Wednesday, November 19, 2008

First Class-Resuscitating the X-Men

Stop looking at me like that, its not my fault half the interesting movie news is based in the superhero genre! Regardless, according to Cinematical, 20th Century Fox has hired a writer and producer for X-Men: First Class. Based on a Marvel Comics series of the same name, First Class tells an alternate origins story for everyone's favorite misunderstood mutants in their teenage years. The exact nature of the movie is up for grabs but it seems likely to focus mostly on the teenage members introduced in the last three films like Kitty Pride, Jubilee, Colossus and perhaps a few others.

First Class seems like a logical step to take after the absolute disaster that need not be mentioned by name here. After Brent Ratner single-handedly drove one of the very best superhero franchises out there into the ground, a simple sequel just wouldn't cut it. While a great deal can go wrong, the only real way to make a run at reviving the X-Men would be to get down to basics, something of an origin story where we can get reacquainted with characters who'd been buried in flashy stupidity. If someone with a serious artistic mind takes a look, there are still many, many wonderful and deep characters with all kinds of fulfilling stories ripe for the filming in the annals of X-Men history. If and ONLY if the right director is chosen, my faith in Hollywood will get a serious boost should the X-Men get the redemption they so rightly deserve.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Imagining the Cosmos-Star Trek: The Movie trailer

I'm a big fan of hammering the nails into my own coffin. I started with obsessive movie fan-dom, moved quickly onto uber comic book geek and political snob to now the revelation that I am half-Trekkie. Essentially I'm half Klingon but without the ridges (don't bother trying to understand, if you do, well, I feel your pain). Notice that I draw the distinction between half and full-fledged Trekkie; I've never been to a convention and I'm not familiar enough with the show to start waxing eloquent on the nature of the universe via the life lessons I've learned from Captains Kirk , Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer (alas, that list was from memory). Needless to say, half is more than enough to get psyched over the new trailer for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, due in theaters May, 2009.

Let's face it, Abrams set an extremely high bar with the original promo which was quite possibly the best teaser I've ever seen, getting the audience excited about a movie they knew absolutely nothing about. When it came for a second run at prepping viewers for adventure amongst the stars, the man who brought us Lost, Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield didn't disappoint. The new view of Star Trek: The Movie that accompanied the opening of Quantum of Solace has everything a growing Trekkie needs, action, the fantasy of trekking through the cosmos, duking it out with crazy alien baddies and of course the interpersonal relationships that always made Trek so much more than an excursion amongst the space lanes.

Let's face it, we've always wondered what the cowboy of space was like when he beat the unbeatable simulation (Wrath of Khan) and now we know. James Tiberius Kirk was even more reckless as a youth, driving cars off cliffs and picking fights with the enigmatic Spock. The action is palpable, the adventure looks endless and the fun seems unbound. It's a completely new look at one of the most beloved science fiction universe's of all time with what promises to be the most visually compelling story modern CGI allows and a completely fresh take on the series. Of course, fresh doesn't always translate to good and there will always be the rough translation from the original cast to the new one.

It's been more than forty years since William Shatner brought the cavalier ladies man who always found a way around impossible odds into our hearts and minds, exploring the galaxy amidst bombshells of all species and fighting against oppression and tyranny wherever he went, all to the tune of endless Vulcan logic by Spock (Leonard Nimoy), accented quips about how engineering will save the galaxy by Scotty (James Doohan), barely discernible Captain, My Captain's by Chekov (Walter Koenig) and of course bitter soliloquies about why the universe sucks by Bones (DeForest Kelley).

Now its time for the new kids in town, with Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Karl Urban as Bones, a.k.a. Dr. McCoy. A solid casting without question, they are nevertheless not to be confused with their predecessors slash/older selves/slash original versions/slash a whole space-time conundrum of comparisons. Whatever they may be, the attitudes and screen presence is distinctly new and decidedly not the originals. Simon Pegg's Scotty is one who at least in the trailer seems like a dedicated comedic relief without any of the lovable wisps of warp drive fume induced wisdom that we found in James Doohan's version.

Zachary Quinto's stoicism seems forced in a way Leonard Nimoy never was when he portrayed the implacable and emotionless Vulcan without a shred of human irrationality. Perhaps it's intended and maybe even needed for the actually half-Vulcan, half-Human Spock, but Quinto seems more like a human pretending to be a Vulcan than Nimoy's Vulcan living amongst humans. Needless to say, this is only a trailer of a prequel we're talking about, but Karl Urban's Bones seems like the most displaced of all the new characterizations. I can almost imagine a younger DeForest Kelley saying "space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence," but only almost. And more importantly Kelley said it like he meant it, a little depressed and yet contented that he knows how bad the world is with the advantage of telling everyone else 'I told you so.' I like Karl Urban, I really do, but his Bones seems too excited, too animated in his assertions, a Greek chorus keeping the audience appraised instead of the miserable yet brilliant old oracle in the corner.

I'm looking forward to Star Trek. I really am expecting explosions, fights with fist and lasers and maybe even a few photon torpedoes and a new breed of high tech adventure. But I'm also realistic about the limitations and expectations of a 2008 prequel to a series and its characters who were brought to life in 1966. I have faith in J.J. Abrams and Hollywood for revitalizing the fun, fantasy and eternal optimism of Star Trek, but it's tempered by the realization that the world has changed quite a bit in the 42 years since those elements became iconic.

Friday, November 14, 2008


To the uninitiated, I apologize. To my fellow defenders of the geek faith, I apologize even more. I'm here to tell you about the highlight of my month. Probably longer. I just met Alan Moore. I spoke to him. He spoke back. He signed my copy of Watchmen, and he took a picture with me. Afterwards, I walked out of the Victoria and Albert Museum in downtown London where he was taking part in a forum as part of what they're calling Comica, a series of comic book events. Once clear of the building, I jumped up and down, and did a little jig, doing a little dance, making a little love, getting down tonight. Why? Because I just met the greatest graphic novelist of all time, hands down.

The man who tears down every wall and barrier and preconceived notion, bathing it in illumination and fun and intense psychological exploration, and I met him. The man who deconstructed superheroes in the greatest of all graphic novels, Watchmen. The artist who crafted the ultimate battle of anarchism against totalitarianism in V for Vendetta. The genius who took us travelling back through time to the turn of the 20th century and into literary history with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The colossus of a writer who took us down the dark, dank alleyways of London and into the path of the most notorious serial killer of all in time in From Hell.

Let's face it, I'm a fan. I'm a geek, a devoted follower. As I told Mr. Moore, no book has EVER made me think as much as Watchmen, and I do my fair share of thinking. The characters, the story lines, the psychology and action and mystery and excitement and anticipation of it shook me and wrenched me along on a ride through every shade of grade, laying out right and wrong and morality for all the world to see and explore, shaking off all taboos and destroying all hesitation. We see humanity's greatest hopes and fears and the lengths to which we will go to preserve our tiny corner of the world and of our soul, the chances we take and the limits we push. Did I mention I love Watchmen?

The topic of the forum was the graphic novel Moore and his wife and collaborating artist Melinda Gebbie recently produced, Lost Girls. Depicting Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Girls continues Moore's trend of deconstruction, analysis and chastisement of trends and genres and facets of society. Don't freak out, but in this case it's an exploration of pornography. Yes, Alan Moore wrote a piece of artful smut, deal with it. While admittedly I haven't read it, I want to, uptight as I may be it sounds like an incredible exploration of how we view erotica. I love the idea of contrasting society's outrage with smut to its seeming acceptance of violence and death, set against the backdrop of World War I.

At the end of the talk, I asked Mr. Moore if he ever considered how a conversation with Lewis Carroll or Bram Stoker would go were they alive for him to ask permission to use their characters in his own stories. In the classic fashion of the man who epitomizes the eccentric hermit artist, Moore replied at length that he simply didn't care, and even if he did, characters of such long ago artists are fair game. With an aura more of normalcy and nonchalance than I would ever expect from a modern day literary genius, he described the numerous instances of authors long before Moore's time, including those whose characters he employs in Lost Girls and League of Extraordinary Gentleman who had themselves used ideas and works by other artists. He finished the justification with the observation that with "all of these people's characters, the authors in some way seem to want to break down the barriers between their different fictions and just have all of their characters in some sort of massive wonderland where they, they all get together."
Of course, not everything is fair game for Moore, especially when asked about the upcoming Watchmen movie. Despite a calm and collected reply, Mr. Moore's words were scathing. The faith in Hollywood that I still struggle to maintain has been completely shattered for Moore, watching his works laid out on the silver screen in a way that he describes as "pathetic loads of vile films." Some would say that he is overreacting, that V and From Hell were spectacular movies that stayed as faithful to Moore's vision as such a transition would allow. I myself am a huge fan of V for Vendetta, but admittedly I have not read the graphic novel and I can only imagine how an artist of Moore's caliber would feel about any deviation from his vision. This is particularly evident in the introduction of Tom Sawyer to what was an entirely British cast of Extraordinary Gentleman and significant watering down to the point where the characters had lost all the moral ambiguity Moore had meant for them to have.
And so we come to my own lingering question. Do I still have faith in Hollywood? One of the closest things I have to an idol does not, but then I was never one for role models. My own cynicism is not that far off from Moore's, yet still there is a little boy deep inside who longs to leap onto the stage and into the screen, confident that next time they'll get it right, just one more movie and they'll see the light. Zack Snyder has reportedly changed the ending to Watchmen, a frightening prospect. Yet he has in every instance that I've heard, touted himself as a longtime fan of Moore's work and as a devoted filmmaker intent on producing as close a likeness as the constraints of two and a half hours will allow when making a graphic novel come to life that took me an entire week to read. Moore let go a long time ago, I still dangle from the ledge, praying that if anyone is to faithfully adapt one of the greatest works of literature of the last 30 years, it is the man who brought Leonidas and his Spartan guard roaring to life with all the glory imaginable.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ridley Scott + Board Games=?

According to, Ridley Scott is to direct a movie based off the board game Monopoly. Let it sink in, fester a little. Roll it off your tongue a few times. Wait for it. Wait for it. Yeah, Ridley Scott is playing with board games and I don't get it either. Not at all. I mean, yes Brett Ratner knows no shame and has no talent, but Ridley Scott!? The man who brought Maximus Decimus Meridius to life (if you don't know what that means, staple yourself to a chair and watch Gladiator 20 times, I'll know if you don't) is going to be directing a board game. What's more, according to Cinematical, Scott is planing on giving it a futuristic, Blade Runner-esq sheen. What that means I have not the foggiest clue. I know Scott got bad reviews for Body of Lies, but surely he's not so desperate for work that he felt compelled to make a movie like this. Ridley, you're scaring me hear, if you can sink to such lows, who can't? The mighty really can fall, and ever does my grip on Hollywood as the Titan of entertainment slip even further.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Helming Cap

After months of agonizing over who would take Captain America to new heights or new lows, the question has finally been answered. Steve Rogers and his alter ego will be brought to the silver screen by Joe Johnston, director of films like The Rocketeer, October Sky and Jurassic Park III. Still waiting on the man who will assume the mantle of one of the greatest of all superheroes, this can, I believe, be seen as good news. At the very least, it is not catastrophic news, there is no murderous intent, no crazy-eyed rage building up in my inner geek, although my feeling is less than ecstasy. Good directors have been known to make bad movies and mediocre directors have been known to make good movies. Personally I would say Johnston gravitates towards the former and he is certainly not the disaster that certain other directorial choices would have been.

For whatever its worth, I really enjoyed The Rocketeer for its fantasy and period nostalgia, an adventure with Tommy guns that took you soaring through the skies and battling, incidentally, the same kind of Nazi subversion Steve Rogers himself will be duking it out with come 2011. Johnston has also shown to be capable not just of high flying, explosive adventure but also character driven stories and science fiction/action-adventure that manages to develop and explore its characters, namely October Sky and Jurassic Park III. Johnston was also responsible for the steely eyed determination driving Hidalgo that is not that far off from the endless willpower of Steve Rogers. If he can guide the unity of man and horse to effectively triumph over the desert and enemies around every corner, I have faith in Johnston and in Hollywood for choosing him to helm the soldier boy from another age who fights for freedom and justice with every breath, to the last and beyond. Provided the rest of the puzzle falls in place, I think Captain America will be the Sentinel of Liberty he was always meant to be.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wonder Woman: Beyonce?

For whatever its worth, I'm not feeling vitriolic right now, but still, I'm having a hard time seeing Beyonce Knowles as Wonder Woman. To be fair, I don't often read DC Comics let alone the Amazon Warrior herself, but as an avowed comic book geek I do nevertheless know a thing or two about Diana and I see little to none of her in the pop legend. This analysis is not to be confused with racism, I have no aversion to Wonder Woman being any skin color, I simply cannot fathom Beyonce strapping on the whip and gauntlets. What it boils down to is while I admittedly am not a Beyonce fan or follower, she seems far too bubbly and friendly to be Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman needs to be stoic, a woman who not only inhabits but in fact thrives and dominates in a man's world, standing side by side with the likes of Batman and Superman and coming across as an equal. I simply don't see Beyonce pulling such a feet off, beautiful as Diana is she is far more than a pretty face, she is in fact the truest amazon warrior, full of power and warrior spirit that just happens to be female and sexual, not as a deliberate and core part of her personality but in fact something she must fight against. Beyonce has embraced her femininity and beauty, something that if anything Wonder Woman tries to shy away from, he clothing notwithstanding.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quantum of Horror

There's a joke that starts with a James Bond film that doesn't have him shooting down the barrel of a gun until the credits. The punchline is Quantum of Solace. I really, really didn't think 007 could sink any lower than the absolute stupidity of Die Another Day and the impossible mis-characterization of Casino Royale. I need to stop underestimating Hollywood's ability to turn out high budget, myopic trash from ideas that had once been sheer and unending fun. I'm trying to find redeeming value in Daniel Craig's pathetic excuse for a suave super spy, but it's just not happening.

To start with, the plot of Solace just doesn't make any sense. It jumps and flies and runs and jumps and drives, and then it ends. I think it had something to do with secret organizations who dip their fingers into every pot and a quest for control of resources. Daniel Craig's sham of a Bond is caught up in the middle of it all as he seeks out revenge for Vesper Lynd's death in Casino Royale and somehow more or less accidentally saves the world from the shadowy wraiths who pull the strings and play kingmaker in every corner of the world. Again, I could be wrong, because often times the characters said things and cited information that there was no logical means readily available by which they could know them. When they said it, it was in the mist of perhaps the most confusing camera work I've ever seen, shifting back and forth and forth and back so much I can only assume director Marc Forster was deliberately trying to make sure audiences had absolutely no idea what was going on.

The confusion began in earnest with what had to be by far the worst main titles of any Bond, driven by a song that belongs in virtually any setting save for a 007 film. The titles seem to be a deliberate disassociation from previous Bonds, a disassociation that ends up being completely confusing and uninvigorating trash that leaves audiences glued firmly in bored reality. Reality really sets in when we watch Daniel Craig bring his own version of the Bond charm to bear against women even looser than any in Bond's past. There is no smooth talking sophistication or boyish appeal, there is in fact little more than what is in essence a "look into my eyes and fall into my bed" approach to Craig's ladies man.

Facing off against the boy toy that would are strange villains who revel in being murky and impossible to grasp, without virtually anything resembling motivation and dastardly plans that are only hinted at in the smallest of senses. There's no insane exposition, no death traps, not even any really scary super assassins, just dominoes that tumble in Bond's wake in fight scenes where the tumbling buildings have more fight in them than the combatants. There's no epic scale or breathtaking backdrops, just a lot of unstable insanity that is impossible to follow and ends just as abruptly as it started, with no satisfaction in the ending and nothing even closely resembling high stakes on which the world hinges.

I am in deep fear for James Bond's safety, the only redeeming value I can find is that from here surely Bond couldn't get any worse, could it? I'm not sure just how much faith I have left in Hollywood, having just endured a heartless agony with faintly compelling action sequences, terrible acting and even a few nonsensical attempts at commenting on world affairs thrown in for good measure, something all previous attempts at Bond had the good sense to know that Bond needs to be in a world all his own, one that is so extreme that it deserves better than to be mired in our senseless universe.