My_Science_Project_Poster1985 was a big year for Teen Science Nerd films.  I will be reviewing the three films over the next three days.  Today, we start with director John Betuel’s My Science Project.  Betuel wrote the classic Sci-Fi film the Last Starfighter and he wrote this film, which would give one real hope.

The cast is a combination of well known (Dennis Hopper, Richard Masur and Barry Corbin) combined with “up and Comers” (Danielle Von Zerneck, John Stockwell and Fisher Stevens).  The plot is simple.  The film opens a few decades before the film actually takes place.  An alien ship is shot down.  The military opts to have everything destroyed.  Jump ahead to 1985 and we meet high school student Michael Harlan (who has gone on to direct films such as Blue Crush, Into the Blue and Turistas) and his buddy Vince (Played by Fake Indian Fisher Stevens).  His science teacher Bob, an aging hippie pining for the 60’s played appropriately by Dennis Hopper, is after him about his science project.  He needs to pass science class.  He is not scientifically inclined, rather more mechanical.  He is a car guy.  After his girlfriend and he break up over an article in Cosmo, he is asked out by nerd Ellie (Danielle von Zerneck).  Begged, really.

Michael takes her on a date, but it is really a cover so he can go through a military junkyard for a makeshift science project.  He finds a glowing orb that he takes with him.  Long story short, it is a battery that bends time and space.  It starts to suck power, reaching out for more and more powerful sources.

John, Ellie, Vince and additional nerd Sherman (Raphael Sbarge) try and stop the orb from ultimately destroying space and time as we know it.  The film is pretty messy, and it does not make a whole lot of sense.  Unlike the tightly scripted The Last Starfighter, My Science Project seems to be wandering around trying to figure out where it is going.  Dennis Hopper’s Bob is fairly entertaining, but he gets removed from the story about a third of the way in and does not reappear until the end of the story.

The film has big ideas, but nothing solid really materializes, making the film largely average and forgettable.

 

deadpool_imax_posterTim Miller’s Deadpool is hilarious and fun.  A darkly comic take that brings the pages to life by simply understanding the character.  The movie is also extremely crass, full of over the top cartoonish violence, raunchy humor, some nudity and plenty of profanity.  This is not for everyone, and if you find those things hard to get past, I would recommend skipping this one.  It is also not for your kids.  This film earns it’s ‘R’ rating.

Honestly, it is a bit amazing this film got made.  While attempt to parody and mock super-hero film have been attempted, they are really never successful.  They never seem to understand the thing they are lampooning.  Miller, Ryan Reynolds and the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have given us a surprisingly clever film.  It is a bit amazing that they even got the opportunity to make it.  After the disaster of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (The first attempt at playing the character by Reynolds), the idea of a Deadpool movie was shelved by the studio.

Then, somebody leaked test footage of a sequence that was created to pitch the shelved film.  The response was so overwhelmingly positive the film got greenlit and Miller and Reynolds went to work.

And what they gave us is one of the most unique super-hero movies we have seen, while still fitting into that world.  Reynolds bring snarky charm to Deadpool, also known as Wade Wilson.  Wilson has been experimented on and his latent mutant genes activated.  He takes damage, but due to a healing factor, all his wounds fix themselves.  So, like a real life Wile E. Coyote, he gets abused relentlessly, but keeps coming back.  A lot of the film’s humor comes from this.

There is a running gag that Colossus is always trying to get Deadpool to change his ways and join the X-Men.  And along with the sullen Teenage Negasonic Warhead, he spends the film trying to get Deadpool on that path.  And these two characters are great additions.  They fit into the world well.

Deadpool_trio

The real success is pulling off the character of Deadpool.  Constantly cracking wise, he spends the film talking to the audience.  In one scene Colossus is startled by a comment from Deadpool, not understand why he made his comment.  Deadpool explains that he is not talking to Colossus…he is talking to “Them”.  Them is the audience.  Wilson is constantly breaking the fourth wall.  Instead of narrating the film, he just turns and talks to the audience.  He is fully aware he is in a movie universe.

One of the other fun aspects is that Reynolds is merciless to himself.  There are numerous slams of his previous film outings and even a slam on himself as a talent.  And the film’s opening credits (which kept me laughing even after I got the gag, it just stayed funny) effectively let you know the film’s sarcastic attitude.  This is not your regular X-Men movie.

Of course, the movie is definitely set in the Fox Marvel X-Men Universe.  This has caused some consternation among some geek sites, as they cannot reconcile the difference between Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus in the previous X-Men films and the version we see in this film, who appears older and is voiced by Stefan Kapicic with a thick Russian accent.  This is pretty easy to reconcile, as the Days of Future past altered the timeline.  It is entirely possible Colossus came from Russia when he was older.

I found myself liking all the characters in Wilson’s circle.  There was an oddball charm in his relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).  His roomate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) is a riot.  T.J. Miller’s bartender (he runs a bar for mercenaries) Weasel is a fun character (his best line comes right before Deadpool goes to take out his villain, Francis (Ed Skrein).  Francis really hates Deadpool because he is so mouthy…and Deadpool refuses to call him by his chosen villain codename… Ajax.

Anyways, while I have repeatedly expressed concern that the film will not be successful for precisely the reasons I enjoyed it, I am more than pleased if it succeeds, as it could open the doors to more creative takes in superhero films.  There are a lot of them on the slate, and it would be great if they all sought to set themselves apart from the crowd.

Rebooting the Spoiler Egg

I have now seen two articles that talk about how movies either had spoilers or Easter Eggs that reveal the end of the movie.  I feel like we are getting dumber and dumber.

The claim of movies with spoilers was quickly derided by pointing out that providing hints and clues in a film about itself is a story technique called foreshadowing.  A spoiler is, actually, information given about the story before you have seen it.  For example, my telling you that Captain America dies towards the end of Captain America: Civil War is a spoiler if you did not already know it was going to happen.  The movie hinting that he will die is foreshadowing, not a spoiler.

An Easter Egg is a non-plot specific item thrown into a movie for fan service.  It is very common in franchises.  It is very common that a movie based on a book might have a prop that hints of things otherwise left out of the film.  But it is usually something a casual viewer would not notice.  Easter Eggs reward fans, but do not stand out so much that they confuse the viewer who has no prior “connection” to the film they are watching.  In the X-Men movies, it was often away to say “Yes, these characters you love from the comics exist in this world”.  In the second X-Men movie, eagle eyed comics fans noticed a young man in glasses being interviewed on television named Hank McCoy.  McCoy is the X-Man/Defender known as the Beast.  You did not need to see Stephen Strange or know who Doctor Strange is while watching Captain America: the Winter Soldier.  But his name appeared in the Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. database.  Theses are Easter Eggs.

This reminds me of the other heavily abused movie term…the Reboot.

The term “Reboot” gets thrown around way to much and often in ways totally inapplicable.  To put it simply, a reboot starts over.  It erases prior continuity, so to speak, with the aim of a new franchise.  Films that were never a franchise getting remade is exactly that…a Remake.  Labyrinth was a one off film.  It was one film.  If you are retelling that tale?  It is a remake.  If you make a new film within that continuity, then you are making a sequel.

A sequel to a film that carries on the previous films’ story is not a reboot, even if it is released thirty years after the original film.  Mad Max: Fury Road is an awesome sequel that is not a reboot.

You can only reboot a franchise.  X-Men first Class was not a reboot, it took place within the franchise continuity.  It had conflicts with X-Men Origins Wolverine…but this was not addressed until X-Men: Days of Future Past.  That totally rebooted the franchise, totally altering the course of characters and story completely.

The Amazing Spider-Man jettisoned the Sam Raimi based continuity and started from scratch.  While the new Spider-Man films will not re-hash the origin, it has still opted to reboot, having an entirely new continuity in place.

The Josh Trank Fantastic Four takes place in a totally new origin.  It ignores the previous two films.

2009’s Friday the 13th tried to restart the franchise by basically starting over.  They gave a compressed version of the original film, but ignored the first eleven entries (if you include Freddy Vs Jason).  There were no ties to the original films beyond the most basic “origin” story at the beginning.

These are reboots. They are not tethered to the previous continuity, they are their own new take.  They are also meant to kick off a rebirth of that franchise.  Remaking Steel Magnolias is not “Rebooting Steel Magnolias”.

So, in closing… Foreshadowing is not a spoiler or Easter Egg.  And a Remake of a one off film is not a reboot.

Because this is the stuff that matters, folks.

 

Ex_Machina_movie_posterAlex Garland’s Ex Machina is is a dark tale of amoral scientists and their creation.  Nathan (Oscar Isaac, playing a very different role than Poe Dameron) is a brilliant scientist who has created a mechanical person he has named Ava (Alicia Vikander).  He has brought Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) in to test the quality and authenticity of Ava’s A.I.

Through a series of interviews, Caleb starts to become confused about his feelings.  Is he falling in love with Ava?  Is This the real intention of Nathan?  Or does he have another goal for Ava?

The film is very dialog heavy, mostly we sit through conversations between Caleb and Ava or Caleb and Nathan.  As the film unfolds and more is revealed, thing become darker and darker.  Intended or not, there is something being said about scientific culture and it’s view of women, but I cannot speak more on any theory without revealing some big twists in the plot.

The art direction and design in the film is beautiful.  Ava is clearly mechanical, and yet looks lovely, making her ability to draw a person in believable, even though only portions of her are covered with a synthetic skin.

The three primary actors give solid performances.  Isaac’s egotistical Nathan moves from merely appearing to full of himself to darkly detached from humanity.  Vikander has a cold humanity.  You know what emotions she is expressing, but they seem slightly off.  Domnhall gives a strong performance as a bright guy who finds himself feeling more and more like a devastated pawn.

This is a good film that builds very quietly to a dark and tragic finale.

 

So, the Brits are making a weird post 9/11 road trip movie following the apparently true tale of Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor going on a road trip after…well, 9/11.  I suppose it is ripe for a comedic take.

But the main reason anyone is talking about the film is they cast Joseph Fiennes as…wait for it… Michael Jackson.

The most iconic black celebrity in the past 50 years of pop entertainment…is set to be played by a white guy.  The defense, of course, is that the film takes place at a point where Jackson looks really white.  And so, if they cast a black actor, they would have to do a lot of make-up to lighten the actors skin.

The thing is, Jackson never expressed a disdain for his blackness, he saw himself as a black man.  Many claim he bleached his skin.  This is certainly a distinct possibility, as he had vitiligo.  This often occurs in patches, and bleaching is actually a way to try and even out skin tone in patients.  People stick to the belief that Michael Jackson was trying to look white, due to his extensive surgeries.  There is no actual evidence of this, other than people want to believe it.  But the fact is, there is no basis for this.  What seems more likely, is Jackson fell into the same trap as many other celebrities who get plastic surgery.  He became obsessed with getting operation after operation, likely to sometimes “fix” previous surgeries.

Casting white actors in black roles has an effect that is quite different than doing the reverse.  There are many roles for white actors out there.  But in television and film, your cast is often comprised of white people.  And frankly, Fiennes does not look like Michael Jackson simply because he is white.  I mean, if Joe was a dead ringer for Jackson, there might be a defense here…but literally the only thing they have in common is paleness.

Fiennes will, in fact, have to go under extensive makeup and prosthetic effects to look like Jackson.  So, this is different from doing the same for a black actor how?

the-revenant-movie-posterRevenant: Definition one, a person who returns.  Definition two, a person who returns as a spirit or ghost.  The film works on both those levels.  Going in, based on early word and promotions, this may have struck you as a revenge movie with Leonardo DiCaprio fighting a bear.

And those things are there.  The bear attack is intense and brutal.  It also leads to DiCaprio’s High Glass’ quest for revenge on Tom Hardy’s John Fitzgerald.  After their fur trapping group is attacked by a group of Native Americans.  They are seeking the Chief’s kidnapped daughter and believe Glass’s crew has her.  The survivors escape due to Glass’s knowledge of the wilderness.  His main goal is protecting his son.

While scouting ahead, Glass is attacked and has a fight with a large mother bear.  His group tries to patch him up, but ultimately, they agree to go ahead while Fitzgerald, Bridger (Will Poulter) and Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) stay with the incapacitated Glass.

Things go south as Fitzgerald becomes impatient, wishing Glass would just die.  As I said, the film is a revenge film.  But it is not a revenge film like we might get starring Liam Neeson or Mel Gibson.  Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014’s Birdman) takes his time.  Much of the film simply follows Glass struggling to survive a harsh winter, mostly alone, when he can barely walk.  The actual seeking of revenge does not occur until near the end of the movie.

It is beautifully shot, capturing much of the beauty that can be found even in harsh winters.  Iñárritu skillfully will focus on a sunrise as seen through frozen bare tree branches.  And the performances are what one would expect from talent like DiCaprio and Hardy.  There are long quiet stretches, that get broken up by harsh and brutal violence.

I don’t know that the Revenant is truly a film that invites repeat watches, it is not a film where you need to mine it for themes buried deep.  Instead, it is laid bare on the table.  It is a film that sticks with you well after leaving the theater.

Odd Pairings

On a recent episode of the Nightly Show, host Larry Wilmore discussed the #OscarsSoWhite issue with his panel.  It was a brief discussion, but Wilmore made an observation that did not fully work for me.  He asked if black performers are getting offered the opportunities that white performers have.

The-Martian-kevin-hartThis was not actually the part that “troubled” me.  I think this is true for non-white performers in general.  But Wilmore cracked a joke about the Martian starring Kevin Hart not carrying the same weight.  And yeah, the Martian starring Kevin Hart suggests a different type of film than the Martian Starring Matt Damon.  But then, so does the Martian Starring Will Farrell.  Like Hart, Farrell tells me such a film would most likely be some brand of comedy, rather than an Oscar Nominated drama.

Put Idris Elba, David Oyelowo or Chiwetel Ejiofor (admittedly, already in the Martian) in the role of Mark Watney and I suspect you still have an Oscar Nominated performance.  I get the joke Wilmore was making, but feel it is kind of unfair to compare a dramatic actor with a comedic actor.  It might be more workable if Hart had pulled off the switch from largely comedic based actor to a more multi-layered performer, but he is not there yet.

The_Martian_posterFor being a comedy, (thanks People’s Choice Awards) The Martian feels pretty serious.

That does not mean it is devoid of humor.  Really, most any solid drama with have humor to break tension.  And considering the situation Mark Watley (Matt Damon) finds himself in?  Tension needs to break.  After an accident leaved Watley left behind on Mars, (believed dead) he finds himself struggling to find a way to last until the next mission to Mars can pick him up…in about four years.

The Martian is a thrilling account of survival that manages to be filled with concern and joy.  Ridley Scott likes his epics, but this is very low key in that regard.  Instead, it is a focus on character and endurance.  We get a window into Watley’s thoughts by way of his video recording everything he is doing as a journal.  On the one hand, this could have felt like weighty exposition, and some might wonder why the filmmakers did not opt for the near silence of the first half of Castaway.

Damon’s delivery is light and accessible, rather than clunky, and it is easy to connect with the character.  One of the film’s strengths is how it manages to give us insight to our characters very quickly, especially the crew.  We meet them mere moments before the storm that separates Watley.  And yet, you get a feel for the relationship of this crew and the dedication they have to each other in those few minutes.

The cast is very strong, everybody turning in enjoyable performances.  The visuals are solid, considering it is a lot of reddish sand and rock.  Scott really seems to like films set on barren planets.

The Martian is an engaging sci-fi drama well worth viewing.

Green Flashes

Greenlantern+New+Film+PosterI had not paid attention to this before…but I realized this week, some of the same people that gave us the Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern brought us Arrow, Flash, Supergirl.  This includes Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim.  And I have to say, in some ways it is very obvious.

The film draws heavily on characters from the comics, though sometimes to poor effect.  Amanda Waller, for example.  She is simply a scientist named Amanda Waller.  That is supposed to a cool Easter Egg for fans.  But aside from getting her race correct, the film gives us an uninteresting scientist…not the Wall.

Based on the Flash?  This would seem mystifying.  The Flash does Easter Eggs extremely well.  Except, there is also Arrow.  Arrow is problematic most of the time.  Relying all too much on Flashbacks and a darker tone than appropriate for the Green Arrow…it has gotten by on a likable cast.  But from the first season, it was incredibly obvious that the creators of Arrow did not want to make a Green Arrow show, but a Batman show.  They just could not get the greenlight for it.  The same thing happened on Smallville.

green-lantern-movie-image-42

And we see the same problems in 2011’s Green Lantern.  There are some great things in the film.  Marc Strong’s performance as Sinestro stands out.  However, the film was designed to kick off a franchise.  And yet, it makes Hal Jordan’s first fight against a universe sized threat.  Where do you go from that?  Instead of keeping it small, allowing Hal to save the planet, rather save the entire universe right away.

There are no other future Lanterns introduced.  I mean, seriously, you want an Easter Egg?  Introduce John Stewart in the film(He was cut from the script).

In addition, when this film came out, Marvel was only a year away from the hotly anticipated Avengers.  DC and the WB had a very prime opportunity to start building that shared universe they desperately wanted.  The script even considered showing Clark Kent in a brief cameo as a candidate for the ring and the film has a sign for Central City.  It was cut on the idea of not relying on other heroes.  So, we ended up with a closed universe.  This could have opened the door and with a better setup than we got from Man of Steel.

I was disappointed, in the end, with Green Lantern because it falls short all to easily.  Seeing what Berlanti and Guggenheim have pulled off on the Flash makes me wonder how much involvement they had in the final product.

Folks are talking about the new Suicide Squad Posters…and drawing comparisons to the Superman V Batman posters.

Here is the new trailer:

Uh…and here is the most recent Batman v Superman:

Notice anything?  Like the posters?  The trailer for the Suicide Squad suggest an energetic and fun film.  I was not sure how well the Suicide Squad would translate, after all, it is comprised of established bad guys from the DC Universe.  There is a sense of goofiness amid the grit and violence.  The attitude coming across is not grim.

Batman V Superman?  It seems like a dour and angry affair.  Nobody cracks a smile (aside from Lex Luthor).  It is trying so hard to scream “Epic”, it misses that there should be cheer.  It should be inspiring.

Suicide Squad (like Deadpool) is showing a gritty violent side paired with a wink and a smirk.  A bit of joy, almost.  Batman v Superman?  It pairs gritty and dark violence with a joyless intensity.  And I wonder how that can be.  How is it that the band of bad guys forced to be heroic looks way more fun than Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman???