Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Weekend Box Office

Tomorrowland - the tentpole that doesn't make it all the way to the tent. Thanks for the figures, Box Office Mojo!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Weekend Box Office

It's BANKS! BANKS! And thanks to Box Office Mojo for the numbers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekend Box Office

memo to myself - a man who is his own cinematographer has a fool for a subject. And thanks to Box Office Mojo for the figures.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Age of Ultron and a Genre That's Far From Done

The Avengers (including a few new recruits on the left), against a background
of the hundreds of robots they're about to shred.
Look: if a movie makes nearly $200 million domestic on opening weekend and nearly $400 million worldwide, you kinda have to see what the fuss is about.

Right off the bat, I can tell you that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a worthy and entertaining addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having absorbed (mostly via osmosis and basic cable) all TEN previous movies in this continuity, I can tell it's a neat new adventure. In terms of sheer spectacle it's worth the cost of a ticket (though I did not pop for 3D glasses: I'm here for the story, baby). The effects are seamless and perfectly designed and so well-integrated that about halfway in I stopped thinking about the sheer hours of VFX design and rendering that went into every damn frame and just let it wash over me.

HAL 9000. Often imitated,
never surpassed, he still has
much to teach us.
The plot: The Avengers, fresh from saving the world from Loki in the last movie, need to locate and dispose of Loki's scepter, a source of mystical power and all other sorts of mayhem. But Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wants to use it one last time to get his pet project working: a cybernetic creation that will protect all of Earth. But, as the film 2001: a Space Odyssey taught us, it is very difficult to explain the concept of security to a computer without them misconstruing the intent and trying to kill all of us. Which is what the newly animated Ultron (voiced with Tony Stark insouciance by fellow former Brat Pack member James Spader) immediately tries to do. So the threat this time was internally created-- and it's going to take the entire Avengers team to fix it and save the whole planet. Again.

Joss Whedon's style and humor is far more muted here than in his last Avengers movie, but his sense of cinematic action is still there and even improved a bit over his last outing. the opening battle is one long Alejandro González Iñárritu-style tracking shot. In several parts he slows the action down, which allowed some moments of quiet awe. He also gives some great acting turns for the more human members of the Avengers gang. Hawkeye (Modesto's own Jeremy Renner) has some moments of quiet vulnerability. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also gets some nice little moments. A few notes:

• The widespread criticism about Black Widow's character is absolutely true, unfortunately. I feel the giant three-fingered gloved hand of Disney here, holding back Whedon's organic feminism. Natasha is turned from a complex character with a morally questionable past to a sort of kick-ass den mother with a love story (you know, for the chicks). The chilling "red on my ledger" backstory between her and Loki from the last movie is completely absent. Disappointing.

Paul Rudd IS Ant-Man! As far as I could tell from the
trailers this isn't going to be a Romantic Comedy and
Judd Apatow is nowhere to be seen.
• Contrary to some social observers and film critics we have not reached "Peak Comic Book Movie." Not even close. There is a huge stack of Superhero movies waiting in the wings from Marvel and DC: Ant-Man and the Superman-Batman deal and Wonder Woman (I think) and the Fantastic 4 reboot (huh?) and the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel and many, many more. So far these movies still manage to be inventive and fresh, and the dead hand of Mannerism has yet to appear in the genre. Still…

• ...Though Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun watch and a neat action story, you can see in it how this genre is going to play out: Death by Character Shield. "Character Shield" is one of the screenwriting phrases which explains why lead characters in series and franchise entertainment tend to survive anything you can throw at them: they HAVE to. The appeal of the leads is what makes a series or franchise work, so whatever hairy death-defying situations the writers put them through they HAVE to make it out the other side. They can be emotionally changed, evolve or what have you, but you can't kill 'em.

Superheroes were tailor-made for action franchises: They're tough, very strong, often superhuman beings who can participate in huge violent battles and generally come out with naught but cosmetic scratches. Which is great, because there are usually a string of movies yet to be made featuring them stretching on into the distant future. Furthermore, these superheroes are generally assigned to quests that invariably have them saving the entire world (the Avengers have done this twice now), which is great because it increases your audience base.  But-- quoting another writer on this subject-- if everything is at stake, then nothing is at stake. They're always going to save the world and they're always going to survive. The character shield now encompasses the whole world and everything in it, and the only things you can battle are aliens (the last Avengers) or robots (this one). There is hope for complexity and consequences in the lesser Marvel movies (Captain America: The Winter Solder was a surprisingly complex political thriller) but the forces of monolithic Narrative Stasis are starting to show. With Stasis comes Mannerism, and then audience boredom, and then we move on to the next thing.

The super-secret hangar under Washington where SHIELD has
created a fleet of equally super-secret helicarriers. (scene from
Captain America: The Winter Soldier.) Your unaccounted
off-budget tax dollars at work!
• The product placement for Audi has evolved from ubiquitous to absurd.  Fine new Audis show up everywhere-- in frenetic chase scenes in Seoul, English universities, sitting out in the open in dirt-poor Eastern European countries with the keys in the ignition. At one point in the film Tony Stark activates an offscreen car with a remote. Guess what make of car, driverless, rolls into frame?

• Considering the large number of people in the United States who identify with right-wing causes, I am always surprised how a movie like this is widely liked and accepted despite the blatant presence in it of World Government-- and by that I mean exactly what Tea Party crazies are talking about: shadowy militarized organizations operating internationally with absolute impunity and with overwhelming destructive power. In Age of Ultron The SHIELD agency has collapsed (due to events in The Winter Soldier) but Nick Fury's organization fits the description perfectly: a UN-level secret military that operates stealthily everywhere in the world, has awe-inspiring weapons of mass destruction and respects no borders. The Avengers themselves have the same basic mission as SHIELD-- but as they are just a handful of superheroes they don't seem quite as-- well, quite as obvious-- as a fleet of flying aircraft carriers. Perhaps those of the Fox News persuasion identify more with the direct, um, "problem solving" methods of the Avengers and SHIELD (i.e. awe-inspiring carnage) than ever consider that they are basically seeing UN Black Helicopters: The Movie.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Weekend Box Office


This may not really be considered news.