Last week, producer Michael bay stirred up the internet equivalent of a hornets’ nest of trouble when he announced that the titular stars of a new film adaption of the classic 80s indie comic book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would not be mutants so much as they would be aliens. It is now look as if Bay has chopped another adjective off of the title as Bleeding Cool is reporting a rumor that the film may now be titled simply Ninja Turtles.
We haven’t been able to get a definite statement as to why this title change is occurring, and our sources are not 100% clear on whether or not the Turtles will indeed be adolescents. One of our sources has said: “It seems to be driven by marketing. Think of John Carter and how Disney wouldn’t allow for a title with either “Princess” or “Mars.”
Now I understand that the kneejerk reaction is to criticize such a move. I’m not even a fan of the franchise and it sounds pretty stupid to me. But this simply might be a way of testing the waters on certain potential elements of the film’s story. It has happened before and will happen again.
Or it could just be a way of stirring up interest in the project before even a frame of film has been shot. And considering that the most recent screen appearance by the Turtles was the poorly received 2007 computer animated TMNT, Bay and company certainly have a tough road ahead of them on that front. But is even negative publicity good publicity? Or is Bay being even more Machiavellian by floating some rumors about big changes in the film and then placates fans by saying that said changes will not happen after all. Considering that his films aren’t that complicated, I would doubt it.
Thanks to the various trailers for the upcoming Men In Black 3, most people should be aware that the threequel’s storyline will involve time travel. And what better way to help set the mood once Agent J (Will Smith) lands back in the early 1960s than with some retro-looking aliens. And that is exactly what creature designer and make up artist extraordinaire Rick Baker did as we can see from the photo below. While not all the aliens reflect that aesthetic, the big brained guys in the front certainly do. And is that hairy gentleman over to the right a subtle nod to the classic Robot Monster? I’d like to think so.
It has rapidly become an old joke that based on impressions from the trailers, any resemblance between the movie Battleship and the Hasbro board game that it supposedly based on is strictly coincidental. And while the film’s director Peter Berg won’t go quite that far, he rather refreshingly does admit that the links between it and the game are rather tenuous.
It certainly doesn’t have any direct correlation to the game. That being said, it was a lot of fun to try to find way to reference the game. If you look at the ordinance that the enemies use, it looks a bit like pegs. Both of our ships’ radar systems have trouble seeing each other, so they gotta try and predict where the enemy is so that they can go after them. And there were some other things that were kind of fun. They were certainly never mandated, but anybody that’s of a certain age that knows the game will look at it and probably kind of smile to themselves. I guess they could say, “This is preposterous!” and storm out of the theater. I don’t think they will, but hopefully they’ll say its kind of a clever reference to the game.
So basically, this could have been titled any old thing, Aliens Vs Navy perhaps, and the movie would have been exactly the same. But by using the pre-sold name Battleship the studio’s marketing department has half their work cut out for them. And that’s pretty damn cynical if you ask me. But it nice to see Berg acknowledge what everyone else has been observing. At least he isn’t treating us like the idiots that the executives who greenlight this film seem to think we are. And for that, I am fa more inclined to see this picture than any amount of advertising or attempts at playing off my feelings of nostalgia for playing the game as a kid ever could.
It is probably not much of a stretch to state that, even with writer/director Joss Whedon’s penchant for killing off fan-loved characters for the sake of amping up a story’s drama, none of the heroes of The Avengers are going to be sporting toe-tags by the time that the final credits role. However, where some of those characters who don’t have their own film franchises may be showing up next could be considered somewhat spoilerish by some, so if you don’t want to know who else besides Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark may be appearing in Iron Man 3, read no further.
As Iron Man 3 is gearing up to start production this May in Wilminton, South Carolina, they have already started to look around the area to hire folks for extras and small supporting roles and thanks to a casting announcement in Feature Film Casting, we know that there will be another Avenger in the film – Natasha Romanoff, akak The Black Widow, as played by Scarlett Johansson.
Considering that there has been some talk that Drew Pearce and director Shane Black’s screenplay next Iron Man film will have more of an espionage-orientated story, the inclusion of the sexy SHIELD agent does make sense.And it also helps the film straddle the line between being its own franchise and continuing to exist in the larger, interwoven tapestry of films that Marvel Studios has created.
The casting announcement also confirms that Gwyneth Paltrow is back as Pepper Potts and that Don Cheadle is returning Lt Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Interestingly, it states that Rhodey is not the military’s liaison to Stark Industries but that he is “Stark’s personal pilot, chief aviation engineer and one of Stark’s personal friends.” There’s no mention if Iron Man franchise launcher Jon Favreau will be back to play Tony Stark’s chauffeur Happy Hogan.
For years, fans of the Japanese film Battle Royale have been concerned that a Hollywood studio would remake the controversial film and in the process water down its powerful story of a government which forces children to fight to the death in an annual competition as a means of controlling the populace. Perhaps they can rest a little easier as Hollywood has just made a shallow film around that premise and it is called The Hunger Games.
I know that I am not the first to draw a parallel between Kinji Fukasaku‘s film (and the novel it was based on by Koushun Takami) and Suzanne Collin‘s trio of novels. And it is because of those reported similarities, which Collins denied previously knowledge of, that actually kept me from approaching the books. This leaves me in the position of being able to evaluate the film adaption on its merits as a film. And unfortunately, when held up against other films that tackle similar subject matter, it comes up rather lacking.
The time is somewhere in the future. North America is now the country of Panem and is divided into a number of Districts around a central Capitol. As punishment for an uprising against the Capitol three-quarters of a century earlier, all the Districts are annually required to send two “tributes,” a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in “the Hunger Games,” a battle to the death in a giant, miles-wide arena.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawerence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are this year’s tributes from the poor, coal-mining District 12. They are whisked away to the Capitol where citizens look like the refugees from a particularly badly designed Baz Luhrman film had babies with the cast-offs of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. There they are prepared for the Games by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) a designer who helps make them look presentable for the televised pageantry of the Games and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), an alcoholic, former Games winner assigned to train them for what is to come. But no amount of training prepares Katniss and Peeta for what will happen once they step forth into the arena and the Games begin.
If you think that this is a rather dark premise for a film based on a young adult novel, don’t worry. The movie tends to shy away from its horrific premise, pulling back from the violence and immorality of the situation. Where the Bourne films would use rapidly jerking camerawork as a means to place you in the intensity of their violent moments, it feels as if director Gary Ross is hiding this film’s violence behind shaky camerawork, attempting to somewhat obscure the cold brutality of what is happening. Additionally, outside of Katniss and Peets there are only two other game participants that get any amount of characterization at all with the rest just relegated to the status of glorified extras. As human props and cannon fodder for the plot, they don’t invoke any emotion when they are killed.
Does this sanitization suggest that the filmmakers hope audience will be as vacuous and as amoral thrill seekers as the residents of the Capital and we should enjoy the spectacle of the Games and ignore the deeper implications? I hope not, but the film’s lack of thematic depth seems to argue against me.
Thematically, the film is rather threadbare. The morality of “bread and circuses” is briefly, and fairly obviously, touched upon here, but quite frankly has been done better in a number of other treatments from Merian C. Cooper’s 1932 adaption of Richard Connell’s famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game” to an episode of the original Star Trek television series and the aforementioned Battle Royale. Now I am not arguing that the film should have been necessarily gorier. Cooper’s Most Dangerous Game is visually much tamer than this but still manages to have more to say than Hunger Games does. Ross has missed the opportunity to explore much of what the material suggests and instead just delivers more of a surface read of the premise.
Granted, the film does manage to at least echo some of the “99% versus the 1%” sentiment of the Occupy Movement, though considering that the source novel was published in 2009 that is probably more through happenstance than by intended design. And while a chance to critique reality television is also lost, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones as the unctuous hosts of the televised games deliver enjoyable performances.
The screenplay has a number of plot and character motivation problems that may or may not be explained in Collins’s novel – Besides continually living, what does the winner get? What possible penalties ensure that tributes actually try and play the game? How did Cinna know about the significance of Katniss’s pin? Are we to assume that the parachuted supplies are made possible by the “Sponsors” that were mentioned? Why was Haymitch such a lush? Was it due to what he saw when he participated in the Games or had he succumbed to the decadence of life in the Capitol? Do the citizens know how the officials manipulate the conditions of the game? Were those giant dogs holograms, real or some kind of Star Trek holodeck construct? Will the Boy Scouts sue for having their salute stolen for the film? Some of these questions may have been answered in more depth in the book, but for them to be shorthanded here is just sloppy filmmaking.
Additionally, I found it hard to connect to any of the characters in the film. Lawrence does an amazing job with the material given to her, more so than most anyone else appearing in other recent teen-lit film series. Especially effective were her scenes involving her acting as protector for her younger sister and the moments just before she enters into the Hunger Games arena. But I never found myself invested very much in her or any of the other characters’ plights. Granted, I am probably not the film’s core demographic, but that hasn’t stopped me from becoming invested in other films where I lie outside of the intended audience.
Ultimately, this film and the inevitable sequels are going to make sacks of money. I have to wonder if they will become classics rewatched and discussed for years to come or if they will just fade away like so many other brief but wildly popular pop culture fads. But I’m not sure that the odds will forever be in the franchise’s favor.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, he continues to wade through the muck that were comic book films in the 1980s by covering one of the worst—Howard the Duck.
George Lucas being involved with a comic book movie should have been solid gold. After all, he created Star Wars, the fundamental sci-fi event of a lifetime that changed many a comic book fans’ life forever. Also, he was a comic fan. If there was anyone in Hollywood who could do comic book films right, it would be him.
So when it was announced that he would be producing the Howard the Duck film, the first Marvel Comics film adaptation to hit the big screen, people were…well…cautiously optimistic. After all, he was only producing the film, not writing or directing it. And Howard the Duck was one tough comic book property to adapt.
It’s almost impossible to properly describe Howard the Duck, either the comic book or the character. At its best, the comic was a multilayered satire. And what I mean about multilayered is that Steve Gerber would poke fun at the comic book medium, the conventions that lied within, the acceptable methods of writing and story structure, politics and society in general. And this usually was done all in one scene. He pointed out the absurdity in all things yet didn’t invalidate anything. A person getting superpowers from a dying alien with a wish granting ring is just as silly as someone getting powers from a sentient and horny space turnip, but great stories could be obtained from both origins.
Gerber’s Howard was irascible. He was neurotic. He was sarcastic and constantly angry. He might have been a duck from another dimension mistakenly trapped in a world he didn’t make, but he was also a fully formed, complex character.
The tone and flavor of the book and character is hard to capture on film. The powers that be behind Howard the Duck didn’t even appear to try.
There is a quote on a number of sites from Gloria Katz, co-writer and another producer on the film, supposedly taken from bonus features of the recent DVD release of the film, where she says the following:
It’s a film about a duck from outer space… It’s not supposed to be an existential experience… We’re supposed to have fun with this concept, but for some reason reviewers weren’t able to get over that problem.
If you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, fast forward to about 4 minutes and 30 seconds on the following clip:
This is pretty much a loaded statement from the co-writer and producer of one of the worst films of all time, comic or otherwise. It is especially inflammatory to any fans of the comic book, because it can be interpreted any number of ways. I’m fairly sure Katz didn’t give as much thought to the statement as Howard fans have given to analyzing it, but maybe she should have.
Because it appears that she had no clue as to what made the character work, and wasn’t all that bothered by that fact. There are several statements on the bonus features of the DVD that kind of back this up. Director, co-writer and Katz’s husband, Williard Huyck makes casual mention that they tried to change the location of the film to Hawaii instead of Cleveland simply because they wanted to shoot there. The downtrodden reputation of Cleveland is an important part of the Howard mythos. Changing the setting to a tropical paradise is a BIG sign that Huyck and Katz missed the point.
There are other examples to back up what appears to be a cavalier attitude by Huyck and Katz—the film itself and their characterization of Howard. If they used the “duck out of water” plot point to satirized human behavior, the world of 1986, or filmmaking in general, it would have made a pretty good movie. All we got was a Z-grade sci-fi story with lame attempts at humor thrown in. And Huyck and Katz’s Howard might be angry and neurotic in the film, but he wasn’t acerbic and combative, he was a whiny complainer. It may be a subtle difference to some, but it essentially became a bastardization of Gerber’s awesome characterization.
All of this explains why the film was a bad adaptation of this particular comic book. It doesn’t really explain why it was a bad movie. And it was a very bad movie.
The film reads like an AM radio station that isn’t tuned correctly. There is something a bit off, something wrong in the translation. That is the main problem with the film. None of the characters speak like you or I speak. They don’t behave in a realistic fashion. Every scene is awkward because everything in it alienates the audience. The pacing is all wrong. Nothing truly takes the time it needs to develop. For instance, after only the second meeting does Beverly, played by Lea Thompson, hop into bed with Howard (Yes, I guess the 1980s were the decade of non-human comic book characters getting it on with hot actresses of the day. Sorry if you were born too late and missed it.) There was nothing in any of the scenes the characters shared prior that would indicate they were building towards that. The bedroom scene turns out to be a cocktease by Beverly, which also doesn’t ring true because there was nothing in the film that showed that Beverly was the type of person to do this. They were unwilling to devote the time to make that scene logical, yet we get a fifteen minute Ultralight aircraft chase towards the end of the film which goes on waaay too long.
Another problem was the overall tone. The film tried to be two things at once—a ribald, boundary pushing comedy and a safe and saccharine, kid-friendly flick. It succeeds at neither because the two goals are diametrically opposed. Seriously, if a film takes pride in showing us naked, female duck breasts on two occasions and a longish scene of Lea Thomson cavorting in her skivvies, yet has an angry trucker say something is “a load of bull-pucky,” you are losing both of the audiences you are trying to reach.
The cast is loaded with talent. Tim Robbins does the best by just playing up the absurdity of the role. Jeffrey Jones does well in his role as the possessed bad guy. But most of the cast struggle with the inane and unconvincing dialogue and lose.
Yeah, talking about this film over 25 years after it opened is a sign of some kind of mental instability. But the reason why it rankles me and other critics so much is the fact that it was such a huge missed opportunity. Howard the Duck, the comic book, was an absurdist gem that was the defining work of Steve Gerber’s career. Howard the Duck the movie was just absurd, only not in a good way.
The above quote from Katz also indicates a larger problem with the state of the comic book film in the 1980s. It portrays the general attitude of Hollywood that A)what they know is right and if people dislike what they do, it’s just that they don’t get it, and B) comic book properties are simplistic and are in no way the equal to what quality filmmakers do. This led to situations like Howard the Duck, where the creators of the film didn’t feel the need to understand the property more than the first line of the description of it; they were so talented that whatever they did to the original subject matter would be genius. This, in this case and many others, was wrong.
It’s fairly telling that the only other major motion picture Huyck and Katz worked on since Howard the Duck was 1994s Radioland Murders, also produced by George Lucas. While Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Robbins’ careers were not that adversely affected by the flop (Robbins even went on to win an Oscar), the people who were most responsible for the content up on screen essentially disappeared from sight. Yet, everyone else didn’t “get it.”
Next up, we dance with the devil in the pale moonlight as we take a look at the controversy surrounding the casting of Tim Burton’s Batman and how all of comic fandom was wrong.
1. The Hunger Games (Lionsgate, 4,137 Theaters, 142 Minutes, Rated PG-13): Harry Potter is gone, Twilight is on its last legs, and we are still looking for a literary adaptation to take their place. The Chronicles of Narnia series has been somewhat popular, but the cinematic battlefield is littered with high-priced kid-lit adaptations that failed to capture audiences’ attentions the way those two did. This week, another contender steps up to the plate.
The Hunger Games is an insanely popular book trilogy that has found a number of loyal fans who have apparently never read the Japanese novel Battle Royale. Because that novel bears an almost legally actionable similarity to The Hunger Games and it came out almost 9 years earlier.
But, regardless, derivative or not, people are expecting this film to be a Potter/Twilight level success. But it is a story about kids being forced to kill kids. That lacks the sense of awe and wonder the Potter series had (although this property has a similar “coochie-coochie-coo” naming system for its characters that Rowling employed for her books) and it misses the romance of the Twilight series, two things that brought the uninitated into those franchises. Also, it is one looong film. It’s budget is lower than John Carter, but I think it might just be as big a disappointment. I could be wrong.
Robert Fuest, the director behind such horror films as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) and the infamous The Devil’s Rain (1975), died yesterday. He was 84.
Fueled by the success of his two Dr Phibes films, Fuest was well on his way to a promising career as a horror director when it all became derailed by The Devil’s Rain. Filmed with an impressive cast that included William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, Eddie Albert and Ida Lupino and noted satanist Anton LeVey as a “technical advisor,” the film was nearly universally panned by critics. The New York Times’s Vincent Canby stated “The Devil’s Rain is ostensibly a horror film, but it barely manages to be a horror…It is as horrible as watching an egg fry.”
Although the film would later find a cult audience a decade later thanks to emergence of hoome video, Fuest would only make one more theatrical feature, the 1982 soft-core cheapie Aphrodite. Fuest played out the remainder of his short career directing a handful of made-for TV films such as Revenge Of The Stepford Wives and a couple of episodes of The New Avengers.
Although there doesn’t seem to be word of when production will start of Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho, it must be soon. Casting on the project has slipped into high gear with yesterday’s announcement of Jessica Biel taking on the role of Psycho actress Vera Miles. Today we have news of four more additions to the cast – Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Wincott.
The film will be telling the parallel stories of director Alfred Hitchcock’s struggle to bring Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho to the big screen and the story of mild-mannered serial killer Ed Gein, whose killings were Bloch’s inspiration for the book. Wincott has been cast to play Gein, joining the likes of Roberts Blossom, Steve Railsback, and Kane Hodder who have already played the role.
Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) has been set to play Hitchcock’s agent Lew Wasserman, who helps the director to convince the studio brass that Psycho will make a great movie. Collette will play Peggy Robertson, Hitchcock’s assistant and Huston will be Whitfield Cook, a friend of the director’s wife Alma. (Variety is noting that Huston’s participation may be dependent on his shooting schedule for the Starz series Magic City which was just renewed for a second season.
The film has already cast Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Psycho star Janet Leigh.
Jake Kasdan has stepped up to direct the comedy Sex Tape for Sony. The film is set to star Jason Segel and was going to be directed by Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets collaborator Nicholas Stoller but his deal with the studio never finalized.
According to the logline that was released when Kate Angelo’s script made the Black List last year -
When a married couple make a sex tape to spice up their relationship, it disappears, and they are frantic to get it back.
There is no word yet as to who play the other half of this couple, though the Hollywood Reporter has stated that Cameron Diaz has been mentioned as a possible co-star.
As a fan of Kasdan’s films, except Orange County which for some reason I was never able to connect with, this news makes me excited. I think his music biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is an underrated classic. His most recent film was Bad Teacher and since then he has been working away directing episodes of the sitcom The New Girl. I’ve heard some good things about the Sex Tape script so hopefully this will get off the ground soon.