You're going to hear a lot of comparisons between "300" and "Immortals," and on a surface level, those comparisons aren't wrong.
After all, Marc Canton and Gianni Nunnari were both producers on "300," and that was a hyper-stylized take on a combination of history and myth, with gorgeous people and an almost celebratory take on violence. "Immortals" looks to be in the same general neighborhood, but instead of taking a real incident and elevating it to the status of myth, director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides have taken mythology and tried to find something grounded and human in it.
I was notoriously not a fan of Tarsem's first feature film "The Cell," and for me, the failure was first on a screenplay level, but then also I felt like Tarsem was recycling imagery from his striking and hypnotic music videos. There were moments where I almost expected to see Michael Stipe lurking around behind Vincent D'Onofrio. It was the sort of movie I didn't just dislike, but that I actually actively hated, and since I was much younger and far more incendiary, I sort of nuked the movie when I wrote about it.
But much like my reaction to David Fincher's first and second feature films, when Tarsem finally made his second movie, "The Fall," he turned my opinion around completely, and I saw a clear expression of a real voice, an artist with something to say. My big question at this point isn't whether or not Tarsem can make a great film, but whether he can do so within the confines of the studio system. Not everyone can, and for some artists, they shouldn't bother. I think Tarsem could surprise people with this one, though, based on the several conversations we had on Saturday. It sounds to me like he made a personal connection to a piece of material, and I'm ready to be surprised by the end result.
We talk about November's giant fantasy adventure now
You're going to hear a lot of comparisons between "300" and "Immortals," and on a surface level, those comparisons aren't wrong.
Plus the end of Cinematical and the return of Paul Simon
Welcome to The Morning Read.
For me personally, the biggest news I've seen out there this morning is the resignation by Erik Davis from Cinematical. When I was at Sundance this year, there was one meal in particular where I ended up sitting with Erik, Kim Voynar, and Eric D. Snider, all of whom have played important roles in Cinematical over the years. Talking to them about the changing face of the site and the influence of AOL, it felt to me like an era was ending. Since that night, Scott Weinberg and Peter S. Hall, both princes among men, both left the site as editors, and now with Davis heading out the door as well, I can't imagine what is left of the spirt of that site. It feels like it's been gutted, and that's a shame. There are few sites out there that have worked harder or that have been more consistent in their dedication to providing original content that's not just focused on the business of chasing scoops, and if this really is the end of the site as we know it, then the Internet is poorer for it. Whatever you're drinking right now, raise your glass to Erik, Scott, Peter, and the entire team that they worked with in their time at the site, and here's hoping they land well and land soon.
Regarding the news today that M. Night Shyamalan will direct Will Smith and Jaden Smith together in a new untitled SF film, my first impulse was to be snarky. But the truth is, no matter how much I hated "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender" (and they are both wholly loathsome films), I'm still not rooting against Shyamalan. I think back to the earliest works of his that I read, and I have to hope that somewhere in there, that writer still exists. Will and Jaden were quite affecting onscreen together in "The Pursuit Of Happyness," and I think Gary Whitta's a solid writer who could reign in some of Night's worst tendencies. I know everyone is busy writing this one off right away, and looking at my Twitter feed, it's one crack after another, everyone determined to be the one who lands the most brutal punch. But I'm going to treat this one the same way I'd treat any other movie and wait to see what it is before I start making any sort of judgment about it. At least it's an original SF property and not a comic or a graphic novel. I'll take that small step in the right direction as an encouraging start.
With the central triangle cast in the much-anticipated film, who's next?
With today's news, we now have a solid glimpse at the cast of "The Hunger Games," and it looks to me like Gary Ross is putting together a young, exciting cast for his adaptation of the best-selling books.
A little over a week ago, I published a cheat sheet for "The Hunger Games" for those of you who have not read the books. I didn't spend much time discussing possible casting, because I get weary from how much of that goes on these days. The truth is, no matter how rabid fans get about what they want, unless you're in the room when these people read or screen-test, you have no idea what it is that the filmmakers saw in these people.
Billy Ray's adaptation of the first book is a tricky thing. As with any series where there are hardcore fans already, every single change will be heavily scrutinized, but it read to me like he put all of that out of his mind and simply worked hard to get the spirit of the story right and to condense the text and the characters into something that will work as a movie. I'll say this: it felt like "The Hunger Games" to me, and I'm willing to give Ross the benefit of the doubt as he builds the cast for the films.
Maggie Q, 'Personal Jesus,' and Karl Urban-as-Clint Eastwood all intrigue
SAN FRANCISCO - "I'm British, you know, so I'm working from a sort of butch deficit." I'll say this for Paul Bettany: he does self-deprecation well.
Friday night, Screen Gems took over a theater at the Metreon to screen a few special pieces of footage from their big May release, "Priest," and they showed up with cast members Cam Gigandet, Lily Collins, and Paul Bettany, along with director Scott Stewart and the creator of the original graphic novel, Min-Woo Hyung. Aside from the event's moderator, a local radio DJ who seemed to have a knack for making his guests deeply uncomfortable, it was a brisk and interesting look at a movie that positively screams Screen Gems.
Whether that's a good or a bad thing will most likely depend on your appetite for the "Underworld" and "Resident Evil" films, which have become the signature series for the genre arm of Sony. There's a very distinct look and feel to those films, and "Priest" looks like it will fit right into the family. Scott Stewart and Paul Bettany made their first film together last year, the low-budget horror film "Legion," and while there were things to like about what they pulled off, the film was hampered by a script that blatantly ripped off the original 1984 "The Terminator" to a distressing degree.
Co-writer Bob Orci joins him for a quick but fun glimpse at the genre mash-up
SAN FRANCISCO - One thing you've got to acknowledge: Jon Favreau knows how to work a crowd.
I love that he's the only director I know who has his own entrance music. No matter what the event, AC/DC's "Back In Black" trumpets his arrival, and Favreau always seems to genuinely love the energy of the crowds in these rooms. This weekend, he brought Bob Orci, the co-writer of "Cowboys and Aliens," and the two of them premiered some new clips from the film to a packed Esplanade Ballroom.
I was a little concerned before the presentation that we'd just see the same chunk of film I've seen a few times now and which I recently wrote about. Instead, Favreau cut a whole new preview reel, including the first shot I've seen of one of the actual aliens. According to Favreau, that's also the only shot of an alien I'll see until I'm sitting in the theater and I see the actual movie. His plan right now is to keep the aliens entirely out of the marketing materials, which I like a lot. The way the first forty minutes of the film play, there is a sense of mystery, and the aliens are kept entirely off-screen, so ruining that in the advertising would make no sense at all. It sounds like, based on what Favreau and Orci said, the mystery of the film is very much going to influence the way the movie is marketed.
We know one thing the Man of Steel is afraid of: my cell phone ring tone
SAN FRANCISCO - One of the benefits of being at an event like WonderCon is that you sit down with people who are involved in some of the most-anticipated projects for genre fans, and you get to be among the first people to talk about those projects with them.
I'll be moderating the panel for Tarsem Singh's new film "Immortals" later today, and the star of that film is Henry Cavill, who, of course, has been cast to play the lead role in Zack Snyder's upcoming "Superman."
Cavill is a guy who has been on the cusp of superstardom for a while now. He was almost James Bond. He was almost Bryan Singer's Superman. He even read for Batman at one point. And yet, in each of those moments, someone else ended up playing the part. Now, finally, on the strength of his work in "The Tudors" and the early buzz around his performance in "Immortals," it feels like Henry is having that moment.
Sitting down with him today, most of the conversation had to do with "Immortals," but we did take the time to talk about stepping into the suit of one of the most recognizable characters on Earth. My impression of Cavill after spending a few minutes chatting with him is that he's a dynamic choice for the role.
We spoke a bit about Superman during our time together, and while we'll have our full "Immortals" conversation for you later, we wanted to share the "Superman" stuff with you immediately, since there's such intense curiosity about who he is and what he's going to bring to the role.
Plus a spirited Q&A shows off the easy chemistry between the cast
SAN FRANCISCO - Team HitFix rolled into town midday on Friday, giving me just enough time to check into my hotel, get something to eat, and make my way over to the Moscone Convention Center so I could see the Warner Bros. presentation for one of their biggest summer movies, "Green Lantern."
I spoke to a couple of people who saw this presentation at CinemaCon in Vegas, but I specifically asked them not to tell me details, just overall impressions. I wanted to walk in as cold as I could today, all things considered. For Warner Bros, this is make-or-break time on this film, and they're struggling to shake off an underwhelming start to their campaign. The problem they've faced all along is that this is an incredibly post-heavy film. So much of the movie is just now starting to really exist that they've had to hold off until now, and they know that fandom has become intensely curious, and that any absence of information will lead to people speculating that something's wrong.
Based on how packed the convention hall was today, I don't think Warner has to worry about whether or not people are curious about the film. I saw tons of Green Lantern shirts and full costumes in the hall. This is a huge comic right now, probably bigger than it's ever been before, and it feels like if there's ever been a moment to make a movie about the character, this is it. I know the character in a general sense, but I am not a rabid fan by any means. As a result, I don't have any particular expectations or demands for the film. All that matters to me is how it plays as a movie. For me, this is as "new" as a big adapted comic book movie gets.
Who just landed one of the hottest roles in town?
SAN FRANCISCO - I'll be writing up my impressions of the presentation for the new Paul Bettany film "Priest" a little later tonight, but one of his co-stars in the movie is making news tonight, and at the end of the presentation, I had a chance to ask her about it directly.
As the event was winding down, there was a Q&A in the front of the theater with Cam Gigandet, Paul Bettany, director Scott Stewart, and Min Woo-Hyung, the creator of the graphic novel, and they were joined by Lily Collins, who is probably best known to audiences as the daughter of Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side."
Coming Soon's Silas Lesnick leaned over to me near the end of things and showed me a tweet from Variety's Jeff Sneider saying Collins was "in talks" to play the title role in "Snow White," Tarsem Singh's version of the story which Relativity Media is financing. I tried to raise my hand for the Q&A, but things were already winding down. I decided to see if I could catch up to Collins before she left the theater.
Sure enough, right at the door to the auditorium, I found myself directly behind her and just said, "Miss Collins?"
She turned around, and I quickly asked, "Is there any truth to the rumor that you're going to be playing Snow White for Tarsem?" Even if she hadn't answered, she has no poker face whatsover, and a huge smile immediately erupted on her face.
"Yes!" she exclaimed. "I just got cast today!"
Easter Bunny movie plays best to the very, very young
One of the great surprises of the last half-dozen years has been the emergence of James Marsden as a committed, unabashed goofball.
When Hollywood gets hold of a guy like Marsden, they inevitably push him towards leading man roles. Romantic roles. Heroic roles. And while he may have been overshadowed in the "X-Men" series by virtue of Hugh Jackman's star-making performance and writing that barely knew what to do with Cyclops, that's not his fault. He just did what he could with what he was given. It was only once he wrapped that series that things started to get genuinely interesting for him. His role in the flawed "Superman Returns" was one of the best things about that film, and he took the very small role of Corny Collins in "Hairspray" and ran with it. The two films that confirmed for me that this is a guy who will not stop until he's exhausted the comic potential in a role, though, were "Enchanted" and "Sex Drive," and that's when I started to hope that more directors would pick up on this stealth-weirdo lurking beneath those movie star good looks and really give him something to do.
In "Hop," Marsden stars as Fred O'Hare, a guy who is adrift in his life, unable to find a job that satisfies him, constantly flirting with the disapproval of his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) and leaning on his sister Sam (Kaley Cuoco) for help. And while the ads all emphasize the talking CGI bunny named E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) as the star of the film, structurally, this is Fred's story. As a little boy, he saw the Easter Bunny one morning, and before he could take a picture to prove it, the Easter Bunny was gone, leaving Fred with questions for the rest of his life.
Plus is this the best weekend of movies so far this year?
Quentin Dupieux is an intriguing filmmaker, and I'm very interested in tracking down his first feature film, "Steak," based on how strange and wonderful his new film "Rubber" is. I saw the film at Fantastic Fest last year, and I adored it. Why? No reason.
Sorry... the "no reason" thing is a recurring joke in the film, and it feels appropriate that the film is finally hitting theaters and VOD on April 1st. It's a big broad wink of a movie, and if you're up for a little post-modern fun in a movie about a telekinetic tire that makes people's heads explode, I recommend that you seek it out.
And if you're not? Well, you can skip the interview I did with Dupieux this week, and there will still be some great new stuff in the podcast, our second this week. Scott came over and we played a round of Movie God inspired by "Your Highness" and some of the films I feel are present in that movie's DNA. And then after that, we got into a discussion about this weekend's line-up of movies, and how it's one of the strongest weekends so far this year.
I've been enjoying this season of the podcast. I think Scott and I have settled into a rhythm as we record these, and I'm realizing that the very nature of the podcast is transitory. These are meant to feel off-the-cuff, conversational, and relaxed. I don't want to do some over-rehearsed radio show. I just want to hang out with my best friend, chat about movies and whatever else is going on, and laugh. And I like being able to invite you guys to do that with us, something that's not always possible.