Monday, May 29, 2006

it's late...

I was planning to post what I'd promised. Unfortunately, due to the lateness of the hour and the uncooperative nature of the blogging instruments I employ (let's just say that fonts, italics, and bold print are not behaving in a proper manner), my Fall 2006/what I'll be watching this summer post will have to be delayed until later today.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I misspoke...

The best film of 2005 is NOT Munich but...

Seek this out. It is taut, unnerving, and unforgettable. It will be released on DVD June 27th by Sony Pictures Classics.

up next...

I'm going to crash and watch some stuff on TiVo. Expect my analysis of what the networks are offering this fall, their schedules, and also what I'll be watching this summer. It should be up sometime either late tomorrow night or early Sunday morning.

Extremely Evil - How 20th Century Fox Killed The "X-Men" Movie Franchise

In the summer of 2000, movie studio 20th Century Fox was all set to release the highly anticipated first film based on a Marvel Comics property, X-Men. One small problem - 20th Century Fox President Tom Rothman HATED it. The film, helmed by the acclaimed director of The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer, had gone into production with less than half of its original budget. Its intended release date of early summer was pushed back to late July. Rothman wanted to bury the film and be confirmed in his belief that the property was nothing special.

Lo and behold! The vast amount of comic book fans and other sci-fi loving movie-goers responded in favor and rewarded X-Men with a big bang at the box office. Dollar signs mean sequel so one was developed immediately. No film company's president is going to badmouth a film while it's being created so Rothman was quiet -- but not for long.

Rumors swirled around the time filming started for X2: X-Men United. It was three years later but this time studio notes came fast and furious; Ain't It Cool News reported that Rothman kept wanting Storm and Wolverine to become a couple and various other reports stated that Rothman and his administration began to micro-manage Singer and his production team to the nth degree.

It's now early 2005. 20th Century Fox still had not signed Bryan Singer to direct a third X-Men installment, X3. Delay after delay after delay was becoming the norm. In the ensuing time, Alan Horn, an executive at Warner Brothers, holds a meeting with Singer to ask him if he'd be interested in developing and directing their long-stalled Superman film - no corporate over-the-shoulder glances or studio notes. Singer, a long-time Superman fan, would be allowed to use his own writers and production team. Singer wanted the film to be a sequel to Superman II. Horn and the executives at Warner Brothers were ecstatic with Bryan Singer's take. Both sides said yes and thus a deal was made. Once the news broke, Bryan extended an olive branch, stating that he'd love to return for a third X-Men film once he'd completed Superman Returns.

20th Century Fox did not take the news of Singer leaving the X-Men franchise well. Ain't It Cool News reported of guards escorting Singer off the Fox lot after he'd cleaned out his office -- only to have to let him right back in, as he is an executive producer on the hit FOX series House.

Panic-stricken, Fox made an interesting and cool choice. Chosen to succeed Singer to direct X3 was British director Matthew Vaughn, best known for his 2005 film Layer Cake. It seemed Fox was continuing in the tradition they'd followed when assembling the behind-the-scenes talent for the first film. Vaughn's first act was to hire Kelsey Grammer to play the hirsute yet intelligent Beast, a shrewd and logical casting move if ever there was one. Shortly after this, Vaughn opted out, citing he did not want to uproot his family from England to Vancouver for the shoot.

By this time it was almost August of 2005. Marvel CEO Avi Arad stated that the director they'd chosen would remain true to the intelligence that Bryan Singer's X-Men films had but bring his own style to the franchise and refresh the property to make the third film just as powerful as the first two.

The director chosen? None other than Brett Ratner. What has this man directed, you ask? Money Talks, Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, The Family Man, Red Dragon, and After The Sunset. All loud garish films not known for strong character development or resonant storytelling. A reporter at the Hollywood premiere of Mr. & Mrs. Smith asked Tom Rothman if they think they should wait, develop the script a bit more, and mentioned the ever-quickening time between shooting and release; Rothman shrugged it off with a cheesy smile and said, "Nope. We're going out worldwide May 26th, 2006."

So...filming began. And then Rothman's true intentions were soon laid bare for all to see...

Halfway through production online media began reporting that all that Rothman had sought to do during Singer's tenure but was denied was now becoming a reality. Halle Berry wanted a much, much larger role or she'd walk. She was given it. Then all the cards were laid on the table. The film was retitled. No longer X3, the new title summed up Rothman's feelings quite succinctly - X-Men: The Last Stand. It was then abundantly clear that the third film was to be the end for the franchise.

Simon Kinberg was hired to help flesh the new script out (alongside Zak Penn, who wrote Elektra). The Mr. & Mrs. Smith screenwriter also scripted xXx: State Of The Union and did script polishes on Catwoman. It seemed that Ratner and company felt compelled to overload the film with copious mutants. While people on the street find this entralling, it will only amount to limited screen time for them.

And my biggest gripe? I read the comics religiously in my youth. I devotedly watched the 1992 animated series and devoured all things X-Men. As a long-time X-Men fan, I believe you can do many things in an X-Men movie. But what you cannot do in just ONE film is "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (in which Jean Grey absorbs the power of an alien crystal and turns against her friends and loved ones - go here for more info.) It is a LONG, sweeping saga, one filled with deep resounding storylines that affect many, many characters over a long span of time. To just shove this, one of the comic world's most well-known and most-respected stories into one movie and treat is as a perfunctory story element is an appalling injustice and really speaks volumes of how badly Fox is treating this property.

Movies are made to make money, no doubt about it. X-Men: The Last Stand will make money hand over fist, but at what cost? A potentially long-running sci-fi/comic book/summer tentpole franchise is being given an early burial simply due to the devious machinations of a power-drunk egomaniac (you can thank Tom Rothman for the cinematic atrocity that is Alien Vs. Predator) who, more so than any executive in Hollywood, seems drawn to the almighty dollar. Ample evidence shows that one can marry creativity and big-budget blockbuster moviemaking and the results can be lucrative and masterful. Case in point -- Batman Begins.

So the masses will flock to this offal in droves, like lambs to the slaughter. I know what you're thinking - "Jason, you've not seen frame one of the film...How do you know it'll be bad?" Well I don't need to jump off of the roof of a tall building to know that I'll get hurt.

Others have tried the other approach with me - "You've already made up your mind. You're so predisposed to hate X-Men: The Last Stand you'll hate it even if it's good."

Look, I'd love for Ratner and company to have made a competent, creative film that will stand as a great piece of work. But the deck is clearly stacked: The many many reviews that tout how broken and ambivalent the film feels coupled with my growing resentment of the way this property was treated (I already know the fate of several characters in the film and it's just horrible the way they're treated) ensures I'll never watch X-Men: The Last Stand. Call me a geek...whatever you like. I stand by my decision.

I will NEVER view X-Men: The Last Stand. I would rather remember what's come before then subject myself to something sub-par. It hurts to see this film being given a threadbare, second-hand treatment and it hurts doubly so to see source material I cherished as a child treated as cannon fodder. Fox will regret this in the long run. When Rothman is no longer production head, they'll have to pull a 'Batman Begins' to relaunch the franchise after this film.

So to all the people out there eager to see X-Men: The Last Stand: Enjoy the offspring of corporate yes-men and women and massive studio interference. Eat until you're full. I'll not be dining at that table. It's too fucking pathetic.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

a true masterwork...

A charge often directed at Steven Spielberg, a fair one I think, is that if he makes a film that's not factually-based, it is an exercise in Nerf: all main characters live and no harm comes to them. This wasn't the case in the past - certainly not in Jaws. But these claims are put on hold when he makes up for those films by crafting a brilliant piece of filmmaking like Munich.

We all know the story - in 1972 eleven Israeli athletes were taken hostage by a Palestinian terror group known as Black September. Eventually said athletes were massacred by Black September. Israel's Prime Minister Golda Meir decides retaliation is in order and she hires a former bodyguard, Avner (Eric Bana), to assemble a team to execute vengeance in the name of Israel.

To take a side would imply bias and Spielberg knows this. The film treats the job these men are given as something they continually wrestle with, not as a video game joyride. Indeed the first hit they accomplish is full of uncertainty and nervous glares between two of the men as they wonder whether they can do what they've been assigned to.

Munich reminds us why film is such a powerful medium, in the proper hands. Munich also serves a larger purpose in relaying the sad truth that terrorism and its victims are a wide and varied network that sometimes reaches across political and religious boundaries. Terrorist organizations have leadership like the head of the Hydra; cut one off, another sprouts in its place. The film also shows the effect of what's asked of these Israeli assassins - are they any better or are they doing a patriotic job for their country? And at what cost, when it appears that the hunters may have become the hunted?

Eric Bana is masterful in the lead role. As Avner, he projects a strong man who begins to wonder if taking this assignment means a death sentence to his family. Others, including Daniel Craig and Geoffrey Rush, offer great performances as the hot-tempered getaway driver and Avner's Israeli contact, respectively.

For more than thirty years, Steven Spielberg has been one of, if not the, best-known directors. It is with a film like Munich that one resdiscovers just what he is capable of. The film is a brilliant masterstroke that intelligently and hauntingly relays the sad tale of one of the darkest chapters in Israel's history. It cuts no corners and takes chances. Munich is the best film of 2005.

Director Wolfgang Petersen is best known for his claustrophobic 1981 film Das Boot. This year he returns to the theme of waterlogged seafaring vessels, one he revisited in 2000's The Perfect Storm. This time it's a remake of Irwin Allen's campy 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure.

It's New Year's Eve and several stock characters, including the former mayor of New York City (Kurt Russell), a sleazy card shark (Kevin Dillon), Russell's newly-engaged daughter and her fiancee (Emmy Rossum & Mike Vogel), a former Navy officer (Josh Lucas), and Richard Dreyfuss as a suicidal, recently dumped gay man, are aboard the biggest luxury liner ever made. One rogue wave later, the ship is capsized and the cast, lead by Lucas's character, make a break for the surface.

Poseidon is not high art. It does what it does well, with great special effects and a better-than-average cast for this type of film. We all know what characters will live, which will die, and the in between offers torrents of water, potential drownings, explosions and lots and lots of screaming and crying.

I enjoyed the film but there's no real reason to see it unspool at your local multiplex, unless you wish to experience it with theater-quality sound. I echo Roger Ebert's sentiment that the film does feel very corporate; that being said Poseidon is still a pretty good popcorn picture albeit one best experienced on DVD.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

change of plans...

The reviews of Friends With Money and Art School Confidential will have to wait as I won't be able to see them until next week, most likely Wednesday.

The reason? It's quite an easy explanation actually. I've gotten the chance to see this...

for free. And you know me - if it's free, I'm there. So expect a review of this shortly. I expect a competently made piece of summer entertainment from director Wolfgang Petersen. Reviews so far have been mixed. I'll weigh in with my two cents later.

Then I'll expound on why X-Men: The Last Stand will never be seen by me. Plus I've got Munich on the table from Netflix as well.

Work today was interesting. It's been a while since I've worked a day shift outside of Monday; it being a Saturday really added to that feeling. I'm covering for a co-worker who has play practice at one of our colleges here in Savannah, Armstrong Atlantic State University (barely five minutes from our work) this and next weekend.

I also got my mother a really cool Mother's Day card after I got off work. Don't forget to treat your mother to something special this weekend, be it a card, flowers, dinner, or a movie. She's definitely earned it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I plan to see Friends With Money and the opening-wide-this-weekend Terry Zwigoff film Art School Confidential. I saw The Sentinel the night I was to see Friends With Money as I was the doting son and let my mother decide what she wanted to see.

I saw Mission: Impossible III last Friday night. It was the best of the three films, with all of the film's cohesive elements coming together wonderfully. JJ Abrams managed to make the film actually feel like an episode of the television series, where the IMF team actually had their own expertise and they all worked together to get the job done. Couple that with great action setpieces, a really terrific villain played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a funny role for Shaun of the Dead star and co-writer Simon Pegg, Keri Russell's quite convincing role as an IMF agent, and a great score by Michael Giacchino (who composed the amazing score for The Incredibles) and you've got a very good movie indeed.

We went out to Masato, a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant formerly part of the Kyoto chain until the owner got tired of paying franchise fees and decided to just name it after his son and run it himself. Aside from renaming menu items, the restaurant was just like it was the last time I ate there ten years ago. My sister took us (my mother, myself, and her best friend Toni) there to celebrate my mother's belated birthday which was actually last Friday. Sake was consumed. I only had one shot of sake -- believe me it was more than enough -- and half a can of Sapporo. Then we met Joe, a friend of my sister's whose father owns the McDonald's franchise near our house. We met him at the nearby Chili's (and I mean nearby -- right across the parking lot from Masato) where we had a few drinks (I just had three Bud Lights) and finished off the evening with good conversation and a Buttery Nipple, of which I really liked as the Bailey's Irish Cream and Kahlua did a very good job of masking the alcohol. I don't drink often (never) but figured I'd do so to celebrate. So all in all, it was a very fun evening.

I watched Tristan & Isolde Saturday evening. Director Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and scribe Dean Georgaris crafted a sumptuous tale of love and devotion in a time of tumultuousness. James Franco and Sophia Myles have a very believeable chemistry and help make this a tender and haunting love story that blends the best of cinema's romantic elements amidst a running parallel of violence. Rufus Sewell also gives a remarkable performance, as he always does. Check this movie out; you won't be disappointed.

I've got the season finale of Veronica Mars awaiting me. Nine thousand plot threads need to be wrapped up in this final installment of season two and I don't doubt creator Rob Thomas and his writers ability to do just that, although I've heard some minor plot threads may carry over into next season - if The CW picks the show up, that is. I've also heard that next season will not be about a season-long mystery but rather several smaller ones.

Also awaiting me on the lovely TiVo is Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin. I've heard alot about this, Welles's second most-troubled production (behind his most famous). There are several different cuts of this film; I am unaware which version this is but I'll know more later.

M. Night Shayamlan's latest film Lady In The Water will be released on July 21st. It stars Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep.

In "Lady in the Water," a story originally conceived by Shyamalan for his children, a modest building manager named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti). He rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger and discovers she is actually a narf, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Cleveland and his fellow tenants start to realize that they are also characters in this bedtime story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper in love with the woman, he works together with the tenants to protect his new fragile friend from the deadly creatures that reside in this fable and are determined to prevent her from returning home.

M. Night stopped by Ellen yesterday to debut the new trailer! I can't wait to see this one. He said that even though initially sold as "A Bedtime Story from M. Night Shayamalan", it's actually quite dark and intense. I've loved all of his movies thus far - yes even The Village - and Lady In The Water just shot up several notches on my "Must-See Summer Movie List".

More thoughts will follow after food is consumed, including why X-Men: The Last Stand will remain unwatched by me. I mentioned it briefly when the initial trailer debuted; this time I'll be a bit more substantive. Now though it's time to eat.