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    Thursday
    Aug262010

    Marveling At The Past - The Incredible Hulk (2008)

    "HULK..........SMASH!"

    It all starts with the alternate opening sequence. We are introduced to Bruce Banner as a forsaken and dammed soul. The scientific project he has devoted his life and career to has destroyed them both. The love of his life has been critically injured. The monster that lurks deep within him is ready to escape at the merest sign of anxiety or anger. He is on the run from a military machine intent on capturing him to snare that very monster. Living off the grid and yet feeling completely cornered, Bruce does not even feel that he can continue living in the hope of discovering a cure for the Gamma poisoning which is the cause of it all. Just his existence as Bruce Banner alone is putting the world in great danger. With nowhere left to turn, Bruce travels to the most desolate regions of the Artic for the express purpose of committing suicide in a place where his body will never be located or recovered. With his last memory to be of the loved one he hurt, Bruce pulls out a gun and gets ready to shoot himself. Before he can pull the trigger, the inevitable anxiety and fear that floods his system immediately succumbs to the beast within and triggers the transformation into the Hulk. The Green Goliath holds the puny mortal weapon in his hand and smashes it. The Hulk triumphs once again and when Banner regains conciseness all he will remember is that even death by his own hand cannot provide an escape from his nightmare. His only choice is to cure himself and rid the world of the Hulk.

    This one sequence is, in my honest opinion, one of the greatest to ever grace a comic book movie. In three minutes of screen time the audience is told everything they need to know about the tragedy of Bruce Banner. The one image of the Hulk's gigantic hand crushing Bruce's gun tells us everything we need to know about his character and his relationship to Banner as well. And we cannot help but empathize with Banner. From this point on, we will be on our hero's side as he embarks on his quest for a cure. We are under no illusion that it might be cool to be the Hulk. We feel for him.

    But the problem is, of course, that the sequence does not appear in the finished film and is just one example of a crucial element that is missing from 'The Incredible Hulk'; soul, drama, pathos, tragedy, emotion. You can take your pick from those words but it still leaves us with the conclusion that, in editing, the film had its heart and soul ripped out and all we were left with was a decent, but completely hollow, film.

    We have talked about director's and extended cuts of Marvel movies over the course of this series, specifically in the case of 'Daredevil'. But in the case of that film we were still left, no matter which version of it you choose to watch, with a flawed filmmaker making a flawed film and telling a flawed story which did not best serve the source material. 'The Incredible Hulk' is a different story. There is nothing worse than really talented filmmakers, who really do understand the source material and why it works, actually setting out to make a truly great movie. Worse yet, they actually film that movie and then take it away from us in post production.

    That is what happened with this film. I've felt very passionately about this ever since I bought the DVD and watched all of the deleted material. To give Marvel their dues, they were gracious enough to include these scenes on the DVD release, especially in the light of the controversy surrounding Edward Norton's refusal to do promotion for the film following his failure to preserve a longer cut of the film more true to what he signed on for in the first place (failing to get screenplay credit under WGA rules can't have helped either). I can't support Norton being a whiny bitch but, as far as his argument is concerned, I am on his side of the fence. I see very clearly the film he was trying to protect. I see 'The Incredible Hulk' the way it should have been.

    But first let us talk about what we actually got because there is a lot to like in the finished film. 'The Incredible Hulk' is a classically structured film with a simple but effective plot driving it forward, four distinct main characters with real motivation and complexity and three distinct acts in three distinct locations.

    I think one of the problems you can have in adapting the Hulk for the silver screen is that there is not much complexity to its story. Bruce Banner has the curse of the Hulk inside him and travels around the world while being mercilessly pursued by the military and occasionally by Gamma induced supervillains as well. Perhaps one of the reasons that Ang Lee's film was so heavily dosed in psycho-drama, dysfunctional family relationships and other such completely un-Hulk elements was to mask that lack of plot. 'The Incredible Hulk' chooses not to see this as a hindrance and instead uses its simplistic plot to catapult the audience straight into the story with very little catch-up needed and choosing instead to focus its attention on character dynamics. The issue of whether this second film is a sequel or a reboot is quickly rendered irrelevant.

    The first act set with Bruce living off the military radar in Brazil is pretty damn perfect. Initial quotes from director Louis Letterier stated that we would see the Green Goliath within the first few minutes of the film and some Hulk-Smash action would not be far behind. In truth, the film takes a good 15-20 minutes before we get our first glimpse of him and even then only in shadow. The irony is that the film is at its most interesting when Hulk is not on screen.

    Even without the alternate opening, the first act does a fantastic job of establishing just how hard it must be to live the life of Bruce Banner. He is one of the greatest scientific minds on the planet but is forced to work as a mechanic at a bottling plant. He needs to live as low-key as possible and yet needs to use the internet to communicate with the mysterious Mr. Blue in order to discover a cure. He lives in a scrappy apartment yet needs elaborate scientific equipment to synthesize that cure. His Gamma contaminated blood is so dangerous that a single drop of it could be, and is, used by the military to discover his exact location. On top of which, the direction and cinematography present Brazil as such an immersive, unique and intoxicating environment that you feel almost sad to leave it. It is so much harder these days to transport jaded audiences to places they have never been before and this film does just that.

    Where things fall apart slightly is in the second act where Bruce returns to America to try and retrieve the lost data which he needs to have any hope of synthesizing a cure but unexpectedly reunites with Betty Ross along the way. Saying things fall apart is slightly harsh but certainly this stretch of the film is the one most damaged by the scenes which were cut from the film. Seemingly desperate to get to the next action set piece as quickly as possible, the film rushes through Bruce's infiltration of Culver University, reunion with Betty and our introduction to her current boyfriend (and comic mainstay) Doc. Leonard Sampson. It seems that all this material passes us by in the space of a few minutes before the military ambush Bruce and Betty on the campus grounds and the Hulk is unleashed again.

    As a result of the cuts, the relationship between Bruce and Betty is not given time to find its footing. The audience is not given enough time to understand it and as such, that emotional disconnect and hollowness begins to set in. The deleted scenes set at Betty and Leonard's house are extremely important in that sense. Having established itself as a reboot, you cannot take for granted that the audience will just accept Betty basically abandoning Leonard for her first love. How does Betty feel about Bruce now? How much does she understand of Bruce's condition (given that she spent a fair amount of the initial accident unconscious)? What is her relationship with her father General Ross at present? How does Leonard play into all this? These points are completely glossed over and it severely hurts Betty's character and led to some unfair criticism of Liv Tyler's performance I felt.

    At least she is in the film to a substantial degree. Leonard Sampson however, and despite some great scenes, is reduced to practically a cameo and used only as the cliche plot device of jealous boyfriend. The wonderful thing about the character's deleted scenes is that they establish he is not a jealous 'other guy'. Sampson is a phyciatrist who sees Bruce's return as extremely beneficial to Betty, who has not been able to fully move on knowing he was MIA. But as well as caring about Betty, he also gives away Bruce's location to General Ross out of a misplaced fear sense of fear. This only backfires at the end of the film when he confesses this to Betty leading to forgiveness but the unspoken promise that they will not be getting back together, or at least it would if the scene had not been cut from the film. Sampson is presented as an interesting and flawed human being and his cut scenes are almost certainly the biggest casualty of the film.

    Finally, one more important scene is cut right before the action sequence on the campus, where Bruce tells Betty that he cannot possibly understand, after everything that they have been through and how much it has cost them personally, what scientific breakthrough they hoped to achieve could be worth the price they have paid. Bruce finally realises that the experiment which created the Hulk was, in a way, deserved. That everything he has endured has been a lesson in humility. This one scene reveals the whole theme of the movie. If anything, 'The Incredible Hulk' is about the abuse of science and the need for those that wield its power to respect natural evolution rather than accelerating or toying with it.

    The theme of the film crystalizes in the third act when Bruce and Betty travel to New York to meet with the mysterious Mr. Blue who turns out to be eccentric anarchist college professor Samuel Sterns, the man who silmultaneously could hold the key to curing Banner as well as being the harbinger of the Hulk's greatest challenge. What Sterns comes to represent is the kind of scientist Banner probably was before his accident; a man possessed of genius intellect but far too eager to go beyond nature's boundaries without a second of consideration as to the implications. As he says himself, "I've always been more curious than cautious".

    In one wonderful moment, Bruce is confronted with the realisation that Sterns has used the Gamma infected blood based on the one small sample he took the risk of sending from Brazil, and replicated it into countless samples. This is especially potent since the first act of the film does such a good job of conveying how dangerous a single drop of Banner's blood is and how careful he has been to isolate himself from the world. Now he finds that the one person he trusted with his secret and his infection has turned Bruce's misfortune into a virtual chamber of horrors. As Bruce stares in horror, Sterns naively rants about all the world's ills that will now be cured as a result of what he has done, clearly not understanding that he just made the planet a lot worse for wear.

    Oddly enough, very little material is cut from the third act of the film and the cynic in me has to believe this is due to the fact that so many of the scenes in the last 30 minutes are merely set-up for either a Hulk sequel or the Avengers movie. The Hulk himself is still at large. Emil Blonsky is transformed into 'The Abomination' but is left alive at the end of the film. Sterns recieves a dose of Gamma blood to his already large enough cranium, setting up his transformation into arch enemy 'The Leader'. There is the admitedly cool idea established that Sterns still has a plethora of 'Hulk formula' at his disposal to create an army of super beings with.

    And, of course, Tony Stark shows up for an end scene so vague and non-accessible to an audience that has never read a Marvel comic that its presence in the body of the film (as opposed to being an Easter egg scene at the end of the credits) severely hurts it. By ending the film with Stark, the message is given to us that 'The Incredible Hulk' was seemingly never about its main character. The film cannot stand on its own legs.

    Even though a longer cut and re-edit of the film would have certainly improved it, 'The Incredible Hulk' contains one major flaw regardless of its length. There is no real progression in the saga of Bruce Banner by the end of the story. The character begins the film on the run searching for a cure with the Hulk raging inside him. After everything that happens, the film ends with the character on the run with the Hulk raging inside him. The only difference is conveyed in the intentionally ambiguous final shot of Banner which suggests that he may not care to find a cure for his condition anymore and, having gotten a taste for it, is content to either control the Hulk or let it take him over. These are interesting ideas but they exist in the finished film purely as an afterthought or, even worse, as if the entire film was just a set-up for further installments of the Marvel Film Universe.

    While some may claim that the Marvel Studios line-up of comic book movies began to decline in quality this summer with 'Iron Man 2', we have to be honest and state that it had already started to wobble two years earlier. While I continue to admire Marvel Studios for its lofty goal of crafting the most awe inspiring comic book movie of all time, the very characters that will star in 'The Avengers' are suffering because of it. If 'Thor' and 'Captain America' turn out to be as compromised in finished product as 'The Incredible Hulk' then the only enduring legacy the studio will have created is more bitchy ranting articles from yours truly.

    Thursday
    Aug262010

    Star Trek Team Boldly Going for Dark Knight Status on Sequel

    Neither Star Trek nor Batman Begins reinvented the wheel. But they aimed for the same formula and succeeded. Reboot a dead franchise by having your first movie reintroduce your lead(s) to modern movie-goers with a classic hero's journey. Win over people who never in a million years thought they'd actually enjoy one of "those movies."

    So when you get to the sequel, you can head in any direction you please. According to writer/producer Damon Lindelof (speaking to E! Online), they know where they're headed and the Nolan/Batman comparisons won't stop with just the first movie:

    "We're looking at a movie like The Dark Knight, which went one step beyond Batman Begins. It was really about something, and at the same time it was a superhero movie. We don't want to abandon all the things that made the first movie work...but we also really want the movie to thematically resonate."

    Translation: shit will hit the fan. Maybe there are high-ranking Federation members not crazy about "some punk kid" becoming a Starfleet captain, Spock and Uhara's relationship hits the skids or Scotty and his li'l midget/alien sidekick relieve their sexual tension. Mixed together with plenty of sci-fi action and Bones McCoy.

    Thursday
    Aug262010

    Jeremy Renner Set to Co-Star in Mission: Impossible 4

    As great a film it was, can’t say too many folks actually saw The Hurt Locker. So I'm not 100% certain Jeremy Renner is that well-known to the masses. Yet.

    He'll soon appear in Ben Affleck's The Town next month (I’m going in with realistic expectations, i.e. not expecting another Gone Baby Gone. That would be unfair to Affleck). Then there's The Avengers where Renner will play the bow-and-arrow yielding hero Hawkeye next to Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man, Chris Evans' Captain America, Chris Hemsworth's Thor and Samuel L. Jackson as himself.

    Well, it doesn't stop there. "TOLDJA" reports he's in talks to co-star in Mission: Impossible 4. Not exactly something I pegged him to show up in. After all, he did reportedly turn down the more interesting-sounding Battleship (albeit that could end up being the turkey of summer 2012) and was/is still up for a lead role in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.

    The idea is presumably he'll take over the franchise in the case that Tom Cruise loses his shit (again) and he doesn't have a golden goose in J.J. Abrams to back him up a second time.

    This move also kills the chances of Chris Egan, Kevin Zegers and Renner's Hurt Locker co-star Anthony Mackie of joining the fourquel. Their planned screen-tests have reportedly been cancelled.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    5 New Tv Spots for ben Affleck's The Town

    Warner Bros. Pictures has released 5 TV Spot for Ben Affleck's upcoming crime movie "The Town" co-starring Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper.

    This Marks the second directorial effort for Affleck, and it seems like Warner Bros is giving it some serious push with the marketing. I've heard of a few people that have already seen the film giving it enormous praise calling it the best movie this year, quite the accomplishment in a year with films such as Shutter Island and Inception.

    The film follows Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) an unrepentant criminal, the de facto leader of a group of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves in stealing what they want and getting out clean. With no real attachments, Doug never has to fear losing anyone close to him. But that all changed on the gang's latest job, when they briefly took a hostage--bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Though they let her go unharmed, Claire is nervously aware that the robbers know her name...and where she lives.

    But she lets her guard down when she meets an unassuming and rather charming man named Doug...not realizing that he is the same man who only days earlier had terrorized her. The instant attraction between them gradually turns into a passionate romance that threatens to take them both down a dangerous, and potentially deadly, path.

    The Town hits theaters September 17, look for my official review a few days prior.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    Angelina Jolie to be Unforgiven

    Just this past weekend it was announced the queen of Hollywood Angelina Jolie was going to make her directorial debut with a Bosnian set love story, now word from Toldya! is that she may have lined up her next acting gig, an adaption of the ITV British drama Unforgiven, the most exciting part? Christopher McQuarrie is writing it.

    The original was a mini series that aired in the UK in 2009, the story revolves around Ruth Slater who serves 15 years in jail for the murder of two cops, upon her release she looks to reconnect with her younger sister but is targeted for revenge by the sons of one of her victims.

    This is not the first time Hollywood has looked to British mini series' for adaption, last year we saw the classy thriller "State of Play" and this year was the turn of the less successful "Edge of Darkness."

    I've not seen the original "Unforgiven" mini series but it was highly acclaimed and from what I've read it's not surprising the role appeals to Jolie, especially with McQuarrie writing.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    Ghostrider Vs Dracula?

    We've known for a while now that regardless of how terrible the first Ghost Rider was, plans were already set in place to do the sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance with Nicolas Cage back in the lead role, but absolutely no one cared.

    Now comes news that the sequel no one asked for will also be shot in 3D, not post converted like Thor and Captain America. In addition to being in the third dimension Johnny Blaze will also be travelling to Romania to battle the biggest bad guy out there...Dracula. The idea sounds all kinds of retarded, but so does green-lighting a sequel so all bets are off for how cheesy this will no doubt be.

    This is what Cage had to say to MTV:

    "I'll be filming it in Romania, which is exciting, since that's where Dracula's castle is," Cage revealed. "The Ghost Rider has to write up to Dracula's castle."

    No details have been revealed about the plot yet so we have no real idea as to why he's fighting Dracula or travelling to Romania, but who cares I doubt anyone will bother seeing it anyway. The Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor co-directed comic book feature is set to begin filming this fall in Romania, with out Eva Mendes as eye candy this time around.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    The Anderson Chronicles: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

     

    This week in the Anderson Chronicles I delve into the behind the scenes happenings on a film franchise we haven’t heard from in seventeen years, Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles. Although there was an animated feature released just three years ago, I’m focusing almost entirely on the live action adaptions.

    The first film in the franchise was at the time about as loyal an interpretation of a comic book to film as we had really seen. It was also hugely successful at the box office as well as amongst fans. Then there were the two sequels that followed both earning substantially less than its predecessor and in turn tattering the reputation of the franchise. It wasn’t until fourteen years later that we received the animated CGI film, which was technically somewhat of a financial success, but still came extremely short of expectations.

    In 2009 Viacom’s Nickelodeon acquired the global intellectual property rights to the Ninja Turtles for $60 million in partnership with sister company Paramount Pictures for the TV, film and video game franchise which the characters have spawned. Shortly afterwards they set fast-tracked plans in place to have a live action feature film out by 2012. They brought Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes on board to produce alongside original franchise producers Scott Mednick, Galen Walker, and Marina Norman. I was never overly excited about Platinum Dunes handling the project after having butchered several horror remakes and then now deciding to go mainstream, but the inclusion of the original producers has left me with a glimmer of hope this won't be complete trash.

    The most recent revelation in the production was that Paramount wasn't satisfied with the draft handed in by John Fusco, who was brought on board July of last year when the project was being handled by Mirage Studios. Then Just last week writers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway were hired for close to $1 million to re-write the reboot, they most recently finished a draft on the Highlander reboot for Summit and shared writing credit on the first Iron Man. The studio also announced they’re apparently looking at the film as a potential "huge franchise" similar to Transformers. I’m all for a new take on the franchise, and I’m even more excited about a new live action film being made, but the inclusion of Michael Bay and the comparison to transformers has me slightly weary.

    There’s been endless speculation as to how they would approach a new live action film. Before the franchise was purchased by Viacom it was rumored that Legendary Pictures (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) was developing the film with original co-creator Peter Laird, and they were going for something very similar to the original comic. In an interview with MTV Laird said the following about the project:

    “The basic idea, as I understand it, is to do an all live action shoot, with Actors and stuntmen in full Turtle suits,” explained Peter Laird, co-creator of the original comic series, to MTV News. “To add expressiveness to the Turtles’ faces which would be difficult if not impossible to get with animatronics and/or puppetry, there would be ‘face replacement,’ with CGI Turtle faces superimposed on the live action performers’ heads.”

    The film they were developing was said to be somewhat of an origin taken in a more realistic direction similar to Batman Begins, which successfully rebooted and re-launched that franchise form its 90’s mediocrity.  The plan seemed fine and all, but at the end of the day we’re talking about giant mutated turtles that use martial arts taught to them by an also giant mutated rat to fight crime in New York City. The tone of the original film took the source material as serious as it needed without becoming too dramatic or overly cheesy like the sequels that followed.

    The new film will have to attempt recreating the same magic from the first film without just retreading everything we’ve already seen. They’ll also need to stay serious enough for the original fans, but also remain light hearted and fun enough for the new younger demographic, which the film will need to be a break out success. I’d definitely prefer to see turtles similar to Jim Henson’s original design as opposed to the CGI imposed faces on live action actors like Laird had previously alluded to. But I know that Bay and Platinum Dunes lazy style of film making will no doubt include unneeded or warranted CGI and cheap special effects as opposed to anything original or practical. The only saving grace may be the inclusion of the original producers who really know what works for the franchise already.

    All in all the chance of the film having a darker and more serious subject matter or tone have gone down immensely since Nickelodeon bought out the rights. In the hands of Legendary we might have seen something a lot closer to the original comics. I think all we can expect now is a campy semi-serious update with a touch of Michael Bay ridiculousness; yes this means Ninja Turtles will more than likely include explosions and shitty dialogue for no reason at all. But there is a slim chance it’ll work for what the franchise needs. I wouldn’t mind seeing something similar to Bad Boys in tone, but with an obvious PG-13 rating and everything that makes the turtles as awesome as they are. Fingers crossed that this reboot is one more epic addition to the already packed 2012 box office and not just another remake throw away film for Hollywood.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    Marvel Developing An Iron Fist Movie

    According to TOLDJA! Marvel has set plans in place to move forward with a script for an Iron Fist film. They've hired Rich Wilkes (the "XXX" film series) to write the screenplay, which sounds all kinds of retarded to me, but I'm not a Marvel studios exec making these brilliant decisions so who am I to say anything.

    In the Marvel Universe, Rand is the son of a wealthy explorer who trains in the mystical arts and eventually gains the power of the legendary Iron Fist, a magical fighting power that gives him indestructible fists. First using the power after his father's death, Rand continued to bear the mantle in the fight against evil. Later, Iron Fist popularly teamed with Luke Cage (Power Man), who allegedly also has his own film in development.

    No word yet on who will direct or star, but more importantly I'm wondering if this is one of the planned smaller budget films we heard about before or if this will be a huge budget mega franchise similar to the also previously unknown Iron Man character. Will they introduce Iron Fist in the Avengers film in some capacity, maybe even him and Luke Cage will cameo before moving on to their own individual films. Either that or they may choose to release a short film in front of one of their many upcoming films like also previously reported. But I mean aside from the core fans of the character, who really cares?

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    Boardwalk Empire Featurette

    If you're an HBO junkie like I am watching True Blood, Entourage, Hung...You've seen the trailers for the new 1920's era gangster series from Marton Scorsese Boardwalk Empire, It looks all kinds of awesome.

    The new series focuses on Steve Buscemi, who plays the undisputed ruler of Atlantic City  and town Treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, who is described as “a political fixer and backroom dealer who is equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role.” Check out the nearly 14 minute featurette below and see for yourself why this looks every bit as awesome as the once greatest show on HBO The Sopranos, only set in the 1920's Atlantic City.

    Wednesday
    Aug252010

    Anna Paquin & Kristen Bell In "Scream 4" Cameos

    Yes they are still making another "Scream" film and yes the movie is going to feature it's share of cameos. According USA Today's Life Line Live Kristen Bell and Anna Paquin will make an appearance in "Scream 4". The ladies will join "Scream" veterans Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette in Ann Arbor, Michigan for filming.

    You might remember the perky Anna Paquin as Rogue in "X-Men" and "X2" or as Sookie on "True Blood". Kristen Bell is best known for her devilish voiceover work on "Gossip Girl" and as the relentless Veronica Mars.

    Look I'm sure this flick will make money in it's opening weekend. The question is how will it carry after that? It remains to be seen whether or not the general public will embrace this new installment or treat it like old hat. I am most interested in the direction this will go. Will we witness a more menacing and gory scream, or will they up the camp factor? I will be in the theater to find out, I'm just not sure who is going to be with me.