Captain America: The Winter Soldier

While I can say in all honesty that Marvel studios has never made a bad film, their last two efforts at continuing the success of the smash hit Avengers have been rather underwhelming (Thor: The Dark World more so than Iron Man Three). Their latest film, however, is not only a far superior an effort than that of it’s two predecessors, but may in fact be Marvel’s greatest film to date as well as possibly one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a dazzling spectacle of exhilarating action, witty humor, wonderfully crafted characters and taut political intrigue. It follows the titular hero as he struggles to adjust to contemporary American society after being frozen alive since his heyday in World War II. There is an intriguing amount of subtext throughout huge movie regarding the moral ambiguity of a post-patriot act America, the pitfalls of a society so dependent on a digital, global network and even struggles of shell shocked soldiers returning to civilian life. The film establishes, quite expertly, a history around the legacy of Captain America, cementing him as the original, shining example of super-heroism. within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All this is achieved by the writer- director duo behind the scenes: Anthony and Joe Russo. Despite a background in comedy television, the two don’t miss a single step in the process of thrilling blockbuster making, while maintaining the humanity and charm of their earlier works (such critically acclaimed shows as Community and Arrested Development).

Chris Evans delivers an earnest, likable but stoic performance of Steve Rogers/ Captain America, effortlessly embodying the character. In point and fact the entire cast was firing on just the right cylinders. Anthony Mackie is a show stealer as newcomer to the franchise Sam Wilson/ Falcon. Meanwhile Scarlet Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson are the best they’ve ever been in the roles of Natasha Romanov/ Black Widow and as S.H.I.E.LD Director Nick Fury, respectively. Robert Redford brings the pedigree one would imagine from his involvement with charm and menace as World Security Councilmen Alexander Pierce. Without divulging too many spoilers, the main standout of these film, aside from its hero of course, is his villainous foil: The almost ethereal assassin known only as The Winter Soldier for much of the film. With few lines, the actor (who shall be go unnamed until the film is released) imbues the character with an indomitable menace and truly daunting threat to our heroes.

There is only so much I can gush over without spoilers so I’ll end it here. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is fantastic. It has great performances, great directing, writing, action, everything. Go see it. And while I’m sure it goes without saying, as this IS a Marvel movie, but make sure you sit through the credits.

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises marks the swan song of animation legend Hayao Miyazki’s prolific filmography. The film is truly a work of beauty and provides a more than sufficent goodbye to a pioneer in the field of Japanese Animation. The animation is crisp, colorful and imaginative while maintaining a remarkable realism in the movements of here human form. The dream sequences in which Jiro imagines his planes dazzling and spark with creativity. As a matter of preference I generally prefer foreign movies with subtitles rather than a dub track, but the English voice dub cast is naturalistic and generally not distracting as dubs often are. Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emily Blunt and John Krasinksi all give great, understated vocal performances that seek to emote rather than over-animate.
The story is a biographical piece about Jiro Horikoshi, a Japanese engineer who lived his dream of designing and building airplanes by doing so for the Japanese war effort in World War II. An artist with a passion, he honors his country while fulfilling his life long ambition, yet still maintains his innocence as a man who simply wants to build planes, regardless of what they are used for. The film provides some biting commentary on the backwards nature of Japanese society during the Second World War, especially in comparison with the rest world. It also illustrates some chilling recreations of disasters like the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But the true heart of the film lies in the romantic subplot between Jiro and Naoko. Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: I generally find love interests tacked on and unnecessary. They don’t interest me, in fact they generally bore me. The romantic sub plot displayed here is one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve seen put to film. There is a sincerity and warmth that diffuses the melodrama it could have so easily devolved into. Spoilers ahead: Their story is a tragedy, as Naoko is stricken with Tuberculosis and eventually passes. But her death is never seen, it is simply presented as something he had to go through. That right there exemplifies what I loved so much about this movie: it’s avoidance of melodrama while still maintaining a touching story of love and tragedy. I can not reccomend this movie enough, especially if you’re a fan of Miayazaki’s other work like Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, or Princess Monoake. Either way this movie is a moving experience and a wonderful send off to a tremendous talent.

Need for Speed

Tonight I had the good fortune of having procured some free tickets to a special pre-screening of the upcoming Aaron Paul movie “Need for Speed.” As the title would suggest the movie is an adaptation of the long running video games franchise about street racing. First let me say this: “Need for a speed” is probably as good a movie is one could possibly get from an adaption of a video game where people race cars through populated areas. It actually has a story. It’s an incredibly cliched story but it’s there, it exists. There was also a surprising amount of comic relief which I personally found a bit jarring and downright bizarre and borderline stupid at times, however the audience the I saw it with seemed to enjoy so I’ll chalk it up to a matter of taste. That’s the “bad.” Those are the things that left me a bit a cold at certain points during the movie, and while they may seem like some pretty fundamental problems, I can’t honestly say that I didn’t like this movie. I’m not sure if it’s a good movie yet, as my brain is still gestating, but I can say that there was quite a bit to this movie that I really liked. The acting is fantastic. Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots, Dominic Cooper and Michael Keaton are all great. Aaron Paul makes for a charismatic enough lead with a great intensity that Breaking Bad fans will recognize. Imogen Poots makes a fun, likable female lead (on top of being a well written character). As usual Michael Keaton was fantastic as usual (seriously man, you’re still the best Batman, you deserve so much better than what you’ve gotten). Who really impressed me was Dominic Cooper. He brings subtlety and a surprising depth to an otherwise two dimensional villain. I won’t spoil the exact circumstances under which it occurs, but there is a point early on in the movie where he cements himself as the despicable antagonist of the movie. What really struck me was a small moment where you can visibly see the thought process going on in the characters head as he makes the decision (perhaps reluctantly) that puts him in this role, which just made for a compelling performance for an otherwise standard villain without being hammy. The cinematography during the racing scens is thrilling and does a good job of not becoming repetitive. I especially enjoyed the use of long takes throughout, making the movie very evocative of the 70′s muscle car movies it was trying to emulate (there’s also no CG used in huge stunt work is both impressive and refreshing). I’m trying to keep this review relatively spoiler free because the movie isn’t due for another month so I’ll just leave it at this: whatever enjoyment is lost by the clichéd story and dopey humor will be regained by the movie’s great performances/character, dynamic camera work and a very well written third act that you’ll just have to watch.

The Lego movie

As the usual the first month of the year proved to be dumping ground for bad movies that various studios were contractually obligated to release, thus making The Lego Movie the first good movie of the year as far as I’m concerned. But allow me to stress that not only was The Lego Movie a good movie in comparison to it’s recent predecessors, it’s is a GREAT movie by in every way measurable by film criticism. Never have I seen a movie that so perfectly captures the limitless imagination of the child mindset, for that is what The Lego Movie is: a film about imagination. The writers/ directors Phil lord and Chris Miller (of whom I was already a huge fan) have cemented themselves filmmakers to be watched in the years come. The animation (which merges computer generated imagery with stop motion) is vibrant, colorful and captivating. Every frame of this movie is simply pulsating with energy and creativity. The story is a witty and charming riff on the tired “chosen one” narrative and explores themes of individuality, imagination, teamwork and self-confidence. These themes may sound like Saturday morning cartoon fare but they are execute with such sincerity and sweetness that they make this movie a must see for any child who has ever felt small or unimportant. The rapid fire humor hits the ground running making The Lego Movie infinitely rewatchable (I foresee myself finding more and more jokes that I missed in later viewings). And then there’s the voice cast which is simply fantastic. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnet, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day and Will Farrel all deliver fantastically charming and fun vocal performances that imbue their already colorful characters with distinctive, vibrant personalities. Too often these days studios fall back on needless celebrity casting for animated films without any thought paid to how well those celebrities would play their characters, making the brilliant casting here all the more refreshing. Go see this movie, take your friends, take your family. Just see it. Give these people your money, because Hollywood sorely needs a wake up call in regards to how it approaches child-targeted films. Less shit like the Nut Job, Planes and Turbo and more labors of love like The Lego Movie. Then everything will truly be awesome.

Top Films of 2013′ part 4, the Top 3 Best Movies of ’13

3. Much Ado About Nothing

So while making Marvel’s The Avengers, one of the most successful movies of all time, Joss Whedon got a few weeks off. During his time off he got a wild hair up his ass and decided to make ANOTHER movie. Much Ado About Nothing is that movie. Shot at Joss Whedon’s house with a cast featuring various Whedonverse alumni like Amy Acker, Alexis Dennisoff, Francis Kranz and Nathan Fillion, the movie takes William Shakespeare’s comedy about matchmaking shenanigans, manipulation and slander and places it in a modern setting while maintaining the Shakespearian dialogue. Yes, this has been done, but there is a key difference between the way it’s done here and the way it’s done in Romeo + Juliet. Never once does it feel like the actors in Much Ado are reciting Shakespeare. Every actor in this movie clearly knows the play front to back, and not only the words, but what they mean and how the language and arrangement works. They speak the words as if they’re actually holding conversation instead reciting lines at each other. The acting in this movie is not only fantastic, both comedically and dramatically. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff are terrific as the leads, Beatrice and Lord Benedick. Francis Kranz delivers naïveté and intensity in the role of Claudio while Clark Gregg oozes charisma and gravitas as Leonato. Nathan Fillion steals the show as lawman Dogberry, who takes being called an Ass by Riki Lindhome’s Conrad very personally and make sure everybody knows it. The score, composed by Joss Whedon, is sparsely used, allowing for the actors to emote in silence, but when it comes it is a joy to listen to, ranging from sweeping whimsy to smooth jazz. The cinematography makes great use of the environment, both in doors and outdoors, never falling into the trap feeling like a stage show on film. The actors and actresses interact with their environment, again making their dialogue and actions seem natural. Joss Whedon, largely lauded for his strengths in writing, has finally crafted a film huh at firmly establishes him as director of skill and vision. Whedon’s fun little detour from superheroes and alien invasions is a joy to watch on nearly every front and I cannot recommend it enough.

2. The World’s End

There are very few movies that I think are “perfect.” Jaws in the only one I can think of off the top of my head at the moment. Jaws…and The World’s End. That does not mean that I think it is the greatest movie of all time. It simply means that this movie, above all the other movies I’ve seen this year (save for one) managed to entertain me on both an intellectual level and a thrill seeking movie-going level. It was funny, brilliantly acted with great, well defined characters and possibly Simon Pegg’s best performance in an already impressive filmography. The script is witty and layered with detail as well as endlessly quotable dialogue. It has the same manic, rapid fire editing and kinetic cinematography that made Hot Fuzz one of the greatest actions movies I’ve ever seen resulting in hit he best choreographed and shot fight scenes of the entire year. The soundtrack, as with all of Edgar Wright movies, is fantastic and actually conveys the meaning and tone of the scenes over which it plays (a seemingly novel concept these says). Hilarious, thrilling, creative and emotional, Invasion of the Body Snatcher’s send up caps off Edgar Wright’s Blood & Cornetto trilogy in the most satisfying way possible.

And now, my number one movie of the year
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1. Gravity

To speak boldly, Alfonso Cuarón’s space faring survival thriller Gravity is a monumental achievement in film making. The special effects put to work here perfectly simulate the weightlessness and isolation of being in space in a way no other film has ever done before. Sandra Bullock delivers a palpable performance as a woman set adrift and alone after a storm of orbiting space shrapnel tears apart her ship and kills her crew, leaving her to find peace and the will to survive in only herself. The story and characters are simple, secondary to the spectacle, resulting in a rare occasion where the spectacle is all you truly need. It’s a story about survival in a hostile environment, and this movie creates an environment so tense and horrifying it may kill the ambition of an entire generation of future astronauts. Imagine the shark from jaws, and now imagine if said shark encompassed every thing around you. That is what Gravity does to outer space. The vacuum of space is now a classic movie monster, with Sandra Bullock in the role Laurie Strode. If you pay close enough attention you’ll find that it’s also a movie about Buddhism, specifically about looking inward for salvation instead of praying to some god, which is refreshing to see in a Hollywood picture, making Gravity a powerful work of humanist fiction, rather than science fiction as the setting would ordinarily indicate. This is also the first movie I’ve ever seen where the 3D not only enhanced the viewing, but was a necessity. This may wind up being a detracting factor, but this is truly a movie that deserves to be viewed on a big screen in 3 mind fucking dimensions upon a every viewing, but is still a wonder to behold on the small screen. Either way, go see it. Then tell your friends to go see it, and so on and so forth.

Thank you bearing with me and I hope you enjoyed the countdown! Any thoughts on my choices, or thoughts in you’re own choices please don’t be afraid to utilize the comment function. Thank you for your time!

Top Movies of 2013 Part 3, # 6-4

6. Trance

Danny Boyle’s most recent picture represents a deviation from his stint of making uplifting Oscar flicks in the form of a slick, edgy noir crime film. Starring James MacAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson as art thieves and a hypnotherapist, respectively, the film does a remarkable job of recontextualizing the tropes and aesthetics of the classic noir into a modern mold without turning into a work of meta fiction, homage or pastiche like Brick or Sin City. Instead it takes the recurring themes of the noir and simply adapts them to a modern setting. You have the Unreliable narrator in the form of an art thief (MacAvoy) who has repressed the memory of where he stashed the painting, as well as being a morally ambiguous character rather than the straight hero of the story. Vincent Cassel initially comes off as a villainous gangster, but gradually becomes more of a heroic figure as the MacAvoy’s true self is peeled back layer by layer through hypnotherapy (the role reversal being a brilliant showcase of the moral complexities of the classic noir stories). Roasario Dawson initially comes off as the femme fatale figure, but eventually is revealed as a victim, and eventually revealed further to be the mastermind. Visually, instead of the standard noir contrast of black and white, Boyle brings Noir into the world of technicolor film making with stunning compositions of color and lighting (I absolutely love the cinematography in this movie, as I often do with most of Danny Boyle’s movies). The way the film visually represents the workings of the human psyche is gripping and stunning to behold. All in all, while this movie may not have been a big pop cultural event, it’s still enormously entertaining and thrilling and is truly one of the most underrated gems of the year.

5. American Hustle

This critically lauded comedy has been making its rounds at the award shows and unfortunately I simply do not have the energy to be Contrarian Jones and hate on it for being “Oscar bait.” To be perfectly honest I loved this movie. Yes, it’s very obvious in the fact that it’s trying to emulate 80’s Scorsese movies like Goodfellas. For example many are citing it’s use of a pop soundtrack, as well as it’s unconventional take on the crime film genre. What I liked about this movie was that it WAS very much like Goodfellas, albeit from a different perspective. Whereas Goodfellas was an unconventional look at gangster culture and the corrupting force of the power it yields, American Hustle approaches it from an opposite position. The criminals, the grifters and the corrupt politicians (played by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner), are essentially the good guys of the story, to put it in simplistic terms. Yes, they do questionable things, but they’re portrayed as inherently good people. This is NOT a violent movie. None of these people are ever seen killing anybody or arranging for somebody to get wacked. In fact, the only violent one is the cop. The FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper, is the one who becomes corrupted by the power in his position as a figure of law-enforcement. He becomes increasingly ambitious in nailing corrupt politicians by exploiting con artists, but not for any love of justice but rather for the purpose of making a name for himself. Throughout the film he unravels and becomes violent not only toward the grifters but even towards his own boss, played hilariously deadpan and restrained by Louis C.K. Cooper’s character becomes so arrogant and addicted to glory that you want nothing more than to see the con artists pull a fast one and turn the tables on him. Aside from the fun twist on crime film conventions, the true strong point of the film is it’s stellar cast. Everybody is giving it their all and are absolutely electric to watch. Christian Bale is refreshingly emasculated throughout the movie as a frumpy but charming con man. Jennifer Lawrence is lively and a blast to watch as his possibly unstable wife. As I already mentioned, Bradley Cooper turns in a fantastic performance as the FBI agent corrupted by ambition and hubris while Renner is infinitely likable as a Machiavellian but well meaning New Jersey Mayor. In terms of sheer dramatic acting, however, I think Amy Adams steals the show with her reserved subtlety in contrast with that of her female co star Jennifer Lawrence’s more attention grabbing performance. While it may seem like an obvious Oscar grabber prestige movie, I had a blast watching it. A fun, well acted and scripted comedy has been long due for a few Oscar, in my opinion…plus it’s got a great fucking soundtrack.

4. Frozen

Aside from being the best animated movie I’ve seen this year (I haven’t seen Monsters University or Turbo, the latter of which I’ve made a conscious effort to NOT see), Frozen may very be the best Disney movie I’ve seen in years. Princess and the Frog was fun with New Orleans setting and a cool villain but I found the music underwhelming, while Tangled was certainly a nice step towards breaking Disney conventions with it’s “prince” character, while for whatever reason never truly grabbing me. But Frozen is the Disney movie I’ve been waiting for, and I almost didn’t go see it. Can I just say that the trailers did a DREADFUL job of selling this movie? Because this movie is charming, subversive, and progressive in so many ways that are not indicated in any way by it’s advertising. The sister princesses are strong, independent characters with personalities who save themselves and are ultimately not driven by their love of a man but their love for each other, one becoming Queen, and the other learns that marrying a guy you just met is an insane idea (HOW IS IT THAT IT’S TAKEN THIS LONG FOR DISNEY TO REALIZE THIS?). The Prince winds up being the villain in a rather well executed twist while the goofy ice salesman in the woods winds up being the main love interest. This movie is so clever and charming in it’s writing that even the talking snowman voiced by Josh Gad does NOT come off as gratingly annoying, but likable and sweet. One thing I noticed about this movie after watching it is that EVERY character has a clearly defined motivation. Granted this also reminded me how rare of an occurrence that is which was saddening, but it’s still a great feat of the writers. The music is great, particularly when Indina Menzel gets to do what she does best (Let It Go is sure to become a classic, as is this whole movie), and The animation is absolutely stunning. To be honest I don’t think I can praise this movie enough. Aside from an arguably extraneous musical number by some Rock Trolls (which didn’t even bother me that much), I don’t think I have a single criticism for this movie. I’ll leave the review at this: between Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, things are looking very hopeful in regards to Hollywood presenting young girls with strong female role models. I severely hope we’re on the cusp of a new age.

Stay tuned for part four, the final three!

Top movies of 2013 Part 2 #10-7

10. Prince Avalanche

I have a few bones to pick with this director. A few years back David Gordon Green made some disparaging comments about the works of Kevin Smith and David Mamet, two directors I have tremendous respect for. If I remember correctly, he said that Kevin Smith had turned independent film making into a special Olympics. All I’ll say is this: don’t insult the work of another director then turn around and make Pineapple Express…and then Your Highness…AND THEN THE SITTER. But thankfully it seems he’s decided to make good movies again, because I enjoyed Prince Avalanche tremendously. The movie has beautifully naturalistic cinematography and fantastic performances by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. I found Paul Rudd’s performance to particularly impressive. He plays his character with such a lack of inhibition, without any thought of sophistication or dignity to his appearance. There’s one scene in particular where he’s essentially playing house by myself in the  charred remains of house destroyed in a forest fire. He walks around, pretends to call to his pretend wife and hold causal conversation, the typical 50’s sitcom American dream. But it never comes off as hokey or creepy or sad because of how natural and real Paul Rudd’s performance is. There is a difference between watching an actor pretend that they’re alone, and watching an actor truly act as if they are alone, with absolutely no thought given to how they would appear to an outside observer, simply behaving as their truest selves no matter how silly or sad they would appear to an onlooker. Paul Rudd delivers this performance brilliantly. This was one of two scenes that really stood out to me, the second being a phone call made by Paul Rudd to his now ex-girlfriend as the two argue. The audio of the phone call is played over a montage of the passing road (the entire movie takes place on this road as Rudd and Hirsch paint traffic lines down the middle of it). The road rushes passed the camera at various angles and distances, turning something as visually mundane as a phone call into something beautiful and vibrant to behold. What I loved about this movie is embodied in these two crucial scenes. Whatever issues I may have with this director, I have to respect the good work he’s done here and I look forward to what he has in store, unless of course it’s sequel to Your Highness.

9. Don Jon

Don Jon marks Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first foray into directing for a feature film, and if this film is any indication, Levitt has a promising career as director ahead of him. The editing alone injects this infectious energy to a film about routine and repetition and JGL delivers a likable and layered performance as a character who I would probably think is a douchebag if I were to meet him in real life. This comedy is both hilarious and potent in it’s messages about how American media sensationalizes love and relationships, whether it’s romantic comedies or pornography. There’s even a bit of analysis of the “pornification” of American Media, or the overtly sexualized material that is available for public consumption in the form of commercials and magazine ads. For example, the film opens with a montage of porn clips interspersed with various commercials and news footage featuring sexually objectified women. Later there is a scene of Jon and his Dad both leering at the television as a commercial plays featuring a bikini clad model seductively eating a hamburger. Basically the film is saying “No wonder this guy has such a fucked up view of women and relationships, look at what he’s got as a frame of reference.” The difference between fantasy and reality is a prominent theme throughout the film, drawing a pretty strong thematic parallel with another of JGl’s movie, (500) Days of Summer, which also featured the process of emotional maturation within a young man with a very fantasy driven paradigm of what constitutes love. The film does tend to drag in parts, and it can be predictable, but it’s immensely charming and insightful, making for one of the most relevant romantic comedy’s made in years…along with (500) Days of Summer, go see that as well.

8. The Grandmaster
I’m not a massive aficionado of martial arts films, so all I knew going into this movie was that it was about the guy who trained Bruce Lee. To be honest what really attracted me was the director, Wong Kar wai, who I’ve mostly seen associated with gorgeously shot cerebral dramas. The idea of this guy making a Kung fu movie was fascinating to me, and I wasn’t disappointed, in fact I was the farthest from disappointed as I could have possibly been. To put it lightly, with the exception of maybe one other movie (which will be listed later) The Grandmaster is the most visually beautiful movie I’ve seen this year. From the intimate close up framing to low key lighting, this movie is a visual orgy of poetry made tangible. Even when there isn’t any fighting going. The performances are all great, and Zhang Ziyi’s character is very compelling, but the visuals were the true star of this movie. Normally I would describe specific scenes but I feel my words can only disservice the artist here so here’s an actual clip:

And another because my words cannot adequately describe why I love this:

Couple this with the beautiful musical score and my own personal love for Chinese cinema, there was pretty much no way I was not going to love this movie. I will say, however, that some of the facial close-ups do tend to linger on subjects of questionable importance in the overall scheme of certain scene, leading to one or two moments of head scratching, again it’s something you would have to actually watch the movie to understand. With that as the closest thing I have to a criticism for this movie, I will let the numerical standing of this movie on my list speak for itself. While nothing revolutionary from narrative standpoint, the level of cinematic artistry in this movie cannot be ignored.

7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

For me Hunger Games: Catching Fire was the best blockbuster of the year on every conceivable level. Before this movie all the other blockbusters I have seen, while enjoyable, have failed in various respects. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness but I have no illusions that those movies work as anything other than fun actions movies (though they both do broach some interesting and relevant themes). Iron Man Three failed to engage me on dramatic and emotional level while Man of Steel failed to engage me on a cerebral or intellectual level. The Wolverine, like I said earlier, had a great first two acts but was hampered by it’s bargain bin bad guys while Thor: The Dark World provided some good escapist fun but offered very little in the ways of a compelling story. The story of The Hunger Games: Catching fire had dramatic resonance and a clear purpose on a subtextual level. The writing was conservative and concise for purposes of the story, and it featured a fleshed out cast of characters, each with a distinct personality and motivation. The directing is clean and smooth and really works wonders in immersing the audience in this world in a way that the first movie (and I really liked the directing of the first movie) failed to to do. The scope of this movie is quadrupled from that of the first with sweeping wide shots of the dystopian districts of Panem, designed with obvious inspiration from Ancient Rome and Nazi Germany. The acting ranged from good to fantastic across the board. Even Josh Hutchinson (who I really didn’t care for in the first one…or any other movie before this for that matter) was not only tolerable, but likable and compelling. Jennifer Lawrence as usual proves to be one of the best young actresses working today in a character that belongs in a pantheon of strong female characters for young girls to look up to (with an entire generation of young girls being subjected to Bella god damn Swann, thank God for these books/ movies). Donald Sutherland makes for a great villain in the sinister but reserved President Snow, never going for the hammy, over the top route with his performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman is new to the franchise as Plutarch Heavensby, a secondary character who spends much of the film behind the scenes but wound up being my favorite character in the movie (as somebody who has not read the books). In summation, of all the various Young Adult sci fi/ fantasy franchises having millions of dollars being thrown at them, The Hunger Games is by far the most deserving and I looks forward to its continued success.

stay tuned for part 3!

‘Best of 2013’ Pending

To start off I’d like to apologize for my lack of updates to the blog for the past two or three months, I’m sure the absence left a devastating void in the lives of my readers (all four of them). The semester was winding down and I had other endeavors to see to, as well as simply not feeling compelled to write on some of the shows I had been following (I may start limiting myself to reviewing only the first and last episode of a season for certain shows, occasionally making an exception for a stand out episode, so as to avoid repetition in my reviews). To kick off the new year I will be posting a top fifteen list for the movies of 2013 within the next week and a half. I’m opting for top fifteen instead of top ten because there were quite a few movies that I really enjoyed and felt deserved some from of recognition for one reason or another, as well as simply appealing to my genre tastes rather than my objective gauge of quality. Those are the movies that will be listed from fifteen through eleven, with ten and on representing the movies that I thought were truly the best of the year. I’ll be splitting the list up over the course of a few days, counting down to one with a paragraph or two explains my choice. I look forward to your thoughts and I hope you all had at great holiday!

Marvel’s in the World Building business

On October 14th, 2013, Nellie Andreeva of “Deadline” reported that Marvel Studios was planning to produce four new television programs (all based on pre-existing marvel comics properties) as well as a miniseries event for digital distribution through either Netflix, Amazon, or WGN America. On November 7th Marvel announced the roster of these shows and confirmed that Netflix would provide the means of distribution through their streaming function. The four shows will focus Marvel characters Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica jones, and Daredevil, respectively, all culminating in a mini-series team-up event entitled “The Defenders.” This development represents the ever widening scope of Marvel Studio’s grand experiment in trans-media storytelling.
In his book “Convergence Culture” Henry Jenkins uses the Matrix Franchise an an example of trans-media storytelling. The overarching narrative of the Matrix franchise spans multiple mediums, from the films comics to anime shorts and even the video game Enter the Matrix. Each media facet enhances the other, providing information that may not be explicitly present in another, but still pertinent to understanding the story. He also cites the expansion of the Star Wars franchise through the novels and comics, as well the Indiana Jones franchise with the TV show “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.” He further develops the concept of trans-media into the concept of world building, which he describes as such: “storytelling has become the art of world building, as artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium. The world is bigger than the film, bigger even than the franchise- since fan speculations and elaborations also expand the world in a variety of directions.”(Jenkins, pg. 114). This identification of he fans role in world building is rooted in the concept of participatory culture, as it helps the viewer to become fully immersed the media rhetoric.
The work done by Marvel Studios since the 2008 release of the movie Iron Man typify this idea of world building. Along with Iron Man they produced four over movies (The Incredible Hulk, Iron man 2, Thor and Captain America) and then united the leads in the 2012 superhero blockbuster “The Avengers,” establishing a wide network of narrative continuity that mirrors that of the comic books from which these characters have been adapted. This overarching film narrative has grow beyond The Avengers into what Marvel is referring to as “phase II,” a series of sequels and new films (Iron Man Three, Thor: the Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy) that will build up to another avengers movie, to be followed by a phase III. Even the Blu Ray releases of higher films feature short films called “Marvel One-Shots” featuring small in-between stories to supplement the film viewing experience (for an example the Iron Man Three release came with a One-Shot starring Hailee Atwell reprising her role as WWII spy Agent Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger). However in September, 2013, Marvel expanded the scope of their cinematic universe beyond film with the ABC television series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” created Avengers director Joss Whedon and telling the story of the agents of the spy organization whose presence has connected all of the Marvel films, S.H.I.E.L.D. As evidenced by the news articles cited earlier, the momentum of Marvel’s world building shows no signs of slowing with upcoming Netflix streaming exclusive shows Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica jones! and Daredevil, as well their crossover mini-series “The Defenders,” which is clearly an attempt at duplicating the successful Avengers formula for a new medium. This latest development not represents them expanding the world of their films to television, but Internet streaming services as well, which is an expansion of televisual media in and of itself. In Marvel.com’s announcement of the news, the president of Marvel Entertainment Alan Fine was quoted saying: “This deal is unparalleled in its scope and size, and reinforces our commitment to deliver Marvel’s brand, content and characters across all platforms of storytelling. Netflix offers an incredible platform for the kind of rich storytelling that is Marvel’s specialty,” […]”This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television and gives fans the flexibility to immerse themselves how and when they want in what’s sure to be a thrilling and engaging adventure.” Therefore, Marvel’s primary objective appears to be the enhancement of their viewers media participation through this expansive world building experiment.

By Phil Grippi, 11/ 24/13

Works cited:
-Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture. 2006. New York University Press.
– Marvel.com. “Disney’s Marvel and Netflix Join Forces to Develop Historic Four Series Epic plus a Mini-Series Event.”
http://marvel.com/news/story/21476/disneys_marvel_and_netflix_join_forces_to_develop_historic_four_series_epic_plus_a_mini-series_event#ixzz2lcYXQjtL
-Nellie Andreeva, “Marvel Preps 60-Episode Package Of Four Series & A Mini For VOD & Cable Networks.”
http://m.deadline.com/2013/10/marvel-preps-60-episode-package-of-four-series-a-mini-for-vod-cable-networks/