Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Casting (and Crewing) Couch

I've got a lot of neat developments in upcoming movies to pass along your way, so I'm going to give you the most substantial dirt first, and then kind of jump around at my fancy from there.

And what's more substantial than snapshots? INFDaily has the first-ever pictures from the set of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" movie.

-Most on them focus on fresh-faced Alice, Mia Wasikowska, who strangely looks simultaneously too young and too old for the role. Other shots feature a big, Burtonesque ship, Helena Bonham Carter (who looks to have an extra role in the film), her new baby and the baby daddy, an more-frazzled-looking-than-usual Burton.

Not pictured but recently announced was Johnny Depp, who is taking the role of The Mad Hatter. Johnny Depp? Playing a character with weird hair and a funny hat? In a Tim Burton movie!? GET OUT OF TOWN.

-In other Depp news, a bizarre recent announcement revealed that Depp is to play Tonto in an upcoming "Lone Ranger" movie. Even more recently, it was whispered about that George Clooney is hoping for the role of the Lone Ranger. I don't get this at all. Unless they get some brilliant script and ingenious director, this just sounds like really weird stunt-casting doomed to fail.

-In other bizarre casting announcements pertained to classic hero-adventure fiction, it was announced several months ago that Russell Crowe was going to be cast as the Sheriff of Nottingham in director Ridley Scott's upcoming "Nottingham," a Robin Hood retelling that would cast the Sheriff in a more sympathetic light. Since then, it was circulated around that the movie probably would not happen.

Recently, MTV.com got the scoop that Scott is still trying to get this darned thing made, and should it come to fruition, Robin Hood would be played by...Russell Crowe. No, that's not a typo. In what would either be a terrible medieval reimagining of Lindsay Lohan's "The Parent Trap," or a trippy "Fight Club"-in tights psycho-actioner.

Scott's comments seem to suggest the latter: "Just a good old clever adjustment of characters. One becomes the other. It changes, changes."

crowevscrowecopy.jpg picture by bcanze

-Also from MTV, Kirsten Dunst has said "I'm in," in regards to "Spider-Man 4" and "5," which director Sam Raimi and star of the previous 3 Tobey Maguire have already signed on to. Although nowhere near an official announcement, Dunst is notorious for not knowing what she is or isn't allowed to say, and letting information slip before it should. As long as she doesn't sing in this one.

-Last but not least, classically trained Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh, best known for his adaptations of "Henry V" and "Hamlet," and the 1991 fan-favorite thriller "Dead Again," is in talks with Marvel to direct their upcoming "Thor" movie, according to Variety.

Internet reactions have been everywhere from positive to abysmal to confused. I think that  Branagh is a genius choice, what with Marvel and script writer Mark Protosevich saying they want to take "Thor" in a pretty serious direction, hammer-deep in mythology, taking place mostly in the Norse heaven Asgard, and containing little to no traditional superheroics.

If you stuck through this and read this whole entry, you probably deserve a high-five. Comment below or email me at lifeline@cm-life.com to receive your high-five.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Guitar Heroes: Jack White & El Mariachi

First things first, the theme song for the new 007 flick, "Quantum of Solace," is now online for your consumption.

"Another Way to Die," by Jack White and Alicia Keyes, is available for download on iTunes, or streaming at thirdmanrecords.com.

Reactions have been heavily mixed, from people being very happy with it to StarPulse.com calling it the worst Bond song ever.

After repeated listenings, I have to say that I think it's pretty darned good. It's no "Live and Let Die" or "Goldfinger," but it's also no "Die Another Day," thank God.

It's just about what I had expected when I heard that Jack White was writing a Bond song. It is loud and sloppy, but also clever, catchy, and oddly elegant. As a fan of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, perhaps I'm a tad biased.

As a side-note: Everybody's doing the comparison game now that this song is openly available, and there's a legion of geeks screaming that it's not as good as Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name." I just want to go on record with this:


Finally, I'm going to do another "You Gotta See This!" today.

In 1993, there was no YouTube. Nobody had heard of Neil Cicierega or the Ask a Ninja guys, and it was extremely difficult to get your cinematic vision into the public eye without A LOT OF MONEY.

Robert Rodriguez was a young aspiring filmmaker that lived on the Texas-Mexico border, who raised $9,000 to make "El Mariachi," which was shot on location in Ciudad Acuna, where it takes place. Rodriguez raised about half of his tiny budget by participating in medical experiments.

Watching this film is astounding. It looks better than a film lit entirely on natural light and two lightbulbs has any business looking.

Essentially, it's a straightforward actioner about a mariachi guitar player who is mistaken for a feared murderer who keeps a cache of weapons inside a guitar case. It is a fun, seat-of-your-pants, live-action cartoon filled with interesting characters and memorable setpieces.

Rrodriguez has made several DVD features and commentaries, as well as a book, about all the things he did to save money on this movie--of the nine grand, he ended up spending just over seven.

This entire movie was made by Rodriguez, who shot the film while being pushed around in a wheelchair to keep movement smooth, and recorded sound with a cheap little Radio Shack recorder and microphone. The film was crewed by Rodriguez, and any actors who were not currently in the shot being filmed.

And it is one of the cooler action flicks of the early nineties, and launched a career of fun movies (and "Sharkboy and Lava Girl," but nevermind that).

To put that into perspective, in 2004, aspiring filmmaker John Fiorella shot "Grayson," a fan-film about Batman's sidekick all grown up, investigating Batman's murder. The film, little more than an extended mock-trailer, was six minutes long and cost $18,000.

And while it's a fine fan-flick, Rodriguez made an hour-and-twenty-minute film for less than half that, and got it picked up by Columbia Tristar for distribution.

Take a look at "El Mariachi," if you're I was and have never seen it before. It's a good one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A picture says over 9000 words

Everything I have to talk about today can be summed up in one picture, which I spent hours and hours of time and effort creating:

-Eric Joyce reviews "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed"

-Holly Stamps reviews "Lakeview Terrace" with Samuel "The 'L' stands for 'Loud'" Jackson

-Stephen Chow, director and star of "Kung Fu Hustle," "CJ7," and my personal favorite, "Shaolin Soccer," has been signed to Seth Rogen's "Green Hornet" movie, not only to step into Bruce Lee's shoes in the role of Kato, but also to DIRECT the thing!

I was skeptical of the movie, which would star Rogen as the Hornet, and is written by Rogen and his "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" collaborator Evan Goldberg. But by bringing Chow on board, I am inspired to take a phrase from a friend of mine and say that "The Green Hornet" is "riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels." It will be awesome.

-Finally, with all the negative feedback that Facebook has been getting for the changes it has made, I thought I'd point out something subtle and amazing.

In celebration of "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" last Friday, Facebook added a whole pirate language to their website. If you scroll down to the bottom of any Facebook page, there will be a language toolbar, where you can choose to look at Facebook in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, et cetera. However, within the list is an option that says "English (Pirate)."

Instead of asking what you are doing right now in the status bar, it poses the question, "What arrr ye doin' right now?" Instead of writing on somebody's wall, you may find yourself scrawling on their plank. Instead of being tagged in photos, you may "be spied in a gallery o' paintins," and instead of attending events, and instead of starting or ending a relationship, you either get "captured by a pirate" or "become lonesome."

So awesome.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Weekend Lifeline

So we had a ton of stuff go down in ways of reviews and whatnot in the second half of this week, and none of it got printed in the paper or referred to online. So like a jolly Saint Nick, I'm going to stuff three movie reviews, a concert review-coverage, a new CD review, and just for S's and G's, a CD review that printed this week, down your chimney.

-Metallica's "Death Magnetic" is like a musical confession that "St. Anger" was indeed crap.
-CMU student film premieres at local cinema, impresses without taking an extra step to greatness
-"Burn After Reading" is the Coens' cynical, indulgent post-"No Country" victory lap.
-"Righteous Kill" offers moderate psychological-thriller action, old actors yelling.
-Acoustic songbird Jessica Sonner charms the Real Food on Campus restaurant.
-"Red Letter Year" made me fall in love with Ani DiFranco.

So with the magical gift of those articles, I certainly couldn't have anything else for you today, could I?

Surprise! I am going to start a new, hopefully ongoing series of pieces called "You Gotta See This!" in which I discuss movies that have been out, and friends, critics, reviewers, and forum trolls have unendingly told me they are necessary viewing, but have simply never gotten around to watching them.

This week, I rented 2002's "Equilibrium," directed and written by Kurt Wimmer, starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs.

The film takes place in a post-World War III future, where in order to prevent another potentially humanity-erasing war, a totalitarian government takes over and sees that all human feeling is pharmaceutically repressed.

Those who refuse to give up their emotions and feelings, called "sense offenders," are considered the highest level of outlaws, and are hunted down by special police called Grammaton Clerics and killed.

Christian Bale plays John Preston, the highest-ranking and most distinguished of these clerics. After his wife was killed as a sense offender, and he is forced to gun down his own partner for having feelings, Preston himself eventually stops taking his meds, and gives in to the forbidden world of art, emotion, love, regret, anger and revenge.

Bale is fantastic in his role, as a man who, all at once, feels a rush of emotions for the first time of his life, but has no choice but to suppress these feelings at the risk of death. More than the dialogue, his performance is in his face: The muscles tightening and bulging as he feels a rush of guilt or fear, and his eyes writing novels about the character's predicament.

Taye Diggs, although acting-wise is not even in the same atmosphere as Bale, does well as Brandt, Preston's new partner who fancies himself Preston's foil.

The underground resistance of sense offenders is criminally underused, particularly their leader, played by Bill Fichtner (most recently seen as the shotgun-wielding bank manager in "The Dark Knight").

The look of the film is slick, with flat colors, blacks and greys bathing out most of the film to reflect society's unfeeling frigidity, but jarringly bathed in warm color to represent pivotal emotional scenes.

The plot is an intriguing moral play about what makes us human, and what society would be if that were taken away. The whole thing is fascinating...until the resolution.

*Yar, thar be spoilers right ahead matey!*

After the buildup of the entire movie, Preston triumphs, but not because of his newfound emotion or anything like that.

No, Preston is victorious because of his insane combat skill, which had been established at the beginning of the movie and remains stagnant throughout. Basically, he wins because he is a bigger badass than everybody else, because that's just the way it is and that aspect of his character does not need explaining. It's anticlimactic, and detracts from the dynamic development of Bale's character throughout the movie.

"Equilibrium" is definitely an interesting movie that took the post-"Matrix" film climate and innovated on it in groundbreaking ways. However, I think the film is ultimately unfulfilling, and although worth a watch, is not a must-see.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sequelitis: "Here we go again...Again!"

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I hear some incredibly talented young film reviewer posted his thoughts on Nicolas Cage's latest vehicle, "Bangkok Dangerous" over at cm-life.com.

Now that we have that crappy movie out of the way, let's talk about Hollywood's favorite pastime--doing the same thing they have been doing for years and years, over and over again.

Variety reported that Columbia Pictures has co-executive producers of "The Office" Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky writing a screenplay for a third "Ghostbusters" movie. According to Variety, the film would reunite the original cast of Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, and there are rumors that the movie may introduce some new, younger Ghostbusters as well.  Ramis and Aykroyd wrote the previous two movies in the franchise.

Eisenberg and Stupnitsky recently scripted the Apatow-produced comedy "Year One," so I am guessing this is what "new" and "younger" will end up meaning:

Also, chances of Rick Moranis returning are slim, so that leaves room for a new lovable nerd character:

McLovin' in "Ghostbusters 3." I would put honest-to-God money down on it.

In other sequel news (which I believe to be an oxymoron; how can it be news if it's already happened before?), Deadline Hollywood is reporting that both director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire have been signed on for "Spider-Man 4."

Sony seems hopeful to milk that deal, and shoot "Spider-Man 4" and "Spider-Man 5" back-to-back, based on a 2-movie script written by "Zodiac" scribe Jamie Vanderbilt. Reports say that although the villain has yet to be announced, audiences will immediately know who is playing him when the character is revealed, suggesting that it is a character who has appeared in some capacity in previous films.

Scads of forum talkbackers have immediately taken this to mean that Dr. Curt Connors, played in all three films by Dylan Baker, will finally make the transformation into the Lizard.

Others still are betting on a dark horse: J. Jonah Jameson's son John, Mary Jane's fiance in the second film, played by Daniel Gillies. In the comics, he becomes the villainous Man-Wolf, taking on Spider-Man a few times before marrying the She-Hulk, and becoming a space god. That's comic books for ya.

One theory that I haven't seen yet, and hopefully this is because Sony recognizes this as a terrible idea, is that the villain is Ben Reilly, AKA Scarlet Spider, an honest-to-God clone of Peter Parker who was introduced in the '70s, and absolutely refused to go away throughout most of the '90s. Although, it would be pretty obvious who would play him, no?

"Spider-Man 4: Milking It For All It's Worth" is currently slated for a May 2011 release.