Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Adaptations, Updates, and Just Plain Acts of Desperation

The new Live Free or Die Hard comes out today, 12 years after our last outing with John McClane. Critics have been unable to resist comparing this oddly timed update of the Die Hard franchise with the recent return of Rocky Balboa (17 years after Rocky 5) and the upcoming (ultra-bloody) return of John Rambo (almost 20 years after Rambo 3). Now, if we could just get Commando 2, Delta Force 3, and Red Dawn 2, we could call this a real ‘80s action reunion!

But seriously, the studios have been quite unabashed recently in digging back into their winning franchises of the past. Examples of this include the Charlie’s Angels duology, the Mummy duology, Superman Returns, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, all of the recent John Carpenter remakes, Will Smith’s upcoming I am Legend, Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor, Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard, the upcoming updates of Clash of the Titans, Escape from New York, Transformers, GI Joe, and He-Man, and many, many more. This coming fall on TV, we will see souped up reincarnations of the Bionic Woman and Flash Gordon.

I have commented a lot lately on Hollywood’s inclination to mine the past, whether it be adapting works from novels, short stories, comic books, amusement park rides, or video games to the screen, reviving existing silver screen franchises, or just plain pillaging the vaults of the great films of the past. In other businesses, this is called harnessing your core competencies or getting behind a tried and true product. It works for Coca Cola and Cadillac and General Mills. In the entertainment industry, however, it just signals a gross shortage of original ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong: not all of these have been bad. Some may have even outdone their predecessors. Peter Jackson’s King Kong, for instance, paid respectful homage to the original but breathed new post-modern life into it technically, dramatically, and artistically. It will not be hard to outdo the laughable production value or the rickety stop-motion creatures of the original Clash of the Titans. I predict that Will Smith will easily outperform Charlton Heston’s Omega Man, which strayed far from its own source material and drowned itself in ‘60s psychadelia and religio-phobic social commentary. Indeed, great movies can come from this revival of past material.

Nevertheless, some attempts have just been plain shameful. The John Carpenter remakes, for example, have basically proceeded in this fashion: “Remember that Carpenter flick. That movie rocked! But just imagine if they did the same movie with new CGI. Hey, wait a minute… What if we did the same movie just with new CGI?! Oh, man, this is going to make a fortune. Hand me that original script and I’m just going to add in more violence and more chances to show off those digital effects.” Other attempts, like the Charlie’s Angels movies, have taken this tack: “Remember that good old TV series about those hot chicks who solved crimes for that old guy they never saw. That was so funny but also so hip, what with all the girl power messaging and retro fashions. I bet that would have some good audience recognition value. But, man, no one would ever want to see a movie about three women who were just plain detectives. I mean, how could we ever do any ridiculously distracting, unbelievably choreographed visual tricks and fight sequences with such a boring bunch of characters… Wait a minute! A lightbulb just came on! Why don’t we call it ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ but then insert three totally different girls, ditsy girls with inexplicable kung fu skills, heavy weaponry experience, and a massive wardrobe. They’ll still talk to that old guy through the radio but that’s about it. When we aren’t thrilling the audience with wire-fu acrobatics, we’ll keep them hooked by blasting pop tunes and making fun of the original series. Oh, that’s ironic and sassy. Audiences love ironic and sassy. It’s genius!”

So what’s the deal with Hollywood? Why are they unable (or unwilling) to create original characters and stories for film and TV? Obviously, they want something with a proven track record and a fan base. I get that. But shouldn’t they also be seeking to create the next great franchise, the next Star Wars, the next Matrix, the next Die Hard? The truth is simple: adaptations and updates = low risk investment; completely original = high risk investment. That’s why the studios reserve their gambles on original content for low budget comedies and dramas. Yes, my friends, the accountants are holding the staff of power here. Unfortunately, these accountants have no eye for a good investment or a bad investment, only for high or low risk. And that’s no way to invest in any business.

So, at this rate it seems that great original blockbusters will be a once-in-a-decade phenomenon. Expect to see every TV show, movie, book, video game, consumer packaged good, or song you ever even thought might make a decent film make it to the big or small screen. And expect those movies you love today to be recycled as many times as they possibly can to turn a profit. Some will be good; some will be desperate, blood-sucking pieces of no-good commercial trash.

So, is there any hope for great original blockbusters in the near future? Is Hollywood so caught up in risk and marketability that a glimpse of one of these might be as rare as a sasquatch sighting? Should I just be happy with those great adaptations and updates that come our way- just put up or shut up? Chime in and throw in your two cents!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Superhero Overload?

Since the box office success of the first X-Men movie back in 2000 (which was in turn made possible by The Matrix), we have been treated to an unparalleled smorgasbord of superhero cinema. Like most smorgasbords, some offerings have been incredible, some have been mere filler, and some have made us want to run to the restroom to relieve ourselves of their weight. With Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight slated for next summer, more helpings are on the way. One of my fellow Extralife Forum-ites recently posted the following gripe:

“Ok, we get it. You can shoot a movie about a comic book hero and make almost a billion dollars. Now stop. In the past decade, there have been TWO "good" superhero movies, and only one I enjoyed (Batman Begins). Everything else is complete crap that is obviously a marketing decision rather than an artistic choice.”

Now, you must realize, I have been a comic book fan since I was old enough to read. Throughout the eighties and nineties, I endured through the obvious disparity between the rich, utter coolness of the comic books and their embarrassingly campy TV and movie counterparts. Then, finally, after keeping the faith, we came to a window in history where unprecedented interest in comic book material converged with advances in special effects. Finally, superhero movies could be produced that actually did justice to their source material from both a F/X standpoint and a dramatic standpoint.

Since 2000, there have been some bombs (i.e. Punisher, Elektra, Catwoman). There has been a lot of filler (i.e. Daredevil, X3, Spiderman 3, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fantastic Four). These have had some great moments in and of themselves; more importantly, though, they have advanced filmmakers’ superhero instincts, helped them to see what works and what doesn’t. For instance, it’s obvious that filmmakers are moving away from mindless action and explosions and delving instead into their characters core struggles; dramatic substance is moving up the priority list.

Most importantly, this rush to produce superhero films has given birth to arguably the greatest films of the genre, films that not only master the source material, but also the medium. I speak of films like Spiderman 2, Batman Begins, Hellboy, and even X-Men 2 that have been successful critically, commercially, and in regards to their contribution to their source material. I would argue that these films would not have been possible without the other lukewarm eighty percent of superhero films, that it was the trial and error- the synergies of all of these projects, if you will- that created the right environment for these films to be produced so well.

So, with so many superhero films in theaters and on the way are we suffering from superhero overload? No. I think we could stand to do away with some crap (Please don’t ever allow another Zoom: Academy for Superheroes to ever be made… e-v-e-r). But for the most part, superhero fans are finally getting what we have waited for. We are seeing justice done to our most beloved characters. True, we have to expect that not every filmmaker will get it right. But with each Ghostrider and every overly metaphysical outing with the Hulk, Hollywood gets better at bringing our heroes to life. Suffering through these experiments is worth it when we get to see Batman or Spidey done right.

Stop making superhero films? Not on your life. Bring them on, I say!

What do you say? Too many superhero movies got you crying, “UNCLE”? Or are you loving this downpour of super-movies? Chime in and put in your two cents!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why Ratatouille will be the best movie of the summer

At risk of sounding overly simplistic, I want to predict that Pixar’s Ratatouille (coming to theaters this Friday, June 22) will be the best movie of the summer simply because it is a Pixar movie. Okay, not just because it’s a Pixar film. It’s helmed by Incredibles director Brad Bird. Now that pretty much seals the deal. You see, in my thirty years of being a film nut, I have learned that, almost without exception, actors will let you down, special effects studios will disappoint, and screenwriters can be pretty inconsistent. But you follow directors, and you can be pretty sure of what you’ll get. Take, for instance, Brad Bird: directed the underrated Iron Giant and then (que fanfare…) directed The Incredibles, one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.

I became an instant fan after stumbling out of the theater, mumbling, “That was the freakin’ awesomest movie ever.” Or so my wife says. I can’t be sure, my mind was blown. The movie was an astounding technical achievement, a touchingly believable family story, and a rocking, high-octane action trip. All of that wrapped into a PG-rated “kids” movie. Basically, I went home and made a secret oath to Mr. Bird: “Brad Bird, I will follow you to any movie theater. If you make a movie about talking pretzel crumbs who inhabit a truck driver’s seat cushion, I will be there. If you make a movie about grass growing, I’ll be there.” Suffice it to say, Brad Bird propelled himself to the pantheon of great directors in my book, to sit alongside the likes of Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

Is it any wonder then that I am so quick to bestow the title of best summer film on his next release, without even having seen it? Maybe. Call it faith. Call it some kind of connection to the way the man thinks. If you’ve seen his featurettes on the Incredibles DVD, you get a feeling for the way he takes a story and characters, breaks them down, understands them, puts them together, and fine tunes them into one hotrod of a story. He is a disciplined, empathetic storyteller, first and foremost, unlike so many of the other animators inhabiting the marketplace today who are mere vendors of cheap, loud, and quick gags and clichéd characters. Because of that discipline, that attention to the process, Brad Bird cannot create the same kind of crap that recently washed up on shore. He is simply above it.

A look at Ratatouille’s trailers shows only more of the same original, rich, envelope-pushing magic from Mr. Bird. I love the fact that he didn’t go for another slam-bang action story but that he has chosen instead to turn his disciplined eye on a smaller tale about rats and fine cuisine. It assures that his attention is on what matters- the story and the characters-, not on delivering a bigger explosion or a more eye-popping special effect. That’s not to say that Ratatouille will be without Bird’s inventive action scenes; in fact, early reviews report that it has plenty of awe- and laughter-inducing action. It’s only to say that Bird will deliver on all fronts.

Does that seem like too simplistic a way to evaluate movies, especially before they’re released? Not in this case. There are very few filmmakers nowadays in whom we can rely for a winner every time; I believe that Brad Bird is one of those.

Do you think that Ratatouille will be the summer’s best film? Can we tell without even having seen it? Have you also taken the Brad Bird oath (please tell me I’m not alone)? Throw in your two cents!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Long Live Sci-Fi!!!

Fellow sci-fi lovers, ALERT!!! According to one apparently high-brow writer, Bill Gibron, we don’t really love sci-fi- we love actioners, dramas, thrillers merely posing as science fiction. True, intellectually stimulating, speculative science fiction is all but extinct, according to Gibron. I quote:

“There are several villains in this creative cabal, elements and individuals that want to see the motion picture category cater to fanboys, geeks, and the easily entertained. But it seems a real shame that the one literary ideal best suited for the most visual of all mediums is constantly countermanded by issues that have nothing to do with either artforms’ visionary nature… Instead of reaching for intelligence and stretching the boundaries of imagination, it [sci-fi film] decides to take hoary old clichés, lots of narrative formula, and one man’s [George Lucas’] F/X laced legacy, and completely rewrite the rules of acceptability. Where once the speculative spectacle questioned the existence of man within the cosmos, today it’s all Westerns with robots.”

Gibron defines “serious” science fiction thus: “Serious science fiction questions and speculates…” (for his full text, click here)

Which causes me to ask, “Are our current science fiction pictures void of that questioning, speculative spirit? Are they all robots, mutants, spaceships, and big guns with no scientific backbone?” I would state that speculation and questioning have never been more present in sci-fi films than they are now. Despite the obvious pulp posers, sci-fi films have not ceased to explore, to envision, and to question our world. In any great science fiction work, going back to H.G Wells and Jules Verne, speculation has never taken precedence over story and character. Regardless of genre, story and character drive any great film, not mere visionary ideas. Moreover, spectacle is the instrument of speculation in science fiction- it always has been, from Metropolis to The Matrix.

I take some great examples of this from Gibron’s list of the last surviving sci-fi movies. 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the film paragon of science fiction, was a wonderful display of mind-blowing ideas. However, the engine that kept that story moving was essentially a thriller template. That engine allowed the audience to stick around long enough to enjoy the meatier speculation taking place. Did this diminish 2001’s “serious” sci-fi status? No, it propelled it to the upper echelons of both film and sci-fi. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a story of a midlife crisis and discovery; one might even label it escapist. Was it lacking in spectacle, just OMG moments of pure awe? Certainly not. The Mothership (as long as we’re discrediting F/X) blew every young child’s mind and had us watching the skies for years to come, questioning and wondering. As in 2001, the story, characters, and the spectacle drove us forward to those visionary moments.

Without spectacle and human characters and stories, the audience is alienated. And it’s not because we are afflicted by some mass plague of ADHD. It’s because we demand a human connection with our films; we want our sci-fi to show us something un-thought of, unseen. Think, for instance, of the beginning sequence of 2001, with the ape-men and the flying bones. Even to this day, as a mature appreciator of film, I have a hard time digesting that scene. It’s not until we get to that core conflict of Dave and HAL that I become invested enough in the movie to care about the other ideas. The Matrix, on the other hand, has me by the throat from the get-go because it hits us right away with a critical human conflict, a lone female freedom fighter running from the Man. Kung-fu, F/X, and some of the biggest shootouts we’ve ever seen don’t detract us from its incredibly transcending themes- they illuminate and enhance them.

I believe that these same principles live in other films and TV shows that did not make Gibron’s list. I believe that true sci-fi is not dead. Serenity’s premise of the origin of the Reapers was as speculative and searching as any great sci-fi. Minority Report’s questions regarding intrusion of justice into privacy (as well as its myriad of tiny speculations on marketing, identity issues, and manufacturing) are the stuff of the best sci-fi. Terminator 2 raised important questions regarding artificial intelligence and artificial ethics. And let us not forget that subtly sci-fi treat which is Lost, especially with its recent launch into space-time issues created by the Island’s unique magnetic properties. Even the recent flood of zombie films and literature are speculative science fiction at heart.

Yes, true science fiction lives. As in any time, we have our films that are merely gratuitous (I’ll be the first to denounce Aliens vs. Predator as true sci-fi). The genre will continue to evolve, to absorb properties of other genres, and to produce its winners and losers. But that quality will always be present in a great many of them either explicitly or implicitly. Long live science fiction!

I recommend reading Gibron’s article and then tell us what you think. Do you side with Gibron? Is science fiction on its deathbed? Or does it continue to thrive? What movies or TV shows (if any) carry on the sci-fi legacy?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Top 5 New Occupations for Reed Richards

In preparation for the release of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I will be highlighting a member of the team every day this week. Today’s FF spotlight is on Reed Richards.

I’ve never liked Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic). I say it without reservation. Think about it: out of all of the Marvel headliners, Reed Richards, because of his “super” power, is the dorkiest-looking character. The forever gray temples don’t help. I mean, look at the Thing- big, covered with rock, virtually unstoppable, bad to the bone. Sue Storm Richards: hot as all get out, pretty decent superpower (for a female character), looks great in a blue FF uniform. Johnny Storm: turns into living white-hot flame, flies, shoots jets of flame, has cool catch phrase, bad to the bone.

But then you have Reed: old guy, skinny, can stretch his body in cartoony ways (like Plastic Man), pretty much the smartest guy on the planet. Super-smart, I can work with that. But stretchy powers equals weak, vulnerable, maybe good for itching that one spot right between the shoulder blades, and visually comedic. Honestly, I can’t see a picture of the FF together without humming the song, “One of these kids is doing his own thing…” It’s like, “Hmmm. He’s bad, she’s hot, he’s bad… WHOA! Who let that Looney Tune in here?” Even the movie-version has not been able to escape this (Ex: Reed using his powers to grab another roll of TP, Reed stretching his neck out ET-style as he proposes to Jessica Alba).

Therefore, I am recommending that Reed find another occupation and stop embarrassing his family with his goofy-looking self. My Top Five New Occupations for Reed Richards are:

5. Holiday Inn Maid – Think of all the rooms he could clean at one time with his ability to stretch up to 1500 feet. And with his ability to narrow his body (narrow enough to fit through the eye of a needle) he could really get at those hard-to-scrub areas. Heck, he could even double as a plumber. Of course, he would need to use his super-intelligence to learn a second language.

4. UFC Grappler – Look out, Sean Sherk! Here comes Reed “The Rubber Band” Richards. Eye-gouging? Not a problem. Reed can bounce bullets back and contain explosions. With his elastic appendages, Reed could administer, or break, the meanest holds with ease. Let them laugh at his Looney Tunes-like appearance; they would soon feel the sting of this “Rubber Band.”

3. “Just For Men” Haircolor Model – So Reed has had gray temples for the last 46 years. That certainly makes him someone the “graying hair” community can relate to. The commercials would go something like this: “My teammates used to leave me out when they went to clubs or showdowns with supervillains. I just looked too old, they said. My wife used to leave me like every five years and sneak around with Namor. Then I decided to give Just For Men haircoloring a try.” This could be a great opportunity for Reed to improve his marketability and get Sue hooked for once.

2. Jim Carrey’s Understudy – If he’s gonna look goofy, why not make some dough off of it? And my number one new occupation for Reed Richards is…

1. New Microsoft CEO – He’s applied his genius to fending off alien invasions, nefarious plots by Dr. Doom, and even crossed the threshold of Heaven itself. But can he help Microsoft create a product that actually makes things easier. Now there's a challenge worthy of this super-prodigy mental faculties. Reed, I recommend that you take the current management, lock them in the Negative Zone, and hire a bunch of Apple programmers.

Hope no one out there is a big Reed Richards fan! You gotta love that wacky guy.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Is Stan still the Man?

The headline caught my attention: “STAN LEE SIGNS DEAL WITH DISNEY.” After all, this is Stan Lee, father of Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk, and countless other iconic Marvel comic superheroes. Superheroes, I should mention, that have ultimately defined modern comics and summer blockbusters, making a lot of sweet moola in the process. Indeed, aside from Bob Kane, Joe Shuster, and Jerry Siegel, nobody has left their footprint on the superhero world like Stan Lee. But then I wonder, If Stan’s most notable characters are owned by Marvel and the media companies, what is he bringing to Disney (I’m also asking, Disney, of all places?). So, by this point very curious, I read the article (see link below).

Turns out Stan won’t be bringing any of his Marvel characters to Disney, but a bunch of new characters he has been concocting at his company Pow! Entertainment. Obviously, Disney is trying to compensate for the foolish mistake they made when they let billion-dollar money machine Spiderman go to Sony Pictures, or blockbusting X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises to Fox, or even the Hulk to Universal. A little slow on the uptake (“Hey, maybe there is something to this comic-book-superhero-movie thing?”), Disney is willing to settle for characters that have not been tested and, therefore, have no core fan base. They’re probably saying something like, “Well, they’re superheroes, aren’t they? Made by that same Stanley guy, right? Well, just throw ‘em out there. The money will come rolling in, right?” Wrong, Disney.

Not all of Marvel’s superheroes have turned into successful franchises. Even those with sizeable fan bases (i.e. Daredevil, Captain America, Punisher), have had a tough go at it. Those that have been successful had a few ingredients in common: massive (and I mean, massive) fan bases, competent directors who respected the material and the fans, and a genuinely solid end product, from script to acting to FX to marketing. Apparently, when it comes to superhero films, fans fuel the movie; the larger majority will buy in if it has the best quality. So, this then begs the question: will Stan’s relatively obscure characters make bank without the necessary fan base?

I stopped by Stan’s Pow! Entertainment website to check out some of his new characters. One character is a warrior with a Cable-like cybernetic arm from the future named “The Drifter.” Another called “Stripperella” (“stripper by night, superhero by later at night”) will probably not make the Disney cut but already has her own show on Spike TV. One superhero named Lightspeed, an agent with superpowers, apparently has a Sci-Fi Channel movie in development. I recommend going to the Pow! website to take a look at some of the others. Most of them are still in development and don’t have much information provided.

If you couldn’t tell, I am skeptical that these characters will reap any real rewards for Disney. I doubt they will result in anything more than a few straight-to-DVD features or Sci-Fi miniseries, maybe a Disney Channel original movie. You’ve gotta admire Stan’s creativity, the gifts he gave us in the X-Men, Hulk, and Spiderman. But let’s face it: these franchises have grown beyond him, fueled by a long legacy of gifted writers and artists and loyal fans. You can’t just toss a product into the market with the Stan Lee name on it and expect the same return. Not going to happen.

What do you think? Anyone think that this is just the most spectacularly brilliant strategy Disney has ever devised? How will Stan’s new characters fare in the marketplace? Chime in.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Coming Soon: The Glory Days or Gory Demise of '80s Cartoons?

First off, I want to thank everyone who has posted comments so far. Keep them coming! Now on to my rant...

It should be obvious to anyone that ‘80s cartoons are making a comeback in a big way. Everything from vinyl baseball caps with Autobot iron-on logos on teenagers who are way too young to remember to the recent CGI reincarnation of the ninja turtles. Yes, since the golden ‘80s, the faithful have grown up and kept the faith, hoarding action figures, creating comic books and TV series to keep their favorite cartoons in the collective consciousness. Recently, however, we have seen a surge in the hunger for our childhood heroes to return. Hollywood and the media machine have smelled that hunger and are licking their chops. What does this inevitable feeding frenzy bode for our favorite cartoon heroes?

Of course, most prominently, I am referring to the upcoming Transformers extravaganza from Spielberg and Michael Bay. I am also referring, though, to talk of upcoming live-action versions of GI Joe and He-Man (see links below). A while ago, there were even rumors of Voltron and the Smurfs making their big-screen debuts. Lesser known is the live-action Underdog feature releasing later this summer. ALERT!!! Hollywood has discovered the mythological, merchandising, and loyal fan base gold mine that is ‘80s cartoons!

Honestly, I am torn concerning this development. On one hand, I have been waiting to see big-screen, big budget treatments of these stories and characters since watching and playing with them as a child. I realize that only the big studios have the deep pockets to do justice to these characters. On the other hand, however, imagining the many ways in which the studios, in their paranoid scramble to make a movie that “everyone” can relate to, will completely desecrate my cherished childhood memories makes me cringe. Just seeing the Autobots mutated into a bunch of pimped out auto show entrants (Bumblebee as a muscle car?) worries me.

He-Man is a tragic example of this. On the eve of the Transformers' live-action debut, well do I remember what the Hollywood machine did to poor He-Man when they released Masters of the Universe. In an age when regular actors didn’t get buffed up, they picked Dolph Lundgren… DOLPH “IVAN DRAGO” LUNDGREN!!!... to play our beloved He-Man, complete with a very un-Eternia-ish Russian accent. That faithful Orko was nowhere to be seen, replaced by some dwarven wizard played by Billy Barty. Teela was nowhere near as hot as she was in the cartoon. To add insult to injury, a great deal of the story was taken away from He-Man’s crew and centered instead around a couple of angst-ridden earthling teenagers. Oh, the horror!

Note that this pattern has not seemed to affect cartoon incarnations of our favorite shows. For instance, the animated Transformers movie completely rocked. The animated GI Joe movie (released straight to video) also rocked. Where Hollywood has faltered, the true faithful at Cartoon Network and other great animation studios have kept the heart of our heroes alive.

At any rate, only time will tell how much of our beloved Transformers has survived when it releases July 4. I don’t think I can, now in my less tolerant, more crotchety stage, tolerate another Masters of the Universe. I love what I’ve seen so far of Transformers (except for those suspicious, angst-ridden teenagers… grrr). The most recent preview, I swear, was pulled straight from my wildest dreams. I hope they have respected the characters, honored the story, and picked the right players. If they can do for ‘80s cartoons what Jackson did for LOTR, they will have my loyalty. If they don’t, I’m afraid it will be war.

Which side do you fall on: optimistically hoping the studios will respect the territory or fearfully waiting for the inevitable sacrilege? Does anyone else out there remember the disgrace that was Masters of the Universe? Everybody weigh in! Let us know what you think!

Also, check out the links below to find out more about the upcoming He-Man and GI Joe films:


GI Joe:,,20014165,00.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

First Ocean's 13 Review

Although I've never been a big Ocean's fan, Steven Soderbergh' smooth, witty style is always a welcome break from the summer barrage of high intensity, high stakes, drama-heavy offerings. It's nice to go to a place where nothing of real importance is at stake every now and then. You've got to admire the Ocean's franchise, if only for its untouchable sense of cool.

At any rate, Variety has released the first review of Ocean's Thirteen and it sounds favorable. Click the following link to check out the review: // Variety puts out some good reviews, to the point and usually spot on.
Tell me what you think. Will 13 outdo 11? Who do you think is the coolest of the eminently cool Ocean's crew? Will this franchise ever over-cool its audience into a freeze?

Monday, June 4, 2007

On being unimpressed...

Call me picky. Heck, you can even call me high-minded, artsy, or overly critical when it comes to movies and TV. For some it's just entertainment. That's fine. For me, however, when you sink hundreds of millions of dollars into production and then hundreds of millions more into convincing the world that it will be worth it, make sure the movie you make is worth it, for pete sake! Way too many movies as of late fall far short of their expected return.

Although the majority of summer movies could fall into this sad category, I am speaking specifically of those two most recent megaliths: Spiderman 3 and Pirates 3. Their budgets eclipse those of the last Star Wars movies or Titanic, which, for its time, was borderline insane. Why is it that they can buy the most elaborate special effects sequences known to man in post-production but seem to skimp on the screenplay in pre-production? The result is like a body builder's muscles on a weak, brittle-boned skeleton.

Don't get me wrong- I ooh and aah at those mindblowing sequences that every now and then take us somewhere we haven't been before. Peter Jackson has a knack for conjuring those kinds of images. Spielberg does, too. The Wachowski's took a quantum leap with a single new shooting technique. These images summon those feelings of awe, dread, or glory that the best movies have always delivered. But it isn't the high-technology of the shot alone that conveys those feelings- in fact, it mostly isn't. The effects have to sit squarely on an awesome story. Honestly, the most expensive FX sequences have failed to deliver.

One glaring example of this was the crane disaster sequence in Spidey 3. It was bigger than any building rescue scene we've seen so far in the trilogy. The FX were more seamless than ever. Spidey had more obstacles to surmount. There were people screaming and webs slinging. So why did it feel so empty? Because it existed for its own sake.

What does this imply about the studios' opinion of their audience? I can picture those studio execs sitting in the screening room, chomping on the finest Cubans, saying, "Oh, yeah, the story! I heard those are good to have. But what I think people really want to see is bigger explosions, bigger dinosaurs, bigger tidal waves." That's when another exec guffaws, "People aren't patient enough for a story. Hurry throw another FX scene in there before they realize we don't have real characters!" Moviegoers want a longterm love affair with their movies; the studios are giving us one night stands. Dramatic drops in ticket sales after opening weekends indicate this.

So pardon me if I seem unimpressed. It's not just because I am becoming prematurely crotchety. Occasionally, movies do come along that still blow my mind. Return of the King blew my mind. Spiderman 2 took me for a ride. King Kong blew my mind. Some parts of War of the Worlds blew my mind. I have every finger crossed that Transformers blows my mind. Will I be disappointed? Only time will tell. Given Michael Bay's record for visuals and ADHD editing before story and characterization, I may need more fingers to cross. As far as satisfaction, I am betting on Pixar's Ratatouille to give me the most bang for my buck.

Calling all film and TV geeks, filmmakers, and fakers...

Around the world, after the late night show or matinee, groups of film-philes inevitably congregate in diners, fast-food joints, or cafes to re-experience, analyze, extrapolate, debate, and otherwise immerse themselves tirelessly in those collective communions we all know as moviegoing and TV-watching.

This blog is dedicated to those stalwart souls at that corner table at one o'clock in the morning, neglecting their Moons-Over-My-Hammy to defend Empire Strikes Back as the single greatest space fantasy movie ever... period.

It's dedicated to those troops slamming down another cup of joe to valiantly fend off suggestions that the Lost Island is actually purgatory.

It's dedicated to that brave upstart who dares challenge Citizen Kane's supposed title of best movie of all time.

Whether you are a fan, a critic, a filmmaker, or a faker, this table is reserved for you. Have a seat, order some dessert, and make yourself comfortable.

Seeing as we are already knee-deep in the '07 summer movie season, we have so much to discuss in so little time. So many so-called blockbusters to dissect and discredit ... or appreciate and laud (I do give props where props are due).

Coming tomorrow: an intense throwdown on the twin goliaths Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End and Spiderman 3 and prognostications on what the rest of the summer season will bring! (I predict a rat will outdo an army of two-story tall robots...)