Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Thoughts on the "Fantastic Four" Teaser Trailer

So, it's finally here: the first official trailer for Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot. With the exception of the notorious and unreleased 1994 version, 20th Century Fox first brought Marvel's First Family to screens with 2005's Fantastic Four and then with the sequel, 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, both directed by Tim Story. Both films were met with negative reactions from both critics and fans. Now the studio, along with Trank, the director of the found footage superhero film Chronicle (2012), is attempting to reignite the franchise, likely hoping for this to be the Batman Begins of the franchise.

In an era where we knew the entire story of The Amazing Spider-Man before the films were even released, info on Fantastic Four has been sparse, and the production incredibly secretive. Principal photography on the film finished without any set photos of the actors in costume. It was only yesterday when we first got a picture of Michael B. Jordan (who plays the Human Torch/Johnny Storm and who starred in Chronicle) in his costume. And now, with the film coming out in August, we finally get our first trailer. August is still months away but it's rare it's taken this long for a superhero/franchise film to debut a trailer. Not that I'm complaining. I'm thankful we haven't been bombarded Amazing Spider-Man-style with too much marketing. I would keep as much info as possible close to the chest.

Trank and his film has had an uphill battle for some time now. Many fans have a vendetta against the film, trashing it every chance they get. This is due to comments from the cast which suggest the film is going to take departures from the source material, most notably in regards to the Fantastic Four's main adversary. Toby Kebbell (Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) takes the role of Dr. Doom in this film.  Kebbell said the character- who in the comics is the leader of the fictional country Lavernia- will be an "anti-social programmer," whom on blogging sites is known as "Doom." This information on Dr. Doom's new origin caused controversy. And rumours about back stage trouble between Trank and the studios added fuel to the fire that the film would be a complete misfire.

With the teaser finally released, I feel the tide may be shifting slightly, even though there's still  skepticism about the film. I know many want the Fantastic Four film rights to go back to Marvel so they can put them in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I understand that desire- and admittedly it'd be cool to see the Fantastic Four interact with Rocket Raccoon- but I already know what a Fantastic Four film made by Marvel Studios would look and feel like. I'm more attracted to the idea of a Fantastic Four movie that exists outside of the Marvel Studios formula.

I would agree with anyone who said the Fantastic Four aren't inherently dark characters. Aside from the tragedy of Ben Grimm being stuck as a giant rock monster they are, in many ways, the most light hearted heroes in the Marvel universe.  The trailer have a more somber tone than what people would expect. I do hope this isn't going to be another Man of Steel. I like Zack Snyder's Superman reimagining more than others but I do consider it too oppressively serious.

That being said, I hesitate to fall back on "It's ripping off The Dark Knight," "It's trying to be too realistic," or using words like "dour," "grim." and gritty." I don't want to label the film and pretend it can only be one type of film. I like to think Trank will blend multiple tones instead of being monotone. What I personally inferred from the teaser is the film will have a similar tone to Bryan Singer's X-Men films- also produced by Fox. I see Trank's vision as low key and less colourful but still having humour and some exciting action sequences. The teaser is somber but I don't envision the film as "gritty" or the characters as "brooding."

In the trailer we get our first glimpse at the new iterations of the foursome. Miles Teller plays Reed Richards. Reed is typically the dad figure of the group- with Sue Storm as the mother and Ben and Johnny being the squabbling children. In this version the filmmakers are clearly going for a younger version of Reed- more of an eager young scientist than a established family man. Supposedly this version of Reed will be close to the Ultimate universe version of the character.

Kate Mara plays Sue, Johnny's sister. Much has been made of the fact that Johnny is African American in this version, and Sue and Johnny are said to be adopted in this film. Fans have taken issue with Sue and Johnny not being blood relatives, an important aspect of their relationship. I understand that criticism but I don't feel making the two adopted is an unreasonable change. What's most important- to me at least- is Mara and Jordan having strong chemistry That, and the script providing material that allows them to create a believable and emotionally tangible relationship.

The most unusual casting is Jamie Bell as Ben/The Thing. Bell looks a more muscular in the trailer but his previous roles don't suggest large similarities with Ben. However, Bell is a fine actor and I'm looking forward to what he brings to the role.


Coming back to Jordan, I think he has the right blend of cockiness and charisma to pull off Johnny.

This teaser is more about mood than it is about telling us what the plot/story is. And most of the superhero shenanigans are kept in the background. Moreover, costume-wise, the film is foregoing the traditional blue suits with the 4 emblems and going down the Singer X-Men route with plain black. There's also more a sci-fi vibe to the teaser than a superhero one, which I'm not against, considering Fantastic Four comics always leaned towards the sci-fi.

I am a little skeptical about them doing another origin story. As with The Amazing Spider-Man the film may be locked in to the constraints of being a set-up film. Ideally, Trank has transcended the mechanics of the origin story and craft something more than a simple origin story.  

Not being as passionate about the Fantastic Four as others, maybe I'm the real audience for this film. The best case scenario for Fox is if it can win over fans and non fans alike. We'll see how things turn out on August 7, when Fantastic Four will finally be seen by audiences.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

My Musings on the 2015 Oscar Nominations

It's the day that causes both joy and rage in the hearts of cinephiles around the world. Yes, it's Oscar nomination day. As to expected, there were sure things, glaring omissions, and some pleasant surprises. But this is also one of the Academy's most controversial years. The big snub everyone is talking about is the almost complete shutout of Ava DuVernay's Selma, the film about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fight for the right for African Americans to vote. Selma did manage a Best Picture nomination, as well as Best Original Song, David Oyelowo's acclaimed performance as King did not make it in to the Best Actor race, and DuVernay did not receive a Best Director nomination. If she had gotten the nomination she would've been the first African American woman to be nominated in the category. I haven't seen Selma so I can't give my opinion on the film but it is a shame that a film which is so relevant to America right now doesn't have more of a presence in the nominations. And the fact that all the acting nominees are white is a big step backwards after last year's most diverse line up.  

The Best Supporting Actor category didn't offer any surprises. The nominees are Robert Duvall for The Judge, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Edward Norton for Birdman, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. Hawke has grown on me over the years and Linklater has gotten what may be the best performance from him in Boyhood. Ruffalo continues to be an underrated actor and I'd love to see him win one day but I think Simmons is a lock for the win. His performance as the drill-sergeant-like music instructor Terence Fletcher is terrifying, pathetic, and compelling.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, Laura Dern, Wild, Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game, Emma Stone, Birdman, and Meryl Streep, Into The Woods. Admittedly, I don't bang the drum for Emma Stone like others do. I was hoping she'd be left out. However, she's been a lock for a nomination for a while. Though to be fair, she is good in the film. Canada's own Jean-Marc Vallee has for the second consecutive year directed two actors to lead and supporting nominations. Last year his film Dallas Buyers' Club garnered nominations and subsequent wins for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. His follow up film Wild not only got Dern an unexpected nomination but Witherspoon is also nominated for Best Actress. Streep is here because she's Streep. 

As with Supporting Actor this category is already sown up by this point. Arquette is the frontrunner and will walk away with the Oscar. She played the part of Olivia Evans over 12 years As with everything about Linklater's Boyhood, this provides a rare authenticity to her performance. But putting aside Boyhood's narrative conceit, Arquette gives a lived in and emotionally honest performance. And like Simmons Arquette has a hard working and reliable actor for many years. I thin many feel she's due for Oscar's recognition.

In Best Actress we have: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore, Still Alice,  Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, and Reese Witherspoon, Wild. It's great to see Pike nominated here. There was a question of whether her role as Amy Dunne was too unlikable and evil to get a nomination but it's a challenging role and Pike deserves acknowledgement for pulling it off.. Cotillard sneaked in this year, after getting boatloads of for her performance in both this film and The Immigrant. I think pundits were expecting Amy Adams to get in for Tim Burton's Big Eyes but Cotillard took that spot. It appears it's a "due" year for Moore. She's received five Oscar nominations- including today's- but has never won. In Still Alice, Moore plays a woman who's diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It feels like not many people outside the critic community has seen  or heard about the film. But the role sounds like the type that wins actors Oscars. If Witherspoon hadn't won already for 2005's Walk The Line, she'd be more of a threat. But I think this is Moore's year.

For Best Actor it's: Steve Carell, Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper, American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton, Birdman, and Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything. Cooper was a big surprise, upsetting Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler and the aforementioned David Oyelowo for Selma. I'm disappointed that Gyllenhaal didn't get nominated. His performance as Lou Bloom- a psychopathic cameraman who becomes obsessed with documenting grisly crimes, is a career best from him. While The Theory of Everything was certainly a conventional biopic I thought Redmayne gave a convincing performance as Stephen Hawking. Some expected Carell to get shut-out but his against-type performance as Olympic wrestling coach John Du Pont deservedly made the cut. But his role is somewhat a supporting role, which may hurt his chances at winning. I predict Keaton will win. He's the comeback story of the year, playing an actor who's striving for a comeback. Keaton has been one of our most underrated actors his entire career. The Oscar will be a bittersweet reward for both Birdman and decades of strong work It also helps that Birdman is one of the most acclaimed films of 2014.

The five Best Director nominees are; Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman, Richard Linklater, Boyhood, Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher. and Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game. The Best Picture nominees are: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash. Anderson and Linklater- two of the finest American directors of the past twenty years- received their first career nominations for Best Director, so congratulations to these talented guys. Miller is the only nominee in the Best Director category whose film wasn't nominated for Best Picture. It's saddening that such a rich and intelligent work such as Foxcatcher wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I know many hate Inarritu and feel he's a pretentious fraud and Birdman is heavy-handed and empty- but I loved the experience of watching that film and am keen to see it again. Tyldum's direction in The Imitation Game is decent but I wouldn't his work above Whiplash's Damien Chazelle or Inherent Vice's Paul Thomas Anderson. And again, it would have been amazing for DuVerney to be included.

I'm happy my two top two favourite films of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash are Best Picture nominees but Boyhood and its director appear to be the frontrunners. The Academy loves a good narrative to go along with their winners and Boyhood has the most daring and incredible narrative of all this year's nominees. Shot over 12 years, showing one actor- Ellar Coltrane- age from 6 to 18, Boyhood was a passion project for Linklater, who also made the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight). Those films explored the relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) over nearly twenty years. Linklater didn't initially plan to make the latter two films of that series but he had a clear vision for Boyhood from the outset. The resulting film is the most critically adored film of the year. If it wins Best Picture/Best Director then it's something critics and the academy can actually agree on.

In Original Screenplay, I'll go with Birdman and in adapted I'll say Whiplash (adapted from Chazelle's short film)

Like many, I'm disheartened The Lego Movie wasn't nominated for Best Animated feature. That's a truly joyous and inventive film. In Best Visual Effects, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes it due to the outstanding motion capture work. In Cinematography, Roger Deakins may get snubbed again for his work in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. Emmanuel Lubezki won last year for Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity and may nab a repeat win for Birdman and it's "one take" camera work. CitizenFour, Laura Poitras' documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is the only nominated documentary I've seen. For me, it's a sharp character study of Snowden as well as film about the big issues of privacy and government spying. I'd like to see it win. 

So, that's it for now. The 87th Academy Awards will be held on February 22nd. See you there.