Aquaman Salvages The DCEU

It’s official, Aquaman is the biggest hit for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or the Worlds of DC. The newest superhero film released by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment has proven so successful that it has joined the lucrative billion dollar club as of this weekend. Aquaman’s success could not have come at a better time for DC and Warner Bros. as the film studio desperately needed to have a genuine supehero hit film given all the headaches they’ve had with the DCEU lately.

The DCEU has always had an uneven existence with films that either polarized audiences or just left everyone unimpressed. For every Wonder Woman there was a Suicide Squad. The DCEU was supposed to be a viable competitor to the far more successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but that did not turn out to be. For the most part, Warner Bros. was to blame with the way they micromanaged the DCEU films and their directors and never gave the people running the film universe the chance to organically develop it. In their rush to compete with the MCU, many of the DCEU films felt like rushed trailers for subsequent films. This all came to a head with Justice League last year. What was supposed to be DC’s answer to The Avengers was poorly received and flopped in theaters.

Adding to the woes were all the behind-the-scenes headaches that have been covered before such as the inability to create a proper sequel to Man of Steel, the drama of whether or not Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill would reprise their roles of Batman and Superman. Films were announced and shelved. Directors and writers came aboard for films only to depart soon afterwards.

After the failure of Justice League, not many had hope for Aquaman. After all, he was not a popular superhero and was often derided by many for being so underwhelming. His appearances in previous DCEU movies redefined the character into more of a fun-loving surfer dude type, but this did not inspire confidence that he could carry a film. Thankfully, many of us were proven wrong.

An Underwater Spectacle

Aquaman turned out to be a fun, exciting and spectacular film that just went for broke. It is outrageous with its imagery and the film created a stunning underwater world that is so richly detailed and colorful that it evokes films like Avatar or the Star War films. As with the latter films, Aquaman is one exhaustive film that constantly moves in terms of plot and action. Some parts of it, especially the scenes in Italy, recall the brisk pace of the Indiana Jones films. Much of this credit goes to director James Wan who injected needed levity and adventure to the DCEU and people reacted positively to Aquaman.

Of course, the film can be silly and goofy but it is never dull. On top of that the natural charms of the leads Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard helped sell the film to wide audiences. What also helped was the timing of its release. Unlike previous Holiday seasons, there was no Star Wars film to compete with. Audiences who are weary from all the sour news of the world want escapism and fun in their films. And Aquaman delivered that to them.

Finally, it seemed as if Warner Bros. left Wan and the other filmmakers alone and didn’t try to inject the greater DCEU to Aquaman. Aside from two references, this film could stand apart from the DCEU, and it helped since this allowed the characters to have the spotlight to themselves and for the film’s story to develop naturally. Does this mean this formula will work for future DCEU films? It’s possible, just think about it, Aquaman followed the same path of the early MCU films in that they were largely standalone affairs with lesser known characters that won over audiences. By the time the MCU expanded into team up films, people were invested in the characters. This does not mean this standalone formula will work with every film. But for now a loose affiliation with the DCEU may be the key…for now.

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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2019

Geekdom continues to rule at the box office in 2019. Superheroes, aliens, robots and more await us with 2019’s film offerings. Listed here are the most anticipated films for 2019, though everyone will have their own preference.  Naturally, some films on this list will turn out to be hot garbage, while others will be talked about for years to come. Who can say how they will turn out? Be aware that the release dates will most likely change for many of these films. In fact, three of the films on this list are holdovers from 2018, starting with…

10. Dark Phoenix (June 7):

There is a lot of animosity towards the final Fox X-Men film for various reasons—the film is pointless now with the Disney/Fox merger; a first-time director (Simon Kinberg) associated with the unpopular X-Men: The Last Stand is helming this film. But this is the last proper X-Men film before Marvel Studios reboots the franchise, so it will be interesting to see how the nearly 20-year franchise comes to an end.

9. Captive State (March 29):

Rupert Wyatt directs this sci-fi film that was held over from last summer. The film chronicles the lives of Chicago residents after aliens have occupied our world. As the aliens indoctrinate humanity, a rebellion emerges, and the film will show both sides of the struggle. The impressive cast includes John Goodman and Vera Farmiga.

ad astra Brad Pitt

8. Ad Astra (May 24):

Twenty years after his father (Tommy Lee Jones) disappears on a mission to find alien life near Neptune, a man (Brad Pitt) travels our solar system to find out why his father’s mission failed and to possibly locate him. According to director James Gray, the sci-fi drama will be very grounded and will the dangers of space flight, while echoing Heart of Darkness.

7. Alita: Battle Angel (February 14):

This film was delayed from last December and is a live-action adaptation of the popular manga about a futuristic cyborg warrior. James Cameron produced this pet project with Robert Rodriguez directing. The visuals from the trailer look astounding, but the question is if Alita: Battle Angel can escape the dismal fate of previous attempts to bring manga and anime classics to Hollywood like Ghost in the Shell.

6. Star Wars: Episode IX (December 20):

The Star Wars franchise is at a crossroads now with fandom bitterly divided. The fallout from Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still being felt by Star Wars, hence the failure of last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is not an exaggeration to state that a lot is riding on how the latest Star Wars film is received.

After director Rian Johnson alienated many fans with The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm handed Episode IX to J.J. Abrams to direct it. Will Abrams bring back the fans and successfully conclude the Skywalker Saga? We’ll find out later this year.

5. It: Chapter Two (September 6):

The first It film was an unexpectedly chilling horror film that was acclaimed by audiences and critics. It adapted Stephen King’s mammoth novel of several children in a Maine town haunted by the supernatural entity Pennywise, who took various forms, but favored a frightful clown.

The second film takes place years later when the children are adults and have to reunite to confront Pennywise again. Most know that It had been adapted before as a mini-series that faltered when it shifted to the adults’ storylines. Hopefully, It: Chapter Two will deliver a satisfying finale.

4. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (May 31):

The sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, this film returns the most famous kaiju and introduces other popular kaijus like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. More importantly, Godzilla: King of the Monsters firmly establishes Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse cinematic universe that includes King Kong (last seen in Kong: Skull Island).

Putting that aside, this film looks absolutely epic! With shots that seem taken from a frightful opera or a baroque painting, and the promise of some serious giant monster action, it’s easy to see why Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a highly anticipated film for 2019.

glass trio

3. Glass (January 18):

M. Night Shyamalan completes his grounded superhuman trilogy with Glass. It all started with 2000’s Unbreakable and the director shocked audiences in 2016’s Split when it was revealed that the film took place in the Unbreakable universe.

Taking center stage, Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role of Mr. Glass, the villainous mastermind who seeks to prove the existing of superhumans to an unbelieving world. Co-starring Bruce Willis (returning from his reluctant hero role in Unbreakable) and James McAvoy as the demented Horde, Glass looks like it will re-establish Shyamalan as a top-tier director.

spider-man far from home black suit

2. Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 5):

Marvel’s most popular superhero returns (apparently from Thanos’ snap) in this followup to Spider-Man: Homecoming. This time out, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes to Europe on a school trip and tangles with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a special effects stuntman turned supervillain.

Most of the cast and crew from the enjoyable Spider-Man: Homecoming return, so the new film should be in competent hands, which ensures a winning film. Of course, there is the question if it can compare favorably to last year’s instant classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But Spider-Man: Far From Home should be another great MCU entry.

1. Avengers: Endgame (April 26):

As the most anticipated film of 2019, all eyes will be on this film. It is much more than the fourth Avengers film. Or the conclusion to the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War. We’ve followed the saga of the MCU for over ten years. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of over 20 diverse films.

Very little is known about the concluding Avengers film, only that it takes place after Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) victory and will feature the original core Avengers and allies trying to undo Thanos’ universal genocide.

Being that it’s the final Phase Three film and the possible swan song for many popular characters like Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans, it is important that Avengers: Endgame sticks the landing. It is not as easy as it sounds, many concluding films of famous film sagas wound up disappointing fans, but with the talent behind it, Avengers: Endgame should rise to the challenge.

Other Films:

As always, these films that did not quite make the list are definitely worth our attention and as before, it’s a guarantee that the following films will wound up being among this year’s best offerings. Others will probably be delayed until 2020 and beyond. Here are other films that warrant keeping an eye on:

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (February 8), the first Lego film was so much fun and inventive, let’s hope the sequel is at least as good;  How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (February 22), the final film in Dreamworks’ Dragon trilogy looks awe-inspiring and heartfelt: Chaos Walking (March 1), Doug Liman directs Tom Holland in a sci fi yarn about a colony world where all thoughts are readable; Captain Marvel (March 8), the 21st and next MCU film about the title hero coming to Earth and rediscovering her lost past hops to continue Marvel Studios’ winning streak;

Shazam! (April 5), speaking of winning streak, after the humongous success of Aquaman, DC and Warner Bros. hopes to keep up the much-needed good will with their superhero films with their next film; Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (April 10), the CG/live-action hybrid brings the uber popular Pikachu to the real world,

Brightburn (May 24), is a James Gunn project which is a dark retelling of the Superman alien origin story;  Toy Story 4 (June 21), Pixar’s crown jewel franchise returns in what may be its most heartbreaking entry, which is rumored to be its last; The Lion King (July 19), director Jon Favreau turns in another CG remake of a Disney classic; Joker (October 4), Todd Phillips directs a dark prequel film that chronicles the creation of the demented Clown Prince of Crime; Zombieland Too (October 11), it’s been ten years since the original Zombieland delighted audiences with its comical world overrun by zombies, but better late than never;

Terminator 6 (November 1), let’s see if James Cameron can resurrect the floundering Terminator franchise now that he is producing the latest film;  Sonic the Hedgehog (November 8), the other well publicized CG/live-action film brings to life the popular video game character.

Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2018

This year had a splendid offering of memorable films and TV shows. We are truly living in a golden age of geekdom with so many films and TV shows to choose from. These are the best of 2018; keep in mind this list is purely subjective and if you have your own list, be sure to leave a comment.

Films

10. Incredibles 2:

incredibles 2

It took over a decade but it was worth the wait! Like the original film, Incredibles 2 delighted us and had us laughing with its family situations and high-octane superheroics.

9. Hereditary:

The creepiest horror film of the year unsettled us with its haunting imagery and scenes. This tale of demonic forces assaulting a fragile family will keep you up late into the night.

8. Ralph Wrecks the Internet:

This joyful sequel to Wreck-It Ralph takes the oversized and loveable video game titular character to new digital frontiers. His humorous journey into the Internet was fantastic to watch with all the puns and satires about the world wide web.

7. Black Panther:

black panther at wakanda

Marvel Studios delivered another stirring superhero film that was highlighted with its political/royal drama and was a genuine cultural phenomenon when it was released. Michael B. Jordan’s turned in a bravura performance as Killmonger, the bitter challenger to King T’Challa/Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) throne.

6. Solo: A Star Wars Story:

solo and chewie at bar

Too bad the backlash over The Last Jedi and other factors doomed this Star Wars spinoff film that explored Han Solo’s early days. It captured the adventurous spirit of Star Wars that was missing lately thanks to its adventurous tone, Ron Howard’s expert direction and inspired performances. This included Alden Ehrenreich who pulled off a near impossible task of emulating a younger version of our favorite space pirate.

5. Aquaman:

Aquaman and Mera

The DCEU’s sole superhero film of 2018 was bold, splashy, action-packed, outrageous (cue the octopus playing drums!), but most of all fun. Aquaman singlehandedly resurrected the DCEU with this sprawling epic.

Its bright color palate, sweeping underwater landscapes, and breakneck pace made it stand out from the other DCEU films with imagery that captured the spirit of Avatar and Star Wars. Aquaman proved that DC and Warner Bros. can deliver a popular and crowd-pleasing superhero movie just like their competitor.

4. A Quiet Place:

Director and star John Krasinski kept audiences petrified in their seats with this sci-fi/horror classic about a family living in an Earth overrun by voracious alien creatures that hunt by sound. The premise of the family not being able to make noise underlined the unbearable tension throughout the film.

At the same time, A Quiet Place was memorable because it endeared us to the family in the film as they struggled to survive such a situation.

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

The greatest animated film of the year was a true surprise given how little it was regarded when it was first announced. After all, this was not Disney who was behind this film. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse popped out immediately with unique animation that literally brought a comic book story to life.

However, its involving story about Spider-Man’s successor, Miles Morales, learning the ropes and struggling to live up to a legend just crushed it. Hands down, it’s one of the best Spider-Man films to date.

2. Ready Player One:

Director Steven Spielberg shows us that he still is the master of cinema with this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book about a young man adventures in the virtual world that is bursting with countless pop culture references and Easter eggs. How many viewings will it take to spot them all?

Ready Player One is a loving ode to geek and gaming culture that respects and celebrates it. The film is also a noteworthy addition to Spielberg’s impressive library of genre films as it displayed many of his visual touches and directing techniques that catapulted Spielberg to prominence.

1. Avengers: Infinity War:

The culmination of ten years of the MCU was certainly an unforgettable epic. It captured the mood of those sweeping comic book epic storylines with its all-star cast of actors and characters that was any fanboy and fangirl’s dream come true.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled off a miracle by keeping the pace smooth and intense while giving the heroes their own engaging moments. Any praise for Avengers: Infinity War is not complete without mentioning the chilling, menacing presence of the film’s villain, Thanos. Josh Brolin and the effects masters brought to life one of the greatest comic book film villains with an unforgettable mo-cap performance. More importantly Avengers: Infinity War presented a complex character study with Thanos’ mad quest to kill half the universe.

Honorable Mentions:

Annihilation, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Bumblebee, Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Isle of Dogs, Rampage, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Venom, Upgrade

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Swings & Soars!

Sony’s latest entry into their burgeoning Spider-Man cinematic universe, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is a boon not just for the film studio but for Spider-Man films in general. This is not a small feat given Sony’s recent spotty record with their own Spider-Man films.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse follows the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young middle schooler who gains the spider-like powers of his hero Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in a universe similar to the Marvel-616 and the live-action films. This universe’s version of Spider-Man is killed after trying to stop the Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) dangerous machine which breaches dimensions. As Miles struggles to honor his hero and grow into his role as a new Spider-Man, other versions of the hero from different universes start appearing. He forms an uneasy teacher/student relationship with an older, jaded version of Spider-Man/Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who has suffered a series of downers in his life like divorce, poverty, and is out of shape. Together, the two work with other Spider folk like Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nic Cage) to find a way to return to their proper dimensions and destroy the machine before it irreparably destroys all universes.

The film has a wild and kinetic animated style that carefully combines 3D animation with conventional line and dot comic book art to create an organic and  moving comic book come to life. Adding to the effect were numerous word panels that conveyed characters’ thoughts and complimentary sound effects, just like in the comics. Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (remember them? They were the directors fired by Lucasfilm), along with directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, pulled off this loving ode to Spider-Man and superhero comic books that will be remembered for a long time.

But as great as that sounds what makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soar are its characters and story. It is too easy for a story like this about parallel universes and derivative characters to go off the rails, but the film gets us involved with not only Miles, but the other versions of Spider-Man, particularly the older Parker. Even though he is jaded, Parker is still a heroic person and is protective of Miles, though the younger Spidey wants to prove himself. What is impeding Miles, are his own insecurities stemming from his awkward relationship with his father and his inexperience. What was great to see is that Miles does not become an instant hero, he has to grow into his role and learn not just how to swing, but about responsibility and sacrifice. Remarkably, in this crowded film, the other Spider heroes have their own moments to stand out and shine, and this goes for the supporting characters. The only exceptions to this and a nitpick about the film, are the villains, who are a bit one-dimensional. But they server their purposes and help move the plot. Overall, the film moves along at a brisk pace and is quite exciting and fun.

As expected, there are too-many-to-list references to Spider-Man films and his history. Many of them will leave you on the floor laughing, especially with the recreations of infamous dancing scenes from Spider-Man 3. Of course, the Stan Lee cameo was one of the better ones and there is a loving, heartfelt dedication to the departed Lee and Steve Ditko at the end that is worth hanging around for. Adding to that is a hysterical post-credits scene starring a couple of versions of Spider-Man that features Stan Lee voicing J. Jonah Jameson. It has to be seen to be believed, it’s that great!

It’s hard to believe, but Sony delivered quite possibly the best Spider-Man film since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. After the debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it is safe to say that the film studio has found an amazing (pun intended) avenue for their own spin on Spider-Man films.  Hopefully, this can be the beginning of classic animated films that rivals anything that their competitors can come up with…just as long as Lord and Miller are left alone to work their magic. I already look forward to seeing other versions of Spider-Man joining the fray in a sequel.

This animated film is the best surprise of the year not only with superhero films, but films in general. As 2018’s most dazzling animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will make any true Spider-fan smile and rejoice. Do not take this statement lightly, in this year of outstanding animated and superhero films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an instant classic.

José Soto

Look! Up In The Sky! Superman: The Movie Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first big budget superhero movie of cinema, Superman: The Movie. It truly is one of the most influential films of all time and is still considered one of the best superhero films ever made. That is no small feat considering all the high-quality superhero films that have taken over Hollywood. But it was not always like this. Back in the day, superheroes were something to be mocked and considered strictly for children. So, superhero films were a rarity. That all changed in December 1978 when Warner Bros. released the large-scale, live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ Superman.

Sky High Expectation – Delivered!

When released in theaters in 1978- a year after Star Wars, Superman was a commercial and critical success. There are several reasons for this achievement, so, let’s go over them. Start with the perfect casting of Christopher Reeve, who many still regard as the perfect Superman. For audiences leaving the theaters back then, and rewatching at home decades later- we hear from so many of them who declare that Christopher Reeve IS Superman. No other actor at the time could have successfully portrayed the greatest superhero of all time.

When it comes to the big-budge superhero film, Reeve was the first one to be perfectly cast. These days, there are so many spot-on castings in superhero films, but he was the first. As a respected Julliard graduate, Reeve’s dual role of the nerdy Clark Kent and the heroic Superman was like opposite ends of the spectrum. It was and still is amazing to watch. As Clark, his intention was to be seen as a shy, bumbling pushover, always tipping his oversized glasses to the top of his nose. Certainly not the center of attention, he purposely puts himself into Lois Lane’s “friend” zone, an unwanted role for any guy (it’s worse than being banished to the Phantom Zone!). But Reeve’s Superman secretly enjoys teasing Lois to make her have to be close to the bumbling Clark. Reeve’s look were perfect for the superhero. When he took the role, Reeve underwent an intense bodybuilding regimen and it showed! Not only that, he had the face of Superman as seen in the comic: square jaw, leading man looks and a robust mane of hair fashioned with the distinct “S” curl. Even in today’s comics, most artists draw Superman with this curl. For fans, this completes the look.

The film boasted a star-studded cast whose talents complimented Christopher Reeve; notably Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Each actor set the template for how their alter egos were in live-action that in many cases have not been topped.

Then, there was the perfect directing by Richard Donner, who demonstrated a true understanding of the heroic, epic and sincere tone  for the film. Unlike many potential directors considered for the job, Donner respected the character and it showed on screen. He helped present a Superman that was true to his comic book image and made him someone anyone could look up to.

Let’s not forget the timeless score by John Williams. His soundtrack was so stirring and epic. It captured the essence of Superman to the point that 40 years later it is still considered the character’s theme. Hum a few bars of the theme and anyone can tell it’s the Superman theme. Sorry, Hans Zimmer.

Another person who helped elevate Superman: The Movie was costume designer Yvonne Blake, who made Superman’s costume look like it leapt straight out of the comics. Richard Donner asked Blake to make Superman’s costume true to the comics. She referenced the Bronze Age Superman from DC artists Curt Swan, Neal Adams and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The costume was so accurate, it was impressive! The way the cape stemmed from an open collar in pleated folds; the oval yellow belt buckle, the “M” shaped top of the boots; the yellow S in the back of the cape, and the colors were just perfect. The other costumes were also cool to see- the white, glowing Kryptonian outfits, each with their own family crest symbol on the chests and the three Kryptonian villains dressed ominously in jet black.

When Superman: The Movie premiered a key concern among fans was over the special effects. It was vital that the film, as its tagline promised, made us “believe a man can fly”.  Superman’s flying effects had to deliver, and they did. Christopher Reeve’s aerial acrobatics were so fluid and natural that even though the effects are dated now, back then they sold the tagline. The Oscar-winning special effects utilized analog optical effects, and many techniques were invented for the movie itself and used in other productions thereafter.

The set designs by John Barry were just jaw dropping, including the otherworldly crystalline planet Krypton, a starship literally designed to look like a Art Deco depiction of a star and its rays; and the imposing and majestic Fortress of Solitude.

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