Friday, July 30, 2010

'Batman: Under the Red Hood' Is Bloody Good

Taking thematic cues from Batman: The Animated Series and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, director Brandon Vietti’s Batman: Under the Red Hood—Warner Premiere’s latest direct-to-video DC Universe Original Animated Movie—is a thrilling, film noir journey through Gotham City’s criminal underbelly that, like the Dark Knight himself, rarely pulls punches.

Opening with the Joker joyfully (and bloodily) beating the second Robin, Jason Todd, to death with a crowbar, it’s clear that Under the Red Hood earns its PG-13 rating. Although most Batman fans are more than aware of this scenario from the controversial A Death in the Family story arc of the late 1980s—during which comic book readers actually decided Todd’s fate via a 900 number—actually seeing this scene play out in animated form is fairly disturbing. Young Bat-fans should stick with the far more kid-friendly Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Cartoon Network for their animated Caped Crusader fix.

After the brutal opening sequence, the film flashes forward five years, when a mysterious new villain, the Red Hood, emerges in Gotham City, much to the chagrin of established crime bosses like Black Mask. Batman and the grown-up original Robin Nightwing must thwart this new threat to their city and root out his true motives, but what they ultimately find is a surprise to them both. Those of us who’ve read Under the Hood by Judd Winick, who also penned this film, will just have to settle for acting surprised. But even though some of the twists (especially the big one) in this film might seem spoiled for those of us who’ve followed the comic books through the years, Under the Red Hood is satisfying nevertheless.

As mentioned earlier, this is a mature Batman adventure that’s hardly squeamish about splattering blood or breaking bones, but fortunately its “adult” slant doesn’t simply apply to its PG-13 violence, language and drug references: Under the Red Hood is as sophisticated as it is shocking. Due to the personal nature of the story, this film examines Bruce Wayne’s sense of morality, his relationships with his protégés and even his twisted kinship with his rogues gallery. If you enjoy psychologically dissecting your superheroes, Under the Red Hood does just that.

Head over to Broken Frontier to read the full review.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Am I Late to the 'Inception' Party?

You know, it’s not often that I don’t see a blockbuster movie the weekend it comes out, but when Christopher Nolan’s name is attached to said movie, it’s a downright rarity. So when my friends’ recent inquiries of “Why haven’t we talked about Inception” were met with a defeated “Because I haven’t seen it yet,” some questioned whether I was still the obsessive movie nerd I once purported myself to be.

I can safely say that yes, I am still a giant, unrepentant movie geek and yes, I have finally seen Inception. Although I approached this film with lofty expectations, I found it to be a cool, slick and thought-provoking thriller. As phenomenal as The Dark Knight was as a comic book adaptation, Inception is simply another level of filmmaking that truly rewards moviegoers that pay attention to details—a rare feat these days.

In a summer that’s been populated by sequels, retreads and reboots, it’s also nice to see an original concept like Inception achieve such critical and commercial success. In its second weekend, Variety reports, Inception earned a whopping $43.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $143.7 million.

Now those are numbers studio execs dream about (cue the rim shot). Or is this a dream…within a dream…within another dream? Duuuuude. (I need to lay off the iced coffee).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New 'Tron Legacy' Trailer Debuts!

With so much news coming out of San Diego’s Comic-Con International this weekend, geeks worldwide are being bombarded by updates on their favorite film, television, video game and comic book properties. As a result, some of them might not know that a new trailer for Tron Legacy has been making the rounds. And, not all that surprisingly, it looks damned amazing.

I’ll just leave this here. Tron Legacy hits theaters December 17, 2010.

Blogging SDCC

Hi there, Wortmaniacs. In case you were wondering why I’m not obsessively blogging about San Diego Comic-Con on The Wort Report, it’s because I’m obsessively blogging about it on Broken Frontier this weekend.

Put on your Dr. Doom costume and click here to get in on the Comic-Con action.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bill Murray Disses ‘Ghostbusters 3’ Yet Again

Since the only consistent, concrete news about the status of Ghostbusters 3 is Bill Murray’s vehement denial that it’s coming together in the slightest, it’s pretty unlikely that we’re going to be seeing another Ghostbusters sequel anytime soon.

“It’s all a bunch of crock,” the comedy legend told GQ. “There was a story—and I gotta be careful here, I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. When I hurt someone’s feelings, I really want to hurt them. [laughs] Harold Ramis said, ‘Oh, I’ve got these guys, they write on The Office, and they’re really funny. They’re going to write the next Ghostbusters.’ And they had just written this movie that he had directed.”

The movie in question? Year One, perhaps one of 2009’s biggest box office bombs. But don’t mistake Ramis’ Jack Black and Michael Cera vehicle as an unsung cult comedy—the movie was painfully unfunny. When that movie tanked, one can presume, so did Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg’s chance to revive the dormant series, possibly forcing Sony Pictures to go back to the proverbial drawing board.

“Well, I never went to see Year One, but people who did, including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives,” Murray said. “So that dream just vaporized. That was gone. But it’s the studio that really wants this thing. It’s a franchise. It’s a franchise, and they made a whole lot of money on Ghostbusters.”

Murray went on to admit that although he’s been standoffish in the past, he’s surprisingly warmed up to the idea of once again reprising his role as ghost-nabbing parapsychologist Peter Venkman in another Ghostbusters film.

“I was down in Austin at South by Southwest, and you go at it hard down there—fun but, man, you need to sleep for days afterwards,” the notoriously reclusive actor explained. “Anyhow, I got into it one night with a bunch of younger people who were like, ‘Oh, I love Peter Venkman! I grew up with Peter Venkman!’ We got to talking, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought, ‘Oh Christ, I should just do this thing.’”

I, for one, hope he gets the chance someday. Click here to read the full interview.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Green Lantern’s Movie Look Revealed!

There’s not much to say about Entertainment Weekly’s first look at Ryan Reynolds’ computer-generated costume in the upcoming Green Lantern film that hasn’t already been said by a multitude of angry comic book fans on the Internet. Yes, the muscle striations on the suit make it look weirdly organic. No, the costume doesn’t really scream “Green Lantern.” Yes, the mask seems a bit…off. However, I’m willing to give director Martin Campbell and Warner Bros. the benefit of the doubt at least until we actually see this suit in motion. If it looks like absolute crap in the first trailer, then we can start worrying.

Until then, take a gander at the EW cover and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ed Norton Releases His ‘Avengers’ Statement

Thanks to a very public and seemingly heated exchange between Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige and Ed Norton’s agent, it’s common nerd knowledge that the Incredible Hulk actor will not be reprising the role of Bruce Banner in Joss Whedon’s upcoming Avengers film. To help clarify the matter, Norton gave his own take on the matter in a statement posted on his official Facebook fan page.

“It seems it won’t work for me to continue playing Bruce Banner for Marvel in The Avengers, the actor wrote. “I sincerely hoped it could happen and be great for everyone, but it hasn’t turned out as we all hoped. I know this is disappointing to many people and that makes me sad. But I am sincerely grateful to Marvel for extending the offer and even more so for giving me the chance to be a part of the Hulk’s long and excellent history.”

Classy. Click here to read the full statement.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Ed Norton Won’t Return in ‘The Avengers’

According to a Marvel Studios statement posted on Hitfix, Ed Norton will not reprise the role of the Hulk/Bruce Banner in Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up flick, The Avengers.

“We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers,” said Marvel Studios president of production Kevin Feige. “Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members. The Avengers demands players who thrive working as part of an ensemble, as evidenced by Robert, Chris H, Chris E, Sam, Scarlett and all of our talented casts. We are looking to announce a name actor who fulfills these requirements, and is passionate about the iconic role in the coming weeks.”

Ouch. In other words, following Norton’s reportedly controlling behavior on the set of The Incredible Hulk, Marvel doesn’t view him as a team player. Norton’s agent, Brian Swardstrom later issued a statement of his own to Hitflix, calling Feige’s comments “mean spirited” and “accusatory.”

“Counter to what Kevin implies here, Edward was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Joss and the other actors in the Avengers cast, many of whom are personal friends of his,” Swardstrom wrote. “Feige’s statement is unprofessional, disingenuous and clearly defamatory. Mr. Norton’s talent, tireless work ethic and professional integrity deserve more respect, and so do Marvel’s fans.”

Wow. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the lead-up to Comic-Con International, which kicks off in San Diego on July 22.

The Avengers hits theaters on May 4, 2012.

‘Predators’ Nabs $25 Million Debut Weekend

Well played, ugly motherf*ckers.

According to estimates, Predators—a modestly budgeted reboot of the 1980s sci-fi franchise—earned just over $25 million during its debut weekend, proving that there is a place for hard-R action films in a summer dominated by family-friendly fare and sparkly vampires.

Produced by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and directed by relative newcomer Nimród Antal, Predators cost just $38 million, and it looks like it will have no problem making a profit in the coming weeks based on relatively positive word of mouth. Perhaps the reason Predators didn’t perform better against weekend box-office frontrunners Despicable Me and Twilight: Eclipse is the simple fact that it didn’t have an expensive marketing campaign behind it. Again, there’s that frugality.

I went into Predators with tempered expectations. Although I grew up loving John McTiernan’s original Predator, I would never call it “smart” cinema. But it’s a well-crafted 1980s action film that has stood the test of time, which can’t be said of scores of other genre films released during that time period. With some great creature effects work by the late Stan Winston and some surprisingly strong performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke, Predator remains thoroughly enjoyable even today. Unfortunately, after a weak 1990 sequel and two horrendous Alien vs. Predator spinoffs, it looked like this franchise was beyond salvaging. When I bought a ticket for Predators, touted as a much-needed overhaul of this aging property, I did so with trepidations. Given the series’ track record for the last two decades, it was bound to suck, right?

Wrong. I’m happy to report that Predators is actually a whole lot of fun and is this series’ first worthy sequel. It’s a nice bookend to the original film (this time around, the Predators hunt hand-picked human warriors on an extraterrestrial game preserve) and it successfully makes a believable action hero out of its star, Adrien Brody. I’m not going to spoil anything, but Brody reaches an almost Schwarzeneggerian level of badass when he faces off against one of the larger Predators during the film’s climax. All in all, it’s a great time at the movies and it’s a lot better than you probably think it is.

Is Predators perfect? Heck no, but neither was the original. I’m not crazy about Laurence Fishburne or Topher Grace’s performances, and some of the references to the original film come off as a bit forced. It would have also been great if Rodriguez mainstay Danny Trejo was given more to do.

Speaking of Trejo, attached to Predators was a trailer to Rodriquez’s Machete, which expands the fake Machete preview featured in the underrated Grindhouse into a full-length movie. With Trejo as the titular renegade “Mexican Federale” and a cast including the likes of Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Robert De Niro and the recently-imprisoned Lindsay Lohan, this looks like the proper trash cinema sequel to Grindhouse I’ve wanted for the past three years. I can’t wait.

Click here to watch the Machete trailer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

'Beavis and Butt-Head' Returning to TV?

I know we’re all anxiously awaiting the second season of Jersey Shore (no snark intended, I’m a fan), but it looks like MTV’s original glorious nitwits, Beavis and Butt-Head, might be making a long-overdue return to television.

REVIEWniverse reports that series creator Mike Judge—who later went on to bring us cultural touchstones such as Office Space, King of the Hill and Idiocracy—is hard at work on 30 new episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head, which will maintain the original show’s sketch comedy format. This means that even though televised music videos are more or less a thing of the past, the duo will continue to offer their distinctive commentary on modern music. Additionally, it’s very likely that their primary interests will still include “scoring,” or, more accurately, failing to do so.

Click here to read the full story.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sony Chooses its New Spider-Man

When Sony Pictures’ fourth Sam Raimi Spider-Man flick faced some production difficulties earlier this year, the studio did the most reasonable thing by Hollywood logic: They fired their veteran director and announced a total reboot for its insanely lucrative superhero franchise. Helmed by Marc Webb and based on a screenplay by James Vanderbilt, this film would take the character back to his high school roots, which is pretty lame considering the fact that we just saw teenage Peter Parker in 2002’s Spider-Man eight years ago. But since Twilight is making all kinds of money these days, the studio likely thought that more high school angst was just what this franchise needed. Hell, put him up against Morbius and you’ve practically got Twilight with web-shooters.

One of the big questions on most comic book geeks’ minds over the past few months was who would be playing the new wall-crawler. Late last week, Sony confirmed that relative unknown British actor Andrew Garfield will be donning the tights for this film and any foreseeable sequels. Because, and here’s that Hollywood logic again, if you’re going to take a character back to his teenage years, casting a 26-year-old makes perfect sense.

“I’m incredibly excited about Andrew Garfield,” said producer Avi Arad in a statement. “In the Spider-Man tradition, we were looking for a smart, sensitive, and cool new Peter Parker who can inspire us and make us laugh, cry and cheer. We believe we have found the perfect choice to take on this role and lead us into the future.”

Fun fact: Tobey Maguire was roughly the same age in 2001 when he was cast in the original Spider-Man, and if you recall, he really didn’t spend all that much time in high school in that first film. If Sony plans on keeping these new films rooted in high school, and since they didn’t cast a teenager as they should have done, things might get complicated down the line. Garfield will be in his 30s by the time the sequels roll around, and guys that age tend to make senior prom security personnel pretty nervous.

If you’re looking for examples of Garfield’s work, he appeared in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and stars in the upcoming film The Social Network. Yes, he’s in the Facebook movie.

The new Spider-Man film (in, ugh, “eye-popping 3D”) hits theaters in 2012.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Transforming an Opinion

These days, Transformers fandom is typically dominated by people complaining that director Michael Bay has, through his last two Transformers films, engaged in a number of violent sexual acts with their childhoods. It’s refreshing, then, that legions of Autobot aficionados and Decepticon devotees now have something to celebrate: Transformers: War for Cybertron is a great game.

“Hold on,” you might say. “A licensed game that’s actually playable is rare enough, but there’s a good Transformers video game on store shelves?” There is, dear reader. And while I appreciate your enthusiasm, talking aloud to your computer monitor simply isn’t healthy.

War for Cybertron
has nothing to do with Bay’s films, but if it did, it would take place long before Optimus Prime befriended an excitable Shia LaBeouf or Bumblebee gave John Turturro a golden shower (about which he was certainly not excited). Based on the fan-favorite Generation 1 continuity, the game follows the civil war between the heroic Autobots, led by Zeta Prime, and the devious Decepticons, led by the power-hungry Megatron. Players participate in both sides of the war, taking control of iconic characters such as the heir apparent Autobot leader Optimus (voiced by cartoon and film voice actor Peter Cullen), Bumblebee, Ratchet, Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave. The campaigns aren’t long, clocking in at about four hours each, but the gameplay is so frenetic and fun you’ll be compelled to play through both sides of the war at least once.

Like last summer’s Arkham Asylum—which made the most out of the Batman license while delivering an overwhelmingly satisfying console experience—War for Cybertron similarly serves as a love letter to fans of its franchise while showing off some surprisingly solid play mechanics. Developer High Noon Studios put gameplay first, building this title as a strong third-person shooter that just happens to take place in the Transformers universe. When these titles are developed the other way around, as licensed products that just happen to be video games, then things get problematic.

Playing a lot like Gears of War, War for Cybertron ditches that game’s cover system in favor of the ability to transform your character from robot to vehicle form at any time. This might seem gimmicky, as was the case in previous Transformers games, but transforming in this title is incredibly fluid and organic, allowing players to approach firefights and other challenges in a variety of ways.

Like most shooters these days, there is a sizeable multiplayer component in War for Cybertron, including a number of competitive and cooperative online game modes. Although I haven’t had the time to dive too deeply into the multiplayer, something tells me the single-player campaigns were originally designed for more than one participant (the game supports three-player online co-op). I’m not complaining about the game’s difficulty, even though it does get frustrating at times and ammo seems scarce, but certain moments in the campaigns seem more overwhelming on the medium difficulty setting than they were likely intended to be.

Additionally, although the visuals in this game are solid, Cybertron doesn’t offer a whole lot of variety in terms of locations. I don’t expect the Transformers’ homeworld to be lush and vibrant, but one does tire of brown and gray metal corridors. Perhaps an Earth-centric sequel will rectify this issue.

You might at first dismiss Transformers: War for Cybertron as a lame, licensed cash-in title, but it’s a lot more than that. If you’re a longtime Transformers fan (and what child of the 1980s isn’t?) then this is the proper Transformers game you’ve been waiting for. For everyone else not steeped in Cybertronian lore, it’s easily a worthwhile rental. And who knows? This could transform (ha!) you into a fan of the property in ways Michael Bay could not.

I didn’t want to sign off with a cliché, but it’s pretty irresistible at this point. Ahem: Unlike other licensed games, Transformers: War for Cybertron is certainly “more than meets the eye.”

Yeesh. Now I feel dirty. Where’s Bumblebee with that shower?