Friday, March 16, 2007

2008... Another Great ESCAPE???

Hey neighbors! Well, first off I have to say that I'm totally amazed at how much of a spike I get on my site counter whenever I post something about Venom or Spider-Man 3. I suppose it's a hint at just how much people are looking forward to that flick. Well, today there isn't any Spider-Man stuff. Nope, rather I'm gonna invite you to jump in my trusty DeLorean time machine and take a little journey back to the age of excess, the 80's. It was a glorious time. Arnold ruled the world with his preposterous brand of action movies, the nerds showed those punks at Alpha Beta frat what real "coolness" is, and a strange man named John Carpenter introduced us to an even stranger man named... Snake Plissken.

Now, I'm sure a few of you (the younger ones) are scratching your heads right now. See, Snake was a man who could never quite get a break. A man who spoke through actions rather than words. He was also... Kurt Russell! In an eye patch! Warning everyone not to @!#% with him! The film was Escape From New York and it was a brilliant concept. See, the future of 1997 is a post-apocalyptic war-zone (God I love that term!) and a bunch of no-good punks kidnap the president (Donald Pleasance) after his plane crashes on the penal colony of Manhattan. Yep, that's right! Manhattan is now a veritable stew of the criminal and the psychopathic. The government implant former soldier turned bank robber Snake with an explosive device timed to go off in 22 hours and drop him in Manhattan. He then has 22 hours to find the president, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and return to safety, where the device will be deactivated.

Now, I suppose most of you are telling yourselves: "Yes, I'm aware of this! Why are you wasting my time telling me about a movie I saw 26 years ago?" Well, because next year you'll be seeing it again! Only this time it won't be a grungy low-budget film. Nope, this time they're starting from scratch with a big budget and a rising new action star named... Gerard Butler (He of 300 - Pictured)!

WHAT? Gerard Butler ain't Snake Plissken! Only Kurt Russell can play his royal Badness! Yes, I know. But hear me out and keep an open mind. We may just have a potential diamond in the rough here.

Now, I don't know how many of you have watched Escape From New York lately, but it has not held up well. While they may have terrified the world in their hey-day, the punk rocker villains of the film don't exactly inspire fear in the hearts of modern viewers. Rather, they inspire laughter. Unfortunately the age of irony has taken this once pure, visceral film and relegated it to the land of 80's cheese. I know Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York (Pictured) was hardcore, but many don't agree anymore. And I feel Plissken deserves another chance to shine (Outside of the less than spectacular 1995 follow-up Escape From L.A.).

When it was announced today that New Line had snatched up the Butler remake rights I was optimistic. I usually despise remakes, but this one has real promise. Why? Well, the character of Snake Plissken is classic, on par with Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" from the Dollars trilogy. And while Russell will always be Plissken, I feel Gerard Butler will do the character serious justice. Having seen 300, I think that this guy has the stuff to really bring back the type of gruff, no-nonsense, menacing qualities that have long been forgotten in this age of dull action heroes.

I also think that this film's look could seriously be improved with some modern set design ideas and cinematography. John Carpenter, God bless his crazy soul, was never a particularly gifted director when it came to visual novelty. My hope is that they get a bright new director who completely grabs hold of this project and runs with it as far as they can. I want someone with new ideas to completely redefine what this world is and how we can view it. Basically, I'm hoping for a complete reimagining of the world as opposed to a lifeless retread.

So join me in my optimism and let's hope that they get this one right! This is a great concept that deserves the attention of a new generation of film-goers. Plus, if nothing else, it may just inspire them to revisit the original film. And frankly, I can't think of anything wrong with that. ___________________________________________________________________

Now, my B-story today is the A-story of every entertainment news pundit out there right now. Casting has finally begun in the long gestating yet-untitled Indiana Jones IV. While we were bombarded with news that young Shia LaBeouf (Constantine, the upcoming Transformers) would play Indy's son (which is still unconfirmed and looking like more of false rumor), there was a neat little casting decision being finalized. That of the film's female lead...

Well, it was announced last night that the very talented Cate Blanchett (Babel, Notes From A Scandal, The Aviator - Pictured) would be tackling the role. Now, details on the project are so heavily guarded that there is nothing to really say regarding her role in the film. At this point in time it is unknown whether she'll be playing a friend or foe...

Regardless, Blanchett is a great choice to have aboard. She's a proven A-level talent that will bring a lot to this troubling project. While I have yet to wave the flag of enthusiasm for this one, I'm intrigued none-the-less. I just hope that the final product matches the tone of the previous three. Only time will tell. Stay tuned, more Indy IV casting decisions will likely be coming down the pipeline in the very near future.

Okay folks, that's all for me today. Have a great weekend, and if you have some time go out and rent the original Escape From New York if you haven't seen it. It's worth a visit.

I'll be back sometime next week, hopefully with my best of list. It's a work in progress.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SPIDEY Watch: Venom Returns!

Ola' guys. Just gonna drop a couple quick facts on ya that I've been alerted to. As you all know, I've had a lot of fun keeping up on developments with the character of Venom is Spider-Man 3. Duh, I know. But, it's been a hoot and I can't wait for the Batman Watch: Joker tangents I'll be going on about in the near future. So, since this isn't gonna be a great big essay (Yesterday's 300 review took a lot outta me I suppose.) let's get to it!

Tonight Sony posted up some new photos on their Spider-Man 3 website. These photos gave us plenty of generic shots: Peter Parker in Spider-Man body suit showing concern, Harry looking bitter, Kirsten Dunst appearing forlorn, Sandman being angry, Bryce Dallas Howard (Pictured) as Gwen Stacy looking hot, etc, etc. Well, they tossed in a couple that give us some details regarding our favorite symbiotic psychopath Venom.
The first shot shows a meteor coming to earth near Parker's moped. This is obviously a hint regarding the explanation for the symbiote's (aka the black alien suit)entrance. Wisely scrapping its original origin (For a long breakdown see my other Spidey 3 write-ups) and instead reworking the Spider-Man: Animated Series entrance. Only they've rid of the whole symbiote stowing away on John Jamieson's space shuttle mumbo-jumbo. I tells ya, I like this simplified version and think it's save the film unnecessary exposition. So hear hear Raimi! You've maneuvered through the gauntlet of absurd Venom origins and found a good compromise.
The next shot is the real kicker though. Here's a shot of Venom in the background choking Spidey with his alien webbing. This shot will lead into the final shot of the current trailer, with Peter reaching out for help. From who? My guess is Harry. So there ya go, kids! More Venom! I can't recall the last time there was so much uproar over a film villain... I don't recall this much insanity over Scarecrow in Batman Begins, Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four, or Blackheart in Ghost Rider (HA!). Even the hype surrounding Silver Surfer in this summer's Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer has been positively placid. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to wait till the first shot of The Dark Knight's Heath Ledger as Joker leaks and it will be pandemonium all over again. And I'll be here. Rejoicing like the geek my sister tells me I am. ___________________________________________________________________
Speaking of The Dark Knight, there's been a swirl of activity around that film this last week also. As you may or not know, Katie Holmes declined to reprise her role as Rachel Dawes. Seems she'll be too busy filming a comedy with Queen Latifah. Yeah... (I'm not gonna waste your time or mine by making snide comments regarding Tom Cruise or whatever. Those bottom-feeders over at Pink Is The New Blog can take that route... add nauseum.) At any rate, the machine must roll on and so the role has been recast. And it has gone to none other than...
Maggie Gyllenhaal. Yeah, I know. This is hardly "Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent" exciting, but it's something. Frankly I wish they'd just written the character out of the series. Is Rachel Dawes really that important to the series? I guess I shouldn't argue, as Chris Nolan has a flawless track record with me. It is important to mention that Ms. Gyllenhaal (Stranger Than Fiction, Mona Lisa Smile) is a very talented young actress who I'm sure will handle the role wonderfully. She may even prove better than Holmes (Though it must be said that they look eerily similar.) who many felt was a lightweight. I had no real problem with her so my opinion is pretty unbiased. At any rate, like Begins, The Dark Knight is shaping up to have a pretty amazing cast. Still, its unfortunate Philip Seymour Hoffman turned down the Penguin gig. That'd been killer. Ah well.
Peace out!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Film Review: 300 - THIS! IS! SPARTA-CULAR!

Ahoy-hoy! I'm back with another review of another comic-book property turned film. This week I'm reviewing Zack Snyder's take on Frank Miller's graphic novel 300. I'll start out by stating that the film is worth every cent of your admission ticket and is not only a great adaptation, but a great movie as well. 300 is also further proof that you can embrace your source material and people will still show up (70 mill opening weekend!). On top of all that, it's also the complete antithesis of that schlock-fest Ghost Rider. I don't want to dwell on that one anymore; it's just that 300 makes it even clearer how much that film screwed up...

BUT FIRST THE EXPOSITION! 300 is an imaginative retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C, one of the greatest and earliest recorded military victories. The film tells the story of the brave Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler - pictured), who, upon hearing of an imminent invasion by the Persian army ignores council orders and gathers three hundred of his best men to stop them. Unfortunately, the Persian's are a little larger in numbers... By roughly a million men. So, Leonadis and his soldiers, which include Captain (Vincent Regan) & his son Astinos (Tom Wisdom), Stelios (Michael Fassbender) and the film's narrator Dilios (David Wenham), soon find themselves wildly outnumbered and yet not outfought. This infuriates the Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who suffers from a serious God complex. Outside the bloodbath, Leonidas' wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to persuade sleazy politician Theron (Dominic West) into sending the Spartan army to assist in the efforts.

Yeesh. These names are tough to keep straight. Anyhow, while the film's description may sound a bit confusing, 300 is an extremely simple film. It actually reminded me of Mel Gibson's brilliant Apocalypto in the sense that both films are very minimalist in dialogue and plot. Instead, they rely on action to tell their story. In 300's case, we are presented with one of the most visually exciting films I've seen in many a moon.

To see trailers or previews for 300 on TV is not enough to comprehend what an accomplishment the film is. This is a movie that is an absolutely perfect example of what film can do better than any other medium. We are presented with a beautifully constructed artificial world that is enthralling to witness. Every second of the battle is lovingly rendered to have the highest possible impact. From the breath-taking landscapes to the Miller-esque sprays of blood, 300 is a film obsessed with even the smallest details. Battle scenes of this type of magnitude can often seem confusing or too frenetic (My biggest problem with Gladiator) since everyone is dressed similarly. Director Snyder joyfully slows everything down so we can linger on individual moments. He's not content to have two or three great money moments. Rather, every scene is constructed on an epic scale with truly captivating style.

I really have to hand it to Zack Snyder (Pictured). I admired the opening to his Dawn Of The Dead remake, but felt the film quickly fell to mediocre status. Here, however, Snyder delivers the goods and establishes himself as a director to look out for. I love seeing a hungry young director really grab hold of a project and give it their all. With 300, Snyder has done that and every bit of his enthusiasm washes over the audience. This guy wasn't content to deliver the umpteenth Troy/Kingdom of Heaven/Alexander variation. No, he had to go and do something completely different... And blow us all away. Take a bow, dude.

The acting is solid across the board. Part of the problem with this type of film is that it's told on such an epic scale that there is little room for subtlety. The characters are very broad and have little emotional depth. It's forgivable here, however, due to the story-telling parameters. This isn't a historical re-enactment, it's a legend. Thus, each character is larger than life and performed to match their mythic status. In the case of Leonadis and his men, the Spartan warriors prefer to speak through their actions. Gerard Butler's dialogue mostly consists of rousing battlefield speeches played out at full volume. Butler (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life, The Phantom Of The Opera) is extremely effective and deserves credit for maintaining a consistency that prevents his heroic king from slipping into parody. The same goes for Lena Headley (The Brothers Grimm, The Cave - Pictured above) who delivers her grave warnings and philosophic statements regarding the nature of war with regal authority. I was particularly impressed with David Wenham's (Faramir in the Lord Of The Rings) narration. His voice is note-perfect for this material. Plus, I have to give a shout-out to the villains. Dominic West (The Forgiven, Mona Lisa Smile), in full on sneer mode, really gives us an A-grade scumbag that we truly despise. His moment of come-uppance is a true crowd-pleaser. As Xerxes, Rodrigo Santoro (TV's Lost - Pictured left) provides the film's strangest performance. His God-king is an androgynous whack-job who hypnotizes the audience every time he pops up.

I have to also mention that I was truly pleased that the folks behind 300 gleefully earn their R-rating. This is a film made for adults, and I appreciated that they treated it as such. You can tell that the studio and Snyder put their full confidence in Frank Miller's work and knew there was an audience out there. They didn't feel the need to throw in lousy jokes or A-list actors to draw the dull-witted folks in. So, my biggest thanks goes out to the studio for not condescending to the material or the public.

Finally, let me just say that it's imperative for you to see this film in a theatre. This is not a lazy Saturday night in front the TV movie. It has been designed to be seen on the biggest screen possible (I saw it in IMAX) with the best sound system. Snyder and co. have created something that simply won't be as astonishing on a television at home.

So, there you go. Save those Ghost Rider (Or God forbid Norbit) dollars and head over to 300. You'll be thrilled and mesmerized and won't regret it. This is what a night out at the movies is all about.


P.S.: Now I can't wait for Snyder's next film: an adaptation of the beloved Alan Moore graphic novel Watchmen. Stay tuned.