Archive | March, 2013

Grunting at the Screen (116)

20 Mar

The information age has not yet finished with us.
What’s Ridley Doing? No really. I have asked that question a few times. This time he’s all about short films. Ridley Scott’s Ad Agency, RSA, has linked up with YouTube channel Machinima to provide series of twelve science fiction shorts. Directors will initially come from the RSA roster (a group of talented visualists) but Scott is also talking about involving major directors, pretty much if they have a great idea for a short film, he’s interested.
The films which potential will then be developed as features. Now you’re talking.
This is not Ridley’s first involvement in the world of short films, besides the ad work, he also sponsored a short film competition, Parallel Lines, which yielded
Carl Erik Rinsch’s celebrated short, The Gift.

Holy Moses, what is Ridley Doing?
The latest announcement is that Ridley Scott is going to make an epic about Moses (Exodus) and he’s trying to snare Christian Bale. The project has been knocking about at Warner Bros. for a while. Steve (American Gangster) Zaillian has most recently re-written the scripts.
I don’t want to be selfish* but if Scott has finally made a commitment then it means all plans for further science fiction movies are now on the shelf; and that is something considerable; No Prometheus sequel (quick kvetching, it made money, not Avatar money, but money .) No Blade Runner II. No Forever War. Not for the next two years at least. Ridley has never been a big Science fiction fan (yes, a considerable irony). Maybe the critical drubbing and less than stellar performance of Prometheus has driven him back to his first love.
Nothing is cut and dried; Exodus is competing with the similarly themed feature Gods and Kings, once a pet project of Spielberg, now in the hands of Ang Lee.

Actually there have been a whole lot fewer biblical films than I expected (not that I’m complaining). In the wake of The Passion of the Christ (and the frankly enthusiastic Christian contingent in the USA) I expected the film industry to be falling over themselves to get holy on us. But those godless heathens in Los Angeles are proving reluctant. (I’m sure there a ton of money in it.)
Just look at it. Bible Epics are basically superhero movies with the advantage of righteousness behind them. You have massive action scenes and dudes with superpowers.
There are a bunch of movies in development, some with major stars attached to them. But the only big one actually in production is Darren Aronofsky’s’s Noah (I’m thinking, not a traditional biblical epic).
Sitting around in Development Purgatory as another take on Samson, a couple doing the David and Goliath thing (one tantalisingly taking Goliath’s point of view, you would not be surprised to hear The Rock -Hercules- has been associated with that one.)

Here’s something, producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel are working on a feature named Brilliance.
It’s based on a novel by Marcus Sakey. A world of superpowered humans called “brilliants”. A “brilliant” federal agent goes up against a “brilliant” terrorist.
Has potential.

Now here is something. I have been seeing copies of Ramez Naam’s novel Nexus knocking around town. Looks interesting. In a future where human minds are linked together by a nano drug named Nexus, a scientist is thrust into world of espionage and danger. Hme.
It looks like it’s been optioned by Paramount Pictures. What is more interesting is among its many producers is Darren Aronofsky, he may be more famous for making Black Swan, But I remember his groundbreaking Cyberpunk indie Pi. Ari Handel and Mark Heyman are developing the script.
Not to get too excited though. Nexus is a recent novel, and if history is any guide, novels take years to get to the screen.

Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are at it again, as writer/producers they have the largest plate heaped with the most goodies in Hollywood; just some (but far from all) of their slate includes: Star Trek 2, the Van Helsing reboot, the Mummy and Ender’s Game. Just added is Sagittarius A. Nothing is known about it but it is presumed to be some kind of science fiction project.

The Hong Kong scene has been quiet lately. Not in Hong Kong, they are still very much making films, it’s just that the rest of the world, particularly the rest of Asia have pulled western attention away from the territory. But fear not, there are still gems to be found.
When was the last Chinese vampire movie you saw?
Well they are back. Juno Mak has revived the sub-genre with Rigor Mortis. Chin Siu-ho, veteran actor of vampire movies, is plating the hapless hunter.
It is in production and the preliminary production photos are looking good.

I hate to be obvious but most of the current news is about remakes, reboots and sequels. In fact on some of the blogs three quarters of the news is of some heavily franchised property. We are living in an era when some of the most highly anticipated events are reboots of remakes of formerly big series from thirty years ago. Many of the rest are sequels to comic book movies based on characters from the 1960s. This is not all bad news, in fact I am looking forward to a few of these forthcoming films, but mostly I’d like to cover new stuff.
Mostly.

I’ve been thinking about those garage Kubriks again. Time to get out of the garage. Now we know the filmmakers beavering away in their bedrooms, classrooms and garages share less with Kubrik than Spielberg or Jim Cameron. Aside from their alienation from actual narrative (not a small fault) they have a problem- not real enough.
CG and blue screen have given the impression that natural habitat of the filmmaker is in front of a computer screen. Time to get some sunlight and fresh air. There is another breed of filmmaker whose work seldom sees the big screen and who’s also hostile to things like acting, characters and stories, and it might benefit all of those basement film directors to hook up with or at least learn from them. Extreme sports film makers. They strop a camera onto their helmets and then throw themselves into, or over unlikely situations to get jaw dropping footage. These helmet cams are getting cheaper and better every year and one day some smart guy (or gal) will get the idea of shooting a bunch of footage then stringing it together as a story. Not a documentary but a genuine little movie with characters and a plot. When this happens people will ask why no-one ever did it before.

One of the interesting places at the moment is Ubisoft which is making a play to become a major player in the film world. Our main interest is Deus Ex, but I’m sure that film will wait in line behind the plethora of other projects in the works: Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell and Uncharted Drake. My take is that Ubisoft are trying to do what Marvel Studios did; leverage their success in one area into the film industry. I’m concerned this may not work. Marvel Studios was very tentative at first starting off with one thing at a time, slowly building towards a major event. Ubisoft are moving forward with a lot of projects at once. Too far, too fast.
So far Ubisoft have delivered a lot of deals but no films, it’s a tough business, but they are trying to deliver something we haven’t seen over and over again and I wish them luck.

Will it end in fire or in ice? In the case of The Colony, definitely ice. It seems like this film has been in production forever. But it gets a Canadian release on April 12th. (This makes it the first of this year’s Ice Age holocausts; Snowpiercer is due in the spring).
The basic set up is this.
The ice age has returned, humanity lives underground. But there has been a signal and a rescue team is dispatched to discover what has happened at The Colony.
Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton star. No word on a US or UK release.

So when was your last good chunk of Thai horror? (Actually Mine Was The Eye, but don’t tell) Thailand has a thriving horror scene, much of which has failed to get a release over here.
Soon to be in production is Ghost Coins, and it sounds cool. Thai tradition mandates each dead person have a coin placed under their tongue before burial. Disturbing this money is strictly taboo, which does not stop a gang of wayward teenagers who grow rich and confident on their grave robbing, until they go for the big score, the corpse of a millionaire rumoured to have a cache of gold coins in his mouth.
It’s a robbery too far as the old man’s ghost rises, and he wants his cash back!
director Pawat Panangkasiri, it should arrive in 2014.
David Goyer has been wallowing in history for his Leonardo Da Vinci TV show, he must be enjoying it because his latest film project is also historically based,
It’s The Count of Monte Cristo. They are calling it a “reboot” but since the last major version was some decades ago, we can let it pass
Michael Robert Johnson (“Pompeii”) did the script and would you believe the same production house that does the Resident Evil movies.

OK, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” made a respectable $206 million worldwide. Inevitably a sequel is being planned. And that is all I have to say about it.

There are two thrillers about a White House invasion due this year and reviews are emerging for the first one, Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen.
Word is it’s a cliché yet fast moving and effective thriller with horror and humour served up in equal measure.

Gerard Butler stars as the disgraced Secret Service man who has to save the president (and all that good, free and just).

The Bay is out now. The Bay skipped the theatres and went straight to disk. This unusual because unlike most Straight to Video films this one has a major director, Barry Levinson. It’s a found footage film about an eco-disaster. Pollution creates a plague of flesh munching sea bugs. It has the usual Jaws/Piranhas arc; it all happens on the 4th of July weekend. Get out of water..
Reviews suggest it is a superior example of the found footage horror genre.

*Well not so much.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
http://www.darkhorizons.com/
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section
http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/dvd-and-blu-ray-home-entertainment-reviews

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.

Grunting at the Screen (115)

12 Mar

The information age has not yet finished with us.

2013, the year of the cyberpunk movie is coming off to an extremely slow start. News on the big hitters (one presumably big budget, one not so much) Blade Runner II and Neuromancer, has dried up. As has that for some of the more interesting small projects like True Skin.

So what do we have?

Word that Ubisoft has pegged budgets for its features at $100M minimum has its own implications.
One of those is the fact that one of the films on Ubisoft’s slate is Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and if that is a $100m movie then it gives serious competition to mid budget films. Like Neuromancer.
And it is not the only one who’d better watch its back. All of the low and mid budget films may be pushed aside in the face of Ubisoft muscling in on the territory; Duncan Jones’ unnamed near future project is on hold while he makes World of Warcraft, Noel Clarke’s dieselpunk/cyberpunk project, Reign of Death, might suffer the same fate as his little monster flick Storage 24, and if Robert Rodreguez still intends to bring Nerverackers to the screen he will have to carrying more heft.
Of course films like the Blade Runner sequel are not in danger, not with the major budgets they will command.

On Blade Runner 2.
If you look at the visuals of Blade Runner: darkness, steam, rain. All of these elements can be used to obscure or disguise faults in production design. They are cinematographic tricks. We think of Blade Runner as one of the most beautifully designed, lit and shot movies in the history of cinema. But Ridley Scott is a perfectionist and it is possible he used the obscuring tricks of photography to hide sets that he found less than satisfactory.
If so, he now has a huge opportunity to correct himself. For this reason his plan may be shoot Blade Runner II in bright sunlight; to show he can make the city of the future as spectacular in day as it was at night. CGI will make this possible, but we know from Prometheus, he favours doing things as real as possible.

Additionally screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns gave an interview. Now Burns is not working on the Blade Runner 2 script, but he did meet with Ridley Scott to discuss the project. Burns is a big Blade Runner fan and he wants to work with Ridley. But he says he might work on a project “not attached to that franchise necessarily.” Hme, “necessarily”, an interesting way of putting it, could he mean “kind of, but not quite”? Could Ridley be doing to Blade Runner what he did to Alien? Making a film “not attached to that franchise necessarily”? A film that is “not really a sequel by shared DNA”? Only time will tell.

Neuromancer.
Vincenzo Natali is presenting his latest feature Haunter at South by South West Film Festival (which everyone calls SXSW, go figure).
An excellent opportunity to ask questions about the long-in-gestation Neuromancer. However in the wake of its debut, despite interviews, no specific questions were asked and no information offered.
This bodes ill when rumours suggest Natali is already off the project.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Development has been moving a pace at on Deus Ex. The screenwriter C. Robert Cargill and director Scott Derrickson have completed the draft; they are telling us it will be a cyberpunk movie and not a game movie, they say they’re au fait with the sub-genre.
They want it to be unique like District 9, Looper or Inception.
In fact they were forthcoming on all the things it would not be: not Johnny Mnemonic, New Rose Hotel, nor Blade Runner. They said it would be “realistic”. Hme.
They are very much aware of the big ideas in the videogame and they want to get them into the film.
They are not exactly following the game’s plot, although there will be a lot that the game’s fans will be familiar with.
I’m beginning to see the approach they have in mind. Just compare the look of Alien as compared to Prometheus (the look) one is studio bound and dominated by smoke and fog effects, the other looks very much like a location shoot with stunning realistic vistas. Look at Blade Runner compared to Minority Report: away with the smoke, steam and darkness and in with the pinpoint sharp almost monochrome exteriors. Again look at District 9. Very realistic, very location based. Scott Derrickson wants to reinvent the aesthetics of the cyberpunk movie, take it out of the studio onto the street.
Sounds ambitious. Hopefully not too ambitious.
News of Game Movies usually sticks to the blogs but this one made it to the TV entertainment clips. Someone is pushing it hard.
Of course, whether they want it to be seen as Game Movie or not, it is; and these tend to have long gestation periods, if they appear at all, and when they do, with few exceptions, they disappoint both game and film fans.
Perhaps this one will break the mould.
We may have to wait a while because Blumhouse Productions is eager to have Scott Derrickson deliver a sequel to the wildly successful horror pic, Sinister.

Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem continues in production.

OK, Moving On.

In utterly unexpected news, it looks like JG Ballard’s novel The Drowned World has been optioned. David Heyman is producing for Warner Bros. Much has been made of the fact that Hayman is the Harry Potter producer, but I would not make a big deal over it, after all who would have imagined a Speilberg making a Ballard movie? Anyway the theme is still topical with Global Warming yet to vanish from the current affairs agenda.
Screenwriter and Director are yet to be announced.

There are a couple of other Ballard movies languishing in turnaround, the most likely of which is (ironically) is Vincenzo Natali’s High Rise.

OK, this is new: Predestination. Based on “a classic Robert Heinlein” story about a temporal agent pursuing a criminal who long eluded him.
They didn’t say just which classic story. I am guessing “All You Zombies” or “By His Bootstraps”, the Heinlein causality-loop stories.
Ethan Hawke must have enjoyed teaming up with the Spierig brothers (on Daybreakers) because he has signed on with them for this one too. Unlike a lot of announced projects it actually has a start date: April 8.

Tim Miller has been hired by 20th Century Fox to direct space movie Artemis. Word is it is “a contained action movie”. Oh dear, not Die Hard in a space station?
Tim Miller …. This is interesting, he’s the same guy linked to Joe Haldeman’s Seasons. In fact he is an FX supervisor who’s been put forward as director on several projects: Deadpool, Seasons, Artemis. So far none of them have escaped development hell. Cinema audiences will be most familiar with his work through the title sequence of the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Ooh, ooh, back in June we reported that Caradog James was planning a film called The Machine; all about a secret program to build a military cyborg that (predictably) goes wrong. Well he’s finished it and it’s showing at The Tribeca Film Festival (April 17 to April 28.) More as it develops.

Well the year is getting into gear.
This week it is Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters. Now I liked Wirkola’s last film. Kinda.
Dead Snow was a fresh take on that old trope, Nazi Zombies* and it was efficiently executed. And a little cold.
Nevertheless I was looking forward to Wirkola’s next, he showed a lot of promise. Predictably he made the jump from his native Finland to an English language project. He recruited Jeremy (Hurt Locker) Renner and Gemma Arterton to star. The trailers were impressive, if in Dead Snow he seemed to be channelling Sam Raimi, with Hansel and Gretel there was a distinct whiff of Timur Bekmambetov (well of Bekmambetov directing a Resident Evil Prequel…)

Review
It was silly, ahistorical, but basically fun. We start with the classic folk tale; Hansel and Gretel taken out to the woods and abandoned. The candy cottage, the hungry witch and burning the witch.
The title sequence (expensive looking, Tommy Wirkola has come along since his first feature) shows us how the siblings grew up to become famous witch hunters (or, taken literally a pair of medieval serial killers…)
The rest of the film is pretty much about one mission where they investigate a number of child abductions linked to major Witches Sabbath. There is a major twist near the end, which is pretty cool.
In tone and texture this film most resembles Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm” (Peter Stormare is in that one too). In technique Wirkola is still leaning on Sam Raimi, although there are moments (including one bullet sequence) that are pure Timur Bekmambetov.
The design (art, production and costume) is pretty good. The weapons are totally ahistorical; the medieval shotguns, rifles, revolvers and (you think, I’m kidding.. I am not kidding) Gatling Gun are frankly ridiculous.

The fight sequences are cut too tight (as usual), but still entertaining. Yes, it is a very bloody film, but less violent than expected.
In terms of performances it is only average, it says something that the most affecting character comes from the 8 foot tall monstrosity of Howard the Troll.
The best human performer is Famke Janssen as the head witch, she has very little to work with but acquits herself well.

All in all an energetic and affective movie, but only if you already like the horror/action genre pioneered by Blade, Underworld and Resident Evil.

* How I wish I was joking.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
http://www.darkhorizons.com/
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section
http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/dvd-and-blu-ray-home-entertainment-reviews

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.

Grunting at the Screen (114)

1 Mar

The information age has not yet finished with us.

At last some real news.
You don’t know what it is like in January and February. Between the post Christmas hangover and awards season, film news dries right up.

But we have a significant nugget of news. One, I daresay I can blow it up into couple of paragraphs.

I like Neill Blomkamp, I don’t think he’s the second coming, but he’s done good things for science fiction film. In an age when even big, successful directors are practically forbidden to create original science fiction he declined to follow is wildly successful District 9 with a sequel and instead started Elysium (due out August 9th.)

He’s finished Elysium and all of the elaborate marketing and publicity is yet to come but that has not kept him from prepping his third feature. It’s science fiction again and provisionally called “Chappie”.

He’s just one ball of pent-up energy. The years he spent frustratedly trying to make Hal must have left a mark on him because he just isn’t stopping.

So what do we know about “Chappie”. Word of it first leaked out in January 2011 and nothing was revealed except the title. As time went out rumours surfaced that it would be a comedy reuniting him with District 9 writer Terri Tatchell.
Current reports are: it’s been greenlit, Media Rights Capitol has gotten behind him, he’s shooting in Johannesburg again, and that’s about it.

Not much but it’s great. New Science Fiction from the most promising young director out there and not a remake, reboot, sequel or comic book adaptation in sight.
Cool.

What’s Ridley Doing?I’m not going to ask about why his company, Scott Free has recently gone so aggressively into television production, they have proved they are good at it, no problem. No, I’m talking about The Day Britain Stopped. When Scott Free obtained the rights (started out as a docudrama, I think they have something more conventionally dramatic in mind) I thought they’d bench it along with all the other projects they were working on (and they are many*). But it looks like they are moving forward with a screenplay. Tapped for the script is Kieran Fitzgerald. Since Ms Fitzgerald’s last gig was a documentary about Texas border towns I suspect the title, The Day Britain Stopped, will not survive long.
My question is…where is this heading? Is it something Ridley is producing? Is it his next directorial feature?
See, he has not announced which feature he’s following The Counselor with. Now some people think it will be the Prometheus sequel, or the Blade Runner sequel. I think it will be something no-one is thinking of.

Cloud Atlas Well the first of the big releases is here. A lot of people will go on the strength of the Wachowski’s name and the Matrix connection. Let’s see how that turns out.
I read the book (A hot red-head passed it my way…and that was about all…sigh)
but it made very little impression on me. Perhaps the Wachowskis magic can illuminate the text for me.

Review

By now you know the deal; six stories set in the past the present and the future, all intercut telling a larger story.
There was every potential for the directors to fall flat on their faces with an unfilmable book and a structure that seemed unwieldy.
What prevents this is that the stories are united by theme: a question about which viewpoint should govern human life. Should the strong hold sway over the week? Or should each individual be responsible to a community that extends from present to past to future people.
No prizes for guessing where the film makers stand.
In fact it is impossible to actually say what this film is about except in terms of the theme which resonates across each story.
The film is exquisitely shot, but much more it is exquisitely made, a little confusing initially, between the innovative structure and Tom hank’s odd dialect, it settles down into a story rhythm that actually works. I am impressed at the way the film makers harness edition to build the beats of narrative across parallel stories, so they not only do not clash, but actually enhance each other. Even though each story has its own tone; a thriller, a comedy, action adventure, the stories appear to be in lockstep and very quickly we cease noticing the structure and sink into the storytelling itself. As I said, impressed.
I have to admit a bias. If I hadn’t seen the iconic shot of a woman crossing a bridge while confronting a rising aircraft I would have gone to this film. The two future set sequences captivated me most, one set in a distant post-holocaust scenario, one in near future Neo-Seoul. The post-holocaust story morally and spiritually anchor the film (you can afford to be terribly literal using speculative cinema) while the Neo-Seoul sequence gives us enough eye candy to keep even restless viewers entertained. This sequence is gorgeously designed and succeeds in all ways that, say the Total Recall remake, failed; it is spectacular, and colourful and stirring while strangely holding onto our attention with character and emotions. I cannot help but note there are significant visual and thematic crossovers with Blade Runner. But more than that, kinetically it is also a loving tribute to anime, graphically a romantic missive to the Bande Desinee; the late Jean “Moebius” Giraud could have designed the sequence.
The science fiction sections are thrilling and action packed but this film is all things: it is funny, affecting, and romantic. Bu the end you really feel as if you’ve been on a journey and learned something. Perhaps something that escapes words, but what the hey….
Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have pulled off a considerable achievement, there will never be a movie quite like this, and in the years to come this will take its place among cinematic classics.

Andy and Lana Wachowski are working on their next feature, Jupiter Rising and I will be in line to watch that one too.

And oh yes, The Lesbian and Gay Film Festival runs from March 14 through 24th at the BFI South Bank and once again No Bloody Science Fiction! Go see Cloud Atlas if you want to do genderfuck in a futuristic style.

*I count 16 but who’s counting?

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
http://www.darkhorizons.com/
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section
http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/dvd-and-blu-ray-home-entertainment-reviews

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.