3.31.2009

Point-Counterpoint


The King of Fighters

Synopsis
A stylish, high-octane, live action feature based on the highly successful video game franchise, in which the last surviving descendants of three legendary clans are continuously transported to other dimensions to test their martial arts skills against an evil force that seeks to invade and infect the real world.

EDCO's Point:
It would seem to have a great team and best of intentions behind it... on the surface.

But when I hear things about taking "license" with story and looking to expand appeal to a wider audience, the alarm goes off. I think it's just lazy (and on a small level insulting). What's the point of making a King of Fighter's movie if you aren't going to embrace and exploit the things that found a fanbase in the first place?

Japanese videogames typically have ludicrously deep storylines behind even the most esoteric details. Some may find them thin or non-consequential, but to think that they need to be bypassed to adapt to a film, well you're just not trying hard enough. If they are weird, the goal should be to present them just as weird! Else why wouldn't you just create something of your own? Marketing wants to trade off the name, yet has no reverence for what the name represents.

Also KOF has one of the longest pedigrees of balls-out fantastic character designs. To not try and translate that costuming verbatim is folly, I hope they just gave a drawing to the costume dept. and said "make this." Maggie Q as Mai? Fail. What is Mai's well known and game-iconic body type? Is Mai the character that should be cast lithe and tone with a petite, dancer's physicality? Ugh, a casting call would have done well, even [after you] take away all the models and fluff. Like there aren't 10 other KOF characters MQ could have played.

BD's Counterpoint:
The fact of the matter is that [EDCO's] eval of the "crimes" against this kind of material has plagued videogame adaptations since their inception. However, I also have to acknowledge that films needs to attract investors to get made and that means building into it features that increases its ability to open wallets, secure distribution deals, and get the folks who will exhibit this excited about it at trade shows like the lovefest going on in Vegas now called ShoWest.
Ultimately, however, producers [have] only [cared] about developing a way to bring the characters together rather than developing a story that makes said encounters a matter of fact. ["Ludicrously deep storylines" are] only esoteric to the uninitiated; it's your job as a producer to find a way to explain it to them. Projects that strip the meat away from the original property only leaves a bare bones idea that alienates the core fanbase, effectively eliminating the word of mouth they can generate. On the other hand, a project that adheres rigidly to all the original's details, stands to please only its niche audience and alienate the general audience, making it difficult for investors to hop on board.

The problem is time. Asian production timelines are extraordinarily fast--1 to 1.5 years from initial idea to premiere. That's not enough time to develop a proper script or find the right cast that will both serve the demands of the original material and the demands of investors. I agree that there could be a better choice for the character of Mai, but MQ is a face and a name you can slap on a poster, a presskit, or PR video. If you find a great gal who fits the physique, can she act? Can she fight? If she lacks either, you need time to train her. But if MQ can attract the investors, then there's nothing a prosthetic appliance couldn't fix to match Mai's game-iconic lines.

Summary:
Jim Jarmusch's rule #3 is absolutely right. However, Jarmusch has the benefit of making small scale films that neither involve complex action set pieces, effects work, nor a large amount of sets to be built. These kinds of genre films involve a large sum of money to get made. Unfortunately, the rule of thumb has been to develop a film that only vaguely resembles its source material and in extreme cases may only share said material's title. On the other hand, films that have tried to adhere to the source's ideas without developing it effectively for the different medium in which it will be exhibited tend to only appear as "inside jokes" to those unfamiliar with it.

Our wish is that filmmakers have the courage to adapt material with an eye on telling the story in as close to the same form that made it popular in its previous medium. Alongside this, we hope for the existence of producers who will believe in the material and the filmmakers' vision of it without resorting to demanding that, in order to have broad appeal, the material be changed and diluted so it becomes a theft of the concept and a robbery of the fan base's money. All we have ever asked is that they do it right; I think films like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy prove that fans are willing to accept certain changes as long as the adaptation gets the characters, the story, and a number of details right. And the box-office figures of these films prove it is worth it.

3.30.2009

Public Enemies

Just viewing the first trailer for Michael Mann's latest does two things. First, it makes you glad that a filmmaker like Mann exists. The second, is that it makes you salivate at the prospect of seeing a new Michael Mann film.

I am an unabashed Mann fan ever since the Miami Vice days. He developed some amazingly original programming for TV including Crime Story and L.A. Takedown. I saw his feature film potential came to fruition beautifully in Manhunter, and he displayed his versatility with The Last of the Mohicans. Then, a little movie called Heat was released in 1995... insert "breakout" cliche here. He has continued to release films that are unmistakably Michael Mann both in his style and in the themes he explores. I think it is his love and command of portraying a metropolis at night that is the signature of Mann. He paints the late hours of cities as just as vibrant as their daytime hours if not more so. He loves to reveal how light and shadow interplay, revealing things about the familiar that one may have not noticed before in the glaring light of the sun. It's no accident that his narratives have thrived in locales that are meccas for sun worshipers; yet, this also plays into his thematic tendencies as a writer.

Public Enemies seems to explore the relationship between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis as well as revealing the gray areas between them. It is obvious that Depp is digging in to his experience being devilish from playing Jack Sparrow and turning that into a cunning charm that made Dillinger a folk hero to many in Depression Era America. Just as John Woo loves to explore the duality of good and evil, I think Mann's consistent and wonderful exploration of the shades overlapping light and dark, and what each reveals about the other has been at the heart of his work. With the dubious reputation a fledgling FBI built during those days under J. Edgar Hoover, the "good guys" will certainly be portrayed with more tarnish and less gleam than the genre generally utilizes.
The other thing you have to appreciate about Mann is his ability to make his characters "larger than life." His characters, even the ones based on real individuals, become less archetype or more mythic. There is just the way he stages scenes, chooses camera angles, and lights his actors that brings back a sense of the old studio days when there was no "small screen" so film characters and their adventures were as large as the screens onto which they were projected. I think this is a rare skill these days when people's horizon are more 4:3 than 16:9. The fact that Mann was able to attract Depp to portray his first "heavy" ever is a testament to the material and the directors ability to bring that material to vivid life free of cookie-cutter simplicity.

3.29.2009

Venture Bros. Season 3: When package design trumps features

The question wasn't whether or not to purchase the latest season of The Venture Brothers, it was which edition to buy: DVD or BluRay?

The BluRay had the advantage of being BluRay, making the entire season available on one disc, along with a bonus soundtrack CD that I'd no doubt enjoy. The BlueRay package is colored blue in a cardboard sleeve around the standard plastic case, retailing for $40.

The DVD on the other hand is a vastly more complementary orange-- in consideration of the brilliant tribute/mockery of videogame packaging from days of yore. Even tho it was shrink wrapped in the store, if past Venture Bros. DVD's were any indication, I knew there would be a fabulous work of art on the cardboard clamshell foldout that the BlueRay clearly lacked. $26.

As you can see from these pics, I was not disappointed. BluRay: Denied.



3.26.2009

Noise

Do not we all have limits? Even those of us who strive to remain calm in the face of adversity may eventually succumb to a breaking point, when the object of one's strife is endlessly attacked like waves against a rocky shore.

Noise exposes a near-inescapable annoyance of modern life, the relentless audible assault populated society forces upon us. The focus is the ubiquitous car alarm, that which brings the film's protagonist David Owen to his edge. A thinking man with designs on a workable solution, he sabotages himself by succumbing to his anger and frustration. David's actions in attempt to silence his neighborhood escalate over time, bringing him to extremes and losing grip on his life and family. His trials, personal and literal, steadily present the facts and support for the notion that car alarms are ineffectual to the point of uselessness, and do nothing to justify their intended purpose. It is something we have all trained ourselves to ignore, but when faced with the simple logic displayed in both exposition and the consequences of David's actions, it is astounding we as a society have put up with it as long as we have.

David is wonderfully portrayed by Tim Robbins. The character is intelligent and determined, short-tempered and self-destructive. Robbins elevates these qualities to a level that practically absolves the criminality of David's blatant vigilante acts. David is not played as crazed lunatic with fanatic designs, but as a man who shows us the paths that are taken when we choose to enforce our ideals at great personal cost.

Eventually David becomes a bit of a city folk hero on a crusade of vandalism and anti car-alarm decals. He finds somewhat of a catharsis in his cause, meets new friends and lovers, and even gets attention from city officials. Car alarms-- and noise itself-- become the enemy to a character we desperately want to succeed. What is most difficult to come to grips with is that success can never really be achieved. We think we live in a world where someone like David can actually bring about change. We desperately want this to be, and are even given a glimpse of how it is possible. While based on screenwriter Henry Bean's real life experiences, there is a realization that this is a fictional tale and it really is up to citizens to put aside our apathy and act. The film's resolution may initially come across as anti-climactic, but on reflection tells us everything we need to know. Armed with David Owen's example, we can ponder our resolve not only against incessant car alarms, but individual peeves as well.

3.25.2009

Where The Wild Things Are


The natural fear when you hear of a project like this is whether or not a complete film can be realized from a 48-page children's book. It did not help matters that the production of the film has been low on publicly released information. That time is now at an end with the debut of the official trailer.

I think fears can be put to rest. The trailer effectively indicates that the sense of play and the power of imagination that is the foundation of the book is truly the heart of this film. There is so much to digest in these few minutes, but already one feels comfortable with the familiarity of the imagery, yet intrigued by the new things we have not seen before. Certainly, the anticipation for discovery and adventure will be as high for the audience as it is for the character of Max. I must also commend Spike Jonez and company for the exquisite production design. Thank you for utilizing costumes and puppetry to bring our furry friends to life and not CG. Seeing their form bounce, wrinkle, and get muddied is important for us to feel that Max's imaginary world is as real as ours.

All I can say now is that October seems a very long way off. However, I must echo the warnings I have read on the net. To those of you at the Hollywood studios, leave Spike Jonez alone and allow him to make the movie he wants to make. You will be better off for it.

3.24.2009

The Five Rules of Filmmaking according to Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch is one of those filmmakers who has successfully made a career of being outside of the mainstream, and being very proud of it. You either like his films or you don't get them. I happen to be of the former, but understand those who feel the latter. However, that's what being creative is about, right? Back in 2004, he wrote an article for Movie Maker magazine on his five rules of filmmaking. I think his points are all valid; more interesting is #5. That quote from Godard is great. Yes, that is exactly it, isn't it?

Rule #1: There are no rules. There are as many ways to make a film as there are potential filmmakers. It’s an open form. Anyway, I would personally never presume to tell anyone else what to do or how to do anything. To me that’s like telling someone else what their religious beliefs should be. Fuck that. That’s against my personal philosophy—more of a code than a set of “rules.” Therefore, disregard the “rules” you are presently reading, and instead consider them to be merely notes to myself. One should make one’s own “notes” because there is no one way to do anything. If anyone tells you there is only one way, their way, get as far away from them as possible, both physically and philosophically.

Rule #2: Don’t let the fuckers get ya. They can either help you, or not help you, but they can’t stop you. People who finance films, distribute films, promote films and exhibit films are not filmmakers. They are not interested in letting filmmakers define and dictate the way they do their business, so filmmakers should have no interest in allowing them to dictate the way a film is made. Carry a gun if necessary.
Also, avoid sycophants at all costs. There are always people around who only want to be involved in filmmaking to get rich, get famous, or get laid. Generally, they know as much about filmmaking as George W. Bush knows about hand-to-hand combat.

Rule #3: The production is there to serve the film. The film is not there to serve the production. Unfortunately, in the world of filmmaking this is almost universally backwards. The film is not being made to serve the budget, the schedule, or the resumes of those involved. Filmmakers who don’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky appears to be upside down.

Rule #4: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. You get the chance to work with others whose minds and ideas may be stronger than your own. Make sure they remain focused on their own function and not someone else’s job, or you’ll have a big mess. But treat all collaborators as equals and with respect. A production assistant who is holding back traffic so the crew can get a shot is no less important than the actors in the scene, the director of photography, the production designer or the director. Hierarchy is for those whose egos are inflated or out of control, or for people in the military. Those with whom you choose to collaborate, if you make good choices, can elevate the quality and content of your film to a much higher plane than any one mind could imagine on its own. If you don’t want to work with other people, go paint a painting or write a book. (And if you want to be a fucking dictator, I guess these days you just have to go into politics...).

Rule #5: Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to."

Jarmusch has a new film out which I'll be writing more about in the coming weeks, but you can find a link for it at the bottom of the page under "Anticipated Films." Look for The Limits of Control.

3.23.2009

The Perfect Sleep



Continuing with the "Noir" theme, here is a film that has all the trappings of a noir, but puts its own unique spin on it. Yes, it has the "tough-as-nails" hero, the voluptuous femme fatale, and the sinister mastermind, but it also has this rather wry humor about it--at least that's what I can gather from the trailer:



You have to love the casting of Patrick Bauchau as the heavy. That voice is too damn cool and his smoldering style of menace is perfect for the mood of the film. There is a surreal visual style being employed that doesn't exactly adhere to "noir" form, but I think this fits the apparent intention of the story. Like all noir films, there is a sense of menace and underlying atmosphere of dread; however, The Perfect Sleep also seems to have a revenge element that creates an air of uncertainty for all the characters whereas in a classic noir this sense of uncertainty hangs over the head of the protagonist alone. Add to this the notion that the standard combat motif is not guns but martial arts and you certainly have something worthy of interest. The filmmakers' description of the film is no less heady and fanciful:
Think of the hard-boiled world of film noir: the world of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, a world of femme fatales, a world of shadows. Now imagine this world populated with characters from tragic Russian novels like those by Dostoevsky: tormented figures suffering through harsh circumstance. This unique world provides the foundation for the dark and vivid dreamscape of “The Perfect Sleep.”
You can find more at the official MySpace page for the film here.
Do yourself a favor and check out the "Do Not Go See the Perfect Sleep" version of the trailer.

3.21.2009

A Boot to Reboots


So, I guess there's a new game in Hollywood. You thought you were getting sick of Hollywood remakes of foreign film? Live-action adaptations of comics & videogames? Film versions of television shows? Well, it seems they have noticed and the operative word the studios are bouncing around these days is "Reboot."

Now, it's not enough to remake something. In their infinite and insatiable grab for your money (which all of us have less of these days), the studios are now double dipping. They are actually calling the proverbial "do-over" on certain franchises which either didn't meet their sales goals or are putting a "new spin" on an older franchise. For the latter, you may wonder what's the difference between calling it a "reboot" and a "remake?" Technically, there is none--but hey, if they can put it under a new umbrella, why not? They know you're getting tired of remakes? So, why not a "reboot!" It's like a thief who admits, "You know, I came close to robbing you. Next time, I just have to find another way into your house." What are some of the projects heading for a reboot? Here are just a sampling:

Fantastic 4
Fox, jealous of the success WB and Paramount are having with its comic book franchises, has decided that they will try again with the franchises to which they own the license, starting with the Fantastic Four. However, if you read the press release, you will see this little blurb:
"The site adds that Fox wants to reboot the series in a tone described as 'less bubble gum' and more in the vein of those two previous examples [Iron Man and Dark Knight]."
I beg your pardon? It's the so-called bubblegum nature of the comic that makes the Fantastic Four...the Fantastic Four. Maybe if you developed a better script with people who understand how to handle the adventure with a light touch, you would actually have something. Trying to go dark with these characters is not the way to go.

Nightmare on Elm Street
An absolute classic. Quite an original for it's time and still quite good upon viewing today. How do you figure they will try to improve on the original? More gore? Grittier cinematography? Freddy will have two gloves instead of one? You can read more about it here.

Predator
Even with Robert Rodriguez attached, I just have to shake my head at this one. Various attempts to capitalize on this franchise have all fallen flat. As par for the course, instead of offering something new, all they are offering is just more Predators according to the following quote from this article:
"In the reboot a team of commandoes face down a mysterious race of vicious monsters."
Sounds like the classic mistake for a sequel; offer the audience only more of the same, instead of better.

Hellraiser
Another classic horror film which I am sure will only offer more gore rather than anything substantially better than what the original brought to the table. Read about it here.

Tomb Raider
You knew this was coming. Another Fox franchise that they ran into the ground, developed only to take advantage of the game's popularity which, even with a reboot in the game franchise, seems to have run its course. Anyway, they seemed to have found a new Lara since Angelina Jolie's peg rate is probably more than Fox is willing to pay according to Ain't It Cool News.

Robocop
Like the Predator reboot mentioned above, this one has a talented director in Alex Proyas attached to it. And just like I said before, the only thing I can see them improving upon is the effects. Truly unnecessary. Read more here.

Conan
There were rumors of John Milius' script for the sequel hinted at the end of the first film and by 2002, it seemed the project was all but lost according to this article on Ain't It Cool News. Read Moriarty's link to his script review and you will find that a good movie was there on paper. Apparently, instead of following up on this, WB has decided on a "re-do" instead since Arnold is now involved in, you know, runnig the 4th largest economy in the world. The success of the LOTR Trilogy is certainly tempting a lot of studios to develop a fantasy franchise, but here's another case where if you want to do the character of Conan right, you had best treat it with the same veracity the title character deserves or else, don't bother at all.

One of the reasons this blog was started was to also talk about all the films that people aren't talking about; there's plenty of them out there, and more importantly, they're based on original material. Instead of wasting all this money trying to squeeze successful franchises dry or resurrect ones that didn't do well in the first place (there's a reason for that folks), they could be developing fresh new material by some very talented people. You know guys, save yourself some money; restore some the classic films you want to "reboot" with new sound and cleaned up picture, sell it on DVD/Blu-ray or have a short run in the theaters and introduce them to a new audience who will then come to appreciate today's films.
Sadly, however, the state of the industry has become too incestuous to warrant or even breed that type of thinking. It's all about building a marketable package that plays across a wide audience spectrum. I wrote those words intentionally, because that's how those people talk. Notice, there's no hint of anything remotely resembling words like "entertaining," "original," "creative," etc. They speak as cold and calculating as some Lehman Brothers banker and well, you know how that story goes....

3.20.2009

The Babysitters

Just a stylish little indie film where a savvy high school girl puts on her entrepreneur hat and starts a lucrative babysitting business by offering the services of herself and fellow classmates.

Oh, I should mention something:

Babysitting = Prostitution.

Sure it all starts out innocently enough, when John Leguizamo's skeevy dad character Michael makes a play for his sitter... and succeeds. He tips big-- really big-- out of guilt and soon the lightbulb goes off. The sitter, Shirley, played oh-so-cooly by Katherine Waterston, sees a business opportunity wrapped in her burgeoning sexuality just as Michael looks to recommend her services to the neighborhood. Soon enough she's enlisting the aid of one of her friends. Things kind of snowball from there with a few things you expect and a few that you don't.

It's incredibly hard to ignore the more seductive scenes featuring aforementioned Waterston. One scene in particular showcases body karate that delivers a Tatsumaki Senpyukaku KO. It's all a little bit pervy in regards to the storyline, she's in high school, Leguizamo's character is a married father who's bored with his life, Lolita references are plentiful, etc. While Waterston plays a high school girl in the movie, we know she's not one in real life... else they don't get to do that kind of stuff on film, yeah? Oh, wait. There's a breadth of moral ambiguity in enjoying this film that is inversely proportionate to how much you have to justify it. Leguizamo also produced the film in addition to getting top billing, isn't it interesting how that worked out. Scrupulous allusions can be imagined, however were I myself in any position to continually produce or finance below-the-radar films as Leguizamo does, it would only be a matter of time until I wrote myself into an tantalizing, risque love scene in the name of arthouse cinema. More power to him, I guess.

Oogling aside, Waterston skillfully holds up the movie, which is dependent on her central character. Leguizamo, too, is no slouch, and each are in the midst of a respectable supporting cast. Still, Waterston is the standout. From her strict madame-in-training management to the film's crushing (almost predictable) end, she's got the chops. She seems poised to be an indie darling and I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her.

Director David Ross plays the story arrow straight, even tho there's no shortage catty dialogue and black humor. Tho around the 2/3 mark things do get awful dramatic, as the rules of screenwriting dictate the shit has gotta start hitting the fan. In fact a couple scenarios play out that are downright unsettling. In lesser hands it could have gone the way of any number of forgettable taboo-inspired dramedies, but I gotta say The Babysitters is a quality film despite its sensationalist premise. That premise remains the hook, but the funny thing is if you've ever seen a segment of 20/20 or Dateline NBC, you know this kind of thing is happening somewhere in suburbia, right now. As is often the case with our most lurid subjects, both art and life are imitating each other.

3.18.2009

J.J Abram's Star Trek



The new trailer for J.J. Abrams' re-imagining of the classic Star Trek series is certainly a sight to behold. Actually, it's quite an aural experience with the excellent score by Michael Giachinno doing most of the emotional conjuring backed up by the impressive imagery and select snippets of dialogue. As trailer's go, it is definitely one of the best seen this year.

I have been somewhat skeptical of this project, mainly because I just didn't see a need to go back to the early days of the crew from the television series we'd come to be familiar with these odd 40+ years (!!). However, the selection of J.J. Abrams was at least the first right decision the producers made. His attention to detail and love for the original material was well on display in his turn at the helm of the most recent Mission:Impossible. He brought teamwork to the franchise and at least a sense of espionage that had made the television series enjoyable.

And yet, some doubts remained. The trailer sets up nicely the challenge to a young James T. Kirk to join Starfleet and live up to his father's reputation, and gives a glimpse at the epic scale to the threat they will face. However, the trailer seems to focus on a few, key segments of the film. The crux of the first and part of the second act, I believe, will be the cadets' time at Starfleet Academy, of which only brief instances are shown. How will this part play out? I certainly don't want something resembling a big budget version of adolescent themed shows that pepper the airwaves these days. It will also a very difficult task to wrangle all the threads of the canon which, over various television series and films, has quite a few loose threads. My main caveat, however, was that the characters are imbued with a real life that we hadn't heard of yet without relying too heavily on trying to connect them to the familiar. I think the Star Wars Prequels was severely weighted down by Lucas' attempts to make sure that he drew a bright, center lane line from things you saw in the Original Trilogy to the Prequels (and vice-versa).



The dread began to set in when I read that we were going to see how the young Kirk reprogrammed the computer for the Kobayashi Maru test. That doesn't need to be seen; it's best left as the legend it is referred to in dialogue in Wrath of Khan.

Then there are the personal nitpicks such as the set design of the Enterprise bridge which I find to be a little too "advanced" for the time period it is supposed to be set in. It looks more advanced than the bridge of the Enterprise-D from "Next Gen". How about some real buttons, switches and dials guys? At least the sight of Sulu using a chrome throttle at the helm is reassuring.
In the end, I hope moments like the scene above won't seem forced. I can already see from the trailer that the well worn Star Trek plot device of (highlight to read) time travel is central to the film's story, but I do think seeing how our young cadets rise to the occasion at an hour of need will be quite stirring. Consider me cautiously optimistic.

3.16.2009

"You have a...sister"


You may have noticed a lolipop sucking, knife wielding Asian lass in the Give 'Em Hell Malone trailer posted yesterday. I mentioned that the underworld boss had lieutenants, one of them being Ving Rhames' character. Well, the other is named "Mauler" and is played by Chris Yen. "Who?" you might say. OK, it's obvious that she's probably new to the scene. So, what if I told you that her brother's name is Donnie?

Yeah, that Donnie Yen. It seems she's been slowly making her way into the entertainment world, following the the footsteps and getting a bit of an assist from big brother. She looks rather capable and according to an interview she did with Kung Fu Cinema.com about her role as Mauler, she does her own choreography as well. She co-starred in a Hong Kong action-comedy titled PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIR and will soon appear in the television series, "Rockville, CA."

I will definitely be looking out for her in future films. Here's hoping the Yen blood will produce another great action star. More information, photos, links to articles, and clips can be found at her official website.

3.15.2009

Give 'Em Hell Malone

Now there's a manly title. This film is starting to gather some buzz. Why? Well, it's directed by Russell Mulcahy. You might remember him from a movie called Highlander. It also stars Thomas Jane and Ving Rhames. It's an old skool Noir beat 'em up and Mulcahy's no-nonsense (and yes, some might say low budget) style is perfect for this type of film. The teaser trailer was released a few months back, but you can definitely see that Mulcahy understands the genre and how to play it with in a contemporary context.



Hell, I'm in on this movie because of the amount of slammed muscle cars on display. It's got all the right archetypes: baddass hired gun (Jane), a mysterious and sexy woman, an underworld boss, his lieutenants (one being Rhames), and an object of desire everyone is after and the source of everyone's trouble. Do you need anymore? Here's the official logline from the production company, Hannibal Pictures:
Thomas Jane as the title character and Ving Rhames as his rival, "Boulder." Malone, tough private eye, takes a job retrieving a case containing a mysterious secret. Bullets, fists, and blood fly as he fights through an army of thugs to protect the secret.
And yeah, people are shooting revolvers--so far not an automatic spray machine in sight! The release date is April 1st. Look for it in your local listings.

3.13.2009

Blood: The Last Vampire *Updated*


Things are finally moving on this live-action adaptation of the Production I.G. OVA. It seems I've been following the production of this film forever, and after a long drought of images or official news, the film is set to be released in several markets this summer.

Directed by Chris Nahon (Kiss of the Dragon), I think Blood will make a rather successful transfer from the anime thanks to the original's setting in the modern world; no hyper-fantastic characters or world to deal with (ahem--another post to be sure). The European trailer really shows off the stylized action and visuals, though I could do without the poorly written and overacted voice-over.

This is also the first time we've heard lead actress Gianna Jun (aka Jeon Ji-Hyeon) speak and I think any concerns about her English should be put away; anyone who complains now were probably pre-disposed against the film or her and would be better off seeing something else.

Naturally, the film will probably be taking some detours from the anime, as it should, delving into backstory to set up the heroine and her plight. I only hope the chill pathos she displays in the animation will be aptly captured.I also hope it will stray away from the "Ooohhh I'm sooo Evil" villain. Considering this role is being played by The Last Samurai's Koyuki, there should be more dimension to her character than the drawings from which the animation was created.


Here is the link to the Official Japanese Site. It streams a briefer teaser, but should be uploaded with goodies as the release date approaches.

**Update**
The official full Japanese trailer is now online over at Yahoo Japan.

3.12.2009

ScoJo as Black Widow. Um, Thanks?



Superherohype reports from another report that ScoJo is a lock as Black Widow.

Wasn't expecting this, and frankly don't know what to think. Stunt casting? Really good agent? Oh, for sure, I can stare at Ms. Johansson for hours and find her striking and immensely photogenic. The thought of her traipsing around with grappling hooks and machine guns is pretty exciting... However, the inaugural Iron Man set a pretty high standard for acting in these silly superhero flics we love, and I'm not going too far out on a limb to suggest someone might find themselves a tad behind in class. I have seen Johansson in many a film and she can get the job done, I far from dislike her on film. But Woody Allen maven or not, as far playing opposite Downey Jr., I'm having a hard time seeing her as more than attractive in black leather. Shame on me, I know, but I will be happy to be proven wrong.

(art in the above by Dan Brereton. If you know the photographer for the lovely companion shot, let us know!)

3.09.2009

Watchmen


It was a long time coming, but it may be that we finally got the Watchmen film we've been waiting for.

The question is who exactly the collective "we" is in this sceanrio. It's next to impossible to discuss the movie of Watchmen without connection to the graphic novel. So if "we" is the general comics-loving geek crowd who holds the novel in high regard, then mission accomplished. But if "we" heads into the overly critical looking for the end-all be-all of comic book movies, there may be a little left wanting. Since for many Watchmen is the end-all be-all of graphic novels, in some respects its a no-win scenario.

To get the comics comparisons out of the way, Watchmen as a comic is nigh impossible to translate into film. The comic itself is a meta-driven deconstruction of comics. At minimum, all you're getting into a screenplay is an intricate plot. Screenwriter David Hayter takes a workman's approach into dissecting the novel, and does a surprising job of cramming in all of the relevant details. Here's where we need to get specific in regards to the source material. The character translations are really solid overall, however there were some weights shifted to support the film's narrative. Laurie/Silk Spectre is beefed up almost inversely to how she's marginalized in the book. In turn, I felt Ozymandias was short changed as a result. A fascinating character on paper, Ozymandias on film is telegraphed early on as the misunderstood villain and little else.



The main character, if there could be considered as such, is easily Rorschach. He anchors this film and is best represented throughout. Rorschach is superbly acted and nails the essence of the character. Friends and I even discussed afterwards that even though we already knew the outcome, Rorschach got us emotionally invested to the point of tensing up and lamenting his inevitable fate. Coming in at a close second would be the Comedian, who was the one character I wished had more screen time. Both scene-stealer and one you love to hate, the Comedian is also the one character from the group that outshines his comics counterpart.

Meanwhile Dr. Manhattan is also a major player to the storyline, but it was clearly difficult for Hayter to include him to the extent he is needed. Even tho Dr. Manhattan's storypoints are some of my favorites in the book, the film could have easily done without much of it; leaving more of Dr. Manhattan's origins and motives uncovered may have in turn enhanced his disconnected nature and lead to a more satisfying conclusion. Dr. manhattan's origin seen page-by-page as he skips through time is an amazing read, but just doesn't translate to film in the middle (literally) of a complx, developing story.

Lastly, as in the book, Dan/Night Owl remains a neutral character. He's given alot more action on screen, but basically tows the line throughout. It works pretty well considering the larger-than average cast of focal characters. Especially in a superhero movie where the focus is usually on one person's drive and fetish, here with five Nite Owl hops back and forth between action hero and angsty straight-man without stealing the spotlight.

Moving from the structure of the story to execution, Zack Snyder takes a downright amazing and faithful approach to the source. He captures the visuals of the book and extrapolates them into something we all wanted to see-- in giant, widescreen eye-candy. There are scenes in this movie that are flat out gorgeous, impeccably framed. Additionally the attention to detail is at times hard to believe. If you know what to look for, it's there. Snyder plays out Hayter's difficult script like a pro, winding an abnormal amount of exposition between sweeping panoramics and action set-pieces. Everyone and everything is given their due, which may not have been the best way to go, but no one can say the effort wasn't there.

One of the more surprising aspects of the movie is the one thing the comic does not have: sound. Music cues instantaneously set the era and tones for what's going on. Song choices setting up different scenes range from the odd to the sublime, I had a huge smile when Dan and Laurie's dinner meeting was introduced with "99 Luftballoons." Their eventual love scene may fall into the odd category, but throughout the film the music is noticeable and largely complementary. I tell you it's a strange thing, because after years of reading and re-reading Watchmen, not once did I apply an imaginary soundtrack.


But even more surprising than the new element of sound is the unexpected areas where Watchmen truly shines as a film. I've noted in prior reviews that there is little reason to create a literal translation of a comic book onto film-- it defeats the purpose of both mediums. While it's doubtful a more faithful job could have been done bringing the source to screen, where Watchmen strays from that source is the new stuff of dreams. The original material added to the movie is exceptionally compelling, and each little tidbit left me wanting more. The opening montage alone so beautifully sets up the film's world it's hard to wonder what more could have been lurking around in Hayter and Snyder's imagination as an extrapolation of Watchmen rather than an adaptation. Deviation from the core story seems like a trivial matter when there is an obvious care being taken to get the important stuff right. As for the conclusion, which is most removed from the book's (which I love), it's certainly more plausible in the condensed scope of what's presented. If not a necessity given the intricate sub-plots required to see the original's through.

Even still, the movie runs at a heavy 3 hours, and that was more than I was expecting. The first hour is kind of long in the tooth, and almost spelled doom for the whole shebang. The second hour is more up to par as plot lines begin colliding for the uninitiated, while comics fans sit in disbelief at how much is being crammed onto screen. The third hour is top notch, ramping up to a fevered pace and letting most expectations be paid off in full. But given the skill involved behind the scenes, knowing the source as well as I do, and an inkling of what's needed to shore up a good flic, I believe the opportunity was there to make a tight 2-hour movie that would have been more than gratifying. But Watchmen being "Watchmen," I'm sure there was a looming obligation to deliver what was presented. And really none of that was anything I wouldn't have wanted to see.

Watchmen was one of those movies I thought would never get made. A small part of me wanted to keep it that way, knowing the butchery Hollywood is capable of. But damned if the parties involved pulled of what was once thought impossible, with a level of dedication and plain 'ol entertainment "we" can all be proud of.

X-men Origins: Wolverine


Oh, Fox. What have you done? Yeah, the new trailer sure has a lot going on and would most definitely be described as "kick-ass," but what's really going on here. Well, this set of profiles from USA Today seems to indicate that almost everyone in this film has super-healing ability. Hmmm.Really?

All comic book geekery aside (which includes straying from canon--bone claws anyone?), let's just think about that. Everyone heals quickly. Now, this obviously takes away from Logan's uniqueness. Afterall, it is that ability which helped him survive the process which fused adamantium to his bones. But the other effect this has is what you will be seeing on screen; yes, all those "gee-wiz" action scenes the movie is selling, and most likely all it will have to offer.

You see, when no one can really get hurt or at least suffer something permanent, it's an excuse to stage over-the-top action in the hopes that the audience will think, "wait, that's impos--oh yeah, they can take the damage." As I've always believed that action scenes are little stories in and of themselves, if the repercussions of these mini-stories, be it physical or emotional, can't be felt beyond those scenes, the story ultimately suffers.

This is the last film properties that Marvel "farmed" out to another production company before taking the reigns of their franchises. Now that Fox has that pesky Bryan Singer out of the way, who fought to keep rosters down and the action more grounded, we've got mutants coming out of the woodwork, shooting, jumping, skipping, roaring their way across some odd millions of dollars in effects. With all that's going on in that trailer, I have my doubts that the film will have time to breath some life into the characters. I could be wrong, but haven't we learned anything from X3?

Anyway, Gambit's in the film....

3.05.2009

Replicant or Terminator


The Terminator Salvation trailer came out this week. Certainly a thrilling trailer with its gritty imagery punctuated at perfect points by the rock soundtrack. It looks to be the action movie it aims to be. However, are they really going to tackle this thing about a Terminator who doesn't know it's a machine; essentially similar to Replicants in Blade Runner? Considering the mythology already established (and this is assuming the filmmakers are), how does "thinking T-XXX" fit into the canon? I question whether this is the proper theme to explore when there is the much more interesting concept of John Conner and Kyle Reese becoming great friends and great fighters. After all, this is essentially the only time John Conner will ever get to spend with his father. And it's easier to come to an ending that way since there is something already previously established. Where does Terminator Salvation intend to end up? I hope it won't be "sequel in a box."