Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guillermo Del Toro Leaves The Hobbit


I'm sure this news is just now getting out. The Lord of the Rings fan site The One Ring has received and posted a press release announcing that director Guillermo Del Toro has dropped out of the two part adaptation of The Hobbit, citing both the financial collapse of co-producing company MGM and other commitments. The film was set to hit theaters in December 2012 but at this point unless a new director is found and things are worked out I doubt it will. You can see the full release here-http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2010/05/30/36920-guillermo-del-toro-departs-the-hobbit/

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Movie Review: Prince of Persia-The Sands of Time


I can't come up with a cute opening. So let's just jump in... (and yes there are spoilers.)

As our story opens we discover the land of Persia, the most powerful in the world, ruled by the noble king Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). One day while out among his subjects he witness an act of bravery done by an orphan named Dastan. Impressed he adopts the boy and we jump ahead 20 years where Dastan (now a buff Jake Gyllenhaal) is helping his adopted brothers invade the holy city of Alamut when word reaches them they are harboring weapons for their enemies. During the raid the Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) sends a soldier out with a sacred weapon to get out of the city but Dastan ends up with it. The dagger it seems contains the sacred Sands of Time which can be used to reverse time up to a minute to change or prevent an action. When Dastan is accused of murdering Sharaman he pulls a Richard Kimble and hits the road trying to clear his name. With his angry brothers and a scheming uncle (Ben Kingsley), a greedy tax evader (Alfred Molina) and his gang and a group of deadly assassins on his trail Dastan has to use his wits and agile skill to save the day and win the babe. Yep standard summer fare.

If there is a movie this summer that has a lot going against it, Prince of Persia-The Sands of Time is it. First off its based on a video game, a sub-genre that has mostly resulted in such bombs like Super Mario Bros, the Jean Claude Van Damme Street Fighter and the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider flicks. Director Mike Newell is better known for chick flicks like Four Weddings and a Funeral (even though he did direct Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire-one of the better ones in that series). Throw that in with it being produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (who for every good movie-like Pirates of the Caribbean-we get two lousy ones-like the Pirates sequels) and Disney and you would think it would be a complete disaster.

But to my surprise it isn't the total lost cause I thought it would be. In fact compared to most of this summer's rather gloomy looking offerings (from the reportedly joyless Robin Hood to Christopher Nolan's Inception) Prince is sunny-and not just because it takes place in bright deserts. The plot is pretty straight forward if unoriginal-just replace the dagger with the Lost Ark and Dastan and Tamina with Indy and Marion and yet get the idea. Thankfully Gyllenhaal brings humor and fits the hero role well-something you wouldn't get from Donnie Darko, while Arterton does her best-even if it in the latter part of the film she ends up playing virtually the same character she played in Clash of the Titans. The real scene stealer is Molina who brings needed comedy relief but doesn't wear out his welcome. And of course from a technical standpoint the cinematography looks great, the FX okay (too much CGI sand brings back memories of The Mummy Returns-not good) and the costumes shows off Arterton pretty well (start ogling.)

In the end it gets a **1/2 out of four. I'll get grief I'm sure from somebody. But for now its a fun film. Believe me I'll take it any day over forty-something shoe obsessives.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The "Empire" Turns 30


As you can tell by the headline, today May 21st marks the 30th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. And while I don't remember being there on opening day, my parents took me to see while it was still in release. I was excited and couldn't wait. And we left after 5 minutes-I was only 3 years old at the time and the Wampa smacking that Tauntaun was too much. In fact I wouldn't see Empire until 6 years later when it finally showed up on HBO. At that point Star Wars had begun to slide out of the public eye yet I remember most of my friends in the neighborhood talking about it, recording it on their VCRs (yep VCRs) and watching it over and over. We bought up what few Kenner toys we could find and acted probably like the kids did in 1980.

Today looking at Empire I can still say its a great movie-in fact probably the greatest sequel ever. It could have taken the easy way like most sequels and just rehash the same story but instead it took a risk. For all the recent criticism he's received for the prequels you have to give George Lucas credit-not many would make a movie that has the bad guys win at the end, or leave the audience with no resolution at the end and instead a cliffhanger that was not going to be resolved. Today its commonplace-most films seem to end with the sequel in mind-but in 1980 and even afterwards most films didn't. Also he assembled for this entry two good writers-Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan-and director Irvin Kershner who brought something you can say is lacking in the prequels-a human touch. Its not all about effects but about the characters. That's what the original trilogy (yes even Return of the Jedi) was about.

The Force is still strong with it (yes a terrible cliche at this point but truthful). I'll leave you with some links to some other tributes-in this case a touching remembrance by Harry Knowles about seeing Empire on opening day http://www.aintitcool.com/node/45211 and a link to the first trailer-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6bvuhPyq8Q narrated by Captain Solo himself.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Remake of the Day: Fire and Ice!


This one I'm sure no one saw coming. In a new interview on Aint It Cool News director Robert Rodriguez has confirmed he has bought the remake rights to Fire and Ice, the 1983 animated fantasy film created by Ralph Bakshi and the late Frank Frazetta and is working with Bakshi on a live-action version. You can read more at http://www.aintitcool.com/node/45169

Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: John Carter: The Jesse Marsh Years


A few months back I reviewed the first seven issues of Marvel's John Carter: Warlord of Mars series and at the time commented that while I liked the artwork, I was lukewarm on the writing (you can read those thoughts here:http://jcomreader.blogspot.com/2009/07/marvels-john-carter-warlord-of-mars.html) . Having just finished Dark Horse Comics' new John Carter of Mars: The Jesse Marsh Years collection I feel its the opposite this time.

A little history lesson first: John Carter had previously appeared in comic strips throughout the 1930s and 40s but never really seem to catch on in the funny pages the way Edgar Rice Burroughs' other creation-Tarzan-did. But in 1952 the Dell Comics company took a shot and published as part of the long running Four Color Comics series three issues devoted to John Carter. The books were written by long time comics writer Paul S. Newman (who according to the brief bio in the book has the Guinness World Record for most prolific comics writer ever) and the artwork was by Jesse Marsh, a former Disney animator who had been drawing Dell's Tarzan and Gene Autry books. The three comics were eventually reprinted in the 1960s by Gold Key Comics under the title John Carter of Mars (probably cashing in on the paperback releases of the novels) and since has not been republished until now.

As for the stories, I'll give the books credit-their pretty faithful. The first issue-titled "The Prisoner of the Tharks"-adapts A Princess of Mars while the second issue, "The Black Pirates of Omean" adapts The Gods of Mars and the third "Tyrant of the North" Warlord of Mars. There are some real notable exceptions-John is now a Korean War veteran, some major characters do not appear (most notably Carthoris), and for some reason the major battles that end the novels are not present here-maybe it was too much work to draw several Tharks storming Zodanga or the final raid on Omean but it does leave a lot of leaping around into fliers for our heroes. Not to say the writing is always great-it is definitely of the time and has some real eye rolling dialogue (the best one? Thuvia saying "please release me, O mighty white man." Yep that's real.)

With the artwork though is the major sticking point for many. As you can tell by the cover posted above from issue 3, John runs around looking like such comic strip characters of the time like Prince Valiant or even Flash Gordon. Marsh's women also are given wacky and distracting hair styles-poor Dejah has two things sticking out of the back of her head-even though Kantos Kan gets my vote for worst hair. The Tharks also look silly in clothes and their frog like faces (and in some panels they seem to shift in size, either towering over the humans or appearing the same size.) That might seem critical and maybe its the fact that having grown up with the more realistic (or more accurately scantly clad) portrayals of Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan or the Marvel series, some of this sticks out badly. I guess you have to put in the time frame it was drawn in when most comics did have a more cartoony look than the realism introduced a decade later by Jack Kirby and others.

In the end the book is probably going to split John Carter fans. Some will probably enjoy it and some will probably not like it for differing reasons. The presentation by Dark Horse is pretty good though-a nice hardcover binding, original covers and inside art showing the different creatures of Barsoom-and a nice introduction by Love and Rockets co-creator Marco Hernandez at least gives it an A for effort for B material.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tars Tarkas-Sock Puppet!


This is just too cute. A fansite devoted to James Purefoy (who is playing Kantos Kan in John Carter of Mars) has posted some photos of a Tars sock puppet http://jamespurefoyus.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/so-inspired-by-jcom/ While I never pictured the fierce Thark warrior this way its still a cool find.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dracula Rises From The Grave...Again


Well it looks like the most adapted novel in history is about to get a new version. Empire Magazine is reporting that Italian horror director Dario Argento (best known here in the States for such shockers like Deep Red and Suspiria) has announced at the Cannes Film Festival a new version of Bram Stoker's novel, this time in 3D. The question is can Argento pump blood back into this story? If anything it won't be a Dracula for the Twilight or True Blood fans. You can read the info here http://www.empireonline.com/news/feed.asp?NID=27877

Monday, May 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta RIP 1928-2010


Another great is gone. Several sites are reporting that Frank Frazetta, the legendary artist whose vivid paintings and art brought to life such classic characters like Conan, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan and others has passed away at the age of 82. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/frank-frazetta-fantasy-illustrator-dies-at-82/?src=mv I don't know what really to say except he will be missed and that his work will live on and continue to influence everyone in the fantasy and sci-fi field.

First Look at Conan!


Well get a quick look before they are taken down. A site called Operation Kino has posted several images from Marcus Nispel's upcoming Conan. Before it was just set photos but now as shown above we are getting our first glimpse of actor Jason Momoa as the Cimmerian. It shows a different look from Schwarzenegger's Conan which may or may not please people. You can see more at http://operationkino.net/2010/05/momoa-conan-new-images-from-production-in-bulgaria/ UPDATE: May 16-Some new photos have popped up at http://www.latinoreview.com/news/couple-more-pics-of-jason-momoa-as-tarzan-sorry-conan-9986. Most of the photos aren't clear but there is a better close up of Momoa (even if as the article jokes he looks more Lord of the Apes-or Casper Van Dien's version-than the Cimmerian.)

My question is this: How is it possible that photos from this movie has leaked out, showing the main actor yet every photo from the set of John Carter of Mars has been people free? Makes you wonder how it is possible nobody has snapped a pic of Taylor Kitsch or somebody from the cast.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2


Well the first big blockbuster of the summer is now upon us. And how did old shellhead do in his second movie? (And warning-spoilers ahead!)

When we last left Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) he had just come out as the invincible Iron Man. And in between films he has been using his new identity to save the world. But it has come with a price-he is being killed by the same technology keeping him alive. If that wasn't enough, the US Government wants him to hand over the Iron Man technology. But his biggest threat comes from both a rival arms manufacturer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian whose father had been Tony's former partner and who Vanko felt was robbed of his glory and who takes on the identity of Whiplash to destroy Tony and Iron Man. Can Iron Man save the day and himself? Is the hot new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johanssen) a friend or foe? And can the film live up to the first one?

I guess confession time folks-I loved the first Iron Man. In fact I'll even say it was probably the best superhero movie ever, second only to the original Superman with Christopher Reeve. The reason was Downey-he inhabited Tony Stark and made him a real character. The film also benefited from the guiding hand of Jon Favreau, who proved he could handle big scale action and keep the movie from turning into an empty FX showcase. But when it comes to Iron Man 2 it has a lot going for it. Is it as good as the first one? No and I'll get to that in a moment. But compared to such recent misfires like Spider-Man 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, its a masterpiece. Again Favreau keeps the focus on Tony but also manages to give the other characters their moments-especially Gwyneth Paltrow, returning as Tony's harried secretary Pepper Potts, and Don Cheadle who manages to take over from Terence Howard the role of James Rhodes pretty well. Johanssen also handles her role well, even if it is smaller than what the previews lead you to believe, and there is some fun appearances from Garry Shandling and Samuel L. Jackson, reprising his cameo role as Nick Fury. Even Favreau gets some laughs as Happy Morgan, Tony's driver and bodyguard.

Where I felt the film does falter is in its villains. Not that Rourke or Rockwell was bad in either role-in fact they were both good-but they were underused and ultimately not as memorable as Jeff Bridges in the first film. Also the final battle was pretty much just an enlarged version of the last film's ending, just with more explosions (all of it done well by ILM and Double Negative). Again not bad but it has a feeling of been there, done that to it.

Even with those little nitpicks, Iron Man 2 is still a fun flick. It might not be as great as the first one but it still manages to entertain. (And yes stay through the credits. Your geek senses will tingle.) My rating: ***out of ****.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some Old Banth Bones...


Well after almost four months of shooting we now have our first glimpse of an actual prop from John Carter of Mars...and its some old bones. Well some newly made "old bones." A company called Orlandi Statuary was hired to create what their site calls "saber tooth" bones for the movie. As most die-hard John Carter followers know though there was only one creature similar to that on Barsoom-the Banth. You can see for yourself at http://orlandistatuary.socialpresshub.com/releases/john-carter-of-mars-bones-made-by-orlandi (And a big thanks to http://www.barsoomia.org/ for having it mentioned in their daily Twitter feed.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

John Carter: Set Photos and Tidbits


Well it may not be Taylor Kitsch in costume or a Thark but the unofficial John Carter of Mars movie site has posted up some pics of the outdoor sets in Lake Powell, Utah. You can see all the pics at http://www.johncartermovie.com/cgi-bin/archive.pl?COMMAND=showarticle&num=0. Maybe with Thor now shown, Disney will get over their paranoia and release some good official pics soon.

Elsewhere IO9 posted an interesting piece on the possible problems adapting vintage pulp material in this day and age and how it could affect John Carter, especially with the political correctness police http://io9.com/5479855/can-you-update-pulp-science-fiction-without-being-f+ed-up?skyline=true&s=i.

Finally Dark Horse Comics has moved up the release date of their John Carter of Mars: The Jesse Marsh Years collection. It will be coming out this Thursday May 5 (I only found out yesterday when I received an update from Amazon.) You can see some examples of the book at http://www.darkhorse.com/Books/16-381/Edgar-Rice-Burroughs-John-Carter-of-Mars-The-Jesse-Marsh-Years-HC by clicking preview on the page.