Trailers: First Man, A Star is Born

In recent weeks, some trailers for several upcoming films touted to be big players at next year’s Oscars were released. I’ll give my brief thoughts on two of them: First Man and A Star is Born.

First Man appears to be as dramatic and Oscar-baity as you’d expect, with a lot of the trailer showing us the brooding Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, whose inner turmoil he brings out in anticipation of the mission to the moon. It does seem like a lot of this film will be carried on his shoulders, so if it succeeds, I think he may be a lock of a lead nomination, especially seeing how favourable he’s been with Academy members recently (La La Land).

I think Claire Foy looks to be an electric foil to Gosling’s brooding Armstrong; her first scenes from the trailer show her to be loud and quick-tongued, and with her stellar work in The Queen, I think Academy members will give this TV star her first Oscar nomination, likely in the supporting category. The supporting, empowering wife figure seems to be a popular choice for Academy voters, especially when to a male lead who’s primely in the race (see: Felicity Jones, Keira Knightley, Ruth Negga). Claire Foy does seem to add no small degree of her own voice in this film, (she’s seen berating Neil’s colleagues in potentially scene-stealing fashion) and I think she may be a lock as well.

Onto A Star is Born, I think Lady Gaga looks great! Of course, she sounds great as well, and just from the trailer, I can detect definite chemistry between the two leads. I think this could really be a breakout for her, but she’d have to be really good, and so would the movie. When people remember that Cher won an Oscar back in the day, I’m not sure if Academy members view that as a historic moment or a ‘what were we thinking’ moment, so I think they’d want to be extra sure if they were to award a (former?) pop artist the biggest prize. A nomination definitely seems possible, though.

 

Ready Player One and Pacific Rim: Uprising

I recently watched these two films almost back-to-back, and I thought they juxtaposed nicely with each other as two very different blockbuster movies. 

While Pacific Rim: Uprising tried to show what could happen if we pushed the limits of man-made technology in its physical manisfestation, Ready Player One explores the limits of man-made technology in the virtual realm. 

As one would expect, virtual reality is often more fantastical than physical reality, and we certainly see the element of fantasy play very heavily in RPO. Yet that can’t be the only reason why I found RPO to be so much better a film than PRU. 

Perhaps it’s the plot. Despite seeming RPO seeming to be the more high concept  of the two, RPO’s plot is simple and laid out from the outset; find the three keys, save the world. Perhaps it’s the fact that the story feels refreshing even while sticking to a standard, fittingly role-playing game-like storyline, certainly thanks in part to the constantly changing action scenes and landscapes. 

In PCU, however, the plot is one built on twists and question marks from the outset; who is the rogue robot? What are Shao’s true intentions? While I’ve mentioned many times before that one thing I love in any film is a good plot twist, I felt that the reveal was not only stunted by a giveaway earlier scene (where Charlie Day’s character connects his mind to some alien brain), but was also beset by the story being overstuffed with too many narratives; there’s the Mako/Jake brother sister arc at the start, the rival arc between Jake and Nate, the rival arc between Amara and Vik, the teacher-Student arc between Jake and Amara, the love triangle that sort of ends nowhere… the list goes on and on, and already, I’m sure you can see how any sort of undergirding plot line is quickly diffused by all these narratives that the filmmakers seem to place enough emphasis on individually to detract from any sort of overarching storyline. 

One thing I must say though, the visuals for both were stunning, and they both certainly had their epic moments. 

Overall,

7.5/10 for Ready Player One

5/10 for Pacific Rim: Uprising 

Sight Unseen: Avengers Infinity War Predictions Part 2

Now, to cover my thoughts how what the quality of this film will be like. To view my predictions on what the plot and flow of the film will be like, check out Part 1.

I think expectations are definitely through the roof for this one. For some reason, I’m keeping myself hesitantly optimistic. Maybe it’s because the second Avengers was a huge letdown.

However, with the Russo brothers directing, I think this film should overall be a good one. I thought they did a good job with Civil War, and this looks like it could be that but just on a much bigger scale.

With so many prominent characters and what seems like the ultimate bad guy of the MCU in this film, I think this film can only be great if it pulls off both epic storytelling and epic action sequences. And when I say epic, I mean unprecedented epic. Because this movie is unprecedented.

From the trailers, the action sequences look to be good but honestly didn’t seem to have that much of a wow factor. Of course, this is me speaking with roughly 3 minutes of footage to judge from.

I think it’s inevitable that the movie may get a little messy and hard to follow with this number of characters, so it’ll really come down to the directors to make sure audiences aren’t confused.

I do think that Marvel and Disney would’ve gone to great lengths to ensure this film is good because it is such a landmark movie. The trailers honestly haven’t really shown me the ‘epicness’ that I’d expect from such a film.

Ultimately, I think the Russo brothers will do a good job in balancing all the characters, and will definitely provide amazing action sequences, but perhaps not with the epic feel you’d expect of such a movie

Prediction: 9/10

With amazing visuals and action sequences, Infinity War does a good job balancing its huge cast with a well-told story. However, it’ll never quite ascend to the level of the mind-blowing.

Sight Unseen: Avengers Infinity War Predictions – Part 1

This is a big one, in every sense of the word. With the original Avengers cast, the Guardians of the Galaxy cast as well as various other Marvel superheroes who have graced the silver screen such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange, it’s pretty clear that this is a landmark movie for the studio. I’ll break this down into three parts: firstly, how I think the plot will flow in general, next, some specific plot points I think we’ll see and finally, how I think the overall quality of the film will be.

1. General Plot Flow

While an increase in the number of famous and familiar faces seems concomitant with the level of hype, at this level, I think it’s inevitable that some degree of diminishing returns will set in. Because it just seems way too crowded. I think there’s three ways the film can go:

1. It’ll try to capture every hero as much as possible, but maintaining a clear focus on a few key characters, such as Iron Man and Captain America. This would more or less be the way that Civil War went, which was directed by the Russo brothers (who direct this movie), where every character gets their part to play alongside Capt and Iron Man, culminating in the airport fight scene. This time though, it’ll be a bit more of a squeeze as characters like Spiderman, Black Panther and the Guardians all look to have significant parts to play. I can see each group or individual having their own unique part to play; perhaps to defeat a certain henchman of Thanos (of which there are 4, who haven’t really shown up much in promotion material)

2. Thanos is the main character, the superheroes all play supporting roles to varying levels of importance. Producer Kevin Feige has mentioned that ‘you could almost go so far as to say he is the main character of the film.” I wonder if he means this in the vein of Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron, whoe perspective is shown constantly throughout the film or perhaps in a more insidious capacity such as ‘It’ in the titular It, where his presence is a constant overhang over everyone. I think it’d certainly be an interesting, and unprecedented move to instead make Thanos the actual main character; focusing on primarily on his perspective throughout the film. This could work as we’d follow him as he collects the Stones, which are all linked in different ways to the different characters in the film. Yet based on the trailers that have come out, which show the perspectives of many different characters such as Peter Parker and T’Challa, I don’t think we’re going to have a case where Thanos is the one voice and perspective. I think the most likely scenario would be mirroring that of Ultron, though with Thanos having greater weight comparatively, and the superhero cast playing more of a supporting role each.

3. Everyone’s screen time is shared somewhat equally. This scenario is the most problematic and the least plausible, because there’s just too many characters and too little time to reasonably allow everyone to have their own arc (I’m not talking about having a one-minute scene to themselves).

I think the most likely scenario to happen is actually the second, though the superheroes won’t exactly play ‘supporting’ roles, but instead a few of them will be co-leadish with Thanos.

Here’s something to consider:

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 9.45.30 PM

Above is the screen time of the various characters in Captain America: Civil War (credit: vulture.com)

Civil War was more or less Avengers 2.5, with even more Avengers appearing than in the second one. I think what’s most interesting to note here is how the screen times of Captain America and Iron Man have been diffused with others to give everyone their own part of the story. I think it’s notable how everyone from Black Widow to Vision get about the same screen time, at around 10 minutes. Each had their own part; T’challa had the T’chaka’s death arc, Scarlet Witch deals with the guilt of starting the whole conflict in the first place, and so on. Because this was directed by the Russo brothers, I think we’d likely see a fair share of supporting characters with significant parts to play as well. In Civil War, Zemo, the main villain has 9 minutes of screen time, which I think is definitely not going to be the case with Thanos. I think we can expect 2-3 characters to have significantly more screen time, while several others have a fair amount. It’s worth noting though, that in the 2nd Avengers, Captain America and Iron Man had roughly 50 minutes and 45 minutes of screen time respectively, as compared to this case, where there are more characters in play. Thus I think a further diffusion of screen time from the leads may be possible; apart from Thanos, the ‘co-leads’ could each have 20-30 minutes of screen time to themselves.

Which heroes are these ‘co-leads’? This brings me to part 2.

2. Specific plot points

Well, I think the best place to start would be to continue from Part 1: I’m going to predict the characters that will have their perspectives shown to a large extent.

Of course, Thanos is a given, I think he’s probably going to have the largest share.

Captain America and Iron Man: These two have had the most screen time out of any other character so far in the MCU, and I don’t see that changing here, especially when Captain America is heavily expected to die in either this film or the next. They’ll want to give him a proper sendoff. Iron Man, on the other hand, I think we’ll see return to his roots (in Iron Man 1,2,3), where Pepper is the main focus of his life. I think he’s likely to get a build-up towards a sendoff as well, though whether he dies or just retires is anyone’s guess.

T’challa: He may feature heavily not just because Wakanda seems to be one of the prime battlefields in this film, but also because Black Panther was the most recent MCU movie and opened to enormous success. Studio heads may thus want him and the other Black Panther cast members to feature more because of the easy continuity with Black Panther likely still fresh in everyone’s mind, and I suspect may have added more of them in the editing stage just based on the incredible success of the movie.

Gamora (and maybe by extension, Nebula): Gamora (and Nebula) have the closest link there is to Thanos; they are his children. Since the trailers have revealed a flashback scene where Thanos first takes Gamora as his child, and since this does seem like a ‘origin’ story for Thanos and thus will likely pay notable focus to his past life, I think Gamora could feature very heavily in terms of her life with Thanos, and thus may prove significant in his undoing. (also, Nebula)

I think Thor and Black Widow are likely to have significant screen time as well, though their perspectives may not come into play as much (such as in the Age of Ultron). Doctor Strange and Spiderman probably have their fair share of time as well, though perhaps more so in the form action sequences rather than exposition.

Here’s something interesting to note:

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.56.52 PM

Above is the screen time of the characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron. (credit: vulture.com)

It’s clear how certain characters have their screen times sacrificed for others; you can only fit so much in two and a half hours or so. Clearly, the one who lost out here was Thor, which is interesting to note because in the original Avengers, Thor got roughly 25 minutes of screen time, while Hawkeye got only 12 minutes of screen time. As you can see above, there was a definite reversal in this case. What prompted this? Two main factors: 1. Vocal fan complaints of the lack of Hawkeye in the first film. 2. The underwhelming 2nd Thor film preceding Age of Ultron.

While things may have changed since the Joss Whedon era, this shows the potentially very high impact that fan response has on these movies. This gives me reason to believe that T’challa and Thor will feature heavily (given the overwhelmingly positive response to the two recent MCU movies), which is why they’re included above. Fans have been clamouring for a Black Widow solo movie for a very long time, and when news came out that she wouldn’t get one, fans were unhappy to say the least. This film may thus give her a prominent role to make up for that.

Who stands to lose then? Probably Hawkeye and Ant-Man to the largest degree, whose no-show in all the promotional material so far has been noticed by many. Hawkeye is supposed to have his own ‘special journey’ in the film, but I feel that could be code for being written to be mostly uninvolved and have little screen time. I think this journey could be his transformation to Ronin, which would make sense as they’d have reason not to spoil his new look.

Deaths

Death is pretty inevitable in such a large war movie, so here are the ones I think are most likely to die:

  1. Captain America: This one we kind of all know/have read about, though it could happen in the next movie
  2. Okoye: In the final (money) shot of the main trailer depicting the Avengers charging towards us, we see Ayo instead of Okoye with the group. This gives me reason to believe Okoye may be perished and passed the baton to Ayo.
  3. Vision: He may not fully die, but may be completely changed once Thanos retrieves the Stone from him.
  4. Black Widow: With no Black Widow film in the works, and with many of the main cast of the original Avengers set to take their bow, I think she may not survive either this movie or the next.

Other things that will probably happen:

Captain Marvel shows up in a post-credit scene.

Starlord appears only briefly, for some reason I can’t think of. Probably something to do with the purple Stone. (hence his inclusion on the poster with the qualifier “AND Chris Pratt”.

The Avengers separately battling Thanos’s henchmen will make up some of the key action sequences.

Okay, I think that’s it! Stay tuned for Part 2 which will cover my thoughts on what the quality of the film will be like.

 

The Darkest Minds Trailer Review

Just came back from a one week holiday, and saw the trailer for The Darkest Minds. The book by Alexandra Bracken was one of the YA series I had followed when I was younger, so I went into this with a definite level of anticipation.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look too good.

Quick thoughts:

  1. I think Amanda Stenberg is a good actress and a good choice for YA type movies (I liked her in Everything, Everything and of course The Hunger Games.) She seems to be a pretty competent lead here, one of the few good things I’d gleaned from the trailer.
  2. The supporting cast doesn’t seem particularly strong; not unlike those in underwhelming YA films such as The Fifth Wave and Divergent.
  3. Dialogue seems pretty questionable already… and it’s just the trailer.
  4. The set pieces/visual effects seem to be fringing on TV movie type effects; even down to the font used.
  5. Not one moment was particularly inspiring/impactful at all
  6. There is diversity; interesting to see how young actress Miya Cech will carry her role.

For now, this seems like it’ll probably go the way of underwhelming films such as The Fifth Wave.

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Melissa McCarthy’s Second Oscar Nod?

Melissa McCarthy introduced herself to Oscar voters in 2011 with Bridesmaids, garnering a supporting actress nomination for her hilarious performance. Since then, I’ve mostly seen her in similar slapstick-type comedy films, some of which have certainly both been box office successes and testament to her prowess as a leading lady in comedy films. However, it’s clear to see that she’s mostly taken on roles as ‘that funny, fat lady’, in films such as Spy and Tammy. (Spy was definitely one of the funniest movies I caught in 2015, by the way), which haven’t captured the same Oscar attention her turn in Bridesmaids did.

In the first trailer for Can You Ever Forgive Me however, McCarthy looks to be showing some of her dramatic flair. She shone quietly before in films such as 2013’s St. Vincent, where she played a divorced mum, and I think she may finally be noticed again by the Oscars this year. Playing forger Lee Israel, her role looks to be a complex one thick with emotional meat, and the trailer definitely pushes it from this angle. It looks to have its share of brittle humour, not the type where you’d laugh at the person, and not even laugh with the person, but the type to elicit chuckles amidst more dramatic scenes. I think Melissa McCarthy is the type of actress would could certainly pull off this perfect blend of dramatic flair and brittle comedy, one not dissimilar to performances such as Frances McDormand’s and Margot Robbie’s from this year’s Oscars.

A lot will come down to how the film is received as a whole, and whether she’ll indeed have the meaty scenes that the trailer promises, but if she can pull this off, I think she may have her second Oscar nom in sight.

I’ve updated my Oscars sidebar to include her for now.

Tomb Raider (2018) : A decent revitalisation of the Lara Croft franchise (spoilers)

I went into Tomb Raider with low expectations, and I suppose I came out still with mixed feelings. But if anything, Tomb Raider was an improvement over the past films in terms of its plot and its portrayal of Lara Croft.

I thought the action scenes in general were ok; it did feel like we were just moving from one set piece to another, but I guess that sort of mirrors the Tomb Raider games, where we traverse from one obstacle to another. As a film however, these actions scenes sometimes delivered, but were also sometimes bland. I think it’s inevitable, given that pretty much the entire movie, or at least the last two-thirds of the movie, is one giant action sequence. In general though, I preferred the ones after they’d descended into the tomb, though I guess that’s to be expected.

I thought the twist at the end was nice; one I actually didn’t anticipate. I always love a good movie plot twist so that definitely redeemed some of the more questionable plot lines from earlier, such as when Lara runs off all of a sudden, equipped with only a bow, back to the place she’d just escaped from, which I found rather abrupt and devoid of strategy. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to make time for the most important scenes though, in the tomb.

I think a lot of credit also has to be given to Alicia Vikander for her portrayal of Lara. She certainly feels a lot more grounded than Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft; from the genuine looks of fear and pain in her eyes during the action sequences to her clear physical fitness that made the scenes more believable. I also liked how her character never exploits her sex appeal explicitly, nor is it a key aspect of her character at all, which I feel really helped keep me immersed in her character’s experience. I think usually, when films try to exploit a character’s sex appeal, especially in these blockbuster type films, it draws you away from that character’s individual experience because you know the film intends for you to look at them explicitly from the outside, and not the inside.

Also, the rendering of the father-daughter relationship was perhaps a little too sentimental and thus predictable, and I think the actions scenes didn’t quite have the intensity that you’d witness in the best action movies; she never really sheds the ‘invincible action hero’ thing entirely, making the stakes seem lower than they appear to be onscreen.

Rating: 6/10