Well, if you're looking for paternal authority, I guess you can't do much better in casting than Martin Sheen.
Let's set aside the fact that one of his actual sons, Charlie Sheen, is practically a super-villain at this point whose archenemies appear to be cocaine, an army of ex-wives, hookers, and hotel suites. Sheen was perfect as President Bartlett on "The West Wing" precisely because of that reasonable, benign wisdom he projects. When Mouth finds a coin in the wishing well in "The Goonies" and excitedly proclaims, "It's Martin Sheen!", that's because it's hard to not get him confused with a Kennedy. He's played both RFK and JFK, and he's played unnamed Presidents in many more films beyond that.
There must be something special about playing JFK that qualifies you to play Uncle Ben in a "Spider-Man" film. After all, "PT-109" starred Cliff Robertson as the young JFK during his days of Naval service, and he played Uncle Ben for the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" series. Now Marc Webb has tapped Sheen to step in and play the role in the reboot of the series that's due out in 2012.
This comes on the heels of the recent flurry of casting decisions for the film, including the hyper-adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as the still unnamed-but-heavily-speculated-about villain, and of course Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I like the idea of Garfield and Sheen playing scenes together, and I think I'm more excited about that notion than any of the potential special effects or action scenes. The real key to me caring about a new version of Spider-Man is the cast and the human elements of the story.
Well, if you're looking for paternal authority, I guess you can't do much better in casting than Martin Sheen.
There is really only one test that matters for the re-organized MGM when it comes to their recovery from bankruptcy, and today, we get our first look at how they plan to face that test.
If you haven't been following the MGM bankruptcy story, or if you're only aware of it in vague terms, I don't blame you. I've been in Los Angeles for 20 years now, and MGM's been struggling with bankruptcy for most of that time. I've always find it amazing that this titan, this 86-year-old movie icon, could be run so poorly and managed so badly for such an extended period of time. Now that they've rejected the takeover bid by Lionsgate and Carl Icahn, they've got to prove that they can turn the ailing company around. In order to do so, they filed a pre-packaged plan with a Manhattan federal bankruptcy court that outlines their goals and the ways they hope to accomplish those goals.
And as I said, there's only really one thing that matters: what do they plan to do about James Bond?
After all, "The Hobbit" is going to happen under the guidance of Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films. MGM may have their name on that film, and they may well end up distributing it internationally, depending on how healthy that part of the company is in 2012, but they aren't really "making" it. They can't afford to. I'm not sure how they plan to deal with their $275 million "total obligation" to the movie, but my guess is they'll have no shortage of third party financiers looking to jump in.
The image you see there is from one of the only Legendary comic ventures so far, an iPad/iPod prequel comic to "Clash Of The Titans," with art by Gonzalo Arias, an acclaimed fantasy artist with a strong "World Of Warcraft" fanbase.
Today, Legendary Pictures announced that they were kicking off a new comics label, a venture that will be headed by Bob Schreck as Editor-in-Chief. Kinda makes sense that if you're a company called Legendary and you're starting a comics division, you're going to reach out to a guy who legitimately can be called a legend in his field.
The entire key to the announcement can be found in one line of the press release, of course: "[Shreck] will be working closely with Kathy Vrabeck, President of Legendary Digital, and they will, as warranted, look to bring the newly-created comic-based IP produced by the venture to other entertainment platforms such as film and television."
Well, of course they will. This is not a breakthrough in terms of business model. Right now, with comic properties driving such a huge percentage of the industry, it's only prudent to start a division where you can test properties and see how they work with your exact demographic target. There are many companies that have been started in the last decade or so that I would describe as "IP farms," companies that develop material with the express idea of leveraging it across several platforms. In many of those cases, the comic books that are produced as a result of these deals are not good comic books. They read like placeholders. They read like someone's pitch for the eventual movie they hope the book will become.
Welcome to the Morning Read.
Actually, thanks to a visit to Santa Monica to check in on a film that's currently editing and a delightful afternoon of traffic on the 405 that makes no sense at all to me, today it's the Evening Read. And so be it. It was a big day of things to read, and just trying to find the time to sift through it all took until now.
In the time between when I posted my "Sucker Punch" set visit this morning and now, the new trailer premiered on Apple.com, and I'm sorry if you're one of those people who still inexplicably insists that Snyder doesn't handle narrative well… I disagree. Yes, he's a man who loves style and loves to play with the image, but I think he's a storyteller. And this new trailer tells a complicated story well, setting up the movie in a way that hints at how much there's going to be for viewers, but that also leaves you wanting more. And the use of Led Zeppelin? Bonus points.
Also, I have to say… I have resisted joining the cult of Apple for many years, but watching a 1080p trailer from Apple.com on a 13" Macbook Pro is only one of the ways I've been converted since I got the laptop in September. This must be what it feels like when The Thing takes you over. I can feel myself changing into one of those people…
Take "Inception." Drop in "Black Swan." Add a dash of cosplay fantasy and a hint of "Excalibur" and a pinch of "Return To Oz," and then blend until liquified. At that point, shoot the whole thing in Zack Snyder Dream-o-vision and brace yourself for "Sucker Punch," the director's first original feature film, not based on any source material.
And I can honestly say that after visiting the Vancouver location for the film, after talking to the director, the cast, and Deb Snyder, one of the film's producers, I still don't feel confident saying that I could "describe" the film to you accurately. I get the feeling that until it's done, polished, and every last detail is in place, there's no way to get your head around exactly what it is that Snyder's tried to do.
When I compare this film to both "Inception" and "Black Swan," don't get me wrong… I'm not saying Snyder was influenced by those movies. He wasn't. It's just that there are thematic ideas he's chasing that those two films also explore. He's been chipping away at "Sucker Punch" with his co-writer Steve Shibuya since before he made "300," and he's just finally gotten himself to a place where he has the expendable clout to make something that is this purely an expression of his own interests and fancies. His relationship with Warner Bros. and with Legendary is very similar to the relationship they have with Christopher Nolan. They have a faith in him and his overall vision that extends well beyond any one film. They are in the Zack Snyder business, and they plan to be in that business for as long as they're still convinced that Snyder has a connection to the zeitgeist.
The story behind "Skyline" is pretty interesting: two brother's with a special effects house (Hydraulx Filmz) get inspired to shoot an alien invasion flick in one of their condos. They hire mostly TV talent and with a tiny crew put a movie together that gets picket up by a major studio!
Ok, these guys were pros already, (Hydraulx was working on 'Battle for Los Angeles" for Sony while finishing this) but "Skyline" is truly a great example of what digital effects technology can do nowadays, and will be held up by many a penny pinching studio exec as what is possible "on a budget" for years to come.
Todd Phillips is one of those guys I'm always happy to sit down and talk to, no matter how much I do or don't like his most current film, because I know he'll be frank in an interview, and because I've learned over time spent interviewing him that as long as you treat him fairly in print, he'll treat you the same in person.
We live in an age of controlled media spin as the norm, so on those occasions we actually hear someone speak their mind in an unfettered way, it's a little shocking. I was enjoying the reaction earlier today to an interview Phillips gave to Movieline, and the way people were getting upset or defensive about what he said. I don't think any outlet with a voice as gleefully confrontational as Movieline's should ever be surprised if someone has a strong reaction to what they do, even if it's negative.
That's what you risk when you adopt a tone that is largely built on snark, which is the coin of the realm these days. I'm occasionally cutting with the way I'll sneak a joke into something, but for the most part, I find that sincerity works best when writing about film because the only real reaction that matters is the genuine one. I could easily put my finger up to the wind, figure out which way things are going, and come out on the side of the majority on every film. I could use sarcasm to distance myself from my emotional responses to films, and mask it all by building one-liners that score points on the various things I cover.
If you were to take a poll purely of film critics and not the general moviegoing public, I think you'd find that "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" is considered one of the most unjustly overlooked films of the last decade. I know I tried to impart to my readers an urgency in regards to seeing the film on the bigscreen, and if I was the sort of person who got crazy about awards at the end of the year, I would have spent most of that year's award season sputtering and spitting about the film's mistreatment.
I think history will eventually hold the film in high regard, and part of the reason for that is the incredible ensemble of actors that director Andrew Dominik put together. Casey Affleck did some of the best work of that year in his role as Robert Ford, and Brad Pitt did career best work in the lead. Sam Rockwell, Garrett Dillahunt... these are some of the best guys working now, and Dominik not only put that great cast together, he also knew what to do with them.
Now word comes that Dominik and Brad Pitt are going to reunite in what sounds like a comic heist picture. "Cogan's Trade" is described as the story of "Jackie Cogan, a professional [enforcer who investigates a heist that takes place during a high stakes poker game under protection of the mob." And in addition to Pitt, there is a chance Dominik will be using Rockwell and Affleck, which would be tremendous news. If he adds Mark Ruffalo and Javier Bardem to the mix, that sounds too good to be true.
Keep in mind the American Film Market is in progress in Los Angeles right now, which means you'll be reading a lot of casting news and word of exciting new projects, and it'll seem in the next ten days or so like every one of these projects you read about is happening, absolutely, set-in-stone, no-chance-anything-goes-wrong. That's not the case, of course. Much of what the AFM does is hypothetical, in which rights packages are sold and unmade movies are described in the most glowing possible terms.
There are very few riffs on the big superhero icons that have yet to be played. Within the officially licensed playgrounds of characters like Superman and Batman and Spider-Man and the Hulk and Wonder Woman and the like, they've played every variation on the theme imaginable, and that doesn't count all the unofficial ways people have digested and re-digested this material and these archetypes. Post-modernism has given rise to a rich tradition of taking these characters and intentionally inverting the basic ingredients to see what will happen.
Which is a long way of saying "Megamind" isn't particularly cutting-edge in terms of the way it plays with the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor, but it is smart about it. Director Tom McGrath and screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft & Brent Simons start with some very familiar origins, and from those very first moments, they're playing with expectation. Megamind is launched as a baby from a dying planet, his spaceship programmed to take him to Earth. On the way through space, though, he encounters another spaceship with another baby, and that's the spaceship that lands in the perfect place, with the perfect parents, with the perfect baby inside eventually growing into the beloved hero Metro Man. Megamind's spaceship lands inside the walls of a prison, where he is raised to be a criminal. He embraces his identity early on, hating Metro Man for all of his advantages and for the way he's beloved. Their lifelong rivalry falls into a pattern that should be familiar to anyone who ever read a comic book. Megamind kidnaps Metro Man's girlfriend Roxanne Ritchi, Megamind threatens the city, and Metro Man saves the day. Over and over and over.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Wow. So that's what Tintin looks like.
Empire's been teasing this for the last week, revealing these individual panels, never saying exactly what it was they were teasing. Their readers had it figured quickly, though, and over on Bleeding Cool, they've been trying to sort out the panels as they've been revealed, confident that the eventual reveal would be one of the great iconic Tintin images, he and his dog Snowy running along a wall while a spotlight shines on them. Sure enough, that's the cover of the next issue of the magazine, and my first reaction is that Tintin is incredibly realistic and that the world looks incredibly beautiful and the whole thing is… strange.
That's a natural first reaction, though. The other day, I had lunch with Alex Dorn, who posts articles here on the blog now, and we were talking about how he and I both great up with Tintin, which isn't a common American thing. In my case, I had a next-door neighbor and best friend whose parents were from Germany, and they had all the Tintin books in the house. In his case, he grew up overseas, where Tintin is a much bigger deal. And as we discussed the upcoming Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson collaboration on bringing Tintin to the bigscreen, the big question was still "What will it look like?" I told him what I'd heard from the WETA Digital people, and now that I've seen the three stills that Empire is running, I'm not sure it looks at all like I thought it would.