much more than a bare-essentials plot — demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to take over the Earth ‘cuz… well, just ‘cuz — but under the direction of Joss Whedon, the proceedings offer enough kick-ass action and delicious character moments that plot barely matters.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they break down the first official blockbuster of summer 2012 to find out what makes it pop and where it fizzles. Also: What’s coming to theaters.