Archive | April, 2009

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Russell Crowe As Ridley Scott’s ROBIN HOOD

Posted on 19 April 2009 by Rich Drees

russellcrowerobinhood1We’ll start off the week with the first look at Russell Crowe in director Ridley Scott’s upcoming Robin Hood film. Click on the image for an enlarged view of Crowe stalking through the woods of Sherwood Forest, getting ready to rob from the rich and all the rest.

I find producer Brian Grazer’s remarks in USA Today, where the picture appeared, a bit telling-

He doesn’t have the old Robin Hood tights. He’s got armor. He’s very medieval. He looks, if anything, more like he did in Gladiator than anything we’re used to seeing with Robin Hood.

To me thatsounds like the only other iteration of Robin Hood that Grazer is familiar with is the classic 1938 Errol Flynn version. And while that classic has influenced many Robin Hood projects over the years, not all of them have feature Merry Men in tights. One such alternate version, the 1991 Robin Hood which starred Patrick Bergin in the titular role, was a darker than usual take on the story, with an eye for historically accurate, 13th century, tights-less detail. Unfortunately, competition from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves forced the film to premier on cable here in teh United States, though it was released theatrically in Europe. Today, as evidenced by Graser’s remarks, it appears to be largely forgotten, which is a shame.

As for Crowe’s costume… Well, it looks good and appropriately period, but nothing that you wouldn’t see at a reasonably well done Renaissance Faire.

Robin Hood will be hitting theaters in 2010.

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Script Review: SOLOMON KANE

Posted on 19 April 2009 by Rich Z

Screenplay by Michael J. Bassett
Undated Draft

In 1928, a good five years before the first tales of a certain Cimmerian swordsman by the name of Conan saw print, the pulp magazine Weird Tales published a novelette by that character’s creator Robert E. Howard. Titled “Red Shadows,” it introduced the character of Solomon Kane, a Puritan swordsman from Devon, England who travelled the world of the sixteenth century fighting evil wherever he found it. As the world was still fairly unexplored at this time, the evil often took the supernatural form and Kane would find himself pitted against werewolves, witches, vampires, ghosts and even a Lovecraftian horror in one tale, making him one of, if not the first of, modern literature’s monster hunters. If one subscribes to the notion that all fictional characters reside in a shared universe (see Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s appendixes for a better example of this) than it can be honestly said that Solomon Kane was kicking vampire butt long before Abraham Van Helsing was even a glimmer in his father’s eye.

Howard wrote twelve stories and three poems about Solomon Kane before his untimely death in 1936, but even some of those, such as “The Castle Of The Devil” And “Children Of Asshur” are just (unfortunately) unfinished fragments. These stories were collected into three volumes by Centaur Press in the late 1960s and again, with the inclusion of two other fragment stories, by Del Rey Books in 2004. During the 1970s, Solomon Kane enjoyed an existence as a backup feature in Marvel Comics’ Savage Sword Of Conan magazine and even got his own mini-series, The Sword Of Solomon Kane, in 1985, as well as a few independent comic company one-shots in the ‘90s. Although creators John Ostrander and Tim Truman have (to the best of my knowledge) never stated so, Solomon Kane would appear to be a major influence on their comic character Grimjack.

For the most part though, Kane seemed to be fantasy literature’s forgotten son, a guilty pleasure known only to diehard Howard readers and fans of esoteric pulp fiction. Motion pictures, which flirted with his literary brother Conan in the early 1970s and fully embraced him in the two 1980s films, pretty much ignored Kane. Granted, a few films came close. The 1973 Hammer Studios film Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter came the closest with its depictions of a swashbuckling hero (Horst Janson) fighting vampires with swordplay in 17th century Europe, although Janson’s blonde, womanizing Kronos is a far cry from the dark-haired, Puritan Kane. A silhouetted figure resembling Kane is seen gunning down the two title characters in the 1975 film Vampyres, Daughters Of Dracula, but its presence is never explained (like a lot of things in that film). The 1985 Japanese anime Hero D- Vampire Hunter (released in the US in 1992 as Vampire Hunter D) featured a main character whose look – black clothing and cape, wide-brimmed hat and long black hair – was clearly influenced by Kane, although Hideyuki Kikuchi, author of the series of books upon which the movie and its sequel were based and a self-professed Hammer films fan has stated that his D is a combination of Captain Kronos and Christopher Lee’s version of Dracula and has yet to acknowledge Solomon Kane as a visual model for D.

More recent films such as Brotherhood Of The Wolf and the first Pirates Of The Caribbean featured settings and scenarios befitting a Solomon Kane tale but without the presence of said character. Finally, in the winter of 2001, a film version of Solomon Kane was announced by the producers of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The plot of this film would deal with Kane, a descendant of Conan, seeking revenge on a shape-changing sorcerer for the murder of his family in colonial America. While Howard made a passing reference to Kane once visiting the Virginia colonies and fighting Indians there in one of his stories, the idea of setting the film in Colonial America just seems like a lazy way to explain Kane being a Puritan (rather than doing some research on the Puritans in England instead) and the idea of the shape-changing sorcerer villain seems recycled from a Conan movie, much like the bland Kevin Sorbo vehicle Kull The Conqueror (also based on a Robert E. Howard character). Also, making the solitary wandering Kane a family man and a descendent of Conan shows an obvious unfamiliarity with the source material. Fortunately, and perhaps fueled by League’s dismal performance, this B-movie camp version never came into being, and it looked like Solomon Kane would be ignored by the motion picture industry for good.

But it was not to be, because in January 2008, production started on a Solomon Kane movie starring James Purefoy in the title role. The film’s script by Michael J. Bassett solves what could have been an obstacle in creating an original first story about this character by basically giving an origin story to a character who previously did not have one. Granted Howard’s stories and poems have made references to Kane’s past, including his birthplace in Devon, serving in the British Navy against the Spanish Armada, running afoul of the Spanish Inquisition and even a brief career as a pirate captain, but they never tell why he came to be the man who is in introduced in “Red Shadows”- a Puritan swordsman (itself something of a contradiction as Puritans are often thought of as pacifists, not expert fencers who are also handy with flintlock pistols) who staunchly protects the innocent and is the eternal foe of all unexplained and supernatural evils. Bassett’s script shows how Kane gets to be this heroic figure and why he does what he does.

The script begins with Kane as a captain in the British Navy, but something of a bloodthirsty aristocrat (“a murderous dandy” as the script puts it) who delights in battle, killing and the gaining of riches by looting. On a rescue mission against native warriors on the North African coast, Kane and his crew stumble upon a castle rumored to be teeming with treasure. Fighting his way in, Kane instead discovers a gateway to Hell, whose demons kill his men. The demon’s leader, called The Devil’s Reaper, tells Kane that it has come for his soul, which has been sentenced to Hell for the Englishman’s life of bloodshed and killing, especially the murder of his own brother, Marcus. It was the accidental murder of this arrogant and brutish older sibling, as well as a falling out with his father, that caused the young Kane to abandon a life in the priesthood and flee home to join the Navy.

Kane narrowly escapes the Reaper’s castle and returns to England where he renounces violence and spends a year in the sanctuary of a monastery. During this time, he covers himself with tattoos and scars of protective spells and researches numerous arcane and religious tomes, always fearing that the forces of hell are waiting to snatch him up. Worried that this darkness will consume him and his monks, the monastery’s abbot politely orders Kane to leave.

With nowhere to go, Kane wanders the English countryside, finding it rife with wandering brigands. After being attacked by some of these bandits, he is found and nursed back to health by the Crowthorns, a family of Puritans fleeing religious persecution by going to America. Kane agrees to accompany them to the coast, but says he will not sail with them for a new life in America as he needs to redeem his old life first.

Their journey becomes hindered by a landscape of pillaged villages, rampaging witches and an ever-growing, and now-organized, army of raiders. Inscribed with mystical insignias and almost demonic in nature, they are conquering everything in their path. Evil, forces seem to be growing stronger and are massing in the west under the leadership of the sorcerer Malachi and his general, The Overlord, a masked being displaying a supernatural control over his troops.

When the Crowthorns are murdered and the daughter, Meredith, is captured by the raiders, Kane’s old person re-emerges and he slays the attackers. Vowing to her dying father to rescue Meredith, as that act may redeem his soul, Kane sets out into a haunted countryside of mad priests, ghouls and more demonic raiders. At some point, he is erroneously told that Meredith is dead and falls into a depressed drinking binge in a raider-occupied village. Kane is captured in this state and is crucified (!) before the villagers. He survives the ordeal, however, aided by the appearance of Meredith in the village, and is now gifted with the ability to see demons in disguise. This comes in handy when he is rescued and healed by a group of rebels.

Aided by the rebels, Kane makes a climactic raid on his ancestral home of Axmuth Castle, the center of the raiders power and the prison of Meredith. Here, Kane must face not only Malachi and the Overlord, but deep secrets from his past and the return of the Reaper, whom Malachi has summoned to drag Kane to Hell.

I’ve often said when asked what a proper Solomon Kane movie should be like that it should pretty much be a Hammer film with a lot of action. Bassett’s script does just that, although it adds the influence of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The journey of Kane and the Crowthorns through the haunted English countryside reminded me very much of the journey of Max Von Sydow and the traveling actors through plague-ravaged Sweden. The mentions of bodies hanging from trees, old ruins and druidic circles also recalls some of the scenes of a young Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) trekking through the harsh wintery countryside in The Man Who Laughs. These are rather arty touches to a film that could have easily gone the route of a run-of-the-mill sword and sorcery flick.

The Hammer Studios influence cane be seen in later scenes involving a fight with villagers-turned-ghouls in a church’s catacombs, another with raiders in a moonlit graveyard and, of course, the tavern scene (a staple of Hammer films). I’m not sure if he’s dead or not, but it would be fun to see Ferdy Mayne as an innkeeper here.

Some people have grumbled on the internet about Kane not being portrayed as a Puritan. To that, all I can say is that while he’s not shown as being a Puritan at the start of the film, he is given Puritan garb by Meredith Crowthorn and his changed outlook on good and evil doesn’t exactly show that he isn’t a Puritan by the film’s end. Others may balk at Kane gaining the ability to see demons, something not in the original Howard stories, but I think this an acceptable “tweaking” of the character that is somewhat reminiscent of an ability possessed by the monster hunter class of characters in the World of Darkness role-playing games. So it makes sense that Kane, a monster hunter, would have this power. As he even tells Meredith at one point, “There are evil creatures walking this earth, Meredith. They bring such pain and suffering and there was never a man who could fight them. But I can. I can. It is my gift and I will hunt them down and send each and everyone back to hell.” That speech, for me, is very true to the nature of Howard’s creation.

Finally, some fans may complain that the film doesn’t adapt anything from Howard’s stories, especially Kane’s mystical cat-headed staff and the African witch doctor who gave it to him, N’Longa. To that, I have to say that most of the stories are pretty short and would need a lot of padding and tweaking to become feature length film material. Sure, I’d love to see film versions of “Red Shadows,” “The Hills Of The Dead” and maybe even a finished version of “The Castle Of The Devil” and “Children Of Asshur,” but that’s what sequels are for. And if this ultimately faithful script is followed closely than hopefully that’s what fans can expect and get.

Note: Rich Zeszotarski would like to thank Bret Blevins and Michael W. Kaluta whose conversations concerning Solomon Kane have certainly “fanned the flames” of his fervor for this character. Also, big thanks to Rich Drees, who knows what a huge fan Rich is and nudged him into reading this script even though he was afraid it would be crap.

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Marilyn Chambers, Porn’s First Superstar, Has Died

Posted on 13 April 2009 by Rich Drees

marilynchambersMarilyn Chambers, star of the 1972 groundbreaking porno film Behind The Green Door, was found dead in her home in Canyon Country in northern Los Angeles County on Sunday, April 12, 2009. She was 56.

A struggling model/actress, with only a bit role in the Barbara Streisand film The Owl And The Pussycat (1970) to her credit, Chambers almost walked out of her audition for Behind The Green Door once she learned that the film was to be a porno. However, directors Artie and Jim Mitchell, noticing Chambers’s resemblance to actress Cybill Shepherd, convinced her star in their film, even granting her request for a $25,000 salary and a percentage of the film’s gross receipts. It was only after the film was completed did Chambers reveal to the brothers that she had a fairly visible public image as the box model for Ivory Snow. Capitalizing on that, the Mitchell brothers were able to secure a larger than normal distribution for their film by billing Chambers as the “99 and 44/100 per cent pure” girl.

Because of its promotion, Behind The Green Door would become of the first of several films that led the short-lived “porno chic” movement. Along with such films as Deep Throat and The Devil In Miss Jones, Behind The Green Door briefly made it fashionable for people to openly go to porn theaters and discuss the movies they saw there not just on a prurient level but as film. Writers such as Roger Ebert and publications such as the New Yorker magazine covered these films. Behind The Green Door even entered the mainstream public conciousness to the point where they would be referenced in jokes in the films Kentucky Fried Movie and Cannonball Run.

Chambers continued to work in porn, long after the porn chic boom went bust. Her fame helped land her the lead in an early David Cronenberg film- 1977’s Rabid. However,she would fail to find work with the major Hollywood studios, who were afraid of any controversy that could erupt from casting her in a mainstream film. More recently, Chambers has found work in a handful of small, independent pictures including Stash and Solitaire.

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Happy 15th Birthday Turner Classic Movies!

Posted on 13 April 2009 by Rich Drees

tcmpromofront

Fifteen years ago today, April 14, Turner Classic Movies went on the air, with host Robert Osborne introducing their very first movie to screen- Gone With The Wind. An appropriate choice, not only for its status as one of the greatest classics in the MGM library which is the source for most of the channel’s programming, but for the fact that the channel is based in Atlanta, along with owner Ted Turner’s other cable operations.

Over the past decade and a half, TCM has not only continued to present a wide variety of classics and not-so-classics from Hollywood’s century of output, but has also helped to finance film restoration projects and produced many hours of documentaries chronicling film history. The channel has not only enthusiastically shared much of Hollywood’s rich history with viewers, but has helped to preserve it as well.

To celebrate here, I thought I would share a scan of a card that I found in a film book that I purchased back right before the channel was due to launch. If you click on the reverse of the card below, you’ll be able to read what the channel was promising to deliver. And unlike much advertising, TCM really did come through with what it promised.

Here’s a toast to the last 15 years and best wishes for the next 15 years. And the 15 years after that. And then the next 15 years…

tcmpromoback

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STARLOG Magazine: RIP

Posted on 13 April 2009 by Rich Drees

starlog1 Starlog Magazine is dead.

The long time mainstay of media genre reportage, Starlog magazine announcedlate last week that it was ceasing its print publication to concentrate on being just an online news source. The announcement came as part of a news release that Starlog was relaunching their website.

It is also at this time that we announce the temporary cessation of the current run of STARLOG as a print magazine. After 33 years, and considering the present state of the economy, we feel its time for a major revamp and will be temporarily discontinuing publication while the model and redesign of the magazine are contemplated and executed. The last print issue available for the time being is #374, while issue #375 will be available exclusively as a digital edition on the network in the very near future.

Although unfortunate, it should really come as no big surprise that the magazine is folding its print incarnation.  The twin gut punches of the internet and the current economic crisis have KO’ed numerous newspapers and periodicals already. Many more are paring back their newsrooms, letting reporters go and refocusing their remaining staff to lower cost online efforts. Although Starlog had continued to carry more in-depth coverage of films than any online site, the immediacy of the web has long since undercut the magazine as a primary source of news for genre fans. Times have certainly changed since the magazine’s early days when it was the first non-industry trade publication to report on a little film that George Lucas was working on called Star Wars.

Although I have given up reading Starlogon anything close to a regular basis years ago, I am still a little sorry to see the print edition disappear. Much like a young generation of future filmmakers and film fans grew up on Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, I’d like to think that a subsequent generation did the same with Starlog. I know it was a steady part of my literary diet for the better part of ten years- from junior high all the way through college. It was the 1980s and it was a golden time for genre cinema. The Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek franchises were in high gear. Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers were all stalking their victims. James Cameron hammered out three classics- Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss – and John Carpenter graced us with The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, Big Trouble In Little China and They Live. It was the decade that gave us Dune, Repo Man, Gremlins, Goonies, Explorers, Monster Squad, Return To Oz, Tim Burton’s Batman, Little Shop Of Horrors, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, Highlander, The Bride and many others.

And Starlog covered everyone of them with the dedication and professionalism that Time or Newsweekwould devote to politics or the economy. Although other magazines would try, I really don’t think that any of them came close to matching what Starlog delivered. (Sci-Fi Universe would come the closest in the mid-90s, but only for its first few years of publication before its fiery and irreverent style started to get watered down following it being sold to some big media company.)starlog86

It was in the pages of Starlog #86 that I would discover what would go on to be one of all time favorite films. That issues cover blurbed that Buckaroo Banzai was “More Savage Than Doc Savage!” Well, as a teen just going in the summer between his freshman and sophomore year of high school who was just discovering pulp hero Doc Savage via a large stack of his 1970s reprinted adventures on a shelf in a musty second-hand bookstore, these were intriguing words to say the least. The story inside was one of the first of several features that Starlog would run up to the film’s release that fall, but I was hooked from that first article and couldn’t wait for the film to hit the local multiplex. When it di, I was there that first Saturday afternoon. Next to me was Sheri- my first girlfriend and we were on our first date. Although my romance with Sheri sadly went the way of a majority of high school romances, my love for The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai: Across The 8th Dimension never did. And it was that love for the movie that got me writing; first some fiction for a few fanzines, though that would ultimately lead me to investigate journalism as a possible carreer choice. How many others out there have had the course of their lives in some way directly or indirectly determined by what they read between Starlog‘s covers? 

Starlog Magazine is dead. Long Live Starlog!

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Happy Passover and Easter!

Posted on 10 April 2009 by Rich Drees

Celebrate the season!Just like to take a moment to wish everyone celebrating a holiday this weekend that, no matter what you are celebrating and how you are celebrating it, it is a happy and a holy one. We’ll see you on Monday with more news and reviews.

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New Releases: April 10

Posted on 10 April 2009 by William Gatevackes

hannah-montana-movie-poster1. Hannah Montana: The Movie (Walt Disney, 3,118 Theaters, 102 Minutes, Rated G): The last time the words “Hannah” and “Montana” were on a movie released in theaters, the film in question Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour, rocketed to number one and raked in a bunch of dough.

So, that means this movie, which is more movie musical than concert film, will do just as well, right?

Maybe, maybe not. The demographic this film is shooting for left the recent Jonas Brothers film out to dry. And Miley Cyrus has had a flare up of controversy or two in the mean time. It does have the lead in theaters, but faces stiff competition.

What’s the film about? Something about Miley having to face a decision about whether or not she can continue being Hannah Montana. Yeah, I know.

observe-and-report-movie-poster-12. Observe and Report (Warner Brothers, 2,727 Theaters, 86 Minutes, Rated R); Paul Blart, Mall Cop was a surprise box office smash earlier this year, and Hollywood being what it is, they rushed out a quickie sequel. I guess Kevin James was busy, so they got Seth Rogen to replace him as Blart. And Anna Faris is replacing Jayma Mays as the romantic lead.

The plot invol…um, what? What is that? You’re saying that this is NOT a sequel to Paul Blart, Mall Cop? That this was another loser security guard who lives with his mother and is awkward with women who must rise above his station to solve a crime at the mall he is sworn to protect? All the while finding love with a cute mall employee? Seriously?

Yes, this very similar film was in production the same time as Paul Blart, Mall Cop, but that film beat it into theaters. Who would of thought that one mall security guard comedies could be green lit, let alone two? The former was a success, will this one follow suit?

dragonball-evolution-poster_350x5213. Dragonball Evolution (Fox, 2181 Theaters, 84 Minutes, Rated PG): With all the cartoons, video games, toys and card games around the Dragonball Empire, it was only a matter of time before we came up with a live action movie. The wonder is that it took so long.

If you happen to be one who don’t know Dragonball from Dodgeball, the series revolves around a young man who must fight against enormous odds to gather seven “balls” of immense power before an evil warlord does it first. And, of course, the fate of the world is at stake.

I haven’t seen much advertising for this film, so I wonder if it will have much drawing power outside of the anime/gamer set.

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Trailer: Mike Judge’s EXTRACT

Posted on 08 April 2009 by Rich Drees

Mike JudgeWhen director Mike Judge’s sophomore film Idiocracy was unceremoniously dumped into a small handful of theaters the fall of 2006, the director was so disgusted by his treatment at the hands of the studio, that he stated he wasn’t sure he wanted to direct another film.

The good news is that he apparently has had a change of heart, if the footage in the trailer below is any indication. Judge’s new film, Extract, sees him returning to the workplace, a location he successfully mined for laughs in his debut film Office Space. This time around Jason Bateman will be the office worker who finds his world spinning out of control. Joining him are Ben Affleck, . K. Simmons and Mila Kunis.

The bad news is that we will have to wait until September 4 for the film to hit theaters.

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RETURN OF THE JEDI Has Yet To Make Profit!?

Posted on 06 April 2009 by Rich Drees

davidprowseWho is even more evil than Darth Vader? Apparently the accountants at Lucasfilm, who have told the Dark Lord of the Sith that that he is not due any money as Return Of The Jedi has yet to turn a profit.

David Prowse, the six and a half foot tall actor who filled Vader’s foreboding black armor in the original Star Wars trilogy, stated in a recent interview that he has been told that he was not eligible for his contractual share of residuals from the film as it has still not made it into the black in its nearly-26 years of release.

I get these occasional letters from Lucasfilm saying that we regret to inform you that as Return of the Jedi has never gone into profit, we’ve got nothing to send you. Now here we’re talking about one of the biggest releases of all time… I don’t want to look like I’m bitching about it, but on the other hand, if there’s a pot of gold somewhere that I ought to be having a share of, I would like to see it.

Hard to believe that Jedi has not turned a profit, even though the film has brought in an estimated $572 million in worldwide ticket sales, including the $88 million it pulled at the box office during its last re-release in 1997. And that’s before home video sales, television deals and merchandising are factored into the total. Hard to believe, that is, if you are unfamiliar with the chicanery that Hollywood accountants routinely employ to avoid paying out monies to those who are rightfully owed a portion of a film’s profits. (Maybe it would have made more if this was the film Lucas had made.)

When columnist Art Buchwald brought a suit against Paramount over authorship of the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming To America and profits owed to Buchwald, the studio quickly settled out of court rather than have many of their accounting practices brought to light in such a public forum as a courtroom. But one of the most basic tactics that studio bean-counters use is to charge anything that they can towards the production costs of a film, even longer after the film has been released in theaters.

When writer J. Michael Straczynski signed a deal with Warner Brothers for his soon-to-be-cult classic Babylon 5, he only was offered a share of the show’s net profits. Despite bringing the show in under budget during all five years of its run and the subsequent DVD season sets have raked in around half a billion (that’s with a ‘b’) dollars, he still has not seen one dime.  “By the terms of the deal that was made, WB takes 60% of all monies in overhead, and can charge almost anything they want against profits,” Straczynski stated in a 2007 online post. “If a stage used on some other WB project being shot in Bolivia burns down, they can charge it against B5.”

Of course, none of these tricks serve much good if an actor or director has a percentage of the gross profits- the money that the studio makes before it starts applying any of their fancy accounting sleight of hand.

I have to wonder, though, given the history of this kind of accounting, can a claim be made that studios are not negotiating in good faith when they offer net points to talent as part of a contract? Because if they are negotiating in good faith but no film or television project ever turns a profit, how are the studios still in business? Or is this part of some bigger plan to get a giant government bailout?

Via SlashFilm.

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Review: PLAYING COLUMBINE

Posted on 06 April 2009 by Michael McGonigle

PlayingColumbinePosterA psychologist friend of mine once said to me, “How do I know why people do the crazy things they do?”  I try to remember that whenever something like Columbine goes down, because there is an immediate need in the media to find out what caused this to happen.

But remember, the list of causatives can’t be a long or complex one.  If you can list two or three things like say, Goth culture, Marilyn Manson’s music or computer games, the chances are, especially if the killers are kids themselves that they have a familiarity with at least one of these things, so ergo, ipso facto, that must be what made the killers do it.

It is amazing, but I still find myself reminding people of the simple principle that correlation is not causation.  Consider this, I bet the Columbine killers had coffee in the twenty-four hour period preceding the shootings.  Did coffee make them do it?  If they ate Pop Tarts, shouldn’t we just ban Pop Tarts; you know, to be on the safe side? I found myself thinking about this and many other things after watching the new documentary Playing Columbine which looks at the controversy surrounding a free Internet computer game called Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (henceforth Massacre) which was designed by a Colorado computer game enthusiast named Danny Ledonne.

Massacre was designed anonymously and put out for free on the web (which indicates to me that Mr. Ledonne was not looking for fame or money) and the only reason Danny Ledonne has come out into the spotlight to defend himself is because he was pushed there by many unsavory people trying to use the fake outrage surrounding his computer game to advance their own agendas. It is possible that Danny Ledonne was naïve and did not realize how much anger his game would cause and he didn’t do himself any favors by saying his only intention to raise awareness about issues surrounding the 1999 Columbine shootings because while that may have been true, it sounds like a hack justification. But once he was called to account, he patiently and painstakingly made every attempt to follow up on his intent to get people to talk about issues surrounding Columbine and other tragedies of a similar nature.

The film Playing Columbine was directed by Danny Ledonne and while he doesn’t show any especial talent as a filmmaker, he does present a more balanced view of this controversy than any of his critics would have if they had made a similar film.

PlayingColumbine1I can tell that Danny Ledonne comes from the world of computer games and not from cinema because his sense of filmic pacing is non-existent.  Playing Columbine moves with all the subtlety of a computer game. It is a relentless assault of talking head clips, rarely held for more than a few seconds intermixed with shots from newsreels, feature films, comedy shows and other pieces of found media and you are barely able to process what you have heard before you are off on another tangent. Take it from me Danny; a film made entirely from quickly paced sections does not yield a quickly paced film.

We hear a lot from people who design, play or study computer games and naturally, they don’t think that a mass murder on the level of Columbine is reducible to a single cause and we hear their various theories and thoughts and they are an impressive array of commentators.

On the negative side of the question, we have the usual suspects whose only concern is “saving the children” like Tim Winter, a spokesman from the Parents Television Council and from Jack Thompson, a Florida lawyer (recently disbarred) who has been fighting a pitched battle against the computer game industry for a very long time. I have no doubt that Jack Thompson feels slighted by the film Playing Columbine, but take it from me Jack, if your arguments come across as stupid and untenable, it’s because they are. Thompson’s arguments consist of loaded questions like (I’m paraphrasing) “Would you rather have your kids play violent video games for hours, or spend that time studying the Bible?”  This is like the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  No matter how you answer it, you are wrong.

Typical of a bone-head like Thompson that he doesn’t even consider that there are more things a parent can do with their children than either reading the Bible or playing computer games.  I don’t want to say Jack Thompson has delusions of grandeur, but at one point he does say that he is only trying to save Western Civilization. At another point, Jack Thompson says the computer game companies have posted death threats against him on various websites, yet he can’t show us a single example of one.  Then, Mr. Thompson fervently denies ever saying that several post-Columbine school shooters “were trained on Super Columbine Massacre RPG!”, but director Danny Ledonne then shows us actual clips from Fox News among other sources where Thompson says those exact words, yet he still denies it. Jack Thompson says he just wants to hold the computer game industry accountable for the psychological damage they cause and he compares his efforts to early activists who pressed the cigarette manufacturers to own up to their responsibilities.

OK Jack Thompson, how about this, you claim to be a born again Christian and that you are doing all this because it is your Biblical duty.  The weekend before the Columbine shooting, one of the killers, Dylan Klebold, went to the prom with one Robyn Anderson who has been described as a sweet and pretty girl who was like you, a solid, Jesus saved me Christian.  She also helped the Columbine killers acquire three of the four guns they used.  This is all on public record, if you don’t believe me, look it up yourself.

Are you willing to share responsibility for that?

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