Monday, November 10, 2014

"Interstellar" review: A thrilling and emotionally resonating space epic

Christopher Nolan, famous for The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and Memento, has once again brought his A-game to the newly re-sparked space genre with Interstellar. Prerelease trailers had defined a rather simplistic movie, but with Nolan rarely is anything taken at face value. In fact, Interstellar is just the opposite and perhaps at times over-complex.

In a near future, Matthew McConaughey plays a farmer/ex-space pilot—Copper—in a dying earth that is doomed by frequent sand storms. With the help of his daughter Murph, he “stumbles” on a NASA secret. He then faces a risky journey into deep space with other scientists, Anne Hatheway (Amelia Brand) and Wes Bentley (Doyle), to save his family and the human race. This sets up the premise of the movie but what really takes the viewer in are the relationships between the characters—father and daughter and father and son.

Much like Inception, the movie holds Nolan’s artistic convictions very close to heart. Interstellar boasts some impressive visual scenes with some never seen before special effects, especially in the spatial creation of some of the extraordinary sights in the unforeseen and mysterious universe. With Gravity’s ground-breaking visual effects in 2013; it felt like nothing much could have been added to the space-genre arena but Interstellar showed otherwise. Gravity is the winner on the direction and visual scale, but Nolan’s new space adventure ultimately wins audience’s hearts with its emotional gravitas.

The struggle between Copper and his daughter Murphy during his “endless” journey is one of the key story lines that drives the thrill in the movie. It establishes a strong humanistic quality to the film that will at several occasions make you take out the tissue box. Anne Hathaway’s character never fits into her role as a scientist, instead she takes a more accompanying role in the film. Her character ends with an interesting plotline but rarely is she defined independently. She relays a few thoughts about the transcendence of love, a recurring theme in the film, but beyond that not much can be said.

Perhaps its most praised and criticized aspect is its scientific jargon that at times is enlightening yet also confusing. Its scientific seriousness in quantum physics adds a realistic touch to the movie, but for the larger part, it takes away the well-deserving focus on the others characters’ struggles. With all its intricacy, Interstellar, unsurprisinglyis a movie made for multiple viewings in which things might become clearer.

Hans Zimmer, frequent collaborator of Christopher Nolan, once again scores the film’s soundtrack. He effectively reflects the complexity of the multi-dimensional universe in his cues while adding a small touch of human drama. The use of the powerful and heart-trembling organs add a novel element to his previously derivative work. It deepens the musical setting of what already seems a very deep and emotionally complex film. It's safe to say that Zimmer has taken back his spot among the best music producers in the film industry. However, it should be noted that the sound mixing is at some points overruling, making a recited poem in the film incomprehensible. 

Movies this daring, this original, and this thought-provoking rarely hit cinemas and when they do— they are really hard to resist. Interstellar, with all its greatness and its mistakes, is another example of these outstanding movies.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Future of The Amazing Spider Man Series

Where is the Spider Man franchise heading?

The Spider-Man franchise has gone a long way from its successful debut in 2002 with actors Tobey
Macquire and Kristen Dunst. It scored some of the biggest records at the time of its release, notably the first film to gross more than $100 million on its opening weekend. It garnered a similar success with its sequel, but things started to fall apart and Spider Man 3 wasn’t that lucky. Following some complications in pre-production and “conflicting schedules,” the Sam Raimi franchise lost its steam and was finally shelved.

In 2012, 5 years after Spider Man 3’s underwhelming release, Sony rebooted the franchise with The Amazing Spider Man (TASM) with director Marc Webb. Audience response was mostly unpleasant, with remarks along the lines of “been there, done that.” Despite Sony attempts to distinguish it from the initial franchise, comparisons to the original franchise and disdain towards an early reboot continued. And, most people overlooked the major reason Sony had to reboot the franchise so quickly. To answer that question a bit of background knowledge of Marvels’ history is needed.

Surprisingly before the successes of the X-Men and Spider Man, the company had financial difficulties and surely not enough money to produce a superhero film. So, the company sold different properties to various film studios. The agreement had certain provisos, one of which puts an expiry date on the film license that is contingent on the theatrical usage of the character.  If Sony didn’t claim its rights, by not releasing a Spider Man film, the character film rights would have reverted back to Marvel Studios which is currently part of the Disney conglomerate. Several properties have reverted/sold back to Marvel, notably Iron Man and Electra and recently Dare Devil. As such, Disney’s legal force has put many time constraints on studio schedules.

While North American audience members were less receptive to The Amazing Spider Man, international markets were more forgiving, invoking more than $495 million. This translated to a solid $757.9 million global gross, but it marked the lowest grossing Spider-Man entry in the franchise. The Amazing Spider Man 2 also lowered the margin with $708.3 million, partly due to a cannibalizing schedule in its North American market. Spider-Man was once the superior of comic book heroes, but now with a high influx of CB movies, it has become like the others, just another character in the group.

At this stage, Sony decided to work on a Spider-Man centered universe—in the hopes of replicating the astounding success of the Marvel/Disney universe. And, it’s no surprise. Columbia Pictures/Sony aren’t the only distributors who are fighting for the piece of pie in this business. Within 3 years, more than 18 comic book based movies are scheduled to be released from both Marvel and DC comics. As of now, it is unclear if they are only placeholders for other movies or if they are the real deal. Sony only claims 3 of these huge line up of movies—a far-cry compared to that of Disney’s and DC’s universe. In all fairness, though, Sony doesn’t have much to go on in order to create a sustainable universe. This is among one of the few reasons Sony will have a very hard time reproducing Disney’s success.

Peter and Gwen's relationship was the highlight of the first two films
Sony’s upcoming films may show off the idea of a connected franchise, but what makes a solid franchise is its base, i.e. The Amazing Spider Man 1 and 2. One of the main differences between the Amazing Spider Man and the original Spider Man franchise is the darker tone (A direct result of Nolan’s Batman trilogy). While I consider the darker tone far more interesting, it does have its drawbacks especially in the type of crowd it attracts. Spider Man’s core demographic is children, but the movie’s atmosphere is more apropos for adults. This struggle takes a huge toll on the audience’s interest from both young and adult demographics. The sequel reduces the dark tonality of the film, but replaces it with a cockier Spider Man that makes children laugh but not adults.  Once again, this imbalance continued the loss of interest and decreased numbers.

It has become a standard that a franchise is considered successful if a sequel can maintain or out gross its predecessors gross. At this point, the Spider Man franchise is still considered “successful” but its prospects aren’t auspicious. At face value, Sony’s effort at expanding the Spider Man franchise seems clever: by diversifying your characters, you have a better chance of attracting different audience members and making more money. But, it’s easier said than done.

Sinister Six marks the first film in Sony’s expanded franchise. It is set to be released on November 11, 2016. Considering it as a sequel to TASM2 would be a huge inaccuracy since the ending of TASM2 isn’t in a place that would encourage viewers to watch a Sinister Six movie. Instead it should serve as a buildup to TASM3. Without the image of Spider Man, the film will have a hard time advertising its worthiness, especially to younger audiences who are the main drive in this franchise. So, expectations for Columbia Pictures shouldn’t aspire high. They will need a very strong marketing campaign, which targets the correct demographic unlike TASM2 which suffered from ineffective market segmentation, especially for female audiences. With more complex and new characters, Sinister Six is supposed to change public perception and if possible attract a larger audience. However, previous evidence (eg. Catwoman) doesn’t accurately show how villain-centered movies perform at the box office. It remains unknown if villains can become a consumer attraction? With superhero fatigue on the rise, Sinister Six might just be the film that audiences are waiting to watch—just like Guardians of the Galaxy.

At this point, it’s very clear that all the weight is falling on the Sinister Six. If it succeeds, then it’s a blinkering green light for the TASM3. Evidence for Sony’s failing franchise has become quite conspicuous. Sony rescheduling plans were done in an impromptu manner. TASM2’s Blu-ray Release contains outdated bonus features in which Marc Webb incorrectly refers to the “next sequel” as TASM3 when in fact the new plans have Sinister Six as the next film. This type of sudden and unpremeditated changes are very concerning and they place a big question mark on the future of this rebooted franchise. It also is unsurprising that there is a 2 year time gap between the Sinister Six and TASM3. It offers the production company an excuse to back out of TASM3 before investing substantial amounts of money into it.

How they connect all the movies together in the franchise will play a critical role in determining how successful TASM3 would be. The four year difference between TASM2 and TASM3 is in itself a very problematic situation for the character. In fact, it is only a year short of how long it took Sony to reboot the franchise. From an investment point of view, it offers a lower financial risk but it also has negative consequences for the prospects of the franchise. Large gaps between movies, especially the way TASM2 ended, disintegrate audience interest.  The fact that the superhero market is also expanding is another warning for the company because it will have a hard time establishing its footing in the increasingly competitive market. If Sinister Six could keep the image of Spider Man alive and build tension to a growing battle in TASM3, then it might very well save the franchise and perhaps allow Spider Man to re-attain its place as the crowned king of superhero films.

Extra Note: Another option for Sony is making a Marvel reunion; it would most definitely insure a huge revenue for the film but the company’s profit is unlikely to be huge. If they can strike a good deal with Disney, then it would help the image of Spider Man and Sony significantly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Box Office Forecast and Predictions

Will “X-Men Days of Future Past” be the next Avengers?

Comic-based movies have become the main appeal of audiences as well as investors. Every major film distributor wants to get their hands on their next Avengers hit. Sony has Spider-Man, Fox has X-Men, WB has the DC universe with Superman, and the most lucrative—Disney has The Avengers.

But, can all of them prosper? As of now audience fatigue hasn’t kicked in most of the franchises. Most exceptional, of course, is The Avengers. Marvel’s gradually building work on the franchise has made it one of the most trusted and successful brands in the comic-book movie industry. It’s no secret that their crown jewel—Marvel’s The Avengers—is currently sitting among the three highest-grossing films of all-time. Analysis of their success is mostly clear now; every film they release always out grosses its predecessor. However, other franchises are still attempting to find flight on the ground. For 2014, there is one contender that could perhaps ultimately change its franchises’ fortune and without further ado it is X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Our previous analysis of The Wolverine revealed several details about how the X-Men franchise had become disorganized. To quote a relevant sentence from before: “Hopefully, the upcoming film [The Wolverine] will serve as connector and open new doors to other X-men films.” And our hopes came true as Fox finally decided to build something instead of just making stand-alone films with no general purpose. As of now, it’s still quite unclear what Days of Future Past is set to do. Is it a clean slate? Or is it just another sequel? And to what? While the prospects of future X-Men movies is still uncertain, one thing is for sure: the latest X-Men ensemble is invoking a strong response among audiences.

The evidence starts with being one of the most-anticipated films of summer 2014. In fact, based on a recent Rotten-Tomato based compile, X-Men Days of Future Past is leading with the highest want-to-see rating and votes at 99% and 128,000+. While trailer view counts were previously good predictors for audience anticipation and size of demographic, recent figures have become less substantial. To simply highlight the stats, the most-viewed trailer has been watched more than 29 million times which is on par with upcoming film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The reason trailer views are less significant is due to different marketing strategies used by distributors. Recently, a full-grown one week prior to release marketing effort is being used; this means that all the anticipation builds up in the final week. And estimating the opening weekend of a film is less accurate using trailer views that mostly attract fans. Facebook likes and more specifically increase in Facebook likes have become better box-office indicators. The X-Men page currently boasts a solid 10 million likes close to Captain America’s 11 million likes. There has been a noticeable increase over the past few months, slightly lower than that of Captain America though. Note that the Captain America page started in 2010 while the latter started in 2011. The small margin might account for the 1 million difference in likes, but such small differences are not very important.

Fox’s promotion material has so far been very well used. Their restrain in releasing images and spoiler-filled trailers has been quite effective. However, their recent release of footage and trailers notably the few minutes of the opening scene is less a form of restrain but more of a blatant blow-out to grasp the target audience’s attention. Surely, this tactic has its advantages but their former strategy—of presenting a few but intriguing images—is far more useful. The non-hardcore moviegoers are used to seeing action; it seems that more action implies a better film. The final trailer makes use of that fact by showcasing the grand-scale action scenes and a few comic scenes.  Regardless, the structured presentation of the three trailers is a solid marketing effort. The first is a simple introduction into the time-travelling plot, the second takes on a darker look with further explanations using background voices of Charles Xavier, the third and final trailer unleashes the action and throws in a bit of humor. The diversified tones of the trailers should attract different type of audiences beyond only the aficionados.

Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Days of Future Past is the fact that it is combining two different time frames: X-Men First Class and the original X-Men. Fox has been marketing that quite well using their trailers by showing scenes from the original X-Men trilogy. The main question that arises is: How different and similar is it to the combo of the Avengers? The Avengers combined 3 different characters who each had a proper establishment. X-Men doesn’t have that; they are combining two realms that are in effect the very same thing. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are not necessarily intertwined. In other terms, fans of Iron Man are not necessarily those of Captain America and Thor which means that an overlap in fanbase or moviegoers is less. X-Men, on the other hand, is combining two realms with mostly the same fanbase, so it is highly unlikely to see a staggering opening weekend such as that of The Avengers. Instead, Fox’s goal here is to win back fans who had lost interest after the end of the 2006 trilogy.

A good estimator for the base gross of the fifth X-Men installment is The Wolverine, released in July 2013. It is the last X-Men movie to hit theaters before Days of Future Past. It accrued a below par North American tally of $132.6 million but an in series record-setting non-North American gross of more than $282.2 million. These numbers represent the latest interest-levels in the X-Men movies. However, the caveat worth mentioning is that The Wolverine was the first film in the series to be released in 3D, hence an increase in non-North American figures is quite normal. Following the original trilogy of the X-Men franchise, interest levels slowly diminished in its major market—North America. The final film in the trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), grossed a record-high $234.4 million for the series. When adjusted for inflation, the numbers rise to $284.8 million which is very close to X2: United when also adjusted to 2014 tickets.* If the same diminishing factor is applied to the latest X-Men ensemble, the results would be catastrophic.

Based on early audience response, the final North American box office prospects seem more propitious. If we consider Days of Future Past as a sequel to First Class, the numbers escalate to $200 million. Moviegoers who have seen First Class would mostly likely classify Future Past as a sequel due to its setting and characters. Nonetheless, the trailers also show a different part of the movie bringing back characters from the original X-Men. So, a final box office gross between $200 million and $240 million should be a good range. The most concerning point in the stats is the weakening grosses (near 43%). Out beating such a pattern with the strong competition this summer will be quite the feat.

With an uncertain and original plot, X-Men Days of Future Past is building up to be one of the most surprising box office mysteries of this summer. The threshold is at $150 million but the ceiling is almost double that. If the film can tap into the power of its old fans then a gross above $250 million is the least of its worries. Internationally, the figures have been slowly rising and although 3D is not going to be a relevant booster it would most definitely sustain, if not surpass, The Wolverine’s $282.3 million gross. While the latest film may not reach the same levels as The Avengers, it should and most likely will become “The Avengers” of its own series. Expect,

North American Forecast: $240 million
Non-North American Forecast: $395 million
Worldwide: $635 million

*Extra Notes:

The next movie in 2009, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, took a considerable 23.2%  and 13.8% dip in North American and international sales respectively. In 2011, Fox released a prequel/pseudo reboot for the X-Men with First Class. Although it was well-received by critics as well as audiences, it still experienced a light cut-down in its USA and Canadian grosses. Internationally, audiences were more receptive and it sore slightly higher. The ongoing audience fatigue in North America continued when The Wolverine, which was also well received, took in the least North American cume for the whole series.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" review

Perhaps the most mature and intelligent addition to the Avengers franchise.

Captain America geared up in a new suit
We have seen the man in the armored suit, we have seen the thunder god with his earth-shattering hammer, but with more than 2 chances in their respective sequels neither has been able to venture beyond the guy who just kicks ass. Marvel’s cinematic universe expands with Captain America: The Winter Soldier but it also diverges into new and refreshing territory. The latest installment has a great deal to boast and distinguish from the typical movies that Marvel’s line up has brought.   

Following the events of The First Avenger and The Avengers, the film continues to focus on Steve Rogers as he adjusts to modern day life. Although Captain America believes that he is the only person who has outlived his time, the dark plot slowly uncovers hidden fragments from his past that have lingered on to the present. With this continued secrecy, the atmosphere of the film is set. The audience, much like the titular Cap, is mostly unaware of the grand scheme which solidifies the suspense of the present movie and extends the mystery to upcoming films.

As Rogers lives his low-profile life in Washington DC, he meets a former soldier, Sam Wilson (Falcon), during a run out in the park. Even with a few friends and a job, Captain America reminisces his past glory days with a visit to the museum. His hidden isolation becomes more tragic after seeing Peggy Carter, a long-time friend, living in an elderly house. The contrasting portrayal of age is a strong reminder of the enduring difficulty that Rogers is facing. Including this minor sub-plot serves as a perfect emotional pay-off since it establishes a part of the hero that we can actually care about. Shortly after, the questions and mysteries begin: with a car chase following Nick Fury by an unknown team and a “heartless” masked villain, named The Winter Soldier.

To counterweigh the dark plot, a few effectively humorous scenes take over. One of which is Steve’s attempt at understanding the 21st century which includes a notebook for a list of things to do ranging from eating spicy Thai foods to Steve Jobs, go figure.

With the Russo brothers in the director’s seat, things seemed quite uncertain at first—after all, most of their work involved comedies. However, it’s clear that they are a perfect match for comic book adapted movies. The action sequences are very well orchestrated. Their realistic rendering of the Falcon’s flight is elegantly shown: the motion as he flies high up in the air and takes deep dives down is a captivating and transporting experience.

The film adopts multiple styles, including an undercover raid, a spectacular car chase with Nick Fury, and a marvelous fight-off between the Winter Soldier and Captain America. The collective fight scene between the villain and the protagonist is intense in nature but also liberating. The moment Cap’s shield collides with the metallic force of the soldier, a strong reverberation propagates towards the audience’s seats. The climax of this fight-off fortunately strays away from the overly exaggerated Iron Man 3 firework ending and instead portrays the true definition of a hero encompassing much of the sacrificial ideals.

Forgetting Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson, would be very remiss since she is one of the most entertaining characters in the film. Her sexy and acrobatic moves are impressively shot with focuses on almost every angle. Her performance alone should warrant her a stand-alone movie; there is a lot that needs to be uncovered about this feisty superheroine. 

Running at almost 130 minutes, the Captain America sequel spends a tad too much time on the action. Unlike other superhero movies, however, it doesn’t have a dire effect on important aspects such as character progression and plot cohesiveness.

Without delving into the details of the plot and spoilers, another success from the film is its preeminence in not only portraying highly entertaining sequences but also highlighting social and political concerns of contemporary relevance, including intrusion of privacy and governmental deceit.

The Avengers was an all through excitement, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier adds to that; it is a breathlessly captivating and often complex action-thriller mostly due to its focus on the humanity and frailty of the characters. With a more mature plot and interesting characters, Marvel’s latest entry is the best superhero film from The Avengers universe even though it indulges in a few extra minutes.

Monday, March 3, 2014

House of Cards Season 2 Review: At heights of danger

[Fair warning before I continue with this review. If you haven’t watched season one of House of Cards, then run-off and do something else or run-off and start watching.]

It’s been a whole year since the debut of the first season of “House of Cards” and it’s been quite a long wait. Season two finally came storming in this Valentines—and it surely wasn't a love story. It brings back all that we loved about the first season and more.

“House of Cards” is perhaps one of the darkest shows there are out there. It even beats “Walking Dead” which is definitely considered to be one of the top contenders for “dark shows”.  But, both shows are in different realms, miles apart. While “Walking Dead” follows the survival of a group of people in a zombie apocalypse, “House of Cards” focuses on a congressman’s machinations and betrayals as he navigates towards the oval office.

Season 2 continues where season one ended, without taking any pit-stops or moments of air.  The first episode is almost equally shocking as the previous seasons’ major character death. While fragments of this plot-line cover the first part of the season, the true spot-light falls on Frank Underwood’s ascent to presidency. With his grasp of presidency so close, Frank becomes ever so brutal and relentless. Similar to the previous season, Kevin Spacey often breaks the fourth-wall and speaks right to the audience. Although this form of dialogue is rarely seen in movies, it is very apropos especially considering the political nature of the series. Without the short asides, we are only exposed to the deceptive façades and “political crap” that comes out of the politicians. They also often contribute to the humor of the series—which to some is considered inadequate, but in reality, it is well-tuned with the atmosphere of the show.

It is true that Frank Underwood is the protagonist; however his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), is unequivocally the genuine heart and center of the story. Their relationship is very reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, yet also quite different. In contrast to Lady Macbeth, Claire plays a strong role in the series and indulges her own share of the plot. Their marriage seems less built on love but more on mutual desires and correspondent goals. She might sometimes even seem more ruthless than her husband but, in fact, she just puts a strong and unwavering veneer. As a result, the most powerful scene of the whole show is when the audience finally sees Claire flesh deep—without any of her masks. Although it’s just a small glimpse of humanity, it is definitely something to look forward to in the next season.

“House of Cards” is impressive on all levels, but the most remarkable aspect of the series is the visual design and cinematography. The color palette used in the episodes are not the usual bright warm colors instead they are slightly tinted—making the images more absorbing. The most attractive colors are the crisply dark wooden oak against the blue colors of the American flag. The overall effect reflects the tone of the series that is far away from the security and comfort that one would expect and closer to a mysterious unravelling.  Another visually spectacular scene that translates from the first season is the end-of-the-day lighting of the cigarette. The dark night superposed with the elegantly growing smoke is definitely a central tableau. Specifically, the contrast of the fume and the night creates a blue-tinted smoke that is exquisitely striking. It’s dark but it is a beautiful dark.

The second season of “House of Cards” reaffirms its place as one of the best TV shows; it comes with a few shocking surprises along the way – but never depicts the protagonist at anything but his highest. To end the analogy with Macbeth, only when the tragic hero or in this case the villain is at his paramount is he meant to go down. And that is what we should expect from season three.

Friday, January 24, 2014

“12 Years a Slave” movie review: A captivating and visceral epic drama

'12 Years a Slave' : Platt and Epp
The opening scene of “12 Years a Slave,” directed by Steve McQueen, follows the perspective of an unknown figure slowly uncovering the leaves of a lush sugar cane field perhaps searching for food, trying to survive. It bears a strong resemblance to what the protagonist, Solomon Northrup, says: “I don’t want to survive…I want to live.” Solomon Northrup was a free-black musician living in New York City of 1841 with his family of two children and his wife Anne until he was lured into a false job, ensnared, and sold into slavery. When he pleads to his captors that he is a free man, he is beaten till nothing is left of the wooden plank.

While the first few scenes evoke an intimate atmosphere of difficulty and hopelessness, the flashback of Solomon’s family walking down the streets of New York City highlight the essence of the film which is not the return of the ‘hero’ to his family but the experiences of Solomon’s and other’s victimization.  It transcends simple narratives and emotional exaggerations for a perfectly constructed and balanced film that encompasses the full gamut of the horrific realities and vicissitudes that have befallen the enslaved.

As such, Steve McQueen and screenplay writer John Ridley had to put a great deal of time in shaping the characters. And, it’s clear from the achievements of the movie that their work paid off. Every character takes a special and complex turn offering more than a stark rendition. The relationships in the film from master to slave and slave to slave change drastically as Solomon jumps from one master to another (although the backdrop always looks the same.) Solomon’s change from a state of disbelief and helplessness to acceptance is perfectly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Although Solomon changes his outlook on the situation, he never loses sight of who he is and his dignity. Brad Pitt as the carpenter—perhaps the only ‘good’ person—brings some light in the evil and sadistic world of Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epp, a bored drunk man who enjoys playing with his toy slaves. His nightly dancing shows are distressing scenes that are very reminiscent of a puppeteer playing with puppets. Even more deplorable are his detours into Patsey’s—a distraught young slave played powerfully by Lupita Nyong’o –cabin to fill his sexual hunger. Against all his repugnant acts however, Fassbender still manages to show Epp’s conscience via his hidden insecurity and guilt.

 “12 Years a Slave” is not an easy film to watch and it’s not meant to be easy. Silent and dark scenes are directly followed by noisy and bright shots sans the dissolving and fading interpositions. In fact, McQueen uses this technique several times by juxtaposing the dark and light beauty of nature with the loud and hectic violence of the day. The transition between the scenes forces audience members not only to see the pain but also empathize with the characters. This is a perfect addition to the already graphic and gruesome sequences that are meant to pierce through the viewer’s eyes and heart.

One might argue that a misstep in the movie is its ‘inability’ to portray the diuturnity of Solomon’s enslavement, the whole 12 years he spent apart from his family. However, Steve McQueen sacrifices the portrayal of time for something more important—the existential isolation and slavery. This is where the distinction between living and surviving is made clearer. And, instead of gradually showing the passage of time, McQueen favors a subtle and ingenious approach whereby the final scene culminates all the absence of time in one powerful and shocking image of the fully-grown family that Solomon once knew as children. (Begging the question—where have I been?)

It’s quite sad that such a great movie is accompanied by a derivative and undeveloped score composed by Hans Zimmer. Over the years, Hans Zimmer has lost his originality and almost everything he touches ranging from “Man of Steel” and  “Captain Phillips” has the same cue from “Inception’s” ‘Time’ or from “The Thin Red Line’s”  ‘Journey to the Line’ but with a few edits in volume and orchestration.

Its brutal and intimate direction gives you no choice but to watch and endure. “12 Years a Slave” is a wrenching and captivating panorama of the African-American’s unimaginably and inexpressibly appalling circumstances.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hunger Games debuts less than expected but still amazes with $158 million

Official Opening for the Hunger Games: Catching Fire- $158,074,286. Analysis coming soon...

Friday, November 22, 2013

'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' - Opening Weekend Forecast

The latest installment in the Hunger Games franchise is boasting an impressive 85% in advance daily-ticket sales with a staggering 100% fanticipation of Fandago. It's currently outpacing Iron Man 3 to become the top-advance ticket seller of 2013. Although the Fandago numbers don't always have a direct proportionality with its percentage of ticket sales, 'Catching Fire' is poised to gross above its predecessor and possibly Iron Man 3's debut.

Opening Weekend Forecast: $186 million
Moderate Forecast: $169 million

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Thor: The Dark World' Movie Review

Marvel’s vast universe has opened roads to multiple comic-book movies that have so far been successful. Thor: The Dark World is yet another addition to Marvel’s line up of superhero movies.  With already three outings in the cinematic world, Thor’s role remains obscure—leaving his importance more comparable to a side-story. The first film in the Thor franchise was arguably a great set-up for the character but then again it was just a “start.”

Now that Marvel has another chance to cement and redefine Thor’s character, one would expect a strong sequel with more focus on what makes Thor so different from all the other superheroes. But, Thor 2 overlooks such concerns and follows the much used to action-concentrated style. But, the question is: how does it fare in that aspect?

Quite well. The first half of the film is close to perfection—making a perfect blend of mystery, darkness and humor. The second half becomes somewhat ambiguous leaving several character motivations and plot-lines undeveloped.

 Perhaps the two most memorable and witty sequences in the movie are the London subway scene in which Thor is forced to take the subway (“Which way to Greenwich?”) and the hammer hanging scene where Thor hangs his mighty Mjölnir on a coat rack similar to an umbrella. Other supporting characters also add humorous scenes but their role only sums up to another form of comic relief without any real character development. The effect is less than desirable but in terms of the whole movie, the few extra laughs do make things more fun. Furthermore, unlike many other action/superhero movies in which the “girlfriend” is just another romantic tool, Thor: The Dark World gives Natalie Portman’s character—Jane Foster—an integral role in the story-line. This definitely improves the stakes and suspense of the film since she is susceptible to real damage.

However, the most common mistake that the second Thor movie falls into is building a plot-line on a simple and half-baked villain. But, then again, that isn't all too bad as long as it is balanced with other interesting sequences. In this case, the adjustment comes from one of the few complex characters in the film—Loki. His conflicted and often comic personality adds an exciting twist to the film. While Loki’s relationship with his “mother” is one of the more effective parts of the movie, his true colors finally appear at the end of the film when the audience is kept on the edge of the seat—wondering what follows.

The most recent outing of the demi-god, Thor, is neither worse nor better than its predecessor. It excels in a few aspects but disregards some of the underlying issues. While that doesn’t hinder the over-all experience of the film, it surely doesn’t make it any better. With great special effects from the spectacular scenes in Asgard and the refreshing direction from Alan Taylor (director of one of the best episodes from Game of Thrones), Thor: The Dark World offers a more than satisfying albeit not fulfilling 3D experience. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Opinion and Analysis: Man of Steel 2 - Superman vs. Batman

UPDATE:The Caped Crusader role finally took a name--Ben Affleck.

This year’s San Diego Comic Con electrified the crowd when WB revealed that their upcoming Man of Steel sequel is in fact a Batman/Superman combo movie.  And surely, if you’re reading this article, this news shouldn’t be surprising. If the news still hasn’t struck you, then I guess it’s time to rejoice. At face value, the idea of a crossover definitely looks amazing—who wouldn’t want Batman and Superman in the same movie? But, then comes in Man of Steel—the film that everyone was anticipating. “The best superhero movie” they said. After the long wait and my high hopes, I finally hit the theaters. Unfortunately, I left the theater thinking maybe WB can fix it the next time around.

First off, I have to say that Man of Steel was not a bad movie but it wasn’t a great one either. The trailers fooled me into believing that it was going to be spectacular and perfect. The truth is it wasn’t perfect but it did have some good moments. It had the potential. Many critics and myself included found that the film suffered from a lack of build-up and character development. And the main cause of this trouble was the waste of screen-time on action. There are some moments were the fight and flight sequences are spectacular but at some point they became redundant and pointless. It as if WB had to insure Man of Steel’s success by adding more action and more action to make the odds of its failure lower. The conclusion it seems is that more action equals more money. So, to be on the safe side, they said: “heck why not add more.” I am not here to point fingers but the Zach Snyder and David S. Goyer duo are part of this problem. WB’s aim is quick cash and this is corroborated by their recent announcement of the Batman vs. Superman showdown.

Man of Steel’s legs in the box office were middling, losing much of its power quickly, mainly due to the material itself and the critical consensus. Prior to its release, the superman tentpole spurred so much hype but once it was released it quickly wavered. It is currently struggling to get past the $300 million barrier in North America. Looking past the big debut and the pre-release tracking, the final revenue is by far a success for any reboot/origin movie. What is more concerning is the holding power of the film which often tells a great deal about the success of the next film. In this case, the numbers didn't call out a huge success for Man of Steel 2. The only way WB could make loads of money is by once again increasing the anticipation and hype for its upcoming sequel—that way even if the film isn't of superior quality it will still make a lot of money.  How was that done? By bringing in the second most popular DC character or arguably the most popular DC superhero into Man of Steel 2. 

In consequence, the Superman vs. Batman film should garner a huge opening weekend. Big openings are the best way for film studios to profit since over the opening weekend word of mouth doesn't spread quickly and as a result there is almost nothing* that can impede a film’s gross. The days after its opening are important but are more susceptible to damage by critics, word of mouth, and competition—all of which are generally immutable. On the other hand, the opening 3-day gross can be controlled to some extent by the marketing and thereof the pre-release word of mouth.

The Avengers is a great example of how crucial marketing and word of mouth is in determining the final revenue of the film. Due to a heightened hype and positive reception, the Avenger’s staggering opening and holding power led to an impressive final gross of $623.4 million.(which was almost 3 times the opening weekend gross compared to Man of Steel's 2.3~2.5**.) What was even more astounding was its effect on Iron Man 3—which has yet to be tested on Thor: The Dark World. The crux is that more often than not good quality pays off more than superfluous measures—especially in the long run. It is yet to be seen if the upcoming Superman/Batman film can triumph both critically and financially. My opinion: the latter is more likely. 2015 is still a long way to go but it’s safe to say that Man of Steel 2 should easily out-gross its predecessor even with Ben Affleck as Batman.

*Except for the present competition. However, this can also sometimes  be managed by scheduling a film properly.
**2.3 including Thursday's numbers and 2.5 excluding.