Sunday, August 25, 2013

ARGO @#!& YOURSELF, AFFLECK HATERS


What’s the problem with the fanboys? They’ve gone ballistic on the blogosphere since the announcement this week that Ben Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight in the upcoming BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN movie. Twitter has been positively inundated. My God, you’d think that he was Edward Snowden or Private Manning!

What is the problem? Ben Affleck is an extremely talented actor, writer, and director who has won two Oscars, including Best Picture for ARGO last year. (He’s also married to Jennifer Garner, so maybe there’s some jealousy involved here.) But there's no reason for such utter vitriol spewing all over the Web about him.

Now look, one could argue that Affleck maybe shouldn’t play Batman as he’s already rendered two superheroes on the big screen before. He played DAREDEVIL (2003) in the unfortunate adaptation of that beloved comic book series. And he kind of played Superman too, right, since he portrayed George Reeves in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006)? You'll remember that movie was based upon the life of the actor who so memorably played the Man of Steel on TV in the 1950’s. But those are minor talking points for the fanboys. They just don't think Affleck has the chops. And they're going absolutely berserk, venting like it's the apocalypse. 

First of all, the fanboys need to chill and realize that since Affleck's comeback in HOLLYWOODLAND, he's been terrific in one film after another. Granted, he may not be Daniel Day-Lewis, but then who is? Affleck definitely has the gravitas and charm to render the dual role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. If you’ve seen THE TOWN (2010) then you know he has it in him. And man, doesn't he look the part? Affleck is tall, strapping, handsome…my God, look at his chin. He’ll 'out-Clooney' Clooney under the cowl for sure.
Henry Cavill in this summer's MAN OF STEEL.
So why are the haters frothing at the mouth so?

Sadly, it’s endemic in the fanboy world. They live to complain. And they think they should get to pick who plays their beloved comic book icons on screen. You'll remember that the same kind of bitchy fans moaned and groaned when Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as his Batman back in the 1980’s. The uproar was so loud that producers Peter Gruber and Jon Peters felt compelled to cut a teaser trailer to squelch the doubters. Ultimately, the trailer appeased the fan base and Keaton went on to great glory in the role. 
Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne (AKA Batman) back in the 80's.
Director Zack Snyder has pluses and minuses as a director, but I don’t believe casting is an issue in his films. And he obviously sees what I see. What many see in the potential Batman of Ben Affleck. And remember, at first blush Robert Downey Jr. seemed like an odd choice to play IRON MAN in 2008. I remember that grumbling online all too well. And didn't fanboys have a veritable conniption fit about Anne Hathaway being cast as Catwoman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES last year? So we need to cut Affleck some slack here.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
If the fanboys really want something to complain about, how about highlighting the fact that Hollywood is still throwing good money after bad regarding superhero films? Yes, in this summer of woefully underperforming box office superhero franchises such as MAN OF STEEL or  KICK-ASS 2, Warner Bros. still greenlit the BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN movie in a nano-second. The fact that Hollywood will keep throwing gazillions at one tent pole feature after another, no matter what the reviews or box office, suggests to me that the lessons of this summer have been lost on the exec's. Maybe that's where fanboys should direct their froth.

Have the studios noticed that a little film called THE BUTLER took in 25 million in its first weekend of release? Or that BLUE JASMINE is on its way to being Woody Allen’s biggest box office hit ever? I don’t hear about a slate of smaller films getting the instant go-ahead before everyone’s back in school so the answer appears to be 'no'. Yet another superhero movie gets fast-tracked, no questions asked. And all the fanboys can argue about is that the  actor playing the Caped Crusader once appeared in a so-so picture called GIGLI.

I think the fanboys should complain about the fact that DC and Warner Bros. still have yet to get a WONDER WOMAN movie into production. When is that going to happen? You have your assignment, fanboys. Raise a stink about that and get us out from under!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

THE FALL OF THE 2013 SUMMER MOVIE SEASON


Can you remember the last time the summer did not have a big breakout movie hit? You know, one of those films that got everyone talking? Last summer it was THE AVENGERS. In recent years, movies like BRIDESMAIDS and THE HANGOVER really stuck out and captured a certain zeitgeist in the nation. How about this year? What are we talking about this summer? A TV show - BREAKING BAD. The truth is, no movies have really achieved water cooler status this season.
Hugh Jackman in THE WOLVERINE.
Not that Hollywood didn’t try to rouse our enthusiasm. IRON MAN 3 was terrific. THE WOLVERINE was too. But since Robert Downey Jr. has played Tony Stark in five movies since 2008, perhaps it didn’t seem like that much of an event. Same with Jackman’s hirsute X-Man who has made six appearances on the big screen since the year 2000. Don’t get me wrong, I love both actors, both characters, and really enjoyed most of their movies, but the talk value waned before the first week was gone. Was it because both franchises are just a bit too familiar by now?

And big tent-pole CGI extravaganzas didn’t deliver what everyone thought they would either. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, MAN OF STEEL, and PACIFIC RIM made money, albeit well below their high expectations. I feel bad for the folks over at Paramount who struggled with their well-reviewed STAR TREK film. At the recent Las Vegas Star Trek convention, fanboys voted it as the worst of all the movies (http://bit.ly/13kc0Bb). Especially galling is the fact that the film with the original Khan, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, was heralded as the best of them all. Look, I liked this last one a lot, but despite a sly performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan, his character and the one that Ricardo Montalban so memorably played back in 1982, had little in common with each other, other than namesake. It would seem that if you’re going to keep going back to the STAR TREK well, it’s best not to screw around with the legend. Or I’d argue, do something much more original.
 
Benedict Cumberbatch in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.
If even the good movies are being dissed, well, you know that audiences are not pleased with Hollywood’s attempts to enthrall them. Something is deeply amiss. We’d rather discuss Walter White and Don Draper than the Wolfpack or Wolverine.

Could it be that too many Hollywood movies all have the term ‘event’ slapped on them due to the size of their budgets and not necessarily the size of an audience’s interest in them? Is it possible that audiences are just plain tuckered out on all of the superhero movies continually gorging the Cineplexes? Has CGI become so commonplace that it now fails to dazzle us? 

Yes. Yes. And yes.
Star Cate Blanchett with director Woody Allen on the set of BLUE JASMINE.
Maybe that’s why ‘sleeper’ movies like BLUE JASMINE and THE BUTLER have become surprise hits at the box office this past month. There were very low box office expectations for them as they were released in the waning August days, but sure enough, they are smashes. They created Oscar buzz before they opened but nobody expected such sterling box office right out of the gate for these two small films. Not only did they get strong notices, audiences noted them strongly. In fact, THE BUTLER just took this past weekend with a big $25 million and that’s quite extraordinary for such an intimate, almost arthouse movie. It seems that audiences may be hungering for something different, fresher, and rather more adult, no?

Tent pole movies are just becoming  more and more of a problem. It's hard for studios to recoup their costs on such a ginormous investments (http://bit.ly/1cRKKOI). And there are money issues on sequels too (http://bit.ly/1cRQ4l2). Studios feel the need to make them and they feel the pressure to make them bigger and more expensive each outing. Hopefully, with the crappy ROI on so many of this summer's excessively budgeted films, Hollywood will realize that people don't always see bigger as better. Nor do they really need to see or want to see even the most beloved movie characters a half-dozen times on the big screen in a decade. Audiences really want something that dazzles. A great story. Characters you care about. Something more unique. And yes, that can be a film with no CGI and a budget less than $10 million. 
Forest Whitaker in THE BUTLER.
One need look no further than this past weekend to realize that sequels have reached a point of utterly diminishing returns with releases like KICK-ASS 2. I was actually looking forward to it, having enjoyed the black comedy of the original movie. Adapted from the cult comic book about a teen trying to play superhero and getting beaten to a pulp by real criminals, that first movie was wicked and shocking and didn’t pull any of its satiric punches. The highpoint of the film was the character of Hit Girl, played coldly by Chloe Grace Moretz (11-years-old at the time). Hit Girl was a kid, but swore like a long shoreman and killed like a Ninja buzzed on Venti coffee. Her anti-hero, ‘superhero’ character represented just how far our violent pop culture had gone. The movie’s most ruthless killer was a sixth grader. That cryptic commentary was bang-on indeed. And a commentary on our moviegoing obsession with superhero movies too.

But the sequel arrived DOA. Not only did it scrub most of Mark Millar’s sharp storytelling from his source material, but this one tried to be sweetly sentimental throughout. Where's the fun or funny in that? No wonder Jim Carrey distanced himself from the film. He said it was due to Sandy Hook, but he might have sensed that the film just wasn’t right at all.

Moretz is now 16 and a striking young woman so the concept of Hit Girl really doesn't work with an actress in her late teens. Plus, lead Aaron Johnson was so buff in the sequel, he no longer was believable as a hapless nerd trying to be a superhero. Those kinds of mistakes made the sequel way too many kinds of wrong. Carrey should have balked as soon as he walked on the set and saw his grown-up costars!
Chloe Grace Moretz in KICK-ASS 2.
All in all, KICK-ASS 2 was a sequel that probably didn't need to be made. The first movie wasn’t that big of a hit for starters, and its ending was terrific - self-contained and quite satisfying. And if you’re not even going to adapt Millar's comic book faithfully for the sequel, what’s the point? I also believe that KICK-ASS 2 may simply have been one comic book movie too many this summer to jack the enthusiasm of critics or audiences.

Funny how the public always seems to be ahead of the powers that be making decisions in this nation. We wanted out of Viet Nam before Nixon figured out we had to depart. America embraced gay marriage long before every politician started coming out on the positive side of this civil rights issue. And now movie audiences are telling Hollywood that they have reached the limits of how much enthusiasm they can work up for 200 million dollars worth of CGI, umpteenth chapters of superhero sagas, and sequels that are pointless or artless.  
The poster for the upcoming DIANA.
The autumn movie season sounds more promising what with DON JON, RUSH, DIANA, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, ALL IS LOST and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS opening soon. (Just to name six - they all have strong word-of-mouth). I can hardly wait for them. To me, this summer felt like fall. As in the industry took a real fall. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

10 WAYS TO IMPROVE THE WIZARD WORLD CHICAGO COMIC CON


The Wizard World Chicago Comic Con has been going on since 1972 and keeps getting bigger and bigger each year. However, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily getting better. Quite the contrary, as this year was rather disappointing on a number of levels, and its size is just one of the issues. The fixes are fairly easy to achieve to ensure that future conventions are as thrilling and productive as they were in years past. Here then are the top 10 ways to improve the Con:

    TAKE OVER THE ENTIRE DONALD E. STEPHENS CONVENTION CENTER
This year the Con was so big it needed three huge rooms at the convention hall, in addition to the hotel banquet halls for Q & A’s, panels and other special events. The main room where the Con dominated in decades past was taken over by another ‘renter’ this year. Next year, Wizard World should ensure they get the whole place to themselves. With attendance well over 80,000 this year for the four-day event, more and more room is needed to accommodate all the fans.

TREAT ADVANCED TICKET HOLDERS BETTER
Paying in advance gets you bupkis these days, especially at the Con. Ticket holders still had to stand in the Con’s ridiculously long line to get in. It winded around half of the center with a waiting time of almost an hour at mid-day. Then once advanced ticket holders got in they got no significant swag for their early online purchase. Treating the loyalists like that is no way to ingratiate the fans that give you money that you can gain interest on.
Henry Winkler was supposed to appear at the Chicago Comic Con but cancelled. 
    DELIVER THE GUESTS YOU'VE BOOKED
One of the big attractions this year was Henry Winkler, who cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. That may be a solid reason, but the Con goes through this every year. Isn’t there some way to ensure the bigger names are there? It’s great to see Lou Ferrigno and Verne Troyer, but Winkler was a real ‘get’ and too often the Con loses their biggest stars that have been promised to be present. The dates are known months and months in advance, so why is this a problem? The Con needs to deliver upon such promises.

    CLAMP DOWN ON THE SOLICITATION
In years past, the Con was pretty good at instructing their booth holders to let the customers come to them. Not so much this year, Within 10 minutes of walking into the Con, I was hit up for money by some police fraternal order and a few other vendors. Those vendors shouldn’t treat it like it’s a street fair or a Third World market.

    GET BETTER FOOD
This year, Starbucks participated in the Con and created humongous lines. Surprise, surprise. Next year, the Con should have more Starbucks there to accommodate the coffee shop’s massive popularity. The Con could also bring in other brand name restaurants or suppliers for a better variety of food. For a Con that showcases more and more variety of products, everything from comic artists to the Suicide Girls to Navy enlistment, you’d think that they would have a better selection of nibbles than hot dogs, burgers and nachos.

    WHERE ARE  THE MOVIE PEOPLE?
The Con is dominated by comic book related artists and TV celebs. There’s nothing wrong with any of that of course, but where are the movie stars or movie-related screenings and panels? They are very few and far in between, as evidenced by this year’s Con. Such movie related events usually dominate the San Diego Comic Con, so why can’t other conventions get more movie attention?

    HAVE A COSTUME CONTEST DAILY
There are hundreds of people showing up in costumes at the convention each and every day of the four-day event. So, should the one costume contest be held only on the last day - Sunday?

CUT THOSE PRICES
Inflation is everywhere, but especially at the Wizard World Comic Conventions. Panels cost $250 to attend, on top of a $50 admission price. And everything else at the Con is jacked up too. (Although paying only $30 for "The Ravishing Red Collection" of J. Scott Campbell's sublime illustrations seems like a steal to this fan!) The high prices generally strike me as not being very considerate to the many teens there who don’t have thousands of bucks to throw around, let alone the rest of us still waiting for our ‘thank you’ checks for bailing out the banks.

    MANAGE THE TRAFFIC BETTER
There are dozens of cops monitoring and directing the traffic and it’s still not enough. Parking is a nightmare, and the traffic jams are getting worse each year. Despite River Road being chock full of convention hotels, the ebb and flow of the traffic there is managed like it’s amateur hour. Change the lights. Create special garage rates for carpool guests. Amp up public transportation with shuttle buses and increased el trains. Something, anything (!) to figure out how to get people into the Con in less than an hour and out of it in less time.
Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall in the final season of Showtime's DEXTER
THE WALKING DEAD ISN'T THE ONLY FAN BOY SHOW
I know that THE WALKING DEAD is the biggest cable TV show right now and that the comic book series is legendary, but the show is the dominating presence at the Con these days. One of the two freebies visitors got was a reboot of the comic book. (The other was the launch issue of a rather uninspired WIZARD OF OZ in the West comic.) Stars Norman Reedus and Jon Bernthal were two of the biggest names at the Con, with the longest lines for autographs too. And the proliferation of merchandise from the show dominated most vendor booths. That’s all great, and the show is not only a phenomenon but also brilliant, but there are other shows to showcase. SHERLOCK, maybe? Perhaps NIKITA, ARROW,  the upcoming AGENTS OF SHIELD? Where the heck was the last season of DEXTER represented? Couldn't the Con gotten someone like Jennifer Carpenter to show up for a panel? The Con needs to really work on broadening the tent to focus on other fan boy shows in addition to the zombie one. 

Look, when all is said and done, the Con is like pizza, even when it’s so-so it is still pretty darn good. However, this year’s event was a bit underwhelming in content and overwhelming in hassles. Hopefully with the burgeoning success of each successive year, the Wizard World folks will strive to make each Con better, not just bigger and more profitable.