Archive | April, 2013

Grunting at the Screen (119)

18 Apr

Grunting at the Screen (119)

The information age has not yet finished with us.

This came as a surprise.
Something just jumped out from the house of Robert Rodreguez.
You’d think he’d be busy enough, filming Machete and Sin City 2 while planning but this feature Curandero: Dawn of the Demon, (which he co-wrote and produced) actually dates back from 2005, and it’s entirely in Spanish (though it also has an English dub.)
Director is Eduardo Rodriguez (no relation).
The story has a lot of potential; a spiritual “cleanser” gets into a conflict with a drug baron who has adopted Black Magic as his main weapon.
It’s out on American DVD now and reviews suggest it’s serviceable though not special.

A few things occur to me; producing must agree with him, he tried it for Predators and he seems to be getting a taste. Rodreguez’s first feature El Mariachi was also Spanish language; he had dreams of invading the Mexican straight-to-video market. In part with Curandero he has achieved this.

Looks like the live action Gatchaman adaptation got its trailer. Proves that of you want an anime adaptation just leave it to the Japanese.
It gets its release on Japan on August 24th.
Now I was never a fan of G Force/ Battle of the Planets but this reinvention sports some exciting talent; Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) has done the
conceptual design and Takashi Yamazaki of The Returner supervised the visual effects (and lord knows the effects were the only good thing about that movie…)

At last; Sci Fi London has released its programme.
There are things we’ve heard about and things we haven’t (unsurprisingly as Sci Fi London has been known to drag the rivers for festival entries, I’ve seen them.)
What do we have?
Byzantium; Neil Jordan’s vampire movie.
Mars et Avril; the Canadian bande desinee film.
The War of the Worlds: Goliath 3D; Animated sequel to the HG Wells story
Tai Chi Zero + Tai Chi Hero; Ooh, both movies, steampunk kung fu adventure
Vanishing Waves; Lithuania’s best erotic Science Fiction drama. *
The Human Race; kind of sounds like the Steven King story “The Long Walk”, in the future a cruel sport has been invented: eighty people from around the world are co-opted into a road race, if you are lapped twice or stop you die.
Alter Egos; superheros in a world without villains face becoming redundant or taking the terrible alternative.

And the things we are just discovering.
Dark by Noon; time travel adventure set in an alternate 1993.
Vessel; A man who has the power to talk to aliens tries to rid himself of his gift
The Search for Simon; comedy with an X Files bent.
The Man from the Future; scientist accidentally develops time travel and ruins his life; he has to go back and fix things.
Best Friends Forever; Post-collapse drama with two women on a trip across Texas.
Dead Weight; post-apocalyptic viral drama.
Piercing Brightness; Aliens land in Preston England in a mission to recover their agents planted back in Earth’s history.
Channeling; returned soldier battles to solve the mystery of his brother’s death in a future where everyone broadcasts their life 24 hours a day.
Birdemic II: the Resurrection; Damn, I missed Birdemic I, what am I to do?
Sado Tempest; Japanese version of Shakespeare’s Tempest set in the future.
Stress Position; two friends challenge each other to endure the “enhanced interrogation” techniques now so beloved by American military
The Facility; drug trial starts out as boring but descends into insanity

The Shorts Programme includes the legendary film C (299,792 km/s) made entirely without CGI

My predictions this year were better than ever: I didn’t predict anything and so I didn’t get anything wrong.

So what am I looking forward to?
A lot of this stuff will see a release, one way or another so that leaves films with high interest but little commercial potential.

I was really interested in Mars et Avril until I actually saw reviews. It is a Quebecois film with conceptual design by Belgian comic artist Francois Schuiten, heavy on the greenscreen, trailers suggested it would be visual feast (as many films influenced by the European comics are)
Then the reviews started arriving, and they were most discouraging. The plot is described as confusing and nonsensical, the philosophical ideas a pure bullshit.
On the other hand it looks good.
Which makes it similar to most of the other Bande Desinee influence films.

The War of the Worlds: Goliath 3D may or may not get a release but, fercrissake, it’s an animated movie with tripods (just in case it’s not clear, that is not an necessarily good thing)

Vanishing Waves; you might think I’d be attracted to a Lithuanian erotic movie, but if I can resist the lure of Lesbian porn at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (and you better believe I got the balls for it) I can resist this too (ironically, I’d be more likely to see it without the flesh.)

And the time travel features just sound tiring. This is going to be harder than I thought.

Actually Channelling, sounds interesting, a fusion of Get Carter and Deathwatch

Oblivion is the first big original Science Fiction release of the year in a year of big releases. Last year gave us John Carter, Looper, Lockout. This year will give us Oblivion, After Earth, Oblivion… Pacific Rim. Things could be worse.
On the downside Oblivion star Tom Cruise. I have liked him, I don’t like his face, and I’m not a huge fans of his Science Fiction films (Minority Report was OK, War of the Worlds was diabolical),
What Oblivion has for it is its visuals, from the early graphic novel paintings it looked epic and brooding… and different.
The Director, Joe Kosinski, has visual skills, and his last, Tron Legacy, was nowhere near as bad as reviewed.
What the hey.

Oblivion Review.By now you know the basics.
Jack is a repairman, lives on a sky platform with his
girlfriend/coms-controller, and he repairs drones down on earth’ surface.
The surface is a wasteland; destroyed by the war with the Scavenger aliens (Scavs) The Human’s won but destroyed the earth in the process.
On one of his trips to the ground he’s captured and discovers everything he knew was wrong.

First things first. The film looks gorgeous, the vistas (supposedly post apocalyptic new York, actually filmed in Iceland) are breathtaking, the technology elegantly crafted (I recognise the style; It looks very much like Daniel Simon’s work, who redesigned the lightcycle in Tron Legacy.)

The pace is refreshingly moderate until it picks up at the end.
And the story… You know, it has an actual story, two of them, a surface story and a counter-story both of which work.

It is a credit to all the creatives concerned that this is Tom Cruises less annoying role in years, I didn’t mind him at all.

Of course there are familiar elements here, and I cannot even reveal the ideas that have been borrowed from other films without spoiling it for you. The critics who rile against such unoriginality are the same ones stroking themselves into a coma over Star Trek: Up the Arses or whatever the sequel is called, or whipping themselves into a fury over the next Star Wars sequels (“Ooooh! It’s got Han Solo in it!!”) and they should accept… there is nothing new under the sun.

Oblivion, is both epic and intimate, sweeping and affecting, and despite its faults (and it has some) it is worth seeing. Unless you want the future of science fiction to be the umpteenth sequel of Star Farts or whatever.

And Tom Cruise is at it again. He’s signed up for yet another Science Fiction flick. Another Japanese adaptation: Yukikaze (Mmme sounds like an uncomfortable and embarrassing sex act..) It was a major Japanese story cycle by Chohei Kambayashi, and then an Anime Series. It’s about an ongoing struggle between humanity and an alien race called “the JAM”.
More as it develops.

*that joke never gets old…
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.

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Grunting at the Screen (118)

11 Apr

The information age has not yet finished with us.

io9 has a nice article claiming this is the era of original Science Fiction film (they say Joseph Kosinski makes the claim, there’s no evidence of that, in fact he says it’s difficult.)

http://io9.com/we-are-entering-a-new-era-of-original-science-fiction-m-464894118

I was going to violently disagree but then I noticed I’d made the same claim, and not that long ago.
So I’ll just note we have a truck-load of original Science Fiction headed for us this year:

Oblivion.
After Earth
Ender’s game
Gravity
Elysium
Pacific Rim
Snowpiercer

And if we throw in the ones scheduled for next year it looks even better. Avatar and Inception proved people were willing to support original Science Fiction, that it has an audience larger that the established fanbase.

Fair enough.

And just to underline it, news arrives of yet another original SF sale; The Infinity Principle a pitch from Arash Amel. The short version is a physicist proves time travel is possible and the universe starts to unravel as a result. Has potential. It is still very much at the initial stages. Summit Entertainment is the production house, Basil Iwanyk is the producer, and no director has been announced.

Looks like The Black Hole remake is still in play. Jon Spaihts is the latest one to take a crack at the script. Jon Spaihts is currently one of the go-to guys for Science Fiction screenplays.
Now isn’t that a reeee-boot? Don’t we hate those?
Well actually it is one of the rare cases where it possible to do some good. See the original wasn’t very good (OK, I know I’m stepping on someone’s treasured childhood memory, but no, it sucked.
The thing is it’s salvageable. You can take the elements: ship on the edge of singularity, robots (some helpful, some homicidal) a Nemo styled captain, you can take them and rework them into a great story… the rest can be binned.
Joseph Kosinski is still attached as director, though who knows how long that will last, he may have his hands full with Tron 3 or any of the likely projects that will come his way once Oblivion opens.

First review of Australian horror film Crawlspace has emerged, and the word is curiously good.
Basic set up; we open with a bunch of soldiers being decimated by an unknown enemy as they try to escape from a secret lab, as we get into it we find out that they are battling creatures created from their own sub-consciousnesses. The review suggest it’s all pretty derivative and lacks logic, but its saved by some deft directing from newcomer Justin Dix who keeps the action and suspense moving. Sounds like he has potential; hook him up with a tight script and who knows what he might achieve.
Crawlspace is out on Video on Demand. No word on a cinematic release.

Now this I didn’t see coming: a second Hercules movie; Hercules 3D.
Director is Renny Harlin, Kellan Lutz is starring as Hercules. It’s shooting next month in Bulgaria.
This one seems to emphasise a love story more than the “hericular”* aspects of the character.

Elysium just had a ten minute press preview and the Science Fiction blogs are going insane, they love the level of detail and inventiveness. Looks like the level of anticipation for this just ramped up.
Swiftly following was the release of the trailer. I’ve seen some of it and it looks very convincing. I mean it looks every bit as realistic as District 9, and boy it looks good; especially the space station scenes, huge and very convincing.

The Pang Brothers burst out of Thailand with a couple of seriously impressive features. Since then they have been increasingly formulaic.
One of their promising features from way back in 2006 was Re-Cycle which has been unavailable in the UK until now.
Wouldn’t you believe it Starburst has reviewed it.

http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/dvd-and-blu-ray-home-entertainment-reviews/2475-dvd-review-re-cycle

It sounds like an interesting, creative feature that falls short of its ambitions.

Reviews for Oblivion are coming through, it’s split down the middle. It’s a big film with big scenery, On the other hand the ideas are familiar, in fact some are saying it is derivative. The Director’s skill at staging action sequences is not disputed. What they all agree on is that its visuals are breathtaking and convincing.
Hopefully we’ll see it soon and have an opinion of our own.

Ah, look what else has been optioned: CJ Cherryh “The Morgaine Stories” . Aaron Magnani plans to make it into a big franchise with the title “The Gates of Morgaine”.
It has an off planet Medieval background based around the title character, who against her nature, is destined to save the universe. Hme. Looks like someone is trying to grab a chunk of that Game of Thrones audience.
Peter Arneson has already written the screenplay for the first part , “The Gates of Morgaine: Ivrel”. No word on director or cast.

I don’t blog TV much, but this is big.
The Syfy Channel is getting back into the science fiction business.
Some blogs are getting excited that they are talking about adapting Larry Niven’s Ringworld Series. (Personally I think the award winning first volume was overrated, but I’m pretty much on my own there..)
what excites me more are plans for a miniseries of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. This short visionary novel of alien gods and human transformation is a key science fiction text, elegantly executed, hugely influential. I just hope they don’t screw it up.

Dark SkiesScott Stewart is a visualist, I like that; if the story isn’t working, at least you have pretty pictures to look at. His previous features, Priest and Legion were visually impressive and wildly creative.
His latest, Dark Skies, is very different coming from a weird mix of Close Encounters meets Paranormal Activity territory. I wasn’t sure if it played to his strengths, I wasn’t sure if I’d even see it, but in the end I did.

Review
Aliens are jerks and they want to f*** with us!
So Dark Skies takes us to very familiar territory. If you’ve see the X-files are a couple of Spielberg movies then you know where we’re going; suburban background, spooky goings on, children involved, grey aliens etc.
Scott Stewart has some chutzpah chipping into this well worked seam and he brings along some well-worked techniques too from 70’s style jump scares to paranormal activities style video antics.
But…
Let’s put it this way, half way into the film I was smugly assuring myself that this was so not a scary movie, when they pulled off a jump that lifted my out of my seat.
Stewart my not have an original bone in his body but he knows how to work an audience and from that point in, it is tension, jumps and disquiet all the way.
Towards the end it all gets very hallucinatory (even more-so than a tract house invaded by grey aliens…) and logic goes flying through the window but you know it all kind of works. Guess what? I’m recommending this one. Take someone you really want to cling to.
Stewart has potential, with better scripts and a little more money he could make it to the big leagues, after all, no has noticed yet but all of his films have been originals (his heavy use of homage can considered the highest autureship in the age of remakes, reboots and sequels). His next, City of Bones, is an adaptation of a Young Adult book and also an original.

Trailer this week was Oblivion, of course it looked immaculate, but this one made it look like there might be an idea and even a story.

* It’s word, a perfectly valid one!
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 (117)

2 Apr

The information age has not yet finished with us.

Word is coming through on Xan Cassavetes’ Kiss of the Damned. As you know it is a Vampire film, and I might have mentioned it is in the mode of 1970 Euro-vampire pictures. What I could not have anticipated was how obsessively studied it was in recreating the feel of those French and Italian trash classics. It is said to sport excellent technical credentials and is only faulted for the occasional effort to update it.
If your thing is the genre of stylish sexy Euro-vampires from way before the digital era, then this may be something for you.
Look for a US release round about May 3rd.

There are so many hitman movies out there you get the urge to just smack that assassin.* Latest candidate to bend over is The Killer’s List
Vinnie Jones is a retired hit man whose son is held hostage for a very special ransom; they want Jones to assassinate his former criminal associates.
Hme. I’m not feeling it.
It is to be directed by Phil Avalon and written by Brian Vining

A few months back it was announced that Sony Pictures was making Heaven Is for Real, a movie about a boy whose heart stops beating in surgery but he comes back with visions of the afterlife.
Back them I thought it was long shot but now they are casting.
Randall Wallace is directing. Greg Kinnear stars as the boy’s father.

Robert Rodriguez has been an advocate of independent film making from the start of his career. His book, about the making of his first feature El Mariachi; Rebel Without a Crew, was a “how to” of no-budget filming. He has peppered the special features of his DVDs with ten and twenty minute film schools.
His latest effort to get the world filming is much more direct.
He calls it Project Greenscreen. He has filmed the first act of a short film called “Two Scoops” (it stars the Avellan twins- you remember… the Crazy Baby-sitters? The Sexy Nurses? No..?) anyway he’s now inviting the general public to help him finish it via submissions to YouTube.
Well, that’s different.

Will Smith seems determined to star in a remake of Colossus: The Forbin Project. Now most remakes are pointless. The logic is pretty deterministic: if the original is poor then you may well be working with a weak story that doesn’t bear rehashing, if it is good, you risk marring a classic. There are very few circumstances that warrant the reboot treatment. If you can bring something to the story, improve it, freshen it, make it relevant then it is worth it.
As for Colossus, it is not clear what can be done with the project.
The plot involves a supercomputer that tries to take control of America’s nuclear arsenal (with it’s Russian counterpart doing the same over there.)
To be honest it has lost a lot of freshness: multiple episodes of television Science Fiction have taken this route, as has the Terminator film series.
And it’s hardly an obscure meme, there are multiple web pages devoted entirely to evil/meglomaniac computers. (Colossus is not even the top pick, it comes behind the Master Control Program in Tron, Hal from 2001, and Skynet from the Terminator series.) One of the sites jokes when the US government put its nuclear arsenal under control of Skynet they obviously hadn’t watched Colossus or WarGames.
And the basis of the film: Mutually Assured Destruction between the US and the USSR, has receded.
I have to admit, I have not seen the original film. I have not read the book it was based on. What separates this from the plethora of cinematic retreads is that there is no brand identity cachet here. “The Forbin Project” is virtually a quiz question; there is no huge fanbase clamouring for it. And all of this makes me wonder just what the film makers thought they could bring to the story. Why reboot such an obscure 60s Science Fiction picture? Why not just strip the basic idea out and start from a more contemporary basis? Is the value of even a minor name so big to preclude even this minimal originality?
Anyway the project is still up in the air. It is in the development stage and as such has an about even chance of reaching the screen.

Alex Garland has, for some time been the go-to guy for Science Fiction; 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Logan’s Run, Halo…he’s written scripts for all of these made- and unmade features. It should come as no surprise that he’s been given his first directing gig and yes its a low budget Science Fiction feature. “Ex Machina” has been bought by DNA Films as a $15m production.
Basic plot, a young programmer is sent to a remote estate to help test a robotic AI. Hme, sounds like “Dracula’s Guest” with a robot**

A note here. There needs to be a moratorium on Science Fiction films with words
“Ex Machina”; anywhere near them: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Pearry Teo’s Deus Ex Machina, or Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina which is also being considered as a film project.
Someone needs to stuff that god back in his box and sit on the lid already.

Word is that popular 1980s anime series Patlabor is due for a live-action adaptation.
This looks like a Japanese production since Tohokushinsha Film Corporation is behind it. They are looking at a 2014 release.
Other than that not much is known.
It joins a vast raft of anime to live action projects currently dragging their feet through development; many of which (Voltron, Gaiking, Evangelion) are also giant robot movies.
Patlabor was one of the earliest projects from Mamoru Oshii, who went on to create some of the most acclaimed anime of recent years; Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, The Sky Crawlers, (some of which already have or are in line for live action adaptations. )

Humorous space opera is a tricky sub-genre to pull off. I can think of only a few examples: Warren Peace by Bob Shaw, Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, The Stainless Steel Rat and of course Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison.
And it is Bill which is up for adaptation. interestingly enough the plan is for a very indie production.
One: the director is indie legend Alex Cox, if he’d made only Repo Man he’d still be a legend.
Two: he’s making it with his University of Colorado film students as his crew.
Three: he’s looking to Kickstarter for funds.
Hme. Best of luck.
Cox is very attached to Bill’s strong anti-war theme.

Scott Rudin has just optioned Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation. It’s about a restricted zone called “Area X”, protected by a men-in-black style agency called the Southern Reach. A young biologists determines to penetrate Area X and learn its secrets. So far no screenwriter or director has been announced.

At last we have word from Vincenzo Natali.
There is an interview with him on Film School Rejects.

http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/sxsw-interview-vincenzo-natali-haunter.php?all=1
The good news is that Neuromancer is still an ongoing project.
What is interesting is that he seems equally interested in doing JG Ballard’s High Rise, so that one may well come first.

OK, Jack the Giant Slayer.
To be honest this is the default folk-tale movie.
Last year brought a plethora of live action fairy-tale movies, and to be honest, I wasn’t much excited. I held out for Jack the Giant Slayer, there were some reasons; it’s never been a Disney Animation, its title character is not a princess, it has big f’ing giants in it and it’s directed by Bryan Singer who gave us The Usual Suspects and X-Men 2 (I’m being forgiving about Superman Returns). So it was off to Jack we must go.

Early word is it is not performing particularly well.

But what the hell, it’s Jack.
The history of the folk-tale goes further than most people know. It has a relatively recent origin going back to early 18th Century. unlike say King Arthur, Jack has a proletariat origin, he was the kind of peasant hero people could identify with. Jack was a classic underdog, small and not a particularly great fighter, he defeated his larger and stronger adversaries by use of his wit and courage (some might read a kind of message in that) The Beanstalk was only a minor element in a story involving combat with two and three headed giants.
Some of these factors are returning in Bryan Singer’s cinematic version.

Review
Even with a giant beanstalk it’s less ridiculous than Hansel and Gretel.
Jack the Giant Slayer is comfortingly normal, it has a very solid structure; first part is a variation on the familiar story: you know, Jack, magic beans, stalk, giants, then things get a little movie magic, rather than fairy tale magic. The film makers feel compelled to invent their own elements which are a bit contrived, but thankfully all entirely necessary to tell the story. They also insert a story about a great kingdom (all invented) a beautiful princess and requisite evil courtier (who seems to have slipped sideways from the Arabian Nights rather than English folklore).
But elements assembled and requisite backstory told (which takes a little longer than necessary) the story zips on from there. Short version: the princess has been lost up the beanstalk, Jack, a hero soldier and the as of yet unexposed Evil Courtier climb the stalk to rescue her. Heroes up, giants down, fighting etc.
It’s a fun movie. The characters are fine (if kind of inauthentic to the medieval background) the princess could have been more feisty and proactive (since all of the other characters suffered from ahistoric features), the giants are obviously CG, but expressive and while they violate physics and maths they don’t throw all laws of mass and momentum into a woodchipper the way CGI usually does.
All in all it is an undemanding, enjoyable family movie which should have been more successful; look for it to become a Christmas favourite in years to come.

Of course I saw the trailers: Pacific Rim and Iron Man 3.
Pacific Rim footage was epic, Idris Elba did his whole “Morpheus inspirational” speech thing, the mecha/kaiju thing was unique. As for Iron Man 3, it almost gave me a coronary.

*Hey, there are some people who haven’t heard that joke!
** maybe a vampire robot… I’m just saying.
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.