Reviews of two new novels that deal with the impact of sleeplessness
As long as I can remember, sleep's been an issue for me, and as I get older, the problem only gets worse.
In the next month, two very strong novels will be arriving in stores, both using the idea of sleeplessness as a major thematic idea or plot point. Aside from that, though, the books are radically different, and they diverse ways they each approach the personal and or societal fallout from sleeplessness are fascinating to me.
D.C. Pierson is a member of DERRICK Comedy, and one of the stars of the painfully funny "Mystery Team," which I reviewed last year at Sundance. I've linked many times from the Morning Read to D.C.'s blog about moving to Los Angeles, and I've gotten to know him a little bit over the course of the year, but even so, I was surprised by how evocative and unique his first novel is. The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep And Never Had To tells the story of Darren, a shy teen who spends most of his time drawing and making notes about an epic SF story he created. One day, he meets Eric, a similarly awkward and lonely teen, and at first their friendship hinges on their mutual creative impulses as Eric becomes involved in Darren's idea. Gradually, though, they find themselves bound by a secret when Eric reveals to Darren that he never sleeps. Ever. Not at all. No naps. No dozing off. No nothing. It's hard for Darren to believe at first, but once he believes, he becomes fixated on figuring out why Eric never sleeps, treating it almost like a superpower.
How does a meta-parody of '80s films play for someone was born in 2005?
Whenever anything's sent to the house, it inevitably has to be vetted by my two sons, Toshi and Allen, who serve as the welcoming committee for anyone who comes to the door, including each and every UPS, FexEx, or delivery guy.
So when an envelope showed up at the start of the week containing BluRays of several Sony catalog releases, I was the last person in the house to know about it. I was walking out to the garage to get something to drink when I spotted Toshi sitting on the couch in the playroom, a BluRay laid out on the cushion next to him, studying the cover like it might unlock the secrets of the universe for him.
"Whatcha got there, buddy?" He's just on the verge of reading words right now, so he loves to sound things out and he hates it when someone gives him the answer before he asks for it, so I've learned to let him tell me in his own way.
"L-A-S-T A-C-T-I-O-N H-E-R-O."
"And what does that spell?"
He screwed his face up, studied the cover closely. "Ummmmm... superhero, maybe?"
I took a seat next to him and pointed at each word as I sounded it out. "You got part of it right. Here, try it with me, okay? Last..."
"Right! Action superhero!" Bolstered by his confidence that he'd cracked the code, he jumped off the couch and started throwing punches and kicks at the giant stuffed Mario in the corner of the playroom.
Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster headline this sci-fi horror hybrid
When I reviewed Christian Alvert's debut feature "Antibodies" back in 2005, I thought it was an impressive first film, and I hoped that it would lead to a strong feature career. Hollywood and international financing being what they are, it's taken four years for Alvert to release a second film, and his third one "Case 39" is still sitting on a shelf right now. It's not what I hoped would happen, but I'm well aware of how hard it can be for even the most talented filmmakers to get their work in front of people.
He co-wrote the script for "Pandorum," his SF/horror film, and it's an interesting if not entirely successful attempt to blend the two genres. One of my complaints about most supposed science-fiction films is that they aren't. They use the genre for its surface trappings, and that's it. Here, Alvert and his co-writer Travis Milloy are playing with some genuine SF ideas, and the horror grows out of what's gone wrong with an experiment in off-world colonization. As a result, this is one of the few hybrids of the two genres that I've ever seen where I think both genres are given the same attention.
Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster star in the film as crew members onboard a deep space ship called the Elysium, woken from suspended animation for what they think is going to be a routine shift. They quickly learn that something has gone terribly wrong onboard the ship, though, which is a huge problem since they may well represent the last hope for humanity. In the future of the film, our planet was choked to death by overpopulation and environmental abuse, and the Elysium was created as a 60,000 person Ark that is carrying samples to a new planet so we can start over. When Foster and Quaid can't get hold of anyone else onboard the ship, and when they find that there are major system failures in almost every part of the ship, they set out to solve the mystery of what happened. Even worse, there are signs that they may be suffering from a form of deep-space dementia called Pandorum, which is going to make solving that mystery next to impossible.
Striking design for a spectacular movie
I am flat-out impressed by the way they brought the entire campaign together in a catchy, colorful, comic-inspired one-sheet that is both simple and evocative.
"Kick-Ass" is, in many ways, a challenge for a marketing team. You can't really sell it to the typical comic crowd, because it's not a kid-friendly film. And although the comic has been a hit during its run, it isn't at the same sort of cultural awareness as even a d-lister from the major companies like "Ghost Rider" or "The Punisher." These are new characters, a new property, and you're basically selling it without any giant movie stars to help out.
Sure, there's Nic Cage, but you can't sell it as his movie, because it's not. And Mark Strong may be a guy that savvy moviegoers are starting to recognize, but he doesn't sell tickets. And even if you're a fan of "Superbad," there's no proof that audiences are clamoring to line up for the next Chris Mintz-Plasse film yet.
Nope. You've got concept on your side, and that's about it. "What if you could really dress up as a superhero and go fight crime? What would that be like?"
Oh, and of course, it helps that the film is totally f'ing awesome.
Over the last few months, we've seen a slew of character-based posters for the film, including a great idea where several of the early teaser posters all linked together into one image of the main characters standing over the city, looking down at it. Now, thanks to Lionsgate, HitFix is pleased to premiere the final one-sheet, and I think they did a great job of creating something that would stop me in a theater lobby to check it out. You've got to cut through the barrage of white noise somehow, and I think this is a really clever way to do it:
One of the best character guys working gets pivotal role in 'Green Lantern' series
Well, if I have to be wrong, at least it's over an actor as great as Mark Strong.
When I ran our report the other day on "Green Lantern," it seems that I had one major detail wrong. Everything I wrote about the script and the story and which characters you can expect to see in Martin Campbell's "Green Lantern" was right, but my source had told me that Mark Strong, an early candidate for the role, was going to be booked for "John Carter Of Mars" and that had knocked him out of consideration.
Well, turns out, that's exactly wrong.
Martin Campbell confirmed today for Rick Marshall of MTV that Mark Strong is currently negotiating to take the role of Sinestro, which will turn out to be one of the most important parts of the "Green Lantern" franchise if this first film works. For those not familiar, Sinestro is a member of the Green Lantern corps on Oa, the Green Lantern homeworld, and when Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is first recruited from Earth, Sinestro is a mentor to him, helping him learn to handle the awesome power of the Green Lantern ring.
Fans of the comic know that Sinestro's love of that power slowly but surely corrupted him, and eventually, Sinestro became the main villain of the series, a tremendous ongoing foil for not just Jordan but every Green Lantern on every world. If you want a taste of what's in store for Sinestro if the franchise moves forward, you could check out the excellent "Gren Lantern" animated film that was released by Warner/DC last year, which parallels some of the main story beats you'll see in the live-action treatment of the material.
Is it possible we're finally going to see the Burroughs hero done right?
Is that a record for how long something's been in development? Because Hollywood's been trying to figure out how to make a "John Carter Of Mars" movie for damn near a century now, and today, principal photography on Andrew Stanton's feature film began in London, according to a press release sent out by Walt Disney Studios. Which means that sometime in 2012, we're going to finally see the amazing world created by Edgar Rice Burroughs brought to life, and that news makes me dance and sing.
Literally. I'm scaring the kids.
If you're not familiar with the property, it's going to sound a little familiar on the surface after the omnipresence of "Avatar" for the last month. It's the story of a Civil War-era soldier on Earth who finds himself transported to the surface of Mars, where he finds a complex and chaotic civilization known to its inhabitants as Barsoom, eventually winning the love of Dejah Thoris, a princess, and becoming a hero in a planetary conflict. It's rip-roaring pulp material in the best sense of the term, high adventure and alien monsters and scantily-clad women with both red and green skin. Burroughs was one of the guys who created the template that filmmakers and storytellers have been telling for decades now, and one of the things that has made the production of a film version trickier as time has passed has been the way elements of it have been borrowed and re-borrowed by other films. I have no doubt that some people will see "John Carter Of Mars" as a reaction to "Avatar" when it's released, but I also have no doubt that the impression will last all of about five seconds into whatever Andrew Stanton has planned for us.
Plus where to see 'The Snake' right now and the weirdest 'Rambo' remake ever
Welcome to The Morning Read.
The sun's coming up and I've spent all night preparing for Sundance next week. I put together my schedule, I watched one of three movies playing this year's fest that I have here in the house, and I sent out about 40 e-mails regarding things I need or want to do while I'm in Park City. Right now, I feel more prepared for the festival than I've ever felt for any festival before actually showing up on site, but at the expense of sleeping at all, and I still have a Morning Read to put together. Good thing I bookmark things as I spot them, so I don't have to spend the whole morning trawling. There's already plenty worth talking about, and I can finally clear out some of the bookmarks I've set this week.
For the first time, I'm a little uncomfortable with one of the charges of theft leveled against James Cameron regarding "Avatar." For the most part, people are getting upset over very broad stroke myth and hero story beats, but with this latest news about a ten-part Russian series set on a planet called Pandora, it's a little close. The authors don't seem concerned, but I can see why people who know those books might question how this happened. And in the meantime, the film shows no sign of stopping its juggernaut assualt on the worldwide box-office record. Amazing.
There's a reason this film made Alfonso Cuaron's career
Welcome to The Motion/Captured Must-See Project.
It would have been very easy for Alfonso Cuaron to get steamrolled by Hollywood. His movie "A Little Princess" is charming and beautiful, and it was embraced by critics when released, but even with a re-release and a redesign of the ad campaign, Warner never quite figured out how to get people to actually see it. His second big Hollywood experience, "Great Expectations," was a classic example of a promising filmmaker getting totally Foxed.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Cuaron went back to Mexico and made the film that turned him into a major filmmaker worldwide, and he did it on his terms. He told a story about class, about sex, and about friendship that resonated with audiences everywhere, and in the process, he launched both Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal as international stars. Even now, nine years later, "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is bracing and bold and unforgettable, and its earned a place on this list as an enduring and essential piece of world cinema.
Co-written with Cuaron's brother Carlos, the screenplay for "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is both loose and lively and rich with an almost novelistic attention to detail. The film deals with the friendship between Tenoch (Luna) and Julio (Bernal), teenage friends who are fairly typical boys. They both have girlfriends who they would have sex with fifteen times a day if permitted, and in the hours they aren't actually having it, they're talking about it. When their girlfriends go away to Italy on vacation, the boys find themselves desperate for distraction. Tenoch is from a wealthy family, and his friendship with Julio is a bit of a class breach. That's part of what makes it work. Tenoch has disdain for the people around him and the world of money, and the film offers up some very wry, very pointed commentary on the distance between the haves and the have-nots in Mexican culture, and the way the two worlds rub right up against each other at all times. Cuaron seems perfectly happy to digress when he's interested in a minor character or a detail, and he lets the film follow those digressions in unexpected and fascinating ways.
The twin directors discuss dream projects, commercial work, and making Denzel a badass
Albert and Allen Hughes have had one of the strangest mainstream careers of any directors who ever landed with the sort of hype that was part of the release of "Menace II Society." Their subsequent films like "Dead Presidents," "American Pimp," and even "From Hell" all have admirers, but they've never really had the same sort of imperative heat that they did the first time around.
I've spoken with them a few times over the years, and I've always found them to be entertaining, outspoken, and unexpected in all sorts of ways, and when I was asked if I wanted to speak with them on the eve of the release of their latest film, I was happy to do so. The interviews took place by phone last weekend, and to avoid my transcriber blowing her own brains out, I was offered each of the guys individually. With twin brothers, that's a pretty big help.
First up was Albert, and the first call from him disconnected almost immediately. He called right back, and we picked up right away:
Albert Hughes: Sorry about that. Our hotel phone went out.
Drew McWeeny: Hey, how are you, sir?
AH: All right. Doing good.
DM: It has been a while, I believe, since we’ve spoken.
AH: When was the last time we spoke?
DM: God, I think it was pre-From Hell?
Denzel and Oldman bring sparks to a familiar tale
There's another movie coming out this month that I'll review a little later that I'm going to slam for the powerful lack of originality and the perfunctory way in which it borrows from any number of much better movies. But just because something is familiar doesn't automatically make it bad, and "The Book Of Eli" is a film that certainly treads some familiar road, but in doing so, still manages to deliver enough entertainment that I feel good about recommending it to audiences.
Telling a story of a lone hero in a post-Apocalyptic landscape can be done for the arthouse crowd (this winter's "The Road" is probably the most high-minded example of the genre) or for the exploitation crowd (see every single movie in the '80s that ripped off George Miller's "The Road Warrior"), and "The Book Of Eli" manages to land somewhere between the two. The film seems to have something on its mind at the start, and it ends on a wry note that suggests a more nimble wit than the genre is used to, but along the way, things fall into a routine pattern as Eli (Denzel Washington) and Carnegie (Gary Oldman) find themselves at odds over a single copy of a single book.
Gary Whitta's script does not play the identity of the book as a giant secret, as I feared it might. Hell, even the billboards give it away at this point. There are some big reveals built in, but they don't tie in directly to the idea that Eli possesses the last Bible in existence. That's handed to the audience fairly early. Instead, the big stuff is all character-oriented, so it doesn't feel like it's supposed to be a lightning-bolt to the forehead moment. There are some very evident influences on the film that range from Japanese movies like "Yojimbo" and "Zatoichi" to Sergio Leone, films which obviously exist on a continuum anyway.