Spielberg’s Ready Player One Trailer

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Based on the 2011 debut novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is also the next film from master of cinema, Steven Spielberg. The first trailer has just dropped from the San Diego Comic-Con.

Spielberg and co say the film will be faithfull to the source material but also introduce enough fresh elements to give this its own identity.

As someone with little interest in games or gaming this should contain little to excite me, but you know, it’s Spielberg so I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised (not least of which by that Iron Giant cameo)…

Netflix’s Super Friends – Marvel’s The Defenders

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After the hugely disappointing Iron Fist, my hopes for The Defenders, Netflix’s all-star Marvel mash-up, were seriously on the wane.

Thankfully, positive word of mouth and this latest trailer have done a great deal to restore confidence.

The pilot episode was screened at the San Diego Comic-Con yesterday and reports are largely positive, including this review from Birth.Movies.Death. Alongside the good news, a second trailer has been released which not only makes the show look like a whole lot of fun (a quality seriously lacking from Iron Fist) but also promises a terrific performance from the show’s Big Bad, the legend that is Sigourney Weaver.

The thought of Evil Ellen Ripley going toe-to-toe with Jessica Jones is worth the price of admission alone. Throw in Daredevil and Luke Cage too (…okay, and Iron Fist, if we must) and I’m certain I’ll be bingeing come release day. That this show is only eight episodes is also a huge plus point, as all of the Netflix/Marvel shows have suffered from over-extending their dramatic life.

All episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders drop on Netflix, August 18th.

A Fin Romance – Del Toro’s The Shape of Water

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Guillermo Del Toro has so many projects announced that at times it’s quite a surprise when one actually reaches the screen. When they do they’re always very welcome and The Shape of Water is no exception.

His latest is a fantasy romance set against the backdrop of the Cold War (around 1963) and tells the tale of lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins), trapped in a life of silence and isolation while working at a hidden high-security government laboratory. Elsa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

Del Toro has landed a fabulous cast to star alongside Hawkins and Spencer, including Doug Jones (that’s him in the fish suit, of course), Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Lauren Lee Smith and Michael Stuhlbarg.

With a trailer as charming as this it’s sure to be a delightful (and moist) tug at the heartstrings.

The Shape of Water is scheduled for release on December 8, 2017.

Disney Release New Look At Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Disney’s huge D23 convention has just fired one of its big guns, as they revealed a new behind-the-scenes video for writer/director Rian Johnson‘s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

There’s a lot of interesting material here, including the first footage of new characters played by by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, as well as a glimpse of Carrie Fisher in her final role as Princess Leia.

This episode of the long-running franchise will obviously be an emotional journey. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released on December 15, 2017.

Apes Together Strong – War Continues A Great Summer

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Frankly, when Fox announced a (second) reboot of their beloved Planet of the Apes franchise back in 2010 it elicited little more than a resigned sigh from me. When news came that the apes would be fully realised with CGI my heart sank.

As a long-time fan of the original series of films (I saw most of them at the cinema in the early 1970s) I’d already been burned by the reboot attempted by Tim Burton a decade before this most recent announcement, in 2001. That film still arguably stands as Burton’s worst (even though it had some great design and make-up work).

Still I trudged dutifully into the cinema in 2011 to see James Franco kickstart the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and came out two hours later with a pleasantly surprised smile on my face. Rupert Wyatt’s prequel reimagining (and my fingers tremble even just typing that phrase) was a thoughful and engaging movie, and the work of the actors (including Andy Serkis) and animators meshed almost seamlessly to give us an exciting new take on the apes.

My surprise grew to actual anticipation for Matt Reeve’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014 and I was not disappointed. The visuals improved again and we were given an even more exciting and thought-provoking story with Caeser (Serkis) doing his best not to lead his apes into war against mankind’s few survivors of the simian plague which had all but wiped them out at the close of the previous movie.

By now I was actually excited to see Matt Reeves, Andy Serkis and co. return for the third film in this respectful but fresh series of films, and I’m happy to say that War for the Planet of the Apes not only met my expectations but far exceeded them.

First a word about the ape work. The actors and animators combine talents here to give the most astonishing performances yet seen in motion capture. These apes live, breathe and feel to such a high level that it simply becomes impossible to look at them as special effects. For me, Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, “Bad Ape” (a hugely enagaging new character) and the other apes have reached a point where you feel the awards bodies should really be bringing in a new category to recognise these remarkable types of roles.

The story opens with Caesar’s clan fighting against a human military faction called Alpha-Omega. Once again Caesar attempts to take the higher ground by moving the apes to another location, one which will see them leave the worsening human aggression behind. But Alpha-Omega’s leader, a mysterious, Colonel Kurtz-like character (played with layered gusto by Woody Harrelson) soon escalates events to a very personal level, taking Caeser on a mission which will see the leader tested as never before.

War of the Planet of the Apes is constantly surprising and totally enthralling, it continues in the vein of the best of the Apes films by telling a story which is both thoughtful and exciting. It leads towards a war of almost biblical proportions, but one whose combatants are something of a surprise. As with the very best summer blockbusters, Reeves and his team give us exactly what they promise, just not in exactly the way we might expect.

Kudos also to the screenplay (by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves), to Michael Seresin’s beautiful cinematography and also to Michael Giacchino for a truly memorable score, one that reminded me of John Barry’s work in several places. These combine to give a movie which really should be experienced at a cinema.

The film is also surprisingly emotional (I was weeping openly at the finish) and if this turns out to be the final film of a trilogy (highly unlikely, right Fox…?), then it will end as a triumph. We have been gifted with two wonderful runs of Apes movies and this latest trilogy is proof that an old idea can have new life breathed into it in the right hands.

Summer 2017 has seen a remarkable run of truly excellent movies and this might just be the best of an exceptional bunch. It’s definitely the best of the new Apes trilogy.

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Amazing, At Last!

Spider-Man Homecoming

Considering Spider-Man has been with us since 1962, it’s somewhat difficult to understand why he’s never come close to appearing on the cinema screen.

Oh sure, there have been five movies, some more successful in their approach than others, but regardless of how close each of them got to capturing that magic quality which has kept the character in print for fifty-five years something always felt… just slightly off.

Sam Raimi and co. certainly got close, especially with Spider-Man 2, which held the gold standard for superhero movies for some time. But I was never happy with the casting of that trilogy, as good as Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are as actors, I never felt they were right for Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.

Marc Webb swung closer with his stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) but the approach taken to the two Amazing Spider-Man films was just completely wrong-headed. Making Peter Parker a disaffected skateboard kid who ends up swinging into his graduation ceremony to kiss the prettiest girl in school was so far removed from what makes these characters special it was absurd. Sadly these entries also felt like the worst kind of committee-led filmmaking.

And both sets of movies shared a very particular missing quality. In the comic books Spider-Man has always been a vital cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, but in the movies the character has always swung through a New York bereft of other superheroes.

Spider-Man: Homecoming corrects that from its opening moments, as we are dropped into a New York recovering from alien invasion with criminals using stolen alien technology, a world where Avengers tower looms large over the city and superheroes are commonplace in everyday life.

But here is where the new collaboration between Marvel and Sony has really paid dividends, in the understanding that our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man is the contrast to the other characters who fly around seeing off aliens from space and demons from dark dimensions. Spider-Man works best as a street level character, interacting with New Yorkers who cheer or jeer as he goes about his daily web-slinging.

Finally we’re given the opportunity to see Peter explore his newfound powers without the tiresome retread of an origin story, instead following a hero learning from his (plentiful) mistakes. Stakes are kept personally high but distinctly low-key (in superhero terms), from Spider-Man realising just how long it takes to climb the Washington Monument (and suddenly seeing how high up he is at its top) through to the climactic battle between hero and villain.

Speaking of the villain, I’d happily watch Michael Keaton reciting the phone directory and while there are one or two moments I’d like to have seen him given more to chew on, he also manages to bring an interesting, almost political motivation to his character and in one sequence set inside a parked car, a palbable sense of threat and menace in a stand-off involving no costumes, with no powers used or punches thrown. It’s a stand out moment in a film full of them.

The casting is excellent overall, as Peter Parker’s high school friends feel natural and unstereotypical, and director Jon Watts gives the film a John Hughes vibe that’s hard to ignore and impossible to dislike, with a fresh feeling that’s quite distinct from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet completely at home in it. Jacob Batalon’s Ned and Zendaya’s Michelle are particular stand-outs.

As seen in Captain America: Civil War, we’re given a fresh take on Peter’s Aunt May, now played with delightful MILF-relish by Marisa Tomei. She’s not given huge amounts to do in this first outing, but she’s such a fine actress she supports here perfectly and hopefully we’ll see more from her in the already-announced sequel.

Finally, every filmed attempt at Spider-Man stands and falls with its Peter Parker, and here we are given a true representation of the character. Tom Holland simply nails the role, his boyish looks giving Peter an average Joe quality, an awkward, earnest, ordinary teenager blessed, or cursed, with extraordinary abilities, who ultimately uses his powers because he knows it’s the right thing to do.

While this iteration plays loosely with the source material it stays true to the good-natured heart that has seen these characters loved by millions for so long to produce a film that’s as full of charm as it is action set-pieces. It’s a feel-good film about a decent, 15 year old boy, his friends and family and the responsibility he feels to protect them and the world in which they live. It seems like such a simple trick, but it’s been frustratingly elusive.

With their flagship hero returning to the Marvel fold as a result of a studio deal between the company and Sony, we’ve finally been given a Spider-Man who deserves the Amazing adjective.

This is the homecoming Spider-Man fans have been waiting for!

Godzilla: King Of The Anime

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Care of Godzilla expert August Ragone’s always authoritative website, The Good, The Bad, and Godzilla, news comes that Toho Animation have just dropped the first teaser trailer for their forthcoming anime, Godzilla: Monster Planet (international title: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters).

With a screenplay by Gen Urobuchi, writer of animated TV series including Peulla Magi Madoka Magica and Kamen Rider Gaim, and directed by Koubun Shizuno (Knights of Sidonia) and Hiroyuki Seshita (Ajin: The Demi-Human) the film, the first in a trilogy, will premiere in Japan in November, while Netflix have picked it up for international worldwide distribution.

Executive producer, Yoshihiro Furusawa, was reported in Variety as saying “I wasn’t familiar with Godzilla, and I made the film so even those who don’t know Godzilla can enjoy watching it.”

The story is set in the future world of 2048 and centres on a group of human beings who take revenge after being pushed from Earth by monsters such as Godzilla.

Here’s hoping for an animated Godzilla that will banish thoughts of Godzooky from the collective consciousness once and for all.

The Doctor Falls – Emotional And Political As Doctor Who Gets

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*Caution – spoilers*

“I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

For anyone who thinks Doctor Who is never political, last night’s astounding finale to the current season (ten, in reboot terms) saw Peter Capaldi maginificently deliver the preceeding speech.

As a marker for The Doctor, writer Steven Moffat gives us this defining moment not only for the character and for the show but also as a comment on the zeitgeist – make no mistake about it, conscious or not, this is a political statement against the prevailing political winds of the UK and the world as a whole.

Written and performed with the twin qualitities of passion and vulnerability, this speech could as easily be delivered at an anti-establishment rally, with several thousand Corbyn supporters roaring their approval. I have no idea of the personal politics of Steven Moffat, but if the likes of Theresa May and Donald Trump could be seen as the ultimate Doctor Who villains – uncaring despots seemingly determined to wipe out everything good and decent about mankind – then this speech can easily be read as the ultimate rallying cry against them.

Doctor Who has always been good at reflecting the world around us, whether through the filter of technological advances (the Cyberman chant of “delete, delete”) or even politicians being replaced by gas-expelling aliens, but it’s rarely as outspoken against the status quo as in The Doctor Falls.

While not the actual bowing-out of Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor (that honour comes at Christmas, in a meeting with David Bradley as the First Doctor), this episode served as a superb summation of his incarnation – fiery, humane and yet always inhuman – and also neatly wrapped up the arc for Pearl Mackie’s Bill.

Much of the episode ran at an exceptional pace, narrative and emotional drive running hand in hand to deliver an astonishing gut punch. The scenes between the Cyber-transformed Bill (as close to Cronenbergian body-horror as the family show can possibly get) and The Doctor were heart-rendingly written and performed, this was a terrifying fate for a companion and a warning to all those who travel with the Time Lord.

And if the final ten minutes seemed to wallow a little, it’s tough to argue that this wasn’t earned or deserved. For the children watching, Bill’s eventual fate was all-important for a show which ultimately needs to be aspirational and inspirational.

Steven Moffat, director Rachel Talalay and the Doctor Who crew seemed determined to send this much-improved season off with a bang, an emotional wallop and, by adding the zest of a sharp, humanist comment on the real world, something to truly value.

Ingrid Goes West – “Comically Malicious” Tale of Instagram

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As someone who spends way more time than is probably healthy posting photos of my vinyl record collection on Instagram, brand new film Ingrid Goes West is something that’s just cropped up on my radar thanks to the good folk at Birth.Movies.Death.

Starring the always wonderful Aubrey Plaza and the increasingly interesting Elizabeth Olsen, the synopsis sounds delicious:

“Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn escapes a humdrum existence by moving out West to befriend her Instagram obsession, a Los Angeles socialite named Taylor Sloane. After a quick bond is forged between these unlikeliest of buddies, the facade begins to crack in both women’s lives — with comically malicious results.”

Frankly, they had me at Aubrey Plaza, but “comically malicious” pushes pretty much all my buttons and the trailer promises a whole lot of dark, squirmy fun which might make you (or even me) swear off Instagram for life. Or at least until I post that photo of my primo new 1976 pressing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…

“Coffee For Spider-Man…”

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Perhaps to make up for the recent slew of quite dreadful posters for Spider-Man: Homecoming (I won’t link to them, but they’re out there and easily found if you have a taste for really bad Photoshop), Sony have released this amazingly (sorry, not sorry) cute piece of viral marketing to trumpet the imminent release of their first co-production with Marvel Studios.

It weirdly captures the friendly, neighbourhood aspect of the character which seemed largely absent from the last two ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ Sony productions, so let’s hope this approach is something Marvel have managed to filter through into the new movie, released in just a few short weeks, on July 7th.

In the meantime, watch out for stray webs in your cup the next time you order a coffee…