Friday, July 31, 2009

The Fantastic Mr. Fox trailer.

The official version is here.
This looks absolutely... well... fantastic. And, since it's not in 3D, I'll probably be able to take my daughter to this one to boot.

Scott Mendelson

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An IMAX 3D Experience (2009)

Since I'm sure some of my readers are curious, I decided to sample a blessedly early 9:30am screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An IMAX Experience. I've already reviewed the regular 35mm version, so I'll just discuss the 3D footage that is the main draw for this delayed version of Harry Potter 6. The 3D effects are relatively ordinary and I was actually far-more impressed with the preview for Robert Zemeckis's A Christmas Carol. The problem is that there just aren't any set pieces in this sixth Harry Potter film, the quietest, least action-filled since The Sorcerer's Stone, to justify applying the 3D effects. But since Warner Bros saw fit to present the climax of Order of the Phoenix in 3D, they may have felt forced to do it again this time, lest they spoil the fact that the film was relatively light on spectacle and action.

In this case, the opening fifteen-minutes are presented in 3D. Of course, save for the two-minute sequence of the three death eaters blowing up a bridge and otherwise laying waste to the human world (which does look snazzy), the entire opening of the film is basically just Harry and Dumbledore attempting to pursue Slugworth to come back and teach at Hogwarts again. The orders to take off your glasses comes right as Beatrix ventures to Snape's home for a fateful chit-chat. Sorry spouse and those with similar carnal interests, there is no 3D Snape this time around (alas, no 3D of Luna this time around either). At the very least, I wonder why the didn't also offer a 3D image for the third-act underwater cave excursion as that's truly the action climax of the picture. Anyway, what's there certainly looks lovely, but the lack of spectacle means that the effect isn't nearly as eye-popping as the all-out wizard smack down that concluded the fifth picture.

I'm assuming that there will be plenty of opportunities in the seventh and eighth pictures for indulging in 3D effects, but this film just didn't provide the onscreen material to justify the expense (yours or Warner's). In short, if you're already planning on seeing the picture again, you should probably check out an IMAX screening. Big screen movies should always be seen on the biggest screen possible, and the remaining 135 minutes do look lovely in traditional IMAX film. But it is absolutely not necessary to see the whole picture just to sample the opening fifteen-minutes and be dazzled as Dumbledore fixes a house in three-whole dimensions.

Scott Mendelson

The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man trailer.

I like that this trailer is all about mood and tone, rather than plot and character. And it certainly seems to be the Coens' first star-less project since Miller's Crossing back in 1990. Character actor Richard Kind, barely glimpsed in the trailer, is the biggest name I've found. I have no idea what this movie is about, but it looks relatively interesting. It seems to be neither a thriller, a star vehicle, nor a particularly dark comedy. This is obviously a change of pace and one worth my curiosity.

Scott Mendelson

The Blair Witch Project - 10 Years after the movie that scammed the world (what was written ten years ago is still true today).

I used to have a 'bit' I did with friends or at parties. I called it 'the making of the Blair Witch Project'. It basically involved the filmmakers screwing up every step of the way ("Oh no, the camera is completely out of focus!" "Oh no, the microphone was turned off!") but refusing to fix it because that would take time and money and, besides, "It doesn't matter, it's supposed to be like a documentary." The climax is when they screened the film to their own horror, realizing that it contained no actual frightening imagery. "Wait," cried a desperate director, "We'll tell the audience that they have to use their imagination! We'll make them do the work for us!"

To this day, I'm shocked at the numbers of respected critics who fell for this scheme (to say nothing of the countless idiots who thought the film was in fact a true story). I was quite relieved when just a week later, The Sixth Sense took its place atop the box office and stayed their for a good five weeks. A mere week after this sick joke of a phenomenon came a real horror film, one rooted in acting, character, suspense, emotion, and a compelling narrative. Anyway, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the wide-release of The Blair Witch Project, I'm reprinting my online rant of sorts that I published when I was just nineteen. Obviously my writing has improved in the last ten years, but I stand by every point I made ten long years ago.

Why The Blair Witch Project Fails...

Originally written on August 1st, 1999

No, BWP did not "suck ass" or "blow chunks" like most of those my age (19) that didn't care for the film claim. Alas, it certainly was a failure. I feel it necessary to give a fair, profanity-free run-down in the name of all those who didn't care for this film, but fear the flamings of those who accuse anyone who didn't like it of being a stupid, immature idiot. You are more than welcome to disagree, both of my assessment and my alleged intelligence. After all, while I choose Election as the best film of the year by a wide margin, I almost liked Wild, Wild West (which tells you how much I like Kevin Kline and how much I enjoy dramatic actors hamming it up as villains, but on to the matter at hand). First off, I do not scare easily. Just about the only movie to frighten me in a theater was Event Horizon (yes, I know the last 20 min were weak, but the first 70 were scary as can be... but more on that later). After hearing all the hype and reading countless rave reviews, I was prepared to be truly frightened for the first time in two years. Alas, it was not to be. A a truly great horror film (The Omen, The Exorcist, The Vanishing) is able to fill the audience with a genuine sense of dread that permeates the entire running time or at least a good portion of it. In such a film, you do not know quite what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, or how it is going to happen, but you know that SOMETHING is going to happen. Thus, you are constantly in wait for the event(s) in question. Anticipation is the scariest thing of all.

Scream (which I enjoyed) is not a truly scary film. The "boo"-scenes come at predictable intervals. With a routine slasher flick, you do know both what is going to happen (someone's gonna get stabbed) and when it's going to happen (every time creepy music starts to play, at around 7-15min intervals). Thus there is no suspense, as you know exactly what to expect. Event Horizon, on the other hand, places the viewer in the position of not knowing what to expect next. In Event Horizon, the viewer does not know what to expect next, or when to expect it. For the first 70-minutes, the scares, jolts, and shocks came at differing intervals, with differing degrees of effect. Once it is established that anything can happen at any time, the moments between shock scenes are fraught with dread-ridden anticipation of what is to come. By the end of the movie, you are almost relieved that the experience is over. A TRULY terrifying film should leave you feeling exhausted, unpleasant, with a little bit of a knot in your stomach. A truly scary movie isn't truly that much fun.

The key failure with Blair Witch Project is that due to our knowledge of the basic premise (i.e., what was said at the beginning), we already know a good deal of what is going to happen. We know that the kids are going to be killed at the end of the film, and obviously not before the end. Thus, we know that no frightening scenes are likely to take place until the last ten minutes or so. As a result, everything that happens before that is simply a false alarm or a close call. For example, when the mysterious "white ghost" is spotted (i.e.: the "what the fuck was that" scene), we know that we shouldn't be concerned for the characters' safety as it's not time for them to die yet. By this rationale, the all-important sense of dread and terrifying anticipation doesn't exist until the climax. Thus, we spend most of the film waiting for the big final shock.

Of course, even if we did have some sense that bad things could happen throughout the film, it would have been nice if we could see and hear what was happening. I'm not talking about the stuff that was deliberately off-screen, I'm talking about the style of using dirt-cheap film, which rendered the footage difficult to see, hear, and process. For instance, during the scene regarding the bloody cloth, I couldn't tell what they had found. I thought it was a liver or heart. The people sitting next to me thought that they were intestines. Only after looking it up online did I discover that I was looking at bloody, severed fingers. I also missed several lines of dialogue due to the poor sound quality. I know, they were trying to be realistic, but in the process they have sacrificed quality on a basic audio/visual level. Plus, real documentaries shot by professionals would never, ever look or sound this shoddy. And, on aside note, the apology scene looked much crisper, cleaner, and more colorful than any other footage in the film, as if it had been shot with different quality film.

On a basic plot level, I did not believe, despite the "explanation", that Heather would keep the camera on all the way to the end, especially when she entered the house. Every other human being on the planet would have dropped the camera and ran as fast as possible. By the end of the first hour, the camera situation stopped being believable and simply functioned as a means for the film to progress. I also did not believe the initial concept. OK, so the kids were killed, the film was then placed somewhere else (if it had remained in the house, anyone who found it would also find the creature/witch and thus perish), and the film stayed in good condition despite lying in the wilderness for a year? If film stock can survive such a situation, let me know and I will strike this objection from the record.

Please bear with me on this one, but I believe that the directors left too much to the imagination. I am not saying that they should have crammed the film with CGI or the like, but by the end, the whole "what you don't see" argument (which I usually endorse whole-heartily) came off as an excuse to film in a sloppy, incoherent manner. "We're not being lazy, we're letting you use your imagination. That's why the camera was pointed at the ground 70% of the time. Here, now we are in the dark. Now, we could show or even suggest something frightening but we would rather let you and your imagination do all the work for us." When watching a movie, imagination works best at filling in the blanks for a story with holes. We hear a noise, we know what it is and we imagine the visual image that goes along with that sound. We hear a story of horrific pain and suffering, and we make vivid mental pictures of flesh ripping and bones crunching. But, in BWP, we are given so little information to work with (a quick camera pan, a scream in the night), that we can only guess at what is happening. A mental picture based on information is much scarier than a wild guess. The informed theory is scarier, cause it's much more likely that you were right. For all the information given, it is just as likely as not that a bear ate Josh and that a fugitive hiding in the wilderness killed the other two. A faint other worldly glow or a half-second shot of something unusual or horrific would have done a world of good.

For instance, take Steven King's IT, which aired on ABC in 1990 (the first half was the best adaptation of a Steven King work ever). In one of the first scenes, which is a flashback, a young child is floating a paper boat along a stream in the street resulting from heavy rain. The boat falls into the sewer and the boy tries to retrieve it. Soon, Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry in peak form) shows up and offers to give him back his boat, if he joins him down there (after all, everything floats down there). Then, without warning, Pennywise grabs the kid's arm, opens his mouth, revealing fangs, and he... Well, we don't see what happens next, but we can fill in the gruesome details. It's scarier because we have some idea of what might have happened. With BWP, we don't have a clue.

Alas, The Blair Witch Project did not scare me. It did not give mega-goose bumps, and I did not spend the entire film dreading the unknown terror that waited. Leaving the theater, I did feel exhausted and upset, but for the wrong reasons. I felt betrayed. For months, I was waiting for this film on the basis that I would truly be scared, that it would truly create a genuine sense of dread and apprehension. Instead, I got 77 minutes of occasionally dull Real World-type footage that was difficult to see and hear. In all, the scariest part was the end, when I realized how completely the film had scammed us all.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Planet Hulk trailer.

For years, the Lionsgate Marvel cartoons have been the B-movie variations of Warner Bros's DC Animated Universe. Granted, Marvel started the direct-to-DVD PG-13 adaptations beforehand, but there's no question which ones were the art and which were the crafts. But most of the Marvel animated features have a certain pulpy charm, such as when an evil alien leader advises Captain America to "prepere to die... for the last time!". The recent Hulk Vs. Wolverine was a pretty perfect 35-minute distillation of the labored narrative that X-Men Origins: Wolverine tried to tell so poorly last May. It was quick, violent and gory as hell, and relatively witty.

Anyway, last I heard, the 'young Thor learns to be Thor' origin story was supposed to be out in April of this year. No shame in waiting, as the project looked about as boring as unbuttered toast. The next project seems a bit more promising, as it seems to be a direct adaptation of the recent 'Planet Hulk' Marvel Universe event from a couple years back. While the narrative seems to crib a bit from Gladiator, and I wasn't aware that the Hulk bled green, it still looks like 70-minutes of Hulk smashing the hell out of anyone stupid enough to get in his way. And sometimes that's all you want out of something like this.

Scott Mendelson

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D trailer.

Disney claims that this will be a two-week engagement in October. Yeah, right. If this plays anything like the 1997 Star Wars releases, expect Disney to keep these around as long as desired. For the record, if Disney is going to remaster the first two Toy Story films in 3D in anticipation for the third film's summer release, they'd best have an option for a triple feature when the third picture comes out next June. Perhaps they should follow New Line's Lord of the Rings example, with a 8:00pm and 10:00pm double of the first two films, followed by the 12:01am premiere of Toy Story 3 on June 18th. If Allison were old enough to sit through three theatrical films, which she very well might be by next June, I'd take her to something like that in a heartbeat (she can sleep on my chest for the last two films, which would just be a bonus).

Scott Mendelson

Hot Tub Time Machine trailer.

Stupid but amusing. This is the very best kind of teaser, as it merely sets up the premise and stops there. This one also stars Crispen Glover and Chevy Chase, so director Steve Pink gets points for out-of-left field casting.

Scott Mendelson

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An IMAX Experience opens nationwide.

For those who don't already know, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An IMAX Experience, with its initial fifteen-minutes in 3D, finally gets its nationwide release today. This will be a very interesting weekend for Warner Bros, IMAX, and the movie industry in general. The IMAX release of mainstream films has only been a major deal for five-years or so (the game changer was The Polar Express 3D in November, 2004). But this is the first time in the modern IMAX era that a major studio release has debuted in IMAX after its 35mm release. As I have asked elsewhere, if Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sees a substantial bump in box office this weekend, or at least if the IMAX effect cushions the weekend-to-weekend drop by a notable degree, could this be the end of same day 35mm/IMAX releases? Make no mistake, every studio is watching this weekend's results very closely. If delaying the IMAX release of a major tentpole (especially one with IMAX footage or 3D content) can guarantee repeat viewings for said blockbuster, wouldn't the studios have to consider that? If the delay could keep a major movie closer to the top of the box office a little while longer, than that could very well be the status quo in the very near future. Pure speculation, but we'll see how it develops this weekend.

Scott Mendelson

Dorian Grey trailer.

Literary fans (or anyone forced to read the book in high school) will notice that the full title has been shortened in this film adaptation. The joke is that this whole trailer is built around 'the shocking revelation' in regards to just what it is that keeps Mr. Grey so young. While this somewhat amped-up variation is relatively uninteresting (although revamping it as a horror film isn't the worst idea), I am curious to know whether the film actually goes for most of its length without revealing 'the secret'. Truth be told, I had the same problem when I first read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in middle school. The entire story is structured around the shocking climactic reveal that in fact Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Needless to say, that's pretty common knowledge so the book loses much of its suspense as a result. Anyway, Dorian Grey will be released on September 9th, 2009.

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In case you care...

Advance tickets for Julia and Julia and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra are officially on sale at AMC. In case anyone cares, the respective running times are 123 minutes for the Meryl Streep picture and 118 minutes for the 'real American heroes' adaptation.

Scott Mendelson

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Michael Bay mystery - why so much plot?

The biggest puzzle when dealing with the critical fall out of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen involves the oft-repeated mantra that Michael Bay is only interested in his toys and gimmicks. It's allegedly all about fast cars, big guns, hot chicks, and explosions; all filmed in a saturated glow that makes everything look uber-shiny. Fair enough, but that isn't the big problem with either of the Transformers films. If Bay is only concerned with his fantasies and his toys (probably true), why must his films be filled with so much useless plot and failed character interaction? The fatal flaw with Transformers 2 wasn't the poor attempt at humor, the simplistic right-wing politics, the useless supporting characters, the poorly defined villain, or the often-incomprehensible action. The thing that killed the movie was the fact that there was an entire second act (post woods-fight scene and pre-Egypt) where absolutely nothing happens. The whole middle of the film is just plot and exposition.

For a movie that's just supposed to be giant robots killing each other, the movie has more plot than The Dark Knight or State of Play. We have the story arc of Sam and Michela unwilling to tell each other that they love each other, we have the military vs. bureaucrats plot line, we have the origin of the Fallen, the expansion of Transformers mythology, we have the protracted globe-trotting attempts to basically rewrite a story mistake (whoops... we killed Optimus Prime, how can we bring him back?). And none of the plot and none of the character interplay is the least bit entertaining (just why does Sam's college roommate stick around for the entire film?). Maybe it was a writers strike issue. Maybe Bay was just overcompensating; overdosing on plot to pretend like the movie actually has a reason outside of the robots killing robots spectacle. The tragedy is there's probably a pretty entertaining piece of crap 105-minute movie stuck inside that 149 minute bloat.

That's the irony. Michael Bay gets both praised and criticized for basically making bigscreen guy's fantasy pictures. But it's the inexplicable need to stuff his films with pointless asides that kills them. I'm guessing that he still wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker. I'm sure the (unfair) reception of The Island still stings, as it was a brutal rebuke that told him to just go back to making Maxim: The Movie. Some free advice (because Bay of course cares what is said about him on Mendelson's Memos): if you want to make a real movie, make a real movie. You've done it before with The Rock. But don't wreck popcorn trash like Transformers by filling it with misguided attempts at respectability.

Scott Mendelson

Sunday, July 26, 2009

G-Force leads the box office, Harry Potter 6 takes a hit, and Ugly Truth opens well.

Everything went according to plan this weekend...

The three openers each performed within expectations. All three targeted vastly different demographics and all three had relatively massive advertising budgets (Is something wrong with Esther? I hadn't heard). The big news is that the influx of three major films caused holdovers both successful (Her Sister's Keeper, Ice Age 3) and struggling (Bruno, Public Enemies) to hemorrhage screens. The largely unwritten story is that one of the reasons movies often don't have legs anymore is that only the most successful and newest releases can avoid shedding previous screens as the next weekend's batch of new releases zooms on in each Friday. Anyway, onward to the numbers...

The number one film of the weekend was G-Force, yet another entry in the 'Jerry Bruckheimer makes an action movie for kids' sub-genre. Fortunately (due to the large budget) it opened closer to National Treasure than Kangaroo Jack with $32.2 million. Obviously, if not for the added 3D ticket prices, this 'guinea pigs save the world epic' would have ended up number two or three for the weekend. But as 3D becomes more and more a general movie going experience, we'll continually see a pattern of inflated opening weekends followed by a massive tumble when said 3D theaters go to the next three-dimensional kids flick. This didn't open anywhere near the top-end 3D animated features (Up is the current 3D opening weekend and overall box office champ with $68 million and $284 million), but it was right in line with the $29 million opening weekend of Beverly Hills Chihuahua from last fall. Expect to see a Night of the Lepus remake with hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs in the next couple years. Now that's something I'd see in 3D ("There's a heard of killer hamsters heading this way... right at YOU!"). Since Disney has more or less given up on trying to get Up to $300 million, they can spend all their energies getting this costly (allegedly $150 million+) kids flick to the magic $100 million mark.

Second place goes to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As somewhat expected, the heavily frontloaded Potter picture took a 61% plunge in weekend two. It ended the second weekend with $30 million, with a snazzy new $221 million twelve-day total (it's international total is already at $627 million). It's currently running about $14 million ahead of Order of the Pheonix. To be fair, anecdotal evidence suggests that many Potter fans are waiting until the IMAX engagements (starting this Wednesday) before seeing the film again. And unless the IMAX premiere has any effect on next weekend, expect to see this sixth chapter start to slightly fall behind the fifth chapter very soon (it's already making less day-to-day). On the other hand, if the accidentally delayed IMAX release succeeds in boosting the third-weekend box office take by any significant amount, could we see a new release strategy of delaying the IMAX premiere by a week or two? It would guarantee at least two viewings for the diehard fans and would provide an incentive for the casual geek to sample the film yet again. It's a scary thought, as I no longer have the kind of time that would allow for repeat theatrical screenings.

Third place goes to The Ugly Truth, an allegedly-terrible romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler. Still, the marketing campaign emphasized the hard-ass Heigl persona and the 'he's so charmingly misogynistic' bit for Butler, so it was an easy win. This officially means that Katherine Heigl is a movie star, as this is her third consecutive $23 million+ opening weekend (after Knocked Up's $30 million and 27 Dresses's $23 million). 27 Dresses (a formulaic film saved by James Mardsen and Judy Greer) made it to $76 million, so $85 million should be a logical finish. I still think her best film is Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, but I'm an Eric Bogosian fan. The last new opener is Warner Bros's Orphan, which finished out the weekend with $12.7 million. I have no budget information on this one, but if it was any more than $15 million, then they only have themselves to blame. This is a rock-solid opening for a surprisingly potent, star-less horror entry, especially one that is very European in tone and runs a whopping 123 minutes. The poster did all the work here. Expect a quick theatrical finish followed by a decent rental life.

Speaking of losing 3D screens, Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs lost them to G-Force and tumbled a nasty 53% in its fourth weekend. Still, the picture is at $171 million and will surpass the first film in a day or two. Whether the picture can surpass the $195 million gross of the second picture and/or cross $200 million domestic is not known, but Fox really doesn't have anything else to heavily concentrate on at the moment, so I'm guessing it will crawl to $200 million and drop dead soon after. Still, the film has already amassed a whopping $673 million globally (number 2 for 2009), so it's really about bragging rights at this point. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen continues to hang on as it cruises to a likely $405 million finish. Its new total is $379 million domestic and $785 million global. We'll see how it fairs when it loses its IMAX screens on Wednesday.

The Hangover and The Proposal both dropped about 20%. Their new totals are $242 million and $140 million respectively. Bruno dropped another 67% while shedding 864 screens, meaning it will end with a still respectable $60 million. Public Enemies also lost 800+ screens, as it ends the weekend with $88 million. Whether it can make it to $100 million depends on whether it can keep the screens it still has. My Sister's Keeper has been dropping hard not due to audience disinterest, but because it keeps losing its screens week after week. It's at $45 million now, and even a few years ago this would have been a $60-70 million grosser. Finally, (500) Days of Summer expanded again this weekend, for a $1.85 million weekend and a new $3 million total. Quite frankly, no one markets and nurtures stuff like this better than Fox Searchlight, so this offbeat, critically praised romantic comedy stands a good chance of truly breaking out in the next month. The Hurt Locker had its first $1 million+ weekend, as it expanded to 243 screens and grossed $1.45 million for a new total of $4 million. It's not a knock-out performance (it was only $6,122 per screen), but Summit is committed to expanding in the weeks ahead. It will reach 500 screens next weekend. If they are able and willing, Summit Entertainment really ought to attach another Twilight Saga: New Moon teaser to prints when this puppy hits 1000 screens.

Tune in next weekend as the summer reaches its final two weekends. Judd Apatow's allegedly fantastic Funny People goes out next weekend, followed by the much-debated GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra on the 7th of August. Much news will be made. For a look at what happened last weekend (the truth was out there, and ugly yet again), a look at why the IMAX opening of Harry Potter 6 was delayed, and more, always check out Mendelson's Memos.

Scott Mendelson

Star Wars: The Clone Wars season two preview.

If you haven't been watching this Cartoon Network series because you didn't like the movie (basically a five-part pilot that should not have been in theaters), or because 'Lucas raped my childhood', or some equally dumb reason, you're only cheating yourself. This IS Star Wars in every sense of the word. Like any TV variation on a property, the show has the advantage of being able to alternate smaller, intimate character-driven stories with the occasional rock-em sock-em action blow out. Between this, Wolverine and the X-Men (a terrifically compelling cartoon that is adult in every way), and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, this is a good time to still be watching action cartoons.

Scott Mendelson

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition video game trailer. Now they're double-dipping video games eh?

New costumes, new characters, and three new levels. You know, it's bad enough that we're expected to double-dip for DVDs, but there's no way in hell that consumers are going to start 'double-dipping' for $60 video games, especially when said extended edition doesn't allow you to keep the progress you made in the previous variation. At least the new Lego Indiana Jones game is actually a whole new game, albeit with different levels from the previous three movies as well as a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull section. Oh well, that's why I joined GameFly a couple weeks ago.

Scott Mendelson

Tron Legacy trailer.

I was never a fan of the original Tron. It was one of those cult-classics that I found quite dull. While this new one looks visually dazzling, I must confess I really don't care all that much about this property. The several seconds of a mournful and/or remote Jeff Bridges are more compelling to me than the razzle-dazzle racing footage (I'm hopeful that the rumors of John Hurt's participation are true). Regardless, click here for the official version.

Scott Mendelson

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is it just me....?

Or does the general plot synopsis I've been reading for James Cameron's Avatar seem shockingly similar to Lionsgate's Battle For Terra? Cameron is lucky that absolutely no one saw Battle For Terra in theaters, and he'd best hope that it doesn't become some kind of cult classic on DVD/Blu Ray.

Scott Mendelson

Jonah Hex poster.

It's a nice, moody poster, but why no John Malkovich?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Book of Eli trailer.

The official version can be found here.
This doesn't look terribly unique, but it does seem to be a rather stylish 'after the end of the world' picture. And kudos for NOT revealing the big secret at the end of the trailer (cough-Babylon AD-cough). It's good to see the Hughes Brothers back behind the camera for the first time in eight years (From Hell was way back in fall of 2001), and it's good to see that Gary Oldman will apparently be dying onscreen yet again.

Scott Mendelson

Saw VI trailer...

One thing I genuinely appreciate about the Saw franchise is that it is the rare series where it's easy to go into the next installment knowing next to nothing about what will happen. The sets are pretty top-secret. The trailers reveal no plot. And there are no test screenings, preview screenings, or press screenings that could otherwise allow weak-willed people such as myself from knowing too much going in. This teaser follows suit, revealing only what will likely be the opening scene. The use of the current health insurance scandals is so obviously topical that it's almost funny. But it's the rare Jigsaw trap that actually makes a sort of logical sense (an insurance agent who theoretically chooses who lives and dies must now literally chose who gets to live). And while we can argue whether health insurance bureaucrats deserve to perish in the grisliest of fashions, it's nice that Jigsaw seems to have taken a respite from targeting cops who care too much or believe in the general decency of their fellow humans. For those who have followed this increasingly goofy series up to now, there's no reason to stop now. For those who gave up several installments ago, why are you even reading this?

Scott Mendelson

Ninja Assassin trailer...

No commentary at the moment, as I'm at the office. But enjoy none the less...

Scott Mendelson

PRESS RELEASE (if I was at Comic Con, I would be camping out here).

Alas, due to impending jury duty, I was unable to attend this year's Comic Con. But I'm printing this press release for two reasons. A) I think my readers would be interested and B) if anyone reading this does get to attend these events, I'd love a rundown of anything interesting that was discussed. Anyway... once again, the proceeding is 100% press release:

Batman Movie Reaches 20th Anniversary Milestone at Comic Con in San Diego

Legendary Producer To Talk Batman, The Joker, Archie, Pop Culture and Comic Books in the Movies

He helped make Batman an international movie star, spawned a generation of serious comic book movies and now he is marrying Archie off to Veronica. Michael E. Uslan, the executive producer of the Batman movie franchise – including the record breaking blockbuster The Dark Knight – is coming to Comic Con International July 23-28, 2009 to talk about his 30-plus years in the entertainment industry, as well as a slate of new projects in comics and film.

This summer movie season marks the 20th anniversary of the movie that spawned a modern explosion of comic book films. In 1989, Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, was released, breaking nearly every box office record of the day. It made believers out of studio heads who began to see that you could make a movie about comic book characters without it being campy.

With Oscars and Emmys awarded to multiple projects, Uslan is the godfather of the modern comic book movie, and is currently being entrusted with icons like Archie, who he is marrying off to Veronica in September as writer of the comic books. As a speaker, his commencement speech to Indiana University (his alma mater) was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 commencement speeches of all time. Moreover, he has a slate of new projects that include live action movies such as Shazam! and The Shadow. His slate includes a multitude of writing and producing jobs, as well as a new film development firm called The Uslan Company, where Uslan will act as a “producer for hire” to help usher along other producers’ and companies’ projects.

Below is a list of the panels Uslan will be attending at Comic Con this year:

  • 11:30-12:30 Archie Comics: Archie Marries Veronica. It's the wedding of the century, but that is just the start, with plenty of surprise announcements about the future of Archie Comics, including the latest news about Archie on television and in feature films! Panelists include legendary The Dark Knight movie producer and Archie writer Michael Uslan, new Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater, iVerse CEO Michael Murphy, IDW Publishing COO Greg Goldstein, Archie Comics president/director of circulation Fred Mausser, and Archie Comics vice president/managing editor Mike Pellerito. The panel is moderated by Archie's public relations coordinator Rik Offenberger and features a Q&A session. An "Archie Marries Veronica" poster will be given to everyone attending the panel. Room 4

  • 6:00-7:00 Comics to Film with Michael Ulsan. Godfather of the modern comic book film Michael Uslan (Batman, Constantine, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) celebrates the 20th anniversary of his landmark movie Batman (1989) by recounting what it took to make it happen and how the industry has changed since then, advising newcomers how to make their comic book movie dreams come true. Q&A and surprise announcements will cap off the hour. Moderated by Tony Panaccio. Room 7AB

  • 10:30-12:00 Comics Arts Conference Session #9: Is the Joker a Psychopath: You Decide! Psychology professors Robin Rosenberg (The Psychology of Superheroes) and Travis Langley (Henderson State University) discuss the technical definition of a psychopath and review the criteria for antisocial personality disorder does the Joker fit the clinical definition? Is he more than just crazy? They are joined by Joker experts Jerry Robinson (The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950), famed "Joker-fish" scribe Steve Englehart (The Point Man), and film producer Michael Uslan (The Dark Knight). Room 30AB

I expect a full report from anyone attending the 'Is the Joker a psychopath?' round table. Thanks.

Scott Mendelson

2012 posters... left behind you say?

Obviously, thanks to Comic Con, there will be a bevy of posters and trailers coming down the pike. Alas, due to impending jury duty, I was unable to attend. But I'll do my best to toss up the various stuff that premieres this week (that Alice in Wonderland trailer will be up and running again when Disney premieres it today or tomorrow). The newest poster for Roland Emmerich's disaster-porn epic 2012 is visually stunning, as was the calorie-rich, nutritionally deficient trailer (I did enjoy the spoof trailer though). What I find more striking is the word choice in the older poster. OK, you have a movie about the end of the world, with billions of people dying and a choice few surviving to make a new world. Do you really think they chose the phrase 'left behind' by accident? The movie doesn't seem to have a religious cause for the carnage, and I doubt that Emmerich is going the Stephen King 'it's all god's fault' route Ala Desperation and The Stand (gross simplification, I know). I do think that the teaser poster implies that Sony may end up pitching a secondary marketing campaign towards the sort of folks (evangelical Christians for example) who believe strongly in the coming apocalypse/rapture. Just thought it was interesting.

Scott Mendelson

Shutter Island poster...

It's obvious that Paramount is trying to sell this as a pure 100% star-driven thriller. Which is funny because that's exactly the kind of thing that Paramount used to specialize in before they caught blockbuster fever. For years, they raked in the bucks with stuff like Double Jeopardy, Rules Of Engagement, Kiss the Girls, and Along Came a Spider. Of course, none of those were directed by Martin Scorsese. The trailer makes it look like B-movie pulp-fiction, and this poster certainly echoes that (alas, I think I've guessed at least one of the twists). Still, Dennis Lehane (Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone) is batting 2/2 in the film adaptations department. The last Martin Scorsese picture that was sold purely as popcorn entertainment won him an Oscar.

Scott Mendelson

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The teaser poster for A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Cool. Very stylish, very low key, and very moody. Just cool.

Scott Mendelson

Saw VI poster...

My first date with my eventual wife was to see Saw II on opening night (her pick). Since then, we've celebrated our 'first-meeting' anniversary by seeing the next successive Saw sequel. Each time, we swear we'll find a better way to celebrate next year, but I suppose we might as well see the tradition out to the very end (the series will allegedly conclude with Saw VIII). Anyway, click on the poster for a look at the 'motion poster. And, according to the official site, the trailer will premiere on Facebook tomorrow night (5:00pm PST). Hey, as long as Tobin Bell can pay the bills with this stuff, I'll continue to support his most unexpected late-blooming super-stardom.

Scott Mendelson

Review: Orphan (2009)

123 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Orphan puts so much care into its construction that it's that much more unfortunate when its narrative foundation collapses under its own weight. The film (and it does strive to be a film) is exquisitely shot, wonderfully acted, and imbued with a genuine sense of dread and tension. As a straight-up scare fest, it's quite effective. As a piece of trashy pulp fiction, it struggles with its desire to have three-dimensional characters and dramatic weight versus its urges to give into the tawdry demands of its genre. But come what may, the picture is a brutal horror flick. The film may not reach the lofty ideals that its European pacing and high-toned cast suggests, but it scares, startles, and surprises with ruthless efficiency.

A token amount of plot: Following a stillborn birth of her would-be third child (and the resulting alcoholic breakdown that followed), Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga) and her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) have done their best to keep the family together, and they have decided to adopt an older child from a local orphanage. While Kate is introduced to the available children by a kindly nun (CCH Pounder), John comes upon an isolated and oddly independent nine-year old from Russia. Since those who want to give love understandably target those who might need it the most, the family is drawn to this loner and decide to give her a home. Needless to say, young Esther's world-weariness and almost supernatural timing leads to suspicious circumstances and alleged peril for the rest of the Coleman clan. Although John is seemingly oblivious, Kate immediately notices that, to quote the film's marketing hook, 'there is something wrong with Esther'.

That's all you need and that's all you get. What sets this one apart from other mainstream horror films is the quality of the acting and the leisurely pacing. While most horror films hover around the ninety-minute mark, Orphan dares to slowly unfold its narrative in just over two hours. What makes the film work is that it does not fall into the trap of having Kate become a variation on 'no one believes the truth except me'. The story's cruelest trick is that there are probably more people in the story that do see the danger but are prevented from doing anything about it. The second-half skirts the 'idiot plot'. By the third act, John's belief in his adopted daughter's innocence is downright inexplicable. The picture depends on the somewhat reasonable paranoia of those who suspect vs. the plausible fear of those who know but stay silent. If there is a lesson to be taken from Orphan, it is that parents should have long, serious talks with their children about 'good secrets' vs. 'bad secrets'. For the record, the incident that occurs around the hour mark qualifies as a 'bad secret'.

Despite the somewhat contrived storyline, Orphan is a resoundingly jolting scare-fest. The long running time allows for ample character development and director Jaume Collet-Serra makes sure to pay it off for the thrill-seekers. The finale contains both the best plot twist of the year and at least one genuinely cruel story turn. The film doesn't shy away from realistic violence and feels no qualms about putting children in peril. This is easily one of the better 'evil children' movies, even if it pales in comparison to The Children or The Omen. Orphan is an icky and disturbing little movie. If that's your cup of tea (my wife loved it), then by all means dive right in.

Grade: B

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland trailer.

Obviously, per usual, this Tim Burton adaptation looks absolutely stunning. It appears that he is attempting to create a live-action version of his stop-motion films. It's no secret that I'm a little tired of Tim Burton simply adapting other famous fantasy works to his own fancy, but I can't deny that this looks like an absolutely spellbinding piece of art. I'd still prefer to see Burton try something completely out of his own head, but I suppose we have other people who do that. Alice in Wonderland is a pretty obvious outlet for his standard 'outsider struggling to fit in' template. Having said that, I'm a bit turned off by the severe Johnny Depp-centric angle. Barely a glimpse of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) or the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and no audio from anyone except The Mad Hatter (Depp of course). I get the idea of selling the most recognizable characters (Alice and the Hatter), and there is no reason not to highlight the biggest star. But the way that Depp dominates the second half of the trailer, with several out of context shots of Depp basically mugging for the camera, is almost a bit cynical and slightly off-putting. Oh well, that's far more a judgment of the trailer than (I presume) the film itself.

Scott Mendelson

First photo (official or otherwise) of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare On Elm Street remake (more to come?).

Warner Bros is obviously choosing to hide Mr. Haley's face at this point, although another (possibly lighter) image is allegedly coming today. I'm pleasantly surprised that the first glimpse came from a studio-sanctioned promotional image, and not some grainy paparazzi shot. Warner is apparently taking its cue from Batman Forever, which attempted to make the transition from Michael Keaton as Batman to Val Kilmer as Batman as visually seamless as possible (save the infamous Bat-nipples, the two costumes were relatively similar).

Scott Mendelson

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I guess it's not a spoiler if it's advertised at Toys R Us. Old-school Destro confirmed in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra action figure display.

This was taken at the Woodland Hills Toys R Us this evening. As you'll notice, this confirms the much-rumored hope that Christopher Eccleston will in fact end this first feature as the Destro that we know and love. With just under three weeks left to go, it seems that the first batch of reviews are in fact surprisingly positive. Certainly the film has benefited from the bottom-of-the-barrel expectations. Might those nasty rumors about Stephen Sommers being fired and locked out of the editing room been intentional misdirects, intended to completely depress expectations for a summer tent pole that Paramount knew was in a little trouble? Of course, the fact that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ended up being such a stinker probably hasn't hurt either, as that film's critical failure, coupled with the widespread disappointment of Terminator: Salvation, has left geeks with merely the hope that GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra just does what it sets out to do: make a live-action cartoon that feels like a GI Joe movie (and does it better than Street Fighter). Well, we'll know soon enough, because (of course) knowing is at least 50% of the battle.

Scott Mendelson

DVD Review: Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight
77 minutes
Rated PG-13
Available July 28th to rent or own on DVD, two-disc DVD, Blu Ray, or OnDemand

by Scott Mendelson

In this era of reboots and franchise launches both good and bad that spend huge amounts of time with the origins and go out of their way to explain or justify their respective fantasy trappings, it is incredibly refreshing to see a superhero property that just trusts the audience to accept its world at face value. The newest DC Animated Universe feature, Green Lantern: First Flight, dispenses entirely with the origins in the first-five minutes. From then on, the film leaves Earth almost immediately for a full-on space adventure that spends as little time with exposition as humanly possible. While Wonder Woman was an angry feminist adventure epic, and The New Frontier was a rich tapestry of real-world history and DC mythology, this simpler new film is actually a science-fiction-tinged police procedural. It's not particularly deep and character development is almost non-existent, but it is a stunningly economical white-knuckle action picture.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Love You Phillip Morris gets a trailer...

I'm hoping the actual film isn't quite as farcical as this trailer seems to appear, but that may just be a case of trying to rope in those hoping for Jim Carrey's pratfall antics. While Jim Carrey is no longer the biggest star on the planet (it's been well over fifteen years since Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), the lessening of said pressure has freed him to make some intriguing choices over the last ten years. Yes some (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) have worked out better than others (The Number 23), but Mr. Carrey is certainly someone who is still hungry for new artistic challenges.

Scott Mendelson


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