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Culture Cafe

Movie, music, and television reviews from a select group of bloggers.

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' stars Megan Fox. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' trailer shows a darker take on the familiar story

By Ben KendrickScreen Rant / 03.28.14

Easily one of the most contentious film productions of the past year, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot has faced a steady stream of fan outrage – ever since it was first announced that divisive filmmaker Michael Bay would produce the project. Starting with the casting of Megan Fox as April O’Neal to reports that the titular heroes would simply be Ninja Turtles of extraterrestrial origin (not Mutant Teenagers), passionate fans of the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comic series – as well as the subsequent animated shows – have been extremely outspoken about the modern remake’s repeated attempts to defile the beloved brand.

Throughout, Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) have reassured passionate Ninja Turtles lovers that the film will honor the source material, while also providing a new bar for TMNT live-action adventure. To their credit, after a laughable Halloween costume reveal once again sent fans into a fury, leaked images of the actual Turtle designs appeared online – to mostly positive response from casual moviegoers and die-hard Shell Heads alike.

Still, anyone on DeviantArt can update the look of the Turtles, and without seeing the characters in motion, the designs only go so far in providing an idea of what to expect from the feature film. Now, with only five months before the film’s release, we’re finally getting a look at Liebesman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the form of an official teaser trailer.

In addition, we now have an official synopsis for the TMNT reboot:

The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April and her wise-cracking cameraman Vern Fenwick to save the city and unravel Shredder’s diabolical plan.

Unsurprisingly, the footage is short on overt shots of the TMNT heroes – which will no doubt be featured more extensively in the first full trailer for the film. We get a few good looks at the more “realistic” Turtle designs, along with brief glimpses of the shadowy do-gooders in action, but the teaser spends the majority of its time setting up a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backstory and world.

Interestingly, the footage is narrated by Eric Sachs/The Shredder (William Fichtner) who, based on his voiceover, indicates that he, along with April O’Neal’s father, created the Turtles (with Ooze) for the purpose of curbing unchecked criminals in New York City. Why a criminal mastermind like Shredder would want to fight crime is, of course, unclear at this point. It’s certainly likely that Shredder’s narration is unreliable and that he actually created the Turtles as weapons to gain an upper hand against competing crime organizations – until the heroes turned on their creator. Another possible explanation could see Shredder setting out with the intention of enforcing justice, only to become corrupted and power-hungry in the process.

Some fans will, without question, balk at the reveal that April’s father was also involved in creating the Turtles but, in terms of delivering the best movie possible, the choice helps provide a more meaningful reason for the reporter to become so obsessed with this particular story (and its heroes). A valiant investigator, willing to put her life in danger for “the truth,” works at surface level but connecting April’s father to Shredder and the Turtles provides a lot more room for human drama to go along with all the Ninja fighting. Plus, mysterious scientific experiments should also open-up the film’s core storyline – so that the filmmakers can explore plenty of fan-favorite characters and ideas in subsequent installments (see: The Amazing Spider-Man movie universe).

Despite all of the cartoonish elements, the trailer’s tone is actually pretty serious – and reaffirms Hollywood’s ongoing effort in providing every superhero franchise a “dark” and “gritty” reboot. That said, don’t expect Platinum Dunes and Nickelodeon Movies to pass up the opportunity to appeal to a whole new generation of Turtle fans – with characters like Michelangelo (not to mention Will Arnett’s Vernon Fenwick) running around, there’s sure to be plenty of humor (and Cowabunga) to go along with the shadowy Ninja action.

Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.

'Jupiter Ascending' stars Mila Kunis. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

'Jupiter Ascending': New trailer provides another look at the space opera (+video)

By Staff writer / 03.27.14

The Wachowski siblings’ new film centers on a timeless sci-fi theme: a seemingly normal person suddenly finds out that they are the key to an intergalactic conflict.

“Jupiter Ascending,” which is set to be released on July 18, stars Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones, a woman who lives on Earth and works as a janitor until she suddenly meets Caine (Channing Tatum), an assassin who is sent to kill her but ends up looking after her instead. Jupiter then discovers that, according to Sean Bean’s character Stinger, she is actually royalty. “Les Miserables” actor Eddie Redmayne co-stars as a villain who will lose his claim on Earth if Jupiter assumes her rightful place.

The Wachowskis are best known for the “Matrix” trilogy and also directed the 2012 film “Cloud Atlas” as well as the 2008 movie “Speed Racer.”

Lana Wachowski told the Associated Press that the movie has features from many different types of films.

“It's a science-fiction space opera," Wachowski said. "It has a lot of things from a lot of genres that we love. It's got a lot of original action, it's got a lot of romance.”

Much like their past films, “Jupiter” seems to include many battle sequences and special effects, judging from the new trailer.

“We seem not to be very good at making small things,” Wachowski said. “We keep saying ‘Let’s go make a small movie.’ But then they always end up being enormously complex. We want to somehow always find something that is different or that no one has tried.” 

Meanwhile, Tatum said he feels the movie is “breaking ground.”

“We’re doing stuff that’s never been done, inside the camera, in the CG world, and the physical stuff,” he told Collider. “There’s very little, if not no, digital stuntmen in the movie… hopefully everybody likes it. And it’s fun, it’s got some cheek to it.”

Alyson Hannigan has reportedly signed on to star in the CBS comedy 'More Time with Family.' (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Alyson Hannigan will reportedly star in a new CBS comedy

By Michael KennedyScreen Rant / 03.27.14

With How I Met Your Mother’s almost decade-long run about to come to a close, Alyson Hannigan isn’t wasting any time in securing her next small screen gig. The soon to be former Lily Aldrin has just signed on to play the female lead in a high profile comedy pilot from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Pearl Street Films.

The comedy, titled More Time with Family, was given a production commitment by CBS back in October, with a formal pilot order being granted in January. Family is a multi-camera sitcom about an overworked husband and father that makes a drastic career change in order to avoid missing out on any more family milestones. Stand-up comedian Tom Papa penned the project, and will also play lead character Tom Rizzo.

Hannigan is now set to play Tom’s wife Cindy, a drill-sergeant like taskmaster who seemingly possesses limitless energy, always has time for her kids, and never fails to make sure her house is in order. Cindy’s clockwork routine is disrupted by Tom’s decision to spend more time at home, and it’s up to her to guide her husband in the ways of running a family and taking care of their kids.

With the Affleck/Damon team behind it, More Time with Family has been considered one of CBS’ hottest comedy prospects since it was first announced and is presumed to be a lock for an eventual series order. Adding a seasoned pro like Hannigan to the mix is a wise move, one that goes a long way toward cementing Family’s status as a success.

Between her early work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her successful tenure on HIMYM, Hannigan has been a steady prime time presence for over 15 years. People know what to expect from her, and the fact that she’s attached to More Time with Family is almost guaranteed to lure people in that wouldn’t have watched a Tom Papa sitcom.

Speaking of Papa, More Time with Family has the potential to finally turn him into a major star. The 45-year-old comic has spent the past two decades skirting the edges of mainstream stardom, while steadily building up his credibility in the world of comedy.

The man has fronted multiple stand-up specials, he’s been a mainstay on various late night programs, and he even hosted his own satellite radio show, but he still hasn’t had that one big star-making moment. Will More Time with Family finally be the project that sends Papa into the big leagues? Only time will tell.

Michael Kennedy blogs at Screen Rant.

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (second from l.), Johnny Galecki (l.), Mayim Bialik (third from l.), Jim Parsons (third from r.), Melissa Rauch (second from r.), and Simon Helberg (r.) star on 'The Big Bang Theory.' (Monty Brinton/CBS/AP)

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting's sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory' is renewed for three more seasons

By Jason TabrysScreen Rant / 03.25.14

Though The Big Bang Theory has its share of detractors who love to hate it, you can’t deny that the Chuck Lorre created a laugher – about a quartet of intellectuals (or nerds… I guess) and their significant others – that has earned the right to be called a juggernaut for CBS; now the network is showing its appreciation with a nearly unprecedented commitment of three more seasons for the show. Those seasons will cover The Big Bang Theory into its 10th season, but will that be it for Dr. Sheldon Cooper and company?

No one has publicly commented on if this deal is meant to be a bridge into the syndication filled hereafter for the show – with ratings up 4% this year and the show pulling in nearly 20 million viewers per episode for CBS, it’s easy to imagine the comedy series continuing on for quite a bit longer.

How long is too long, though? The practical answer is that The Big Bang Theory will go on for as long as it makes sense for the principals – the network, the creatives, and the stars – but the track record for live-action comedies after their seventh and eight seasons isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring – and the desire to say “enough” on the creative side can be strong.

Legacies matter more to the ones who are being judged for the quality – not just the success – of these shows and The Big Bang Theory has a legacy of consistency that needs to be respected and, at this point, admired and protected. Yes, Chuck Lorre is in the empire business over at CBS where he is king of the comedy castle, overseeing Mike and Molly, Mom, and Two and Half Men as well as Big Bang, but despite all of those other projects, Lorre’s “brand” would be damaged if the show ran itself into the ground.

The same thing can be said for the actors, particularly the show’s leads: Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki. Both have taken on other work occasionally, but while security and a booming bank account mean a lot, years of success can free an actor to want to do more than just hiatus side-work. It can make them want to see how green the grass is elsewhere because few actors want to spend their entire lives playing a character or trying to not play that character over and over again.

The counter-argument to that thought is Two and a Half Men with regard to Lorre and whether he’d want to push Big Bang past its natural expiration (whenever that is). That show isn’t what it used to be in the halcyon and headache days of Charlie Sheen’s residency, but it’s comparatively brilliant when you judge it against the field. Is that level of “mediocrity plus” something to aspire to?

It really depends on what Lorre, producer Steven Molaro, Parsons, Galecki, and the rest of the cast are comfortable with, what their motives are, and whether they still believe in the project. For right now, though, we know that Big Bang Theory isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – and that’s good news, for both the show’s fans and love-to-haters alike.

Jason Tabrys blogs at Screen Rant.

Maggie Q (r.) and Shailene Woodley (l.) star in 'Divergent.' (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer of 'Divergent' discuss the upcoming dystopian film (+video)

By Tiffany RoseScreen Rant / 03.20.14

The Divergent cast includes fan-favorite stars Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer – who are both currently starring in hit television shows. Q, who leads as the title role in Nikita, is also known for her role in J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible III, in which she starred alongside Tom Cruise and in Live Free or Die Hard with Bruce Willis. A strong action star, Q is aptly cast as a divergent, Tori, an exotic tattoo artist who is in the faction Dauntless. She acts as a mentor to Tris (Shailene Woodley).

Phifer, whose character, Max is at the top of the Dauntless leadership, took a break from shooting the Showtime series, House of Lies to film Divergent in Chicago. His movie credits include: Spike Lee’s Clockers with Harvey Keitel and John Turturro, Dawn of the Dead opposite Ving Rhames, and in Curtis Hanson’s critically acclaimed 8 Mile with Eminem.

Directed by Neil Burger, Divergent is based on the novels penned by Veronica Roth. Screen Rant sits down with Maggie Q and Mekhi Phifer – to discuss the fascination with futuristic thrillers and which faction they would select!

Screen Rant: I saw the movie with a big audience last night and they were hooting and hollering and they got really into it. Have you seen it with an audience? It was packed!

Maggie Q: Ah, right!

Mekhi Phifer: I haven’t seen it with an audience, no.

Maggie Q: When you say it was packed it wasn’t like a ten person theatre? That’s what directors say, right?

SR: There were twelve! No it was packed. People were lining up and screaming. Talk about your preparation for your characters. Maggie, you’re a bit of an action lady and you didn’t get to run around a lot!

Maggie Q: I didn’t do any action in this movie and I came off of my show which had a lot of action in to this and I was thinking “God, I’m lucky I didn’t have to jump into any physicality on this film” – because I think it would have just run me into the ground.

SR: So tell us about your characters.

Mekhi Phifer: I play Max, the leader of the Dauntless factor. He’s a bit of a mystery in this first installment. We don’t know what his motivations are. You know there’s something going on. He’s in cahoots with Kate [Winslet’s character Jeanine Matthews] and something is happening but we don’t really know yet and so I’m looking forward to the second installment.

Maggie Q: I play Tori, who like Max is a long time Dauntless member, and the mentor to Tris’ character and the woman who finds out what her service status is and kind of becomes an unwilling and kind of unlikely ally for her in this world.

SR: They’re predicting this opening is going to be as big as The Hunger Games. How does it feel to be a part of this big franchise? Is it a bit overwhelming or is this a dream come true?

Mekhi Phifer: I think it feels great, I mean you know it’s nice because we all feel really good about the film and we feel really good about our work. It’s nice to know that the masses will see it. Somebody else brought it up earlier that we’ve done smaller things that I’ve had to work a lot harder on and we’re practically on our knees begging the audience to go and see it! “I’m telling you it’s good! Please trust me!” And you just don’t get the same notoriety and so to do something that’s really good and to get the eyes on it…

Maggie Q: Right, to get the exposure.

Mekhi Phifer: To get the exposure is really cool.

SR: Why do you think we are we so hungry for these futuristic thrillers about survival? We’ve got The Maze Runner coming out soon and of course, Hunger Games did well.

Maggie Q: Yeah, we have a fascination with the future. I think we always have. The future now as it stands in 2014 is dystopian or post-apocalyptic or whatever it is they decide it’s going to be in that film in particular. This one I think deals with heavier themes with what the future looks like. It deals with heavier themes with what the government may look like, about the semblance of control, how are they going to go about it and what their limitation is. And outside of those big themes, really I feel we are just watching an emotional journey about this young girl who is becoming a woman and love and loss and family. There’s a theme for everyone and that’s why I love this film. It’s not a kid’s film. It’s not a young adult film. It’s just a film.

SR: If you were to take an aptitude test, which category would you pick?

Maggie Q: Well if you take an aptitude test it picks you, so which one would we read?

SR: Which one will you read?

Maggie Q: Right now we both feel Candor! (Laughs)

Mekhi Phifer: Candor.

SR: Did you start off with feeling something this morning and it’s now changed?

Mekhi Phifer: Yes!

Maggie Q: Well, we feel rooted in Dauntless.

Mekhi Phifer: Rooted in Dauntless, no question about it. But Candor would be the most realistic right now! At 16, it would have been Dauntless without a doubt.

SR: Great, thank you for your time.

Maggie Q: Thank you so much.

Mekhi Phifer:  Thank you.

Tiffany Rose blogs at Screen Rant.

Sofia Coppola attends the Women in Film's 2013 Crystal + Lucy Awards. (Vince Bucci/Invision/AP)

Sofia Coppola could direct a live-action version of 'The Little Mermaid'

By H. Shaw-WilliamsScreen Rant / 03.19.14

Hollywood trends may come and go, but fairy tales have the kind of staying power that has kept them popular for centuries. The Walt Disney Company tapped into their timeless appeal by creating some of the best-known fairy tale adaptations for the big screen, and right now they’re undergoing something of a resurgence in popularity as the old classics get live-action updates.

The success of these recent adaptations has been mixed. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters put a twist on an old tale that paid off at this box office, even if it didn’t quite manage to impress critics. On the other end of the spectrum, Jack the Giant Slayer missed its target and lost Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. over $100 million.

Universal is still banking on the potential of fairy tale movies, however, and THR reports that Sofia Coppola (The Bling Ring) is in negotiations to direct the studio’s live-action adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s children’s story The Little Mermaid. Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) was originally attached to direct, but has since turned his attention to Pan, the upcoming Peter Pan movie from Warner Bros.

The script for The Little Mermaid was penned by Saving Mr. Banks co-writer Kelly Marvel, who also penned the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey. However, the project is described by THR as kid-friendly and designed to appeal to a wide range of demographics. Coppola is best known for sedate drama films like Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides, so it will be interesting to see how she handles a big studio film that demands family appeal.

Often with public domain properties there will be different studios each racing to release their own adaptation first (as with Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror), but currently Universal seems to bee alone in actively pushing a Little Mermaid movie. Sony had a similar project in development, but it’s been years since it showed any sign of forward momentum.

H. Shaw-Williams blogs at Screen Rant.

'Ghostbusters 3' could begin production next year, said Ivan Reitman, director of the original films. The original 'Ghostbusters' movies starred Bill Murray (l.), Dan Aykroyd (center), and Harold Ramis (r.). (AP)

'Ghostbusters 3' will reportedly begin filming in 2015 – will Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd return?

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 03.19.14

Uncertainty surrounding the future of the Ghostbusters franchise increased something fierce a few weeks ago, with the tragic passing of series writer/costar Harold Ramis (who played Dr. Egon Spengler in the first two movies).

A report emerged not long after Ramis died, revealing that Sony still intended to move forward with Ghostbusters 3 - a third installment in the mega-popular supernatural horror/comedy series that has been rumored and/or slowly developing for 25 years now – once the script had been revised in an appropriate (and, presumably, respectful) fashion. The latest update on the project confirms as much, while also shedding new light on just what form the film will take.

For starters, the latest report from Deadline makes it crystal-clear: Ghostbusters 3 will serve as a reboot of the franchise. Sony’s hope is that the project will reinvigorate the Ghostbusters brand and make it another dependable source of income for the studio in the 21st century.

Moreover, Ivan Reitman (Draft Day) – who directed the first and second Ghostbusters installments – has decided to pass on helming this new movie, as Ramis’ death has (understandably) taken the winds out of his sails, as far as Reitman’s enthusiasm for the project goes.

However, Reitman is still onboard the Ghostbusters reboot as a producer and a search is underway for a fitting candidate to replace him as director, with the hope of being able to get production started (at long, long last) as soon as Fall 2014 in New York – though, Reitman cautions, “Given the logistics and the stuff that happens, the beginning of 2015 seems more likely.”

Ramis’ Ghostbusters 1 & 2 co-writer/costar Dan Aykroyd (who plays Dr. Raymond Stantz) previously said that the third installment in the franchise sees the original Ghostbusters team recruit a gang of younger scientists, in order to restart the poltergeist-catching business and keep it going for the future.

Reitman, during his interview with Deadline – which you should read to get his take on Ramis’ death and the many Ghostbusters 3 rumors that’ve cropped up over the years – didn’t confirm any explicit plot details for the project, but he did mention that “It’s a version of Ghostbusters that has the originals in a very minor role,” as has been reported in recent weeks.

In addition, Reitman commented on the enduring popularity of the Ghostbusters series:

“It really seems to have resonated, and I think a lot of adults who saw it when they were younger have shown it to their kids and they seem to respond much the same way. Sony sees this as a huge worldwide opportunity, and it is eager to make the film.”

According to Reitman, the most recent script draft for the Ghostbusters reboot is the one that’s been penned by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Men in Black III), who first boarded the project nearly two years ago – and received a “helping hand” from Aykroyd on the screenwriting process.

An older Ghostbusters 3 screenplay written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (Year One, Bad Teacher) – which Reitman claims was a “really good script” despite longtime rumors to the contrary – apparently ended up being scrapped, after the project failed to grab Ghostbusters 1 & 2 costar Bill Murray’s attention (Reitman claims that Murray “never actually said no, but he never said yes, so there was no way to make that film”).

Right now, it looks as though the new Ghostbusters movie will fall somewhere between being a “hard” franchise reboot (see: Josh Trank’s upcoming Fantastic Four) and a ”soft” reboot that continues to progress story threads featured in the previous films, as will be the case with next year’s Jurassic Park installment, Jurassic World. That, as they say, is the way things are… until further notice, anyway.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

Pixar sequels will include a new 'Incredibles' film, according to Pixar's president. (Walt Disney Studios/Pixar Animation/AP)

Pixar sequels: 'The Incredibles 2,' 'Cars 3' moving forward, says Pixar president

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 03.19.14

Many a person was relieved when Pixar president Ed Catmull offered his assurances that the beloved animation studio will, heron out, put renewed emphasis on the task of churning out quality original content – hence the company’s next two releases, Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur – rather than just prioritizing sequels and/or spinoffs of its previous hits (see: Cars 2, Monsters University, and so forth).

The plan moving forward – as Catmull described it – will be for Pixar to alternate between new intellectual properties and established franchise installments, on a year-by-year basis. We already knew that the list of upcoming sequels includes Finding Dory (i.e. the followup to Finding Nemo), but we can now officially add The Incredibles 2 to that list.

A sequel to The IncrediblesBrad Bird’s Oscar-winning 2004 computer-animated film about a family of superheroes – is something that many a person has been asking for, far more than any other prospective Pixar sequel mentioned to date.

In fact, yours truly can attest: pretty much every single time I’ve written about an upcoming Pixar movie (no matter what it is), someone inevitably leaves a comment expressing their desire to see the adventures of the middle-aged Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), their super-powered children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), and their friendly-neighbor Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) continue on the big screen.

Well, at long last, it appears that Disney/Pixar is ready to grant the masses of Incredibles die-hard fans their wish. Today, at the annual meeting for the shareholders and D23 members, Disney Chairman and CEO Robert A. Iger confirmed that not only is an Incredibles sequel being actively developed, but that Pixar and the Mouse House also have a third installment in the popular (though the least critically-respected among Pixar’s brands) Cars franchise planned and starting to move down the pipeline.

The news about Cars 3 is bound to generate far less excitement than the Incredibles 2 announcement. Fact is, after the comparatively lackluster Cars 2 – which many people still regard as superior to a lot of other kids-oriented entertainment on the market – and multiple less-than-memorable shorts focused around the tow-truck character Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), many a film buff tends to view the Cars franchise as being an easy way to make money for Disney/Pixar – and not much else.

On the other hand, the profitability of the Cars movies has eased pressure on Pixar and Bird to make Incredibles 2 as quickly as possible. Indeed, Bird has said on multiple times over the last decade that he’s never stopped brainstorming ideas for an Incredibles sequel, but has simply yet to find a premise that he believes has real potential – seeing how, like everyone else, he wants the sequel to match or improve upon the original film’s mix of rousing can-do action, engaging familial drama, and clever social commentary elements.

Hopefully, the reason that Incredibles 2 is now moving forward at a faster pace is because the creative minds over at Pixar have, at last, found a way to start cracking that especially difficult nut. Then again, it is Pixar; at this stage, its track record is still strong enough to ensure that any product the studio releases should have a reasonable amount of thought and care put it into. (Yes, even with something like Cars 3.)

As for Bird’s involvement as director on Incredibles 2, that isn’t guaranteed yet, even though (as reported by Variety) Iger says Bird is currently working on the screenplay. However, given his healthy working relationship with Disney (Bird is also putting together the sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland for the studio) – combined with his obvious affection for the franchise – there’s good reason to believe that Bird could end up calling the shots on this project.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

Mila Kunis stars in the film 'Jupiter Ascending.' (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum star in 'Jupiter Ascending' – check out the trailer for the sci-fi film

By Robert Yaniz Jr.Screen Rant / 03.18.14

Andy and Lana Wachowski first burst onto the scene with the 1996 crime thriller Bound, but it was their sophomore effort – ground-breaking sci-fi action thriller The Matrix – that went on to define their careers. However, in the years since concluding The Matrix trilogy, the writing/directing duo has struggled to live up to the success of the Keanu Reeves-fronted film.

Both of their subsequent directorial efforts – 2008 live-action cartoon Speed Racer and ambitious 2012 epic Cloud Atlas (which they co-directed with Tom Tykwer) – failed to draw in large audiences, and while these two films have their share of defenders (read our Cloud Atlas review), neither has lived up to the promise (i.e. box office numbers) of their signature franchise. That being said, their latest offering – sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending – could be a step in the right direction.

We’ve already seen the first U.S. trailer for the film – which stars Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis – and now we have our first look at the international trailer (see above). Narratively speaking, the latest footage doesn’t reveal much new information regarding the mysterious plot of the film, but questions are nothing new when it comes to the Wachowskis’ complex tales. The film’s visuals look impressive enough, and the quirky character design and juxtaposition of earthly elements with over-the-top sci-fi elements does bear some resemblance to another anticipated summer film, namely Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Like Rocket Raccoon’s big-screen debut, Jupiter Ascending is certainly one of the industry’s riskiest releases this year. The film’s creators are positioning it as a “science fiction space opera” and claim that – not unlike Cloud Atlas - it meshes together several different genres. In that way, the film could follow the tradition of sci-fi epics like Star Wars and Avatar, or it could prove to be a John Carter sized financial misfire, despite the star status of Tatum (Magic Mike) and Kunis (Oz: The Great and Powerful).

At this point, it could go either way, but considering the Wachowskis’ track record, the film will likely feature breathtaking effects and at least attempt to bring something fresh to theaters. Whether or not the film actually pulls it off is perhaps the biggest question surrounding the mystery-laden world of Jupiter Ascending.

Robert Yaniz Jr. blogs at Screen Rant.

Emily VanCamp stars in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier.' (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Emily VanCamp, Chris Evans star in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' – what are early reviews saying? (+video)

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 03.17.14

Last year, Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World continued Marvel Studios’ dominance at the box office, as the beginning of “Phase 2″ for the studio’s Shared Cinematic Universe, following The Avengers becoming a massive critical/financial hit. Both the latest Iron Man and Thor movies played well with audiences overall, though between hardcore fans griping about the films’ (mis)treatment of their comic book mythology and more general complaints – like how, arguably, Marvel has thus far been treading water in “Phase 2″ – the hope has been that this year’s MCU releases will up the ante, quality-wise.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been generating lots of positive buzz over the past few weeks in particular, with recently-unveiled footage from the Cap sequel indicating that early word about directors Anthony and Joe Russo – drawing from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger) – having knocked this one out of the park, may’ve not been exaggeration after all.

The filmmakers behind Winter Solider have identified it as being a superhero movie by way of political thriller, suggesting that it could break new creative ground for Marvel Studios; inclusion of more than just elements of a non-comic book film genre (example: the sprinkles of buddy/action in Iron Man 3) would indeed be something innovative for the young studio.

In addition, buzz surrounding Markus and McFeely’s script has suggested that its plot beats will shakeup the MCU something fierce – whether through Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) character arc or via direct narrative repercussions for other Marvel properties, like its television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Similarly, insiders have been claiming that, with the Cap sequel, the Russo brothers have transitioned with ease from making cult TV comedy (Arrested Development, Community) to creating impressive big-budget spectacle.

So… is there actually some fire behind all this smoke? Well, have a look through the initial reactions posted to Twitter, by various movie bloggers and journalists who caught an early pre-release screening for Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Steven Weintraub  @colliderfrosty

The CAPTAIN AMERICA sequel blew me away. Movie has a fantastic script, amazing action, and great character moments. Just about perfect.

1:14 AM - 11 Mar 2014

Germain Lussier @GermainLussier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is awesome. A tad too long, a tad too plotty, but its action & MCU impact will blow your damn mind.

2:45 AM - 11 Mar 2014 

Jarett Wieselman @JarettSays

Really liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Proves Joss isn't only 1 in Marvel's arsenal who can craft a compelling/fresh female char

1:18 AM - 11 Mar 2014 

Eric Eisenberg @eeisenberg

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is absolutely incredible. Best action in a Marvel solo movie and perhaps the best of them all - around.

1:06 AM - 11 Mar 2014

 Damon Houx  @houx

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER: Phase 2 is 3/3 for me. Anthony Mackie has finally found that breakthrough role.

1:43 AM - 11 Mar 2014

Don Kaye @donkaye

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is right up there as one of the best Marvel movies ever. Epic and full of great surprises for fans.

2:39 AM - 11 Mar 2014

You can peruse through additional Twitter reactions to the early screening of the Captain America sequel at sites like Collider and /Film, but the above posts seem to provide a nice summary of what people are saying in general about the film thus far:

  • It’s the best of Marvel’s “Phase 2″ movies yet, and one of the strongest films overall released by the studio.
  • Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are given proper screen time and development, as promised.
  • Despite a tad-convoluted plot, this movie feels more like a genuine “shared universe” installment (see: complaints about Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World being too isolated and non-impactful on the greater MCU narrative).

That’s by and large encouraging to hear, for sure. Winter Soldier is not only heavily based on a particularly famous (and critically-acclaimed) Captain America comic book storylines – so fans want to see it done justice onscreen – but in addition the film is such a pivotal entry in the buildup to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (This summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy quite literally takes place too far away to have as much immediate impact on Joss Whedon’s Avengers sequel.)

No doubt, the actual reviews for the Captain America sequel will be more informative and detailed with their inspection of the film, giving us a better idea as to how successful the movie is as simply a good Steve Rogers story – not to mention, whether or not it really is a popcorn-thriller that has something to say about contemporary world politics. Still, we’ll take a good omen wherever we can it, especially given some of the important developments that lie ahead for the MCU (both during and as a result of Cap’s new adventure).

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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