Thursday, 31 October 2013

What did the Thor: The Dark World mid-credits scene mean?

Ever since the first Iron Man movie had Samuel L. Jackson turn up to essentially promise an Avengers movie, Marvel's post-credits teasers have been as much of an event as the movies themselves, giving easter eggs to fans, teasing the events of future films and offering hints at where the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be going next.

So, what has Marvel promised now? Well, I think we could be getting an Infinity Gauntlet story down the line. 

Set shortly after the events of Thor: The Dark World, the mid-credits teaser shows Sif and Volstagg delivering the Aether to Taneleer Tevan - the alien known as the Collector - in the space-station museum/menagerie where he houses the artifacts he acquires.

The way Del Toro/The Collector describes  the Tesseract and the Aether is what's important. In the scene, they specifically refer to them both as "Infinity Stones". When Sif and Volstagg have departed, the Collector turns to his companion and states, simply: "One down, five to go."

In the comics, the Infinity Stones are a set of six different coloured gems which give the holder vast power over a specific domain: Reality, Time, Space, Soul, Mind and Power. Anyone holding all six has the power to reshape the entire universe to their will. It's safe to say they're pretty desirable, not least to power-mad alien warlords (SUCH AS THANOS WHO APPEARED AT THE END OF THE AVENGERS) Ahem. 

It seems that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is representing them in a slightly more practical manner than the comics. The Tesseract clearly represents the Space Stone, which gives the holder power to travel great distances and warp space. The Aether appears to be the Power Stone, which gives the holder access to unimaginable energy.

But where is this going?

If I had to speculate I'd have a guess at it all going down in The Avengers 3; a battle royale crossover bringing together the Avengers, the Guardians, and anyone else that Marvel Studios can scrape together, fighting Thanos for control of the Infinity Gauntlet. 

My thoughts, step by step: 

  • Six gems - time, space, soul, mind, reality and power. 
  • Time and Space are now a cosmic cube? 
  • Power has turned up in Thor 2 as the aether. 
  • Gem 3 is bound to be in Guardians of the Galaxy 
  • Gem 4 will be the soul gem, courtesy of the much anticipated Doctor Strange film
  • And gem 5 will be the gem that draws Thanos out in the third Avengers film. 
Jesus Christ, and I thought Marvel were thinking ahead in the post-credits for Iron-Man!

Marvel, always ten steps ahead of the competition! An Infinity Gauntlet adaptation will be a truly epic undertaking, having all the characters on screen and making sure all of them don't get short changed will be tough, but who better than Whedon?  

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Rise and Fall of Tim Burton

Tim Burton, also known as the Prince of Darkness, broke into the industry with unbelievably good luck - but it's his talent and originality that have kept him at the top of the Hollywood tree. His first film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure was released in 1985 and it was a surprise box office hit. He then introduced himself as one of Hollywood's most inventive directors with films such as Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands. However, as he became Hollywood's go to man for quirky and gothic films, his films became higher budget and more mainstream, but much less memorable and critically acclaimed. 

One of his bigger earlier films, Edward Scissorhand, really brought Tim Burton and his leading man, Johnny Depp to the top of the Hollywood tree.  The film is co-written by Burton (along with Caroline Thompson). The idea for the film came from a drawing by Burton when he was a child. Edward Scissorhands is a relatively low-budget film, that ended up grossing $56,362,3524 at the box-office. Burton had full creative control of the film and it was self- produced by Burton which the end product shows. The film has Burton’s visual style and panache and the characters are typically Burtonesque. Also, the film received critical acclaim, receiving Saturn, Hugo and BAFTA awards and garnering a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Peter Travers Rolling Stone magazine   If you compare this with the other films I'm going to look at, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland - which both had much bigger budgets and pressure from major studios - I think the results are clear to see.

So why is Edward Scissorhand so popular? Many critics loved it because it was a modern fairy-tale story, that was so visually stunning and original. Film4 said it was Visually, stylistically and emotionally stunning.” While The New York Times said “Mr. Burton invests awe-inspiring ingenuity into the process of reinventing something very small.” In conclusion, the film did well because it was a quirky, bold and gothic tale from a new and exciting director.

His form quickly changed. 

Charlie and  the Chocolate Factory is, in my opinion, where Tim Burton started to decline. As a man who defends Planet of the Apes, this says a lot. The film has no determined style. Where is the style that made Edward Scissorhands a modern classic? Also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as you know, is a remake and it’s adapted from a children’s book. This is hardly the Tim Burton of the past who declined making a Batman sequel and Beetlejuice sequel because he wanted to make Edward Scissorhands. The difference in this film and Edward Scissorhands also shows in the reviews. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory received mediocre reviews. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post criticized Depp's acting, saying: "The cumulative effect isn't pretty. Nor is it kooky, funny, eccentric or even mildly interesting.” Depp, in particular receieved poor reviews. Depp has worked with Tim Burton several times and I believe that when you work with someone you know and are friends with you're work begins to decline and I think that's the case witrh both Burton and Depp. However, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made a gross of over $470 million. Has Burton sold out?

Alice in Wonderland, for me, highlights everything that is wrong with modern Tim Burton. Burton makes another multi-million pound production on another remake that’s been adapted from the book. The film stars everyone he's ever worked with whether they fit the role or not.  The film cost an estimate of $150-$200 million dollars and made a staggering amount of over one billion dollars. It was, once again, critically panned. Jason Best of Movie Talk said “Storytelling has never been Burton's strong suit and his weakness is here compounded by a desire to somehow squeeze Carroll's topsy-turvy, logical-illogical tales into a teen-friendly, Disney-approved, big-screen adventure.” This tells me that Tim Burton has changed his film making style just for a big pay check from Disney. A user reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said: “A bland adventure fantasy, Alice in Wonderland may be pretty to look at, yet offers nothing more than Tim Burton's now generic and uninspired brand of filmmaking.” I couldn't have put it better myself. 

To conclude, I believe that Tim Burton is a talented and innovative director. However, he can only achieve this potential when he’s working on a smaller budget, is passionate about the project and has full creative control. If he’s working with big Hollywood producers, I think he loses his love of filmmaking and finds the process boring. When Burton is working under these producers, he has more money to play with, but they become formulaic and unoriginal. Also, when he’s working for a big producer, it’s clear to see, that his films are not as well received as they are when he’s working on a small film such as Edward Scissorhands – or Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow. 

Tim Burton of old - please come back!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Behind the Candelabra Review

In 1989 Steven Soderbergh made his film debut with Sex, Lies and Videotape. The film was daring, unnervingly original and made on a budget of just over one million dollars. Its domestic gross of nearly twenty-five million dollars in return heralded a new wave of independent films throughout the 1990s. Twenty-four years later, Soderbergh will retire from filmmaking with Behind the Candelabra, a biopic of pianist Liberace, which, in ways, is the perfect film to go out on. 

It is, of course, well crafted by Steven Soderbergh, a veteran director who I would expect nothing less from. However, it is Soderbergh who takes a backseat to Ellen Mirojnick, whose flamboyant costumes really add to the film, and Howard Cummings, whose outrageous interiors take that film that much further. 

Two of Hollywood's big-name alpha males – Michael Douglas and Matt Damon – play the lead roles delivering strong and convincing performances. Liberace is played by Michael Douglas in one of the bravest roles of his career. It would have been easy to portray the over-the-top flamboyance of Liberace in high camp theatricality. But not here. Douglas is restrained, measured, and deliberate. His Liberace straddles both sides of the male persona. Douglas goes from being tender lover and father-protector to the excessive, power-hungry controlling tyrant driven to an addiction for acquisition: homes, jewelry, dogs, new lovers, and all things Louis Quinze. 

Matt Damon characterises Scott as an increasingly self-conscious and insecure young man, whose relationship with Liberace grows through two kinds of comfort: materialism and emotional cushioning. Liberace's mansion is an intimidating but irresistible prospect compared to the drab and shadowy form of Scott's adopted home. The mansion achieves its own Biblical connotations, stunningly realised through sparkling glassware and high contrast lighting. Liberace also manipulates Scott's loneliness, saying that he could adopt him. "Maybe I'm your real family," he teases. One of the few dramatic peaks in Richard LaGravenese's script is when comfort reveals itself to be personal possession. Liberace seeks to preserve his legacy, not simply by adopting Scott, but by convincing him to undergo surgery so that the two will look more alike.

There are problems, however. The otherwise excellent screenplay by Richard LaGravanese starts a bit rope and loses a little steam around two-thirds of the way through, but recovers to give a genuinely touching conclusion. I was also a little disappointed that Soderbergh decided to leave out most of the musical side of Liberace. The movie is bookended by his stage performances, but there's very little music or stage bravado in this movie. The director is happy to close the doors of Liberace's mansion and watch the man soak in a hot tub or lounge on the couch, but we miss the music, the garish and gaudy glitter-and-rhinestone stage show that made the man such a legend.

On stage – and in front of the candelabra – Liberace lived a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But behind the glitz and the glamour, we glimpse the flawed, all-too-human and imperfect every man who is uncomfortable in his skin, seeking miracles from plastic surgery and sexual hedonism. He is not a hero or anti-hero; victim or victimizer; predator or prey. He is all and neither. Liberace's life is heroic because he was able to achieve much despite the odds. But his real life was lived in darkness cast by the shadow of the lights behind the candelabra.

A truly outstanding film. It's simply baffling that this film wasn't picked up by a major studio.