Archive | August, 2013

Grunting at the Screen (131)

28 Aug

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Now here’s something. Rumours that the game Watch Dogs was heading for the big screen began months back.
It’s now been confirmed. Sony Pictures and New Regency have partnered to produce it. No creative team has been announced as yet.
What is interesting is that Ubisoft have the similarly themed Deus Ex: Human Revolution in development at the same time.
I wasn’t sure if they would put competing products into the mix, but it seems they have.

MGM are making a film about a robot serial killer called Abe. (We mean a serial killer who is a robot, not a killer of many robots).
Hey wait up. This is an expansion of a short movie.
Now you know I don’t watch shorts (Haven’t the patience for them). But I’ve dug this up but it.
The original was 8 minutes long; Abe is a robot who kidnaps girls and tries to “fix” them (I’m hoping with a screwdriver.)
It was written and directed by Rob McLellan who is returning to direct the feature.

Post Apocalyptic short film Turbo Kid is now set to become a feature. I was an entry in the ABC of Death competition, and even though it did not win it attracted the attention of Jason (Hobo With A Shotgun) Eisener and now original directors (the collective RKSS) will be making their first full length film.

This and Abe got me thinking. I have a file full of stories about short films set to be features, I counted up how many had actually made it and I came up with… zero.
Not that it never happens, because it sometimes does, but it seems making short films is no more certain a path to directing glory than any other, and it is a pity because there are some interesting things out there that deserve a wider audience.

Casey Affleck and director David Lowery are teaming up to make a science fiction movie. To Be Two; a matter transportation accident between Earth and Mars causes the appearance of copies of an individual on both planets.
Although this is not and unknown theme in science fiction (didn’t I see something like this on Stargate last week…?) In this case they are looking into the philosophical aspects of it.

So whatever happened to the Spierig brothers. The who, you ask? Well; they’re Australian first came to prominence with their debut, Undead, and action comedy horror feature. But most of you know them from their vampire action film, Daybreakers.
We haven’t heard from them lately but it seems they are on the move again.
Their latest project is science fiction feature Stem, writer is Leigh “Saw” Whannell and it’s described as in the vein of the Terminator and set in the near future.

I promised to update you every week with news of straight to video science fiction. I lies… ‘though not intentionally. There’s just not enough of it. However I have found something.
Extracted, Directed by Nir Paniry. A scientist invents a way of entering other people’s minds (never heard that one before), he enters the mind of a heroin addict and gets stuck there for four years. Reviews are pushing this as “indie science fiction” rather than just cheap-ass genre.
Its heavy on the talk, low on the action.
Reviews are all over the place. Some think it is an intellectual and thematic tour de force, others just don’t see the point. It’s called both fascination and boring, compared positively and negatively to Inception.
All I ask…please don’t let it be like The Cell.

The Evening Standard has produced the first review of Gravity. The verdict; great visuals, thin plot. Well that tells me nothing, you could apply to half the films of the summer. More as it develops.

Elysium
This is it. More than Oblivion, more than Pacific Rim, this is the film I have been looking forward to.
Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene in 2009 with District 9. This debut cost $30m but raked in over $100m in the US Box Office. It proved you could do great science fiction, at mid budget, without stars, and still make money.
Well Blomkamp’s follow up is here. And whatever it is like it demonstrates a few things. Blomkamp is not willing to sit back and do sequels to his or anyone else’s movies while he has ideas of his own.
We cannot help getting excited at Elysium. District 9 had aliens, but Elysium has men in exoskeletons and a huge space station.
The set up feels very cyberpunk. And it has that trademark Blomkamp look; very real, almost documentary in quality.
It is a different proposition to District 9; made with a major studio, with a budget three times as much (We are hearing figures around $90m) and starring a big Hollywood actor.
Still the publicity stills and trailers look incredible. Even though this is now a given. the days when science fiction films could get away with looking cheap are long gone, they all employ teams of concept artists to create elaborate and spectacular visuals, and many of these artist are not just trained in engineering and architecture but aficionados themselves so films are now full of plausible detail.
In interview Neill Blomkamp is encouraging, he is trying to balance the edgy themes with an entertaining story. In time out he modestly compares himself to the Young George Lucas (no, modestly) and says he would rather fail at being Lucas in 1977 than make a Star Wars sequel this year.
Those are the words we wanted to hear.

Elysium Review.
You know the drill: Earth is impoverished, the rich have fled to a massive , luxurious space station; our hero Max is dosed with radiation on the job and has five days to get up to the forbidden space station and cure himself, but it gets complicated when he’s asked to spearhead a revolution against the masters in the sky.

The visuals are exquisite and very convincing, the FX are utterly convincing, they are better than photo-real, in fact I suspect that much of what we saw especially in the initial LA scenes were real.

I expected it would look good. The question was, would the story work? And it pretty much does. The set-up with an unequal world, the aspirations of the underclass and indifference of the off-world upper-class is all handled well and it transitions into an action adventure smoothly. It does not have the humour of District 9 but this is a very different animal.
Blomkamp is trying different things, working with character, emotion and themes; he has really expanded his style since the last one.
Admittedly… this is not as fresh as District 9, and it will not leave you with the excitement that District 9 left you with. But it is solidly made, entertaining and has something to say.
I had specific concerns that differed from those of reviewers. I didn’t mind that it was basically an action-adventure film; if you spend $90m of studio money you’d better deliver a film that people will want to see, regardless of their political awareness.
No, what concerned me was the sentiment; Elysium lacked the edge I’d associated with Blomkamp, and it kept returning to a scene with a nun and a locket to the point where you thought you were being hammered with an emotional subtext-turned super-text.
Thematically it was also sentimental. The revolution was supposed to deliver the fruits of the wealthy to everyone, but could that ever happen? Can the benefits be spread that thin? Or would it just end up with a few thousand people on Earth benefiting, leaving billions no better off?
The intention is fine, but method lacks credibility.
Never-the-less this is a fast moving, smart movie with good politics and a heart.

Riddick is coming

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 (130)

21 Aug

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Look out for the adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver from director Philip Noyce, Meryl Streep and Alexander Skarsgard are to star.
It’s a dystopia where emotions, history and colour have been removed. Hme.

Dag Nabbit! We mentioned that Tarsem Singh was involved in a film about immortality called Selfless, it seems that Singh has been truly been bitten by the Science fiction bug; he has signed on for The Panopticon; a man receive a message that the world is about to end but the recording appears to be from himself.
The story has potential, but it’s Tarsem Singh; who gave us the visually wonderful feature The Cell (pity the story wasn’t worth a damn).

The rising tide of science fiction features continues; next up is Midnight Special, to be directed by Jeff Nichol. Kirsten Dunst is to star. In this one, a man goes on the run with his super-powered young son.

Yet another science fiction project is in development and this one is with Vin Diesel. It’s called Soldiers of the Sun and Arash Amel wrote script. This one is the usual post-holocaust tomb raiding plot; Diesel leads a troop of treasure hunting soldiers and the bad guys are aliens named… oh dear “Orcs”.
Hme…

Now for some Box Office news.

Pacific Rim has made $300m in total, which pretty much means it’s a success, although it did only moderately well in the US.

Elysium opened at number 1 in the US with $30m. This defies both sceptical box office predictions and the downward trend in recent original science fiction features.
You will be interested to know Neill Blomkamp’s next feature. Chappie, is fully funded and will begin principal photography in the autumn.
Yeah, I’m happy.

What the heck is happening in Argentina? There have been a couple of weird assed movies have come out of that country.
First up, Quest for the Power Sphere: despite a couple of articles I’ve found, I cannot begin to describe it; it’s inspired by Russian silent cinema of the 20s, it involves the flying teacups of an alien invasion, and ends with a giant robot battle in
Buenos Aires.
Oh, I will watch this if it comes to London.
Next up is Rabbit Woman directed by Veronica Chen: Ana a Chinese-Argentinean woman in Buenos Aires is threatened by a Chinese triad, she flees the city for the pampas but runs right into an invasion of man eating rabbits.
Yeah. Um. Yeah.

Three Time Travel features sharing the name “Timeless” have been circulating in the last few years; one attached to director Vadim Perelman, one linked to Robert Zemeckis and one written by Michael “Zombie Diaries” Bartlett. This last one has just been optioned by Boundless Pictures, so it is one step closer to filming.
A time travelling assassin seeks to go back and save the love of his life (because breaching the chronology protection conjecture is just so…sensual).

Everyone is going to China. Latest film-making tourist is Steven Spielberg. He’s been negotiating with celebrated Chinese director Zhang (House of Flying Daggers) Yimou to co-direct a feature in China.

This follows on from features like; Stan Lee’s Annihilator a co-production with China’s National Film Capital, starring Chinese pop star Wang Lee Hom,
Avi (X-Men) Arad has explored the possibility of going to China to make a fantasy film based on the Terracotta Warriors,
Roger Corman has just produced a horror movie in China, The Living Dead.
Like I said, everybody’s going to China.

Comic publisher Boom! Studios continues to leverage their properties into the film world. They have a raft of projects waiting in queue. The latest to join them is
“Day Men”. It has been optioned by Universal.
The original comic was about two vampire clans secretly at war. They employ “Day Men” to take care of their daylight business, one of these human servants determines to end the war.
Interesting, you can go lots of places with that: from Twilight to Underworld.

Back in the eighties if you were in London and into strange cinema there was one place for you. The Scala in Kings Cross. Now that building has become a night-club and the cinema is only memories.
Well memories and what has become an annual celebration of fringe, grindhouse and psychtronic film. This year’s celebration kicks off in September and is called Scalarama, it takes place in a number of venues and more information can be found at WWW.scalarama.com

Out this week on DVD is Aftershock, directed by Nicolas Lopez, and produced by Eli Roth.
It’s thoroughly nasty, violent stuff that really should have been given a theatrical release.

Also out this week on DVD Space Battleship Yamato live action.
I took a look around and found some reviews, they are largely positive, although they say it is slightly on the long side.

Kick Ass 2. Review
Yes, it’s a sequel. Will that be a problem?
The original Kick Ass wasn’t my favourite real-world superhero movie. That would be Super.
But I liked it anyway, and I thought there was room for growth.
So it was a sequel, but not the sequel of a reboot of a forty year old franchise. In the year that brought us Man of Steel, The Wolverine and Star Trek: into darkness, Kick Ass 2 was practically new.
So I sat down in the cinema, aware of the mixed reviews and braced myself.
I needn’t have worried.
First of all there is more character development in here , we learn more about Dave and Mindy than ever before and get a whole new cast of characters.
Second it is funny as all hell, the jokes start and the beginning and just keep coming, snappy dialogue, sight gags, the humour is bit exactly light wit, in fact it’s as broad and crude as it can get, but that doesn’t stop the belly laughs.
And third the action is just great, sharply executed and kept in human scale.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is looking kind of old for a high school senior.
Watching Hit Girl literally having her sexual awakening is deeply disturbing (and watching her have it to a Union J video is wrong on more levels than there is time to say).
Christopher Mintz-Plasse becomes The Motherfucker and is just brilliant, John Leguizamo, is great and does what he always does which is suffer horribly (what is it with him? Is it a stipulation in all of his contracts?)
Jim Carrey is less annoying than ever, almost unrecognisable and he perfectly serves the role of Colonel Stars and Stripes.
Of the new faces most impressive is Mother Russia who is terrifying. She is Bridgett Nelson and Dolph Lungren squeezed into the same body (and I hope to see her in action movies for years to come).
I didn’t think this until I left the cinema, but there is no visible CGI, there certainly is nothing like the rocket pack scene at the end of the original movie. The film achieves so much while keeping it within the bounds of the plausible.
I didn’t think I’d say this, but Kick Ass 2, is better than the first one. If you haven’t had a laugh all week, just go, it’ll make it better.

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 (129)

9 Aug

The information age isn’t finished with us.





Cyberpunk Special
Since the last Special there has been a dearth of news.

It occurs to me that cyberpunk on film works best when it is approached from the side. Inception was simply brilliant, yet it abandoned cyberpunk visuals and clichés. What made it cyberpunk at all? Many would say it wasn’t but it had a bohemia (criminal culture) and a technology of consciousness. Taken together that made it conceptually equivalent to the ideas of William Gibson or Pat Cadigan. And in quality of execution it rivalled major literary works.
Elysium is approaching, again a film with no protestations of being cyberpunk, yet brimming with ideas. This time there is a lot more feel and look of the mirrorshades oveur; scuzzy lowlife lifestyle, unlicensed clinics, mechanical exoskeletons, on the other hand fabulously rich ruling classes.




Blade Runner 2

I’ve of course reported that Michael Green (the Green Lantern writer) has been contracted to write Blade Runner 2, but what does this mean?
Not a lot; any major film has multiple writing teams on it and the final version may have contributions from all, or few of them.
On the other hand it suggests the producers are serious about making the film. Or does it? Any major film has a long period of development during which it easily falls by the wayside (or “gets put in turnaround”): John Carter had four different teams work on it before it finally came to the screen, Wonder Woman had two and no production, Paradise Lost had two different teams before it went into turnaround.
In the film industry, nothing is certain.
That does not stop us wondering…Why didn’t Ridley Scott get a writer of greater stature to work on Blade Runner 2; he knows a bunch of them: William Monahan (Body of Lies) worked on Oblivion, Brian Helgeland (Robin Hood) could have been tried or Steve Zaillian (Exodus). It all seems a mystery.
Here’s something though, Michael Green worked on a bunch of unproduced scripts… One of them was the live action Akira..

Rebooting Blade Runner. In a recent interview with futurist artist, Syd Mead, he said he would accept Blade Runner 2 “in a second” but whoever writes it or whether Ridley Scott decides to do Blade Runner as a sequel, prequel or remake, it is advisable that he reboots the look and feel; the classic look has been copied to hell. It has become “classic” i.e. well-warn. Since 1982 we have had The Internet, cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and iPads. The future ain’t what it used to be. The new Blade Runner needs to be based in the 21st Century, crisp, and very realistic, not studio-bound like the original, in a word, he has to do to Blade Runner what he did to Alien with Prometheus.

I watch Blade Runner once a year, no more often than that, I like to keep it fresh.
A lot of it may well have to go. This year I looked at it to see what might be kept for the sequel.
I’d like to hear more City Speak, it would enrich the feeling of future culture.
More about bioengineering in an era where we build our friends and biological cells are stamped with serial numbers.
Keep the striking replicant /toy/manikin juxtapositions.
Expand on the theme; the tragedy of replicants and man as a failed god.

But I have to ask; can Ridley catch lightning in a bottle again? He once gathered a unique team of top flight artists and I fear we will never see the like of them again.



Akira

Talking about the live-action Akira (More “psiberpunk” than cyberpunk…) apparently it’s on again and back with Jaume Collet-serra (one of the four directing teams associated with this project. It seems the budget has been cut back to $60m, which can only be a good thing.



Comic-con
July was also the month of Comicon. When all of next year’s big movies try to impress us; an excellent forum for the forthcoming cyberpunk crop to pop their heads up.
There were a bunch of them and all had a chance to showcase their progress.
That said, I suspected there would be a stunning silence on most of these projects. And there was.

One surprising exception was Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem. Footage was screened and the reaction was positive to say the least.

The basic premise of The Zero Theorem; computer genius Qohen Leth is an obsessive living in a burnt out chapel while working on his goal, to proving the Zero Theorem.
Journalists who have seen the footage have been gushing. They compare it most closely to Gilliam’s Brazil and 12 Monkeys.
They compare it to Blade Runner (except it’s brighter and more colourful.)

Now I like Terry Gilliam a lot. I think Brazil is a towering achievement of fantasy cinema. I think 12 Monkeys is a haunting and brilliant leap of imagination.
I hope Zero Theorem will be a major work. Of course it is not possible to knock them out of the ballpark every time.

Well it’s only footage. So far there is no release date, we’re not even sure if it has a distributor.




There was another film to receive coverage out of Comicon:

Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
An interview with the co-writer, C. Robert Cargill confirmed a lot of what we’d already heard.
http://screenrant.com/deus-ex-movie-update-comic-con/

They very much want to make a cyberpunk movie, a film based around the ideas and visuals of the cyberpunk genre. The last thing they want is for it to be lumped in with the other game movies.

They face the difficulty of extraction a coherent story from all of the different plot alternatives in the game. They know they are facing scepticism from the fans who want as much authenticity as possible.

Most interesting of all is the Blade Runner question. In previous interviews the director has said that they do not want to imitate the look of Blade Runner.

The writer is saying of Eidos the game company “they want this movie to be ‘Blade Runner’, we want this movie to be ‘Blade Runner'” . I’d like to think there is a nuanced difference in the opinions; let’s say the writer and director want to emulate the attention to detail of ‘Blade Runner’ but are not interested in picking up the visual style of that classic.
However that is speculation.

One thing that clear: of the several mid to high budget films in play, Deus Ex is the only one still putting out information.

Don’t look for it any time soon, Derrickson is still deep in the midst of making Beware the Night.
And if that isn’t enough Scott Derrickson continues to pick up projects, most recently
The Postmortal, a near future tale of immortality-tech.



Elysium.

I anticipated Pacific Rim a lot and I liked it a lot. But the film I have been waiting for is Elysium.
Since District 9 it was evident that in Neill Blomkamp we had a particular talent. He had an eye for realism, but this was fantastical realism. It seemed he was the step onward from George Lucas and Ridley Scott we had been waiting for.
Unlike many fans, I have not been waiting with baited breath for District 10 (or whatever the sequel might be called.) I wanted to know what he would do next.
and Elysium is it.
With its muscular plot about a dying man trying to get into rich man’s heaven to cure himself, and its twin backgrounds of a slum ridden earth dominated by a wealthy space station it looked promising.
As we approach the release date, the studio is ramping up publicity. The stills and conceptual art are tasty. The style is like District 9, without the aliens and it is rendered in that hand-held technique.
http://io9.com/elysium-concept-art-shows-the-super-unsanitary-bioware-902621422

There is a fly in the ointment.
District 9 was produced by Peter Jackson; in interview Neill Blomkamp says he had just one person to liaise with.
Elysium is another affair, he has said that he has fourteen people to answer to. And this could make all of the difference.
The studio system can be the death of science fiction. You have to be a strong person (or outright psycho) to be able to work within it without losing your vision.
Elysium is a different animal to District 9, the budget is bigger, (I have heard the figure $90m bandied) it has major stars in it. Most of all unlike District 9 Elysium is being made by “the Director of District 9” with all the expectations attached to it.
I have faith in Neill Blomkamp, I think he will deliver. But it won’t be easy.

And now the question of box office. I don’t much care. The only reason I have any concern is that a good opening means the director can quickly get his next project greenlit.
District 9 was a mid budget film that did outrageously well, especially for a film from a neophyte director and no stars. Most of all it had no expectations attached to it.
This cannot be said for Elysium. It has expectations attached to it, it has major Hollywood stars.
As previously noted there is nothing such as a “sure thing” with science fiction movies. This year has been up and down. Oblivion did well, After Earth tanked. Pacific Rim did mediocre business in the US and somewhat better world-wide. It’s a crap-shoot.

And summer cinema has not helped; with a bag-full of comic book sequels and reboots the very audience original science fiction should attract is being siphoned away.

Will Elysium be another victim? I don’t know.

I do think it will be a landmark movie. There are a few films that appear and then influence cinema for years to come; The Forbidden Planet, 2001: Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Matrix. I am hoping to see another one.
Yeah I know, a lot of pressure.

Reviews of Elysium have emerged and by and large they have been positive.
Most of them praise the believability of the world Blomkamp has created.
One of the surprises to me is that it is R rated.
By and large they agree it works as entertainment, they all note its quick pace and its well executed action scenes.
There is trouble in paradise though, the performances do not attract universal praise, the characterisation has been queried and the story does not get the kudos that attended Blomkamp’s debut film District 9.

Whichever side of the divide you settle on it would be good to read this review at HitFix which echoes my sentiments. http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/review-matt-damon-adds-emotional-weight-to-neill-blomkamps-smart-and-unsubtle-elysium
Blomkamp has delivered a fresh Science Fiction feature; that alone is worthwhile.




And finally the book, Elysium: The Art of the Film is now on the shelves. It has a Foreword from Neill Blomkamp and yes; artwork from Syd Mead as well.
We’ve seen it and it’s lush, full of tasty concept art, and yes, sketches from Syd Mead. Mead was involved in the space station design, creating the control room, the corridors, all sorts of architectural detail. This is a fraction of the design work, mostly undertaken by WETA veterans; vehicles, exosuit variations and ooh, weapons. There are weapons here I have been dreaming of for a decade. While the book does not have the snazzy trading cards, notebook pages or transparencies of say the Pacific Rim or After Earth books, there are some sexy gate-fold sleeves and more than enough production detail to keep any of us engaged for hours and hours of dirty Science Fictional fun.





OK, OK, other news

Now this is something. Everyone has been screaming about Fede Alvarez making Evil Dead 2 (haven’t we already seen that movie.. anyway) Alvarez came to prominence when his short film Panic Attack blew up on YouTube.
It was a little disappointing that his first big movie was a remake.
Well he’s back on track. His next film will be Science Fiction, it will be called Machina, and he’s keeping details close to his chest, though with a title like that I suspect some robots may be involved.

(Like I said , there should be a moratorium in using any part of Deus, Ex or Machina as a movie title, but at this moment, I don’t give a rat’s.)




The Kitchen Sink; a zombie and vampire band together to foil an alien invasion. Vanessa Hudgens and Denis Leary to star. Hme, even though it is billed as comedy it sounds terribly tiring, like the clusterf**** that was Suckerpunch.




Sony pictures just optioned Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch and I suspect it hasn’t even been published yet;
Pittsburgh has been devastated by an unnamed event.
Its sole survivor is building a virtual model of the vanished city when he discovers a deadly conspiracy.
Hme.




Snowpiercer has the biggest opening of any South Korean film. Coupled with the delirious reviews we can see it is an unqualified success.
The Weinstein Company will cut it before it reaches western markets.
Yes I know, the statements are non sequiturs, but they are consistent with The Weinstein Company previous treatment of their foreign acquisitions.
I hope they know they have just fuelled the market in Korean DVD imports.



Ooh look, a science fiction film not based on a young-adult novel.
Division 19; set in a dystopian future where there is ubiquitous surveillance exercised though social media. Very Cory Doctorow.
Neve Campbell stars, Suzie Halewood directs and shooting is already in progress.





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.