24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Superhero Movies

Super Bowl 2011: The force isn't with most film promos

February 6, 2011 |  8:34 pm

Movies figured into some of the biggest ads during Sunday's Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Hollywood, those weren't commercials for movies.

A number of the best-received spots referenced well-known films: Kia threw a slew of movie tropes at the screen — including a helicopter chase and an alien invasion — with a spot for its new Optima called “One Epic Ride.” Coke featured a bevy of computer-generated ogres with cinematic overtones in one of its commercials.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet used a car hanging off a bridge “Inception”-style, and a spot for Budweiser saw a saloon crowd join together in a rendition of Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” in the manner of a popular scene from Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous.”

Perhaps the most buzzed-about commercial invoked “Star Wars” as Volkswagen touted its new Passat in a spot called “The Force” that used a child dressed as Darth Vader to promote the car's remote-controlled ignition.

The actual movie ads? They landed with more of a thud.

Perhaps the most well received — or at least the most intriguing — came with “Super 8,” the J.J. Abrams-directed, Steven Spielberg-executive produced science-fiction film that comes out in June. While some Twitter users said it reminded them a little too much of Spielberg's “E.T.,” comments about the commercial were retweeted often and generously.

Another Spielberg-affiliated movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” earned a warmer reception than ads for previous films in that franchise, in part because the spot took a less noisy approach than earlier incarnations. (The Paramount Pictures film also teamed with Chevrolet for a post-game spot called “Bumblebee,” named after the auto-robot in the film; both the car brand and the movie were flogged in the commercial.)

But a pregame ad for the new Adam Sandler comedy “Just Go With It,” with a woman running on a beach in a bikini, was less well regarded.

Passing almost as quickly were short spots for “Thor,” Kenneth Branagh's Marvel superhero film, and Fox's ad for the talking-bird animated film “Rio,” which also tried to hook viewers with a multimedia campaign. A spot for Johnny Depp's animated movie “Rango,” directed by Gore Verbinski, did earn a reasonably enthusiastic reception.

Depp also saw his “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” promoted during the game in a commercial that emphasized comedy over action. "Captian America: The First Avenger," meanwhile, gave audiences their first look at the World War II action adventure.

Hotly anticipated coming into the game was a spot for Jon Favreau's genre-bending “Cowboys & Aliens,” which comes out in July. [For the record: An earlier version of this post said that the film was being released in June.] But the immediate reaction online was lukewarm. (The full video below.)

Companies paid as much as $100,000 per second to advertise during the Super Bowl. Nearly a dozen films were pushed before or during the big game, with the aim of appealing to the largest single-day audience on the TV calendar. Last year, however, that effort yielded mixed results: For every ad promoting mega-hit “Alice in Wonderland,” there seemed to be one touting a dud like “The Wolf Man.”

Hollywood did make its presence felt in other ways on Sunday evening. Popping up in several ads were the unlikely faces of Oscar winners: Adrien Brody, Timothy Hutton and Cuba Gooding Jr. all hawked products during the show.

--Steven Zeitchik




'Ant-Man' crawls forward

January 12, 2011 |  7:53 pm

Marvel Comics fans who've been clamoring for Edgar Wright to get to the insect-like business of writing "Ant-Man" may have a reason to feel happy. The director this week picked up the pen on the movie's script for the first time in more than two years.

Wright, who came on in 2006 to write and direct a take on the arthropodal superhero, said Tuesday in an interview with 24 Frames that with much of the international promotion for "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" now behind him, he's free again to write on "Ant-Man" -- the first time he'll do that since he started developing "Pilgrim." (He had previously written a first draft of the script.)

In fact, the director had just come from a dinner meeting with Marvel production head Kevin Feige, where the subject of the offbeat Marvel property was in the air.

Speaking by phone from London -- in an interview about a program he's curating at the New Beverly; more on that in a separate post -- Wright was coy about plot details for "Ant-Man." (In the past he's described it as not quite a comedy but with humorous elements.) The film centers on Marvel scientist Hank Pym who, in various incarnations of the comic, could shrink down to the size of an insect to solve crimes, in one iteration with a female companion named The Wasp.

But Wright did say that the "Ant-Man" script, which he's writing with "Adventures of Tintin" collaborator Joe Cornish, can afford to be more offbeat and, well, small.

"This one's not about about the urgency of summer tentpoles and things going into production without a script," said Wright, who approached Marvel with the "Ant-Man" idea. "It's slightly different than that. "

Among the creative issues facing Wright and Cornish: making a character that diminutive seem larger than life. (Humor-inflected superheroes -- especially insectile ones -- will face a key test this weekend with the opening of "The Green Hornet.")

Meanwhile, for those who love the genre sendups created by Wright and Simon Pegg -- "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" -- Wright said that he and Pegg "have a [new] idea" and that "at some point I've got to sit down with Simon and write something."  But after, Marvel fans may hope, Wright finishes "Ant-Man."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Edgar Wright. Credit: Rogue Pictures


Seven intriguing movie storylines for 2011

January 3, 2011 |  5:30 am

January brings New Year's resolutions, holiday hangovers and, apparently, a lot of "The Dilemma" commercials. Although the Vince Vaughn vehicle isn't a huge storyline in moviedom, there are a number of narratives in and around the film world set to unfold in the coming months. Here are a baker's half-dozen to keep an eye on.

The "Twilight" crowd, the morning after: They've branched out into other roles before. But 2011 will bring moments of truth for all three lead actors in the "Twilight" franchise: Robert Pattinson in the period circus drama "Water for Elephants" (coming in April), Taylor Lautner in the teen fugitive thriller "Abduction" (coming in September) and Kristen Stewart in the adaptation of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" (date TBD). The last two movies in the franchise that made them famous are shooting now. Which of the trio can fashion the most productive post-Forks career?

The Battle of the Greens: When footage of Seth Rogen's comedic "The Green Hornet" screened at Comic-Con last summer, it drew a tepid response, paling in comparison to Ryan Reynolds' more muscular "The Green Lantern." But in the last two months, the tide has turned: The Rogen movie, coming out later this month, is testing well, and the trailer for the springtime Reynolds movie elicited some perplexed reactions. Is there room for two green superheroes? Or will only one of the films take the ring?

Reboot Redux: We've seen a fair number of reboots already, but 2011 will bring a slew of them: a new "Planet of the Apes," a new "Smurfs" movie, a new "Conan the Barbarian." Some say enough with the rummage sale, but reboots like "Star Trek" and "The Karate Kid" have performed well. Can the streak continue?

"The Hangover" hangover? It was one of the biggest surprises of 2009. But the sequel has been filled with more hiccups than a Bjorn-held baby. First there was a fracas over the casting, and then non-casting, of Mel Gibson. Then came the news last month of a serious injury to a stunt man. Can Todd Phillips successfully take his endearingly ragtag group of man-children from Vegas to Thailand, or would he have better luck at the Bally's craps table?

A tree grows in Malick-ville: Rarely does a movie not based on a comic book generate this much advance hype. But more than four months ahead of the release of "The Tree of Life," the buzz is already nearing crescendo levels for Terrence Malick's long-developing autobiographical epic. Will it live up to the standards of the director's "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven?" Or will its meditative tone make even "The New World" seem like a potboiler?

How super "Super 8"? With J.J. Abrams writing and directing and Steven Spielberg producing, it's one of the most high-profile collaborations in modern commercial fimmaking. It's also one of the most secretive. The 1979-set film, scheduled for a June release, may or may not be about an alien invasion, supernatural occurrences or any of another number of phenomena. Is it the second coming of "Star Trek" or a marketing idea in search of a story?

Beavering: It was a much-ballyhooed story long before a trailer was even released. The story will only heat up as the months become weeks for the release of "The Beaver," the first Mel Gibson movie to come out since he allegedly verbally abused ex-lover Oksana Grigorieva, and one with some additional challenges given its beaver-puppet themes. Will the actor turn out to do publicity? And will the public forgive him if he does?

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mel Gibson in "The Beaver." Credit: Summit Entertainment


Did the Green Hornet break out of movie jail?

Does the new Green Lantern trailer actually hurt the movie's advance word?

"Water for Elephants": Can Mel Gibson perform under the big top?

Mel Gibson's "The Beaver" will wag its tail in March

Dating of Mel Gibson's "The Beaver" ferrets out more questions


Does the new 'Green Lantern' trailer actually hurt the movie's advance word?

November 17, 2010 | 11:58 am

It worked for "Iron Man," but will the superhero-as-wisecracking-free-spirit turn the same trick for "Green Lantern"?

The trailer for the Martin Campbell-directed summer movie about the DC Comics character -- long believed the better of the two upcoming 'Green' superhero films--  starts with Ryan Reynolds as a cad who doesn't give a fig. But Reynolds, sadly, isn't Robert Downey, Jr., and the scene lacks the panache displayed by the man in the iron suit.

The trailer doesn't get much better from there as it shows the transformation of Reynolds' Hal Jordan into a man of great powers, all in a swirl of greenlit earnestness.

Questionable trailers don't always presage bad movies. But teasers are supposed to get people more excited, and this one, well, doesn't exactly get us excited. (Judging by the reaction of many of the fan sites, which didn't like the absence of mythology in favor of the Reynolds-ishness of it, we were hardly alone in feeling that way.) Given how much anticipation surrounds this movie, it almost makes you wonder if a more mysterious trailer -- or none at all -- would have done more for the film than what the studio put out.

--Steven Zeitchik



Toronto 2010: 'Super' is 'something different'

September 11, 2010 | 11:41 am


On Friday night in Toronto, the Ryerson was again hopping with a long line of people waiting for the world premiere of "Super" in the Midnight Madness slot. With a healthy turnout of eager industry buyers as well -- some already grumbling about the films they'd seen so far -- the scene meant that this year's festival was in full swing.

Just before the screening began, writer-director James Gunn said, "Let's see something different." He wasn't kidding around.

It's different all right, an alternately wild and moody film that is equal parts love story, portrait of mental instability and raucous comic-book-inspired action picture. The story follows a sad-sack diner cook named Frank (Rainn Wilson) who in the aftermath of being left by his wife (Liv Tyler) feels himself touched by the finger of God and called to create a crime-fighting alter-ego known as The Crimson Bolt. Armed with a pipe-fitting wrench, a homemade costume and his own psychotic convictions -- "Shut up, crime" is one of his battle calls -- he begins attacking drug dealers, child molesters and people who butt in line at the movies. Along the way he picks up an excitable comic-store clerk (Ellen Page) as his friend and eventual sidekick.

Both Wilson and Page give performances that are distinctly different from those for which they are best known. Wilson gives a much deeper and more soulful turn than one might expect from his comically stoic part as a paper salesman on the television show "The Office." Here he seems like a guy on the verge of cracking up, or perhaps someone well past that point, a mix of desperation and willpower that is often more unnerving than straight-ahead comedic.

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Will the 'Green Hornet' trailer win over fanboys or scare them further?

June 22, 2010 | 12:11 pm

Hard-core superhero types have always been a little worried about Sony's "Green Hornet" -- which, with the likes of Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen, isn't overspilling with superhero veterans -- and we're not sure they'll be appeased by anything in the new trailer, which appeared online today.

There's a lot of wisecracking from Rogen, who plays the titular character, the playboy son of a newspaper baron (aren't they all?)  who resorts to gadget-minded superheroism after his father's murder. From the trailer, Rogen plays the part with that gee-whiz, kid-in-a-candy-store face that he worked to perfection in "Knocked Up," an overgrown adolescent who just seems to be delighting in it all (with "it all" here a hip-hop, "Kick-Ass"-style of splashy cartoon violence).

The Green Hornet has never been as rich a character as, say, Batman, and fans (OK, commenters on YouTube) could be heard from miles away lamenting that the film seems to have gotten the lighter treatment instead of the dark fantasy touches that mark much of Gondry's previous work.

Of course, while studio Sony may be concerned about fanboys, there's a much wider audience out there that's not especially preoccupied with fanboy mythology, and they may be more inclined to take notice of this film now that it plays cheeky.

That doesn't necessarily mean the movie will be good -- the pairing doesn't exactly smack of the second coming of Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.,   another unlikely star-director pairing that imbued a forgotten character with life in "Iron Man" (Rogen doesn't have nearly the range that Downey does). And the character may have warranted something slight, but more serious. But at least it doesn't treat a storyline that was created in early 20th century radio and film serials like the Sermon on the Mount.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Why Kick-Ass failed (and did it really?)

Marvel vs. DC: Who had the most heroic videogame?

Seth Rogen reads 'Ferdinand the Bull' in Los Angeles

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Why 'Kick-Ass' failed (and did it really?)

April 19, 2010 |  9:32 am


It seems a little wrong for us to evaluate the disappointing $19.8-million take of "Kick-Ass" this weekend when we (and many others) were, prior to its release, touting a possible runaway success.  But quarterbacks wake up on Monday too, and so it seems only right to take a look at what went wrong with Matthew Vaughn's stylishly bloody kid-superhero picture, based on Mark Millar's equally stylish and smart graphic novel. Here are a number of misconceptions held by us (and others) that were disproved this weekend (to go along with our belief that this movie could well pick up a little momentum and perform nicely in the coming weeks).

Many young people in this country are ready to embrace the shocking.
Tolerance for violence in youth-oriented movies has been growing for years, and even movies aimed at young people that land an R rating can become hits ("Borat" comes to mind). So apart from the 16-and-under crowd that couldn't (officially) get in -- and we all knew about that problem before -- the envelope-pushing of "Kick-Ass" wasn't going to deter any film-goers. But it turns out that large swaths of the country may not crave the shock-worthy, at least not the overt kind. Package those shocks in innocuous wrapping -- like a mustachioed Eastern European man and a harmlessly funny title -- and you're fine. But put them front-and-center and you're in trouble. All we needed to know about Middle America's discomfort with the film came when we saw a theater marquee in western North Carolina, where we're writing this; the theater wouldn't even use the second word of the title, preferring dashes instead. That's never a good indicator.

The mainstream is tired of the straight superhero story and wants something that subverts the form.

No matter how some try to categorize it, "Kick-Ass" isn't really a movie about superheroes. The character has as many powers as a house rabbit. The person who saves everyone is an 11-year-old in a purple wig. The characters in the film are, for one of the first time in movie history, just as slyly knowing of the tropes and conventions of superhero films as those watching it. "Kick-Ass" isn't so much a superhero movie as it is a post-superhero movie. In the era of "The Dark Knight" and Robert Downey Jr.'s "Iron Man," this is what we want, right?

Not exactly. Sure, "Dark Knight" raised the levels of darkness and complexity. And Downey in "Iron Man" makes self-effacing jokes about invincibility and freakish powers. But those films are ultimately still superhero movies. They improve the genre; they don't subvert it. And parts of the American audience, for whatever reason, don't want subversion when it comes to superhero movies. The only other big commercial film that really tried this before? "Watchmen." Exactly.

Kickass Controversy will sell tickets.

That's true -- but only if the right people object. They didn't here. Parents groups weren't debating "Kick-Ass" before the film was released-- critics were. And if critics matter less at the box office when recommending a movie, they matter less when objecting to it. That said, Lionsgate should have seized on the unrest. See how the CW turns the protestations over "Gossip Girl" to its marketing advantage by incorporating them into its campaigns? That could have worked nicely here too.

Internet buzz means robust ticket sales.
Actually, this one we believe. Yes, there's always a "Snakes on a Plane" that proves the exception. But that film was largely embraced as a goof, and goofy doesn't sell tickets. On fan sites and on Twitter, the Internet masses sincerely embraced "Kick-Ass." It's just that those masses were only large enough to sell a certain amount of tickets (and we still maintain that the movie will hold rather well in the coming weeks anyway, thanks in part to said buzz).

An abstract marketing campaign is almost foolproof.

If "Paranormal Activity" and other films can become mega-hits with marketers carefully withholding information about a movie's content, this film will too.  But simply throwing up some posters that obscures a movie's plot and themes, as Lionsgate did here, isn't enough. You have to give people a reason to care about what you're not telling them. And the studio didn't sufficiently do that.

Finally, after saying all this, we're not convinced that "Kick-Ass" is indeed a failure. That's not just because to negate that designation is to avoid buying co-workers lunch (or at least eating less crow when we do). There's a genuine success story lurking beneath "Kick-Ass," and not just for Lionsgate, which only bought the movie in August and will earn back its investment. This is a film that no studio wanted to make, one that Vaughn produced, financed and even promoted himself, in a time when it's harder than ever to do those things on your own.

And how did it work out? Last year, "Kick-Ass" became one of the only movies in Comic-con history to generate significant buzz despite the absence of studio backing. And just eight months later it will turn a tidy $40-$50 million at the domestic box office, a number well higher than its production budget. Do that at Sundance and you're a legend. Vaughn may not be that, but he's no slouch either.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Upper photo: Chloe Moretz in "Kick-Ass."  Credit: Lionsgate

Lower photo: A poster for "Kick-Ass." Credit: Lionsgate


'Kick-Ass,' moviedom's phenomenon-in-waiting?

April 14, 2010 |  3:33 pm

We rarely get in the business of predicting sensations, but it's hard not to feel that something is in the air with "Kick-Ass." Something bigger, that is, than even than some of the pre-release hype suggests. And not just in the fanboy world, where it's of course already huge.

The Matthew Vaughn-directed movie's initial unveiling at Comic-con -- in which Vaughn and his fellow producers, who financed the film independently, took the unusual step of screening footage before a studio had even bought the film -- gave you a sense that this isn't another of the myriad pictures that pass through the San Diego Convention Center three astride every July.

Of course, Comic-con is Comic-con, and reaction there can be as illustrative of the real world as a Storm Trooper costume ("Avatar" didn't blow away the crowds there, for instance).  But it never hurts to have fan momentum, and "Kick-Ass" has had and continued to build that since last summer, based on innate interest in Mark Millar's original comic book and a a shrewdly abstract campaign by studio Lionsgate. More important, though, the interest now seems to be spreading to a lay audience. At a media and industry showing last week, filmgoers walked out of the theater buzzing, a rare reaction for the normally sedate press-screening crowd.

The film is ostensibly about a nebbishy kid named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who decides to don a superhero costume and play caped hero despite no obvious powers (imagine Clark Kent putting on a Superman costume, only it does nothing). But that's a bit of a Trojan Horse for the real story, the 11-year-old Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), a kind of gun and martial-arts specialist who, along with her vigilante father Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), provides the real security in town, not to mention the glorious fight scenes, bailing out Kick-Ass on more than a few occasions.

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