How to make movies the Marvel way

How to make movies the Marvel way (photo)

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Last week, I appeared on the BBC’s “Talking Movies” for a review of “Captain America: The First Avenger” with Tom Brook. As our conversation wound down, Brook looked forward to next summer’s “The Avengers,” the superhero movie to end all superhero movies (and if it’s is a flop, it very well could). He voiced an opinion I’m hearing with increasing frequency: that all of Marvel Studios’ recent movies — from “Iron Man 2” to “Thor” and now “Captain America” — feel like “one gigantic promotional trailer, a big tease for that film.”

There are moments in all those movies that make it hard not to think he’s right. “Iron Man 2″‘s story essentially pauses at the end of Act 2 so that Samuel L. Jackson can pop in and deliver the cameo equivalent of a commercial for “The Avengers.” Over what could literally and figuratively be described as a narrative coffee break, Jackson’s Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr.‘s Tony Stark have a conversation about S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark’s father, The Black Widow (another future Avenger, played by Scarlett Johansson) and assorted other topics that have little to do with matters at hand, and everything to do with a film coming years down the road. As a comic book reader for decades I know that Fury will ultimately unite the Avengers in their own movie. But what does someone who doesn’t know the Howling Commandos from Howlin’ Wolf think of Jackson’s endless series of payoff-less teases? After four movies and counting, I can see why some audiences might be getting frustrated. As a comic book fan, though, I see something else. I see a comic book company making movies the way they make comic books.

From “Iron Man” onward, Marvel has begun to build a shared universe akin to the one its characters populate in the pages of their monthly comics. Though the idea of a shared comics universe was pioneered by Marvel’s rival DC in the 1940s, the Marvel Comics of the 1960s was the place where the concept really took off. That’s when Stan Lee was writing and/or editing basically every book in the company’s line and began weaving this massive tapestry of interconnected four-color adventures. One month the Hulk would rampage through New York City, and the Fantastic Four would be called in to calm him down. In the next, Spider-Man might swing through Hell’s Kitchen and solve a case with Daredevil.

Shared comic book universes have never really taken off in movies, mostly because in the past comic book companies have licensed their individual characters to different movie studios: Spider-Man swings around the Sony lot, while the X-Men hang out at Fox. Even in cases where one studio controlled multiple properties, you don’t see many crossovers. Warner Brothers’ Superman and Batman’s movie universes are totally separate and distinct, and even though she’s known as a Batman villain, there was no mention of the Caped Crusader in the Halle Berry “Catwoman” spinoff movie from 2004 (I’m sure Batman was quite pleased with that arrangement).

Marvel’s gone the opposite route with these “Avengers” movies. Jackson’s recurring presence as Nick Fury (along with Clark Gregg’s equally frequent appearances as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson) is just one of the obvious symbols that Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America all exist on the same planet Earth and are destined to meet sooner or later. Amongst the easter eggs littered throughout the films: the prototype of Captain America’s shield was lying on one of Tony Stark’s work benches in “Iron Man,” while Cap fought in WWII alongside Stark’s father Howard, battling for control of an incredibly powerful tesseract that is said to have been stolen from the armory of Thor’s father Odin.

This is how you make movies the Marvel way: with an intricate web of characters battling against an endless series of cliffhangers. Every Marvel Studio movie ends with a clever tease for the next film: “Iron Man 2” gave you a glimpse of Thor’s hammer, “Thor” showed you the tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube) from “Captain America.” I often hear these bits described as fan service, since they offer narratively inessential cookies for hardcore nerds. But they also represent of the cinematic equivalent of “NEXT ISSUE: SOMEONE DIES!” dialogue boxes that pop up on the last pages of comic books. Comics work like addiction: each issue ends with the promise of even more excitement next month. To be fully satisfied, you have to come back for the next hit, but the next hit demands you return for another fix too. These credits teasers work exactly the same way.

I think there’s further to go with this idea. I would argue that the fact that many of these Marvel Studios films have, at least in my eyes, similar flaws, from their so-so action to their and rushed plotting, is indicative of a certain “house style” of moviemaking similar to the way that there was a “house style” at Marvel Comics in the 1960s when books were designed to look and sound similar. As for frustrating teases like Jackson’s, four appearances with no payoff is nothing: comic book readers routinely wait years or decades to find out closely guarded continuity secrets. If you want to see what I mean while getting an intense headache in the process, just read this Wikipedia page about the mystery of the X-Men’s Cyclops’ brother. It’s nuts.

There are probably even more parallels to be drawn between the way Marvel makes comics and movies. But I’ll leave things here for now, just like Marvel would. On a cliffhanger.

Do you like the way Marvel makes movies? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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