Tim Robbins is returning to the director’s chair for the first time since 1999 to helm the thriller City Of Lies. Based on a short story by Arthur Phillips first read on This American Life in 2007, it deals with two Cold War spies on separate missions in Prague who fall in love.
Robbins will be working from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who originally landed on the 2009 Black List with it back when the project was originally titled Wenceslas Square. Previously Philip Noyce was attached to direct the picture.
It has been almost a decade-and-a-half since Robbins last directed a feature film – 1999’s Cradle Will Rock. Of his two other feature directorial efforts, drama Dead Man Walking is considered a classic and the political satire Bob Roberts is an under-appreciated gem.
Robbins has kept exercising his directorial muscles through the 2000s with the TV movie Possible Side Effects and two episodes of the HBO series Treme.
There’s no announced release date for the film, but in the meantime, you can hear Phillips read his short story on This American Life here.
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.
Green Lantern is a by-the-numbers, textbook comic book movie, and I don’t mean that as a complement. While it isn’t a bad movie, it lacks a definite wow factor, which, considering the concept, it should have in droves.
The film tells the story of Hal Jordan, who is summoned by a dying alien called Abin Sur. Sur was killed by the unbelievably powerful cosmic entity called Parallax, a being so powerful that it has killed a number of other members of the intergalactic police force Sur belonged to, the Green Lantern Corps, as well as the residents of at least two other planets. Hal is tapped to take over Sur’s replacement and is charged with stopping Parallax. Problem is, he doesn’t think he is the man for the job.
My main problem with the film is that it seems like in order to avoid going too “off the reservation” like Warners did with Catwoman and Jonah Hex, they decided to make a cookie cutter film made out of all the elements that make a great comic book film. It was like they were reading a list from a text book. Hero with daddy issues? Check. Villain with even bigger daddy issues? Check. Funny training sequences? Check. Quick glimpses of interesting looking CGI aliens? Check. Hard to please mentor who will turn evil? Check.
In and of itself, this isn’t bad–if presented with wit and with the mission to generate emotional resonance. Martin Campbell just slaps them up on screen, figuring that the audience will provide the emotional resonance for themselves. However, when what we see on screen is a flat simulation of similar scenes that were done better in other movies, it pales in comparison.
This is not to say that there are not good parts. The acting is solid from top to bottom, which is what you’d expect when you have actors the caliber of Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, and Jon Tenney in essentially cameo roles. The nods to the comic fans are nice, especially in the creativity of some of the constructs Hal makes. And the way they handle Hal’s secret identity amongst his circle of friends should get a chuckle or two. The plot does try to build a parallel between Hal and Hector Hammond, a Parallax infected Earth-based scientist (Peter Sarsgaard, who manages to be understated and chew scenery at the same time–not easy to do but he does it to great effect), which shows at least the attempt at depth.
But since there is nothing really to emotionally involve the viewer, the cracks in the firmament begin to show. The heel turn that Hector Hammond takes is not explained the way it should be. He starts good, gains powers, turns evil, but there’s no definitive inciting incident to explain the change.
And there are points where your attention will start to wander. Here are some points to consider while you wait for the action to pick back up. One, what happens to Hal’s car when he is shanghaied to Oa? Each time his car is left in an awkward location or a bad neighborhood. But it never seems to be much of a problem. Two, take special notice of Ryan Reynolds’ beard stubble. You’ll see a lot of it, including a lovingly-filmed slow motion shot of every whisker of Reynolds’ five o’clock shadow. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
While the film is good enough to be considered a triumph in comparisson to other, non-Christopher Nolan helmed DC films, it seems like the film missed out on a great opportunity by playing it safe.
Even though, optimistically, the issue probably won’t be on stands until tomorrow at the earliest, some subscribers to Entertainment Weekly received the previously mentioned Comic-Con issue today. I am one of those subscribers. And as a service to the FBOL readership, I have scanned some images of interest
Some points of note:
1. These are not high-quality scans. These are the best you can hope for with a scanner available to the general public scanning printed material. If you want better quality images, I strongly recommend that you go out and purchase the issue.
2. These images are trademark and copyright Entertainment Weekly and the originating studios. We here at FBOL do not own these images and would never claim to.
3. This is just a small sampling of the items inside the issue. They cover everything from Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch to Tron Legacy to Red. It’s recommended to all who are interested in these films and more of their ilk.
Now the images (Click on images for larger views):
The main article in the magazine is on Green Lantern. We get a peek of Blake Lively as Carol Ferris, Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond–both before and after transformation, Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller, and Tim Robbins as Senator Hammond. We even get a sneak peek at Abin Sur.
Next up is one image from Thor with Thor and Odin having a heart to heart:
Finally, a picture from Paul, where a scene actually takes place at Comic-Con. This image isn’t that scene, I would assume.
Tim Robbins has joined the cast of Warner Brothers upcoming comic book adaptation Green Lantern. He’ll be playing the role of Senator Hammond, the stern father of scientist Hector Hammond, who will be played by Peter Sargaard. A long time Green Lantern villain in the comics, Hector Hammond will gain powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities after he comes in contact with an alien cadaver and use them to wreck havoc, leaving it to Ryan Reynold’s titular superhero to stop him.
This will mark the second time that Robbins has made an appearance in a comic book adaptation. Previously, he was in 1986′s Howard The Duck, but the less said about that the better. Robbins was mooted at one point for a role in the upcoming Iron Man 2 as hero Tony Star’s (Robert Downey Jr.) father, but the part went to John Slattery.
Green Lantern starts shooting in New Orleans next month with Martin Campbell directing.
1. The Express (2,808 Theaters, Rated PG): You could probably make 4 or 5 movies based on the life of Ernie Davis. You could focus, like this one does, on the his battle with racism. You can do a movie based on his relationship with Jim Brown. You can build a story around his tragic death. All would make for interesting flicks.
But to many football fans whose knowledge doesn’t go back much farther than Tom Brady or Brett Farve–the kind of fan that thinks Barry Sanders is old school, Ernie Davis is a distant memory or an unknown cypher. Hopefully, this movie will go to remind America about the man.
Ernie Davis had the potential to be the best running back of all time. He played behind Jim Brown, a running back on the top of many fan’s “best of” lists, at Syracuse. He, like Brown, was set to play for the Cleveland Browns as a rookie when he developed leukemia. He passed away at the age of 23 without ever playing a professional game.
I don’t know how much of Davis’ life story will make it into this movie. Previews make it look like just his struggles with prejudice in the 1950s will be on screen. But his life is tragic and inspiring at the same time. It’s about time his story made it to the screen.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a trailer to embed here. But if you want to check it out, click here.
2. Body of Lies (2,710 Theaters, 128 Minutes, Rated R): Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott. How can you lose with that combo.
Well, it might lose because it is set smack dab in the war on terror in the Middle East. That topic has been the kiss of death for many a film in the last few years. And a couple of those films had pretty good casts as well.
Sure, the trailer makes it look like a battle of wits and wills between DiCaprio and Crowe, but the novel the movie is based on is about a CIA operative in Jordan tracking a high ranking terrorist leader. Could the producers have changed the plot? Sure. But how will audiences react if the film they are seeing is way different than what they thought they were getting.
This is similar territory to the recent Traitor, and that film didn’t set the world on fire. It will be interesting to see if this film has any better luck.
3. Quarantine (2,461 Theaters, 89 Minutes, Rated R): During the San Diego Comic-Con, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I stepped out into the main hall just as a line of people, there must have been a hundred of them, wearing haz-mat suits walked by.
I have to say, I was impressed (of course, I hadn’t seen the hundreds of “Sexy Jesuses” that did the same stunt earlier to promote Hamlet 2). I went over to one of the haz-mat people, who were handing out postcards. They were promoting this film. I thought that I might want to give it a shot.
That was, however, before I saw any trailers for the film. When I did, I found out that it was a clone of The Blair Witch Project by way of Cloverfield with vampires, apparently.
Could it still be a good movie? Yeah, I guess so. But I wish the movie was as inventive as their marketing (which really wasn’t that inventive, come to think about it).
4. City of Ember (2,022 Theaters, 95 Minutes, Rated PG): But at least Quarantine had at least some marketing. This film has been deadly silent. At least, I didn’t see anything for it. And you’d think if your movie was set to open in over 2,000 theaters, that they’d run an ad here or there.
Maybe the studio had a reason. This film comes from a line of children’s books. The bloom is off the rose when it comes to kid lit adaptations not named Harry Potter. Maybe the powers that be figured that spending money on advertising for a movie that was going to fail anyway was a waste of time.
Anyway, the story is about a magical city that is undergoing an energy crisis–it’s lights are going out, perhaps forever. Two teenagers go on a quest to find out the reason for the blackout and try to fix it before its too late.
If that synopsis doesn’t float your boat, then maybe the fact that Bill Murray and Tim Robbins star in it will. Any movie with both of them in it can’t be all bad.