Friday, March 14, 2014

The Battle of Captain America Against Batman and Superman is Set and Other Random Film Thoughts

I've mentioned in the past that I wanted to start discussing major movie news on here in an attempt to eventually lead to a full blown site to house my reviews and well. . . movie news and opinions. Today seems like a fine and dandy day to try it out. Here are a few major movie news bits from the last few days that I have thoughts on.

1. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that the secret Marvel Untitled Project slated for May 6, 2016 is set to be Captain America 3. As things currently stand, that means we're set for maybe the biggest opening weekend box office rumble ever with the patriotic hero battling it out with Batman and Superman (and Wonder Woman and now possibly even Green Lantern).

The match-up between two studios' biggest tentpoles of the year warring over box office grosses on the very same weekend is intriguing, but I think the ultimate game of chicken that is about to take place is far more exciting. We almost never see two massive blockbusters open on the same weekend for a reason, because it will either drastically diminish both films' potential to break records or it risks significantly crushing one picture from starting out hot. It is a gamble that has almost no upside for studios unless one truly does triumph over the other and they can rest assured the competition didn't diminish earning potential. I think it is unlikely we'll actually end up seeing Captain America 3 going up against Superman vs. Batman.

Now we get to watch over the next several months to see what studio backs down first and moves its picture to a safer weekend. Superman vs. Batman already jumped out of the very crazy battle royal that is the mega franchise stuffed summer of 2015. It would look bad if the apparent pride and joy of Warner Brothers, and their hopeful launching pad for Justice League America thus their centrepiece franchise, once again flees from the scheduled date. I realize that the reason for the first move had to with there not being enough time for production and they still seem to be working on a script, but there are other major releases for next summer that are still at the casting stage, which means they have shooting and editing and CGIing to do as well. The excuse that things are running behind has been used for countless movies in the past and usually there is more to it than revealed (hindsight makes one think The Monuments Men move may have more to do with it not be Oscar-worthy than any post-production issues). Superman vs. Batman will likely have a hard time saving face if they try to go with "production is moving slow" a second time in order to avoid a heated battle.

A movie has got to move out of that slot though. It would be foolish and throwing away massive grosses to share a weekend with a gigantic blockbuster. The question comes down to which studio blinks. The move is essentially accepting defeat. It is admission that the other one scares them, and it is the bigger franchise by default. Of course, the end of the year tally of grosses will declare the real winner. Maybe the picture that moves will make more money. It isn't like the first weekend of May is a guaranteed windfall spot, but the blockbuster kick-off season is a prestigious one. This is a battler of pride and from a public perception standpoint, it may also be the more important one.

When Superman vs. Batman moved out of 2015 and hopped into the May 6 2016 spot, it was considered a pretty bold move by anyone that follows the film industry. The first weekend of May has been the established location for the Marvel mega-blockbuster for the last several years. Though it should be noted that due to deals made prior to the Disney purchase of Marvel that it hasn't always been part of the big mouse studio (for example, this year The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is distributed by Sony Pictures). It was pretty shocking that Warner Brothers dared to put a DC property on that date, especially since a Marvel project was already penciled in.

The hope was that Marvel didn't have a powerhouse in its sleeve for that weekend. There had been speculation it could have been Dr. Strange or Black Panther, which would be relying far more heavily on the comic company's brand name than character recognition. Everyone talks about how Iron Man was a lesser known property but through marketing became a smash hit, but even that character had my resonance in pop culture than the other two. Warner Brothers likely was hoping it was a lightweight property that obviously could become a hit but would have a strong uphill against its super-heavyweight franchise.

Now, Superman and Batman have to do battle with superhero whose stock has experienced a meteoric rise thanks to being part of an ensemble picture that is one of the highest grossing pictures of all time. Man of Steel did out gross the original Captain America, but the latter come out before the explosive release of The Avengers. There will be a better idea of what kind of momentum the patriotic franchise has after next month's sequel that currently is projecting an $80 million opening,

Man of Steel was a box office hit, but it wasn't the biggest financial success of the year. Its critical reception was mixed at best, and the public's feelings towards the picture seem to have diminished the farther removed it has been since its opening. The "at least it was better than Superman Returns" isn't really the endorsement needed to ensure the crowds are crashing down the doors to see it.

Batman has a far better motion picture reputation, and his name definitely makes the picture feel like a big event. The problem is that much of the love towards the Dark Knight comes from the Christopher Nolan franchise. The faith in Zack Snyder is no where near as strong. There are still people whining about the casting of Ben Affleck in the spot of the beloved brooding hero. Actually, almost all the buzz seems to be about casting complaints rather than actual excitement. I think people will still come, but the challenge is will it be it be more than Captain America 3. Especially when they open at the same time.

Between the two, Captain America seems like the stronger franchise at the moment. It is backed by the comic book company that has far more cinematic hits in the last decade. It likely has more confidence to stand its ground. But Warner Brothers has a lot at stake here, because outside of Batman, they haven't been able to muster both a box office and critical hit for the same picture. If this picture isn't a spectacular success then the hopes of a JLA picture and a franchise with the strength of an Avengers will become more a fading dream than actual reality. The backing out will almost be an admission they're the lesser of the franchises. Marvel will likely take far less damage if it moves, but it may also think it has less to lose if it keeps its ground too.

2. The Passengers was a picture that looked to be banking on the success Gravity in the newly resurrected sub-genre of mature adult sci-fi where blasting laser beams and hot young abs are replaced by older actors and deep human interest stories. Speaking of resurrections, Keanu Reeves' career needs one after taking a hit over the past few years, especially after starring in one of last year's biggest flops, 47 Ronin. The 2015 spring release was supposed to be the big hit to get his career back on track. It would also be a test to see if adults really were looking for sci-fi with mature stories and that eschewed typical modern action. It now looks like that question isn't going to be answered any time soon as co-star Rachel McAdams has pulled out and The Weinstein Company backed out as distributors as well.

The interesting aspect here is what caused McAdams to pull out of the project. Was it a script or creative issue? Are there other problems that are delaying the project and that is why she pulled out? Has she been lured away by something more attractive? I'd assume that it was her decision to leave the project that caused The Weinstein Company to exit as the distributors. There could possibly be other issues at play here.

It is too bad, because this project seemed to help with the push towards allowing the sci-fi genre to tell more stories than the typical explosions and comic book adventures. It is a genre that really can cross into other arenas and tell a lot of different type of stories. The success of Gravity likely means similar other pictures will be greenlit, but this would have been the first that likely wouldn't have relied on spectacular visual effects to drive the story and could have come in with a much smaller budget (sort of like Moon).

To be fair, there has been smart sci-fi for years. It just rarely comes in at the mainstream level. My fear for a while is that wide release picture have continued to get dumbed down even if they look impressive. The Reeves and McAdams names likely meant this had a shot at going to wide. If it was a hit then maybe studios will at least start plopping in a few more of these type of pictures outside of Oscar season and stop being so focused on the formulaic action spectacles.

Of course, the plot of this picture could have just turned into a cliché and tired romance too. A man gets out of hyper-sleep early on a spaceship sending colonist to a new world and wakes up a woman to keep him company is a story that can either just go for the easy sentimentality or can be an incisive look at human's need for relationships. Reeves doesn't necessarily represent the billboard for complex and complicated dramas, but the story has the potential to be special. It reminds me of a shot story that could have been written by Ray Bradbury, and that alone is what piqued my interest. Of course, now it looks destined for developmental hell unfortunately. There are many similar original stories just waiting to get plucked, and hopefully, someone takes the gamble.

3. On the Breakdown podcast, Scott and I debated if the talented Tye Sheridan had any interest in becoming a star or doing any pictures beyond the independent scene. It looks like we now have our answer. He isn't attached to the next Star Wars (as once was rumoured) or any tentpole picture, but he has now signed on to his first major studio picture. This is great news because it means more people will be able to see his talents. It also shows that he does have an eye on getting some mainstream attention. Considering how choosy he has been with his roles previously, it also makes be intrigued by a story that I'd normally totally pass over.

Scouts vs. Zombies sounds like something that would be distributed by Asylum rather than Paramount. Typically something this overtly campy and purposefully fighting for eye rolls is better suited for the independent scene and midnight screenings of festivals rather than a wide release. I wonder if this is a Sheridan miscalculation or if it happens to be an incredibly witty horror comedy script.

Christopher Landon's major directorial effort was Paraormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which I to my great surprise was by far the best of the franchise and enjoyable on its own. The problem was that it was tied down to the stupid found footage gimmick and made many of the story elements forced. The other disconcerting thing about Landon's inclusion is that he has written all the Paranormal Activity sequels, which have grown in their ridiculousness before the spin-off saved things a bit. He isn't really a filmmaker I have my eyes on, but maybe this will have a better chance if it ignores the found footage albatross. He also brought a great pacing and sense of action to the franchise in the latest, and those are elements that could make a horror comedy work. Also ridiculousness is what you want in this kind of picture, so there is a chance his style may be a better fit.

I'd never predicted this to be Sheridan's next role after Joe. You can at least consider me very interested to see how this turns out. I may not be eager for the picture, but I at least want to see a trailer.

4. J.K. Simmons is the type of actor that doesn't add any box office power but does add loads of prestige to a picture. This doesn't mean a picture turns out to be any good (I'm looking at your Dark Skies and Labor Day), but his presence and performance usually makes you fight harder in trying to give it a shot. This is why I love the addition of Simmons as the alcoholic and worn-out detective to the 2015 Terminator reboot. I don't love the idea of yet another reboot mind you, but having a character trying to solve the three decade insanity of Sarah Connor and time traveling robots at least shows an attempt to make a different type of movie. I'm guessing Simmons' character will be supporting here, but Simmons as a cranky and persistent detective seems like a perfect fit for him. I'd at least expect him to rule his scenes with a cyborg fist.

The other interesting part of this is that outside of Arnold Schwarzenegger they aren't going for any easy superstar casting here. This also feels like a recent pattern going on in Hollywood, which is pretty exciting. It seems ever since Jennifer Lawrence captured audiences with her lead role in The Hunger Games there has been a movement towards mining young stars who have proved their worth in dramatic independent fare. They round out the cast with trusted thespians rather than star power. Hopefully this will up the quality of pictures that otherwise would just be shiny and loud junk. Consider me at least mildly interested in where they're going with the story and picture.

5. Out of all the casting news that has been thrown out this week, the most intriguing is also likely the one to get the least interest, which is the casting of Aubrey Plaza to Hal Hartley's Ned Rifle - the final chapter to the Henry Fool trilogy. Plaza is becoming one of my favourite young comedic actors alongside Jane Levy. Both are huge stars waiting to break-out. Though Plaza right now seems to be content with Parks and Recreation being her most mainstream project as she sticks with indy comedies for the big screen. Safety Not Guaranteed was her biggest critical hit, while The To-Do List demonstrated her ability to pull off a character different than her cynical April.

Plaza is among a batch of super talented comedians who have been taking on independent comedies that have racy jokes mixed in with drama and more complicated stories than the current crop of formulaic and broad wide release comedies. The growth of on-demand and new ways of releasing pictures has allowed for what seems like a creative boon for comedies that many are missing. Hopefully, it will start to challenge the current major studios to up their game. The mainstream scene still isn't releasing a lot of strong female centric comedies, but Plaza is proof they deserve it and they're incredibly smart and funny. Kristen Wiig, Elizabeth Banks, and Sarah Silverman are just a few that can do more than just the raunchy comedies, but able to mix that style with some more thoughtful and challenging roles. Hopefully, if these movies continue to be solid independent hits then it will change what is expected and consumed at the mainstream level as well. I'm definitely rooting for this Plaza project along with whatever else comes her way soon.

6. Famke Janssen signed for Taken 3 to join Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace. The big news here is that Taken is now on pace to challenge Die Hard for longest series of preposterous scenarios in an attempt to keep a concept going with the same star. Though this picture already now has Die Hard beaten in recurring appearances by the wife, as they relegated John McClane's to just a voice on the phone by the third. My guess is this time around ol' Neeson will be on a honeymoon after he remarries his wife, but things get interrupted when he finds out his favourite second cousin has been kidnapped by the grandfather of the guys from the original.

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Okay, this turned out way longer than I expected. I started saying, "Oh, I should really talk about that bit of news too." As there is apparently way too much movie news that shows up in one day. I had to start cutting a lot of stuff out to avoid this being a novel or stopping me from writing the stuff that actually pays the bills.

I'll likely not do this format again. Instead, just try to throw up some quick thoughts the moment I come across a hot news item that actually inspires some thoughts. For everything else I'll just store it away until it triggers an idea for a long form essay that tackles a bigger issue or concept. I'm sure I'll constantly play around with things until I find a format that works.

I definitely know this won't be the place to get quick news. I won't be able to cover everything that happens during the week. Hopefully, I can make it a place that has some insight and maybe able to use current news as a way to look at history or evaluate some long term impact. It will essentially be a hodge podge until I find my groove.

Then of course, there will be those posts that have nothing to do with movies. Because this isn't a movie site and I have many other things I want to write about. But I like movie writing and it has afforded me my biggest break so far in writing. I do plan to give it a lot of attention.

If there are any major things going on in film that you want me to write about or discuss then feel free to throw in a request either in the comments, via Twitter or an email. If I like it then I'll tackle it. I'm also open to requests for film reviews (especially if you're movie site and willing to pay).

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