Friday, April 30, 2010

First Glimpse of Thor!


With Iron Man 2 only one week away (at least in the US) Marvel has released the first image of actor Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder for next summer's Thor. I admit that the movie hasn't been at the top of my list of movies I've been waiting for-I used to follow the comics but haven't in years and the thought of Kenneth Branagh directing brought to mind Ang Lee and Hulk-but this photo actually looks good, so maybe the movie will deliver. For a larger look at the pic go to http://movies.yahoo.com/photos/movie-stills/gallery/2588/thor-stills#info

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Retro View: Jason and the Argonauts


I've been laid up the last few days with a cold so I've had the chance to sit down and re watch some childhood favorites. And this tops the list.

After conquering the kingdom of Thessaly and slaying the king and his offspring, the new ruler Pelias (Douglas Wilmer) is forewarned that a man with a missing sandal will save him and be the cause of his downfall. When he is saved from drowning, he discovers his rescuerer is Jason (Todd Armstrong), the son of the former king who has sworn vengeance against Pelias. Luckily for Pelias, Jason does not recognize him and suggests that to win back Thessaly Jason will need to seek out and retrieve the Golden Fleece, which resides in the kingdom of Colchis. Jason assembles a team to help him on his quest and gets assistance from Hera, the Queen of the Gods (Honor Blackman) and Medea (Nancy Kovack) a temple dancer in Colchis. But standing in his way is Pelias' treacherous son, a giant bronze statute, the king of Colchis, the seven-headed Hydra and sword-wielding skeletons.

When they say "they don't make 'em like they used to" Jason and the Argonauts fits the bill. A fun throwback to when heroes weren't damaged emotional wrecks (hello Dark Knight), villains chewed the scenery and action scenes weren't edited into incoherence, the film goes from one adventure to another, taking Jason and the viewer on his quest. Of course with a movie like this, you have to accept the limitations of the actors (even though I thought Blackman and Nigel Green as non Steve Reeves clone Hercules stood out) or that the script throws in some clunky dialogue. It's all in the name of fun.

The big selling point then as now though is the effects by Ray Harryhausen. Nowadays it might seem unlikely that a visual effects artist or group would be a major selling point (you don't see that many people lining up just because ILM or Weta did the effects) but Harryhausen was the major reason many people went. And while the effects probably won't impress in this day of Avatar, there is a more "real" quality-this is was the work of a man doing with his own hands-not on a computer. And the effects are top-notch-especially the Hydra and now classic skeleton sequence that still dazzles. While it doesn't top my list of the best Harryhausen films (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad gets that honor) Jason and the Argonauts comes a close second. Retro rating:**** our of 4.

Friday, April 23, 2010

John Carter: Early Test Animation and Scripts!


Yesterday I mention there maybe is one or two people who read this blog and earlier today one of them provides something cool.

Reader Mike Smith posted this link http://www.examiner.com/x-19638-SciFi-Movie-Examiner~y2010m4d22-Preview-John-Carter-of-Mars that includes test footage of a Thark by animator Steve Meyer. Even though the article doesn't mention it, the footage was done for director Kerry Conran in 2005 when Paramount was producing. Mr. Meyer though is listed in the credits for the current John Carter of Mars as part of research and development. You can see the footage there or at http://www.stevemeyeranimation.com/animation.html (The clip there though has it as part of a demo reel with some commercial work and footage from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.)

The other cool find of the day I was saving for a rainy day. Well its raining. The site My PDF Scripts has posted three scripts for the previous unmade John Carter movies. The first two are from Disney's early attempts to make a movie. The first is by writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) and is dated March 12, 1990 http://www.mypdfscripts.com/unproduced/a-princess-of-mars-rossio-elliott-draft. I haven't finished it but it so far seems close to the novel. It also has the title The Chronicles of John Carter: Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. The second script is by Bob Gale (of Back to the Future fame) and is dated January 1991 and seems to be a rewrite of the Elliot-Rossio draft. This one has a comedic edge to it that might turn off some fans though http://www.mypdfscripts.com/unproduced/a-princess-of-mars-bob-gale-draft.

The final script is by writer Ehren Kruger (best known for The Ring and Arlington Road) and is dated Sept. 7, 2005 http://www.mypdfscripts.com/unproduced/john-carter-of-mars. This one will be interesting for those who have seen the Asylum version as it has many similarities. (Also of note-the site also has Leigh Brackett's first draft script for The Empire Strikes Back http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/star-wars-episode-v-–-the-empire-strikes-back-leigh-brackett-draft It is radically different from the final film and is an interesting read for Star Wars and Brackett fans.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Newsbits:Clone Wars, John Carter and Avatar


For the one or two people who read this blog, sorry for the lack of updates. Honestly there hasn't been much to report but I will probably add more Retro Views soon. But today some brief news.

First up, everyone's favorite bounty hunter returns to animation this Friday with the new episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Yep Boba Fett returns, seeking revenge. You can read the full press release and see a clip at http://www.theforce.net/topstory/story/Preview_TCW_Death_Trap_130734.asp

Next up two items for John Carter of Mars fans. First up tonight (Thursday) GeekWeekLive will have a chat with actor Daryl Sabara, who is playing young Edgar Rice Burroughs. I don't know how much info will be revealed about JCOM but we'll see. You can watch the video at http://www.geekweek.com/live.html It will start at 4 P.M. PST. The other bit is on http://www.johncartermovie.com/ where they have posted a first pic from the set in Utah. Not much to see but I guess it proves their shooting.

Finally today is Earth Day. It's also Avatar Day as the epic hits Blu-Ray and DVD to help celebrate our planet and make some cash (cynical I know. But the lack of extras pretty much means double and triple dipping is coming.) I guess make you'll have to decide either to buy now or wait. Beyond that though, go out and celebrate our homeworld and have a good day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Movie Review: Outlander


Sometimes when you take a chance on a movie, you find a winner. And this is one of them.

Kainan (Jim Caviezel) is one of the last survivors of a decimated planet, traveling through space with his captain and the creature, called a Moorwen, that wrecked havoc and destroyed his loved ones. When his craft crashes on an alien world, Kainan survives, the Moorwen escapes and starts its reign of terror again. But before Kainan can stop it, he is captured and accused of the destruction of a village. And these "aliens"-better known as Vikings of Earth, circa 709 AD-don't trust him. Only after winning the trust of their leader, Rothgar (John Hurt), his daughter Freya (Sophia Myles) and his nephew Wulfric (Jack Houston) does Kainan find the trust and needed assistance to stop the Moorwen. But stopping it may cost them everything.

I admit when I sat down to watch Outlander, I had my doubts. The plot-human looking alien crashing on ancient Earth, Vikings and alien dragons-sounded like something you would see on Syfy on a Saturday night. And the film's brief theatrical run and dumping on DVD didn't seem to signal much hope of a good movie either. But Outlander is a good movie that deserves to be seen. While it isn't original in plotting-the first half where Kainan becomes a member of the Viking tribe is basically A Princess of Mars or Avatar in reverse, while the second half is the standard hunting the monster through its lair that Clash of the Titans recently redid with Medusa-director and co-writer Howard McCain brings a fresh vitality to it-helped by well done action scenes and tight editing. The Moorwen itself-basically a red glowing alien dragon-is also impressive and well-designed (not surprisingly, two of the concept artists listed in the credits are Ian McCaig and Ryan Church-both veterans of the Star Wars prequels, Avatar and did work for John Carter of Mars.) Also serving the film is the actors. Caviezel brings a good physicality to his role and manages to infuse his part with both feelings of loss and good humor. Hurt and Ron Perlman (as a rival Viking leader Gunnar) are old dependables and bring the expected excellent performances as does Houston and Myles.

The only disappointment is the fact that Outlander was given such short shrift by its distributor. I admit a Viking Vs. Alien movie might be a hard sell but the fact that it wasn't even given a chance while utter dreck fills theaters week-in and week-out is sad. It reminds me of Trick R Treat-another excellent film that suffered the same fate. Hopefully with DVD and TV airings though this film will find the audience it deserves. My rating: ***1/2 out of 4.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Retro View: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century


With little recent news (John Carter of Mars is reportedly finished filming now in England and is heading to Utah-wonder how many snoopers will be out there?) I decided to every once and a while take a look back at classic and not so classic films. And with two Bucks heading our way...

The year is 1987 and NASA has launched the last of its deep space probes. Launched on Ranger 3 is Captain William "Buck" Rogers (Gil Gerard). But a malfunction causes his ship to spin out of control and puts Buck in a form of suspended animation. Eventually he wakes up to discover that is the year 2491, that Earth had been nearly destroyed by a nuclear war and the Earth Defense Directorate, headed up by scientist Elias Huer (Tim O'Conner) is attempting to make peace with the human-like Draconians. Eventually Buck discovers that the Draconians have other plans-and along with Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) and the robot duo of Dr. Themopolous and Twiki tries to avert disaster. That and the sexy Draconian Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) who has other plans for Buck...

I have to admit-I like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. This pilot film (which Universal did release to theaters before it aired) is a hoot and then some. The major issue I'm sure for the audiences of today (the post Dark Knight-crowds as I call 'em) is that the show is campy and I have a feeling that was the point. Unlike the previous Battlestar Galactica (which despite its Chariots of the Gods influence did attempt to take itself seriously) Buck Rogers was meant to be nothing more than entertainment. Of course I'm sure spandex, disco dancing and some of Ardala's headgear will probably cause much eye-rolling and head shaking but almost every sci-fi movie or show had those elements that tell you when it was made.

Once you move past though everything else works surprisingly well. Gerard brought a good sense of humor and the required dash and physicality to Buck without making him stereotypical or a buffoon. Gray also brings Wilma to life, again with a sense of humor. Of course there is Twiki (voiced by legend Mel Blanc) and while he is pretty much a R2-D2 clone, he isn't that bad. Of course for many the real highlight will be Hensley's Ardala-the ultimate princess hottie whose skimpy outfits and sex appeal I'm sure caused many to achieve puberty. (And I'm sure I'm alone but Hensley would have been my number one choice for Dejah Thoris. Take one look and you'll see why Lynn Collins has her work cut out.)

I'm not saying its some underrated masterpiece or that the series that followed was a classic (even though I've watched most of the first season and several episodes-especially the creepy "Space Vampire" and the fun "Planet of the Slave Girls" with a scenery chewing Jack Palance and the original Buck, Buster Crabbe as "Gordon"-are pretty good) but this Buck is a fun throwback that viewed in the right frame of mind will leave you entertained. My rating: ***

Friday, April 9, 2010

EW's "Empire" Special! Plus Buck And John Carter's Battleship?


A late night Friday post. Yep, sad isn't it.

First up as you can tell from above, the new issue of Entertainment Weekly hitting newsstands today celebrates the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. The issue according to their site will contain some previously unreleased photos and a preview of the upcoming Making Of book. As the greatest sequel ever made it's cool to see it getting its due this way.

Next up http://www.buckrogersbegins.com/ has posted a new photo on their site, featuring Buck (Bobby Rice) and his girlfriend Maddie (Samantha Gray) as well as the new logo. With the feature film now in the hands of Paul "Alien vs. Predator" Anderson, at least someone is giving Buck some respect.

Finally Hollywood Reporter's Heatvision blog (http://www.heatvisionblog.com/) and several other sites have reported that Taylor Kitsch will be jumping from Barsoom to...Battleship. Yes as in "you sank my battleship." The film is being directed by Peter Berg, one of the producers of Kitsch's former job, Friday Night Lights. No offense but seriously? Battleship? The film is set to open 2012, which either will be a big year for Kitsch or make him wonder why he left FNL.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mark Strong on John Carter of Mars and Green Lantern!


Well talk about killing two birds with one stone...

Cinematical recently caught up with Mark Strong (who at this point seems determined to play every villain in every major motion picture until the end of time) out promoting the upcoming comic book flick Kick-Ass. Not much major on John Carter of Mars (I guess after his last comments, the infamous "shift his shape" and "master of the universe" statements he decided to be more cautious in his exchanges). He did admit to recently filming a battle sequence between 2 tribes with 400 extras on a "floating platform" (didn't Flash Gordon and Prince Barin fight on one of those) and that he will be finishing his part in May with some shooting in Utah in the next few weeks. He also dropped some hints on Green Lantern and his take on Sinestro that sounds interesting. You can check out the full article here: http://www.cinematical.com/2010/04/07/exclusive-mark-strong-talks-green-lantern-and-john-carter-of/

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bob Clampett Test Footage for John Carter of Mars!


A little history lesson for this Easter Sunday... In 1935, a former college roommate of Edgar Rice Burroughs' son John approached Burroughs about making an animated movie out of John Carter of Mars. Bob Clampett and John Burroughs spent their weekends working on the project which at one point was picked up by MGM (who was making the Tarzan movies at the time) for possible distribution. A screening was held for theater chain owners and things went downhill. The owners felt the central concept-an Earthman traveling to another planet-was too silly for audiences and they wouldn't come (a year later both Clampett and the Burroughs family probably shook their heads when audiences flocked to the Flash Gordon serial.) Clampett later went on to work for Warner Bros on their Looney Tunes shorts and created Beany and Cecil. That test footage for John Carter finally surfaced years ago and has found its way online. So check out below and take a look at what could have been both the first full length animated motion picture (two years before Disney made Snow White) and the first John Carter film. Enjoy!


Friday, April 2, 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans


Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Other matters have kept me away. But I'm back with my thoughts on the year's first big FX spectacle. Release the KRAKEN! (and some spoilers-heads up!)
As the film opens a lone fisherman (Pete Posthlewaite) finds a floating coffin with a dead woman and a still living infant. He quickly takes the child and raises it as his own. The grown child-Perseus (Sam Worthington)-seems content with his adopted family until tragedy strikes. The city of Argos has revolted against the Gods and their actions causes the deaths of Perseus' family. He immediately seeks his vengeance against the being responsible-Hades (Ralph Fiennes). But Hades has other plans-he orders Argos to sacrifice the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) or be massacred. Perseus and a group of Argos soldiers, along with the ageless seer Io (Gemma Arteton) venture forth to find a way to save Andromeda and for Perseus to have his vengeance. Unknown to Perseues he is the child of Hades' brother Zeus (Liam Neeson) and there is more to this than either knows...

If you are familiar with the 1981 Clash of the Titans than its obvious the plot has undergone some mild alterations. Its not love that sets Perseus on his quest but revenge. And that maybe is the major issue. The original for all its now dated appearances was the story of what a man will do to save a woman he loves. The new Clash is all about an angry guy seeking his revenge. And fighting a lot of monsters. In fact that's pretty much what the film is about-CGI monsters wrecking havoc while the human actors run around. Now that's not a bad thing if there was someone to root for. Both the humans and gods are portrayed as selfish beings while Perseus' one man crusade makes him one note-not helped by Worthington's performance. While I'm not against him (like many seem to be after Avatar) he doesn't really have the gravitas to pull off the role and seems to spend most of the movie channeling Russell Crowe but he does pull off the action scenes well.

Outside of that though there is some good effects work present-the Kraken is definitely the highlight-and the veteran actors chew the scenery well, even if many are shortchanged-most notably Danny Houston (who was the best thing in last summer's Wolverine) as Poseidon and Polly Walker (Sarkoja for those John Carter of Mars fans) as Andromeda's mother. Andromeda also gets little to do-in this one she's a macguffin, nothing else.

I guess in the end your enjoyment will depend on your love of the original. I know for some that film-with Ray Harryhausen's stop motion magic, the good supporting cast and the hot Judi Bowker as Andromeda-is a cherished childhood favorite. I also know that many never warmed to it and found it dated and silly even then. So I guess it depends on what side of the aisle you sit in if this Clash delivers. For me it was a good afternoon's entertainment-not a classic but a fun action flick. (A quick note-according to most reviews the 3D version is apparently not effective. See it in 2D). My rating: ***