Some thoughts on the whole ‘Ant-Man’ situation

Yesterday, a piece of movie news dropped that shocked a lot of people, both comic-book and film fans: Edgar Wright had parted ways with Marvel Studios from Ant-Man. Now, I’m as stunned as anyone about this news: a) because I’m a huge fan of Edgar Wright since The Cornetto Trilogy started in 2004 and b) because Marvel has done no wrong by their talent until now (except for, maybe, the bridge building in Iron Man 2 that probably frustrated Jon Favreau so much so that he stepped down from directing Iron Man 3).

Word on the street currently is that the reason Edgar Wright decided to step down from directing Ant-Man, a film he’s been attached to do for the last eight years, is that Marvel decided to tinker with his script too much for his taste. If that is the case, I would say that Marvel’s in the wrong on this one.

As the Indiewire article mentions, they’ve hired TV directors to do their bidding in the execution of their scripts for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, with Marvel taking care of the visual effects. I don’t think anyone would have imagined them tinkering with Joss Whedon for The Avengers or Shane Black for Iron Man 3, with the latter film pretty much a standalone pic, even with regards to the post credits scene. But these are films with relatively popular characters, especially with Iron Man in them.

The only other parallel film to Ant-Man, in terms of risk, in the Marvel wheelhouse right now is Guardians Of The Galaxy, a film which is set entirely outside Earth. But from what I know, James Gunn and Marvel have an excellent relationship where they let Gunn be Gunn. And then they let him out-Gunn Gunn. However, Guardians is not intended to tie in with the Avengers yet, at least judging from the fact that this first movie would be an origin story for Marvel to launch the franchise. That would mean Marvel had no reason to tinker with Guardians in terms of connecting it with the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU).

On the other hand, Ant-Man is a character that does not have that luxury. He’s late to join the Marvel party: he was one of the founding members of the Avengers. He exists in the same world as the traditional characters do. It’s in Marvel’s best interests to tie Ant-Man to their universe as soon as they can.  But it appears that Edgar Wright is not building the traditional origin story for Ant-Man: the film contains both Hank Pym and Scott Lang. Presumably the film would feature a passing of the mantle from Pym to Lang, so Ant-Man exists when the story begins. That’s a lot of distance to cover for an audience who doesn’t know Ant-Man, hence the increased risk for Marvel if they didn’t root the film enough in the MCU.

My question to Marvel is: why the hell has Ant-Man been in development for so long? Is it because of Wright’s films that have been released in the last eight years (the count stands at three) i.e. Wright kept skipping off to do a film of his own? Or is it because Marvel always intended for Ant-Man to be introduced so late in the game? Wouldn’t it have made sense for Marvel to have introduced Ant-Man along with their other characters and then have him in The Avengers?

All said and done, it appears that Marvel dropped the ball on Ant-Man one way or the other. One cannot blame Wright for stepping away from the project: he clearly was passionate about the film and wanted to do it his way. It’s a situation that could have been avoided if Ant-Man had been made at the right time, when it didn’t need to be strapped down with universe bridges. Joss Whedon says it best:

But here’s the thing: could Whedon have had a hand in booting Wright? Was he one of the people who instituted some Avengers bridges for Ant-Man? I highly doubt it, but seeing as how high up Whedon is in the Marvel ranks, it’s plausible. I can’t wait for Edgar Wright to announce his next film and move on with his career.

Header Image Attribution: Edgar Wright by Gage Skidmore, CC-BY-SA-3.0

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Land Of The (Boring) Desi Undead

Attribution: Simple zombie arm by ~801crow, CC-BY-3.0

The carefree, drug-addled, wisecracking trio of Go Goa Gone are the kind of characters that exist in a generation consumed by pop culture: their actions are drawn from what they’ve seen in movies (especially Hollywood) and in a subgenre as done to death (you never know with the undead) as the zombie horror flick, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK know that these are the few character types that can walk the line between familiarity and novelty. And yet, though Hardik (Kunal Khemmu), Luv (Vir Das) and Bunny (Anand Tiwari) say variations of “I saw X in movie Y”, they don’t know how to deal with the shambling creatures at all.

While the blood spilling classic Shaun Of The Dead (paid a tribute that’s borderline plagiarism) clearly gives rules on how to deal with zombies in less than two minutes and the recent cult flick Zombieland has its survival tips spread throughout the film, Go Goa Gone’s heroes spend a lot of time asking “What do we know, and what have we learned?” You’d think they’re the kind of guys who illegally download episodes of The Walking Dead and watch them when they get home from their bloody khooni jobs.

The one guy who knows exactly what’s going on, and does something about it, is Boris (pronounced Ba-REES), a pseudo-Russian mafia don played by Saif Ali Khan, with a straight face of course (you can’t do fake Russian accents with a smile). He’s basically Tallahassee from Zombielandminus the eccentricities and plus a Russian accent. And yet, even after it’s revealed that he’s not really Russian, he stays in character and no one questions him about it. Khan, also producing thus film, milks the opportunity to blast desi brains with his endless arsenal of weaponry in slow motion and elevates Go Goa Gone beyond the average zombie comedy.

The plot is pretty basic to the point that it can be reduced like so: Three guys in their ’20s. Goa trip. Zombies attack. Need to survive. The zombie flick doesn’t require elaborate plotting as long as its characters are compelling to watch (Night Of The Living Dead, the first zombie horror film, takes place mostly in an abandoned cabin). Here, apart from Boris, only Kunal Khemmu really brings in the laughs though he plays a stock character we’ve seen before: the aimless yuppie who can bed any girl he wants and asks for nothing more (see: Barney Stinson). The other three leads have their moments, but there are more misses than hits. 

The most frustrating thing about this film is how close is gets to being great, but squanders its ideas like a poor cricket fielder drops catches repeatedly. Much of this has to do with atmosphere; the zombies in Go Goa Gone could be used as toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, not thrown away with fright, disgust and revulsion. These are slow, ambling zombies, not the fast, athletic ones from 28 Days Later, and I’ve always imagined you could outrun them if you wanted to, unless you were completely surrounded by them. This apparent lack of conflict lowers the stakes and leaves the film loose and flat and takes away from the zombie fight scenes that are sprinkled through the narrative.

The directors have trouble in deciding what their film actually is: a zombie film with comedic and romantic elements, or a comedy with zombie elements. This spills over into the treatment of the material, but the jokes that are placed at the right moments bring large laughs, especially the final “dance around the trees”. Raj & DK also strangle their story with anti-drugs PSAs throughout the film so as to make sure that they’re not responsible for influencing their target audiences to go to Goa to party by making the connection that drugs turn people into zombies, a strategy akin to telling a child about the Boogeyman to get him to eat his vegetables. But even as the film ends with an anti-drugs message, there’s a stoner dream song that runs through the end credits, thus nullifying all the preachy statements that were made in the movie.

So should you watch Go Goa Gone? I would say it’s a lightweight film that engages all the way through, but approach it with lowered expectations so that you might find yourself a bit surprised. That’s more than you could want from India’s first zomcom, right?

Lethal Iron Weaponry

This is a review of Iron Man Three, released in India on April 26, 2013.

Does the man make the suit
Or the suit make the man?
Does it even matter,
When you’re Iron Man?

It certainly does
When you just can’t sleep.
Tony Stark’s depressed
Without his superhero peeps
(Dying from blood toxicity
Isn’t a big thing any longer
What doesn’t kill you
Doesn’t really make you stronger).

In the extra time that he’s had,
He’s built more iron suits.
Last year it was Mark VII
Now it’s the MK 42.

He and his lady Pepper
Clearly haven’t shagged in weeks.
He gets a bigger joy
From his mechanical tweaks.

Meanwhile, a Buddhist monk
Who’s strayed far from the path,
Heralds a new age of Terror
He really needs a bath.

The Mandarin, they call him,
Or Ye Olde Lecherous Pervert (behind his back).
Played by Sir Ben Kingsley,
He’s Bin Laden on crack.

It starts off sluggishly
Like a drunkard trying to run,
But soon kicks into overdrive
And becomes a lot of fun.

The reason for this impossibility,
(Third times don’t work generally)
Is that Hollywood Master, Shane Black,
Who deals with the crowded world of superheroes
With admirable restraint and incredible tact.

He rises from the darkness after
Eight years living anonymously
(That reminds me of a hero from DC)
And hits the big time with an iron clang
(With a budget 10 times that of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
That produces geekgasms beautifully.

Particularly brilliant is the way
His writing works for RDJ.
Although some jokes didn’t work on an Indian audience,
Like “Sir Laurence Oblivier”.

Black’s writing crackles on the page,
The Three Act Structure is clear.
A steady hand, at every stage,
That allays any and all fears.

All his classic trademarks were called to my attention:
Setups, payoffs, raised stakes and witty banter
With the right dose of esoteric pop culture
To elevate even the most routine exposition.

By the Black wit, what I mean
Is the subversion of any normal scene,
Present in any stock suspense thriller,
To make it a Black Comedy killer.
(See: Lethal Weapon Franchise)

Skepticism lay in the action setpieces;
Could a writer deliver the required finesse?
At the end my heart pumped with satisfied vigor:
Each sequence is pure adrenaline,
Intense, epic awesomeness.

This isn’t your typical Marvel film;
The proceedings smell of conclusion
And not of franchise continuation,
The reason behind the Spidey situation.
Everything is brought full circle
Bookended with melancholy.
It lends an air of humanity
To an otherwise wisecracking entity.
This is the end of an initial trilogy
But it won’t stop Iron Man infinitely.

Since this is intended to remain
Free of that chimera called spoilers.
I will not strive to taint or stain
Your minds with my nitpicking brain.

Iron Man Three is the perfect combination
Of old school storytelling
And new age digital animation.
In 2008, we were introduced to
A remarkable character who
Needed three films to finally reveal
That behind that symbiotic iron shield,
From which he cannot permanently part,
Beats a strong, human, heart.

Freddie Quell in ‘I’m Still Here’

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays a tortured World War II Navy veteran who adjusts to a normal life, fails at adjusting, and then follows Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, founder of an organization called the Cause. Joaquin’s performance is excellent, and one of the ways he communicates the trauma he’s been through is through his body movements, the most iconic being this pose:

JP in The Master

‘You talkin’ to me?’

Phoenix in The Master

Shit like this gets you an Oscar nomination…

24/7 in character...

24/7 in character…

But before The Master, Joaquin acted in I’m Still Here, a documentary where he plays himself. Looks like he was already practicing Quell’s posture:

Yup, he's still there...

Yup, he’s still there…

Well, practice makes perfect even for the best actors out there…

Why Pulp Fiction changed my life

Image

At first, the screen is black. Then the Miramax logo, the old blue one that morphs into gold, fills it. Black again. The words fade on to the screen:

PULP [pulp] n.

1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass or matter.

2. A magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

– American Heritage Dictionary: New College Edition

Then there are two people in a diner, and the man says,

“Forget it, it’s too risky.”

And so began the experience that would change my life forever.

My infatuation with the cinematic medium began when I was three years old. I remember flashes of ‘90s pop culture like Toy Story, which my mother played for my sister and I on VHS to keep us quiet, Batman: The Animated Series, which I religiously watched with bowls of macaroni and cheese, and The Matrix, which I watched with my father and which inspired me to bend over backwards as I imagined mysterious men in black suits shooting at me in slow motion. Despite these memories, however, none of them wove themselves into the fabric of my personality.

The person to ceaselessly thank for this infatuation is my father, a man who constantly rebels against convention in whatever he does. Many people have asked me how I “matured” so quickly, and I can only attribute it to my father’s parenting style in showing me amazing movies (without checking their MPAA ratings) at an early age. The most amazing one was Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Fiction is insane, whimsical, volatile, endearing, darkly humorous, and a fusion of both the wacky and the beautiful sides of pop culture. Pulp Fiction is pure art–the perfect marriage of sound and visuals. Realizing that Jules and Vincent had come to the same diner that Pumpkin and Honey Bunny were in, at the same time, was an epiphany for me because I realized that movies have the power to immerse one in their universes and then throw one across space and time; the laws of physics don’t bind cinema. I want to have that power in my hands someday: to shock, excite, and upset an audience in a movie theater in my own way.

The most important thing that I’ve learned from Pulp Fiction is that energy is what sets great films apart from good ones—by which I mean using foot-tapping music to create atmosphere within a scene, crafting a story around electrifying characters, and developing moments that elevate the collective consciousness of the audience to a state of near-euphoria. I constantly try to integrate these elements into whatever I write because I often think that they are completely missing from the formulaic rehashes that pervade cinemas today.

After I saw Pulp Fiction, there was no going back. I have my eyes set on a craft, and I’ve been working towards that ever since by writing short scripts and recently working as a script assistant for five months on an independent Hindi film.  Whenever I’m low on creative juice, I just have to remember what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is in France (a Royale With Cheese) and inspiration replenishes my pursuit of the perfect story, the perfect characters and perfection itself.