The Marvel Movie Universe

Thank you, Marvel Studios. Thank you from the bottom of my geeky heart. Not only did they bring us one mega-blockbuster by way of the impressive Iron Man adaptation, but they managed to pull out the stops a second time with the very good Incredible Hulk reboot. Both movies were well acted, well scripted, and well directed. I thank Marvel Studios because they have the good sense to respect their properties and bring well thought out, faithful renditions to the silver screen.

This last point is one that has always boggled my mind. Movie companies pay good money for the rights to make films based on established intellectual properties. Comic books are some of the most established properties available. Usually the characters are long standing and well developed, the property comes with a built in audience, and there's a million story arcs that have already been written to choose from. And somehow, despite having shelled out the money for the rights to this huge, rich back history, studios choose to ignore the canon, make it their own, and alienate fans.

So going back to the thank you. Marvel Studios has begun piecing together the ultimate in fanboy geekiness. It began with Iron Man and was expanded upon in The Incredible Hulk. It will no doubt be of huge importance in the upcoming Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers movies. I speak, of course, of the Marvel Movie Universe. At long last, we have a series of movies starring our favorite comic book characters existing alongside one another within the same, cohesive world. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner exist together, they may hear of one another's exploits, catch glimpses of each other on the news, maybe even meet up in a future installment.

It warms my heart.

This is such a no-brainer idea that I'm almost outraged that no one has capitalized on this until now. Across the various Marvel Comics titles, it has long been established that the various characters are all part of the same, larger world. Sure, such an undertaking might have involved a little extra scripting and few cameos here and there, but think of the sequel and cross-franchise potential. I can only imagine that some short-sighted Hollywood Big Wig felt that such an undertaking was too large and too costly for some lowly superhero flicks.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that Hollywood hasn't churned out afew good superhero films. Both X-Men 2 and Spiderman 2 were great films. The distinction is we finally have a major player on the scene who is looking to expand and improve upon the conventions of the genre. You know, real progress. To my knowledge, a consistent world across several different movie series has never been realized before. This is a first for cinema. I applaud Marvel Studios for taking the leap and making history.

P.S. I added Waldo of "Where's" fame into that picture above. If you find him, congrats. You have no life.

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Movie Marketing: Yer Doin' It Wrong

Fresh off my first two entries into my Movie Mash series, I thought I'd take a moment to further consider both of the movies covered therein. In particular, I'd like to address unfortunate trends in movie marketing.

The trailers for both The Incredible Hulk and The Happening have been all over TV for the last two to three weeks, heavily pushing the return of two entertainment industry heavy weights. In the green corner, we have the fighter in the purple trunks, Bruce Banner; a.k.a. The Hulk! In the dark and brooding corner we have the apocalypse itself, with a poorly directed Mark Wahlberg offering perspective and encouragement from the apron.

The Incredible Hulk has done a good job of making me anticipate the return voyage of the green giant. The first teasers didn't spark my interest, but the more I saw of the movie, and the more I saw the Hulk in action, the more I wanted to see the movie. Unfortunately, while my own experience shows that this method of marketing may have been necessary to sell the movie to its target audience, I believe it will come at the cost of my enjoyment on opening night.

I guarantee you that the first Hulk transformation will happen off screen. For the first half hour, if the Hulk is present, he will be largely in shadows. The second time Banner transforms, we will only see part of the process, a large amount obscured through creative editing. It won't be until the final act of the film that we see the full blown transformation in all of its bone crushing, muscle tearing glory. The slow build to seeing the visual spectacle that is the Hulk is tarnished by trailers that reveal too much. It's just like a trailer for some second rate comedy that shows every last funny bit in the film (Curse you, Ben Stiller). Disappointing, to say the least.

On the flip side of this issue we have the trailers for The Happening which reveal absolutely nothing about the film except that people are going nuts and the world is apparently ending. This does not bother me. Half the joy of M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong's films is going into them ignorant of what they're *actually* about (See my previous article detailing my Signs' experience) and discovering the film's true message as the story unfolds.

No, my problem with The Happening's trailer is that the film is being marketed as Shama-lama's "very first 'R' rated film." Now as many of you may know if you frequent my site, I usually detest PG-13 horror. There's no reason for it, it waters down the experience, and detracts from the spirit of the genre. While M. Night's work can largely be classified as scifi or horror, I don't traditionally think of him as working within the boundries of the genre. His films have always include intense situations, but never graphic depictions of sex or violence. This is because the stories he told did not require these contrivences. The stories and characters worked based on their own merits. I'm worried that this 'R' rating is the manufactured idea of some big wig Hollywood producer who thought using the rating to try to appeal to a more mature crowd would increase the film's chance of financial success. In reality, what the rating does is restrict the film's potential audience to those 17 and above, thereby lessening the potential of what ought to be a mainstream movie.

So two movies with trailers that take opposite approaches to selling their product. I find the M. Night Shama-Lama approach tends to make for a more intriguing experience, especially once I'm actually in the theater, but I don't deny that watching the Hulk kick the crap out of Abomination makes me wet in ways a male shouldn't be. Now I'm all sticky. Geek out.

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The Happening: Movie Mash

Opening this Friday along with the aforementioned Incredible Hulk universe reboot is the latest film from the once-critical darling M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong (Shyamalan). After scaring us with The Sixth Sense, making us fan boys geek-out with Unbreakable, and- uh- pissing us all off with The Village, what the hell happened to this guy's career? I can remember a time, slightly before Signs hit the theaters, where people were ranting and raving about Shama-lama's films and how he was destined to be the next Hitchcock.

Then Signs hit, and was almost universally panned. The Village, a sure-fire come-back hit, flopped miserably. Lady in the Water, well, no one saw Lady in the Water. Before I go any further, let me assure you this isn't just going to be an article bashing M. Night's work. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of his films. I'll admit that Unbreakable and Lady in the Water were the only ones that I've watched more than once, but that doesn't change my appreciation for all of his individual projects.


So, now that we've established this article as not being another circle-flaming piece of troll bait, let me seriously reiterate the following question: What the hell happened to this guy's career? For my money, I view his work as well worth the price of admission. I may not care for the actors (Osmond), or I may see the twist coming a mile away (looking at you, Village), but I can confess to never looking at my watch during my first sit through of any of Night's films. That's saying something.

So where did he lose the audience? Where did he lose the critics? The guy's become a laughing stock, an apple fallen very far from the proverbial tree. The way folks are talking, The Happening may be the last film Shama-Lama is able to write and direct and secure funding for. Ever.

The biggest complaints I've heard is over-simplified stories; emotionless, unpenetrable lead characters; heavy handed message delivery and storytelling; and a general air of pretentiousness. I don't really get that last one. Sure, in his interviews, the guy sounds like every movie he makes is going to be the next big thing, but isn't that the kind of passion you want from a person creating something? I have never felt as though a character in one of his films was talking down to me or scolding me for holding traditional, contemporary values. Not even in The Village which was all about a society of people shunning modern life. It's a complaint that just doesn't ring true to me.

I think the real problem people have is that M. Night Shymalan's films are intellectual. Well, to a point anyway. They are not filled with standard Hollywood bump-in-the-night-scares or a thousand-explosions-a-minute-action. They require some thinking to get the most out of the story. Case and point: Signs.

When I went to see Signs (starring Mel Gibson, still hiding the crazy) in the theater, a group of teenage males sat behind me. The lights went down and I was treated to the story of a troubled minister, thrown into a world turned upside down, confronting his own self doubts and regaining his faith in God. The lights came up and the teenagers said "Where the hell were all the aliens? This sucked." They hadn't even remotely seen the same movie I had. Sure, they sat and watched the same visuals up on the screen and heard all the same dialogue, but they just weren't watching the same movie.

Anyway, I'm not trying to blow magic happy smoke up Shammy's ass either. I'll admit that he's never hit quite the same stride he did with his first movie out the gate. But really, movies like The Sixth Sense only come around every so often. It's unreasonable to expect the same perfect cumulation of elements out of every successive project. Unbreakable is a far superior film that isn't so overly reliant on what amounts to nothing more than a gimmick. Signs is a great tale of redemption. Lady in the Water is a wonderful children's bedtime story. The Village- well, fuck The Villiage, we all have our off days.

As for The Happening, if the story looks good to you, go see it. Don't get worked up about is this better than The Sixth Sense or what the stupid twist at the ends is going to be. Just go and enjoy the story. This man's career needs the vote of confidence that only our hard-earned movie dollars can provide. Love him or hate him, no one else in Hollywood is making films quite like Shymalan. I for one would like him to be able to continue.
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The Incredible Hulk: Movie Mash

Welcome to the Movie Mash- a new, regular editorial about upcoming films. Think of it as a movie preview of sorts, although the emphasis isn't necessarily on the actual content of the film. For the most part, I'll be assuming you've already heard of these movies and are looking for a more indepth discussion than who's playing what character and who's blowing what up now.

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There's been a fair bit of grumbling in the movie community as of late regarding the soon-to-be released Marvel Studios film The Incredible Hulk. Months ago when the first teasers began to appear online, many comic book enthusiasts turned to one another and deemed this film worthy of the dreaded, collective 'meh'. Interest just didn't seem to be there this time around. Since then, some extended trailers have appeared online and, ever so slowly, some of the most jaded geeks have started warming up to the green giant's second contemporary movie outing.



But why is this movie having such a hard time gaining acceptance? Why was this franchise judged a cold turkey post the 2003 film, Hulk? The Hulk himself is a fun character, one that many people can relate to on some primal, emotional level. Out of the many comic book characters, Hulk is one of the few whom has remained relevant in modern times. With levels of repressed anger and stress at an all time high, it ought to be easy for movie going audiences to connect to the on going plight of the unfortunate Bruce Banner.

I'll be the first to admit that the Ang Lee Hulk project wasn't everything it could have been. This geek is not afraid to admit, however, that overall I didn't find Hulk to be an unsatisfactory film. In fact, I think they did a lot of things right. The cinematography, utilizing bright colors and split panels, was a delight to behold, emulating a comic book come to life. The Hulk himself was a fun, if obviously CGI heavy creation. Some of the action sequences were suitably larger than life and Eric Bana gave an appropriate, introverted performance. On the other hand, the plot line concerning Banner's father and the film's climax was ridiculous and ungrounded. And lets not forget the giant, mutant hulk-dogs he had to fight. Seriously. Who thought that was a good idea?

I think a lot of people are put off by just how recently the last Hulk film was released. That film is still fresh in many people's minds. There is a bit of a stigma surrounding the new film as many people are viewing it as a remake of sorts. I'd like to offer a differing opinion. I don't feel as thought this project is a remake in the true sense of the word. Every once in awhile in the comic book world, a story arc comes along that's refered to as a 'One Shot'. Usually these one shots are a particular writer's take on a character or a specific event. They're fun, self-contained stories but are not considered part of canon. The 2003 Hulk film was simply Ang Lee's one shot with the character. Marvel Studios isn't remaking the film, they're simply acknowledging that Ang Lee's version isn't part of the official canon and are offering up their own vision that is.

Look for more opinions on the Marvel Studios film universe next week. Also, Cloverfield: Movie Review - Part 2 is coming soon!
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Cloverfield: Movie Review - Part One

Behold, the long belated Cloverfield full movie review is upon you. Sorta. The review, turns out, is running rather long given the length of my discussion prior to even talking about the movie proper. As such, I'm posting this which is essentially a pre-review article. Or think of it as the Cloverfield Movie Review - Part One.

For those of you living under a rock, Cloverfield was the event movie of 2008. Ever since the trailer premiered in front of Transformers the summer before, the internet was abuzz about this untitled project due out on 1-18-08. Rumors ran rampant that the next American Godzilla movie was coming, while others swore that Voltron was finally getting the modern treatment it deserved. Still others thought that a character in the trailer had exclaimed "It's a lion!" and appropriate giant animal theories were abound. My personal hope was that a Cthulu movie was finally upon us.

Turns out everyone was wrong.

Clover was what we got. And just what is Clover? Outside of the best damn original monster design to come along in fifteen years, damned if I know. It's not a mutated fish or a giant bird. It's not a dinosaur and its certainly not some overgrown iguana (looking at you, GINO). Clover is simply amazing.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. What about Cloverfield, the film? Most of you are probably aware of the film in some way or another, even if you have no interest in the kaiju genre. If nothing else, you're probably aware that the film was recorded on home video cameras and is presented in a first person perspective. This is a technique that can be quite divisive, usually you either love it or you hate it. If you are especially prone to motion sickness, this movie might not be best viewed on a full stomach. I myself have no objections to the use of the perspective, although it does lead to a few logic errors I'll discuss more later on.

For this review I'm going to do my best to separate out Cloverfield the movie from Cloverfield the experience. You have to understand that Cloverfield was no doubt an event picture. The lead up to the movie had astronomical levels of hype attached to it. Amazing in the modern internet age, the monster design was kept a secret all the way up to opening weekend screenings. I myself was sucked into the hype machine, attended opening weekend, and was blown away by the roller coaster ride that followed. Now, four months later, I'm curious to see if my extreme positive reaction was a result of viewing a phenomenal movie or if I was just buying into the hype.

Stay tuned for Cloverfield: Movie Review- Part 2!
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