Category Archives: movies

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.

Brief FORCE AWAKENS Review; Spoil the Movie, I Will Not

By Tom Holste

Jan. 2, 2016

Most of my friends know what a huge Star Wars fan I am, so it won’t be a surprise to most of them that I saw the movie on the Friday that it opened.

After seeing the film, I realized that I needed to immediately see it again (although I probably won’t be able to until home video). The first time, I was holding my breath without realizing it. Would the filmmakers be able to pull it off? Yes, they would. It wasn’t until the end credits were rolling that I could finally relax enough to say, “Yes. This is a quality movie. It’s no longer embarrassing to be a Star Wars fan.”

vanity-fair-star-wars-the-force-awakens-large

The filmmakers missed an opportunity to name this film RISE OF THE MIDICHLORIANS.

Despite my own repeated statements before the release that the movie wouldn’t be able to make me feel like I was 8 years old again, some part of me still hoped it would. But at the end of the day, it’s just a movie, albeit a very entertaining one.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both great in their roles, and the droid BB-8 is cute without being cloying. Harrison Ford is this movie’s MVP, though. He brings such fun and energy to the role of Han Solo, it’s like the character has never been gone. Watching him was my favorite part of this film.

However, I was surprised at how much more somber the movie was than I was expecting. I thought that this would be a lighthearted romp along the lines of the original 1977 movie, or even along the lines of JJ Abrams’ two Star Trek films. But this is the first part of a trilogy, and our characters have to be in some pretty sad, dark places in order for the story to have somewhere to go. If there’s no conflict for the characters, there would be no reason for them to be in this movie.

I was also surprised because I was expecting answers to a lot of my questions from the previews, but instead, I find myself with even more questions. Again, this makes sense. The filmmakers already know that they have 3 films with which to tell their story. It wouldn’t work to tell us everything right up front. Where would the trilogy go from there?

One more concern I had, which seems to be echoed by a lot of other people, is that there was an over-reliance on ideas seen in the other movies. Since Lucasfilm had previously announced that the Expanded Universe (the various Star Wars novels, comics, video games, etc.) were no longer canon, I thought that they intended to go in a bold, fresh new direction that couldn’t be accomplished with the old continuity. Instead, the filmmakers puzzlingly decided to do a retread of what we’ve already seen, and tell a story where many of the previous tales didn’t need to be jettisoned.

In short, what I came to the theater to see was familiar characters in new situations. What I instead got was (mostly) new characters in familiar situations.

Having said all of that, my teenage stepson came out of the theater totally energized. He had never had the chance to see any Star Wars movie in a theater before, and it blew him away. He declared that The Force Awakens was not only his favorite Star Wars movie, but also his favorite movie ever, period!

I think that was the ultimate goal of the filmmakers: to show modern kids what it was like to watch Star Wars for the first time in a theater, and to create a new generation of fans. Those concerns trumped all others for the filmmakers, and they seem to have succeeded admirably.

So, again, it was a very entertaining movie and I had a really good time. But I immediately wanted to see it again because I had some different (and perhaps somewhat unrealistic) expectations of the movie going in. I want to see it again with revised expectations, and I think I’ll enjoy the movie even more then.

Lights, Camera, Insert Coin

By Tom Holste

Nov. 10, 2015

Recently, a small independent movie company called Rainfall Films released a short 10-minute film called Metroid: The Sky Calls, based loosely on the Metroid video game series that started on the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1987. This isn’t an official production, but a fan-made film.

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Sakamoto.”

Metroid: The Sky Calls is the latest attempt by someone in Hollywood to tackle a challenge that has largely proved insurmountable: how to make a good movie out of a video game.

When video games were simpler, consisting of only a single screen, and with no actors or story, they must have seemed too primitive to make the jump to film. Sure, Space Invaders seemed influenced by Star Wars, Pitfall! took a page from Indiana Jones’ playbook, and Donkey Kong probably wouldn’t have existed without (of course) King Kong. But one would be hard-pressed to identify, for instance, exactly why Pac-Man needed to eat the ghost monsters, or where the game took place. (Yes, there have been fan films attempting to answer those questions, too — such as this and this. And there were Saturday morning cartoons with those characters, but the characters were shoehorned into rather generic cartoon plots.)

But as the years progressed, game developers were able to make the games longer, and eventually add voices as provided by the actors. The graphics grew more realistic; the music went from non-existent to repetitive to actually evoking mood from scene to scene; and the storylines and themes became more complex and sophisticated. In nearly every way, video games had become like movies. So why couldn’t video games actually make the jump to the big screen?

One of the first attempts was called The Wizard, which featured Fred Savage of The Wonder Years in a plot weirdly ripped off from Rain Man, just more family-friendly. Savage’s character traveled across the country to help his savant brother win a video-game championship (since his brother was a “wizard” at video games). Ultimately, the movie is now most remembered for a laughably bad line where an all-too-smug competitor expressed his admiration for Nintendo’s new game peripheral. “I love the Power Glove,” he cooed. “It’s so bad.” (“Bad” in this case means “cool,” for us old-timers out there.) The line launched a thousand Internet memes:

PowerGlovePowerGlove2PowerGlove3Apparently, the powers-at-be at Nintendo thought that this movie was a bit silly. (I can’t fathom where they got that idea from.) So they decided that their next movie, based on Super Mario Bros., would be a lot more serious. And it was. In fact, it was way more serious than any movie based on Super Mario Bros. had any right to be. Instead of the brightly beautiful Mushroom Kingdom from the games, the filmmakers inexplicably gave us a dark, post-apocalyptic looking world that looked like rejected sets from Blade Runner. The story was incomprehensible, giving us Bob Hoskins as Mario, and John Leguizamo as his adopted younger “brother.” Princess Peach was nowhere to be seen; instead we got the unmemorable Princess Daisy. In the games, Bowser is a giant dragon. In the movie, Bowser is played by Dennis Hopper, looking like Dennis Hopper with a few bumpy ridges on his head and a long tongue.

Critics rightly lambasted the film, and baffled audiences stayed away. Attention, people of Hollywood: This audience accepted a series of games where a plumber heroically fought against turtles before donning a raccoon suit that allowed him to fly. When this same audience says that your movie is too confusing, you really haven’t done your job right.

Bowser

We got from this to … well, that (see following image).

to that

“Pop quiz, hotshot. You’re stuck in a lame video game adaptation. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?”

Further games based on movies came out, but nearly all have been critical failures, and most have been commercial failures as well. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Doom, Wing Commander … the list reads like a Hollywood hall of shame. The Resident Evil series is the only set of movies based on games that I can think of with more than two entries, and even those movies not held up as any kind of cinematic classics.

The Godfather is a very well made movie even if you don’t like gangster movies; The Wizard of Oz is very well made even if you don’t like fantasies. But where’s The Wizard of Oz or The Godfather of video game movies – the movie that would appeal to someone who doesn’t even play games? Since modern video games seems so much like movies, why is it so hard to make a good movie out of a video game?

I think the answer lies in the types of experience that audiences and players look for in their respective entertainments.

Video games are very much about letting the player enter the world as the character. When a player wants to be Sonic the Hedgehog, for instance, he or she wants to imagine himself or herself in the role of the little blue critter that runs fast and jumps on little robots. In contrast, a movie invests us in characters that have very specific personality traits and specific histories. In order for a Sonic movie to work, the filmmaker would have to create a deep psychological background for Sonic. However, if the writers and directors make Sonic too strange, with a shattered psyche, then audiences would reject the film because it’s not how they always imagined Sonic themselves (with everyone pulling from their own personality traits). But if they keep Sonic as generic as possible to fit everyone’s interpretation of him, then the movie will be suffocatingly dull.

Also, the pleasure of a game comes from overcoming a challenge after multiple attempts. There doesn’t need to be anything more in terms of conflict for a Super Mario game than simply executing a series of increasingly difficult jumps. The variety and style of the jumps creates an exciting challenge for the player. But how could one watch two hours of “Mario jumps, then he jumps again, and this time he has to jump a little bit higher”?

How profound of a relationship can Link have with an Octorok?

How profound of a relationship can Link have with an Octorok?

Let’s look at another example: The Legend of Zelda, a sword-and-sorcery series starring Link. In the games, Link usually travels alone while attempting to rescue Zelda. It’s a terrific series of games. But in a movie version of this game, who would Link talk to for two hours? Would he only talk to the bad guys just before killing them? Or would the filmmakers have to invent an annoying sidekick for him? There was a short-lived cartoon series where Link hung out with Zelda, and the two of them did lame romantic comedy-style bickering. Indeed, Link has an obnoxious catchphrase from the cartoon: “Excuuuuse me, princess!” As you can probably guess, there are memes galore for that too.

For another example, let’s go back to the 1987 video game classic Metroid. (Spoilers ahead for a 28-year-old game, and for the aforementioned fan film.)

Players found themselves on an eerie distant planet as a character named Samus Aran, an intergalatic explorer who had to fight off some nasty aliens. Throughout the game, players couldn’t see Samus’ face, as Samus was in a large space suit. When players successfully completed the game, Samus retired from duty by taking off the suit. That’s when players learned that Samus had, in fact, been a woman all along.

“Hello, my 8-bit avatar. How YOU doin’?”

It’s a great twist that no one saw coming, which is a good reward for finishing the game, and the twist nicely challenged our preconceived notions of who our video game heroes should be. So how does one capture that in a movie?

If one hides Samus’ face until the very end of the movie, as in the original game, audiences might be unable to connect with a character whose face they can’t see. Besides, millions of gamers already know that twist. But if the filmmakers get rid of the twist, what’s left to surprise the viewer?

Interestingly, the makers of Metroid: The Sky Calls show Samus as a woman right up front, but then do a story all about exploration. Weirdly enough, Samus never fights any aliens in the short film. Apparently the filmmakers were deliberately going for a 2001: A Space Odyssey tone, which is kind of neat. It’s certainly effective for 10 minutes. But would audiences accept a full-length movie where Samus never blasts any of the aliens from the game?

(Here’s a link to the movie, btw.)

(Spoilers end here.)

So as you can see, what people want when they play video games – to immerse themselves as the main character, to overcome hurdles that are physical instead of psychological, and to often explore the game area alone – are often the opposite things of what people want when they watch movies – to get to know unique characters, to watch those characters overcome complex challenges, and to watch them do it surrounded by other interesting characters.

Mind you, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to do a really good video game movie. I’m just saying that it hasn’t been done yet, and outlining what the challenges are for any filmmaker. If someone figures out how to crack the code, I’ll be first in line.

In the meantime, we have to continue to live in a world where, oddly enough, The Wizard remains the most memorable video game movie made to date.

And how can we not love it? It’s so bad!