Review: Powerfully mediocre 'Fantastic Four' is neither disaster nor success
Credit: 20th Century Fox
C

Review: Powerfully mediocre 'Fantastic Four' is neither disaster nor success

As superhero films go, this one seems scared of its own shadow

Neither the disaster the fanboy nation seems to be itching to attack nor a significant improvement over the Tim Story movies, "Fantastic Four" seems doomed to please no one. If this were simply a science-fiction film about original characters, it would be a moderate pleasure that can't quite connect all the dots or pay off the various ideas it introduces. As an adaptation of the comic, it seems to miss nearly everything that seems exciting about "Fantastic Four" as a filmmaking opportunity, and it will only serve to reinforce the idea that these characters don't work in a movie.

Balderdash and nonsense, though. The real problem is that 20th Century Fox has learned nothing from their own successes or failures. If you'd told me that this film was made in 1994, I would absolutely believe you. They might as well have titled the movie "Fantastic Four: Hedging Our Bet," because they have imagined as small a version as possible of this first film, and in doing so, they have pretty much guaranteed that no one will walk away satisfied. Already, we're seeing early reviews that grumble about the lack of action in the film, and while it's a reasonable assumption that superhero films should have action, I think starting with that complaint misses the entire point of what it feels like Josh Trank and writers Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater have all tried to do here.

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Deadpool's eyes are just part of the fun of that filthy new trailer
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Deadpool's eyes are just part of the fun of that filthy new trailer

It's basically the Comic-Con trailer minus my favorite joke

The coolest thing about the design of Deadpool is the way his eyes are fully expressive and constantly changing. It's got to be a make-up effect, right? Like the mask is an actual appliance on the eyes that blends into the costume somehow?

Or am I wrong? Is it a computer effect added after the fact? That seems like the expensive and annoying option to me, and it removes Reynolds from the equation, which seems like part of the problem he already faced on "Green Lantern." Based on that joke he makes as they're wheeling him in to throw some Weapon X hoodoo on him, I'd say he's well aware of all the things he'd like to not do this time around.

This is not the exact same thing that they showed at Comic-Con, but it's close enough. They cut a funny bit introducing Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and they toned back one shot of ultra-violence, but it's basically the same footage cut slightly tighter. And if you only ever saw the pirated version of the Comic-Con stuff, then this is most likely the first time you can see the smoke effect at the end, which is a pretty spectacular and subtle gag.

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'Director's Commentary: Terror Of Frankenstein' is the ultimate film nerd joke
Credit: Fantasia Film Festival
A

'Director's Commentary: Terror Of Frankenstein' is the ultimate film nerd joke

Played perfectly straight-faced, this is a one-of-a-kind gag from the 'Room 237' team

While I am not lucky enough this summer to be in Montreal at the always-delightful Fantasia Film Festival, they've been kind enough to reach out to share some of their programming with me, and the first thing I watched once again reaffirms my faith in just how great they are at picking and supporting worthwhile and challenging and entertaining movies.

Case in point: "Director's Commentary: Terror Of Frankenstein."

There are certain titles that are provocative or that paint a picture or that hit you as particularly poetic or clever, but I'm especially fond of titles that sneak up on you. When I saw "Short Term 12" at SXSW, it was towards the end of the festival, and it was because it won a major narrative award. Before that, I thought it was a shorts program, and since I rarely review shorts out of festivals (simply because of the workload, not out of any philosophical stance), I had checked out on that film completely. Likewise, when I first saw festival listings for this film, I didn't get it. I didn't realize what it was. And now that I've seen it, I want to make sure no one else makes the mistake of missing it if they have an opportunity to see it.

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Doug Benson's Netflix doc on Comic-Con gets it surprisingly right
Credit: Netflix
B-

Doug Benson's Netflix doc on Comic-Con gets it surprisingly right

If the point is capturing the way an event feels, this is on-target

Doug Benson's rambling pot-fueled documentaries are all basically just an excuse for the comic to get very high in different locations, but in the process of putting the latest one together, he and director Ryan Polito have put together something that captures Comic-Con in a very accurate and not romanticized way.

This was a pretty solid year for me and Comic-Con, and so was last year. I enjoyed myself both times, so I guess technically I can't say I hate Comic-Con anymore, although that's been my mantra for a while. I think the accurate way of saying it is that I often hate elements of the experience of Comic-Con. There is a certain amount of hassle that goes with attendance that can just wear on you when you're trying to work, things that might never bother someone who is just attending for pleasure. It's easy to forget when you're working media that the vast majority of people there are not having that version of the experience. They're in those rooms because they love those things and they're having that very pure version of the experience. If I'm cynical about it, that's on me, not on Comic-Con itself.

Having said that, I think Comic-Con has been presented a certain way over the years, both in the media and in films about the event, like Morgan Spurlock's documentary from a few years ago. Doug Benson has had a lot of fun and gotten a lot of mileage out of making pot-themed reactions to Spurlock's films, starting with "Super High Me," and Netflix just premiered his latest special, "Chronic-Con: Episode 420." There's a good chunk of it dedicated to him trying to find Spurlock at Comic-Con, using Twitter and social media to slowly track him down. His other goal is to smoke pot with someone in a superhero costume. Those two threads are intercut with live material from his podcast and lots of experiential footage, and overall, what struck me while watching it was just how clearly it feels like a more honest take on what is both good and terrible about it.

One of the few things the film doesn't capture is the way the lines for Hall H have metastasized over the last few years into something truly unpleasant for a majority of the regular fans who want to get into those things. Benson has something more akin to the experience I have, where there's a certain amount of access that is not available to everyone. The random weird way his day unfolds, the encounters with people who are familiar with him, the way he drifts from building to building, from event to party to someone's room… that's something that is familiar not from any one year I've gone but from every year I've gone. It's a little surreal in that actual mutual friends of mine show up at various points, and the entire thing almost feels like deja vu for me.

As a film, it's sort of shambling, just like "The Greatest Movie Ever Rolled," but it does pay off both of the main storylines well, and it feels like Benson's finally acknowledged what a weird hook it is to keep running riffs on the Morgan Spurlock films.

You can find the film on Netflix now.

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Critics might not like 'Fantastic Four,' but it's not the genre's fault
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Critics might not like 'Fantastic Four,' but it's not the genre's fault

The film's done, guys. Now is not the time to go on the defensive.

Tomorrow morning, I'll see "Fantastic Four," and I'm taking my kids with me. Part of the reason is because when I see films with them, it serves to cut through hype in a very particular way. My kids don't know about buzz, and they don't know about production gossip, and they don't care what Josh Trank did or didn't do in a rented house or what has or hasn't been reshot. It's not important. All they care about is the movie, and that's how I'd like to walk into this one.

Won't be easy, of course. No matter what the film is at this point, it feels like a lot of people have already made their minds up about it. Oddly, though, I get that more from genre nerds than I do from other critics. I think for the most part, every critic I've spoken to about it is walking in not quite blank, curious but not sold, skeptical but not toxic. Team "Fantastic Four" must be feeling like they're under siege, though, because they're in damage control mode in a way that feels co-ordinated, and it's sending a weird message that I think they should step back from if they can.

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Review: 'Straight Outta Compton' is largely successful pop mythmaking
Credit: Universal Pictures
B+

Review: 'Straight Outta Compton' is largely successful pop mythmaking

A look at one of the pivotal moments in the history of rap is well-drawn

There are few movie forms more stagnant than the biopic. I am not a fan for the most part, and it takes something special to knock me out of that mindset. While "Straight Outta Compton" plays by the rules for the most part, the film has a great cast and an undeniable energy that drew me in, and considering we're talking about events from a quarter-century ago, there is a surprisingly urgent undertone to the entire enterprise that reminds us that we have not made as much progress as we'd like to think as a culture.

Screenwriter Andrea Berloff made her feature debut nine years ago with "World Trade Center," and she hasn't had a produced credit since. She had an impossible job here, trying to boil down the rise and fall of an iconic band to a mere 142 minutes. Jonathan Herman is co-credited for the script, with S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus both credited with story, and I'm not surprised it went through a lot of handsFor the most part, the film follows a familiar shape, with the early rise of the band inevitably playing as more fun and thrilling than the later years, and that's sort of unavoidable. Director F. Gary Gray has directed the film as modern myth, charting the major highs and lows of the band through the filter of knowing exactly what's going to happen to each of them. This is a movie that is not afraid to foreshadow like crazy, and in some cases, that was part of the fun. Even before he speaks a word, the appearance of Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) for the first time got a big laugh out of the audience, and likewise, the moment Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) shows up at the edge of the frame, it's like the first time the fin breaks water in "Jaws."

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Here's how to read between the lines of Ivan Reitman's 'Ghostbusters' comment
Credit: Sony Pictures

Here's how to read between the lines of Ivan Reitman's 'Ghostbusters' comment

This isn't quite as benign a press release as it seems to be at first

Ivan Reitman just issued an official statement via Eric Reich, who handles publicity for The Montecito Picture Company, Reitman's company. It's very pointed, and I think there's a rock solid reason for him to make the statement right now. Here it is, exactly as it was sent over.

"There has been a lot of excitement recently about what is happening with the Ghostbusters franchise. As the producer of the new Ghostbusters film, I feel the need to clarify. There is only one new Ghostbusters movie and that is the Paul Feig directed version coming next July, presently filming and going fantastically.  The rest is just noise."

First, what I see here above anything else is a producer standing behind his director. He is right. Paul Feig is the only person making a "Ghostbusters" movie right now. The more I see from Feig's film, the more I'm excited to see how it all comes together. I am already absolutely fascinated by Kate McKinnon's character's appearance, and I like that they've retained the handmade aesthetic of the original.

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Film Nerd 2.0 stays gold with an emotional screening of 'The Outsiders'
Credit: American Zoetrope

Film Nerd 2.0 stays gold with an emotional screening of 'The Outsiders'

Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 film maintains its power to slay young audiences

Film Nerd 2.0 is an ongoing series in which we explore the ways we share media with our kids, particularly those of us who grew up deeply in love with movies. The media landscape has changed completely, and parents need to be more engaged than ever in what their kids watch and what they take from that entertainment.

"Daddy, why did the Karate Kid Johnny die?"

When "The Outsiders" was released in 1983, I was 13, and I already dearly loved the S.E. Hinton novel. It's melodramatic as hell, but that's how it feels to be a teenager, no matter what era you're talking about. I may not have had to deal with Socs or Greasers, but navigating the turbulent emotional landscape of adolescence was something that informed every line of Hinton's book. Francis Ford Coppola's film is burnished and beautiful, and it featured a young cast made up of actors on the cusp of becoming hugely famous. C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez… and some kid named Tom Cruise.

Since I'm almost positive federal law has declared this "Tom Cruise Week," I wanted to share something with the boys. It seems a little early to bust out "Risky Business," unless I'm looking to kickstart puberty in the both of them. And while I get the eternally silly camp appeal of "Top Gun," it's also not a film I think they'd get anything out of at this point. I considered "Rain Man," and we may well do that sooner rather than later, but as soon as I thought of "The Outsiders," it felt right.

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'Endless Love' to 'Eyes Wide Shut' - All of Tom Cruise's films ranked
Credit: Touchstone, Paramount, Warner Bros

'Endless Love' to 'Eyes Wide Shut' - All of Tom Cruise's films ranked

I'm sure there will be some hubbub about the neighbors and what they're doing down there.

Two film franchises, both just now reaching their fifth film, but nothing alike in overall execution. What makes "Mission: Impossible" so rich and robust as a series, and why is "Vacation" such a drag?

The answer to the first part of that question has to do with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, and anyone looking to understand how to build a 21st century franchise would be wise to closely study the model that they've established. Not only has it proven incredibly limber, it seems like they're still just picking up steam.

All they have to do now is figure out how to keep Tom Cruise alive and looking exactly like he does right now for the next 100 years.

Since it's the IMF we're talking about, I assume they will succeed.

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Review: 'Vacation' runs out of gas long before it reaches its destination
Credit: Warner Bros
C

Review: 'Vacation' runs out of gas long before it reaches its destination

Hey, at least it's not as bad as 'European' or 'Vegas'

1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation" is a film I have an enormous fondness for, and I have no doubt part of why I feel that way is because of when I saw the film. After all, I was 13 when it came out, and the script by John Hughes felt like it was shockingly transgressive at the time.

A few weeks back, I saw the film again for the first time in a while, and while I smiled at most of the familiar scenes and lines, I also saw the film with fresh eyes, and I was struck by the fact that, overall, it's a little shabby. I think Harold Ramis gets great performances out of his entire cast, but as actual filmmaking? It's a step forward from the "held together with bitter tears and cocaine" aesthetic of "Caddyshack," but not a giant step.

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