Disney’s Moana marks another solid entry from Musker & Clements


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About two-and-a-half decades ago, Ron Clements and John Musker directed two of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s biggest hits, The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992). These movies sandwiched Beauty and the Beast (1991) and signalled the start of a terrific run of success for the Mouse House which ran for nearly 10 years. Pixar then took over as global kings of animation with their CGI creations, while Disney Animation’s films started under-performing.

Eventually Pixar was acquired by Disney in 2006 and its Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter was given oversight of both Pixar Animation and Walt Disney Animation divisions. By 2010, the older sibling was showing signs of resurgence and has since had a good run of hits including Tangled, Wreck-it-Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia.

During Disney Animation’s fallow years, there are two films which I very much enjoyed although both under-performed at the box office – Treasure Planet (2002) and The Princess and the Frog (2009). Both were directed by the same duo of Clements & Musker. Somehow, I have loved their work, even though they have used different styles of animation across their films. One aspect has stayed consistent with this duo which is that their films have all been produced using traditional hand-drawn 2D animation. Now for the first time, the veterans (both are 63 years old) have directed their first fully CGI-animated film, Moana. Unlike many of Disney’s previous films which have been loosely based on fairy tales or literary characters, this is an original story.

The opening half hour of the film is really enjoyable, as it introduces the lead character of Moana, first as a child and then growing up surrounded by her parents, grandmother and villagers and the standard Disney animal sidekicks (Heihei the rooster and Pua the pig). Moana’s grandmother is a wonderful character; wise and far-seeing, she plants the seeds of adventure into the young Moana’s mind and eventually triggers her flight from the safety of her island home on a quest which will help save her people. At this point, she meets up with the demi-god Maui, played by Dwayne Johnson. Moana has to persuade Maui to join her on a journey to Te Fiti island to reverse a curse that is killing all the life in the ocean and on the islands. The two develop a semi-antagonistic relationship somewhat reminiscent of the one in Mulan between the heroine and Eddie Murphy’s magical dragon Mushu.

The film is a bit over-long, running for nearly two hours. There is a segment during Moana and Maui’s journey to Te Fiti island in which they are attacked by some pygmy pirates; it’s an entertaining sequence but doesn’t add anything to the story. In fact, other than the hilarious scenes featuring Moana’s pet rooster Heihei, the journey was a bit boring; by the time they reached the island and began the climactic battle with the lava monster Te Ka, I actually fell asleep for a short while.

Many of the songs in the film didn’t work for me, but there are three which stand out. One is the introspective How Far I’ll Go, sung by 16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho who voices Moana. Another is the rousing We Know the Way, sung by Opetaia Foa’i & Lin-Manuel Miranda (who have also written all the songs in the film). And You’re Welcome, sung by Dwayne Johnson himself, the story of all his past exploits inventively picturised using the tattoos on his body.

So overall, not likely to be one of Disney’s classics, but a solid entry from one of my favourite animation directing teams.

Special mention for the wonderful short film Inner Workings, attached to the start of the feature. Real fun but also thought-provoking.

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Studios race to build cinematic universes


We’re all familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe which so far has given rise to several highly successful and mostly well-regarded movies, not just from Marvel’s parent company Disney but also from other studios like Fox and Sony which own the franchise rights for the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man respectively.

The interconnectedness of their titles allows Marvel to launch movies based on new and sometimes little-known characters with the knowledge that they can reduce the financial risk by introducing the character in a related (and already successful) movie series. Some members of the Avengers like Hawkeye and Black Widow were introduced in the Iron Man films and Black Panther was recently introduced in Captain America: Civil War.

Rival comic book powerhouse DC Comics (which is owned by Warner Bros.), actually has the more iconic superheroes by far and has successfully brought both Superman and Batman to the big screen, but had previously been unable to use either film series to launch other characters from their staple. They finally put a roadmap together a few years ago to build a series of films around the Justice League (DC’s version of the Avengers). This started off with Man of Steel in 2013 and followed up with this year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, both directed by Zack Snyder and both somewhat disappointing. In the past few months, a senior task force has been assembled to sort out scripting and creative issues. Today’s release of the first trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League (both due in 2017) indicate that they may have got their act together. As a bonus, Suicide Squad, an R-rated anti-hero movie which was once considered a ‘side-show’ in the DC Cinematic Universe is now among the most anticipated releases of the year and may fuel public interest in the movies to come, possibly even forcing Warner Bros. to include Suicide Squad characters in the other films.

So it’s clear that studios are now looking not just to create franchises but cinematic universes. As per the Marvel formula, a universe can be created by starting with a series featuring one character (e.g. Iron Man) and then by launching new series featuring other lead characters, who were introduced in the original series. Another way to milk an established franchise is by creating spin-off films starring supporting characters or by going backwards or forwards in time within the franchise timeline to tell the story of an earlier or later generation of characters.

The latter approach is exactly what Warner Bros. is trying with the forthcoming release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is the first in a new trilogy set nearly a hundred years before the events of the Harry Potter films. It narrates the adventures of ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander whose book on magical beasts was one of the required school textbooks at Hogwarts. Talk about inventive thinking! I’m sure the folks at Warner Bros. must be looking through all the Harry Potter stories to figure out how many other characters or references can be spun off to further expand the Potter Cinematic Universe.

Disney is employing a combination of both strategies to rejuvenate and extend the 40-year-old Star Wars franchise. Faced with the reality that the original cast are ageing, they introduced a new generation of  characters in last December’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens to whom the torch is passed to continue the good fight against the evil empire. But that’s not all. Disney is also doing a ‘Newt Scamander’ by creating a series of spin-off ‘anthology’ films, which expand on characters and situations from the original trilogy. The first of these is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story releasing at the end of this year. This will be followed two years later by an origin story for Han Solo.

A new universe in the making that I am very excited about is the one coming from Universal Studios. This one will bring together the classic horror monsters which brought the studio great success from the 1930s to the early ’50s. If all goes according to plan, we will get to see Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s creature, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, The Gill-man (from 1954’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Dr. Jekyll all occupy the same cinematic space over the next few years. The first movie in the series was a bit of a misfire – Dracula Untold from 2014. Presumably the studio already knew they had a dud on their hands and therefore refrained from publicly marketing this film as part of a future franchise. Instead, they will launch the franchise with a far surer bet – a new remake of The Mummy set in modern times, starring Tom Cruise scheduled for release in 2017. Russell Crowe will appear in the movie as Dr. Jekyll, perhaps testing waters for a stand-alone Jekyll & Hyde feature. Earlier this year, it was announced that Johnny Depp would star in The Invisible Man for a 2018 release.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. with production partner Legendary Pictures is attempting to create a universe which brings together King Kong and Godzilla. The 2014 remake of Godzilla is being treated as the first film in the ‘giant super-species cinematic universe’ to be followed by Kong: Skull Island in 2017 and Godzilla 2 in 2018.The first trailer for the former was released yesterday and showcases the powerhouse cast of Tom Hiddleston, this year’s Oscar winner Brie Larson and veteran actors Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman. As can be expected, the trailer gives only brief and incomplete glimpses of King Kong. The Godzilla reboot cast the giant reptile as mankind’s savior against two other monsters. Fanboys refer to these monsters by their Japanese appellation kaiju, but in the film they are referred to as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). Obviously, we will see more MUTOs in Godzilla 2 in 2019, possibly from original rights holder Toho’s collection of baddies such as King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan. And so, when Godzilla and Kong meet on-screen in 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong, one can expect city-levelling mayhem that would put even Zack Snyder’s DC films to shame. An intriguing possibility is that Legendary Pictures may find a way to fuse this universe with Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim series which it also produces. This seems highly unlikely though it would be the ultimate kaiju wet dream!

For fans of epic/ big effects films, the next few years promises to be very exciting with superheroes, monsters, aliens and giant creatures invading our theaters. Just make sure you can keep track of how they are all related to each other!

Captain America: Civil War – The Avengers sequel that’s better than the Avengers sequel


And so, the Captain America trilogy has come to an end. It began nearly five years ago with The First Avenger, a movie characterized by its simplicity and earnestness, reflecting the spirit of the times. During World War II, when your country asked you to fight, you fought; and it was easy to tell your allies from your enemies. The 2014 sequel The Winter Soldier was set 70 years later in the present day, but drew its inspiration from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, a time when spies and double agents made it difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. The sibling duo of Joe and Anthony Russo are back again in the directors’ chair for the third and seemingly final entry in the series, Civil War. This time around, they seem even more at ease in managing what has become a hugely complex storytelling effort. Not only does Civil War continue with the second movie’s theme of “you don’t know who your allies are”, it goes one step further and turns friends into enemies.

The trailers made it clear that Civil War features pretty much all the characters from The Avengers; Age of Ultron and has frequently been referred to as ‘Avengers 2.5‘; in fact, the Russos will be directing the next two films in the Avengers series, so Civil War is indeed a bridge, both story-wise and thematically, between Age of Ultron and 2018’s Infinity War Part 1.

The only complaint I had after watching the movie yesterday (and this has been echoed in multiple reviews) is the absence of a worthy villain to challenge Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. To think that over the course of the trilogy, we have gone from Hugo Weaving’s menacing Red Skull to Robert Redford’s duplicitous S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Alexander Pierce to Daniel Bruhl’s rather bland Colonel Zemo…that’s somewhat disappointing.

The two new characters – Black Panther and Spider-Man – do add some freshness to the growing ensemble of heroes. Many critics have praised Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Prince T’Challa/ Black Panther and so I was expecting something very special. I came away a bit disappointed with Boseman’s rather stiff rendering of the Wakandan prince. What did work was the wonderful chemistry between him and his father, which is a credit to South African acting veteran John Kani, who plays King T’Chaka. Spider-Man, on the other hand is an unqualified hit and Tom Holland seems a perfect embodiment of the wise-cracking teenage superhero that we all love. I was least expecting his entry into the plot at the point that it happened and there was a collective gasp of joyful surprise from the audience when we all realized whose apartment we were in.

While all the reviews have spoken glowingly about the set-piece fight sequence at the airport in Germany, I thought the opening encounter in Lagos was also very well done, with the camera work particularly effective at bringing the audience into the midst of the hand-to-hand combat in a busy market place. It’s reminiscent of the shaky cam/ quick cut style of Paul Greengrass’ Bourne movies, but far easier to watch. The Russo brothers describe themselves as ‘guerilla filmmakers’ and you understand why.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing very distinctive as far as the theme music is concerned. Henry Jackman is the composer and I loved what he had done with X-Men: First Class in 2011 (particularly Magneto’s Theme). But all we get here is a generic, bombastic score with lots of strings and horns. The best music in the extended Avengers/ Captain America film series so far is still Alan Silvestri’s theme from The Avengers.

Here are my top moments from the movie:-

  • Black Widow’s stylish fighting jacket – Scarlett Johansson continues to be the style icon for the Marvel movies, sporting a tan cotton jacket during the opening fight scene in Lagos. The jacket is already a hot seller on many online stores.

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  • Scott Lang shows he can go both ways – The airport fight sequence is the showpiece of the movie. It’s where the growing schism between the two factions of the Avengers becomes all-out war. A last minute reinforcement for Captain America’s side is Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. But there’s a big surprise in store as Lang shows that there’s more than one way to use those Pym particles.
  • Goodbye Peggy Carter – This was a really poignant moment for me. I’m sure Rogers-Carter doesn’t have the same ring to it as Romeo-Juliet, but for me, their unfulfilled romance has been one of the great tragic on-screen love stories of recent times, perhaps accentuated by actress Hayley Atwell’s strong performance in the Agent Carter TV series.
  • Cap keeps the Carter family connection strong – Steve Rogers moves right on, building a nice relationship with Peggy’s niece Sharon, although I do find it very difficult to accept the vapid Emily VanCamp as a replacement for the feisty Hayley Atwell.
  • We get to see the Raft – The prison for super-criminals makes an appearance.
  • Audi product placement – Audi continues their association with Tony Stark and the Avengers. Tony Stark is seen driving the super cool R8 V10 plus Coupé. The new SQ7 features prominently in a tunnel chase sequence involving Bucky, Cap and the Black Panther (check out Audi’s tie-in ad below).
  • Aunt May is really attractive – What a brilliant casting idea to get Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Even Tony Stark seemed interested.
  • CGI is getting better at making actors look young – A low profile company called Lola VFX has been creating younger versions of actors on-screen for a few years. They ‘de-aged’ Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan for a flashback scene in X-Men: The Last Stand. In last year’s Ant-Man, a young Michael Douglas appeared in the opening scene. In both those films, they were able to take 20 years off the faces of actors in their late 60s/ early 70s. In Civil War, there’s a scene featuring a very young Robert Downey Jr., who appears to be in his late teens or early twenties; a significantly tougher task and a sign of how much the technology has improved. This is a sign of things to come in the sub-specialization now known as ‘visual cosmetics’.
  • Closing titles – The closing title sequence uses abstract shadows to describe the character played by each actor. A nice touch to have ’13’ come up against Emily VanCamp’s name, as Sharon Carter is called Agent 13 in the comic books.

And so, Marvel has yet another bona fide hit on their hands. The Disney machine already has two big hits this year with Zootopia and The Jungle Book. Look for Civil War to zoom up the charts and potentially overtake the current 2016 box office champion Deadpool in the coming weeks.

Summer 2015 movies to watch: 1 down, 10 to go!


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We kicked off the summer movie circus yesterday with Avengers: Age of Ultron which was everything the trailers promised it would be – more superheroes and more action, but also more layered, with some characters taking personal journeys down dark pathways. Bond-style, the action kicks off from the get-go with an exhilarating prologue set-piece and there were plenty of memorable moments right through the movie.

It’s a great start to the summer and there are another 10 movies in my must-watch list from now till mid-August:-

Furious 7 – Well the movie’s been out for a few weeks and is already a worldwide hit. What’s more, the reviews are pretty decent too (Metacritic average score of 67). Will have to catch this soon before it exits theatres. Hats off to horror maestro James Wan, who has directed this ‘emotional’ instalment of the long-running franchise. Eleven years ago, the Malaysian-born director created the micro-budget horror phenomenon Saw, then went on to direct one of the best-reviewed horror films in recent years, The Conjuring. Now, he has succeeded with a completely different genre and is currently rumored to be in the running to direct Warner Bros./DC Comics Aquaman!

Mad Max: Fury Road – This intense R-rated restart of the beloved post-apocalyptic franchise is at the top of my list. The first trailer was epic/ operatic and the final trailer which I caught a glimpse of as I entered the theatre today, tops the first one. From what I’ve seen, the star of this movie is director George Miller. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult are all but unrecognizable. In terms of plot, it will be more of the same – brooding loner roams a blasted landscape and crosses paths with a bunch of loonies (see picture at the top of the article) who pay the price for not getting out of his way. Plenty of violence follows. This will not be for the weak-hearted. This is officially my most anticipated movie of the summer.

Tomorrowland – This PG-rated scifi entertainer from Disney is directed by one of my favorite directors, Brad Bird. The 58-year-old has made just 4 films before this – 3 animation classics (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the movie that gave the franchise a new lease of life and provided Tom Cruise with a rare hit in the past 10 years. The movie’s plot is a bit of a mystery, but the trailers are intriguing as is the casting combination of George Clooney and Britt Robertson (Angie McAlister from Under the Dome).

Entourage – I was a big fan of the TV series and although I skipped out after the 5th season, I remain invested in the lives and loves of the 4 friends who rose up from humble beginnings in Queens to the razzle and dazzle of Hollywood. The movie is directed by creator Doug Ellin and will see the return of all the familiar faces plus a revolving door of celebrities who will be playing themselves. It promises to be good fun and should make a nice little killing at the box office much like the Sex and the City film; I’m not so sure that this will play as well overseas as SATC though.

Jurassic World – The Mad Max franchise gets resurrected after a gap of 30 years and the same summer, the Jurassic Park franchise gets restarted after 14 years, this time helmed 29-year-old whiz kid director Colin Trevorrow. Back in 2001, Jurassic Park III suffered due to weak characters (William H. Macy, Tea Leoni and Alessandro Nivola…really?), but this time around we have Chris Pratt coming in hot off the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Bryce Dallas Howard playing the greedy corporate maven. But the stars of the movie as usual, will be the dinosaurs – since T.Rex is now passé, we have the new genetically created Indominus Rex and a pack of Velociraptors that appear to be loyal to Chris Pratt! I am also expecting this movie to deliver the goods because the story comes from Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who scripted the two highly acclaimed Planet of the Apes reboot movies and are currently working on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels.

Terminator: Genisys – This is clearly the summer for reviving dormant franchises. The last film in the series, Terminator Salvation was a critical and commercial disappointment (in my view, not much more could have been expected from a director like McG), in spite of having Christian Bale and then red-hot hunk Sam Worthington playing the leads. This time around, there’s a completely new team and the trailers indicate that the story is going to feature a time-travel story retcon, much in the way Star Trek Into Darkness rewrote the story of Khan. This is a risky approach, dangerously close to being a gimmick. Having said that, the trailers and the Entertainment Weekly cover story from January look very cool. I have a lot of respect for the actors – Jason Clark, Emilia Clarke (the dragon queen from Game of Thrones), Jai Courtney and of course, ‘Ahnuld’ is back! This version is directed by TV director Alan Taylor, who has previously done episodes of Game of Thrones.

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Ant-Man – Ah, what might have been if Edgar Wright had stayed on to direct this movie. No less than ‘His Marvelness’ Joss Whedon has said in a recent interview that “Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man was the best script that Marvel ever had’. But it was not meant to be. And now we have this version being released, directed by comedy helmer Peyton Reed, with a script co-written by lead actor and perpetual ‘on-screen loser’ Paul Rudd. I can only hope that Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige is the real man in the driver’s seat of this movie, as we all know how well he has shepherded the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) for the past few years. We’ve all been wondering when the big Marvel machine will fail. Let’s hope this isn’t the one. I actually like the trailer.

Fantastic Four – Here’s another iffy Marvel product, although this one comes from rival studio Fox, which continues to hold on to the rights to this Marvel property. I was excited that this reboot is being directed by 30-year-old Josh Trank who made the found-footage superhero film Chronicle a few years ago.  But then the cast was announced and I was felt they were either unappealing or miscast, particularly Miles Teller (one of my favourite young actors) in the role of Reed Richards. Then the trailer came out and my hopes fell further, because it doesn’t really show anything new that we have not seen in the 2005 origin story. Is Josh Trank the real thing or a flash-in-the-pan? Rival studio Disney (which owns Marvel) wants to know because Trank has been signed on to direct their 2nd Star Wars Anthology film due out in 2018.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – With writer-director Christopher McQuarrie in the hot seat this time, the M:I franchise keeps rolling on, nearly 20 years after it hit the big screen. The real driver is producer Tom Cruise, I think. McQuarrie directed Cruise in Jack Reacher which I very much enjoyed, but he is better known as the man who won an Oscar for the screenplay of The Usual Suspects. I also liked his writing on two other Tom Cruise films – Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow, although he has also written his share of flops, i.e. The Tourist and Jack the Giant Slayer. The trailer has Cruise doing his usual death-defying stunts – we’ve seen him hanging from trains and skyscrapers, now he’s holding on to a military transport plane for dear life. It certainly looks like this latest outing will continue to deliver a good mix of intrigue and thrills.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – British director Guy Ritchie went from being the darling of indie crime cinema with his debut film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels at the age of 30, to nearly becoming an also-ran who also happened to be the latest husband of Madonna, before redeeming himself with two sparkling large-screen interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, featuring that other comeback artist, Robert Downey Jr. He now turns his attention to a spy series from the ‘60s and hopes to do for it what Brian De Palma did for Mission: Impossible in 1996. On paper, the combination of Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in suave 60’s duds sounds appealing; unfortunately, the trailer looks rather boring and the banter seems very forced. It will have been a long hot summer by the time this one rolls in and the buzz will have to be very strong to get paying audiences into the theatres.

Trailers to 2015 films: Star Wars, Danny Collins, Seventh Son and Jurassic World


Since the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered last night, I thought I might as well talk about it (like a million other bloggers around the world are doing/ have done already) and throw in a few other trailers for upcoming 2015 films.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Releases in December 2015: Do note that under Disney ownership and suitably distanced from the micro-management of ‘über-papa’ George Lucas, the new film has dropped the roman numeral episode numbers and adopted the current convention of series name followed by title of the current film. What other (and more meaningful) changes does the first teaser trailer reveal? Since J.J. Abrams is directing this movie, I expected lens flare. But no, at least not in the trailer! I thought it was a smart decision to use the trailer to show all the new faces rather than the beloved old ones (i.e. Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford). Instead, the first face we see is of British actor John Boyega in a stormtrooper outfit on a desert planet, looking a bit out of sorts. We then see young British TV actress Daisy Ridley zooming off on some sort of landspeeder. There’s a close-up shot of an X-Wing fighter pilot (this seems to be Oscar Isaac): this cuts to a thrilling shot of a trio of X-Wings flying low over water. Of course, they have to introduce the bad guy: someone in a cloak walks through a snow-covered forest and then activates a lightsaber. The saber is a new design, with what looks like ‘exhaust flames’ coming out on either side of the hilt, giving the activated saber a ‘cross-like’ look. Much online speculation about this one. And finally, the Millennium Falcon swoops over the desert planet and engages with a couple of TIE fighters, as the Star Wars theme starts up; at this moment, I started giggling helplessly and got goose bumps. No matter how disappointing that 2nd trilogy was, there’s millions of fans around the world who want to go back to that galaxy far, far away. There are two bits, each lasting about 2 seconds, which give clues that this film will carry a different pace and tone to anything that’s come before. One is a scene with a bunch of stormtroopers in close confines aboard some sort of transport; the flickering lighting, the jerky camera and the sense of danger as the ramp door opens is definitely more Abrams than Lucas. Similarly, that moment when John Boyega pops up on the screen had an urgency – it was practically a horror film beat – that would never have been seen in the oh-so-laid-back 2nd trilogy. There’s a brief look at a new ‘droid, which seems set to provide some comic relief à la R2D2. No doubt, there will be more teasers and trailers to follow in the next 12 months before the film releases; I will have to take a conscious decision not to watch any more!

Danny Collins. Releases in March 2015: Dan Fogelman who wrote the screenplay for Disney animated films like Bolt, Tangled and Cars, then moved to lightweight dramedies like The Guilt Trip and Crazy, Stupid, Love., now tries his hand at directing. This indie film has an intriguing premise. A washed up rock star (are there any other sort in movies?) is given a handwritten note which John Lennon had written to him in the 70’s, but never delivered until now. He is inspired to restart his career and reconnect with his estranged son and his family. The rock star is played by Al Pacino and already, without even watching the trailer, you just know that Pacino is going to play this in ‘larger than life’ mode. It is true that he carries off this sort of thing well, but I do wish he would go back once in a while to the understated performance that made him famous as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. Even though this seems to be a formulaic redemption story, the actors are all top class (Annette Bening as the potential love interest, Christopher Plummer as the old friend/ manager, Bobby Cannavale as the son and Jennifer Garner as the daughter-in-law) and therefore likely to be worth the time.

Seventh Son. Releases Feb 2015: Typically, a movie which has its release postponed multiple times is considered to be doomed to box office failure. Particularly, when it is a fantasy film with magicians and demons, then prospects are not particularly good as these films appeal to a very narrow demographic (unless it’s part of the Lord of the Rings franchise). Having said that, this film from award-winning Russian director Sergey Bodrov (2007’s Mongol) does have a powerhouse cast including Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Djimon Hounsou, Kit Harington (Jon Snow from Game of Thrones) and Ben Barnes as the titular seventh male offspring. The special effects all look top class, as one would expect from a Legendary Pictures (Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Interstellar, etc.) production. One of the potential problems is Jeff Bridges himself; much like Al Pacino, Mr. Bridges these days seems to think that all his roles require him to be a larger-than-life character with lots of attitude. This can grate on the nerves, particularly when he uses the same vocal style across every film from R.I.P.D. to True Grit. The film is based on Joseph Delaney’s children’s fantasy novel, The Spook’s Apprentice and the producers must have been hoping that success would lead to a franchise, as there are 4 more books in the series. If they can keep the production cost at USD 100 mn and earn at least USD 300 mn across the world, then a new fantasy franchise could become a reality.

Jurassic World: Releases in June 2015: Steven Spielberg transformed movie making (yet again) with the release of Jurassic Park nearly 22 years ago. The computer-generated super-realistic dinosaurs led to the plethora of fantasy films and comic book adaptations which we now take for granted every summer break. Soon after the 3rd instalment of the series came out in 2001, computer animation was breaking new ground in the Lord of the Rings series, the Harry Potter series and X-Men/ Spider-Man movies. There was nothing special about seeing dinosaurs on screen any more, so the series effectively shut down. But no franchise ever stays dead in Hollywood and a dozen years later, the young writer-director duo of Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow came up with a script that got Spielberg and Universal excited. The dinosaurs are now under control, the park’s been open for some years and it’s a huge success obviously. But since the investors are constantly looking for the next big thing, they go and create a hybrid dinosaur which is a T.Rex++. Obviously mayhem ensues. There’s some nice little touches in the trailer which has been analysed in detail by Vox.

Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 2


In the second part of my listing of Marvel properties coming to the screen in the next 3 years, let’s look at what 2016 has in store. Compared to the 3 films in 2015, we have a very crowded slate with of 5 titles in the 9 month period from February to November 2016.

Deadpool. Releases in Feb 2016 – The wise-cracking mercenary Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, has been a cult favourite for years, particularly because of his non-stop talkative nature and his habit of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ with the audience. Equipped with an accelerated healing factor, Deadpool started off as a villain and then over time has been cast as an anti-hero. He has appeared on-screen once already, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine back in 2009. He was played by Ryan Reynolds and somehow this mess of a movie managed to morph his character into a a completely different villain called Weapon XI, who combined the powers of a number of other mutants. In the climactic battle scene, Wolverine decapitates Deadpool. But we know that in the world of comics, no one stays dead for too long. So, after a few years of ‘will they, won’t they’ rumours, it was with great fanboy excitement that a Deadpool ‘test footage’ clip was released on the internet, followed by the announcement of the film release in early 2016. The movie will be directed by first-timer Tim Miller. Marvel movie fans, be warned, this will be an R-rated film with violence and profanity; definitely not suitable for a family outing with the kids (hence the non-summer release date).

Captain America: Civil War. Releases in May 2016 – As a lot of fans suspected after seeing the Crossbones character appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year, the next chapter in his standalone saga is going to deal with the Civil War storyline. This is one of the biggest Marvel story arcs in recent years, which is likely to create far-reaching ripples in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Civil War ‘crossover storyline’ published during 2006-07 is spread across several titles and deals with a Superhero Registration Act passed by the government, which ends up splitting the various superheroes into two factions, for and against the Act. Iron Man and Captain America end up on opposing sides, leading to widespread conflict, violence and some superhero deaths.

Since the Disney/ Marvel movies do not have rights to all the characters involved in the comic book storyline (such as the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four), the movie will feature a simpler storyline which focuses on the ideological conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, something which has been foreshadowed already in The Avengers. Oh and incidentally, at the end of the Civil War comic books, Captain America is apparently assassinated by Crossbones; but of course, we know that nobody stays dead in comic books, so have no fear, Chris Evans will still have one more movie left after this one to complete his 6-film contract! The other big source of excitement in this movie is the introduction of a new Marvel character, T’Challa, the prince of the African state of Wakanda, whose alter ego is Black Panther.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Releases in May 2016 – Three weeks after Disney releases Captain America: Civil War, rival studio Fox brings out the sequel to their most successful superhero movie ever in terms of global box office, this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. After the disastrous X-Men Origins: Wolverine practically killed the X-Men franchise, Fox rebooted the series with the outstanding X-Men: First Class, set during the Bay of Pigs event of the 60’s. This 2011 Cold War thriller is perhaps my all time favourite entry in the X-Men series. Days of Future Past took place in the 70’s and the time-travel story element effectively re-wrote various bits and pieces of X-Men cinematic history. The next entry X-Men: Apocalypse is expected to take place in the 80’s and will have the oldest known mutant as its super-villain: the 5000-year-old En Sabah Nur, aka Apocalypse. The character was teased during the post-credits scene of Days of Future Past, but the version we see in that scene is of a very young Apocalypse. What we will see in X-Men: Apocalypse will be closer to the image below; not a nice guy.

Bryan Singer will be directing an X-Men movie for the 4th time, but no news yet on which mutants will appear this time around, or whether the older cast from the original series (including Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan) will make an appearance. I think we can take for granted that fan-favourite Hugh Jackman will be there as Wolverine. Since he doesn’t age, it’s very convenient for Fox to just pop him into any of these X-Men movies irrespective of which time period the film is set in!

Doctor Strange. Releases in Nov 2016 – After months of speculation, Marvel finally confirmed a date for the Doctor Strange movie, although they have yet to confirm who is playing the character. There has been a virtual revolving door of highly regarded leading men who have been considered for this role, with Benedict Cumberbatch widely tipped to sign on. While the initial set of Marvel films were set in the world of high-tech science (Iron Man’s armour, Captain America’s serum, Hulk’s gamma radiation), the next set of films have explored aliens across the universe (Thor’s world Asgard and the various planets visited by the Guardians of the Galaxy). Now with Doctor Strange, Marvel opens the doors to the supernatural. Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands after an accident. Forced to seek help, he eventually is trained by a mysterious benefactor in the Himalayas and takes on the mantle of the Sorcerer Supreme, protector of the Earth against supernatural threats. Horror director Scott Derrickson has been selected to helm the film and an earlier script is being re-written by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus). This is another risky venture by Marvel, partly because the magical subject matter is likely to appeal to a different audience type vs. their previous films and partly because the director and writer have had very limited critical or box office success in the past. Of course, Marvel has scored home runs with newbie James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and hit-and-miss indie directors Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon, so who’s to say this latest throw the dice won’t work. Marvel make their own luck and their brains trust led by Kevin Feige just seems to have a feel for what audiences will like.

The Sinister Six. Releases in Nov 2016 – Just one week after Doctor Strange comes out, rival studio Sony is set to release a a film about super-villains. Sony owns the rights to the Spider-Man franchise and all related characters. They had a fantastic run with the original trilogy directed by Sam Raimi (from 2002 to 2007). The reboot directed by Marc Webb and released in 2012 had a so-so reception, but everyone agreed that the two leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had fantastic chemistry. In this summer’s sequel, they killed off Emma Stone, effectively ending any reason that audiences would want to watch a 3rd or 4th movie in this franchise. Although the global box office take was around USD 700 mn, it was still lower than what the original Spider-Man made 12 years earlier, not factoring in ticket price inflation. Sony has effectively put future Spider-Man sequels on hold, but seems to be going ahead with Sinister Six, a film that brings together 6 of Spidey’s biggest enemies. In the comic books, the Sinister Six have gone through a few changes in line-up over the years and the film is expected to feature a new grouping consisting of Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Rhino and Vulture. The film will be directed by Drew Goddard, who I have plenty of respect for as the writer of intelligent and entertaining scifi properties like Alias and Lost on TV as well as the movies Cloverfield and World War Z.

So, it’s a mixed bag in 2016. We have two sequels which will be surefire winners – Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. There are two new properties, largely unknown outside the fan base – Deadpool and Doctor Strange – which can take Marvel into new demographics and genres respectively. And there is one film The Sinister Six which is still very much an unknown entity.

Marvel line-up 2015-17: Part 1


With the recent announcement of new Marvel films by their head honcho Kevin Feige, I figured it was time to write an updated version of the Marvel line-up post I had published in Dec 2012 for the period 2013-15. I also figured that if Hollywood can break up a movie into 2 parts (Kill Bill Vols I and II, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2), I can go one better and break this up into 3 parts. So here’s the line-up for 2015; although this year was already covered in my original post, there are updates and minor changes, so it’s worth revisiting.

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Releases in May 2015 – Joss Whedon’s follow up to the most successful Marvel movie of all time is eagerly anticipated, to say the least. The trailer which was leaked and then formally released a couple of weeks ago and the mega-poster which was launched at Comic-Con a few months back have all stoked the flames of anticipation.

We can expect this film to have the biggest opening weekend of 2015. All the familiar characters return – Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye and Thor. We have two new characters – the brother-sister duo of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (of whom we saw a brief glimpse in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier earlier this year), we have a crazed super-robot Ultron as the villain (voiced by James Spader) and most exciting of all for me, the introduction of Vision. Vision is an android whose origin is closely linked to that of Ultron in the comic books; I am looking forward to seeing how he fits into the story in the movie version. You can see him floating in the air in the far left upper corner of the mega-poster. Comic book fans know about his future connection to Scarlet Witch.

Ant-Man. Releases in July/ August 2015 – This film was originally slated for November but has now been moved up to the latter part of the summer. The director has also changed, with maverick Brit Edgar Wright departing due to creative differences and being replaced by 50-year-old journeyman rom-com director Peyton Reed. This is an unusual choice and I would say that Ant-Man is Disney/ Marvel’s riskiest venture, a tag that was formerly attached to Guardians of the Galaxy. In the case of Guardians, all doubts vanished when that first trailer was released and likewise we will be waiting to see Paul Rudd in action (and in costume) when the first trailer comes out. The movie will definitely have comedic elements, but with the change of directors, we can expect it to have become much lighter; Edgar Wright after all is the guy who gave black humour a new genre setting with the zombie-comedy Shaun of the Dead, whereas Peyton Reed is the guy who directed Jim Carrey in Yes Man…you get the picture. As it is, I was a bit apprehensive when Paul Rudd was announced to play the superhero; I’m not a big fan of his movies. But the concept art poster released during Comic-Con looks quite heroic and I’ve been reassured by the rest of the casting featuring Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll (as the villain Yellowjacket).

The Fantastic Four. Releases in August 2015 – 30-year-old rising filmmaker Josh Trank’s reboot of this iconic Marvel property was originally slated to kick off the 2015 summer but has now been slotted in just one week after Ant-Man. Why would Marvel give its two titles so little breathing space? Because The Fantastic Four is being produced and distributed by rival studio Fox who doesn’t care one bit about what impact its release would have on Disney/Marvel’s Ant-Man. The casting also created some controversy for its divergence from existing Marvel canon; the Johnny Storm/ Human Torch character is being played by an African-American actor, Michael B. Jordan, whereas his sister Sue Storm/ Invisible Girl is played by white actress, Kate Mara. No one is really very sure why Fox would want to make such a fundamental change and what Marvel feels about that. The release date plus the poor reviews of the original Fantastic Four movies (from 2005 and 2007) mean that Josh Trank has to create an awesome product to relaunch the franchise. Fox needs to keep releasing new FF movies (they have already scheduled a sequel for July 2017) otherwise the rights will revert to Marvel. Trank is a highly regarded young filmmaker. Fox ‘discovered’ him when they released his low budget found-footage superpower-themed debut film Chronicle to healthy box office and critical acclaim in 2012. He has also recently been picked by Disney to direct a Star Wars spin-off movie due for release in 2018. So we may be pleasantly surprised by an innovative new take on Marvel’s ‘first family’. There has not been a single piece of marketing released so far, so Fox is clearly biding their time until they have something exciting to reveal, either in the form of concept art, character posters or a teaser trailer.