Friday, October 13, 2006
Hey guys! Hope you're having a good beginning to your weekend. My initial plan with this blog was to do pieces on Fridays highlighting the new films entering theatres that day. Last week, I kinda did that with my Texas Chainsaw/ Departed thing. This week my choices were between The Grudge 2 (Which I said all I could about yesterday in my angry rant about insipid horror movies) and Man Of The Year, which features Robin Williams... Anyone who knows me well knows there are few things more irritating to me than a manic Robin Williams comedy. Drama, he's fine. But the majority of his comedy showcases (Mrs. Doubtfire notwithstanding) are icepick-through-the-eardrum awful. So, since I had nothing much to work with (Though I could bitch about Williams for 1000 words....), I'm instead gonna do a piece on a movie few of you are excited about and a character fewer still are familiar with.
I wanted to talk a little today about an icon of my childhood who will be coming to theatres next year in the sequel to the widely disliked Fantastic Four movie. The Silver Surfer (Pictured above) was a defining figure for me at the impressionable young age of 12, and I will be eagerly anticipating his arrival next summer.
But first, some background. Let's take a time machine back to the glorious year of 1992. Hurricane Andrew left 250,000 Florida residents homeless, young Amy Fisher pled guilty to attempted murder, allowing Joey Buttafuoco to run free, the Rodney King beating occured, which led to the controversial trial results that began the L.A. riots, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were engaged in a bitter court battle over Soon-Yi... Hmmm... Maybe it wasn't so great... Well, on the brighter side Wayne's World (my comedy bible) was released, The Cold War was declared over, rascally Bill Clinton won the presidency from reptilian Ross Perot, Johnny Carson gracefully retired from the late night game, and a young upstart named Paulie Shore stole our hearts in Encino Man ("The Weasel!!!"). At any rate, it was also the year that I discovered comic books (a discovery I'm sure my sister wishes hadn't occured...).
My good friend Dave and I became consumed with superhero comics that year, specifically those published by mighty imprint Marvel Comics. The two of us used to spend our weekends biking to the local corner store or drug store snatching up a couple comics for about $1.25 each (Oh, how old I sound, and how inflation has risen...). Dave had a quick affinity for Spider-Man (How could you not!), and set his sights on collecting as many adventures of the Webbed Avenger as possible. I found myself drawn to the hypnotic image of the Silver Surfer. Something about that shining figure against the blackness of space captured my imagination, and I was sold. From then on, Silver Surfer was my number one. As our collecting got more fanatical we'd get rides over to the local comic stores Airship Comics and The Comic Scene in search of cheap back issues. It's a memory I look back on fondly and the reason I feel personally invested in the upcoming film.
Silver Surfer's origin is a tad bizarre to those unfamiliar with comic-book lore. Silver Surfer began as Norrin Radd, native of the planet Zenn-La. He was in love with the lovely Shalla-Bal and living a peaceful existence... UNTIL (There's always an "until") a powerful being called Galactus came around. See, Galactus survives by "eating" planets, and ol' Zenn-La was lookin' mighty tasty. To save his planet Norrin agreed to become Galactus' herald, thus being transformed into the Surfer (And never to be with his beloved again!). The Surfer's job was to find less inhabited planets for Galactus to consume. Anyways, to make a long story short, Surfer came around Earth and was going to tell Galactus to chow down before the Fantastic Four changed his mind and he turned against his master. Despite fighting off the hungry dude and saving Earth, Surfer was stripped of his status and left to soar the skyways alone, in search of answers.
The above story is what we'll be seeing next July when Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is released. Now, many, many people disliked the original Fantastic Four. I was not one of them, but I understand their reasons. Many felt that, after the X-Men films, Spider-Man films and Batman films, Fantastic Four was too lightweight and fluffy. I hear y'all. Thing is, this is what I liked about the movie. It was bouncy, goofy, and just an all-around fun 100 mins. I thought the actors did a good job recreating the characters (Especially Michael Chiklis & Chris Evans). It was an enjoyable film, but by no means a classic. I'm afraid, however, that while the light-hearted approach worked out okay the first time around, it just won't cut the mustard when it comes to my buddy, the Surfer.
The Surfer is a tragic character, forced to give up everything he loves and holds dear. He isn't a snappy one-liner kinda guy. He's prone to long philosophical soliloquies pondering our and his existence. He's far more likely to have an intelligent conversation than kick ass. Sure, when he does go loco it's awesome, but it's also rare. Looking at the first FF film, I'm not 100% convinced these films are the perfect launching pad for his inevitable self-starring franchise. Director Tim Story better brush up on his filmmaking techniques and examine what makes a script work. His past efforts show a severe lack of judgment (Taxi, anyone?). The Surfer deserves to make it onto the screen with his dignity intact and not altered to fit the short attention-spans of rowdy 16-year old boys.
While I'm concerned about Mr. Story's input, I'm really excited about the special effects department's efforts. It was announced early on that Surfer will be created through CG. Okay... That could be neat... Then it was announced that WETA (The geniuses behind the Lord Of The Rings films & King Kong) would be bringing him to life. Well damn, if he looks half as good as Gollum or Kong, I'll be giddy as a schoolgirl. They also hired Mr. Doug Jones to do the movements for the Surfer. No newbie to the process, he also did the body work for Abe Sapien in the under-rated Hellboy. As you can see in the pic, Mr. Jones (clad in the green pajamas) will be acting out the majority of what ends up on-screen, with the pajamas covered in the Surfer's reflective silver skin. I'm very curious who they'll find to do the voice. It has to be someone with a certain Zen-ness goin' on. Like a smarter Keanu Reeves-type voice.
Well Mr. Story, I'm intrigued. You've taken a project that had little anticipation and made it something to get excited over. You may not prove to be much of a filmmaker, but you have a potentially great future in spin-control. That is, if you end up dropping the ball on this one.
I think I'm especially involved in this project because if Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer is incredible there will be a certain amount of personal fulfillment for me. Dave got to see the icon of his youth, Spider-Man, brilliantly brought to life. I want to have that feeling of wonder and nostalgia myself in seeing my favorite childhood comic-book hero made real. Here's hopin' the Surfer gets his due.
Well, I don't really have a B-story for today. It ain't a particularly scintillating news day in pop-culture. I would, however, like to wish Roger Ebert, another huge childhood idol of mine, continued success on a tough battle back from illness. You can read his latest update on his condition at his home page at www.rogerebert.com. It hasn't been a fun summer for Mr. Ebert and I just wanted to give him a quick shout out. I've missed his brilliantly written reviews every Friday, and he's much missed on the balcony with Roeper. So, my respects go out to Ebert and his family and it's my regret (And his benefit) that I won't be able to hear him rip The Grudge 2 to shreds. Ah well, there's still his review of Hostel 2 to look forward to in the future. Give 'em hell Ebert!
See, these posts can have real heart attached! You got a fond recollection of my childhood, and a solemn well-wishing to an early idol. There's a whole plethora of emotions swirling around The Latest Episodes In Our Crazy Pop-Culture World (Really need to do something about that title...)! Well, hopefully next week I'll get back on track with my Friday new release format. Heck, next week brings Clint Eastwood Flags Of Our Fathers! Now, that's something to get excited about! Until next time, in the words of Ebert's fellow Chicago-ite, take care of yourselves... and each other.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
"What is Grind House?" you ask? Well, my young padawan, Grind House is a collaborative project between two of the grooviest directors in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, etc.) and Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, etc.). As is apparent from the works of these two they are big fans of old exploitation/monster/slasher flicks. Grind House is an homage to those days of bad drive-in movies, with two one-hour movies by each director and a slew of fake 70's era trailers thrown in for good measure. Since not a lot has spilled regarding Tarantino's effort Death Proof, a slasher flick starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a serial killer who uses his car as a weapon, I'm focusing today on Rodriguez's effort Planet Terror. Now, you're probably wondering what has slipped regarding Planet Terror (Or maybe you don't really care...), and I'm here to inform you that that film's trailer has finally leaked onto the net (follow the link below) and it is perhaps the most glorious thing you will witness in your lifetime.
(EDIT: The trailer was removed from Youtube due to copyright infringement. Sorry y'all!)
Now, what can I say about a trailer this cool? I love Rose McGowan's machine gun leg (also pictured above)! I love Josh Brolin hamming it up! I love seeing Michael Biehn back on the big screen where he belongs! I also am extremely thrilled to see Tom Savini in another Rodriguez film! For those of you unfamiliar with his name, Savini was the make-up genius behind George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead & Day Of The Dead, as well as Friday The 13th. He also directed the nifty 1990 remake of Night Of The Loving Dead. On top of those credentials he's acted in some of the finest B-movies out there. Some of you may recall Savini's portrayal of Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn (pictured below-left).
I'll tell you what really caught my attention (Though how could it not...) were the parts of the trailer featuring Danny Trejo (The coolest tough guy in the movies, pictured below-right), as Machete ("He knows the score. He gets the women. And he kills the bad guys.")! From what I've read it seems (sadly) that the Machete scenes are just part of one of the fake trailers between the two films. That said, any movie featuring Danny Trejo flying through the air on a gattling-gun firing motorcycle has my undying support. Plus, the two directors have hinted that if Grind House is a hit they may make future installments with full hour films made from the fake trailers. C'mon, the world needs a Danny Trejo Machete movie!
I'll tell you why Grind House especially appeals to me. The last few years have been really lousy for anyone who enjoys violent, unabashedly R-rated action/horror films. I was a student of the great Schwarzenegger era (Predator, Running Man, Raw Deal), and as such, I have a genuine fondness for over-the-top gory thrills. The R-rated action-fest/gore-athon has all but been banished from PG-13 friendly Hollywood (Although Rob Zombie, with his great Devil's Rejects deserves special mention). In an effort to get the maximum amount of ticket buyers into theatres the output of horror and action films have been toned down to fit the PG-13 standard. They parade out sorry, pathetic excuses for horror films (When A Stranger Calls & The Grudge for example) and toned down action flicks (XXX series, Transporter films) hoping that the audience can't tell the difference. The R-rated horror films fall into two categories: Limp remakes of superior originals (Hills Have Eyes, Dawn Of The Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre), or simplistic gore-fests that aren't scary or interesting (I'm talking to you Eli Roth! Hostel was the cinematic equivalent of sewage!). The only mildly intriguing pure horror film of late was the original Saw, though it's impact was lessened by it's inferior sequel.
Tarantino and Rodriguez are two guys who remember how cool it could be to see a really bad-ass film. That sometimes it's just cool to take a break from high-caliber classics and just enjoy a genuinely nifty B-movie. Being one of those people myself this project speaks to me. I loved the duo's previous collaboration on From Dusk Till Dawn (Strongly disliked the lousy straight-to-DVD sequels though), and hope that lightning strikes twice here. Besides, if anyone can take cinematic cheese and spin A-movie gold out of it, it's these two. Tarantino's and Rodriguez's entire filmographys are a testament to that! So do yourself a favor, in between checking out the great films of Scorsese, Coppola or Polanski, toss in a Dawn On The Dead, Evil Dead, or Mighty Peking Man. And be sure to check out Grind House when it hits theatres. Let's make sure future generations have a Machete film to call their own. ______________________________________________________________________________________
In my further attempts to smother you with Iron Man mentions, I'll quickly draw your attention to the fellow on the right. That's Terrence Howard and he's now been officially cast in the Marvel comics film. He'll play Tony Stark (Iron Man)'s best friend Jim Rhodes. Now, what seems like a pretty static role on the page may actually turn out to be pretty cool in the future. The story goes that Rhodes eventually dons an armored suit himself, becoming a hero in his own right named War Machine. So, if Iron Man's a hit we may see Howard show up in the sequels in a much more active role.
Okay, that's it for me today. I'll be back tomorrow (hopefully with a better posting title) with more news items that fascinate few. I promise no more Iron Man talk for a while though... At least until another key cast member is signed.
Peace to the geese!
Monday, October 09, 2006
Seeing The Departed is like watching a really fascinating teacher showing a class how to do something properly. In this case, Martin Scorsese, having avoided the crime genre since 1995's Casino, seems to have taken stock of what so many directors have screwed up and decided to show 'em once more how it's done.
In The Departed, Scorsese introduces us to two Boston State Police officers. The first, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is deep undercover, having infiltrated local kingpin Frank Costello's (Jack Nicholson) inner sanctum. Costigan, forced to rely on sheer smarts and street sense, is only known of by two superiors: the gung-ho Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) and the fatherly Queenan (Martin Sheen). The second officer, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), is also undercover. Sullivan is working for Costello as a mole within the police department. As neither man knows the other's identity, the film expertly details their individual attempts to expose the other as well as the police department's attempts to snuff out Costello's crime ring.
Giving a synopsis of The Departed only takes away from the richness of the film. The above abbreviated outline is really only a jumping off point, as revealing anything more would only detract from the experience of personally witnessing the plot unfold. Scorsese fills his story with wonderfully drawn characters, and the excitement comes, not from the violence, but from the ways they intersect and affect each other. The whole film is set like a chess-game with each side expertly plotting their moves, and the joy comes from seeing how each side will counter the other.
The violence in The Departed is portrayed better than most of the crime films out there, and sets a standard for Scorsese. The violence that occurs in the film is ugly and never played as sensationalistic. It's startling in its suddenness, and it has real impact on those around it. Films nowadays don't take into account the frightening shock that comes with the sound of a gunshot. Scorsese knows this and uses it as a brilliant punctuation point at key moments in the film.
The Departed would be a great film if its excellence was only based on Scorsese's directorial skills. What makes it a masterpiece is the performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is the stand-out here. He takes an extremely challenging role and infuses it with an electricity that came as a shock to me. DiCaprio has been very good before, in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Titanic and The Aviator in particular, but what he does here is a career best. He essentially has to play two roles at the same time: amoral thug and a paranoid, frightened human being at the same time. He has to convince us that he would a believable criminal that a kingpin as intelligent at Costello would not see through. It's an amazing performance that deserves to be honored at Oscar time.
Matt Damon's role isn't as outwardly flashy as DiCaprio's or at all sympathetic. Damon plays the role as an outgoing hard-worker who is all cold-calculation beneath the surface. His character isn't made to suffer like DiCaprio's character, and Damon is very good at portraying a certain cocky arrogance. This isn't a type of role that the actor has played before and I was surprised how immersed he becomes in it. This isn't an over-the-top performance. It's realistic and mundane. It's also the perfect foil to DiCaprio. Damon really shows his range here and it deserves recognition.
Ah, Jack Nicholson! What can I really say? If you're expecting Jack to coast by on his trademark smile and devilish eyebrows, you're dead wrong. When the film begins, Costello is all attitude and confidence, but as the police close in and the net grows tighter Nicholson truly gives us a man becoming increasingly unhinged. Nicholson's final scene is captivating in showing a once powerful man at the bottom of his spiral. It's another mesmerizing Nicholson performance that ranks with some of his finest. You can bet money he'll be remembered come Awards season.
It's extremely rare to see a supporting cast this good. Vera Farmiga, as the woman between the two men, is very good at portraying a rational woman caught between two extremely complicated men. She takes a role that could be seen as a plot contrivance and makes it real. I expect to hear more about her in the future. Martin Sheen is memorable as DiCaprio's character's closest confidant. Sheen is so good at projecting a certain air of trustworthiness that's often overlooked. It works here and the film is better for his inclusion. Alec Baldwin, as Damon's superior is all bluster and over-inflated ego. He's brash, funny and likable. It's the type of performance that Baldwin does better than almost anybody and reminds us why he's considered to be such a great actor. Ray Winstone's portrayal of Mr. French, Costello's second-in-command, is by turns frightening and funny. He brings a real fierceness to the film. Finally, Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg is often written off in Hollywood, given head billing in lesser fare like Planet Of The Apes, Four Brothers or Rock Star. Few often recall the intensity he first projected in Boogie Nights. Well, it's on full display here. The aggressiveness and dedication he brings to the film is invaluable. After seeing him in this, I hope more directors realize his potential as a supporting presence. This is a guy who makes everyone around him work harder and elevates the material he's given. With the right role, he's unstoppable. I'm really hoping he's not overshadowed by Damon, DiCaprio and Nicholson when the acting nominations start up.
When one walks out of the theatre following the end of The Departed, the power of the film affects you. You carry it with you for the next couple days and are reminded what a great movie can do. This is a project where all the stars aligned. A great director working with great actors and a great script deliver something that will be remembered long after the Academy Awards. This is a film that will be forever listed among Scorsese's biggest achievements and hopefully net him his long awaited best director award. Lord knows, he's waited long enough... And Kevin Costner won't be in the running THIS year!
*Whew* 1100 words, a new record here at Cam's Pop-Culture Episodes! I'll bet the record is broken when I review Iron Man though....
P.S.: Well, The Departed beat Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the box-office this weekend! It's a sign that the world isn't completely run by idiots. Congrats to Scorsese for his biggest opening ever! Let's get this thing past the $100 mill. mark, guys!!!