Category Archives: movies

Netflix Opens New DARK CRYSTAL

By Tom Holste

May 18, 2017

The Jim Henson Company has been trying to follow up on their cult classic, the 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal, for something like 15 years. It’s been in development for so long that it’s become something of an affectionate running joke among Henson fans.

And, now, suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re moving forward on something. And Netflix, currently the savviest network out there, is bringing it to us.

Can I just say…Wow?

The original movie, while visually stunning, is somewhat slow and a little too light on plot. I always feel like I should like it more than I actually do. And yet, this new project seems like such a smart move, I can’t help but be excited.

A new movie could be a huge hit like The Force Awakens, or it could appeal to a niche audience and be quickly forgotten, like Tron: Legacy (which I liked, but didn’t revive the franchise as hoped). But a new series on the streaming network that gave us such diverse projects as Daredevil, Stranger Things, Fuller House, and the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000…that’s going to generate a lot of excitement. I can’t imagine this not being successful.

This is a prequel series; while it may be too much to wish for, I hope that it gives enough context to the original movie that I find myself finally liking and appreciating the film more. If not, I hope it’s at least entertaining on its own terms, which should be the top priority.

Between this and several other projects, it seems like the Henson Company is finally waking up from its long dormancy, and may be entering a new golden age. Let’s hope!

Check out the trailer below.

First Trailer for THE LAST JEDI

By Tom Holste

Apr. 15, 2017

Hey, folks! Hope you’re all doing well. I’m enjoying a beautiful Easter weekend myself.

So the teaser for THE LAST JEDI has dropped, and it’s pretty cool:

(Um, spoilers ahead for the trailer you just watched, I guess, and for FORCE AWAKENS, which you’ve probably seen if you’re reading this.)

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It didn’t grab me as much as the FORCE AWAKENS or ROGUE ONE trailers, but I still like it. (Keep in mind that a trailer is not always a good indication of the movie. I found the trailer for PHANTOM MENACE exciting, and the trailer for FINDING NEMO boring, but the first movie was boring and the second movie was amazing.)

The teaser starts off a little slow but builds in excitement as it goes. Surprisingly, there’s little of Finn in the trailer. I suppose they’re trying to keep his fate secret as they did for Luke in FORCE AWAKENS, but I hope Finn has more screen time than Luke did.

Luke’s final words in the trailer are worrisome, but I assume that’s the point: to intrigue us by hearing him say something that seems contrary to his nature. My curiosity is definitely piqued.

I may never get the Luke-Han-Leia reunion I was hoping for, but the real return of Luke Skywalker to the big screen for the first time since 1983 (as opposed to a wordless cameo)– yeah, that’s enough of a draw for me.

And if you’re still not excited, hopefully this poster hits all the right old-school, classic saga notes for you:

star_wars_the_last_jedi_poster_1688

Joss Whedon Answers the Bat-Signal

By Tom Holste

Apr. 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts. I’ve been working, which is great, but it left me with little time or energy to write. Thanks to everyone who liked my posts or started following my blogs in the past year.

Anyway, something popped up yesterday that surprised me enough to inspire writing: Joss Whedon (of the two Avengers films, among other projects) plans to make a Batgirl movie.

Batgirl

Whedon’s goal: give us a better Batgirl than Alicia Silverstone in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Yeah, I think that’s doable.

The move is surprising, as during interviews for Age of Ultron, Whedon repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to making original projects. In five years, he had worked on two comic book movies and an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and he was feeling the itch to try something new. Additionally, there was some heavy backlash for Age of Ultron that I thought would keep him away from high-profile projects for a while. (Even though I found Ultron unsatisfying, even I’ll admit that some of the criticism was too harsh.)

All recent mentions of Whedon indicated that he was working on a horror movie set during WWII. So this announcement really came out of left field.

(And for those concerned that I’m posting this on April Fool’s Day, keep in mind that the news actually broke on Thursday. Also, the announcement of Whedon making The Avengers happened to come out on Apr. 1, 2010, even though that news was real, too.)

I don’t blame DC for wanting Whedon in their camp, though. When Marvel brought Whedon on board for their Cinematic Universe, it was still just an experiment with a successful movie or two under its belt. But would audiences really accept seeing multiple different movies until the characters were brought together in one unprecedented team-up movie? Avengers was the film that proved that the idea had paid off.

And for those who think that what Whedon did was easy, I would point you to 2006’s direct-to-video animated release Ultimate Avengers: The Movie that has almost the exact same lineup of characters. If the live-action Avengers had been as “meh” as that movie, I doubt we’d still be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe today.

So DC definitely had good reason to court Whedon now that he was a free agent. While DC’s own attempts at making a combined cinematic universe have made lots of money, critics and fans have largely expressed their unhappiness with the results. It’s very telling that, last year, the long-awaited, first-ever meeting of Batman and Superman in an official live-action project made less at the box office than the relatively unknown Deadpool.

Meanwhile, what was the incentive for Whedon (other than the probably large paycheck) to put his more personal projects on hold? Word on the street around the time of Age of Ultron was that Whedon and Marvel had frequently clashed on the direction of that sequel. For better or for worse, DC is known for giving its directors more free rein. If DC offered Whedon the opportunity to tell the story however he wants to, that probably sealed the deal.

For fans of DC’s darker approach to their characters who worry that Whedon will make the movie too lighthearted, I would assure them that there are plenty of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that would convince them that Whedon can go dark when he wants to. Whedon fully admitted that the first Iron Man movie, directed by Jon Favreau, was his template when making The Avengers. I think he’ll be able to adapt well to the tone of DC’s movies, and in fact, do them one better.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I don’t agree with Whedon politically most of the time, but I know he can deliver great entertainment. He’s written croud-pleasing projects as varied as Toy Story and Speed, and he did a fine job on an X-Men comic series in the early 2000s. If anyone can answer the call to get DC’s movie series on track, it’s him.

 

Disney Seeks More Fortune and Glory with INDY V

By Tom Holste

Mar. 15, 2016

First of all, hello and welcome to all of my new readers! Thank you for the likes and the follows over the past few weeks.

So here’s the latest bit of interesting movie industry news: It looks like Disney is finally moving forward with a new Indiana Jones film. This would be the fifth in the series.

There’s been talk of speculation of another Indy film pretty much since the last one came out in 2008. Rumors intensified after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, but for the time being, the Mouse House only seemed interested in Star Wars.

But having gotten their first major victory under their belts — The Force Awakens wowed the critics and shattered box-office records — the magic makers at Disney seem keen on trying their hand at Lucasfilm’s other big franchise.

Bob Iger expressed his continuing interest in making another Indiana Jones movie back in December, but it was vague and noncommittal. What makes this latest announcement so newsworthy is that Disney has gone so far as to announce a date: Jul. 19, 2019. Both the series star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg have also officially been confirmed. This time, it seems, Disney means business.

In the press release from Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios: “Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019 … It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

indiana-jones-kingdom-crystal-skull-spielberg-ford

Note two names that weren’t mentioned: George Lucas and Shia LeBouf.

Frankly, I was surprised that the franchise didn’t start over with a new actor. After Crystal Skull, I thought maybe a fresh start was best. Don’t get me wrong: I never want to live in a world where Raiders of the Lost Ark is no longer canon. But Casino Royale so wonderfully gave us a new take on James Bond, I wondered if a new actor and director could enliven this franchise the same way.

After all, both Ford and Spielberg seemed bored during the last installment. Perhaps, though, that was because they were unhappy with the flying saucer storyline they were forced to go with at Lucas’ insistence. Maybe this time, they can make the story they wanted to make last time.

Speaking of the story, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of a screenwriter yet. One would think that everyone wouldn’t be moving forward if there wasn’t an idea already in mind. Perhaps they have an idea but don’t want to spill any secrets yet, for fear of someone beating them to the punch (as in the ridiculous game of one-upmanship going on between the makers of Batman v. Superman and Civil War).

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-vs-captain-america-civil-war

“Our movie has a BILLION superheroes in it.” “Oh, yeah? Well, OUR movie has a MILLION KAJILLION superheroes in it!”

Or perhaps there was simply a gap in Ford’s and Spielberg’s schedule, and they decided this was their chance to redeem their names, and the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that they want to do.

I’m using a bit of over-dramatic wording to make my point, but to be fair, Crystal Skull isn’t an outright bad film. There are funny moments and a lot of action scenes that work. It’s just not really a great film, especially not in comparison with the others. I don’t even blame George Lucas for wanting to try a little something different with the flying saucers angle. For me (and for a lot of others), the whole thing just didn’t fully gel.

I have to say that it’s strange that the story will now have to be set in the late 1960s . I feel like the 1930s setting of the earlier films made the movies seem more distant and exotic, and made the fantastical endings seem more plausible. But the late 1960s are just a few years before I was born! That doesn’t seem as distant or exotic. Then again, maybe that has more to say about my age than it does about the original time and setting.

So I’m trying to keep an open mind. After the last installment, I didn’t think we needed any more, at least not from the original team. But then Harrison Ford was arguably the best thing about The Force Awakens. So maybe there’s more cinematic treasure to be mined from Ford and Spielberg after all.

 

Hollywood: The Department of Redundancy Department

Part 2 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”

By Tom Holste

Feb. 16, 2016

In my previous column, I talked about how the word “reboot” gets misused by many in the media. However, even when the word is used right, it’s symptomatic of a larger problem: a lack of original ideas coming out of Hollywood.

The X-Files has come back to TV, and the similarly eerie show Twin Peaks is on the way. Last year saw three different film series hit their seventh installment (Rocky, Star Wars, and Fast & Furious). Jurassic Park and Mad Max got their first new movies in ages. Ghostbusters has a female-centric reboot heading our way later this year. New installments of the Predator and Alien franchises are in active development.

All of these shows and movies at least have dedicated fan bases. But when Netflix announced that it was producing a new Full House series, my reaction was: Who ever even asked for that?

fuller-house-1024

“This February: Joey will have to Cut. It. Out…one last time!”

 

In fact, I just saw a preview for Kindergarten Cop 2 with Dolph Lundgren, coming 26 years after the original. I had to double-check with a Google search to make sure this wasn’t just a FunnyOrDie.com parody.

Mind you, the concept of recycling ideas is nothing new. For instance, most of Shakespeare’s plays were stories that the audience already knew. And I distinctly remember Johnny Carson doing a routine about all the sequels coming out in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a time in filmmaking history that’s now greatly revered. But even with all that being said, there seems to be even less fresh material than ever before.

However, there’s a new, somewhat ironic problem: Many of these rehashes are not only popular but quite well made. Star Wars, Jurassic World and Fast & Furious 7 broke many all-time box office records, and they were highly praised by critics as well. Mad Max: Fury Road was so well-received that it got a nomination for a Best Picture Oscar. Creed (the Rocky spin-off) was adored by critics and snagged an Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone for playing a character he’s played six other times already.

Compare this to the late ‘90s, when Hollywood gave us reboots of Lost in Space, Godzilla, Wild Wild West, and even the old British TV spy series The Avengers. Some of them were popular (while others were not), but all of them were despised by critics and fans. None of them got a sequel. At the time, this situation seemed like the worst thing that could happen to cinema.

But now we have the ironic problem I mentioned earlier: When the sequels are this popular and this acclaimed and loved by fans, what possible incentive could studios have to keep trying new things?

In fact, last year Warner Bros. released a new movie from the Wachowski brothers (whose biggest claim to fame is The Matrix) called Jupiter Ascending. The movie boasted an original script and had some eye-catching visuals in its trailer, but the critics savaged it and audiences stayed away. I haven’t seen the film myself either; maybe it genuinely is that bad. But isn’t it heartbreaking that the studio tried to give people what they say they wanted only to have it blow up in their face? Now, you can bet that Warner Bros. has learned its lesson, and you can fully expect another dozen Hobbit and Batman sequels.

Jupiter_Ascending

Audience: “We’re sick of all these retreads.” Hollywood: “OK, here’s a movie with an original script.” Audience: “Kill it! Kill it with fire!”

In my next column (coming soon), I look at one particular set of reboots on the horizon.

 

Everything Old is Old Again

Part 1: The Not-Really-Reboots

By Tom Holste

Feb. 15, 2016

The subject of reboots and rehashes has been coming up a lot lately. And unfortunately, the problem is that when it comes to reboots, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

What a reboot actually means is ignoring the previous continuity and starting completely starting over from scratch. Think of it like rebooting your computer. It’s a chance to start fresh, so that the creators and audiences aren’t weighed down with trying to remember tons of minautue to enjoy the new story, or perhaps to undo some creative decisions that the fans disliked.

DC Comics rebooted their fictional universe in the 1980s with their Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, and they keep rebooting every 10 years or so. When it comes to movies, Batman Begins was a reboot that dismissed the movies with Michael Keaton and company. And while 2006’s Superman Returns was a sequel to the Christopher Reeve movies, 2013’s Man of Steel is a full reboot that ignores the earlier movies.

Transformers-the-Movie

TRANSFOMERS actually needed a reboot, since the cartoon concluded in the far-flung future of…the year 2006!

So, basic concept here: If a particular piece of entertainment continues or references the established continuity, it’s a sequel or prequel, but if the old continuity is thrown out and the filmmakers treat the new story as if it were the first-ever story, then it’s a reboot.

Simple, right? Apparently not to the thousands of journalists out there covering every entertainment news story on the planet.

For example, back in November, ABC fired Bob Kushnell, the producers of the new Muppets sitcom, and brought on Kristin Newman, citing declining ratings and fan dissatisfaction. Despite the fact that the characters and premise were staying the same, every news organization said that ABC was “rebooting” the series.

Then, after David Bowie’s passing in January, news surfaced that the Jim Henson Company was “rebooting” Labyrinth, which ignited a firestorm of protests from fans of the original movie. The screenwriter currently working on the project (Nicole Perlman) had to quickly take to Twitter to explain that the movie would be a sequel or some kind of follow-up story set in the same universe, not a reboot. Furthermore, Perlman explained that she’s been working quietly on the project since 2014, so this wasn’t just a cheap cash-in on Bowie’s death.

Silver-Chair

“THE SILVER CHAIR reboots Narnia!” uninformed bloggers say. “Who will play the new Goblin King? … Oh, wait. That’s LABYRINTH.”

But the trend continued. Mark Gordon, the producer of the Narnia movies, indicated that the next film The Silver Chair would not require audiences to have seen the other movies (or to have liked them), since the story had so many new characters in it. This is in accordance with the original book, which was written over 50 years ago. Nonetheless, every news article called it a reboot of the series. The only way to reboot this series would be to make The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again, or possibly to go with the prequel story The Magician’s Nephew.

However, when DC Comics announced new comic-books based on Hanna-Barbera characters that reimagined them from modern eyes, and when Universal pictures announced the desire to do a new Battlestar Galactica series that likely has nothing to do with either of its previous incarnations, not one article that I read used the word “reboot” for either property, even though in this case that’s exactly what they are! Excuse me a minute while I pound my head on the desk.

Ow. Sorry about that. Now where was I?

Mind you, it doesn’t bother me as much when bloggers write something informally and refer to everything as reboots. But when professional websites with paid writers can’t tell the difference (or choose not to, since the word “reboot” is apparently great for clickbait), that’s when I get annoyed.

At any rate, even the sheer number of sequels and other follow-ups has gotten out of hand. But so has this article, so I’ll have to continue my thoughts on the subject in my next column.

For an excellent analysis of the Silver Chair confusion, here’s the Narniaweb podcast on the subject.

 

READY PLAYER ONE Won’t Be Ready Until 2018

By Tom Holste

Feb. 10, 2016

Box Office Mojo has reported that Warner Bros. is moving the release date of the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One from December 1, 2017 to March 30, 2018. This move comes in the wake of Disney moving Star Wars Episode VIII from May 26, 2017 to the December date previously occupied by the Spielberg film.

ready_player_one

(Darth Vader voice) “Even your high-profile Spielberg movie is insignificant compared to the power of a STAR WARS sequel.”

The fact that Warner Bros. moved the date of their movie away from Star Wars is not surprising at all. The fact that they moved it to March does say a lot about the current trend in big-ticket movies away from traditional dates.

Previously, big movies were only released in the summer or around the holidays. Spring and fall used to be seasons for studios to release movies that might have a harder time finding an audience (sci-fi films without big-name actors, or quirky comedies from overseas). But Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (also by Warner Bros.) is being released in March, and now Ready Player One — based on a best-selling book that’s loaded with nostalgia and geek references, and directed by probably the most famous filmmaker living today — is also getting a spring release. Neither of these movies sound like they would have a hard time attracting an audience. 

What this move seems to reveal is that release dates are becoming less important overall to studios than they used to be. The prevailing thought used to be that people who might not care that much about something like Batman would still take a chance on his new movie if it was released during a vacation season when people head to the theater without much thought beforehand as to what they want to see. While the hardcore fans can almost always be counted on to show up for their favorite franchise, the people who don’t think that much about it can’t be expected to show up if it’s not convenient for them.

But now the rules are changing. While no one wants to open against Star Wars, the playing field is pretty much wide open otherwise. Batman is such a big property that Warner Bros. knows that they could release the movie on a cold Tuesday afternoon in February, and audiences will sell out the theaters in advance.

To put it another way, if you’re excited about Batman v. Superman, the fact that it’s not being released in June is not going to stop you from seeing it. And if you’re not interested, releasing the movie at a different time is not going to convince you otherwise.