Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where have all the original projects gone?

I have refrained from turning anything on this blog into a frothing at the mouth, hate spewing rant. I don't like reading websites or hearing podcasts which are little to nothing but people being so cool they don't have enthusiasm for anything except taking shots at people who are actually doing things and making movies. I love movies. I started this blog as a way to try and celebrate that, because other people celebrating their love for things like film and music, literature and so on, have added something really essential to my life. I have tried to take their example and write a whole lot more about what I like and what I'm excited about than what I don't and what think sucks.

I've even tried to be open minded on the deluge of remakes which have come out in the last few years. I've tried to look at them as much as their own, separate films, in todays cultural setting, as I possibly can. I've even enjoyed some of them, and been willing to say that out loud, which isn't always a popular position in todays film world. I've been hounded from DVD to BluRay in some movie forums for expressing those opinions, as is want to happen in forums anywhere on the internet. Even considering some of the films which have been remade (and poorly so) are part of the canon of truly formative film experiences in my life. Some of these films are responsible for the love affair I have with movies.

If you were to go back and look at the reviews I've posted, and the news I pass on, I think it would be pretty clear that I also try not to have a bias in toward whether a film is a major studio film or an independent film. A good movie is a good movie, a bad movie is a bad movie, you can make either with very little money or a mountain of money.

I don't like wasting my time with bad movies. Going to the movies and plunking down my hard earned cash only to be faced with something crappy, uninspired and which isn't entertaining, just sucks. I don't generally get angry about it. As a film geek, I know I'm going to have to see some really bad movies some times in order to be able to find some really good movies sometimes. Most of the time I'm going to sit through movies that are somewhat good and somewhat bad. A friend of mine explained it perfectly by saying, "You go looking for flecks of color, and sometimes you end up finding a nugget of gold.

What I'm trying to say is that I do my absolute best to be reasonable and fair with the films I see and read about. Someone put time and effort into them. Someone worked hard at getting them written, and then financed, and then from script to screen. It's more work than most people really consider, and most of the time, even in the worst film, somebody did some good work they should be proud of and feel good about. Even if it's set design, conceptual design, the chances someone did some good work they should be proud of are better than the chances that absolutely no one did anything at all decent.

I say all of this because I'm going to do something I wouldn't have possibly considered when the idea of starting to try and be more regular and disciplined with this blog occurred to me. I'm going to beg you, all of you, any of you who are reading this, whether you know me or not, do not, under any circumstances ever in your life pay to see the proposed remake of The Monster Squad.

If you have seen The Monster Squad, especially if you saw it as a kid, I'm going to bet you understand what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen it or you were a full grown adult when you saw it, you might not understand what I'm talking about.

The Monster Squad is one of those kids adventure films that gives kids a film that is really, actually, specifically for them. Yeah, there are a few jokes in there that are going to be over a kids head, but on the whole, it's a kids film, and even more rare, it's a good one. This isn't a movie made to cash in on "the family demographic", it's a kids movie. Fred Dekker somehow figured out how to make a movie so unabashedly for kids that when you're a kid watching it, you know it's for you. You know it's not for the adults, and it's a good movie, not just some crap thrown together, but a very good movie. It's an adventure that the kids have, together, without the adults and as a kid it was thrilling, heart warming, kind of scary, and all awesome.

It's also not a movie that's going to suffer from being dated. A ten year old kid watching this movie now would find it just as thrilling and fun as ten year old kids did when it was released, because kids, have awesome imaginations that aren't crowded up with all the crap adults minds get crowded with. A kid today would enjoy this film just as much. A generation of movie fans cut their teeth on the famous movie monsters, cultural icons like Dracula, Frankensteins monster, The Wolfman, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and The Mummy. That generation of movie fans are all grown up now, and many of us have continued our love of movies and gone back to see the films that inspired the characters in The Monster Squad.

At this point, some of the films I most enjoyed growing up John Carpenter's Halloween, Friday The 13th, A Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Last House On The Left, When A Stranger Calls, have all been remade. I enjoyed the Chainsaw Massacre remake, and I think there's some chance something good could come of the upcoming Elm Street remake. With Jackie Earle Haley starring as Freddy, there's a chance to see something new done with the character, but still in keeping with the spirit of the original. As much as I am worried about ending up with another Friday the 13th or When A Stranger Calls, I'm still willing to acknowledge it this could end up working out and being decent or even good and enjoyable.

But, The Monster Squad, is something else altogether, and considering a remake of this film is nothing more than the most blatant and obvious grab for money because it's a "property" whose name people will recognize. Making The Monster Squad more slick or with CGI effects isn't going to make it any better or even any more accepted by it's target audience. It's target audience are kids who have been watching both the incredibly beautiful and ground breaking work of Pixar, and horrible Japanese animation like Dragonball Z.They react to the characters and the story and whether or not it's exciting for them. Lucky ones have gotten to see Miyazaki as well. And that's what Monster Squad was for a lot of kids, an adventure with a heart, for kids, one hundred percent for kids. A remake isn't going to do that, and you can guarantee it, especially one from the Micheal Bay's Platinum Dunes company. Even if they tried, they couldn't possibly pull something like this off. This is a company which has made it's fortune remaking the horror films The Monster Squad generation made successful the first time and turning them into slick, bloody, generalized schlock. 

So I entreat you, I beg you, do not, under any circumstances pay your money to see it if that remake does actually make it to theaters. I'm honestly thinking of starting an online petition against it to let Platinum Dunes know they're going too far. If you actually would sign something like that, leave me a comment here or at my Facebook page. If it seems like there would be some support, I'll do it and post a link here on the blog and on my Facebook page.

Don't worry, this isn't something you should expect to see from this blog or from me at all. I just couldn't let this one pass.

Out Of The Ether 3/15/10

Well all, it's time for the latest in movies news deemed worthy of your highness's.

First, a fond and heartfelt farewell to Peter Graves, who at the ripe old age of 83, has passed on to the great theater beyond. How much really needs to be said about the man who brought me the great Captain Clarence Oveur in Airplane. I don't know I can count the number of times I've seen the film, and would be even less capable of figuring out the number of times I've ever thought it funny to ask a friend if they had ever been in a Turkish prison, liked gladiator movies or had ever seen a grown man naked. He was also in this little television show called Mission Impossible, that spawned a kind of successful film franchise many years later (read: sarcasm). But to me, he'll always be Clarence Oveur who brought me and many others many hours of laughter. Thank you Mr. Graves, a more necessary thing has never been done. 

Let's talk news of the weird. Have you ever thought of an idea for a story or a movie you thought would be good, told someone about it or written it down and then some time later seen a film, television show or book which is eerily reminiscent of your idea? If you've any creative bone in your body that ever wants to express itself in some kind of storytelling, you've probably had that experience. It's extremely common. I say this, because apparently, someone feels somewhat slighted by their submission of a film treatment to Dimension, featuring a female character named Ren, and Dimensions subsequent release of Kill Bill, featuring Lucy Liu as O Ren Ishii. He's apparently filed a lawsuit against Dimension and Quentin Tarantino. It's not all that unusual to have someone who at some past date submitted an idea to sue a studio for a later film which bears some similarity. That in itself isn't something I'd have thought of passing on to you all. The rest of the story.... is definitely interesting, and pretty hilarious in a sad and pathetic sort of way. Included though, is word that Tarantino might be working on a documentary about former Dimension head honcho and all around Hollywood power broker, Harvey Weinstein.

Do you like football? How about Robert Deniro? How about a football movie starring Robert Deniro? Sounds like box office gold right? Well, someone else thought so too... ESPN films. Shocking,  I know. But, Deniro is apparently slated to play Vince Lombardi in........................................ wait for it..................................................................................................................................... Lombardi. I don't know what to think about this. One part of me thinks it would be very cool to see Deniro take on the role. On the other hand, it is ESPN films. Following the link in the title to see the rest of the details.

More biopic news, you say? Well, for you, anything. How about a J. Edgar Hoover biopic? Personally, I know as much about J. Edgar Hoover as I'd ever need, but since Clint Eastwood is signing on to direct, I'm suddenly interested. Now, all we need is Rudy Guiliani to star. We know he's got the wardrobe already, and noun, verb, communist is certainly within his grasp. Not very funny, I know. Give a guy a break.

Here's one to file under "????????" Someone over at Warner Brothers is apparently very worried about the impending end of the Harry Potter series. They're kicking all kinds of projects into gear which seem specifically tailored to replace Harry Potter and to take advantage of the success of Sherlock Holmes. The newest idea is apparently turning Leonardo da Vinci into an action hero. This is not a joke. I think this has the chance to be a successful and fun franchise, if they can get Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law to star in it, and then hell freezes over.

In news actually related to Robert Downey Jr. (when is it going to start being ok to refer to him strictly as RDJ?), he's apparently in talks to appear in the latest film from Children Of Men director Alphonso Cuaron. The upcoming 3D science fiction epic is currently being called Gravity. Check out the rest of the details behind this link. This is exciting news to me, and it almost doesn't matter who stars. I know there are people who don't like Children Of Men, but I think they might not actually be human. They are more likely the Mole Men John Hodgeman refers to in his book, More Information Than You Require. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't listen to this in audiobook format.

Edward Norton is taking the ultimate risk as an actor, playing twins. I say this is the ultimate risk because it seems there are only two categories the "one actor playing twins" movies fall into, either extremely interesting and intelligent or painfully horrible. /film has a clip and Ain't It Cool has a review of this film, combined with a review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Fearnet is reporting (via Variety) that Leonardo DiCaprio's company Appian Way has a gothic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in development and that DiCaprio may have some interest in starring. The thing which makes this interesting to me, is that word is this version will be gong back to the early versions of the story which were passed down orally before the tale was committed to writing. It could be interesting. It could also be total crap. We can always hope.

South By Southwest (referred to as SXSW from here on out) is in full swing and there's lots of rumor and review coming out of it. One film making a big splash is simply titled Serbian Film  and is apparently grabbing all the controversy for it's shocking nature. This, of course. piques my interest. Quint over at AICN has a review that intensifies that interest. If it can get a reaction like that out of a hard core film geek like that, well, I'm going all in. The problem is, so far, no one has picked it up. Let's hope Magnet, Anchor Bay, Blue Underground or one of our other reliable genre home entertainment companies grabs it up. There's an equally interesting review over at Cinematical. And one more from Fearnet. Why am I giving you three different reviews for one film? Two reasons: the first being all of them were genuinely shocked by the film (no small feat). The second being they all have different reactions to the film. Anything that can be repeatedly referred to as the most shocking film of all time, the most disturbing film a hard core film geek has ever seen is at least interesting to consider or it should be.

There are two music documentaries I've been reading up on that sound like they might be some real fun. The first is about The Kashmere Stage Band. Apparently, they were a high school jazz band from Houston TX in the early seventies and ended up becoming a world  touring, world rocking funk band under the tutelage of a man they called "Prof." I'm a sucker for a good music documentary, because let's face it, a cool documentary, which just happens to have great music, is a better way to spend that time than many others most of us can think of. I've certainly wasted enough hours watching films which weren't very good, and didn't even have good music to give me a decent excuse. Thunder Soul sounds like something I'd travel to DC to catch.

The second of the music doc's I wanted to alert you all to follows The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights. Admittedly, I'm a fan of The White Stripes, so that helps. But, music documentaries following well known bands on tour (it sounds like quite an interesting tour, with bowling alleys and the whole  nine yards) often end up being self aggrandizing crap. The good concert documentary is the unusual one, and this one has gotten enough good word for me to think it might not just be for fans of The White Stripes, but fans of documentaries in general. Maybe being a fan of the band is an added gimme. There's some interesting yakkety yakking at the beginning of this review, I thought it was worth reading. If you don't you can skip through it and the review is all meat.

That's all for now. If I don't finally publish this edition, I'll just keep finding more stuff to add to it, and none of it will be relevant by the time you all read it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Out Of The Ether 3/8/10

What's new in the movie world? Well, there are a few things hitting the intrawebz this last week that seem worthy of passing on. The Academy Awards were broadcast last night, everyone and their brother are going to be writing about that, and some of them are probably going to be able to score interviews with winners, etc. So, I'm skipping that. If I can find the time, I might throw a separate post together which will just be about the Oscars, the winners and non-winners, and so on.

There is some other big news though. There's a new Iron man 2 trailer out and........... it looks bad ass. I'm more excited about this sequel now than I was prior to the original, and these days, I don't really get very excited for sequels. CHECK IT OUT!!!!!

In other news related to both sequels and trailers, there's a new trailer for George A. Romeo's Survival Of The Dead. I'm unfortunately underwhelmed. Severely underwhelmed would be the description. I might have high expectations from the man who created the modern zombie film, especially when it comes to zombie films, this is true. At the same time, Land Of The Dead was worse than just not good enough for Romero to have made. it was not good enough for Paul W. S. Anderson to have made, and I liked Resident Evil. Diary Of The Dead was a vast improvement over Land, but it certainly had it's flaws, especially in comparison to The Zombie Diaries, a film whose concept is almost exactly the same and was made a year earlier, but released a year later. If you can handle the disappointment, your bag of lifeless guts of zombie movie is here.

A late edition is the trailer for the Tron Legacy trailer. I haven't even watched it yet, and I'm excited. I loved Tron as a kid. I'm really interested to see what's going to come of this. Check it out here.

 I didn't realize how sequel intensive this edition of Out Of The Ether was going to be until now. But, since we're already at it, here's some more. Zombieland 2 is going to be 3D, but the good 3D. It's going to be filmed in 3D, with 3D projection in mind, not as post production. If you're not sure what I mean, the difference between the two is the difference between My Bloody Valentine 3D and Avatar 3D. One of them looks like the gimmick it is (which I enjoyed thoroughly) and the other looks like another storytelling tool to help create the illusion of an existning world. Of all the 3D projects I've heard or read whispers of lately, I think this one is most appropriate. Zombieland was the perfect kind of over the top, funny, silly to do some really fun things with a 3D image. I'll be looking for all the news I can grab on this one, and I'll pass it along to you all. Bloody Disgusting has the full story.

Here's one I have no clue what to think of, and figured maybe someone out there might be able to sway me one way or the other. The Green Lantern is apparently going to be 3D as well. There's some part of me that recognizes some potential for very cool things with Power Ring and 3D, and flight in 3D is pretty freaking cool, but this might just get silly too. Sucker Punch the film 300 and Watchmen's Zack Snyder is working on will be 3D as well. Whatever you have to say about Snyder's film, he definitely has a great visual style, so he might really make this cool. I'm interested in his Legends Of The Guardians kids fantasy film as well. The story is over at /film (accompanied by some very cool fan art).

Sequels and comic book movies, lots of both this week. For a number of years there's been word of Sam Raimi trying to put together a new film version of The  Shadow. I can't think of any Raimi film I've ever seen that I completely disliked (with the exception of Spiderman 3 which I consider a Sony Studios film), so the idea was always pretty cool. News now is that Raimi won't be directing, but will produce and hand the directing responsibilities off to David Slade, director of Hard Candy and 30 Days Of Night. I like this idea. Hard Candy was a gut punch of a little movie and 30 Days Of Night gave us bad ass vampires in a way we hadn't seen in a long time. Check out the details over at /film.

One of the films which got some good word of mouth at Sundance and sounds pretty interesting is Splice, starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody and directed by Cube genius, Vincenzo Natali. Warner Bros. is apparently planning a June release for this bad boy, which is about gene splicing and it's consequences. I'm interested. Find out if you are.

In news of the "What was that you just said?" Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (director of the visually interesting, narratively handicapped Daywatch, Nightwatch and the recent 9), are going to co-direct Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. The source material is a book written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who had success with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" as well.. This could be an absolute blast, but it could be a steaming pile of annoying as well. Two directors who's visual senses are beyond reproach but can sometimes be light on character or story might drive this into the ground. Bloody Disgusting dishes it up for you.

The last bit of news I've got today relates to the Fright Night remake I've been hearing threats of for a few years already. /film has a story suggesting the newest version trying to make it to theaters has been written by Marti Noxon of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the T.V series) and directed by Craig Gillespie, of Lars And The Real Girl. I have to say that if they're going to do a remake of this film (which I watched religiously as a teenager) this sounds like a good combination. Noxon's humor would capture the essence of the original, and Gillespie has certainly shown an affinity for creating characters he cares about and portraying them as believably human and sympathetic, even in unusual situations.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Moon (2009, directed by Duncan Jones)

Some of the most thought provoking, powerfully human, beautiful, entertaining, haunting, and heart breaking works of fiction I've ever seen on film or read have been science fiction stories. 

There's something about science fiction that seems to be more well suited to adeptly capture so many elements of what it is to be and the experience of being human than any other genre of fiction. I may have a soft spot in my heart for horror films, a kind of gooey, giddy, unfettered, sloppy teenage romance with horror films that's continued into my adult years, but good science fiction gets my admiration and respect. Added to that, film seems as if it were almost specifically created for science fiction story telling. Few genres are served as perfectly by a visual medium.

I feel that way because of films like Moon. Directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell, this is excellent science fiction. I'd wager it will be considered a classic, and part of the cannon of "must see" science fiction films. It's hard to say much about Moon without spoiling the experience for people who haven't  seen it. I'd absolutely suggest that if you haven't seen Moon you go into it knowing as little as possible about it. That being said, I knew more about it than I probably should have, and obviously, I still think it was a great film. I'm giving you the choice by not revealing anything that would take away from the impact of the film. If you want to know more of the actual story than that, you'll have to look elsewhere.

What I can tell you about the story is that Sam Bell is the sole technician in an almost completely automated operation extracting an element from the surface of the moon that has solved Earth's energy problems. Sam has been at this base on the moon, attending the machines, collecting the element (Helium-3) when cannisters on the harvesters are full and sending it back to Earth. When we meet him, Sam has apparently been on the moon, alone, for three years. In two weeks his contract will be up, and he'll be able to go home. Unfortunately, while heading out to collect a full cannister of Helium-3 from one of the harvesters, Sam has an accident, at which point, things get interesting, really, really interesting.

To some of you, that might sound like the kind of geektastic, hard core science fiction stuff that makes certain varieties of science fiction so very unattractive to most adults. I understand that, but what that synopsis doesn't tell you is that those details are the set up for the story. The real story is what happens from the accident on, and it is a very completely human story, more about Sam Bell than the moon, some made up element, harvesting on the moon or any of that. It's about Sam, our ideas about identity, what it is to be human, how it is we relate to ourselves and each other and it does all of it with authentic heart, subtle intelligence, and exquisite film making.

Moon is able to take on some big, heady, adult themes and make them personal in way that gets them away from being purely intellectual exercises. I enjoyed Richard Kelly's The Box, but I recognize that one of it's problems is the fact that it's intellectual nature doesn't make for the kind of compelling film making that a general non science fiction geek can identify with. Moon is an utterly compelling piece of film making, in the most human storytelling tradition.

You can not discount the importance of Sam Rockwell's performance to the success of this film. Rockwell has literally ninety eight or ninety nine percent of the screen time in the film. Other than a few minutes of video feed coming from Earth, and Kevin Spacey as the disembodied voice of Gerty, the robot/automation which has been Sam's only companion over the past three years. There just isn't another human being for the audience to start taking this journey with or sympathizing with, it's that simple. The thing is, Rockwell is absolutely phenomenal. I posted something earlier today on Facebook about having watched this last night, and that I couldn't stop thinking about it today, and a friend commented that the he would probably not have enjoyed the film if anyone else had been in Rockwell's role. I think that's a good call because not only can I not think of any other actor possibly having played this role, I can't think of an actor I would have sympathized or empathized with more than Rockwell. That authentic and honest heart in this movie is half to seventy five percent Rockwell's performance. I'd have to give credit for the remaining percentage would be due to the storytelling choices Duncan Jones makes, but there isn't enough praise available to me for Rockwell's performance. It is just so honest and so real and so understandable, it's completely disarming. I'm honestly disappointed Rockwell wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. This is the kind of role which the Academy usually trips over itself to give away awards to and I honestly think Rockwell is the victim of the Oscars trying to answer a very large and very loud community that has been increasingly critical of it. Too bad Rockwell is better in this role than most of those past Oscar bait nominations could have dreamed of being.

It's fairly obvious that a great deal of time, effort and care were put into this film. The production design is wonderful. The inside of the moon station is believably functional, and well designed because it continues to be interesting even though we spend the majority with it and it never gets boring or overwhelms the story or character. And the special effects are awesome. Not necessarily in the big, splashy, "look at how cool my special effects are" kind of way, but just in their subtle beauty and the fact that they all do have a very palpable reality and weight to them. All of it works together and is so deeply integrated that it makes me excited to see what Duncan Jones will do in the future. One of the problems that often comes up in sci-fi films or films that involve effects is that they don't seem to be a part of or integrated in the world the film exists in. Moon succeeds at avoiding that pit fall so well, I honestly didn't think about the effects until I was thinking about writing this. The fact that I was watched a film set in a near future, in a moon base, and didn't think about the effects at all, is a huge testament to the effects department, specifically because Moon is not the kind of film who's effects you should be thinking about. It should never be taking attention away from the character work in a film like this and it never does, while still being beautiful and interesting.

In the past year few years, we've had a few very good science fiction films. The Star Trek reboot was well done, exciting and fun. But, it was definitely more popcorn and action film than real, adult science fiction film. District 9 was the perfect middle ground film. It was exciting and fun, action packed, but also had a real story with great character development, an awesome character, great effects and the whole nine yards. Moon follows in the path of earlier classic science fiction like Blade Runner, the original Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, Moon as much as it is in keeping with the thoughtful, honest nature of those films, it is much warmer and more heart felt and warm.

I can't recommend this highly enough.