There is already plenty of excitement about Matthew Vaughn’s comic book adaptation Kick-Ass, and four freshly-released character banners offer further opportunity to whet your appetite ahead of the movie’s scheduled April 2010 release date.
Based on the Marvel published series by writer Mark Millar and artist John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass revolves around unremarkable New York teenager Dave Lizewski, who decides to suit up and mimic the heroics of his comic book idols. Dave initially receives a battering for his troubles, but is soon capturing the public imagination, as the enigmatic Kick-Ass. He subsequently encounters copycat costumed do-gooders, as his antics become something of a phenomenon.
The posters depict the primary quartet of costumed would-be superheroes to feature in the movie. First up is the Red Mist, played by Superbad’s McLovin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
Then there is the central figure of high school student Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass. The movie’s lead role is being filled by Aaron Johnson, who can also soon be seen as a young John Winston Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy.
Chloe Moretz wields the blades of juvenile death-dealer Hit Girl...
...and the Ghost Rider himself, Nicholas Cage appears as Hit Girl’s father, Big Daddy.
Kick-Ass represents a debut comic book-derived outing for Layer Cake director Vaughn, following his late withdrawal from X-Men: The Last Stand. The buzz around the film has been steadily building in recent weeks, and it looks as if the source material’s idiosyncratic take on the now well-familiar superhero formula could result in a movie which yes! Kicks some ass! See what I've done there...
1 Day, the new feature from acclaimed art-house director Penny Woolcock, is given a national UK release today (6 November 2009). But cinema-goers living in Birmingham, the city in which 1 Day is set and was filmed, will struggle to find the movie at their local multiplex, because Vue and Odeon have both banned the movie. The Birmingham outlets of the two big screen chains have taken this decision over concerns on their part that the film glamorises gang culture – an accusation that both Woolcock and her lead actor, Dylan Duffus, strongly refute.
The hip-hop infused 1 Day centres on a frenetic day in the life for Birmingham drug dealer Flash (Duffus), who is left with just 24 hours to come up with the cash he owes to a gangland boss. The movie is the first acting role for Duffus, as it is too for many of his co-stars, and he recently told The Guardian that he was confident that audiences would not find his character to be in any way aspirational.
“Flash has no happy expression, no laughing and joking. It's very serious. For somebody who is caught up in that world, the only thing they want to do is get out of it. If you go to that lifestyle you'll end up dead or in jail.”
When banning 1 Day, Vue and Odeon suggested that they were acting on the advice of the West Midlands Police, which Assistant Chief Constable of that force, Suzette Davenport, has since denied.
“I would like to make it absolutely clear that West Midlands Police don’t have any powers at all to censor. Organisationally, we haven’t sent out a message to cinemas that they shouldn’t screen this film.”
Davenport did however express doubts about the content of 1 Day.
“I have always been consistent in saying that I am concerned it glamorises gangs and the impact this will have on the people of Birmingham.”
Director Woolcock (whose previous film, Exodus, saw her collaborating with Turner Prize-winning sculptor Anthony Gormley on a retelling of the story of Moses) has condemned both the ban from the two cinema chains and the misgivings of West Midlands Police.
“Censoring this film is shortsighted, shameful and lets a lot of people down. Even if 1 Day did glamorise gun violence, which it certainly does not, I do not think it is the function of the local police to go round saying what films should be shown and which ones shouldn’t. Let people decide for themselves.”
Personally speaking, I can’t say I am ever in favour of any film being banned, but even putting that particular argument aside for a second, what is strange in this 1 Day row is the schism between the banning cinemas and the police. Vue and Odeon claim police advice as justification. The West Midlands Police deny offering any such guidance. It is an equation that fails to add up. And surely, if people are going to ban films, then whoever it is doing the banning needs at the very least to be honest about the reasoning behind their choice.
It has been reported that Cloverfield producer and Star Trek director J. J. Abrams is in negotiations to take charge of a big screen adaptation of The Micronauts, derived from a 1970s Japanese toy line which subsequently spawned an accompanying Marvel Comics title. If the story is true and the project does indeed go into development, then Abrams will be working with one of the more esoteric properties to have passed through the Marvel Bullpen in the late 70s and early 80s.
Launched in Japan as the Micromen in 1974, the toy line was rebranded as the Micronauts for its US debut two years later. Marvel launched their initial comic book version in 1979, penned by Bill Mantlo, and a Chris Claremont-scripted X-Men/Micronauts crossover miniseries followed. Writer Peter B. Gillis rebooted the series as The New Voyages to very good - albeit short-lived - effect in the 80s, and different editions of the comic have periodically surfaced since, in the hands of various different publishing houses.
Although the cast have regularly been rotated, the essential premise of The Micronauts has remained fairly constant; if someone is shrunk beyond the point of nothingness, to a minus mass, then they slip from the corporeal everyday world into a far-out sub-atomic dimension called the Microverse. In which the roaming adventurers, the Micronauts, do battle against the tyranny of the nefarious Baron Kazar, with his usefully detachable hands and onyx body armour. The team were generally an eclectic collective, with the New Voyages line-up including the orange, malleable Huntarr, green-skinned Bug who punctuated all his sentences with a “tik” noise, robotic duo Biotron and Microtron, and fairly non-descript human characters Arcturus Ran and Marionette. Most striking of all was Acroyear - probably one of the most phallic superheroes ever conceived, with his domed, purple head hidden under his massive red helmet.
Certainly no shortage of zany concepts and crazy characters for Abrams to play with, eh? But is the project likely to be a go-er? Well, the news of the Lost head honcho’s involvement with the ’nauts seems to have emerged in unusual fashion, having been mentioned in passing in a more general Wall Street Journal piece about Hollywood’s increasing predilection for basing its blockbuster fare on pre-existing toy lines (this year’s summer season having correspondingly delivered Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen and G. I. Joe unto us, in the manner of a pair of headache-inducing Biblical plagues). However if Abrams really does set to work on a Micronauts movie, then – in the wake of Daft Punk’s engagement to score the Tron sequel – the music should take care of itself, with French dance act the Micronauts surely in prime position to land the gig.
Six new character banners have been made available for apocalyptic actioner Legion, starring Paul Bettany as a gun-toting Archangel Michael determined to serve humanity from the wrath of a terminally-peeved God. However, the functional moodiness evident in the half-dozen character cards posted by JoBlo suggest that the movie may have its work cut out for it if it wants to distinguish itself from the minor glut of upcoming, similarly-styled movies.
Marking the directorial debut of visual effects man Scott Stewart, Legion sees the Almighty passing damning judgement on us earthly ne’er-do-wells, and consequently unleashing a plague of marauding angels to scrub the planet clean of all humanity. Bettany’s Michael shows up at an isolated roadside diner in order to offer superhuman protection to a small band of survivors, including the below-depicted Dennis Quaid, Adrianne Palicki, Lucas Black and Tyrese Gibson.
The trailer hints at a streak of slightly unhinged melodrama (demonic grandma, stretchy-armed Blue Man, hordes of CGI angels blackening the sky), pitched uncertainly between dark humour and plain old silliness. Co-starring is Kevin Durand as Michael’s nemesis Gabriel, with the script co-penned by director Stewart seeing the two angels facing off against each other in a pitched rivalry that seems to be more Oldboy than Old Testament.
The likes of Daybreakers, The Book of Eli, and Jonah Hex all indicate that the mid-budget, doomsday action flick is back in vogue (as much of it ever was), and Legion appears to have ground to make up if it is to open with a bang when it is released on 22 January. Star Bettany clearly gelled with helmer Stewart though, as the pair are reteaming for Priest – a graphic novel adaptation in which PB’s titular clergyman hunts down the vampires who kidnapped his niece and, one suspects, originality takes a lengthy vacation.
Disney have unveiled the Japanese trailer for their forthcoming version of A Christmas Carol, and by doing so have served up a smattering of fresh footage from this latest in a looooooong line of big-screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ seasonal classic. But, while there is surely no doubt that plenty of effort and endeavour has been parlayed into the creation of the movie’s 3D motion capture animation, the indications seem to be that the finished product is going to lack the kind of idiosyncratic charm promised by a Fantastic Mr. Fox , and fall short of the sheer quality offered by an Up.
Unlike the domestic trailer, this new international edition refrains from wasting thirty seconds of its running time by simply reeling off the prior credits of writer-director Robert Zemeckis, and instead gives us more Scrooging action as reward for our viewing efforts. We get to see Jim Carrey’s Ebenezer Scrooge (who sounds a wee bit like a Caledonian Homer Simpson) indulging in some characteristically mean-spirited snippiness, before his mind is spun out by an encounter with a freaky green door-knocker. Compared to previously glimpsed trailers, we this time get a much better look at the Brian Blessed-alike Ghost of Christmas Present (Carrey again, and the rubber-faced one also tackles the roles of the flame-headed Ghost of Christmas Past and the shadowy Ghost of Christmas Future), as well as briefly seeing the young Scrooge, back before he turned into a bitter old curmudgeon.
With Carrey taking on the aforementioned quartet of acting roles in A Christmas Carol, Gary Oldman also grabs a slice of the multiple-parts racket, with the British thesp playing Scrooge’s ill-fated business partner, Jacob Marley, his downtrodden employee Bob Cratchit, and Cratchit’s wheezing yet winning young son, Tiny Tim. A Christmas Carol is due for release on the not-really-that-Christmassy date of 6 November.
Were one to receive a visit from the Ghost of A Christmas Carol’s movie past then you would really have to settle in for the long haul, so ubiquitous has Dickens’ source writing been as a movie property over the years. It’s been done with real people, Disney ducks, Muppets, and there was another animated take on it as recently as 2001. Meanwhile, Zemeckis has been beavering away on his motion capture shtick for a while now - his Polar Express and Beowulf both attracting interest, without receiving particularly fulsome critical endorsement. And again, A Christmas Carol looks as if it might fail to deliver the blend of hyperrealism and cinematic wonder that the technology promises. Yes, there are some nice effects on show, but the characters appear to be a curious mix of detailed faces and awkward limbs. Which means it looks like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is going to continue its lengthy reign as Zemeckis’ most satisfying foray into animation. Still, at least the dulcet tones of the Japanese trailer-voiceover man were really rather soothing. Can we get him on all trailers? Very therapeutic indeed.
It is fast approaching that unique portion of the year when all matters arcane and diabolical are given the festive treatment, as Halloween prompts folks to deploy their broomsticks for something other than sweeping up after the household pet, causes the general populace consider the humble hockey mask as something other than mere protection against the mother of all black eyes, and when white bed sheets everywhere are in peril of having a pair of eyeholes snipped into them. It is a time when (to borrow a line or two from late horror icon Vincent Price) darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand, creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorise y’all’s neighbourhood. But although we have recently seen cinematic quotas of the supernatural gobbled up by more vampire and zombie flicks than you could shake either a garlic-scented crucifix or blood-spattered cricket bat at, it would be remiss to overlook the genuine chills that have been instilled in audiences over the years by the most successful exponents of the ghost movie genre. Subtler and often more empathetically identifiable in their spooking than those more corporeal strains of the risen dead formula, here are ten of the creepiest ghost movies to have ever comprehensively put the frighteners on us poor, trembling cinema-goers.
ATTENTION! The following list contains some colossal plot spoilers. Honestly, really, really big ones.
10. Dark Water (2002)
Leaky plumbing becomes an unlikely source of spine-tingling terror in this J-Horror offering from director Hideo Nakata, the man who had previously attached creepy connotations onto video cassettes and cold-calling in the first two Ringu films. Sharing some narrative ground with his earlier horror hits, Dark Water finds Nakata once again casting a supernatural child as his primary wellspring of unsettlement, as the spirit of drowned girl Mitsuko (Mirei Oguchi) seeks some redress for her premature demise. The red of Mitsuko’s lost bag and the prevalence of water in the movie both establish a link to Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, and the blend served up on this occasion by Nakata was beguiling enough to inspire Hollywood to deliver an unexceptional 2005 remake starring Jennifer Connolly.
9. The Fog (1980)
Gar! Me hearties! Spectral seadogs resurface to wreak vengeance upon the small coastal town of Antonio Bay, as Jamie Lee Curtis collaborates with director John Carpenter on a more expansive chiller than their earlier Halloween. The Fog sees Curtis cast alongside her mother, Janet Leigh, and although the shock ending of Carpenter’s movie is certainly not up to Psycho standard, the enveloping mist of the title provides an effectively eerie shroud under which the succession of revenge killings can be enacted. And, as ever with horror aficionado Carpenter, there some teasing little genre nods too - such as a twosome of characters turning up bearing tributary monikers to Robert Fuests’s Abominable Dr. Phibes and Great God Pan writer Arthur Machen.
8. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Better known for the bizarre, tactile mutant bodies that inhabited his Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy movies, The Devil’s Backbone saw Guillermo del Toro adopting a rather less-outré approach to the paranormal than that which we have come to expect from the fuzz-faced Mexican auteur. Death looms large over the film’s scenario, with the Spanish Civil War-era action taking place in an orphanage in which roams the restless spirit of deceased young resident Santi (Junio Valverde). A sense of unease stalks The Devil’s Backbone throughout, as the darkest facets of human behaviour overshadow Santi’s baleful haunting - although del Toro himself might have felt like he was the one coming back from the dead, as he fully grasped the opportunity to rebuild following the production difficulties and poor reception of Mimic.
7. Poltergeist (1982)
And we reach the first haunted house movie of the list. Tempted as I was to include The Legend of Hell House (which sees the astral presence of Michael Gough’s devilish Emeric Belasco spreading misery as an expression of the resentment he harboured about his titchy little legs), I decided to plump for this successful collaboration between writer-producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper. The sense of wonder one has come to typically associate with The Beard's output is given a darker tint here, with Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke) being ripped away from her family and subsumed by the static of the television set. Meanwhile, Texas Chainsaw Massacre helmer Hooper keeps the schlock coming; as evinced by Martin Casella’s psychic researcher clawing his own face to shreds, and some slightly bathetic final revelations about a defiled burial ground.
6. The Haunting (1963)
Blimey, wait for one haunted house movie and then a pair of the blighters show up at once. What are the odds? Well, probably significantly better than finding someone who prefers the Jan de Bont-directed remake of The Haunting to the 1963 original. Coming as it did between his work on West Side Story and The Sound of Music, The Haunting perhaps represents a slightly unlikely interjection in the production schedule of the period for its director Robert Wise. However Wise brings the kind of intelligence to proceedings that you might expect from the man who cut Citizen Kane, delivering a disquieting thriller that is high on aesthetic quality and psychological sophistication.
5. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Imagine if you will, an antediluvian filmic era. Before The Happening. Before The Village. Before Signs. Welcome to the golden age of M. Night Shyamalan, when The Sixth Sense briefly transformed him into the hottest new film-maker in Hollywood and he could deliver a twist ending that had viewers choking on their pop corn in surprise, rather than weakly sobbing at the lameness of it all. Starting a trend for chiller flicks featuring kids delivering their dialogue in loud whispers (which persists to this day) and a trend for movies starring Haley Joel Osmant (which proved to be far, far, far-shorter lived), The Sixth Sense attempted to establish a cogent relationship between the living and the deceased, without diluting the spiritual atmospherics.
4. Don’t Look Now (1973)
Ah, I have to confess to a bit of con-job on this one. Because, rather than sitting here resplendently in fourth place on my list, Don’t Look Now should face technical disqualification on the grounds that there aren’t actually any ghosts in it. But! The elliptical story related by Man Who Fell to Earth helmer Nicholas Roeg suggests that grieving John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) is being stalked round Venice by a red coat-clad phantom version of his dead daughter - consequently giving Don’t Look Now at least a partial ghost movie credit. And there is no shortage of creepiness in the central scenario, which culminates with one of the most heart-stopping finales in cinema, when Baxter discovers that the ‘daughter’ he has repeatedly sighted is a midget serial killer. Sounds laughable on paper, bloody terrifying and terrifyingly bloody in practice.
3. The Others (2001)
It may have been penned way back in 1897, but Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw still seems to exert a sizeable influence over the motion picture ghost story. The literary original was successfully adapted as The Innocents with Deborah Kerr in 1961, and James’ narrative components of a young woman inhabiting a strange gothic property, a perplexing set of events which appear to be supernatural in nature, and kids conversing with the spirit world were all adopted by director Alejandro Amenábar for his Nicole Kidman-starrer The Others. Privileging a nebulous sense of anxiety over blaring great shocks (although the bit where Kidman finds her daughter has been replaced by a knobbly pensioner is certainly a jolter), Amenábar’s movie even manages to find a sinister purpose for British comedy veteran Eric Sykes, as gardener Mr. Tuttle.
2. Ringu (1998)
A second entry in the list for director Hideo Nakata and the movie that ensured we would spend the opening years of the 21st century being deluged with J-Horror and J-Horror remakes alike. Despite the plethora of imitators, Ringu remains a genre benchmark though, boasting as it does a highly effective marriage of tight, surprising plotting and evocatively uncanny imagery. Around the conceit of being able to sign your own death warrant without even knowing it, Nakata weaves a race-against-time dilemma and downbeat denouement, while Rie Inou’s herky-jerky moving Sadako instantly establishes herself of one of the most identifiable characters in modern horror cinema.
1. The Shining (1980)
Much of Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining has undeniably become the stuff of all-too frequent parody; the Diane Arbus-inspired twin girls, the elevator of blood, the revelation of ‘REDRUM’ in the mirror, and Jack Nicholson’s manic cry of “Heeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”. However The Shining delivers so many moments of oddness that it still never fails to unsettle (the briefly-glimpsed guy in the bear costume and Joe Turkel’s sallow-faced bartender always succeed in putting a cold breeze up my flagpole). Kubrick’s Steadicam relentlessly glides the corridors of Overlook Hotel, trailing little telepathic Danny (Danny Lloyd) trundling round on his tricycle, searching out the spiritual malevolence that finally sends Jack Torrance’s booze-fuelled caretaker over the edge, and gives Nicholson opportunity to cut loose. With a really big axe.
It is set to be one of the major blockbuster releases of next year, and we now have five new stills from the Clash of the Titans remake at which we are free to marvel. The pictures carried by Empire provide a good look at central protagonist Perseus (A. N. Other headline outing for T4 and Avatar actor Sam Worthington), as well as offering a glimpse of a few of the supernatural oddities he is set to encounter during his quest to slap the brakes on nefarious deity of the dead, Hades (Ralph Fiennes).
So as well as the above shot of the closely-cropped Perseus and his posse shaping up amidst some fire-strewn ruins, we also have the hero seemingly being crept up upon by some kind of sizeable ghoul-creature.
The original 1981 Clash of the Titans centred on the efforts of Harry Hamlin’s Perseus to capture the snake-garlanded head of Medusa, in order to use it to save his beloved Andromeda from the Ray Harryhausen-animated Kraken. Apparently the new version retains some of these elements but in somewhat amended form, as Perseus gathers a fellowship of warriors in order to save the world from Hades. Judging from the below picture this collective includes the ghoul-thing from the previous shot.
The 1981 Clash featured three crones who shared a solitary eyeball, which they then passed between them depending on who wished to see at any given time. And this trio would appear to have received an update for the remake. However, the original movie saw their eye stolen by Perseus’ cutesy clockwork owl Bubo, and the suspicion has to be that the little tweeter has failed to also make the transition into the revised edition.
Lastly we have a still of Perseus again looking moody, albeit on this occasion handling a big ol’ sack. Does this contain the severed head of Medusa, just ready to be whipped out and used to petrify his opponents? It seems likely, and one thing we can be sure about is that the new Perseus has no qualms about putting his foes to the sword. Worthington is quoted as remarking that;
“When my Perseus starts out, he should be this bombastic tank. The gods have killed his family. He’s Charles Bronson! He’s gonna go for revenge, and the best way to achieve that is to kill the Kraken. Well, to kill the Kraken you gotta kill Medusa. To get to Medusa, you gotta take on the witches. Then once he kills the Kraken, he’s gonna kill fuckin’ Hades and Zeus and everybody else! But along the way he needs to learn to calm down, ask for help. And out of that comes the true hero.”
The Australian actor also appears to be keen this toughness extend beyond his character and be infused into the fabric of the movie itself, noting that “we're not in fuckin' Harryhausen mode anymore”.
Co-starring Liam Neeson as Olympian head honcho Zeus and Danny Huston as sea god Poseidon, amongst a cast of numerous other big names, Clash of the Titans is due for release in late March 2010. On directing duties is The Incredible Hulk’s Louis Leterrier, who is quoted as favouring a character-based approach to the material.
“Yes, I was really interested in doing the big monster fight at the end of that, but what was really interesting for me was the human side of it. Perseus is a conflicted hero, he hates it, which is so much better than a ‘real’ hero.”
There does not seem to have been too much excitement generated by Clash of the Titans to date, thanks to the lack of enthusiasm from the movie-going public for fantasy epics that have not at some stage been touched by Peter Jackson, and the fact that the original movie does not exactly enjoy classic status. I do very vaguely remember the videogame tie-in for the first flick though, which consisted of precisely ONE screen. Now that was truly epic.
Should Roland Emmerich stick to trailers? While Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow all boasted the kind of showpiece special effects work that looks terrific when utilised in a rapidly-cutting teaser, the second-rate dialogue and risible plot development regularly served up by the German-born writer-director in his movies have historically proved rather less impressive. The suggestion seems to be that Emmerich’s upcoming gargantuan-budget offering 2012 could well follow this same pattern, with the copious helpings of eye-popping crash, bang, and wallop that buoyed up early trailers for the disaster flick being undercut by equally generous helpings of silliness whenever the characters blunder into shot.
We now possess further evidence of this marriage of destruction and daftness, with a new five-minute scene from 2012 having been made available ahead of the movie’s release on 13 November. The sequence in question chronicles the frenetic efforts of John Cusack’s limo driving Curtis Jackson to round up ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet), their two kids, and Kate’s boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy), before their native California suffers a cataclysm to make the Great Deluge look like a nasty spot of drizzle. Heavy on CGI smash-up and ludicrous close shaves, the scene first treats us to an Ah-nuld Governator impersonator dismissing the prospect of any sudden apocalypse with some dubiously mangled pronunciation (“It zeems to me zat ze vurst is o-vah”). We then watch Cusack and company narrowly evade being splatted by a toppling giant doughnut, driving their car through a floor of a rapidly-collapsing skyscraper, and getting airborne just before the whole city is swallowed up by an ever-widening chasm.
In a week in which we have been again reminded of the misery caused by genuine natural catastrophe, the continuing quest of director Emmerich to decimate the planet in increasingly extravagant manner could potentially be seen as a shade distasteful. However his movies seem to be less about disasters per se than they are about giving visual realisation to a Western fantasy of a societal comeuppance. No people seem to really suffer in an Emmerich-helmed piece of devastation - they are merely distant specks falling into painless nothingness. Instead the director revels in the expensively-mounted ruin of famous landmarks and modern metropolises, offering a fetishistic expression of the notion that the natural/ancient world is due to bite back against the arrogance of contemporary living (in the case of 2012, the global doom and gloom comes from a Mesoamerican prophecy).
As to whether 2012 is going to be any good, well it seems likely that enjoyment levels will correlate pretty closely with how much the individual movie-goer likes their special effects bonanzas. And, from the scenes we have seen so far, the pleasure levels may be increased just a notch further if you stick your fingers in your ears during the talky bits.
Creative conservatism appears to be the order of the day over at Dimension Films, with company boss Bob Weinstein outlining a slate of forthcoming projects that is dominated by sequels and remakes. Amongst the movies in development is a fourth instalment in the Scream franchise, which will see Neve Campbell reprising her lead role as the knife-dodging Sidney Prescott. Production is apparently set to start in spring of next year, with the new episode representing the opening chapter in a fresh three-film cycle. And, in addition to the returning Campbell, it looks likely that Wes Craven will be settling back into the director’s chair.
Indeed, horror movies dominate the announced Dimension roster, with several of these productions also being shot in 3D. Amongst those set to force audiences to pay out for a pair of specs will be new versions of Scanners and Hellraiser, as well as a proposed Halloween III. There are also planned remakes of Children of the Corn and An American Werewolf in London, both of which are set to go before the cameras unembellished. It is not all blood ’n’ guts either, as Robert Rodriguez is set to deliver Spy Kids 4 (also in 3D) and 80s family-friendly robot-flick Short Circuit is poised to receive the remake treatment.
This selection of new movies from Dimension certainly looks a tad inspirationally impoverished, with fresh concepts and exciting ideas being apparently as elusive as a greased-up Will o’ the Wisp. Scream III already seemed a movie too far in that particular series, and those revisions of Children of the Corn and American Werewolf both appear poorly conceived (albeit for totally different reasons). I’m not wholly convinced anyone has been hanging on for a three-dimensional take on Pinhead and the Cenobites from Hellraiser either (although did anyone else think there were similarities between the Alan Smithee-credited, fourth-in-the-series Hellraiser: Bloodline and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain? Just me again, eh?)
So is there any way at all to draw some pleasure from Dimension’s upcoming line-up? Well, it does give me the opportunity to dig out the clip from Scanners of mentalist Michael Ironside making someone’s head explode. Which is surely never a bad thing...
One was a pulp writer who died in miserable obscurity. The other played Richie Cunningham. So could there be a more logical creative marriage than H. P. Lovecraft and Ron Howard? Ron sure don’t think so. Which is why the Angels & Demons and Apollo 13 director has been blabbing to the Los Angeles Times about his proposed adaptation of Image Comics’ The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft.
The comic book was conceived by writer Mac Carter and cover artist Adam Byrne, and details a fictionalised version of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s life as a young adult – one which uses elements of autobiography in weaving a supernatural tale. Byrne described the project thusly to Comic Book Resources;
“It’s really about taking H. P. Lovecraft, the writer and his troubled history, and asking the question: what if the inspiration for his unique fiction came from some irrational, unexplainable horror mixed up in his real life? We've tried to take Lovecraft's biography - he's such a compelling character - and blend it with his bizarre mythology, which is vast and mind-bending. You might think of the story like Shakespeare in Love, but instead of Shakespeare it’s Lovecraft, and instead of Romeo and Juliet it's the cosmic horror of Cthulhu.”
Maybe not the most obvious of fits for the film-maker who brought us Parenthood and Splash, and indeed Howard concedes that “this is new territory for me.” However he certainly expresses enthusiasm for the potential of the graphic novel source material.
“Look, it’s challenging, but if we get it right, it could be really original and psychologically interesting and scary in a great way.”
Howard also seems enticed by the prospect of blending the mythology surrounding Lovecraft as an individual with the mythology of his strange tales.
“It very cleverly uses H. P. Lovecraft in a fictional way, but there’s some loose biographical elements. But it certainly has the flavour and the tone of Lovecraft.”
There is no doubt that Lovecraft’s real-life experiences were unusual, with the writer living as an almost total recluse from ages 18 to 23, as well as harbouring some suspect racial views which creep into his fiction on occasion and make for distinctly uncomfortable reading. But, as you might expect from a man raised by Tom Bosley, Howard sees mainly positives in this retooling of Lovecraft’s formative years.
“It is kind of fun, but you know Freud has been used that way and Einstein in the past... I'm very encouraged by it so far, the approach and the possibilities.”
I must confess I am not entirely convinced by a fusion between the creative sensibilities of Howard Phillips and Howard, Ron. Someone taking a big-budget punt on the Lovecraft oeuvre has been a very long time in coming though, and with Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness adaptation apparently stalled, it seems it may be down to Dan Brown’s cinematic chronicler to finally get the ball rolling.
With a couple of breezy yet bloody trailers helping to generate some excellent buzz ahead of its US release date on 2 October, ShockTillYouDrop have been yakking with the screenwriting duo behind forthcoming Woody Harrelson-starrer Zombieland. Amongst other things, scribes Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese discuss the movie’s small-screen genesis, sequel ideas, and their sadly thwarted plans for a certain big name cameo.
A light-hearted take on the undead apocalypse scenario, Zombieland sees an odd couple pairing of Harrelson’s slow-witted but hard-as-nails Tallahassee and wimpy Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg, whose casting as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network suggests his career is just on the verge of going stratospheric). The survivor duo also team up with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin respectively), with the collective working hard to forestall being feasted upon by the cadaverous hordes.
Zombieland was originally proposed as a television series, and scripters Reese and Wernick are candid as to why their project was initially set to miss out on the full silver screen treatment, with the former noting that completely original movie properties are becoming an increasingly rare beast.
“The toughest reason was that so many movies are based on IP, other properties. Whether it be a remake, a reboot, a sequel, a toy they want to turn into a movie... a graphic novel. And it’s tragic, really, that so few movies these days originate from screenwriters. Television is the opposite. Every show is created by a writer, basically. So when we originally sold it, it was very much the model. Then it came back to us after we sold it to CBS and they didn't make it. It was only by virtue of the passion and vision of a handful of people at Sony. It was their passion to say, this is an original idea that should break through in the movies. No, it's not original in that it's a zombie movie. But, it's a movie that's not based on anything else.”
Wernick also suggests the glut of entries into the zombie movie genre contributed to their decision to seek a home for their creation with one of the television networks.
“Interestingly, it became a TV pilot because we looked at the landscape and said “These are such huge hits on the feature side. Let's make a zombie TV show.” Ultimately, the irony is that it became a movie but maintained its originality.”
It is a genre Wernick admits to possessing little knowledge of, but Reese confesses to some preferred corpse-shuffling shockers;
“I wouldn't call myself a zombie junkie, but I do have favourites. One of them is 28 Days Later. It reinvigorates the genre as opposed to disrespecting it. I feel there's room for zombies of all speeds and colours. I say 28 Days Later, old Dawn of the Dead, new Dawn of the Dead, Army of Darkness, 28 Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead. To be honest, I still haven't seen the seminal ones and I'll get to them. I'm respectful of the fact that we're in the zombie club.”
The scriptwriter also believes that the plethora of prior zombie movies actually benefitted Zombieland, as it means the audience require less in the way of basic story explanations.
“And that's because everyone knows the zombie genre so well. We don't have to do any exposition. We were adamant about not starting at the beginning and having a General come on and tell everyone to stay in their homes. We didn't want to do that, we wanted to start in the middle. People can fill in the gaps. They know the zombie rules. So, now you get to start with character and action and get right into it. That was a joy.”
This sense of expediency is reflected in the movie’s brief running time of 83 minutes. But despite some tight cutting from director Ruben Fleischer (“As a writer it's tough because those are your babies” admits Reese), both scribes unite in their praise for the helmer’s efforts behind the camera.
“He was so fantastic, inclusive and collaborative.” notes Wernick, “He brought the world that was on the page to life and it's so rare for our creation and the characters you birth four years ago.”
It is an assessment with which Reese heartily concurs;
“He's got a great visual eye. He sees things cinematically so the picture looks great. We're very happy.”
And with Sony holding out high hopes for a big box-office return from Zombieland, there is already talk of a possible sequel, with Wernick saying the duo have some thoughts on where their creation could go next.
“Because we love the world so much and because it began as a TV project, we started to think long-term and how to sustain the world. The first 45 to 50 minutes of the movie are the pilot and the last half of the movie is essentially episode two. We have a brainstorming document we open often and we have some fun ideas for a sequel.”
But there was one cameo planned by the duo which, due to tragic real-life events, never made it to the shooting stage, as Reese recounts;
“We originally wrote the part for Patrick Swayze. That was many years ago, before he got sick. It was [going to be] a Patrick Swayze zombie. They got attacked by him zombified and we had these wonderful moments where they found a potter's wheel and there's Columbus on the wheel and these other hands come up behind him and it's Patrick Swayze the zombie. Ultimately, they fight and Patrick bull rushes Tallahassee who grabs him and lifts him into the air, a la Jennifer Grey, and smashes him into a pillar. We specified it to Patrick Swayze and then he tragically got sick.”
Zombie cameo roles were also offered to Joe Pesci, Mark Hammill, The Rock, Kevin Bacon, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Matthew McConaughey, but it is strongly rumoured Bill Murray did don undead make-up and will appear in the finished movie as one of the brain-chomping throng.
Shorn of the densely layered expectations which accompany a graphic novel adaptation or a remake of a cult classic, Zombieland can boast of having been able to foster its positive pre-release impression pretty much solely on the quality of the footage glimpsed to date. My feeling is that it probably will do enough at the box-office to allow Reese and Wernick the opportunity to break the seal on their box of sequel ideas, but I’m hoping the movie will enough of a blast to make any follow-up a prospect to look forward to.
He may now be in the autumn of a prolific directing/producing career which has delivered such disparate movie treats as The Last Woman on Earth (deadly mist wipes out world’s entire population except for one girl and two guys - one of whom is played by a pseudonymous Robert Towne), A Bucket of Blood (lowly busboy dazzles the beatnik hipster crowd with sculptures crafted from his murder victims), and It Conquered the World (Earth is menaced by a crab/traffic cone hybrid in an alien invasion flick commemorated on Frank Zappa’s Roxy and Elsewhere album), but Roger Corman is now set to receive his greatest accolade, having been named as one of next year’s recipients of an honorary Oscar.
Aside from the early plethora of ultra low-budget quickie movies such as those cited above, Corman is also well known as director of the 1960s series of eight pictures based on the gothic works of Edgar Allen Poe, most of which starred Vincent Price. And after forming his own motion picture company, New World, in 1970, Corman made a name for himself as mentor to new film-making talent, many of whom went on to enormous individual success and acclaim (Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Demme, Cameron, amongst many others).
Corman is one of three due to receive honorary baubles at the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony, scheduled for 7 March 2010. The other two to get their talented paws on the gilded statuettes are cinematographer Gordon Willis and actress Lauren Bacall. Willis has photographed some of the most-acclaimed American movies of the last forty years, including Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Zelig for Woody Allen, top-notch conspiracy thriller The Parallax View, and all three entries in The Godfather trilogy (although, almost perversely, Willis was only Academy Award-nominated for his work on Part III). Bacall is, of course, best known as the on-screen foil for and off-screen companion of Humphrey Bogart, memorably starring alongside him in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Key Largo. In recent years she has appeared in both Dogville and Manderlay for the iconoclastic Danish director Lars von Trier. And in addition to that trio of hand-outs, Oscar night will also see the Academy present veteran production bigwig John Calley with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
The honorary Oscars often seem like a bit of a safety net for the Academy, as they try to reward some of the outstanding individuals who have been previously been overlooked. However it is pleasing to see them acknowledging a film-maker whose individual output was never really awards-friendly, but who has exerted an undeniable influence upon the motion picture industry over many years. So in tribute to Corman, here is the trailer for his 1956 terror-fest It Conquered the World. Readers of a nervous disposition may want to look away now...
With its 16 October US release date rapidly drawing into focus, the pre-release hype for the Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is accordingly being brought right to the boil. We have had a new trailer and mini-feature in recent weeks, and now there are four new character banners upon which we fortuitous folk can feast our ravenous eyes.
First we have Max, played by young whippersnapper Max Records, who is the focal point of the whole story. It is Max who fashions the Wild Things from his own imagination, and escapes from his everyday life into their remote realm where he reigns as king. Which, I suppose, would probably beat another day of school dinners.
We are also treated to close-ups of some Wild Things; namely Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), Judith (voiced by Home Alone mom and Christopher Guest-troupe member Catherine O’Hara), and KW (whose vocal pipes come courtesy of Six Feet Under actress Lauren Ambrose).
Where the Wild Things Are represents the first big screen effort from Jonze since Adaptation in 2002, and plans for a major movie version of Maurice Sendak’s 60s-published children’s book go back even further, with Pixar mastermind John Lasseter attempting to put an animated version together while he was at Disney back in the 1980s. Sendak himself has been enthused by the new cinematic transposition of his illustrated book, remarking that the film manages to be a definitively Jonze vision, while simultaneously remaining true to the spirit of the original source material.
The buzz about Where the Wild Things Are has been steadily building for a while now, and the recent trailer exhibited enough charm to propel Jonze’s movie towards the apex of many people’s list of movies they are most looking forward to this autumn. Of course the greater the pre-release anticipation is then the greater the risk that the finished movie will ultimately disappoint (don’t know why, but Zack Snyder’s Watchmen suddenly popped into my head then). But all the indicators thus far from Where the Wild Things Are have been positive, and my solitary bugbear is that we Brits are being forced to wait until 11 December to check the film out for ourselves. Not fair!
Speaking in Los Angeles to publicise the Blu-ray release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director Gavin Hood and producer Lauren Shuler Donner have been offering their thoughts on that movie’s currently in-development sequel, as well as musing on the potential of the adamantium-boned X-Man to develop into a long-running cinematic franchise.
The script for the follow-up is being penned by Usual Suspects and Way of the Gun screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, and the plot will be derived from the 1982-published Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine limited series. That book saw the pointy-taloned one transposed to the Land of the Rising Sun, and made game attempt to flesh out his berserker character. A pivotal plot point hinged on him refusing to give into the animalistic side of his persona - instead asserting his humanity, and achieving greater control over his psychotic tendencies in the process. And, inevitably, Shuler Donner was keen to stress that McQuarrie’s screenplay and any resultant film would respect the intent of Claremont and Miller’s work.
“Certainly in Wolverine 2, in the Japanese saga, we will stay very close to the source material. I think it’s just best that way.”
Tsotsi-helmer Hood picked up this thread, noting that the possibilities offered by the Japanese setting of the Wolverine limited series appealed to him to such an extent that he had little interest in exploring any alternative sequel story routes.
“I knew everyone was excited by the story in Japan, which I then read and I absolutely do think is a wonderful story and they should do it... I just think the Japanese story is so iconic and beautiful and could be so visual. That’s the one and I’m reluctant to talk about others... and honestly, here’s the truth: if the Japanese story works, there might be another sequel. And if it doesn’t, there won’t be.”
United in appreciation of the Claremont/Miller book they may be, but Hood and Shuler Donner appeared to diverge slightly when pressed on the filmic future of Wolverine. The director expressed caution even over the likelihood of the sequel going before the cameras.
“Right now I’m not attached. Nobody’s attached. They’re developing a script and we’ll see where everyone is. Let them develop the script, let’s see what the script looks like, let’s see how the studio feels about the script, how Hugh (Jackman) feels about it and then we’ll take it from there.”
In contrast, Shuler Donner was far more forthright, positively fizzing with excitement when specifically quizzed on whether she thought Wolverine’s antics had the possible long-term movie legs of James Bond.
“Yes, that would be wonderful. There’s enough comic book material to support it.”
22 Wolverine movies? Crikey, there’s a thought. And not an amazingly cheery one for cinema-goers suffering from lacklustre comic book blockbuster fatigue.
Speaking back in 1986, writer Chris Claremont offered the following take on the Wolverine limited series which McQuarrie is currently so busy working up an adaptation of;
“One of the things that appealed to me and that I used in the Wolverine series is the idea that Japan, being one of the most rigidly structured societies on Earth, was a perfect opposite for Wolverine, who was the ultimate madman. He was all brute force and no direction. The idea was to give him a self-imposed framework that defied the animal in his nature.”
Does that provide any clues as to how a completed movie could turn out? There’s a bit of fish-out-of-water stuff going on there, and then of course the affirmation of the human aspect over a bestial nature. So we should maybe expect Lost in Translation meets Encino Man, with a few adamantium clawed-disembowelments thrown in for good measure.
It seems monumentally unlikely that there were many who sat through Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant and afterwards found themselves thinking “That is prime remake material, right there”. The gritty tale of rogue cop Harvey Keital getting higher than a kite tethered to the spire of the Empire State Building was neither a classic movie nor owner of a particularly brilliant central conceit. Yet remake it they have, and the poster for this new Nicholas Cage-starring version (somewhat tongue-twistingly rebranded as Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) has now been unveiled. And here it is. Ta-da!
Not only has the one-sheet been wheeled out though - the film has also received its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and the word from Empire at least is that the results are not too shabby at all. Which is perhaps not a complete surprise. Although expectations for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans have been pretty muted (a prejudice possibly not unconnected to the involvement of Cage in the lead role; the actor’s remake cachet having dropped to near-zero in the wake of his bee-stung Wicker Man), such dismissive tendencies are overlooking the presence in the director’s chair of Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, Wrath of God film-maker Werner Herzog, who has regularly proved himself capable of fashioning interesting results out of unlikely material.
Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant apparently bears little resemblance to the original, with only the title and central figure of a policeman zonked out on every hard drug in existence offering any hints of continuity. As the revised moniker rather gives away, the setting has been switched from Ferrara’s native NYC to a post-Katrina New Orleans, where Cage’s character, Terence McDonagh, is going a teensy bit haywire. Support is offered by Val Kilmer and Eva Mendes, amongst others.
Going on release from 20 November, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans might benefit from a modest sense of anticipation as Herzog makes his late bid at infiltrating the multiplexes. I do find myself just wondering what the director’s old sparring partner Klaus Kinski might have done with Cage’s character though. Aguirre, Bad Lieutenant anyone?
Disney Pictures have announced that their videogame-movie sequel Tron Legacy is to open on 17 December 2010, the same day that Sony intend to unleash Seth Rogen-starrer The Green Hornet. Both pictures have been long-gestating, with the original Tron released way back in 1982, and serious efforts to breathe fresh cinematic life into the 30s-created Hornet having been made by various film-makers since the mid-1990s.
Tron Legacy is set to offer a narrative continuation from its forebear while also passing the baton to a new generation of characters, as bright young things Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde take centre stage. Hedlund has been handed the role of Sam Flynn, son of Jeff Bridges’ Sean, and the plot apparently sees him delving into the mainframe realm of light bikes and cyber-suits as he investigates the twenty-five year old mystery of his dad’s disappearance. Bruce Boxleitner also returns from the original cast, while the ever-busy Michael Sheen is on villainous duties. Direction is by first-timer Joseph Kosinski, Daft Punk are scoring, and if you want another peek at the teaser footage that surfaced around the time of Comic-Con then simply lower your orbs about two inches and hit play on the link.
Meanwhile, The Green Hornet has endured a meandering route to the silver screen, with the long-standing attachment to the project of Clerks director Kevin Smith failing to sire a completed film. Smith’s preferred choice for newspaper man Britt Reid/the eponymous crime-buster was Jake Gyllenhaal, but Seth Rogen became attached to star in the project in the wake of his success in Knocked Up. With Rogen also engaged to pen the screenplay in collaboration with his Superbad and Pineapple Express co-writer Evan Goldberg, it appeared that megaphone duties would be the preserve of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer creator Stephen Chow, who was also ready to play the Hornet’s faithful sidekick Kato. However, the Hong Kong superstar has since dropped out of the project, with Eternal Sunshine film-maker Michel Gondry manfully stepping into the directorial breach.
Both Tron and The Green Hornet strike me as slightly flawed properties - yet ones which possess potential. The original Tron movie boasted terrific imagery, but without a suitably compelling script to wed it to. So the primary task of the sequel will undoubtedly be to tease an engrossing narrative out of the raw building blocks provided by the characters and art design. Similarly, The Green Hornet balances the excitement at director Gondry’s involvement in a superhero flick against the slightly underwhelming nature of the source character.
There seems to be greater anticipation surrounding Tron Legacy at present, but no-one has actually seen any GH footage yet. So if Gondry can produce a few suitably dazzling reels to whet audience appetites then there will still be all to play for on 17 December 2010. But there is supposedly one precautionary measure already being taken ahead of the Tron/Hornet face-off, with The Smurfs set to be shifted to a release date in 2011. Because no-one wants to see any Smurf collateral damage from this box-office showdown. That’d just be a Smurf-tastrophe.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen actor Jason Flemyng has been letting slip to Moviehole that he could well be in line for a role in the forthcoming Disney adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.
The British thesp seems uncertain as to how close he is to landing his desired part, but there can be no questioning how badly he wants the gig;
“There's a movie coming out... I'm not definitely on it, but I'm desperate to get on it... It's already cast, but the people who have been cast haven't been signed, so a couple of them hopefully will pull out or fall out or whatever. They're doing John Carter of Mars, which you probably know more about than me.”
With X-Men Origins:Wolverine’s Gambit, Taylor Kitsch, having been cast in the title role, Flemyng is already excited about the vision that director Andrew Stanton has for the movie.
“He directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E, so Pixar and Disney, to thank him for the ten billion dollars he made them, have given him his first live-action feature and it's this amazing story, not too dissimilar to the story of Avatar, about a human being on a planet and saving that planet from revolution. It's amazing! It's absolutely incredible.”
Following his turn playing dad to a wrinkly Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Flemyng is set to appear as patriarch in another budget-busting extravaganza next summer, as he dons the toga of Acrisius, grandfather of hero Perseus, in Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans. Which - if my copy of Tales of Greek Heroes is to be believed - should mean that Flemyng will be slain by Perseus (played in the movie, somewhat inevitably, by Sam Worthington) via a poorly-aimed discus. Can't wait to see the CGI on that money shot.
Flemyng also confirmed he will definitely be appearing in “a movie called Ironclad, which is a British feature with Bob Hoskins, Brian Cox and about seven Knights of the Templar, holding a keep against the invading army of King John (whose nefarious boots will reportedly be filled by Paul Giamatti). Real great fourteenth-century stuff. I'll be doing that in November and December.”
John Carter of Mars is not due to get anywhere near a movie theatre till 2010, but my anticipation has already been fired by the involvement of Stanton and, in a screenwriting capacity, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon. Flemyng would surely offer reliable acting support, and he certainly seems very keen indeed to be involved in what could well be an exciting (albeit long way-off) release.
His latest offering, Halloween II, only arrives in North American multiplexes this weekend, but writer-director Rob Zombie is already plotting his next movie project. And it looks set to be another remake for the part-timer rocker, with Variety reporting that he is attached to develop a fresh version of science-fiction horror The Blob.
The original outing for The Blob came way back in 1958, and the film is now chiefly famous for giving a career leg-up to its charismatic young leading man, Mr. Steve McQueen. However its tale of a size-shifting lump of fluid gloop did achieve a certain cult status and the movie was eventually appended by a sequel and 1988 remake.
So how might a 21st century The Blob (ahem) shape up? Rob Zombie has already admitted that his re-conceptualisation of the source material will begin with the eponymous amoeba itself.
“My intention is not to have a big red blobby thing - that's the first thing I want to change... that gigantic Jello-looking thing might have been scary to audiences in the 1950s, but people would laugh now.”
The Blob without a blob Rob? Well, it’s one idea I suppose.
“I'd been looking to break out of the horror genre, and this really is a science-fiction movie about a thing from outer space. I intend to make it scary, and the great thing is I have the freedom once again to take it in any crazy direction I want to.”
“Even more than Halloween, where I had to deal with accepted iconic characters like Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, The Blob is more concept than specific storyline with characters, so I can go nuts with it.”
Zombie is apparently intending to write the script while he records a new album this autumn, and he will also produce, alongside Genre Company’s Richard Saperstein – with whom he previously worked on 2007’s Halloween - and Brian Witten. Also onboard are Jack H. Harris (who produced the 1958 and 1988 versions) and Judith Parker Harris of Worldwide Entertainment Corporation. The budget is estimated at an eminently respectable $30m.
Does each edition of The Blob reflect the times in which it was made? The original 1958 Blob was an extraterrestrial interloper, falling from the night sky to menace America – which could certainly be interpreted as reflecting Cold War fears. In contrast, the 1988 remake (directed by The Mask’s Chuck Russell and co-written by The Shawshank Redemption’s Frank Darabont) cast the Blob as a bungled government experiment, articulating a post-Watergate suspicion that it was our own masters who we really needed to watch out for. So will Rob Zombie’s The Blob similarly take the temperature of its time? Will his Blob swallow up Wall Street in a moment of recession catharsis? Guess we will have to wait to find out, but in the meantime here’s the trailer for the 1958 original, starring Steve McQueen and “a cast of exciting young people”.
The trailer has been released for forthcoming George Clooney comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats. How do we know it’s a comedy? Well, Gorgeous George is sporting a moustache, and historically a bit of facial fuzz has usually been a fair indicator that old salt ’n’ pepper head is in funny mood. Except for Syriana. Nothing funny about that soup-strainer whatsoever.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is an adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same title by UK documentarian and journalist Jon Ronson. Highlighting a US army interest in parapsychology, the book details the efforts of American security forces to employ New Age mysticism for military purposes. Ronson links these experiments to such subsequent army tactics as blasting the headquarters of Manuel Noriega with rock music during the 1989 invasion of Panama, and playing the tuneful warbling of Barney the Dinosaur to terror suspects. However, if the trailer is a reliable indicator, then the movie version of The Men Who Stare at Goats looks set to be less thought-provoking satire, and more a straightforward odd couple comedy.
The film scenario appears to centre on Ronson-substitute figure Bob Wilson (Ewan McGregor), who latches onto Clooney’s supposedly psychic soldier Lyn Cassady, and scents the makings of a major journalistic scoop. Heavyweight acting support is provided by Kevin Spacey (also donning comedy ’tache), and Jeff Bridges - channelling the spirit of The Dude as he takes on the role of hippie drill-instructor Bill Django (based on Jim Channon, who penned the First Earth Battalion manual proposing a New Age army platoon).
The testosterone-laden cast also includes Stephen Lang, J. K. Simmons and Robert Patrick, while the movie is directed by Grant Heslov, who co-wrote the Clooney-helmed Good Night, and Good Luck and co-founded the Smoke House production company with the Ocean’s Eleven and Out of Sight star. Ronson’s book has been adapted by How to Lose Friends and Alienate People scripter Peter Straughan, and The Men Who Stare at Goats gets a US release on 6 November.
The trailer suggests some yuks as Clooney fully immerses himself in his role of paranormal trooper Cassady. Subtlety does not appear to be particularly high on the agenda, but it is always pleasing to see Bridges wheel out his zonked-out space cadet persona.
After all those months of steadily-increasing anticipation, it seems that many folks needed just the two minutes it takes to view the newly-released trailer to dismiss James Cameron’s Avatar as the biggest cinematic let-down since Jar-Jar Binks first slithered his way onto the silver screen. Because while the likes of Spielberg and Ridley Scott were reportedly left drooling by the footage they saw of the Terminator and Aliens writer-director’s forthcoming science-fiction epic, the relatively modest amount of effects-action on show in the teaser has been enough to prompt significant numbers of civilian movie-fans to already cast negative judgment on the project – a primary complaint seeming to be that the much-vaunted synthespian characters are rather less photorealistic than Cameron had thus far led us to believe.
Yet if the CGI exhibited the trailer has been a minor victim of expectations so high they could tickle the soles of the Almighty’s feet, then there also appeared to be hints of treats in-store when Avatar is finally released on 18 December (particularly the big airborne dust-up between the tooled-up humans and the Na’vi residents of the alien planet Pandora). And anyway, yesterday’s trailer was a mere apéritif offered up by the living monolith that is the movie’s marketing campaign - for today represents the real main event. Yes, Friday 21st August has been designated as ‘Avatar Day’, and special screenings have been taking place, giving we lucky golden ticket-holders (actually it was a printed-out email) the chance to view a full fifteen minutes of ten-foot tall, blue-skinned alien action.
So picture the scene; there we all are - having been frisked and fondled by the movie-house bouncers, and reminded for the nth time that they would really prefer it if we didn’t whip out our camera phones and start filming - and finally we are ready to begin, and finally the 3D projectors begin to roll.
We are first treated to an introduction from James Cameron himself. And, dare I say it, the notoriously ornery auteur is looking as deliriously ecstatic as I’ve ever seen him. In fact, he’s almost smiling. He advises us that all the scenes we are about to see are from the first half of the movie and consequently there will not even be the merest hint of a spoiler. To be expected, I suppose. And with that, Jim vanishes (no doubt to go yell at an underling) and we are in proper Avatar-viewing business.
We are advised we are “not in Kansas anymore”. A narrative reference to the danger-filled world of Pandora certainly, but surely also a sly nod to we viewers about the progressive technical nature of the footage we are about to see. This first scene is a stern lecture from Corporal Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, sporting tramlines Vanilla Ice would have been proud of), advising a hushed audience of the perils of Pandora. As he talks, paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) trundles into view - just in time to hear Quaritch matter-of-factly announcing that it is certain that some of those present will not survive their venture onto Pandora. It’s not the usual holiday rep spiel, but you have to admire the man’s honesty.
Next scene, and Jake Sully is hauling himself into a high-tech sarcophagus, under the supervision of Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine. Neat 3D graphical arrays are tinkered with, and a link is established between Jake’s brain and that of his avatar host body. The camera zooms in on Jake's cranium and we take a brief psychedelic voyage down a lurid mental light tunnel, emerging into a woozy POV-shot, masked medics leaning over us. We now get a good look at Jake in his Na’vi host form, and some of the doubts fostered by the trailer immediately begin to fade - the detail of the blue-hued body's facial pores, forearm veins and metatarsal bones looking impressively convincing. Revelling in his restored mobility and newly-bestowed physical strength, Jake ignores the calming pleas of the physicians and stalks out of the laboratory.
The action switches again; this time to the lush rainforest surface of Pandora. The 3D becomes noticeable now, with butterflies and falling leaves flitting through the space between the screen and the audience. Jake (in his Na’vi form, as he is for all the remaining scenes in this preview) faces off against a creature which appears to be some kind of triceratops-hammerhead shark hybrid, with bird of paradise-plumage fanning out from the top of its skull. That behemoth is warded off, but Jake immediately comes under attack from a far more hostile predator. A frantic chase ensues, with the fleeing Jake seemingly about to go tumbling right through the front of the screen in some shots, before he finds himself pinned under the gnarled roots of a tree. The beast snaps ferociously at the cowering Jake, sending 3D splinters flying out from the screen.
Next up is the first appearance of the female Na’vi named Neytiri (voiced by Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana), as she uses her aptitude for archery to rescue Jake from a nocturnal attack by a swarm of smaller creatures. As we see the nighttime forest luridly illuminated, the CG spectacle for once appears somewhat overwhelming and unreal. Yet the small details still manage to impress, such as the tactile quality of Neytiri’s braided hair. The next scene follows closely in on this one, again being a two-hander between Jake and Neytiri. He tries his hand at a bit of flirting, determined to prove he is not as useless as she clearly thinks he is. He seems to make some headway, demonstrating once again that block-headed persistence is the best way to woo a woman, even two-hundred years in the future and thousands of light years from Earth.
And for the finale, we are treated to an extended bit of showpiece spectacle, as Jake – face now daubed in orange war-paint – precariously balances alongside Neytiri and her fellow Na’vi on one of the Laputa-esque floating islands that hang in the Pandoran sky. He is apparently submitting himself to some form of initiation ceremony, with a now-sympathetic Neytiri watching on with worry as he attempts to tame one from the massed flock of Pterodactyl-creatures grazing on the island. After a dynamic struggle, he overpowers his quarry and hauls himself astride it, before launching into another impressive 3D sequence – Jake and his new steed imperiously soaring through the clouds.
The preview concluded with a few snippets from the trailer (the scene of the exoskeleton-clad human marines barrelling off their troop carrier looked excellent in 3D) and that was it, aside from a reminder to go and actually watch the movie when it opens on 18 December.
So, from the witnessed footage, what do we make of the prospects for a completed Avatar? Is this a movie that is going to spin the minds of the audience three times round Jupiter and then back again? Er, probably not. Is it set to be the greatest leap forward in filmic expression since Orson Welles decided William Randolph Hearst needed taking down a peg or two? Not quite. But does it look set to be a visually exciting picture, with interesting employment of the 3D technology, and a semi-coherent plot to hang all the CG razzle-dazzle around? I think it does.