Archive | June, 2013

Grunting at the Screen (125)

22 Jun

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Man of Steel
Superman holds a unique position among superheroes; he was the first and remains the iconic figure of costumed heroes.
I don’t read Superman comics, he comes off bland. Even so, it is impossible to avoid his long shadow, even in independent comics you keep running into characters who are plainly reflections of the Son of Krypton; The Plutonian in Irredeemable, or the Homelander in The Boys. And each time we are shown the darker side ultimate power, how humanness defeats benevolence. They show that the idea of Kal-el is not dead, it just needs periodic freshening. I doubt we shall see these grimmer aspects in the latest cinematic presentation of Superman.
I’ve kept a close eye on the progress of Man of Steel. Why? After all this is the mother of reboots: based on a seventy year old product which has had film and television adaptations too numerous to recount.
Two reasons, well three but first two, Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder. Nolan wrote and directed Inception, one of the most intelligent science fiction films of the last decade (and a rare case of a film working superbly for both its action and its ideas). Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen is probably the breakout visualist of the decade, it is possible (should he not make too many more errors) that he will be spoken in the same terms as Kubrick, Ridley Scott, or David Fincher.
So the two forces together; one producing, one directing generate a certain frisson of excitement.
And that third reason; Superman Returns also promised more; a great Director, a classic subject. But it delivered so little. I need to get the taste of that movie out of my mouth, to prove it’s possible of doing Superman well.

Now there are misgivings. Snyder’s strength as a visualist disguises his weakness in narrative, but no amount of fireworks covered the narrative clusterf*ck that was Suckerpunch. I saw the trailer and I’m concerned that we are returning to Clark Kent’s youth, Smallville, Ma and Pa Kent. Surely everyone on earth knows how this story begins. And I’m worried about the length, more is not necessarily more. And as for Man of Steel itself with the return of General Zod and his warriors three it is looking an awful lot like Superman II and we want more, we deserve more.

It is clear the climax will be a battle between Superman and Zod. Which is to say another “Mirror Battle”, we have seen this before, and screenwriters seem to be obsessed with it; “what if our hero has to fight someone just like him… only better?” They seem to think it so original;
Wolverine fights Lady Death Strike (X Men 2)
The Hulk fights Abomination (Incredible Hulk)
Iron Man fights Iron Monger (Iron Man)
Iron Man fights Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
And of course Superman fighting Kriptonians in Superman II

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea… I’d just like to see if they have another idea.

Reviews on line are proving to be mixed. Box office is solid.
What is clear is this is a volte face from Superman Returns; that one was excessively respectful of the 1978 Donner film, the new one seeks to bury it.

Man of Steel Review
You know the plot; The Planet Krypton is danger, eminent Scientist Jor-el attempts to make the government see reason to no avail, he sends his son off to earth. Son grows up to be rather super.
Then Kryptonian General Zod turns up to raise hell.. would it be unfair to say that Superman wins?

The story is basic, but it is articulated though a series of spectacular set pieces. The Krypton sequence confirms Snyder as a pre-eminent visualist of our time. It may be CG but it is an eye-popping realisation of an alien planet and all of its exotic technology in frantic motion.

And it continues that way with a couple of expensive looking pre-suit Superman saves off a bridge and on an oil rig. Believe me, these are the minor moment, because it goes on to give us three or four major fight scenes which literally tear the city apart.

Man of Steel is far from perfect; it is too long, has one or two action scenes too many, it suffers from logical inconsistencies (and to be honest, once you look to hard at the Superman myth it tends to fall to pieces), there are moments of puzzling unoriginality, and towards the end the CG starts to look ropy (a comment applicable to half of all major blockbusters).

All of that said, it’s anchored by a solid story and I’m embarrassed to say, it works and I left the cinema with a bit of a lift to my mood.

In fact, I dare say it worked better than Iron Man 3 (to be honest it was less ambitious in story terms that Iron Man 3, and no way was it as good as Iron Man 1…)

So, if you don’t like loud hackneyed event movies with too much CGI you might want to give it a miss, but if you are blockbuster tolerant. You might like it.

Trailer this week was Gravity, it’s breathtaking, but you wander just where it can go from there? Will it be like 127 Hours in space?

With Man of Steel in the can what does this say for Zack Snyder’s reputation? Well Snyder the director should never hire Snyder the writer again. Suckerpunch proved he should be bodily kept from a word-processor. Second, Snyder should make never again attempt originality; once he has visual and story template he does fine, whether it is a pre-existing comic or film (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel) so long as already exists, he’ll be able to work with it. Without it he flounders.
So Snyder lives to fight again (Most likely on the Man of Steel sequel… now that the iconic origin story is done and dusted we get into the area of complications, it gets harder from here.)

Now here’s a blast from the past.
It seemed Phillip Noyce’s Time Travel feature Timeless was indefinitely stuck on the turn-around shelf, but it is back. Noyce is out, Vadim Perelman is in.
This one is a romance; a widower builds a time machine to see his dead wife again. (What is it about the space-time continuum that women find so dreamy?)

After(shock) Horror
I like Eli Roth, I like him a lot. I think he’s smart , articulate and funny, and he gives great filmmaker commentary.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a feature actually directed by him, and Aftershock isn’t it. It’s directed by his pal Nicholas Lopez, but he did co-write, star and produce it.
So it’ as close as we are going to get for a while.
In Aftershock we get a look at the chaos following a Chilean earthquake; nature may have its fury but what happens next is carnage, your basic man’s inhumanity to man (oh the inhumanity).
We now have a release date August 16. What is really shocking is that it will be followed by a DVD release on August 26. Internally, I should be rejoicing. I have been arguing for this kind of thing for years; if studios are serious about piracy they should get the release of DVDs out as soon as possible, then the audience can watch the film on whatever platform is most convenient for them. (In the Netflix era it probably means creating a downloadable version close to cinematic release too). Now I am in the actual position, I have to decide whether to bother seeing Aftershock at the cinema at all.

Latest Anime live action adaptation is 009-1, which previously had an anime release based on Ishinomori Shotaro’s manga. It features a female cyborg working as a secret agent. Her Unique Selling Points are her….er, breast guns.
(OK not so unique; The Ancient Dogoo Girl, RoboGeisha, and the forthcoming Machete Kills all feature killer breasts; and even more if you throw in
other bosom-mounted weaponry like swords and grenades… but I’m sure Ishinomori got there first)

Is this the 1980s? I mean back then we had the zombie policeman, the vampire policeman, the demon policeman… I thought we were through with all that? Apparently not because coming up is Wolfcop (I so wish I was joking); by day Lou Garou* is a beat cop, but by night he runs rampant as a werewolf (I’m hoping a crime fighting werewolf, that would be so cool, no, wait, that would be sooooooo, coool). Funding is apparently guaranteed for this one so only a silver bullet can stop it happening.

Pacific Rim’s “Man, Machines, and Monsters” book has turned up and it is tasty.
It’s a good year for movie books; like the After Earth volume it is stuffed with delicious inserts; blueprints, Jaeger sports cards, pages right from Del Toro’s notebook, and that does not even include the plethora of conceptual art and movie stills you can usually expect. I don’t know what has happen to film books, but I like it.

World War Z opened this week, I don’t care what the reviews say; I’m staying at home. You might want to see it but I recommend you read the book instead.

*oh be serious!

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section

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


Grunting at the Screen (124)

17 Jun

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Not Movie News
Last week Iain Banks died.
None of his hugely successful space opera novels have been adapted as features (although there are plans). Some of his literary novels have had very successful television adaptations.
Iain was a regular face in British fan circles, I met him a number of times. He had an irrepressible joy for life and an easygoing friendly nature. Aside from being a giant of the Science Fiction genre he was a great guy. And that’s it.

After Earth
With After Earth I’ve been hoisted by my own petard (and that is every bit as painful as it sounds): I say I want original science fiction, no remake, no sequel, and what appears? An M Night Shyamalan film. Well what’s wrong with Shyamalan? You know, I never liked him; I found his breakout feature, the Sixth Sense, slow and self-conscious (and not as clever as it thought it was). I found Unbreakable kind of… pointless. Sorry, I just don’t like him. And these are the films I find bearable, his later work is diabolical… in my opinion.
So I approach After Earth with clenched teeth and determination: if you want them to make more original science fiction, you have to go watch more original science fiction.
Will Smith is also a variable quality, a Nitezschean figure who is determined to reinvent himself heroically and overachieve in each field; no doubt he will one day be president. As an actor he’s delivered work both adequate and overwrought (he’s done so much agonising and emoting, I don’t know how he not won an Oscar yet.) The bright spot here is Jaden Smith, I haven’t seen in him a film yet, and he is still young, so there is every possibility of something surprising and good.

This is the second film this year to return to an abandoned Earth. I had a lot of sarky commentary about that, but I’ll reserve it.

The question is, can the team deliver?
The market says no, After Earth crashed and burned at the US Box office.
A pity because the thick “making of” book just came out and it is full of lovely stuff; card inserts, transparencies, inset booklets, stickies, it’s a work of paper craftsmanship, not including the cool conceptual art; pity it will end up in remainder shops within months.

OK, After Earth, The review.
You know the set-up. Earth has been abandoned. A father/on team crash land on it, all the animals are hostile and what is more they happen to have been carrying an “Ursa” an alien monster bred to hunt and kill humans.
Will is injured and Jaden has to cross a hundred kilometres to find a beacon to get them off the planet.
First the good news. The premise is not a bad one, it has lots of potential. There is some great design here, the spaceship exteriors look good, some of the technology is nifty, and the natural vistas look better than ever (the absence of man as ever makes the planet into a beautiful wilderness park) . There are some great moments in the film; a scary moment, a funny moment and a cool action moment.

But this does not make up for the fact that this is not a good movie. Jaden Smith does not lay down his best performance, (and he basically carries the film) the story is riddled with scientific inaccuracies and logical gaps, and the cool exterior design does not extend to the interior sets (the spaceship interiors look like they are made of cloth and bamboo, badly.)

The CG is predictably poor, all of the natural earth fauna is fine. The Alien creature however is made of the same grey CG gloop as ever.

The science consist of persistent and lazy hand-waving: the spaceship accident is due to a ‘graviton’ incident which is pure BS, the alien Ursas are bred to hunt and kill humans, they can smell human fear, yet they were somehow denied eyes, back on Earth “every animal has evolved to kill man” (as you will hear both in the film and on the trailers) except man has been absent for nearly a thousand years, evolution does not work that way, and not that quickly.

Eventually the film collapses under the weight of its illogic, in fact After Earth is the worst science fiction film I’ve seen since the 1980s.

So, to be honest. You don’t need to go see this film. I took this one for the team so you don’t have to. Wait for it to come to TV.

Trailer time
This time around I saw the trailer for Elysium. Major Trouser Expansion! If you’ve seen stills from the film, you have seen nothing; the space station looks more luxurious and spectacular than you imagined, earth looks more grandly scuzzy than you hoped for and it all looks terrifyingly real. Hold your expectations in check because it could possibly be a good as this looks.

Those waiting for Independence Day 2 will have to keep waiting a while. Roland Emmerich has signed on to make a totally different big scale Science Fiction film;
Emergence. Pretty much nothing is known about it, so we are waiting, if not with bated breath.

Man of Steel
Reviews are coming out for Man of Steel. They are surprisingly tentative. They all acknowledge it’s visual deftness, they all approve of the well handled action scenes. But there is a dissatisfaction at story and characterisation level. Hme.

Good news everybody it looks like the tide of Original Science Fiction continues.
Oh, oh dear, It’s Tarsem Singh, he’s talking about making a feature called Selfless; billionaire with terminal illness schemes to transfer himself into a younger body.
We reported on this before in Grunting (89), back when it was a screenplay from Alex and David Pastor.
I'm all for original material but I've seen Singh's movies, he is an interesting and ambitious visualist, but like many visualists he can't do story for toffee, he really can't.
Yeah.. and he's casting the butcher of Blade III, Wolverine and Green Lantern; Ryan Reynolds.

Game On
The resurgence of game movies continues apace.
Need for Speed is filming Scott Waugh as director (they are comparing it to the lucrative Fast and Furious franchise).
Ubisoft have gone into overdrive. Two years ago it announced its intention to takes its cinematic destiny into its own hands and the fruits of that decision are beginning to swell; Michael Bay is developing Ghost Recon. Splinter Cell has been placed with Thunder Road production company, and Ubisoft have announced a whole new raft of movie projects: Watch Dogs, Far Cry, and Rabbids.
Watch Dogs features a hacker verses an all seeing supercomputer named CtOS.
Far Cry; a former special forces solder tapped on an island full of Trigens (genetically engineered monsters).
And Rabbids? Oh dear, that's about crazy giant rabbits.

In the Cold North..
What is it with Scandinavia? First we had the Norwegian Ninja now we have this.

Dark Samurai, a film about legendary medieval Japanese warrior Musashi Miyamoto, from Denmark. David Sakurai and Louise Cho are to star, Sidney Lexy Plaut is to direct. I can't wait.

A film is never more perfect than the last moment between the completion of the conceptual art and the first day of shooting.
After that, it is all downhill.
The Akira live action film was cut down right in it’s prime. But we can now reveal the beauty it aspired to.

io9 website has posted a collection of Rodolfo Dimaggio's paintings and storyboards for the film that was never to be.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst's review section

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

Grunting at the Screen (123)

7 Jun

The information age has yet to finish with us.

I’d like a few moments silence please.
It will have come to the attention of some you that Michael Green, the screen writer of Green Lantern, has been hired to write Blade Runner 2.
I’ll give you few moments…
I have been trying to find the upside of this.
Now I haven’t seen Green Lantern (there are levels of pain even I will not subject myself to…) so for all I know it could be a modern masterpiece… wait.. the imaginary earpiece is laughing hysterically. OK, so most critics will deny that Green Lantern is anything other than a disaster.
And I could argue that disaster was not due to the writing… except it maybe was in part.
I could even say that since Ridley Scott chose Michael Green he must have seen something in his writing that convinced him, except I don’t believe it.
Green has also worked with Spielberg on Robopocalypse, you know the film delayed…because of script problems.
One ray of light is that Green is not the first (and may well not be the last ) writer on this long fest… er gestating venture: John Glenn, Travis Wright and original Blade Runner writer, Hampton Fancher all took passes at the screenplay.
OK, one thing; hiring a new writer means the project is still live.
And in a couple of years we’ll get an inferior sequel to a masterpiece.
Still looking for that upside…
Help me here.

And now to the sublime…
Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) has signed with Alejandro Jodorowsky to film The Incal. Published as The Incal Light, it was one of the most inventive, remarkable, cosmic and mystical comics of its time. It has influenced The Fifth Element, and a host of other films.
There is every potential for Refn to create an astonishing, landmark creation…
of course we have no idea when that may be…

Gamers longing for that Halo movie can breathe a sigh of relief; there isn’t going to be one.
But not to despair, there will be a TV series, an honest to goodness live action series.
But Stephen Spielberg is producing.
Isn’t that a good thing? Well some film directors make good TV producers, but let’s see what Spielberg has given us: Terra Nova, Falling Skies, Taken (I bet you forgot that one.) Not a lot of love there. The billion dollar formula that works so well on film seems to leak away when translated to the televisual medium. Spielberg is a master of cinema but at some point he’s got to realise he’s not good at TV. But who knows, maybe Halo will be his lucky charm.

Ooh oooh, for the first time in months we have a true straight to video DVD release; it’s Stranded starring Christian Slater and directed by Roger Christian (Didn’t he make Species…?). At first I thought there had been no coverage of it at all, but no, the trailer was covered in February.
The basic plot is Alien; dude in a moonbase, some monsters, you know the rest.
I’m scooting over to Starbust’s site, because if anyone has reviewed it.. they have.

In fact this is a bumper week for Straight to Video science fiction; when I saw the sleeve of Battle: Earth I thought did Asylum’s Battle of LA get a sequel? But no this is not a mockbuster sequel, this is all new. A Canadian army unit has to fight through hoards of alien invaders to get a crucial piece of alien tech back to base. despite the promising premise reviews suggest the film is cheap slow and boring
The other offering is also Canadian, Repeaters is a drama about three drug addicts at a rehab centre, as they realise they are reliving the same day over and over some chooses to make better choices, another to live a life without consequences. This one is said to be a bit too close to Groundhog Day in story but quite watchable (see both at supermarkets now).

Also out on disk, The Facility, which you could have seen a few weeks back much more expensively at festival.

Also fresh from fest is the vampire flick Byzantium, a mother and daughter vampire team chow down in England, but it’s OK, they only drink from the terminally ill.
Opens in cinemas this week.

For some time French director Christophe Gans has been working on Beauty and the Beast and it looks like he’s nearly done.
This one seems to be different from the other versions in that it is based on the original story by Madame de Villeneuve and not the children’s story that was derived from it.
Gans is a major visualist, he’s been responsible for Crying Freeman, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and the visually stunning (if narratively stunted) Silent Hill. for this one he is promising “completely new visual universe.” Oh dear, I hope he is not talking CGI.
Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux star.

Reviews of Ruairi Robinson’s The Last Days on Mars are coming through and the word is not good.
Ruairi Robinson has long had great potential. He made several highly praised short films and his debut feature was highly anticipated. He was once pencilled in to direct the Akira live action adaptation.
However Last Days has been assessed as derivative and
clichéd; infected zombies in space, similar to Alien and Ghosts of Mars.

Reviews of World War Z are also coming in, although they are mixed, I am not liking them; total abandonment of Max Brooke’s source novel (recommended), CGI zombies (because that worked so well in I Am Legend, and bloodless kills (I’m not a gorehound, but if you make a zombie movie, commit to the genre).

So while we are taking foreign remakes.. what we weren’t? They are going to remake that French thriller, A Prophet. Now, while we’re talking , it has emerged that Universal is going to adapt anime movie Vexille as live action.
Now this may actually be a good thing.
According to Jacks rules for remakes, you only do one of you think you can bring something to the table. Vexille may have been one of the visual breakout animations of the decade, but it’s a story train-wreck; it starts well, has a strange middle and a WTF ending. A remake could straighten it out, and hey, all of the cool design work has already been done.

Ooh, there’s been a new Ghost in the Shell short film…. no wait it’s some kind of long form advert set in a fantasy world where consumers like Windows 8… go figure.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section

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