Oct 31, 2012

Disney buying Lucasfilm - Star Wars Episode VII to follow!

The Mouse that Roared has done it again. As if owning Pixar and Marvel to go along with their signature brand didn't present enough of a stranglehold on the tentpole movie business Disney, in what can only be classified as a stunning announcement, revealed today that they are buying LucasFilm, Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound. As if that news by itself wasn't enough to send shock waves through the fanosphere the announcement also comes with the promise that "Star Wars Episode VII" was getting the green light and would be released in 2015. That film is to be followed by Episodes VIII and IX down the road.

Lucas made it clear that he will be nowhere near the directors chair for any of those efforts and that is perhaps the best part of this deal as Lucas had clearly lost his zeal for directing. (Hopefully he'll feel the same way about writing.) Turning the franchise over to more inspired, more qualified directors may go a long way in restoring integrity to a brand that was so tarnished by Lucas' sloppy handling of the prequel trilogy.

Beyond that one bit of good news though lurks Disney's future control of all things tentpole. Can this be a good thing? Really? Even with Kathleen Kennedy serving as head of LucasFilm Disney (or whatever they're going to call it) I don't see it. Lucas says in the announcement that the money he'll get will be his 'retirement fund'. Like you need to pad your 401k George. Please. If he really cared about the brand he could have done the Bill Gates thing: retire, put a Steve Balmer in charge (in this case Kennedy) and spend his dotage out in the world doing other things. But whether you or I like this move or not it's done and below is the official announcement from Disney chairman Bob "Palpatine" Iger and George "Can You Spare A Dime" Lucas.

God help us all.

Oct 29, 2012

"Sin City 2" begins shooting

"Marv" prepares for another night in "Sin City"
In a big piece of welcome news the long-awaited sequel to Robert Rodriguez's 2005 "Sin City" has finally begun shooting. As has been previously reported, the story for new film will be culled from previously published graphic novels by Frank Miller as well as a new story written specifically for the film by Miller.

Jamie King will be returning as will Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba. Devon Aoki will not be returning as deadly little Miho however (tiny tears). That role will be filled by the recently signed Jamie Chung. The jury is still out on whether or not Clive Owen will make an appearance.

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is slated for release October 4, 2013.

The top 10 movies for the weekend of October 26 - October 28, 2012

1) Argo $12 Million
2) Cloud Atlas $9.6 Million
3) Hotel Transylvania $9.4 Million
4) Paranormal Activity 4 $8.5 Million
5) Silent Hill: Revelation 3D $8 Million
6) Taken 2 $7.7 Million
7) Here Comes the Boom $5.2 Million
8) Alex Cross $5.1 Million
9) Sinister $4.9 Million
10) Fun Size $4.1 Million

(Green indicates new release)

The number one movie a year ago this week was Paramount's "Puss in Boots" which debuted in the top spot with $34 million.

Oct 28, 2012

In a startling about face Joss Whedon endorses Romney!

While Gigi and I normally try to keep this blog above the political fray we both felt that this story was just too big to ignore. And after viewing Whedon's endorsement video below we think you'll understand why.

It seems "The Avengers" director has had a change of heart when it comes to caring about other people and decided to endorse the one candidate who is prepared to "finally put this country back on the path to the zombie apocalypse", Mitt Romney. Take a look.

Hmmm..... Spam.......

"An Unexpected Journey" to the toy store?

I come from a culture where a person is encouraged to voice their opinion, to share their fears and doubts lest those negative emotions act like acid upon the soul and lead one to dastardly deeds down the road. So I'm going to share my thoughts, doubts and fears about Peter Jackson's soon to be released "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" in the hope that by airing them I'll be able to walk into the theater on opening night with an unsullied outlook.

So what has me worried about Peter Jackson's upcoming "Hobbit" trilogy? Let's call it the "Return of the Jedi" factor. That film was humming along magnificently when suddenly, out of the redwood forests came the Ewoks. It's at that point that the original trilogy came to an end for me. To this day Return of the Jedi is the one film of the original trilogy that I can't watch because the Ewoks represent the point at which Lucas looked beyond the fans in the theater to the kids at the toy store. The effect was like being out on a date with a hot babe and having her suddenly lock gazes with some guy behind you. At least with the hot babe I can tell her I have to go to the toilet and then bolt, leaving her with the tab. No such recourse exists for the movie fan.

When the first stills were released from the set last year showing Jackson's take on the dwarves for The Hobbit I got an intense sinking feeling in my gut. "I've waited a decade for that?" Take a look at the image below where I've juxtaposed the dwarves from "The Fellowship of the Ring" with the dwarves from "The Hobbit". How did those wonderfully crusty curmudgeons of Fellowship with their layers of world-weariness morph into the lovable plush dolls of The Hobbit?

The dwarves of "Lord of the Rings" (top) and those of "The Hobbit" (bottom). Images copyright New Line Cinema.

Subsequent blog posts, trailers and TV clips have gone some way toward mollifying my concerns and settling my stomach but I can't help thinking that it's all an elaborate ruse, a multi-million dollar misdirection campaign, and that before I've finished my popcorn the bastard spawn of the Ewoks will have commandeered the movie, Smaug, uh I mean Jackson, will have added my coin to the pile he's sitting on and somebody behind me in the theater will be thinking "You know, I'll bet my 4 year old would love a plush dwarf doll for Christmas!" Nothing against 4 year olds mind you. What I'm talking about here is the sanctity of the film experience and whether or not Jackson will honor the unspoken pact between the theater goer and the film maker or will he become the trollop with the wandering eye ala Lucas? To be absolutely specific about things: was toy marketing the driving force behind the radical redesign of the dwarves for The Hobbit? Because if it was then Jackson has willingly chucked his integrity out the window.

Jackson could, I suppose, have built an escape clause into his Hobbit project's initial release. Just look at the title: "An Unexpected Journey". Jackson may be covering himself for the inevitable backlash. "Hey, the film's called 'An Unexpected Journey'. What's more unexpected than a three hour long ad for premium action figures?" It's possible and I'll tell you why.

About a decade ago Bob Dylan released one of the great albums of the last 20 years. Dylan called his album "Love and Theft". After its release it was revealed that some of the lyrics from Love and Theft bore a striking resemblance to passages from Japanese writer Junichi Saga's book "Confessions of a Yakuza". The Bard's response to the storm of criticism that followed was basically to direct people's attention to the title of the album and get on with his life. Is Jackson planning something similar? (In the case of Love and Theft the theft Dylan alludes to in the album's title didn't in any way compromise the quality of the finished musical product. I bring it up merely as an example of someone covering themselves in what, in hind sight, seems a perfectly obvious way but which at the time didn't necessarily seem obvious at all.)

One more thing. I'm well aware Tolkien's manuscript is essentially a young people's book. I get that. I've also read the book and know that it's complex enough to lend itself to a treatment that could and should satisfy both young and not so young people. Just because it's not full of sturm und drang doesn't mean it must therefore become a three hour get-out-the-customer drive for Toys-R-Us. While most major films these days have some form of marketing tie-in to outside products the important thing is whether or not those tie-ins constitute the major justification for making the film, as was the case with Lucas' uber-cynical Return of the Jedi. I can live with action figures appearing as a consequence of a great movie. Where I balk is when the movie exists primarily to move action figures. Which category The Hobbit will fall into is anybody's guess at this point.

Oct 26, 2012

Second TV spot for "The Hobbit"

Here come the spots!

Following hot on the heels of the first TV clip Peter Jackson and Co. have released a second clip for the highly anticipated December 14th opening of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". This clip answers at least one question that was lurking in many people's minds: will the wood trolls be talking? Bilbo tells the kiddies in "Fellowship of the Ring" that they (the trolls) were arguing over how they should cook him and it seems Jackson has decided to give the big lugs their speaking due during just that scene in the upcoming film.

Ahnuld will be back as Conan

I ooze "Nordic Viking mythic guy"
Ahnuld's attempt to re-ignite his Hollywood career in the aftermath of all those years spent not-nurturuing his illegitimate offspring in Sacramento has devolved into the farcical with the announcement that he's going to return to one of his earliest roles; Conan. The self-admitted sexy sexagenarian will play the (once) buff Nordic tough guy in what amounts to a reboot of the reboot of the Conan franchise that will pretend that both the second Conan film (The Destroyer) and the 2011 reboot with Jason Momoa never actually happened.

Here's the premise according to Fredrik Malmberg the CEO of Paradox Entertainment, which holds the rights to Conan: “The original ended with Arnold on the throne as a seasoned warrior, and this is the take of the film we will make... It’s that Nordic Viking mythic guy who has played the role of king, warrior, soldier and mercenary, and who has bedded more women than anyone, nearing the last cycle of his life. He knows he’ll be going to Valhalla, and wants to go out with a good battle.”

"Seasoned" in this case means "old" so the only issue to me seems to be this: since "The Expendables 2" proved Ahnuld couldn't do action any more will this Conan time travel to the future in order to bring back automatic weapons with which to defeat his mythic foes and earn his place in Valhalla? Or maybe the unwanted spawn of all those babes he's bedded will rise up and come to their no good, absentee dad's defense in order insure he's around to pay child support. Now that's a movie I'd pay to see!

Oct 25, 2012

"Killing Them Softly" - 2012 - movie review

"Killing Them Softly" is a curiously dead movie and I don't mean that as a pun. It never really gets off the ground and is strangely flat in spite of a generally excellent cast and a premise brimming with tough guy possibilities.

Its storyline about some not ready for prime time hoods resembles "The Sopranos" and that resemblance is aided and abetted by the cast which includes James Gandolfini and Vincent ‘Johnny Sack’ Curatola. The resemblances, however, stop there. While The Sopranos benefited from top-notch writing, "Killing Them Softly" seems like it was penned by someone who'd watched a couple of Sopranos episodes and said "I could do that." Unfortunately, you can't.

As mentioned, the story revolves around some small time hoods who decide to rob a mob card game to raise some easy money. The mastermind of the plot, a dry cleaner nicknamed "the Squirrel" (the aforementioned Vincent Curatola), thinks he's discovered a fail safe that will allow him and his co-conspirators to get away scott free. That fail safe is Ray Liotta's Markie Trattman, the hood who runs the game. He had the nerve to rip off his own game years earlier and then, when things had settled down, he bragged about it. Because of that the squirrel has deduced that if someone were to rob his game now the mob would immediately point the finger at Markie.

Secure in their iron clad logic the Squirrel, Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and his friend Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) go ahead and hold up the joint. As expected they get away but their robbery triggers the intervention of Brad Pitt's Jackie, a mid-level enforcer who's smart enough to know that Markie's compromised status was ripe for exploitation. This is really where the film's problems become obvious because Pitt's performance is all over the place. At one moment he seems to be playing Jackie as a kind of fish out of water, reluctant to bring the rain or stand up for himself and what he knows needs to be done. At another moment he's stone cold enough to blow a guy's head off without blinking an eye. So who is Jackie? The timid, easily spooked fish out of water reluctant to hit someone he knows because it might get emotionally messy, or the hard-nosed, no-nonsense, grizzled professional who'll be reassuring you everything's okay while he's calmly chambering a round? It's a problem because from the moment Pitt comes into frame for the first time he's the center of the film and if the center is wobbling the whole film is in trouble.

By contrast James Gandolfini plays another hit man Jackie employs to help him take out the three crooks. But Gandolfini's Mickey is a mess himself. He's been pinched for carrying an unregistered shotgun and has to jump bail to help Pitt with his hits. At the same time his marriage is falling apart and all he can think to do is drink and screw hookers round the clock in an effort to kill his feelings.

His character, especially during those scenes where he's abusing the help, oozes the kind of dread I imagine Jackie was intended to have. Perhaps it was just a matter of Gandolfini having so much more experience than Pitt exploring the mob psyche but the contrast was at times startling when the two were on the screen together. That's unfortunate for Pitt but fortunate for the film which desperately needed something to lift it off the floor.

The rest of the cast doesn't have much to work with. Ray Liotta does his best Ray-Liotta-doing-Henry-Hill-in-Goodfellas impression and it's good enough to not be a distraction but that's about it.

Curiously, the film makers seem to be trying to draw parallels between events unfolding in the film's forefront and the running background narrative of the 2008 financial meltdown and presidential election. Perhaps if the primary narrative were more coherently developed those parallels would be easier to understand. As it is this background layer does little more than reinforce the enervating atmosphere and provide Pitt with an excuse for some tough guy dialogue at the very end.

As I said earlier poor writing is largely to blame for this promising but ultimately unfulfilling miss. But a weak script isn't the whole story. The director doesn't seem to know what to do with his characters either and at times it almost seems the actors are directing themselves. While I'm sure Andrew Dominik is a champion human being I'm also 100% sure he's no Scorcese though his film tries desperately to conjure the spirit of the master (right down to eschewing a score in favor of various minor and major hits from the past to help set the mood).

While weak writing and directing are understandable enough there was one element of the production that I just didn't get at all. That was the ultra-stylized way some of the most grievously violent scenes were handled. The film would be droning along for 20 minutes or so when suddenly a very carefully crafted, super-slo-mo shot of a bullet creating a fountain of bloody tissue and bone fragments will appear... and then the droning would resume. WTF?

Killing Them Softly has reportedly had its US release timed to maximize its awards potential. I don't know why they bothered.

Puppet noir? "Paul" will make you believe

Puppetry and film noir are not things that people necessarily associate with one another, until now. Israeli film maker Adam Bizanski took the imaginative leap and cast a small scale puppet in the lead role of his short break up film "Paul" and I have to say the results are pretty convincing. Inspiration for the puppet character seems to come from the age-old admonition "Are you a man or a mouse?" (as well as Art Spiegelman's "Maus") but that doesn't compromise it's effectiveness. As employed here the puppet serves to inject a film that would otherwise be held back by a fairly pedestrian writing effort with gravitas and sympathy. It's diminutive scale also magnifies the sense of dread inherent in the noir settings as well as the character's sense of loss. 

The film 26 minutes long. If you have some time take a look.

Oct 23, 2012

First TV spot for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

With December 14th rapidly approaching it was to be expected that the Hobbit PR machine would shift into a higher gear and here is the first tangible evidence of that. Perhaps a little surprisingly the piece is largely made up of previously unseen snippets. More wood for the fire the fires of anticipation!

"Iron Man 3" trailer is here!

Tony seems a bit overwhelmed by events that took place in "The Avengers". So much so that he can't sleep at night. While he's fretting and keeping Pepper awake however The Mandarin is on the move, putting Tony's oceanside geek den squarely in his sights. What does it all mean? Why is Tony wandering in the snowy wilderness? Since when does it snow in LA? And why does that suit seem to have a mind of its own?

The new film appears to be a cut above "2" which seemed a bit forced to me. This one looks great but of course we'll have to wait until next spring to find out if the movie lives up to the trailer. In the meantime, here it is.

Oct 22, 2012

The top 10 movies for the weekend of October 19 - October 21, 2012

1) Paranormal Activity 4 $29 Million
2) Argo $16.4 Million
3) Taken 2 $13.2 Million
4) Hotel Transylvania $13 Million
5) Alex Cross $11.3 Million
6) Sinister $8.8 Million
7) Here Comes the Boom $8.4 Million
8) Pitch Perfect $6.7 Million
9) Frankenweenie $4.3 Million
10) Looper $4.2 Million

(Green indicates new release.)

The number one movie a year ago this week was Paramount's "Paranormal Activity 3" which debuted in the top spot with $52.5 million.

Oct 21, 2012

"Iron Man 3" trailer has its own trailer!

Marvel has released a teaser trailer for the soon-to-be-released Iron Man 3 trailer. Why bother when the actual trailer is set to debut in about 24 hours? I have no idea but here it is.

New trailer for "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D"

In my opinion the people who make "Silent Hill" get it. I don't know how to put it more eloquently than that. Creepy and disturbing. What more do you want in a horror movie?

"Silent Hill: Revelation 3D" opens October 26th.

Oct 18, 2012

"Fury Road" is a bumpy road for Mad Max

Set photo of vehicle from "Mad Max: Fury Road"
After years of speculation, delay, cast changes and historic floods in Australia that washed away sets and caused the entire production to be moved to Namibia, "Mad Max: Fury Road" is finally shooting. Ah, but with its checkered history so far it just wouldn't seem right if production on George Miller's 4th installment in the post-apocalyptic adventures of Max went smoothly and true to form rumors are emerging of trouble on Fury Road. According to published reports Warner Brothers has sent veteran producer Denise Di Novi to Namibia to assess the situation and get things back on track. The reports suggest that Director Miller is behind schedule and running over budget and Di Novi's job will be to supervise things and report back to the studio on a daily basis. It's hoped this permanent studio presence on the set will have the intended effect of forcing folks to behave so as to meet the original wrap date set for late November.

No release date has yet been set for "Fury Road".

Oct 17, 2012

The long and winding road to "The Hobbit"

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit." J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary scribble that ultimately led to one of the most popular books in the history of popular culture also led to one of the most labyrinthine legal battles the film world has ever known. With the dust finally having settled a couple of years ago and the now trilogy due to kick off in theaters in a scant two months time The Hollywood Reporter has done an impressive job of chronicling The Hobbit's filmic genome. 

I followed most of the last decade's worth of this sordid tale as it unfolded in the media and there were many times I personally was ready to throw up my hands and conclude that it just wasn't meant to be. But you can't keep a valuable property down and here we are today with the first film ready to go, the second one in post and the third (!) getting ready for some additional shooting early in 2013. In spite of the questionable assertion that the trilogy will wind up costing a billion dollars to produce (an assertion that seems intended to create a snazzy headline more than anything else) the article as a whole is excellent. A must read for anyone who's followed the saga of making the saga.

Read the article here.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit"

"Dark Knight Rises" DP Wally Pfister says "The Avengers" was "appalling"

In an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune cinematographer Wally Pfister couldn't keep his sour grapes under wraps and decided it was time to lash out a bit at the summer's biggest (and best) superhero blockbuster (that would be the one he wasn't DP on). When asked what was the most important thing to consider when shooting a film Pfister replied:

“What’s really important is storytelling. None of it matters if it doesn’t support the story. I thought The Avengers was an appalling film. They’d shoot from some odd angle and I’d think, why is the camera there? Oh, I see, because they spent half a million on the set and they have to show it off. It took me completely out of the movie. I was driven bonkers by that illogical form of storytelling.”

That's bold talk for someone who managed to make New York City look about as compelling as a block of tofu in TDKR. It also seems fairly unusual to me for one DP to publicly rake another one over the coals for no apparent reason. Unless Avengers DP Seamus McGarvey stole Pfister's lunch money or some such thing then the only thing "appalling" here is Pfister's lack of professional decorum.

Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson in one of Seamus McGarvey's appallingly beautiful shots from "The Avengers"

Oct 15, 2012

Bond vs. Silva in new "Skyfall" clip

With the November 9th domestic release date rapidly approaching and early reviews touting it as perhaps the best Bond film ever anticipation for the release of "Skyfall" is reaching fever pitch. Here's the latest clip from Bond 23 which features our hero alllllllmost cornering his elusive nemesis Silva, played by Javier Bardem.

The top 10 movies for the weekend of October 12 - October 14, 2012

1) Taken 2 $21.8 Million
2) Argo $19.4 Million
3) Sinister $18 Million
4) Hotel Transylvania $17.2 Million
5) Here Comes the Boom $11.8 Million
6) Pitch Perfect $9.2 Million
7) Frankenweenie $7 Million
8) Looper $6.2 Million
9) Seven Psychopaths $4.1 Million
10) The Perks of Being a Wallflower $2.1 Million

(Green indicates new release)

The number one movie a year ago this week was Buena Vista's "Real Steel" which retained the top spot for a second week while taking in $16.2 million.

Oct 14, 2012

"Prometheus" and the wonderful world of compositing

"Prometheus" was nothing if not visually breathtaking a fact that made up for some of the film's narrative shortcomings and head-scratching characterizations. MPC, the company behind much of that look has produced this short effects reel which focuses primarily on the jigsaw-like creation of LV223 and it's inhabitants. While it's not in depth enough to learn much from (if you're so inclined) it is nonetheless fascinating to see how the pieces come together.

Off the beaten track trailer of the day - "Backyard Blockbusters"

There's people who can tell you what "Star Wars" is, people who've seen each Star Wars film several dozen times and then there's people who spend their own time and money to make their own Star Wars films. These fan-atics do it for the love of it, rarely seeing any return but some of their efforts are viewed by millions of people around the world thanks to that newfangled invention, the internet.

One John E. Hudgens has made his own movie about these people who make their own versions of other people's movies and it looks like a hoot. While the superfan thing has always struck me as a bit, let's say odd, no one can deny the effort some of these folks put into their take on their favorite stories.

"Backyard Blockbusters" is currently being shopped around to festivals.

Oct 12, 2012

Behind the scenes featurette: "Cloud Atlas"

The Wachowskis are a mixed-blessing as far as I'm concerned. While the original "Matrix" was (in my opinion) one of the best sci-fi movies ever made the sequels became bogged down in quasi-philosophical, quasi-religious, quasi-scientific mumbo jumbo. For that reason alone I've been cautious about getting too excited for the release of their latest film "Cloud Atlas" which seems to me to be boiling over with quasi-possibilities. Still, the material released so far looks great and, since the medium in question is motion pictures, I'm going to try and keep an open mind about it. So in the spirit of open-mindedness here's a behind the scenes piece featuring the siblings and various members of the ensemble cast discussing the project.

"Cloud Atlas" opens October 26th.

Oct 11, 2012

New trailer for "Zero Dark Thirty"

Kathryn Bigelow's story of the raid that finally took down bin Laden looks to have all the world-weariness and testosterone-fueled ominosity (new word!) you'd expect from a film about such an endeavor. What's unexpected is the presence of Jessica Chastain's CIA facilitator lurking wordlessly in the background of events, keeping an eye on the players, assessing things. She's the collective anger and uncertainty of 10 years determined to get things right. James Gandolfini also makes his first appearance playing then CIA director Leon Panetta.

"Zero Dark Thirty" opens December 19th.

Oct 10, 2012

Sci-fi short film "True Skin" touches a nerve

As it's a pretty slow day for movie news I went a-wandering in cyberspace and came up with this gem of a short film. Created by and starring Stephan Zlotescu it's an incredibly well done and compelling vision of the near future as technological nightmare. It's only 6 minutes long so check it out.

Oct 9, 2012

That Promethean A0-3959x.91 - 15_ got me in its spell!

When all was said and done the real villain in Ridley Scott's imperfect "Prometheus" wasn't an alien engineer, nor was it a proto-zenomorph, nor was it even the big bad corporate wolf Peter Weyland. It was that black goo gone wild. Released when human intervention changed the atmosphere in the engineer's storage facility, this stuff was potent enough to turn a worm into a ghost cobra from hell and turn Fifield into an even bigger a-hole than he already was. No small feat that. An infected Charlie Holloway knocked up Elizabeth Shaw and, well, we all know how that worked out.

So just what was/is this biological warfare agent the engineers were apparently planning to set free on earth? Below is one of the extras from the Prometheus DVD release, and as you can see, it's a "classified" document outlining the virtues and hazards of the goo. I'm guessing that these are the results of David's analysis of the samples he brought back to the ship. The same samples he used to infect Holloway.

Oct 8, 2012

The top 10 movies for the weekend of October 5 - October 7, 2012

1) Taken 2 $49.5 Million
2) Hotel Transylvania $27 Million
3) Pitch Perfect $14.8 Million
4) Looper $12.1 Million
5) Frankenweenie $11.4 Million
6) End of Watch $4 Million
7) Trouble with the Curve $3.8 Million
8) House at the End of the Street $3.7 Million
9) The Master $1.8 Million
10) Finding Nemo 3D $1.6 Million

The number one movie a year ago this week was Buena Vista's "Real Steel" which debuted in the top spot with $27.3 million.

"Taken 2" - 2012 - movie review

"Taken 2" is not a thinking man's movie. Like it's predecessor it's a straight up good vs evil, black and white, kill or be killed revenge flick heavy on the patented Luc Besson hand to hand and light on the snappy dialogue and deep, philosophical undercurrents.

When last we saw Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) he had just finished his own European version of Sherman's March to the Sea, having cut a wide and bloody swath through the corrupt underbelly of Paris in a single-minded quest to retrieve his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from Eastern European human traffickers. Lots of Balkan types died at his hands, as well as a gaggle of Middle Eastern security men charged with protecting the Sultan of Molestia along with the Sultan himself. In the end though nobody seemed the worse for wear and everyone resumed their lives as if nothing had happened.

Everyone named Mills that is. Because as "Taken 2" opens we're witness to a mass funeral being held on a hillside in Albanian. Seems all those human traffickers Mills dispatched with such alacrity in the first film had family and those family members are none too thrilled to qualify for the "Bury 6 and the 7th one's free!" discount over at Corpse Boxes R Us. One older gentleman in particular has allowed Mills to crawl up his behind and fester and as a result of his discomfort vows revenge on Mills in front of the assembled mourners. And there is your plot. All that's left to do now is bring the combatants together and let the fun begin.

In order to do that we find Mr Mills has had to go to Istanbul where he's apparently charged with handling security for a visiting Middle Eastern type. Before he leaves for Turkey however he spends some time consoling his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) who has just been dumped by her meal ticket, uh, I mean her wealthy husband. Mills suggests she and Kim visit him in Istanbul and they'll make a holiday out of it that'll help her forget her troubles.

So back to Istanbul. Lenore and Kim arrive as do the angry Albanians and before the ladies have had a chance to recover from their jet lag Lenore and Bryan are taken and it's up to Kim to help her father engineer his own escape. I won't go into the bloody details of how events unfold from here because if I did there'd be nothing else to talk about. As I said up front there aren't any hidden meanings or philosophical undercurrents at work here. This is straight up Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry "I'm going to kill you and the audience is going to cheer" film making.

While the best adjective to describe the original film would be "raw", "stylized" would be a more appropriate word to describe what director Oliver Megaton has created here. All those raw edges from the first film - the graphic torture, the overdosing prostitutes, the decadant Arabian perverts - have been sanded down and polished up until what we have here is lots of "Transporter" style combat-dancing, fuzzy, almost impressionistic shots of Lenore in distress and "good" Arabs who reward Mills' professionalism in the traditional style; with a thick bonus envelope.

This being a Luc Besson production however the stylization is handled discreetly and the film never actually devolves into parody. While you certainly have to be aware that a fight choreographer is standing just off-camera during the hand to hand combat sequences, they are so viscerally charged that it doesn't matter. While it might have added another level of dread and loathing of the bad guys in my heart to actually see Lenore abused in some way, I'm glad the film makers opted for restraint. Same with the brains spattering on the wall etc. This is not The Godfather Part II where the film maker is making an existential statement about Vito's milieu and the choices he feels he must make to escape it. It's an action movie pure and simple and if it's going to indulge in gratuitous excess that excess should be of the action variety, not the sadistic variety.

Liam Neeson has said he doesn't see where the franchise could possibly go from here but frankly I see a world of possibilities simply because, in Bryan Mill's line of work, there's always a chance that one of your charges might get taken. It doesn't always have to be the wife and daughter who get taken while on vacation.

As far as Taken 2 goes; production values are high, the cast is first rate, the fight scenes and car chases through Istanbul are exciting and in the very end there's just a tiny scene that pretty effectively demonstrates the difference between "good" and "evil", as envisioned by the film makers. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

Oct 7, 2012

Off the beaten track trailer of the day - "The Thieves"

They're hot. They're happenin'. They're never caught in traffic, never have to go to the bathroom, never get dirty and are never at a loss for that oh-so-clever quip. They walk down the street shoulder to shoulder, do most things in slow motion, think loser-factories like casinos are glamorous and spend most of their time posing for cameras unseen. They're "The Thieves"!  Direct from South Korea its "Ocean's Eleven" with better looking babes.

"The Thieves" will see a limited US release beginning Oct 12th.

Oct 6, 2012

The Weyland-Tyrell Corporation?

"Alien" and "Blade Runner" are two of the most influential movies of the past 50 years. They each sent shock waves through their respective genre's that are still being felt today. "Blade Runner" pretty much created the modern dystopian template; a world so divorced from being a 'society' that replicants are the only ones capable of emotional connection, while "Alien" opened up space to working stiffs and shifted our idea of what an alien life form might be from the basically human dweebs of "Star Trek" to giant, bipedal, blood-thirsty beetles with hi IQs.

As compelling as both of Ridley Scott's early masterpieces are no one, to my knowledge, has suggested a link between these worlds: until now. According to a heads-up article over at firstshowing there's a "supplementary pod" on the "Prometheus" Blu-Ray entitled "Merging Ridleyverses" where concept artist Ben Proctor is talking about conversations that went on during production of Prometheus including one where Scott reportedly says "Maybe the bodyguards, you know, that come out with Weyland, maybe one of them says Batty on his uniform." and another where Scott proffers this idea: "You know, I'm thinking what if it's the Weyland-Tyrell Corporation? Is that cool?" I suppose that depends on who you ask.

While neither of these ideas ever showed up in Prometheus the fact that Scott is including their mention on the Blu-Ray indicates that they're not just him idly kicking a conceptual can down the road. He must certainly have known what kind of cyberspace shit-storm he'd be setting off just by mentioning the idea publicly. And there's more. The article also includes the graphic below which a fan apparently captured from the UK Prometheus Steelbook Blu-Ray and is purported to be an email of sorts from Peter Weyland in which he discusses some very familiar characters.

So is Ridley Scott setting us up for a Weyland cameo in his upcoming "Blade Runner" sequel? Or could it be that the daughter Ripley lost to old age while she was floating through the core systems in the Nostromo escape pod was Deckard's love child? (I know, Scott himself has said Deckard was a replicant, which would imply he is unable to procreate. I'm just trying to make a point.)

That point is that, personally, I think it's a mashup too far. Some things are best left untouched, to be appreciated as stand-alone creations. There's no compelling reason to glum one masterpiece onto the legacy of another, no jaw-dropping narrative symmetry that's come to light that requires exploration. In fact there's no artistic reason to do it, only marketing reasons. A far reaching Ridleyverse could potentially be exploited by Scott Free Productions and 20th Century Fox for years to come by creating a more heady alternative to the Avengers universe. But is box office alone sufficient justification? It all seems so tacky. So AVP to me. Think a little harder Ridley. Come up with some new, original ideas and don't try and build bridges between masterpieces solely in the interest of free trade. Some things should be above crass, commercial considerations.

New clip from "Skyfall"

The shot from the trailer of James Bond adjusting his cufflinks after jumping into a train car whose end has been ripped off by a backhoe was already my favorite shot of the year and now we have virtually the entire sequence leading up to that coolest of all known moments in this here clip. They really don't have to include anything else in the film as far as I'm concerned. Just kidding (I think).

"Skyfall" opens stateside November 9th.

Oct 4, 2012

Hasbro cleans out the attic in search of movie gold

You'd think that the less-than-stellar box office performance of "Battleship" might have caused the folks at Hasbro to take a step back and rethink the idea of turning board games into feature films. Not so though as hollywoodreporter is reporting that the game maker has signed a production deal to bring "Monopoly", "Action Man" and (the one all America has been waiting for) "Hungry, Hungry Hippos" to the big screen over the next few years.

The provenance of the poster on the left is hard to pin down but the fan-made one sheet itself is priceless. (It also reveals some possible synergy between HHH and Battleship that could be exploited. Hollywood take note.)

Oct 3, 2012

First trailer for Jason Statham's "Parker"

Now that he's got the embarrassing "Expendables" sequel behind him Jason Statham is getting back to what he does best: high-quality, contemporary action. In "Parker" Statham plays a crook commissioned to do a job who's then turned on by his co-conspirators and left for dead. Except that he's not dead. Not by a long shot. When he comes for revenge - and you know he will - he's taking no prisoners and even Jennifer Lopez is going to have to prove her sincerity by subjecting to a strip search.

"Parker" opens Jan 13, 2013.

First trailer for "The Lone Ranger"

Sure looks a lot more like "Tonto" than the Lone Ranger but whatever. The first trailer for Gore Verbinski's on-again, off-again, over-budget, closed down, reopened, dead-in-the-water, ready-to-go western is finally here. Check it out.

"The Lone Ranger" with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp opens July 13, 2013.

Oct 2, 2012

"Prometheus" deleted scene: Milburn the happy idiot

One of the most head-scratching scenes in Prometheus was when biologist Milburn cozies up to the alien ghost-cobra and tries to pet it. What scientist in their right mind would reach out and touch a completely unknown life form that is clearing exhibiting aggressive behavior? Well, Milburn did and he got what you get in such situations: an esophageal how-do-you-do of pornographic proportions.

So just what got into Milburn that would cause such nonsensical behavior? This deleted scene from the Prometheus DVD sheds a little more light on the character showing that his bad judgement wasn't a spur of the moment thing but more just who he is. Of course the scene early on in the theatrical release where he attempts to cozy up to mohawk-boy and gets roundly rebuffed (yet clings to his side anyway) shows just as clearly that Milburn has a thing for hostile life forms and should have been a warning to the rest of the crew not to bring him along on any field trips.

Video deleted at source.

NOTE: The good folks at MSN have removed the video for this deleted scene. I'm loath to remove this post though because the scene really is worth watching. So I'm going to keep an eye out for it and if it appears again in cyberspace I'll stick it back up here where it belongs. Chris

Oct 1, 2012

The top 10 movies for the weekend of September 28 - September 30, 2012

1) Hotel Transylvania $42.5 Million
2) Looper $20.8 Million
3) End of Watch $7.8 Million
4) Trouble with the Curve $7.2 Million
5) House at the End of the Street $7.1 Million
6) Pitch Perfect $5.1 Million
7) Finding Nemo 3D $4 Million
8) Resident Evil: Retribution $2.9 Million
9) The Master $2.68 Million
10) Won't Back Down $2.60 Million
The number one movie a year ago this week was Warner Brother's "Dolphin Tale" which rose from the number 3 spot the previous week to take over at the top while taking in $13.9 million.

Video interview with Liam Neeson

With "Taken 2" getting ready to launch this week comingsoon caught up with Liam Neeson in New York and had a brief conversation with him about the upcoming film, the pleasures of shooting in Istanbul and what it's like to become an action star when most guys are counting down the days to retirement.

"Taken 2" opens October 5th.