Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Sundance Buzz

I'm not at Sundance. I'd like to be, believe me. Sundance, along with a Doctor Who convention and San Diego Comic Con, is actually an ideal vacation for me. Sigh. Maybe someday, when I sell something valuable. You can live without a spleen, right?

Anyway, there's two films kicking up a lot of buzz right now. The first one is The Runaways, the biopic about awesome and groundbreaking girl band The Runaways, which launched the careers of such rock icons as Cherie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford. It got a lot of attention when it was revealed that star Kirsten Stewart (playing Jett) had cut her "Bella" hair. Dakota Fanning plays Currie, and its been revealed that her and Stewart share....gasp........a kiss. What will Edward think?

all of this, we had yet to hear if the film is any good. Fanning, even as a child, was a stunningly good actress, so as a teen she should be even more proficient. Stewart has never impressed me, seeming to be stuck in a sullen, slightly stunned, occasionally intriguing mode. Well, it appears as if the reviews are mixed, with some praising the film to the rafters, and others saying it's merely serviceable. That's disappointing for a film with such intriguing subject matter to work with. Great poster, though, I love the record imprint. I'm old enough to remember that.

The other big news maker from the fest is Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's classic noir novel The Killer Inside Me. Thompson's novel (one of my faves) is a brutal and brilliant journey into the mind of a homespun sociopathic deputy sheriff in a small southern town as he slowly unravels and gives in to his misogynistic homicidal urges and his efforts to lie and smile his way out his crimes.

a screening last weekend, quite the hullabaloo was raised, when several scenes of extremely violent beatings caused more than a few walkouts and a intense Q&A for Winterbottom following the film. In the first scene in question, star Casey Affleck severely beats a prostitute played by Jessica Alba, the act going on for at least three minutes and shown in very graphic detail. Not only did some audience members walk out during this, but Alba herself left the screening at this point. Another scene featured Affleck beating Kate Hudson's character, almost as severely.

the film, during the Q&A, some audience members chastised both the director and the festival for exhibiting the film at all, while others questioned why only women were shown to be on the receiving end of such violent depictions of brutality and cruelty. Winterbottom was clearly shocked at the vehemence of the reaction, and he stumbled around some explanations.

someone who has read the novel, I can say that that level of brutality is definitely evident, and as you're reading a novel about a sadistic misogynist, it kind of is justified. Now, I haven't seen the film, so I can't say whether or not the violence is excessive or not, but I will say that this reaction brings up and old argument about violence in film. Namely, is it better to show violence as ugly, brutal and upsetting as it is in real life? Or is the sanitized violence that we usually see, namely violence we're supposed to be thrilled and titillated by, okay?

think it depends on the audience the film is aiming for. With a film like The Killer Inside Me, the aim is obviously at adults, and adults can make up their own minds about what is to their taste or not. If you don't like violence, a movie about delving into the mind of a killer probably isn't for you, and you've got no one to blame but yourself, in my opinion.

You're the Tops...

Well, it's been confirmed. Avatar is now the number one top-grossing film of all time, having taken in more bucks than Cameron's previous mega-hit, Titanic. Avatar's world-wide gross is $1.859 billion, while Titanic's stands at $1.843 billion. That's more money than the debt of some nations on this planet. I'm not sure a movie should be able to make that much money without having to drop some of those profits into health care or poverty or anti-crime efforts or something. Seriously. Movie studios and James Cameron shouldn't just be able to keep all that shit, should they? A billion dollars. A billion. It kind of staggers the mind, doesn't it?

Before anyone gets all weepy (again) for their favourite boat-sinking epic, it's still the top-grossing movie in America, where it grossed $600.8 million to Avatar's $554.9. And Titanic did it in 1997 dollars. Hollar.

But some pundits are talking about what this really means when you simply compare dollar amounts. Take Gone With the Wind. In terms of dollar amount, it was surpassed as the top grosser a long-ass time ago. But adjusted for inflation? No one comes close. Level the playing field in terms of inflation, and Avatar goes waaaaaaaaaaaaay down on the list of domestic gross. Like 26th. The number one domestic champ? Gone With the Wind, whose adjusted gross is $1,507,252,900. That's right, it made the equivalent of $1.5 billion in 1939.

1939. They had the Great Depression and the start of WWII to worry about, so why pretty much everyone in the U.S. decided to go see a movie about a racist spoiled sociopath who chooses to fall in love with an effeminate wussinstead of the sexiest man in the south is beyond me. But everyone did. Apparently two or three times. This movie ran in theatres for years. That's not a typo. Years. So, when we talk about sheer number of tickets sold, Avatar is not even close to this juggernaut. When we talk about blockbusters, does anything else come close?
Well, Star Wars might. It brings up another point I'd like to make. Cost vs. Gross. See, Star Wars cost around $12 million dollars to make, and it grossed $435 million bucks. On the adjusted list, it's at number two, by the way. When studio execs are looking at successes, the fact that your film cost little and grossed huge is a big deal. But it can't cost too little, of course, otherwise the top directors would all be former low-budget horror directors. Horror is genre king of movies costing eight dollars to make and grossing millions. Case in point, Paranormal Activity. But studio execs seem to still regard horror as the basement. A profitable basement, but still. But does having a wide profit margin mean anything?

Avatar is reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget rumoured to be north of $300 million. Holy. Shit. Titanic held the previous record with a budget somewhere around $200 million. Those kind of budgets should be the exception, not the rule. yeah, Cameron can't seem to make a cheap movie, unless you count those undersea documentaries he's obsessed with. As he only makes a movie once every decade or so, I guess it's okay that he spends a lot, but I wouldn't want Hollywood to make a habit. More money rarely equals a great final result, and it means a much larger risk.

So, what do you think? Is Avatar truly the tops? Or is it just the latest member of an exclusive club?

Monday, January 25, 2010

RIP - Jean Simmons

Legendary Hollywood actress Jean Simmons passed away over the weekend. She was 80 years old.

The British expat and star of such films as Guys & Dolls, Elmer Gantry and Spartacus was one of the leading stars in film in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, even as many believe that Hollywood never fully took advantage of her incredible talent.

She first rose to prominence in Britain when she played Estella in David Lean's 1946 adaptation of Great Expectations. Her performance in that film brought her to the attention of both Laurence Olivier and the directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They both wanted her for their next films, and worked out a way to share her services, allowing Simmons to appear in both Black Narcissus and Olivier's legendary film version of Hamlet as Ophelia. Her interpretation of Ophelia brought her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

Her amazing success of course brought her to Hollywood, and she was soon under contract to Howard Hughes, who wanted her services for altogether seedier reasons. Simmons, who was married to actor Stewart Granger at the time, would not come across, and Hughes retaliated by refusing to loan her out for William Wyler's Roman Holiday, for which she was first choice. After refusing to re-sign with Hughes' RKO Studios, Simmons would be further punished, when he resolved to put her in nothing but lousy films until her contract expired. she never signed with another studio.

While she worked steadily in films throughout the early and mid 1950s, and frequently received accolades for her stellar work, choice roles for women were difficult to get in those times. She appeared in a number of high-profile films such as The Robe, and she was in the classic Guys & Dolls, opposite Marlon Brando.

It wasn't until 1960's Spartacus that she had a role that allowed he to be more than simply support for the leading man. However, her subtle, heartfelt work was somewhat lost among the all-star cast of show-stealers.

1960 was an especially good year for Simmons, both personally and professionally. She also co-starred in another classic film, Elmer Gantry, opposite Burt Lancaster. The film was directed by Richard Brooks, with whom Simmons fell in love. Her marriage to Granger, already under strain, ended in light of her love affair with Brooks. She and Brooks son wed, and stayed together for 17 years.

The sixties ended well for Simmons, with her winning the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a housewife running away from a failing marriage in The Happy Ending. But, like many actresses of her generation, the 1970s did not go so well, as she entered middle age and found roles harder to attain. She returned to the stage and found success on television, notably in The Thorn Birds, for which she won an Emmy.

The 1980s began badly, with a stint in rehab for alcoholism, but she was public about her troubles, hoping to help other women come forward with their addictions and seek help. She continued to work, almost exclusively in television. Ms. Simmons is survived by her two daughters and a grandson.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

RIP - Robert B. Parker

Yesterday, popular and acclaimed mystery writer Robert B. Parker passed away at his writing desk in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was 77 years old.

Parker first gained fame in 1973 when he published his first novel The Godwulf Manuscript, which featured the gourmet cooking, ex-boxing, literary and sport loving Boston private detective referred to only by his last name; Spenser. The book did well, and Spenser was an indelible figure, a classic wise-cracking private eye with with a world weary demeanor and a code of nobility. More Spenser novels followed, with the character fast becoming the heir to Philip Marlowe.

In the 1985 a Spenser TV series debuted, starring Robert Urich as the detective and shot in and around Boston. Though Spenser: For Hire was well received, Parker was disappointed with the final product (though he championed the performances of the cast), and ABC was unhappy with the high cost of the series. It was cancelled in 1988. A spin off series called A Man Called Hawk, focusing on Avery Brooks' hitman Hawk, only lasted one season. There would be a series of TV Movies made in the 1990's based on the novels featuring Urich and Brooks in their Spenser: For Hire roles. Starting in 1999 A&E produced a series of TV Movies based on several Spenser novels featuring Joe Mantegna as the detective , which were marginally well-received.

Meanwhile, the intensely prolific Parker continued publishing Spenser novels almost annually, although his incredible work ethic allowed him to publish over works as well. In 1989 the Raymond Chandler estate authorized Parker to complete Chandler's last unfinished Philip Marlowe novel, Poodle Springs, and in 1991 he published his sequel to the classic novel The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream.

In the late 1990s, during an incredibly productive period, Parker added to his stable of recurring characters by beginning his series of novels featuring small town police chief Jesse Stone, and another series featuring female PI Sunny Randall. Both have attained their own measure of popularity, with the Stone series being adapted for a series of TV Movies starring Tom Selleck. He also wrote short stories, essays and articles and non-fiction, as well as switching genres to the Western and creating yet another series of novels, these featuring gunslingers for hire Everett Hitch and Virgil Cole. The first novel, Appaloosa, was adapted to a feature film directed by Ed Harris.

Over time, Parker became most acclaimed for the complexity he brought to the private eye genre, namely for his ability to create and examine male to male relationships such as Spenser and Hawk or Hitch and Cole. The Spenser novels were also lauded for their depiction of a meaningful long-term relationship between Spenser and Susan Silverman, one that has suffered estrangements and deepened over time, without resorting to the cliche of marriage.

I grew up on the Spenser novels (of which there were 38 published by the time of his death), and they were absolutely a massive influence on me as a reader. Parker and Chandler led to my life-long love of pulp fiction and film noir. Parker was a machine of a writer, churning out enjoyable, if somewhat turgid, mystery novels that anyone could read and enjoy, with characters that had an undeniable reality. It's fitting he died at his desk, because that's how he would have wanted to go; with his boots on.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why Ricky Gervias Killed Last Night

Okay, apparently, there are people out there who hated Ricky Gervais as host of last night's Golden Globes. Mostly the more established writers at such papers as the NY Times, the La Times, the Chicago Sun-Times; basically any paper having anything temporal in its name.

used such lovely words as "profane" "tame" and "unfunny". They talked about how the audience at the ceremony didn't find him funny either.

thought he was hilarious. And to my eyes and ears, so did the crowd. Sure, he wasn't laugh a minute, but he did exactly what they hired him to do; be unpredictable and unbridled in who he went after. When he was hired, it was after several award show appearances where he popped off shots at the very celebrities who were being feted. That's what they wanted, and last night, that's what he gave them.

Here's some truly hilarious examples:

One thing that can’t be bought is a Golden Globe. Officially. (Big, shocked laugh from the audience) I’m not going to do this again, anyway.

I like a drink as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Mel Gibson.

We (he and Paul McCartney) actually came over on the same flight. I didn't get to speak to him because I was up the front in first class. He was behind me in coach. Saving money. He spent an awful lot last year (After a few scattered boosto the divorce reference). I don't think we have to feel too sorry for him. He's doing alright.

It's an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet – actors. They're just better than ordinary people, aren't they?

One stereotype I hate is that all Irishmen are just drunk, swearing hell raisers. Please welcome Colin Farrell.

To which Farrell ruefully replied onstage:

Oh, I once was a cliche. I heard Ricky had specifically asked to introduce me and I thought, "Oh, balls".

As for the rest of the night, it was sort of dull, with a shortage of exciting moments. We did have some fun train wrecks through (Harrison Ford looking like he just downed some ludes for most of the evening; Drew Barrymore's stream of consciousness acceptance speech; and what the fuck was wrong with the usually uber-pro Felicity Huffman? How drunk could she be that early in the night?)

There were some highlights though. Scorsese's tribute was nice, and De Niro was extremely funny. McCartney nailed his joke of saying animated films were for "kids and drug-taking adults", The standing O's for Sophia Loren and Jeff Bridges were sweet, and Robert Downey Jr. should give every acceptance speech this year:

If you start playing violins, I will tear this joint apart…I would like to thank Susan Downey, for telling me Matt Damon was going to win so don't bother to prepare a speech.

Look for a video of the rest of that speech. Classic.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tobey and Sam Swing Off

It's being reported all over the place that plans for Spider-Man 4 , starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, have been scrapped, with Marvel and Sony favouring rebooting the franchise entirely with a new headlining team.

the official reason for the change has yet to be revealed, it's widely known that pre-production on the fourth film was not going well, with the film's release date being delayed most recently, allowing Thor to slide into its early May date. The reason for the delay was widely attributed to a conflict between the studio and Raimi over the bad guy for the film. The studio was uneasy with Raimi's choice of the Vulture, mainly because it was an old guy in a flying suit, which they didn't see as exciting enough. The studio wanted to insert the Black Cat, an antagonist/ally/love interest for Spidey. Raimi was resistant, recalling what happened the last time he was forced to insert a villain he didn't care for (coughVenomcough).

Raimi and Maguire (and, one assumes, the rest of the established cast) out, Sony and Marvel plan to reboot the franchise to a storyline that sees Peter Parker in his teens once more, returning the Spider-Man world to its roots.

I don't know if I'm excited or disappointed by this news, honestly. I never really thought Maguire totally clicked as Spidey. Don't get me wrong, he worked really well as Peter Parker, the mope who can't win, but Spidey should be Peter's unleashed id, and I never got the joyous, hilarious wise-ass motormouth that Spider-Man should be. As for Raimi, him I'll miss. His take was reliably realistic, but it still felt fantastic. Arguably, we wouldn't have any of today's super-hero films without the success of his vision of Spider-Man. Yeah, Spider-Man 3 was not good, but you could tangibly feel the studio interference on that one as much as you could feel some of Raimi's goofy predilections overwhelming the flick. It sounds like he recognized that mistake, and wasn't willing to let this film fall into the same trap.

to see what will happen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Leno Could Be Some Sort of Demon

Jesus Christ, does Jay Leno have photos of Jeff Zucker with a dead hooker? I mean, seriously, how much can one man fuck a network over before you realize whatever ratings he gives you aren't worth it?

I'm not going to recap too much of the back story here, because we all know what's been going on, but let's take a look at how this move to Leno in prime-time five nights a week has cost NBC:

  • They lost the 10pm drama slot, once a staple for their more innovative, challenging and successful shows. Want examples? How about ER? How about Law & Order? How about Hill Street Blues or LA Law?

  • They screwed over a show with the potential to become one of the hits listed above; Southland. The hard-hitting cop show was produced by John Wells, the guy who produced ER and The West Wing.

  • It completely undermined both Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show brand. Look, Tonight is THE late night show. It's the peak, the tops. How could Conan look like the King when the previous King is his lead-in. And you don't endanger The Tonight Show. You just don't do it. Don't make it look small. Steve Allen started that show. Jack Paar worked there. It was Carson's home. Whoever you install in that chair should be your late-night guy. He should get all your attention. The last thing you do is make him look like he's wearing Dad's suit by putting his predecessor on right ahead of him.

  • Finally, NBC fucked their affiliates. They use the 10pm slot as lead-in for 11pm local news. Well, with people switching off Leno in droves, the affiliates were losing pretty much all their viewers. It got so bad that a number of affiliates finally threatened a revolt. They threatened to drop Leno, or even NBC.

Look, if you've got a bad show on one night, then people won't watch that night. If you have a bad show on five nights a frickin' week, then you've really got a problem. But NBC stuck with him, which made them look completely insane.

The solution is to cancel the show and get the best stuff you got on in its place. But NBC chooses to move Leno to 11:35, bump The Tonight Show from it's slot (for the first time in decades!), putting Conan at midnight, and put Fallon at the ungodly hour of 1:30 or something.

Is Conan not pulling in the ratings he should? Possibly, but he might have done better without competition on his own network.


Stuart Townsend is Unfathomable

I seriously cannot fathom Stuart Townsend. He had been cast as Fandral, the good looking buddy of Thor in the anticipated adaptation of the Marvel comic due next summer. However, it has just been reported that he had left the film over "creative differences".

nless you are a huge Anne Rice fan, Townsend is probably best known as "that guy that gets to fuck Charlize Theron", which quite frankly, is not the worst title to go by.

Seriously, dude, don't rub it in.

But, there is another story he's famous for. Or rather infamous. See, he was also the first actor to be cast as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. So the story goes, Peter Jackson realized he had cast the role too young and had to recast, choosing the singularly awesome Viggo. It's important to recognize that either Jackson is telling the truth, or he's following the old Hollywood tradition of being very polite and discreet when you replace actors and Townsend wound up being awful. Either way, no one really talks about it, which is odd 'cause those Hobbits are mouthy, and they're everywhere. Seriously they're like squirrels.

But that's neither here nor there. The important thing, it seems to me, is that if you're Townsend, and you got cast in another big blockbuster after that, wouldn't you do pretty much anything to hang onto it? Seriously. "Creative differences"? If you start arguing with Ken Branagh over the direction he's taking with your character, I think Charlize needs to smack you in the peenie and remind you the name of the flick is Thor, not Fandral, and maybe you should shut the eff up, Aragorn.

. Anyway, lucky fucking break for Joshua Dallas, right?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The End of an Era

Before I begin, I'm going to drop a great big SPOILER Warning for pretty much everything that follows. If you haven't seen the final Doctor Who special featuring David Tennant, you've been warned.

So, January 2nd brought the Canadian showing of The End of Time Part 2, the final special to feature David Tennant in the title role of Doctor Who. It also marks the final story to feature Russell T Davies as show runner and Julie Gardner as executive producer, the two people most responsible for the Doctor's 21st century return and the tone, direction and style of the series.

It must be said that the final part of The End of Time greatly improved on the first, which seemed padded, rushed and generally sloppy. The return of the Master was done in a way to greatly reduce his air of menace in favour of out of place super-powers. The main threat was ill-defined and seemed a nuisance compared to the wonderfully written and played scenes of melancholy between the Doctor and Wilf, whose relationship was the best thing about either part of the special.

Thankfully Part 2 rectifies all the earlier mistakes by toning down the Master and tightening up the plot. Honestly, this whole thing probably would have worked much better as a one-parter, but what are you gonna do?

The return of the Time Lords was well done, I thought. Over the years, some fans have complained about the depiction of the Time Lords, as they seem to lose more and more of their awesome omnipotence with each appearance. Here, they returned to their height, seeming to have become almost god-like. Their corrupt and morally bankrupt behaviour may seem at odds with the Doctor's grief-stricken recollections from earlier seasons, but it's clear that living at war has pushed this always ethically shaky society over the line.

So there our hero stood, faced with the knowledge of his impending demise, facing off against his entire race and his greatest enemy, confronted with a difficult moral choice. Just where we love to see him. and he wins, but is then faced with an even harder dilemma. Does he choose to live, or will he give up his own life to save another, less significant person? Of course he chooses to save Wilf, even if he does have a brief moment of anguish. He's the Doctor. It's that love of the unnoticed, the little guy, that makes him a great character, but it's Tennant's depiction of the struggle that makes it brilliant through both parts of the special.

We're then taken on a trip through this Doctor's past that is as much for us than for him. It's great to see all the past companions, particularly Rose and Donna, and it's a nice idea. I thought he should have been exhibiting some signs of his impending death here, he looked like nothing was wrong with him until the very end; some signs of pain would have been nice.

Then he struggles back to the TARDIS, his real home, for his final moments. He sets the ship in flight, and looks mournfully around him one last time before quietly saying, "I don't want to go." It was heartbreaking, and he might as well be speaking for the audience here.

And then the process begins, revealing Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. And he looks encouraging. He's kooky, energetic, manic and fun, everything the Doctor should be. Will he be able to take hold of the role as Tennant did? Will Steven Moffat take hold of the show and craft as successful a run as Davies did?

Time will tell.

Fire the Wave Motion Gun!

Hello geeks, Happy New Year! we're back online with a very cool news item I recently found while trying to find uplifting stories to ease my sorrow over David Tennant's recent Doctor Who departure (more on that later).

Remember way back when I talked about genre properties that should be adapted by Hollywood? Well, you might recall that one of those properties was an anime series from the 1970s called Starblazers / Space Battleship Yamato.

Well, a teaser trailer has surfaced online for the soon to be released Japanese live action film, and it looks pretty damn kick-ass.

The thing to remember is that this series was massive in Japan back in the day. In fact, after the first season of the series was such a hit, they produced a 90 minute animated film that was released in Japanese theatres. It made more money there than Star Wars. Let that one sink in. Then again, they're also fans of this:

Right. Still, here's the teaser, and while I cannot understand it, it looks pretty kick ass: