24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Superhero Movies

'Avengers' explained: Who's that mystery villain?

May 7, 2012 |  5:01 am

The Avengers
Presuming you're among the record-breaking throngs who turned up at the multiplex this weekend to check out "The Avengers" and made sure to stick around for the end credits -- and if you're not, you should stop reading this right now -- you might have a particular question bedeviling you. And, no, it's not "What's shawarma?"

Plenty of moviegoers not schooled in Marvel Comics lore were left wondering -- who exactly is that lizard-looking fellow who turns up in the first bonus scene during the film's credits and why does he seem to be positively gleeful about the idea of winning dominion over Earth?

His name is Thanos, and he's a Marvel villain introduced in the totally cosmic storylines of the 1970s. He desires to win the affections of Death, who in the Marvel Universe is personified as a hooded, skeletal female. He wants to give her every living thing as a token of his affection instead of just going with, you know, a See's Candies variety box. Which is why the "courting death" line makes him chuckle.

In the comics, Thanos coveted objects of power such as the Cosmic Cube (which prominently popped up in "Captain America: The First Avenger") and his appetites set him directly on a collision course with the Avengers.

So, does that mean we'll soon be hearing casting rumors about who will play Thanos in "Avengers Part 2"? Let's meet at Zankou Chicken a little later to discuss. 

-- Geoff Boucher and Gina McIntyre


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Photo: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) in "The Avengers" Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel


'Chronicle': Teen superhero flick is time well spent, critics say

February 3, 2012 |  3:01 pm


Ever since the 1999 indie hit "The Blair Witch Project," found-footage-style films — which purport to document extraordinary events on home video — have been a popular subgenre, particularly in the realm of horror and monster movies. Recent examples include the "Paranormal Activity" series, "Cloverfield" and "The Devil Inside." The new movie "Chronicle" tweaks the formula with a superhero slant and some teen angst, as three high-school dudes record themselves gaining telekinetic powers and trying to keep them in check. The result is earning favorable reviews.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey finds "Chronicle" to be a fresh take on an established format. She writes, "While ['Chronicle'] might sound like just a YouTube/Facebook variation on the old coming of age story, it plays far fresher than that with filmmakers proving innovative in using the found-footage idea that made 'The Blair Witch Project' such a sensation." Sharkey commends "the keen eye of cinematographer Matthew Jensen" and says "the three teens are a well blended crew, anchored by [Dane] DeHaan, who strip mines the trajectory of teen repression, resentment and rage with a frenetic energy." Sharkey does say the film "is still rough around the edges and a little off the rails by the end," but overall it fares well.

New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls "Chronicle" "a slick, modestly scaled science-fiction fairy tale with major box-office aspirations." Like Sharkey, Dargis applauds DeHaan, "whose vulnerability and physical awkwardness here can evoke the young Leonardo DiCaprio in 'What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,' and who "pulls you uneasily in." Dargis also compliments director Josh Trank's savvy visual treatment, noting, for example, that the film receives an effective image upgrade when DeHaan's character replaces his video camera with a more expensive model. In addition, the character's telekinetic use of his camera (handheld with no hands, you might say) leads to some imaginative cinematography.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Amy Biancolli writes that "this brisk, brusque, disturbing little flick also deconstructs the conventional superhero narrative and reassembles it as a canny discourse on impulse control and the troubled teen psyche." What begins as "a goofy and infectious thrill" eventually "veers to the dark side," Biancolli says. Along with well drawn characters and convincing special effects, "Trank tells his tale with an emotional and visual crispness that gives the superhero genre its best crack at naturalism so far."

USA Today's Claudia Puig says the film "comes together surprisingly well under the inventive direction of Josh Trank and the capable storytelling of Max Landis, son of filmmaker Jon Landis." While Trank's direction keeps most of the film feeling grounded in reality, Puig writes, the finale, "which features spectacle in the form of major destruction around the streets of Seattle, grows almost numbing in its Godzilla-like extremes."

Among those less impressed by the film is Time's Richard Corliss, who deems "Chronicle" "simultaneously diverting and annoying." Corliss also says the found-footage approach, which requires that a character bring a camera everywhere, renders the film "sillier than it needs to be at times." 

And the New York Post's Kyle Smith offers this quip: "Attempting to blend a cinematic smoothie out of 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Superman,' the movie instead feels more like what would happen if 'Jackass' suddenly started thinking it was about the nature of evil, with Johnny Knoxville mouthing quotations from Schopenhauer and Jung."

Now that would really be something. Who knows — maybe they're saving Knoxville for "Chronicle 2."


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'Chronicle': Like 'Paranormal Activity,' but with superpowers?

— Oliver Gettell

Photo: Dane DeHaan in "Chronicle." Credit: Alan Markfield / Fox

‘Chronicle’ director: Our film isn’t about good vs. evil

January 12, 2012 |  8:33 pm

With “The Devil Inside” now the first hit of 2012, can a similar low-budget genre movie follow in its footsteps?

That’s the hope harbored by the filmmakers behind “Chronicle,” a movie that similarly uses the found-footage device to depict surreal events.

The Fox release, which comes out on Feb. 2, tells of a group teenagers who discover they’ve acquired superpowers. At first they just use it for practical jokes, but soon one of them decides to trot them out for more dangerous purposes, and the story takes a darker turn.

Most similar to “Devil” -- and, perhaps, most familiar to a generation raised on YouTube -- is that the movie’s events are being shot by an unseen amateur filmmaker. (You can check out the trailer here.)  The overall impression, as it often is with the conceit, is that we’ve come across a tape documenting events whose participants are no longer around to describe it themselves.

“The plan was to make a film that played like a personal documentary,” director Josh Trank, who also directed some scenes for the DVD of “Paranormal Activity 2,” told 24 Frames. “We’re not saying it’s real; in fact we’re very up front that it‘s fake. But we do think it's a fresh way to comment on the world.”

It remains to be seen whether the found-footage conceit continues to resonate. But for now, observers say it’s a novel way to add a level of urgency, particularly for a culture saturated in reality television.

Trank, who directed the film from a script by the up-and-coming Max Landis (son of John), said he sought to strike a balance between serious themes and the creepy thrills of seeing, say, a teenager use superpowers to make a teddy bear levitate in front of a young girl.

“I’d like to think that it’s more in the ‘District 9’ world of genre movies, a commercial context for relatable ideas,” Trank said. “Superpowers in our movie are a way to express a teenage drama. It’s a movie about inner conflict and personal problems, not good versus evil."

-- Steven Zeitchik



'Chronicle:' Like 'Paranormal Activity,' but with superpowers?

'Devil Inside' is latest film to use found footage

Does "Devil Inside" suggest a new filmmaker-studio relationship?

Photo: "Chronicle." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Around Town: Superman flies again and the New Wave returns

December 1, 2011 |  7:00 am


A Francois Truffaut retrospective, an animation festival and a screening of 1978’s “Superman” are among this week’s highlights.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre celebrates the legacy of one of the founders of France’s New Wave cinema, Francois Truffaut, who died at the age of 52 in 1984. “The Film Lover: A Francois Truffaut Retrospective” commences Friday evening with his first feature film, 1959’s “The 400 Blows,” his critically acclaimed autobiographical drama about a troubled young boy, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud in a stunning performance). The second feature is Truffaut’s third entry in the Antoine Doinel series, the 1968 romantic comedy “Stolen Kisses,” with Leaud and Delphine Seyrig.

Truffaut pays homage to one of his icons, Alfred Hitchcock, in his 1968 mystery thriller “The Bride Wore Black,” starring Jeanne Moreau in the title role, which screens Saturday. Also on tap is his 1962 masterwork, “Jules and Jim” with Moreau and Oskar Werner. The retrospective concludes Sunday with his 1960 film noir, “Shoot the Piano Player” with Charles Aznavour, and 1980’s World War II drama “The Last Metro,” with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve. http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre gets highly animated this week. The “Animation Breakdown” begins with “An Evening With Don Hertzfeldt” on Thursday, featuring the L.A. premiere of his latest animated short, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day.” The filmmaker will be appearing in person. On Friday, Cinefamily shines the spotlight on Polish animation with several shorts by noted animators including an exclusive presentation of the Brothers Quays’ latest film, “Maska.” Saturday afternoon’s offering is a sneak preview of Pixar’s newest short film, “La Luna,” six months before its theatrical release. Later in the afternoon, Cinefamily presents a cast and crew reunion of the Cartoon Network series “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.”

Continue reading »

'Captain America:' Falling back in love with WWII and the Cold War

July 25, 2011 | 10:07 am


The comic-book movie has had, to say the least, an up-and-down year. But with the success of "Captain America: The First Avenger," the mid-20th century couldn't be doing any better.

Among Hollywood's purveyors of action and adventure, World War II and the Cold War were settings supposedly best left to yesterday. Yet several times in 2011, we've not only accepted Nazi- and Soviet-era environments; we've embraced them.

The latest example came this weekend, when "Captain America"  and its 1940s flag-waving took in $65.8 million, the best opening for any non-sequel this year. In some foreign countries, marketing materials downplayed the context in which Chris Evans' super soldier was fighting.  But anyone seeing the movie couldn't miss the WWII flourishes -- the military ambitions of Evans' Steve Rogers, or Hugo Weaving's Wagner-listening Third Reich leader.

Other period American crucibles have been peeking out at the multiplex this summer: the Cuban missile crisis of "X-Men: First Class," where Americans and Soviets take turns being the bad guy (there's also an evil Nazi tossed in for good measure), and "Super 8," where Brezhnev-era paranoia hangs heavily over the proceedings. Like "Captain America," both of those movies performed solidly: "X-Men" sits in the top 10 among all releases this year, and "Super 8" has garnered $124 million to date, second only to "Bridesmaids" among live-action movies based on an original concept.

Two of these films, of course, are based on comic books, and most moviegoers are no more likely to see them because of their history lessons than they would for the Oscar bona fides of the third male lead. But it's notable if not even a little odd that the Cold War and World War II have proved a kind of safe haven for Hollywood. It wasn't long ago (Tom Cruise's "Valkyrie" eyepatch, anyone?) when the mere whiff of Nazism was considered lethal at the box office. Director Joe Johnston and Marvel executives themselves faced the skepticism of  box-office pundits when it was revealed that "Captain America" would remain in period.

The decision to use these throwback eras is hardly a matter of deep ideology. But then, that may be the point. Contemporary geopolitics are sufficiently fraught that if you're going to root villains in a national identity (and plenty of action movies, like the Jason Bourne series, largely avoid that, going to shadowy international groups instead), you better go pretty far back.

What's interesting is that, whereas the Cold War and WWII were once popular because they carried a certain aura of mystery and fear, the current vogue is driven by the opposite: by just how non-scary these periods are to 2011 eyes. In a lot of ways, these settings represent the reverse of the moviedom phenomenon of a few years ago, when Hollywood couldn't get enough of contemporary enemies. Then, big-budget movies such as "Body of Lies" and "The Kingdom" sought to put a decidedly more timely spin on the action movie and give villains an Islamofascist face. But filmgoers balked; apparently we want our movie enemies a little less familiar than our real life ones.

Even in this retro craze, there are still limitations, of course. The Russians can't be outright villains -- Moscow's box-office potential is too great. But when it comes to nemeses, Hollywood has figured out that giving us cinematic types a lot more common decades ago is perhaps the surest, and safest, way to make money today.


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-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Chris Evans as "Captain America." Credit: Paramount Pictures

With 2013 date, Superman will fly later than initially planned

July 21, 2011 |  2:10 pm

Warner Bros. announced Wednesday that it will release Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” on June 14, 2013, not in December 2012, as it had previously planned. The reboot will remain on schedule to commence shooting later this summer, with the added time used for postproduction.

Cavi A studio spokeswoman declined to offer a reason for the shift; in fact, she said it was not a change, pointing out that the reboot had never been given an official release date in the first place and that the December 2012 date was a tentative period announced very early in the development process. She waved aside the notion that more time is being taken because of any issues with the script, pointing out that the shooting schedule remains the same.

However it’s characterized, the new date does clear some space between the studio’s major upcoming releases: Warner Bros. will bring out the first installment of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” adaptation in December 2012; had it come out in December ’12, “Man of Steel” could have competed for studio resources during that period and also gone after a similar audience as that film. As it is, the studio will now have a major summer release at a time when its "Dark Knight" and "Harry Potter" franchises have ended.

Starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane, the new take on the caped hero is being guided by Christopher Nolan, who is producing and godfathering the project. He’ll now have a little more time to work on the movie in the editing room after his “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters next July. The June date does suggest the film will have the action-filled spectacle that characterizes most big-budget summer release (not that there was a tremendous amount of doubt).

The 2013 summer calendar is still fairly open, although Marvel Studios has said that it will bring out the next installment of "Iron Man" in early May. The "Man of Steel" move is reminiscent of another move from the holidays to the summer for a big-brand reboot: Paramount moved "Star Trek" from the holidays in 2008 to the summer in 2009, with the J.J. Abrams film going on to become a global hit.


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Henry Cavill as Superman: Why are Brits so appealing as American superheroes?

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Henry Cavill. Credit: Associated Press

'The Amazing Spider-Man' slings its first web [Trailer] [Updated]

July 19, 2011 |  1:07 pm

There's a bit of deja vu in seeing a young, fragile loner get bitten by a spider only to realize he's been given superpowers. It's been only nine years since we watched Tobey Maguire do it, and now Andrew Garfield is going through the paces again in this new, apparently leaked trailer for Marc Webb's "The Amazing Spider-Man."

[Updated, 2:43 p.m. July 19: It looks as though Sony has taken down the trailer. So if you haven't watched it yet, you'll have to take our word for it. But it should be online officially soon enough Updated, 10:28 a.m. July 20: And the trailer is now officially available; you can check it out below.]

The teaser, which will probably debut properly at this weekend's Comic-Con, begins when a young Peter Parker is abandoned by his parents, then gives way to a somewhat disoriented-looking youth (Garfield) and the fateful accident, before ending with Spider-Man climbing and swinging across rooftops, which we see from his perspective.

If the tone in Sam Raimi's original had a kind of light seriousness, this replicates the feat, minus the light. There is ominous music, moody lighting and serious, cryptic statements like: "We all have secrets. The ones we keep are the ones that are kept from us." If Webb's film is supposed to be more of an  everyday coming-of-age high school story, there's not much evidence of it here; the teaser has many of the stylized touches we've come to expect from modern comic-inspired movies.

More details on "The Amazing Spider-Man" later this week at this blog and on sister blog Hero Complex, the bastion of all things Comic-Con.


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-- Steven Zeitchik


Where does 'Sucker Punch' leave Zack Snyder?

March 28, 2011 |  7:30 am


He had a promising debut, a monster hit, a slight disappointment and a slightly larger disappointment. And in the last few weeks he's become one of the more polarizing directors out there.

But now things really get interesting for Zack Snyder.

The provocative filmmaker will in a few months begin shooting "Superman: Man of Steel," a reboot of perhaps the most beloved character in the history of movies (a point underlined Sunday with the news about Snyder's choice of Amy Adams to play Lois Lane). But just where exactly do Snyder's fan cachet, and box-office drawing power, lie in the wake of this past weekend's "Sucker Punch"?

The helmer of "Dawn of the Dead" (the promising debut), "300" (the monster hit) "Watchmen," (the slight disappointment) and "Legend of the Guardians" (the slightly larger disappointment) unveiled his girls-with-guns action-adventure this weekend. The Babydoll vehicle evoked some harsh words from critics, which could set up a hurdle with at least one group for the 2012 release of "Superman," albeit a group that doesn't much figure into the marketing of a Hollywood tent pole.

Although the "Sucker Punch" box-office results showed that Snyder still has plenty of supporters -- the movie opened to about $20 million, the second-lowest number of his career but a respectable figure that was in line with pre-release expectations -- the film also caused divisions among fanboys and fangirls, with some naysayers taking the opportunity to assess Snyder's "Superman" chops.

"Sucker Punch is a loud, gaudy, fetishistic, bombastic piece of cinema," wrote Ain't It Cool News contributor Ambush Bug. "It's also hollow, remedial, and bereft of substance ... as the minutes passed, bringing me closer to the time for the credits to roll, all I could think of was how wrong of a choice this director is for a Superman film." (Overall, the movie garnered a decent if not overwhelming B- CinemaScore among general audiences.)

Snyder riles up film-goers the way few other directors do -- it could be that some people really have their stomach turned by his movies, or it could just be that, like a sort of Comic-con version of "Dogtooth," Snyder movies somehow began eliciting both love and hate early on, and the arguments now just perpetuate themselves. Not every superhero director can be Christopher Nolan.

It's hard to say where the road turns next for Snyder. Warner Bros., which is behind both "Superman" and "Sucker Punch," drew a distinction between the two films, with Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of distribution, telling my colleague Amy Kaufman that "a film like 'Sucker Punch' brought out [Snyder's] core fan base, but he has a lot of potential, and with a bigger, broader title, he can attract a wider audience, as he has in the past."

Much of the success of this mission will course depend on the quality (and, given one of the reviewer knocks on "Sucker Punch," the narrative coherence) of "Superman: Man of Steel." It should be noted that hardcore fans are often skeptical toward casting and filmmaker choices at first but come around when a movie opens. And plenty of directors, of both comic-book movies and every other genre, have managed to turn around even groups hard-wired to oppose them (see under: Oliver Stone and conservatives on "World Trade Center").

Still, once a filmmaker loses currency with the fan community, it's not always easy to get it back. That seems especially true for a property such as "Superman," where even those storytellers who come in with buckets of goodwill can run into problems (just ask Bryan Singer). Snyder has his work cut out for him. It just may not be superhuman work, at least not yet.

-- Steven Zeitchik
Twitter.com / ZeitchikLAT


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Hero Complex: Amy Adams will be Lois Lane

Critical Mass: "Sucker Punch"

Amy Adams brings experience, and a modern spin, to Lois Lane in "Superman: Man of Steel"

Photo: A promotional photo for "Sucker Punch." Credit: Warner Bros.


Amy Adams brings experience, and a modern spin, to Lois Lane in 'Superman: Man of Steel'

March 27, 2011 |  8:18 pm

My colleague Geoff Boucher broke the news earlier today that Amy Adams will play Lois Lane in "Superman: Man of Steel," Zack Snyder's reboot of the superhero franchise.

Among other things, the news represents a departure from some of the other superhero roles of late, which have tended to go to lesser-knowns. (Superman himself will of course be played by Henry Cavill, a relative newcomer to the big screen.)

The Adams casting also comes at a time when the actress has been headed to a more dramatic place.

After a career of largely sweet and sunny roles ("Junebug," "Enchanted," "Leap Year" and "Julie & Julia"; "Doubt" remains the major exception), Adams showed more dramatic chops as a tough-as-nails Lowell, Mass., bartender in "The Fighter," which garnered her her third Oscar nomination. Incidentally, Adams is more experienced at this point in her career than Margot Kidder, who when she was cast as Lois in the 1978 "Superman" in her late 20s had mostly genre movies under her belt.

Kidder, like the original Golden Age comics character, brought a more thick-skinned approach to Lois — in Adams terms, it was more Charlene Fleming than Giselle.

Which way Adams tilts the Superman character remains to be seen. Snyder does tell Boucher that, for all the attention to the original source material, he wants Lois, like Superman, to have a modern appeal, "relevant and real and ... empathetic to today’s audience."

— Steven Zeitchik



Hero Complex: Amy Adams will be Lois Lane

Henry Cavill as Superman: Why are Brits so appealing as American superheroes?

Photo: Amy Adams in "The Fighter." Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Is the great auteur-superhero experiment grinding to a halt?

March 18, 2011 | 10:12 am


When Christopher Nolan's "Batman" movies became a massive critical and commercial success a few years ago, it turbocharged one of the more unexpected mini-trends in modern filmmaking. Suddenly quirky directors were regularly being handed the reins to big-budget men-in-tights tentpoles, as studios looked to replicate the formula that had the director of "Memento" scoring with splashy movies about a caped crime-fighter.

It was an arrangement that seemed to give everyone what they wanted. Studios gained credibility and the potential for a massive hit, while the auteurs got to play with a bigger budget and on a bigger stage without (they hoped) giving up much artistic freedom. Plus they got to make a greenlighted movie, which in this climate is the biggest selling point of all.

But these experiments have  hardly yielded wonder and beauty This week's news that Darren Aronofsky wouldn't direct  "Wolverine" is just the latest example; most reports had Aronofsky leaving the project for family reasons, but it nonetheless marked another pairing that didn't work out as planned.

Two years ago, Gavin Hood, the foreign-language Oscar-winner, didn't hit it out of the park with "X Men Origins: Wolverine." "Superman" director Richard Donner was brought onto Hood's set and may have even served as a helmer for part of the film, leaving Hood to defend his  relationship with Fox executives in interviews. The movie went on to perform only decently at the box office and underwhelmed a fair number of critics and fans.

The attempt by "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" auteur Michel Gondry to give new life to "The Green Hornet" stumbled too -- the movie was a middling performer with audiences earlier this year and hardly sparked excitement in critics. Gondry also admitted in interviews that writer-star Seth Rogen and he didn't see eye to eye; in fact, during part of the production he was sulking on set while Rogen had him shoot a scene he didn't want to do shoot. Another art-house auteur, Ang Lee, didn't exactly strike gold with his interpretation of "The Hulk."

And the results are not yet in for Shakespeare director Kenneth Branagh's tackling of "Thor," but the marketing materials have not, to this point, suggested a second coming of "The Dark Knight."

In fact, for a trend that Nolan helped cement, he remains arguably the only truly successful recent example of it. (Bryan Singer has of course done well with X-Men, but his pedigree is a little different.)

There are plenty of reasons why it's been such a troubled path. Unlikely marriages are unlikely for a reason, and if their results can be spectacular, their failures can be, too. Studios are hiring more ambitious directors at the same time they are taking ever-fewer risks in all other aspects of their business, and the combination doesn't always mesh. Meanwhile, for directors who are used to controlling every small element of production, a shift to the straitjacketed world of the studio tentpole isn't always easy.

And then there's the possibility that it's simply a bad creative fit: these aren't the kinds of stories and productions that play to these directors' strengths.

With Aronofsky now  gone from "Wolverine," the question for Fox will be whether it seeks  someone equally ambitious or returns to a more familiar combination. The studio may be tempted for another "Dark Knight"-esque experiment. On its face that might seem welcome for anyone who's a fan of good movies. Yet a more traditional superhero director may in the end prove the wiser choice -- for the sanity of everyone who works on it, and, given past results, for the viewing satisfaction of those of us who decide to see it.

-- Steven Zeitchik



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Photo: A scene from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." Credit 20th Century Fox


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