Comic-Con 2017 Movie & TV Highlights

San Diego is host once again to Comic-Con and after a slow couple of days, interest exploded into unbridled passion today with the reveal of several high profile trailers and announcements. By no means does this mean that the news coming out of Comic-Con before today wasn’t anything to laugh off, it’s just everyone was waiting for the big guns today.

ben-affleck-as-batmanBefore today’s revelations, the biggest news coming out of the comic book/genre convention could have been considered negative. First, was the rumor that Ben Affleck was stepping away from the role of Batman in the DCEU. That was disturbing to the fledgling cinematic universe since his character was supposed to be the lynchpin tying the DCEU films together. It was kind of ironic because when he was first announced as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, his casting was widely derided among fans but since the release of that film, many have come around to embrace his portrayal as an older and embittered Batman. In fact, many have claimed that Affleck has been the best actor to play the legendary superhero to date. Today, the actor dispelled the gossip and stated his intention of remaining in the role. Whether that holds up as filming starts with The Batman remains to be seen, but hopefully it will be true.

Next was the unveiling of the second trailer for Marvel’s upcoming TV show Inhumans. Overall, it was a better looking trailer compared to the first bland teaser, but what ruined it was the cheap looking CG used to animate Medusa’s hair, something that everyone was waiting for and it was a disappointment. With the IMAX pilot coming in less than two months it is hard to see how the effects will improve significantly. The other disheartening news was that 20th Century Fox is apparently not letting go of the Fantastic Four film rights with the announcement that a Doctor Doom film is in development. If this were to happen, the rights will stay with the studio instead of going back to Marvel Entertainment since Marvel’s premier supervillain is so closely associated with the Fantastic Four. The fact that the film is being developed by the showrunner of Legion is a bittersweet salve for fans hoping and desperately wishing that Marvel Studios would get back the rights to the superhero team given Fox’s abysmal record with their versions of the Fantastic Four.

Today, the big guns were brought to bear as trailers after trailers were released to hungry fans attending the crowded convention or scouring the Internet. In many ways, Warner Bros. and DC Studios won the day with the universal acclaim received for the third trailer for this year’s Justice League. Building on the success of this summer’s Wonder Woman, the new trailer opens with the Amazonian princess doing her thing then quickly cuts to showcase the other members of the team and a tantalizing tease of the film’s villain Steppenwolf. The Flash stole the trailer with his awkward and funny demeanor that called to mind Spider-Man. Sadly, although he was teased, there still isn’t any sign of Superman. Come on DC throw us a bone!

Speaking of Superman’s absence, DC Studios announced their updated slate of films and a sequel to Man of Steel was not on the roster, which is disappointing. However, some of the announcements made up for it with Green Lantern Corps, Justice League Dark, Batgirl, Wonder Woman 2, Shazam, Aquaman (this one is no-brainer given that it’s currently filming and footage was shown tonight), Suicide Squad 2, The Batman and The Flash: Flashpoint. The last film sounds very exciting since it can be the method used to reboot the DCEU if needed, and on the other hand could explain the recasting of Batman if that were to happen.

Marvel Studios, like DC Studios, had a huge presentation with stunning announcements and teases of their upcoming films. We got a glimpse of concept art for Captain Marvel and sweetening that presentation was the news that Captain Marvel will be set in the ’90s and have her fighting the Skrulls, one of the core enemies of the Fantastic Four. We also learned that Lawrence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are joining the cast of Ant-Man and the Wasp as Bill Foster/Black Goliath and Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp.

The highlights for Marvel Studios’ presentation were the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. While the visually stunning and trippy Thor: Ragnarok trailer was released online, the ones for the latter two films so far are absent. This has been super frustrating for fans online since we have all been teased for a week about how jaw-dropping the footage is in Avengers: Infinity War. It was first shown in the ultra-exclusive D23 expo last week and everyone was hoping to see it this weekend. For some reason, probably for marketing, Marvel has refused to drop the trailer and most of us have to contend with leaked grainy footage. Our best hope is that enough leaks forces Marvel to release the trailer like DC did with Suicide Squad two years ago. But seriously, Marvel stop the tease, you could have topped DC tonight but you let that victory slip from your fingers!

Other trailer highlights include these nuggets:

Stranger Things 2! With our favorite ’80s geeks cosplaying the Ghostbusters as they come upon another sci-fi mystery!

Defenders, which has a kick ass trailer featuring a grounded and gritty version of the Avengers and Justice League!

A new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery, looks stunning though the Klingons seem weak compared to the classic space viking look!

But the most exciting trailer for the day was the first teaser for Steven Spielberg’s next sci-fi epic, Ready Player One. This trailer about a futuristic video game player is so loaded with genre Easter eggs, it warrants multiple viewings! Who knows how jammed the final film will be? But the awesomeness of this trailer will make anyone want to go out and read the book that inspired Ready Player One. Those shots of the Iron Giant and the DeLorean from Back to the Future sold it!

That does it for this year, sure there is one more day left of Comic-Con 2017, but no major announcements are expected, but you never know. Maybe first looks of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The Predator, or Avengers: Infinity War will finally be unveiled to the entire world. Check out our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates, and here, of course!

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Han Solo Film Directors Fired = I Got A Bad Feeling About This

Solo cast fired directors

The movie world, not to mention Star Wars fans, are still in absolute shock over yesterday’s stunning news that the directors of next year’s Han Solo film, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, were fired from the film. What made the announcement so jaw dropping is that most of the film has been completed with only three weeks of principle photography remaining. That is just unheard of and feels unprofessional on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm to just let two talented filmmakers go when their film is nearly complete. On top of this, Lucasfilm is still standing by the film’s planned release date of May 2018. That is probably not going to happen.

So what happened? The truth is we may never really know. All we do know, based on trade reports, is that Phil Lord and Chris Miller clashed repeatedly with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the film’s executive producer and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. Much of that had to do with the improvisational directing style of the two directors that made the old guard executives uncomfortable with their take on a Star Wars film and the iconic character. Kasdan, who wrote the book on Han Solo in the original Star Wars film and Episode VII, has a distinct viewpoint of the space pirate. He saw Han as selfish and cynical, and wanted him portrayed in that manner. Meanwhile, the two young directors wanted to present Solo in a lighter, more comedic light. This would have complemented their humorous directing style as seen in the 21 Jump Street films, The Lego Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Face it, Lord and Miller are more known for their comedic films so it was a surprise that they were chosen to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story (if that is indeed the final title).

The problem here is that they had been hired to direct the Star Wars spinoff film for quite some time. They were involved with Solo: A Star Wars Story from the beginning and started shooting it earlier this year in January. Shouldn’t the executives have known that these two would not fit into the world of Star Wars? Why let them go on for so long? Why didn’t someone at Lucasfilm had the foresight to nip the problem in the bud and replace them much earlier? Kennedy, Kasdan and other executives had to have worked closely with the two directors and had meetings with them. They must have stressed that the film was to be a certain way. They had to have picked up the notion that Lord and Miller may have wanted to try a different approach and be defiant. Whether Lucasfilm wants to admit this or not, Phil Lord and Chris Miller have genuine film creds. They have delivered well done films that pleased critics and audiences. Why not just have some faith in them and let them finish the film? The film studio could have then just taken over post-production like they did with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and edit it into the kind of Star Wars film they wanted.

We get that Disney and Lucasfilm are protective of their IP, after all, they spent billions to acquire it. With that mentality they are entitled to keep it safe and the best way to do that is to play it safe. So why go to the trouble of hiring these two to direct the film headlining the franchise’s most beloved hero? The reason to recruit new blood into the Star Wars franchise is to bring in fresh ideas and different outlooks into the Star Wars films. Firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller this far into production just shows a lack of confidence in this approach. Consider that director Garth Edwards was pushed aside in post-production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because Lucasfilm felt the film wasn’t quite a Star Wars film. Now this happens. Lucasfilm might as well just hire workhorses and yes-people to direct future films and give up this idea of bringing in new talent because clearly they are not welcome.

Now, Lucasfilm has to shut down production and find someone willing to come in at this late hour to complete Solo: A Star Wars Story. Will Lucasfilm pull a Salkind and have most of the film re-shot as what happened with Superman II? If so, kiss May 2018 goodbye. Can Ron Howard (the currently rumored frontrunner to take over UPDATE: Howard has officially been hired to finish the film) or Joe Johnston or someone safe come in and finish the film, while imparting their own vision? Finishing it is doable, but trying to leave their own mark is impossible with so much already filmed and with so little time. Who would want this burden?

In any event, the message is clear to other would-be Star Wars directors, especially those foolish enough to think they will have some measure of control: You can play with the Star Wars toys but at the end of the day, you have to give them back in the shape you found them.

José Soto

Post Script: After Ron Howard was picked to complete the film, Lucasfilm has been in full-scale PR damage control. Stories are circulating that the film’s star, young Han Solo himself, Alden Ehrenreich, was the first one to voice concerns about the direction of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Reportedly, the film was too comedic and slapsticky for the execs’ taste. On the one hand, Star Wars needs to branch out creatively, but on the other hand, a Han Solo film may not be the best venue to go full-scale comedy. If all this is true, the question still stands as to why Kennedy, Kasdan and the other higher ups let this go on for so long? The few bright spots coming out of this debacle are that Phil Lord and Chris Miller are now free to jump onboard the stalled Flash movie, which fits their style anyway, plus Howard has already shown that he has a lot of class with his recent praise of Lord and Miller’s work on the film. Given his close ties to Lucas and his solid directing background, he is the best choice to come in and salvage the film.

Favorite Comic Book Movie Adaptations

These days, a lot of the hype is about movies being developed based on comic books. No need to mention them, just see what’s playing theaters.

Well, back in the day there were many comic books based on movies. The best examples were the Star Wars adaptations when the first Star Wars film came out that led to continuing stories past the movies.

Before our mobile devices could stream/download through Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, etc. growing up back in the 70 to the 80s- the only way you can hold a hit movie in your hands were either photonovels or hand-drawn comic book adaptations, based on the movies.

Part of my collection growing up then included one-shot comic book adaptation of movies. For some movies- the comic books were part of the tie-in merchandise. Some comic book adaptations were great, others not too great. If the art the subject were good, I purchased it. I’m a big fan of these well-drawn adaptations of films – even if the movie was not the best.

There were many, but here are my favorites in no particular order:

2001: A Space Odyssey- by Jack Kirby. Printed in oversized tabloid form, it was pure Kirby epic as he saw it.  This movie was meant for Kirby

 

2010: The Year We Make Contact– the sequel to the 2001 movie, was drawn by Tom Palmer, whom I like to think of as a really good understudy of John Buscema. Palmer took advantage of dozens of photographic references supplied to him by MGM.

Raiders of the Lost Ark– art by John Buscema, inked by Klaus Janson. Buscema was one of the founding Marvel Comics 1960s artists who took over many books after Kirby left. Janson, for those who may not know, was the inker of The Dark Knight Returns. The Raiders comic book did not have many photographic references, but it was still masterfully executed.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi– art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Williamson, the long time #1 Flash Gordon artist had a good partner with Garzon- tons of photo references and great storytelling that set the standard for Star Wars comics.

Blade Runner– art again by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon. Their art was so stunning that even in black and white it stands above their competition. They also drew scenes that were in the script, but didn’t make it into the movie.

Flash Gordon (1980)– art by Al Williamson, naturally.

* Batman (1989)– art by Jerry Ordway. He had tons of photo reference and has solid storytelling skills, which helped make this adaptation stand out from the rest.

The Wizard of Oz– Marvel Comics and DC Comics with art by John Buscema- I haven’t seen the movie in ages, but Busema’s art is always good and this was the first collaboration between the giant comic book companies.

Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer– Marvel Comics- art by Buscema. John Buscema was one of the greatest superhero artists, but he liked Conan more than superheroes- he did really great work on Conan comics for years, so for who would pencil the movie adaptation- Buscema was an obvious choice.

Meteor– bad movie, even if it starred Sean Connery, but great artwork for the adaptation. Artist Gene Colan, another important Marvel 60s founding artist, had no photographic reference for the movie, but the story he was given had extra scenes that were not in the movie.

Creature from the Black Lagoon– artwork by Art Adams- the hyper detailed animated style is something you gotta see.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula– art by Mike Mignola- I’ve seen many of the Dracula movies-Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Luke Evans- and although I am personally partial to Frank Langela’s 1979 Dracula with John Williams (brilliant as usual) theme song, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula seems more authentic to the book and Mignola was given a lot of photo references and mixed the references with his dark style to create a unique work of art. The adaptation was published by Topps usually known for trading cards and was Mignola at the top of his game.

Logan’s Run-artwork by George Perez. A few years before he became famous for his run on Teen Titans and 10 years before Crisis of Infinite Earths, you could tell George Perez was a superstar artist. This was a really good adaptation done in the Marvel Comics style.

Duneart by Bill Sienkiewicz. If there ever was a marriage between a movie and an artist, this would be it (along with Mignola’s Dracula). The Dune movie was really weird and  director David Lynch butchered the source. It was kind of hard to adapt Dune from book to movie to comic book, but Bill and his eclectic style was perfect for the comic book adaptation.

Well, there it is. That’s my list and though I do enjoy iTunes and Netflix, I still enjoy traditional hand-drawn, hard copy adaptations of movies.

Walter L. Stevenson

Predator Is Still On Top Of The Game 30 Years Later

The 1980s were the height of the testosterone-fueled action flicks. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office in those days with their many action films where they shot repeatedly first and mumbled lines later. One of those films from that era was the epitome of that genre except that it crossed over with sci-fi and horror and the result was a classic film: Predator.

Original Predator cast

Directed by John McTiernan (who would later film the greatest action movie of all time, Die Hard), Predator starts off as your standard Schwarzenegger action fest. He played Dutch, a soldier of fortune who leads a motley group of fellow mercenaries in a Central American jungle to rescue hostages. Before we could all collectively groan about how we’ve seen this before (and we have), the film piqued our interest with the introduction of an extra-terrestrial that begins hunting down Dutch and his men thanks to super stealth, alien weapons, cunning and maliciousness.

predator with mask

From the moment we start seeing the alien’s POV shots of the men being tracked, Predator completely changed its premise and became a classic cat-and-mouse thriller with a sci-fi twist. It was perfect because one problem with many Schwarzenegger movies is that the former bodybuilder is so huge and imposing that it’s hard to pair him up with worthy opponents. Thankfully, Kevin Peter Hall, a rather tall man, was cast and decked out in imaginative makeup to outdo Schwarzenegger. The look of the Predator was unique with his dreadlocks, mandibles and tribal gear. Most of all, when he was finally revealed, the Predator was not just grotesque and intimidating, but more than a match for Dutch and his group of musclemen with their big guns. Some of whom were portrayed by action favorites like Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. One of those actors was future director Shane Black, who not only tinkered with the film’s script but is now filming the latest Predator film, The Predator, which is coming out next year.

With a testosterone-injected cast it’s funny to think that it was almost joined by future action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Originally he was cast to play the Predator and wore this ridiculous and ungainly outfit that didn’t look good in screening footage. To confirm their fears, the filmmakers brought in James Cameron to review the footage with Van Damme’s version of the Predator and he opined that it was not working. Wisely, they went back to the drawing board and this time hired Stan Winston who used his movie magic skills to create the iconic look of the alien hunter. Also, while Van-Damme is a great martial artist his build was not up to par with Schwarzenegger and his stocky crew, plus he was unhappy with his role so he was replaced with Hall.

All of this would not have amounted to anything if not for the directing skills of McTiernan. He crafted a tense, suspenseful and exciting thriller and used the jungle background to full effect to create a fearful atmosphere. No one in Dutch’s crew was safe as the thick green foliage hid the relentless monster that hunted them down one by one. The way the Predator killed the men was very grisly and helped add to the fear factor. The alien creature treated the men like they were hapless animals by the way they were either skinned, had spines ripped out or taken out with swiftly with laser fire. Naturally, by the last act Schwarzenegger was the last man standing and the final confrontation between him and the Predator was intense. In an ironic twist, the muscle man had to rely on brains rather than brawn when confronting the alien. We actually wondered if Schwarzenegger had finally met his match and the film played up this angle perfectly. Adding to the film’s classic status was its rich cinematography, outstanding special effects and Alan Silvestri’s pulse-pounding score. It evoked a feeling of tribal warfare and is one of the composer’s best scores.

dutch vs predator

The sequels that followed could not live up to the original Predator but they were worthwhile films in their own right. Well, except for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The original film, which came out on June 12, 1987, still holds up to this day and is considered not just the benchmark for the Predator franchise but one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time. In fact, it is not even considered by many to be just an Arnold Schwarzenegger film but as the first Predator film that just happened to star Schwarzenegger. That is why thirty years later we’re still marveling over this brilliant gem.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

Wonder Woman Rescues The DCEU

Alright people, especially you DC fans, breath a sigh of relief. The new film Wonder Woman is actually a rollicking great movie. Most fans know by now that Warner Bros./DC Studios’  DC Extended Universe (DCEU) had very public lately starting with last year and their weak cinematic entries Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Many DC fans are in a state of near revolt at how badly the film studio have handled its superhero properties with the last good entry being 2013’s Man of Steel. After the embarrassing behind-the-scenes mishaps, everyone was looking to Wonder Woman to help right the ship for the DCEU. The only problem was that many doubted this new film could do that.

Well, those naysayers have been proven wrong. Wonder Woman is exactly what the DCEU and its fans need right now. Of course, it is not a perfect film. There are issues with pacing in the first half and the film overdoes the slo-mo shots, but on the whole, Wonder Woman is a fun and exciting jolt for moviegoers this summer season.

Diana Prince and Steve Trevor

Taking the best elements from Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Wonder Woman takes those films’ fish-out-of-water scenario and period setting to create a joyous and unique adventure. Gal Gadot plays the title character of Diana, a super-powerful Amazonian princess raised on a mythical and secluded island populated by warrior women. One day a man washes up on its shores and it’s Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a Word War I soldier who introduces Diana to the outside world. Both characters go through the funny fish-out-of-water tropes, first with Steve on the island and later with Diana in war-torn Europe.

While these moments were amusing, the film kicks into high-octane and colorful action pieces midway through the film when Diana aka Wonder Woman fights in the war and never lets up. By that point, the action takes over and the film is a stunt and CG fest, but it’s not mindless. The filmmakers wisely gave us time to know the characters so that by the time Wonder Woman is racing through battlefields and taking out German soldiers audiences are fully engaged with her. Not to take away credit from the filmmakers, but Gadot deserves so much acclaim for pulling off this role. In many ways, the casting for Wonder Woman was more critical than other heroes like Batman or Superman. That is because in a field so crowded with male-led superhero films, the character had to grab us from the get-go and Gadot does that quite well. Now she joins the ranks of Christopher Reeve, Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey, Jr. as iconic actors believably portraying superheroes.

As mentioned before, the film has its issues. The villains are merely serviceable and this seems to be a common problem with recent superhero films that place so much focus on the main heroes. Zack Snyder’s influence is felt with the overuse of slo-mo shots, but the action and settings go beyond Snyder. For a DCEU film, Wonder Woman is much more colorful, vibrant and uplifting. But Snyder does deserve praise for seeing something in Gadot when he filmed Batman v Superman and she obviously was one of that film’s highlights. Warner Bros. should also be lauded for believing enough in the character to let her headline her own film.

Wonder-Woman-Gadot

Wonder Woman could not have come at a better time for the DCEU and everyone. Director Patty Jenkins has delivered a fresh and exciting superhero film and has helped restore confidence in the DCEU. It has some ways to go, but at least the bleeding has stopped thanks to Wonder Woman. Seriously, Marvel Studios made a huge mistake in letting her walk off Thor: The Dark World. Her cinematic eye, which is so evident in Wonder Woman, would have made the Thor sequel much more memorable than the standard muscle fest it turned out to be. Do not be surprised if this film’s success will mean that Wonder Woman, the character, will rightfully take her place among the headliners in the DCEU.

Waldermann Rivera