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The Avengers (#110 of 16)

Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital

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Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital
Review: Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital

Several weeks ago, I received an email from a colleague asking me to explain why it is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier had broken the April box-office record for biggest opening weekend: “What’s the urgent need to give a history of contemporary geopolitics from the standpoint of superheroes?” While I didn’t have an immediate, comprehensive answer, Superhero Synergies: Comic Book Characters Go Digital seeks to answer this question (and many more) via an eclectic collection of 13 essays, each one examining various, emergent features of the superhero narrative in the digital age—roughly the last decade and a half.

Editors James Gilmore and Matthias Stork write in their introduction that the superhero genre is “a site of converging media and, as such, offers multiple points of intermedial exchange.” This point is key, since much of the collection is aimed around Henry Jenkins’s notion of “convergence culture” and Jonathan Gray’s definition of “paratexts.” Essentially, the collection of essays seeks to demonstrate how “the form of today’s superhero genre relies on digital technologies,” but Superhero Synergies is more than a rehashing of well-trodden terrain regarding indexicality or a celebration of comic-book culture. Instead, the essays form a rigorous and often provocative collective that, among many of its achievements, argues for these transmedia forms (primarily cinema) to be taken seriously as a reflective expression of contemporary discourses on reformed digital aesthetics and neoliberal politics.

Box Office Rap Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

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Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown
Box Office Rap: Frozen and the Frost-y Showdown

Some say the box office is going to end in fire, but some say it’ll end in ice, as Disney’s Frozen looks to unseat Catching Fire over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For Catching Fire, the lack of a significant improvement over the opening weekend of the first film suggests many viewers could have been holding out to round up the family for a viewing over the long weekend; nevertheless, almost every box-office prognosticator had Catching Fire pegged too high (especially yours truly), making talk of “catching” The Avengers appear foolish in hindsight.

Frozen goes nationwide on Wednesday, entering a marketplace that hasn’t seen a legitimate animated contender since Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 nearly two months ago. Although trailers make the film look rather pallid, reviews have been white hot, which should boost interest among core demographics and adults alike. In fact, interest could be high enough for Frozen to top Tangled’s $68.7 million opening three Thanksgivings ago.

Box Office Rap The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

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Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma
Box Office Rap: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the No-3D Karma

When a film is set to make the exorbitant amount of money that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire surely will this coming weekend, further lamenting the woes of global capital via cultural products will undoubtedly find little purchase among fans ready to see Katniss and Peeta unwillingly do battle yet again for (and against) the Capitol. Nevertheless, take note of Thelma Adams’s review, which details how “The Hunger Games has become a victim of its own success, co-opted by Hollywood, a rebel not without a cause, a money minter.” Adams’s attention to film-as-product engages a discussion of economics too often omitted from film reviews, especially when a film’s “call to arms” doubles as a “call to more ticket sales.”

This week, a more essential nerdist box-office question emerges: Can Catching Fire top the $207.4 million opening weekend of The Avengers without the support of 3D showings? And true to the spirit of this franchise, it’s only appropriate to evaluate the competitors in relation to this new, Francis Lawrence-directed entry. To recap, The Avengers opened on May 4, 2012 in 4,349 theaters (still the widest North American opening of all time) in IMAX 3D, regular 3D, and regular 2D, with a 40% 3D share, a number that helps to explain how the $169.2 million record previously held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 could be so bracingly shattered. Earlier this year, Iron Man 3 took the second-highest opening with $174.1 million, with a similar 3D share as The Avengers. Much like Warner Bros. with The Dark Knight films, though, Lionsgate has elected not to dabble with 3D in hopes that the film’s quality will be all the pull needed to get audiences into theaters; it’s a decision that, while certainly forgoing the surcharge on each 3D ticket, retains a degree of integrity on the part of the studio, which isn’t trying to milk consumers for every last penny in their pockets.

Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Debut Trailer Drops for Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Debut Trailer Drops for Bryan Singer’s <em>X-Men: Days of Future Past</em>
Debut Trailer Drops for Bryan Singer’s <em>X-Men: Days of Future Past</em>

As opposed to the growing universe of The Avengers, the X-Men saga seems less a dollar-driven mega-brand these days than an interweaving, incestuous franchise bent on its own redemption. James Mangold’s The Wolverine rather effectively removed the bitter taste of Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class opted to wind the clock all the way back to the 1960s, as if to distract us from the overreaching piecemeal mess that was Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. Now comes X-Men: Days of Future Past, whose very plot involves amending the ills of days gone by, and using this valiant approach to suppress chaos and make for a better future. Allowing life to imitate art, Marvel even reached into its own past to bring this picture to the screen, tapping X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer to once again take the reins. Few would argue that Singer’s X films, particularly X2, were the strongest of the series, and then there’s the tangentially related tidbit that his Superman Returns soared above Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. It’s with that directorial promise that viewers can watch Future Past’s debut trailer with confidence, taking in the Marty McFly parallels to a comic-book storyline first penned by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, and watching Halle Berry channel Helen Slater from The Legend of Billie Jean. X-Men: Days of Future Past may not be able to wipe clean the sins of the series, but thanks to its helmer and the sheer audacity of its apparent convolution, it may just be the rare new superhero film that’s actually remarkable. Watch the trailer after the jump.

That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

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That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes
That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

Even amid the troubling trend of remaking films that have barely collected a speck of dust, there are still movies that can surprise you. I know quite a few colleagues who were plenty keen on last year’s Dredd, a cohesive reimagining (or whatever) of the character whose first screen outing was an ill-fated, 1990s Stallone vehicle. Most often, however, in recent times, these remakes reek of desperation—evidence of Hollywood’s tendon-stretching reach for anything remotely tied to a known, sellable brand. Yesterday, the trailer for the RoboCop remake hit the web, and anyone born after 1995 probably didn’t even flinch. “Oh, look—there’s Samuel L. Jackson, that guy from The Avengers. And there’s some robot with a gun who kinda looks like a Transformer.” Following Len Wiseman’s banal-as-bathwater take on Total Recall, the new RoboCop (set for release on Feb. 7, 2014) will mark the second re-telling—I’m running out of “re” words here—of a Paul Verhoeven movie in as little as two years. By all evidence, these two films stand as testaments to the hollowness of mainstream cinema’s brand regurgitation, as their inspirations didn’t necessarily gain notoriety for their concepts, but for their director’s knowing, satirical, just-north-of-B-movie sensibilities.

Box Office Rap The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

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Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise
Box Office Rap: The Wolverine and Post-Comic-Con Malaise

While DC and Warner Bros. stole headlines this past weekend with plans to integrate Batman into Man of Steel 2 (a.k.a. Batman vs. Superman, or vice versa, as writer David S. Goyer confirmed), it’s Marvel and 20th Century Fox that look to immediately capitalize on all the geekdom hoopla this weekend with The Wolverine, the second standalone film for Hugh Jackman’s titular X-Man, which has made him one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. What’s changed since the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine just four years ago? For starters, it appears that Fox has abandoned plans to make standalone films for each of their comic-book properties, instead offering X-Men: First Class as a means to reboot the entire franchise, while anchoring Wolverine on his own for two films until…wait for it…X-Men: Days of Future Past, which will finally bring all of our favorite mutants together again, marking four X-Men films in just six years.

Fonda Drive-In Flicks Dirty Mary Crazy Larry & Race with the Devil

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Fonda Drive-In Flicks: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil
Fonda Drive-In Flicks: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil

Back in its heyday, the drive-in circuit had its own self-sustaining infrastructure fed by production and distribution companies that specialized in churning out exploitation fare tailor-made for the easily distracted attention spans of audiences otherwise occupied with their own backseat antics. But the proliferation of home-video technologies over the last 30 years has put the kibosh on the entire ecosystem, with the few remaining stragglers often reduced to peddling second-run mainstream pabulum. Nowadays audiences are more likely to binge on the modern-day equivalent of drive-in fodder at late-night, booze-fueled congregations around somebody’s home-theater setup. The drive-in, in other words, has been effectively domesticated.

But the movies remain as rough-and-tumble and unpredictable as ever. Witness Shout! Factory’s “action-packed” twofer Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil, where “double your Fonda, double your fun” proves to be the organizing principle. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is one of the quintessential ’70s car-chase flicks, arguably on par with the more existentially rarefied likes of Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, a raucous and anarchic rollick that’s filled with enough laid rubber, vehicular dust-ups, and last-second hairpin turns to satiate even the most ravenous fanboy.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.

Oscar Prospects: Looper

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Oscar Prospects: Looper
Oscar Prospects: Looper

Does Looper have a prayer in the Visual Effects race, where tigers and hobbits and Avengers will be sprinting, neck-in-neck? Before the film’s release, the answer would have likely been a resounding “no,” as the throwback panache of Rian Johnson’s aesthetic isn’t even trying to compete with all the 3D bells and whistles of the spectacles above. But with a rapturous response from critics (RT score 94 percent and holding), Looper has the buzz and support to step into some serious contention, if not in the major races, then in tech areas that previously seemed beyond its reach. That is by no means to say the movie’s tricks are not impressive. A near faultlessly calibrated slice of futurama (err, future drama), Looper is 2012’s action flick to beat in terms of quality, and its old-school restraint has a contrasting lure that might make it a viable slot-filler (think the annual foreign trend in the Animation category). There must be scads of Academy members tickled by the dirty realism of a beat-up, flying crop-duster, or effectively unnerved by the rapid, Cronenbergian disappearance of a marked “loop’s” appendages. This wouldn’t be the title to declare where the industry stands today, but it would be the one to give the category an added touch of class.