Archive | March, 2015

Grunting at the Screen (175)

21 Mar

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Cyberpunk Special (And we say “Special” in the broadest of possible terms)

When I suggested in Grunt (161) that Ghost in the Shell had been cast I unfortunately jumped the gun.

It has now emerged that Scarlett Johansson will now be playing Major Kusanagi.

Rupert Sanders is still the director, screenplay is by Bill Wheeler.

No date for principle photography yet, but a release date has been announced; April 14th 2017.

Inevitably there has been controversy over the casting; the same kind that followed Exodus and The Last Airbender: have the studios whitewashed the casting? I have no opinion here; it will remain to be seem. I hear rumours that the film remains set in Japan, and yet Johansson will play Kusanagi. Eventually all may be explained, or not.

For me, the most important question is, will the live action film follow the story of the anime or will it actually have a satisfying ending?

You heard me. I love Mamoru Oshii’s anime, but the ending is kind of soft, it kind of peters out. Now that is one thing a feature can fix.

Sue me.

We had a look at a Gary Whitta interview.

He has been associated with a bunch of unmade genre films but what interested us was his screenplay for the Akira remake.

I think we kinda dodged a bullet there.

According to the interview they were contemplating all sorts of changes the most bizarre of which was positing a future where Japan bought the island of Manhattan

and made it into New Tokyo. Oh dear.

They were also talking about going back to the original Manga, making it in two parts. On the face it looks a good idea: a more authentic adaptation. But a second looks absurdly ambitious: Two epic Science Fiction features which defer satisfaction until the end, a journey of maybe four or five years and hoping to bring an initially sceptical audience along with you?

It would have been a gamble.

Well the Whitta screenplay was discarded but the “Bad News” is that the current live-action Akira attempt by Jaume Collet-Serra has stalled, (again). Collet-Serra is taking a break after promoting his latest Run All Night.

We cannot say we are surprised; Collet-Serra’s was the third attempt to get the project going after Ruairi Robinson and The Hughes Brothers tried first.

And we cannot say massed fandom will be terribly disappointed. Collet-Serra has expressed scepticism towards the original Akira storyline in his public statements,

and there have been concerns that any American remake would whitewash the cast.

Unless the studio decides to try much harder we are much better off without this adaptation.

Never count any project out. Back in Grunt (162) we learned William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition got a deal. But word has come a project even older.

It has to have been more than a decade since work started on the script for

Dogfight, an adaptation of a short story by William Gibson and Michael Swanwick, but we got work that Director Simon Pummell has been funded and is now in preparation.

I’m stoked.

This is a character piece, the mirrorshades take on The Hustler. It asked just how far you will go for something you want.

Denis Villeneuve is being mooted as the director of the Blade Runner sequel.

Who? Got me there. Let me share what I’ve heard.

He’s French-Canadian, most well-known for a film named Prisoners (still no bells ringing…) He got an Academy Award-nomination (Best Foreign Language Film).

Prisoners was also nominated for a Best Cinematography award; this is interesting. We googled it and it wasn’t popping for us visually…but.

The thing is, a Blade Runner sequel will need a visualist, initially Villeneuve did not come to mind, but if his films are nominated for cinematography he is not without skills.

OK, Harrison Ford is still attached to the sequel (again, Ford is in but Ridley Scott is out, I do not think it a coincidence). Whether Mr. Ford will act a single day in it is under question. He seems increasingly accident prone: he had an injury on the Star Wars set and then crashed his light aircraft this March

Scott remains the producer.

There has been no word of movement on the Neuromancer film projects. In the film world “no news” is most certainly not “good news”.

Continuum the feature from Relativity has just come out on disk in the UK. (Again not to be confused with the Syfy series Continuum) Everywhere else it has been titled I’ll Follow You Down

Written by Greg Russo, starring Gillian Anderson and Haley Joel Osment.

It is an unusual mix of family drama and time travel story.

A son is in search of his father who disappeared years ago due to a time travel experiment.

Reviews are mixed but it appears there are some interesting elements in here.

Catch it at all good supermarkets.

Dammit, in this age of remakes and sequels, you can hardly find an orig… oooh look.

Ridley Scott’s Scott Free organisation will be producing Morgan: a project lauded in 2014’s Black List of best unproduced screenplays. Writer is Seth W. Owen.

It is to be the directorial debut of Ridley Scott’s son, Luke Scott and Kate Mara is to star.

Here is the plot description; “A corporate risk management consultant is summoned to a remote research lab to determine whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.”

Whoa! This is looking familiar. An “artificial being?” this is sounding perilously close to the recently screened Ex Machina and the soon to be released AI drama “Uncanny”.

No shooting schedule as of yet, but we’ll keep you in the loop.

It’s a good month, we have more news of original science fiction features. First up is The Reconstruction of William Zero, from Dan Bush who made The Signal (not the film with Lawrence Fishburn, but a 2007 film).

A genetic researcher awakes after an accident, he has no memory or even the ability to walk, as he relearns movement, aided by his twin brother, memory returns… but not his memory.

Hme… sounds like a clone drama: Memories not your own? Mysterious Twin? And William “Zero”. (I might be wrong.) And oh yes, the strap-line on the poster is “You can’t run from yourself”. Really?

Anyway Conal Byrne stars as both the researcher and his “twin”. The feature is all finished and will get a theatrical release on April 10th.

And this one comes via the horror route. A Stephen King adaptation no less: The Jaunt. Based on a short story. In the original story it is the 24th century, Teleportation is the common means of transportation, between Earth and Mars, but to take “The Jaunt” you must be put under anaesthesia. Of course behind this mystery is a terror. It’s been a while since I read the collection this appeared in; Skeleton Crew.

Andy (Mama) Muschietti, is to direct, no word on schedule, cast, screenplay…or much at all.

What is this? Yet another Science Fiction feature; ad exec David, full of envy, creates an Augmented Reality copy of his best friend’s girl. But then the copy starts getting harder and harder to tell from the real thing.

Cool. Director is Benjamin Dickinson. He is also the star and guess what, the movie is finished (he completed it with Kickstarter funds).

It is showing at SXSW (and hopefully it will get a distribution deal there.)

It really must be my day because we have word that Mario Kassar and Carolco are back and they are still in the Science Fiction movie game.

Back in the day, (the “day” being the 1980s and 90s) Carolco was a production company responsible for some of the biggest science fiction and action movies of the time: Terminator 2, Total Recall, Rambo; that kind of thing.

The company ran into trouble and wound down.

Well now Carolco and its president are back and in the same business.

They are commencing with a feature called “BOT”, describing it as a big futuristic action movie, the first of a trilogy; the near future, a hundred infants are born with superior intellects. We call them “starchildren” but they are far from our salvation. They use their intellects to take over the world.

Humanity find themselves oppressed by the starchildren’s army of nanorobots.


The project is at its earliest stage Tedi Sarafian is the writer but there is no director, star or shooting date confirmed. So no guarantees that this will even get made. But I am impressed that this was announced after the several high profile science fiction disappointments; including the soft opening of Chappie.

We’ve got some news on Shane Abbess’ Infini. You will recall this is his space thriller in very much the eighties style. (Some compare it to Alien).

Well it has a US release date: May 8. Nothing yet for other territories (I suspect it will go straight to disk in Europe). But it is something.

Now, I am not sure if I approve of it, any more that the parade of remakes. Perhaps Abess should be working on something fresh. But of your idea of fun is kicking it oldschool than Infini may be the feature for you.

Coming on the heels of Chappie is Robot Overlords, a film by Jon Wright, the Irish director of Grabbers. Reviews have been mixed-positive, and being that it is a budget production you cannot expect top of the line FX. Nevertheless I might try it out.

I was watching Chappie, very impressed by the locations. Of particularly exciting was a ghost-scraper, a cylindrical tower with squatters living in the upper floors, it looked like it came straight out of a science fiction film. For a while I thought it might have been a CG creation. But I looked it up.

It’s real.

It’s actually Ponte City Apartments, it’s the tallest skyscraper in Africa, but still going derelict.

If anyone said South Africa would be a centre for science fiction movies a few years back, I would have balked.

Not now.

It has come of age.

A bunch of very cool films have been shot there: Doomsday, Dredd, Age of Ultron, and of course, Blomkamp’s District 9 and Chappie.

The Giver, with Jeff Bridges was shot there, as was Young Ones. Found-footage feature Alien Outpost found a home there.

Shooting at the moment is Prisoners of War, an alien invasion feature.

It helps that South African cities look like they are already in the future; albeit a future few of us would like to live in. In his Rolling Stone interview Neill Blomkamp said “I didn’t have to change anything, really; I just filmed in certain places, and it naturally looked like science fiction.”

So far most of the features have been productions on the run from Hollywood (in a way South Africa is the new Canada), but who knows, all of this activity could stir a local film renaissance

It looks like I am not the only one to disagree with the critics.

Over at William Gibson’s Twitter account- Great Dismal- momentum is growing behind Chappie

As we come to the end of Neill Blomkamp’s trilogy of “Shanty-tech chic” movies, and perhaps the end of the Neill Blomkamp era itself. I have to reflect that whatever you feel about him and the way his second and third films went, you will have to accept that he has changed the nature of science fiction film. There is a look and feel to his features that have left an imprint on this time. Every time another director makes a genre feature he or she will have to deal with the paradigm shift Blomkamp has left us with.

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


Grunting at the Screen (174)

11 Mar

The information age isn’t finished with us.

Now, you have heard me moan exhaustively about the dearth of original Science Fiction movies (slightly unfairly, as the last three years has seen something of a boom).

Surprisingly, I am not the only one with concerns.

I located this article at Den of Geek, it is not even new, but it is still very relevant;

What I noticed was a pattern: We have seen a handful of noticeably underperforming original Science Fiction lately, what united them is not a matter of quality, but the fact that most of them are star vehicles.

Two of the three hit originals (Avatar, Chronicle) had no stars in the lead. Despite that studios felt the need to bolster their tent-pole movies with names: and it keeps failing.

Tom Cruise

Will Smith,

Matt Damon,

Johnny Depp,

none of them could guarantee the success of their movies.

What they succeeded in doing every time was pushing up the budget for their movies.

Some of their movies; Edge Of Tomorrow, Elysium, Transcendence made some money, but not much in comparison to their budgets.

It occurs to me that these movies could have done as well with unknowns or character actors in the lead and with a smaller budget might have actually made some money.

The future of original Science Fiction may lay in mid-budget features.

We have a bunch of DVDs coming out in the near future most of which we heard about at the Starburst site.

Halo: Nightfall. Produced but not directed by Ridley Scott.

Dark Planet, now this is interesting. A Russian film completed some years ago. It went by the name of “Inhabited Island”, I did most of my coverage for it way back in 2008.

It was based on a Strugatsky (Roadside Picnic-AKA Stalker) Brothers novel. It is chock-full of ideas: a Russian cosmonaut crash lands on an inhabited planet; it is years after the planet has had a nuclear holocaust, five factions struggle to control their populations with mind influencing technologies.

The cosmonaut decides he has to lead a revolution to free the planet.

It sounded like it had all sorts of potential.

Starburst gives it a good review, they say it is action-packed, energetic and bursting with ideas.

We mentioned The Device back in Grunt (165). It had a cool poster. Well it is out on disk now: a man and his fiancée find an alien artefact.

About that poster? Seems like that was the best thing about it, it has a handful of customer reviews on Amazon and every one of them hate it, they think it is cheap and boring.

This is crazy, and it is not even about an original movie. But it is an almost original situation. Back in 1996 Director Richard Stanley tried to make the Island of Dr Moreau. He clashed with the studio, was replaced, and famously hung around disguised as one of the beasts to see the production fall apart under the new director.

Guess what? Stanley wants another bite of the cherry.

He wants another shot at making a version of Moreau. He has a contract he is working on the script, and he wants to make it X-rated (best of luck there, no-one gives x-ratings anymore, and the best he can expect is NC-17!)

Steven Spielberg’s next movie is “It’s What I Do” which does not interest me a whole lot (bio-pic about a photojournalist, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention.) what is interesting is what he is not doing next, what he is passing up including: The BFG and Robopocalypse. Is it me or is he directing fewer genre films?

Colin (Jurassic World) Trevorrow has settled on his next project: Intelligent Life.

Frank Marshall (veteran Spielberg collaborator) will produce. Details are sparse but it has been suggested that it is a retooled version of an earlier project (The Ambassador) about the US’s standby ambassador for extraterrestrial first contact (do they have one of those?)

Big news, Paramount is looking to adapt Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination

The last time we heard about this it was in the hands of Paul W.S. Anderson (don’t barf) but that was a long time ago.

The book is a classic a sweeping space opera with teleportation and revenge.

The studio haven’t got the rights yet, so it may all blow up in their face.

And it really must be our week because we also have news that Fox is gearing up to adapt Robert A. Heinlein’s classic, award winning novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

The Age of Heinlein has begun (again).

Prediction one is that they will change the name… hey! Looks like they will change the name to “Uprising”.

The studio is pulling in Bryan Singer to direct.

Marc Guggenheim is writing the script.

Usually I would be stoked; Bryan (X-Men, X-Men II) Singer is directing. But unfortunately I am also thinking; Bryan (Jack the Giant Slayer) is directing. Which Bryan Singer we are getting has yet to be determined.

It has been a while since I read the book, but I recall it is a smart, fast moving story packed with ideas and it also gave is the saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” And oh yes, it is about a rebellion on a moon colony, but that is beside the point.

Before we get all excited about these two major adaptations we should take a step back, both have previously been optioned, both have struggled to get to the screen.

There is still the chance that neither might reach the screen.

And need I say, there is still and issue with original Science Fiction…

Chappie is here.

The third robot feature of 2015 (the second for the UK, we haven’t had Vice yet) big things are expected of it.

In theme it is quite similar to Ex-Machina. A robot exhibits the traits of intelligence, sentience and humanity.

I have also been joking that it is similar to Short Circuit from the 1980s. There are parallels but I doubt they are that close.

What makes it different from director Neill Blomkamp’s last effort Elysium is that this is an out and out comedy, probably broader that his debut District 9.

Visually the style is very… Blomkamp. In his first two features he established a way of mixing high tech with shanty town chic. I Like it but I suspect the audience is about to get restive.

On a positive note it is pulling back on the star power (Hugh Jackman has a supporting role.) I have no idea what the budget is but hopefully it is closer to District 9’s than Elysium’s (giving it a fighting chance at making its money back.)

There is also a bittersweet note to this opening, it marks the end of Blomkamp’s run of original features, and he was one of a handful of directors who only made original Science Fiction features: No reboots, no sequels.

His next film will be an Alien sequel, and I find that very sad.

Perhaps I shouldn’t, some of the finest film makers in the world have graduated at the University of Alien: James Cameron, David Fincher, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. There is no shame in it… but still… it seems the timing of the announcement and the subsequent shift in focus of the interviews, means that the release of Chappie has been overshadowed by the resurgence of a fan favourite.



Johannesburg 2016, the city is watched over by a cadre of robot-police called “scouts”: implacable, unbribable, and invincible*. Crime has been savagely suppressed.

Yolandi and Ninja are a pair or small-time crooks who screw up a job for gang boss, Hippo.

They now have seven days to make good on the debt or he will eliminate them.

Yolandi has the smart idea of kidnapping the designer of the scouts to find a way of shutting them off. He cannot help them, but he does present another possibility: One scout that they can have to teach and train for their own purposes.

It’s pacy. Really, it movies like a bullet-train.

Sure there are moments where it contemplates, moments of real pathos. But that does not slow it down.

The locations, are brilliant: scuzzy, industrial, a real rotting concrete nightmare; including a spectacular ghost-scraper that would have fit right into the Judge Dredd reboot (also filmed in South Africa).

Yolandi and Ninja are very real. Sharlto Copley is just magical as the robot Chappie, who starts as child and develops into a very arch and odd individual.

The CGI is pristine, it has hit Jurassic park levels: i.e. you do not know the CG from the real.

The music, with songs by Die Antwoord is great, and very strange.

Now for the caveats: yes, there is a certain resemblance to Robocop, but it is not onerous, and there is enough fresh stuff in here for it not to matter.

The South African accents are heavy and it may be difficult understanding them from time to time.

It is set in a milieu which has now become Blomkamp’s own. His shanty-tech chic has now become a visual trope, if you are not willing to engage with it, this is not the film for you.

There is a heavy resemblance to Blomkamp’s first film; District 9. More than that I cannot say… spoilers and all that.

But on the whole the virtues for overwhelm its detractions. It is really emotional, it has themes (the notion of the robot as a child, the good parent and the bad, free will and destiny, they are all here). It has blistering action and quirk.

I am sorry** to disagree with the majority of critics but I like this one a lot, I’ll buy it. I think it is Blomkamp’s best. Really

Go see it, even if to disagree.

We have just had word that Chappie has taken first place at the US Box office, opening at $13.3 million. It is something of a record.

The second lowest Number One opening in five years.

Needless to say it is a worst opening than Blomkamp’s last film Elysium.

Seems just as well he won’t have to risk an original movie for a while…..

Opening this week in the US is Everly; Salma Hayek in lingerie shooting everything that moves.

There is nothing in that previous sentence I dislike.

We have already had Ex Machina in the UK. It opens in the US on April 10.

Another robot movie is due for release: Eva, directed by Kike Maillo. A cybernetic engineer tries to give a robot real emotions. It’s actually a Spanish film that originally came out in 2011 but is due for a re-release in the US on March 13.

Ooh, here is another trailer for the live-action Patlabor.

*Not really, but… you know.

** Yeah, not so much..

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.