<p>Concept art by Daren Bader shows some of the dangerous ecosystem created in Warren Fahy's new novel 'Fragment'</p>

Concept art by Daren Bader shows some of the dangerous ecosystem created in Warren Fahy's new novel 'Fragment'

Credit: Warren Fahy and Company

My Book Shelf: 'Fragment' Lost island SF/action novel plays in Michael Crichton sandbox

Instead of dinosaurs, though, Darwinism is the bad guy in spin on genre formula

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Warren Fahy is a big fan of Michael Crichton.

It's hard to work in the genre of speculative science-based thrillers these days without having to deal with the huge shadow that Crichton, and "Jurassic Park" in particular, cast over the entire field.  There's even a similarity in the way Fahy structures his book, cutting from cast member to cast member, chapter to chapter, keeping things short and punchy.  All that really means is that Fahy's book should seem familiar to summer beach readers, and it certainly deserves a spot in the shoulder bags of anyone who likes this sort of thing, as it delivers on an intriguing premise and proves to be a very quick and engaging read overall.

Henders Island is Fahy's big idea in the book, a small volcanic rim island in the middle of the Pacific that was isolated hundreds of thousands of years ago, at a point when evolution was at a particularly volatile crossroads.  As a result of that isolation, life on Henders Island has developed along a totally different road from life everywhere else on the planet, making the island a window into what our world might have been if things had zigged instead of zagged.  It's a fun set-up that gives Fahy (and his characters, who are basically mouthpieces designed to handle opposite ends of the arguments that Fahy wants to explore) room to wrestle with notions of how evolution really works, and why some characteristics have survived while others have vanished from the planet altogether.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Michael Jai White strikes a pose in "Black Dynamite"</p>

Michael Jai White strikes a pose in "Black Dynamite"

Credit: Sony Pictures

Sundance Review: 'Black Dynamite'

Does the festival sensation live up to the advance buzz?

This elaborate parody of the blacksploitation genre just won an Audience Award at the Seattle International Film Festival, it played Tribeca, I saw it back at Sundance, and I remember thinking about it again when I saw "Black" at the SXSW festival, an example of the genre that never once winks at the audience.

I'm always interested in directors who make one first film, then vanish for ten years, then pop up with a second film.  That's a rough patch to navigate, that time between movies.  And it's not like you're not working, most likely... you're working the whole time, desperate to get something back in front of the camera, and it's only if you're lucky that everything comes together.  For Scott Sanders, he went eleven years between the Alec Baldwin movie "Thick As Thieves" and this year's Sundance sale "Black Dynamite," a buzz movie after its first midnight screening.  Scott Weinberg from Cinematical was actually a fan of "Thick As Thieves," but I'd never heard of it, and certainly have never seen it.  The only other credits on IMDb for Sanders are for episodes of "Roc" and "A Different World."

And Michael Jai White is one of those guys who was supposed to take off as an actor, and who sort of didn't.  I remember when he starred as Spawn, and much was made of his impending starring career.  While he's definitely worked since then, the "movie star" thing never really happened.  I think it's far more important to build a career where you're working constantly than it is to worry about how big your name appears on the poster, but there's still got to be some degree of disappointment there.

[more after the jump]

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<p>If Chris Nolan really were making 'Charlie Brown' next, how much do you wanna bet every nerd online would suddenly have an opinion about how it would have to work?</p>

If Chris Nolan really were making 'Charlie Brown' next, how much do you wanna bet every nerd online would suddenly have an opinion about how it would have to work?

Credit: United Feature Syndicate

TMR: Christopher Nolan's doing 'Charlie Brown' and Christopher Lee's a knight

Plus crazy lawsuits and Coppola dreams

Welcome to The Morning Read.

Had a nice night out with my compadres from HitFix last night, after we all saw "Public Enemies."  We talked a little ComicCon, and I realized that's right around the corner, but between now and then, there's a ton of work to do.  As the sun comes up on the West Coast, what's going on out there on the Web worth looking at before I start pushing my own particular boulder up the hill?

Have you noticed that Brian Lynch appears to have finally cracked?  I mean, this is the guy who created Angry Naked Pat and Monkey Man, so he's never had the firmest of grips on normalcy, but now, he's gone.  Either that, or Christopher Nolan has.  You be the judge.  Who do we blame for the reality-warping atrocity that is "Pre-nuts"?

Here's one last link I bookmarked while I was on break, about "Seven Director's Cuts You Didn't Realise You Wanted," and although it's from June 3rd, I think it's a good read.  I reeeeeeally want to see the alternate cut of Soderbergh's "Kafka" that is discussed, for example.

You know my rant this morning about how a Paramount/Sony merger would be a really bad thing for the business?  One of the commenters on my Facebook left a link in response that's worth a read.  I like John Rogers and his perspective on the business side of things, and he seems to see the same sort of future I think is coming.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Pure sweet Transformery Bayhem in a moment from Paramount's megablockbuster 'Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen'</p>

Pure sweet Transformery Bayhem in a moment from Paramount's megablockbuster 'Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Paramount/Sony merger: the death of the studio system?

Are the studios following newspapers and broadcast networks into obsolescence?

It's a dramatic headline.  I'll grant you that.

After all, right now, it's just speculation, and from only one source.  But the publication of the rumor that Paramount and Sony might be considering a merger was all it took to send Hollywood's behind-the-scenes rumor mill spinning today.  My phone rang at least five times with people ready to declare the deal "DONE!" and with people telling me that the story is further along than just speculation.  When pressed, no one could actually pin down enough fact for me to say this is anything but a rumor, but even the rumor is worth considering.

What would it mean if Paramount and Sony really did merge?

Honestly?  I think it's the beginning of the end if that happens.  And not just for those two studios, but for what we know right now as the studio system.

I said as much today on Twitter, and several people outright dismissed that possibility, but anyone who thinks that the studios are in any way permanent is wrong.  All you have to do is look at what's happening with newspapers and the broadcast networks right now.

And, yes, I think broadcast networks are on the way out.  You don't think NBC handing over an hour of prime time every night to a talk show is a white flag begging for surrender?  Because it is.  Every year, they lose ground to alternative broadcasting, including internet.  The market of viewers is, I think, actually expanding, but it's going in the strangest of directions, and the studios and the networks and the newspapers all represent the same thing... established pay models that feel like they no longer make sense from the consumer side.  Or at least, not the same sense they once made.  The audience has changed.  Their needs have changed.  The way they consume media has changed.  The way they want to consume their media will change, and you need to be ahead of it, not behind it.  This summer is a wheezing phlegmy wet cry for help, for the most part.  Even the best summer movies out there, like "Star Trek" in my opinion or "Pelham" in some opinions, are familiar fare in some way.  Pixar's "Up" is a lovely original vision... from the Pixar brand, as sturdy and unopposed at this point as any brand name can be.  Safety is the name of the game and what is safe is an increasingly difficult thing to define.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Jamal Woolard does stand-out work as Christopher Wallace in 'Notorious,' the story of Biggie Smalls</p>

Jamal Woolard does stand-out work as Christopher Wallace in 'Notorious,' the story of Biggie Smalls

Credit: Fox Home Video

My BluRay Shelf: 'Notorious'

Notorious B.I.G. biopic shows off style and energy, but little innovation

Imagine my surprise when I realized that this is not a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film.

Actually, I do understand why George Tillman, Jr. felt like "Notorious" was the right title for his biopic on Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls.  What's funny is just how non-scandalous Wallace seems in this treatment of his life story.  As played by Jamal Woolard, Biggie is sort of a soft-hearted mama's boy, a ghetto entrepeneur who sees drugs and music as purely commerical prospects.  Most of the film's runtime traces the key relationships in his life, primarily with women.  His mother, Violetta (Angela Bassett) comes off best, unsurprisingly, a strong and even saintly stereotype that still works because Bassett is just that good.  Naturi Naughton plays Li'l Kim, and it's a tough role.  As written, the character is a shallow and slightly mysogynistic version of a complex and charismatic performer, but Naughton manages to invest her with a dignity and a righteous rage that makes it easy to overlook how she's written.

Antonique Smith isn't as lucky in her role as Faith Evans, given even less to do by the script.  She's basically the textbook definition of "long-suffering," waiting for Christopher to grow up and figure himself out.  Derek Luke as Sean Combs and Anthony Mackie as Tupac both do decent work without even slightly resembling their real-life counterparts.  It doesn't help that the video age gave us so much footage of these people to compare to, although in the case of Woolard, it actually works in his favor.  While Luke and Mackie may not seem like the real deal, Woolard does.  He's got the same particular blend of stone thug and vulnerable kid that made the real Biggie so magnetic.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Li'l Wayne is the subject of one of the least flattering celebrity documentaries in a while, 'The Carter'</p>

Li'l Wayne is the subject of one of the least flattering celebrity documentaries in a while, 'The Carter'

Credit: QD3 Entertainment

Sundance Review: 'The Carter'

Documentary portrait of Lil Wayne reveals there's no 'there' there

I think my first question is "How the hell do you properly punctuate Lil Wayne's name?"  I've seen it written now as Lil Wayne, Li'l Wayne (which seems right to me) and oddly Lil' Wayne, which makes no sense at all. 

Not that it makes any real difference, I suppose.  No matter how you punctuate his name, Li'l Wayne is a huge force in the recording industry right now, which would seem to make him a ripe subject for a documentary.  What's crazy, though is just how much the search for the "real" Li'l Wayne reveals that there may be no such thing.

I can understand why his management wanted to block the release of the film once they saw it.  His rampant abuse of marijuana and cough syrup is nonstop, and the film presents a portrait of a man who exists only as a media figure, whose only anchor is the almost non-stop stream of music he produces, and who seems almost unable to properly maintain even one normal human relationship.  It's not a flattering portrayal by any means, which raises the question:  why would Li'l Wayne give any filmmaker this much close-up access to him, and why would anyone in his camp allow him to live like this with the cameras running?

One scene in particular was hard to sit through, particularly in a room full of other writers who have to interview celebrities on a regular basis.  During a press stop in New Orleans, Li'l Wayne sits for a series of short interviews and just plain screws with each and every reporter who sits across from him.  Just thinking about the scene gives me the sweat.  Yeeeeesh.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Ritchie Havens was just one of many performers who gave iconic performances in Michael Wadleigh's 'Woodstock,' new to BluRay</p>

Ritchie Havens was just one of many performers who gave iconic performances in Michael Wadleigh's 'Woodstock,' new to BluRay

Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

My BluRay Shelf: 'Woodstock: 40 Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition'

An extras-heavy box set brings the iconic hippie movie into the high-def age

Director Michael Wadleigh's famous documentary about what was most likely the defining cultural moment of the hippie era (especially if you pair it with Altamont as bookends that demonstrate why that era ended) is one of those movies I've seen many times in my life, and each time I return to it, it's a different movie.  Literally, on occasion, since this is the director's cut, which is not the same film I grew up watching.  My first reaction this time had to do more with the overwhelming irony of owning this beautifully-packaged 40th anniversary BluRay high-def transfer of an event that pretty much flew in the face of the very idea of commercialism.  That's no slam, by the way.  I know that Woodstock has long since become a brand name, a commodity.  And Warner Bros. has done a spectacular job of transferring the film and putting together a whole package that is definitely worth owning, including a full 18 songs that have never been included in full in any previous "Woodstock" release.

Let's say you're not interested in '60s rock, though.  What value is there in this 40-year old concert film?  It's a question Ang Lee's got to be asking himself after his latest movie, "Taking Woodstock," tanked at Cannes this year.  Is this just nostalgia in a box for the Baby Boomers, and does anyone else care?  Should anyone else care?  Is there something more to the film itself that is worthwhile?

[more after the jump]

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<p>The adorable Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the equally adorable Anna Kendrick vamp for the camera on the set of Edgar Wright's 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'</p>

The adorable Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the equally adorable Anna Kendrick vamp for the camera on the set of Edgar Wright's 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'

Credit: Edgar Wright/Universal

TMR: The lovely ladies of 'Scott Pilgrim,' 'Purple Rain' memories, and a new 'Wild Things' book

Plus the greatest Fred Rogers video ever and the wisdom of Elmore Leonard

Welcome back to The Morning Read.

This is not a political blog.  I'm not going to change that any time soon.  Even so, it feels trivial in some ways to come back to putting together a column of links without acknowledging in some way that there's a major news story unfolding in Iran right now, and our media has been slow to react.  It's pretty crazy how alternatives to the mainstream media have been the way people have distributed information.  Twitter, which people love to dismiss, has been a major way to keep people organized and connected, with people sending out lists of proxies that were open to people inside Iran to use to keep information coming out.  Sorry, but I find that kind of inspirational.

Today, I'm going to play a little catch-up, since there's not a lot of breaking news yet, and I did bookmark a few things I read while I was "vacationing."  I just figured I'd go through and anything that still seemed interesting now, this many days later, was worth putting up.

For example, I've enjoyed exploring how deep this tribute page to the 25th anniversary of Prince's "Purple Rain" is, and I'm amazed at how good the content all is and how much it makes me flash back to that same summer, 1984, when Prince was pretty much the coolest thing on the planet as far as I was concerned.  If the question was Prince or Michael Jackson, the correct answer for me was Prince.  I thought "Purple Rain" was one of the most intense rock albums I'd ever heard at the ripe old age of 14.  Song after song got played and replayed everywhere my friends and I went, and my church group took a youth retreat to Panama City, Florida, and that one tape was our soundtrack in the kids' van the whole way there and back.  The thrill of just how dirty Prince was certainly helped contribute to his cool factor, but for me, the sort of tongue in cheek persona coupled with the crazy Jimi Hendrix guitar licks sealed the deal.  Prince was cool because he could play better than anyone else, but he also treated it all like a cartoon.  That movie was amazing because of how straight-faced it is about being completely ridiculous.  It is not set in any recognizable reality, but you know that's EXACTLY how Prince saw the world in 1984.  It's a perfect early-MTV-era hit movie, and I'm really glad I found this tribute to it in the first place.  What a pleasure.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Denzel Washington plays an MTA dispatcher under pressure in Tony Scott's remake of 'The Taking of Pelham 123,' co-starring John Travolta</p>

Denzel Washington plays an MTA dispatcher under pressure in Tony Scott's remake of 'The Taking of Pelham 123,' co-starring John Travolta

Credit: AP Photo/Columbia/Sony Pictures, Stephen Vaughn

The Motion/Captured Review: 'The Taking Of Pelham 123'

Travolta goes head to head with Denzel in a high voltage Tony Scott remake

Here's my first question:  after you see this film, be honest with yourself.  Do you want this same filmmaker to remake "The Warriors"?

We'll get to my answer at the end of the review.

Last week, I was vacationing, as you may know if you read part one, part two, part three, or part four of my Vacation Read.  I just like saying "Vacation."  You'll have to forgive me.

My parents were in town, and my mom told me that she was jealous of my dad going with me to see a press screening of "Gran Torino" in December.  She wanted to go to a press screening.  She ended up going to two while she was here, but the first of them was on Monday night, at the Grove, where we saw "The Taking Of Pelham 123."  After the movie, my parents told me first how much they enjoyed it, and then asked me for my professional opinion.

Generally, I liked it.  There are things about it that tip it towards being worth seeing.  I have some hesitations, but it's just my basic reaction to the stylistic road that Tony Scott has gone down at this point.  He has a particular palette of visual tics and signatures that make him Tony Scott circa 2009.  He's pushed it too far at times, as in "Domino," but he's been working towards this for as long as I've been watching his work.  "Beverly Hills Cop II" is on a continuum with "The Taking Of Pelham 123," visually speaking, so I can't really complain since I know what I'm getting when I see a Tony Scott film at this point.  All that's really changed is how hard Scott works his Avid.  I would say to anyone who is aware enough of Tony Scott's work to say that if you like what he does at all, this is a fairly solid Tony Scott movie.  He often allows movie star moments to turn good scripts into irritating chopped salad, though, and this is definitely an example of that.  Still, if you are willing to ride out that insane third act, I think the undeniable friction of John Travolta going to head to head with Denzel Washington is just right, the sort of movie star chemistry you hope for when you hire people.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Taylor Kitsch, pictured here as Gambit in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' has been tapped to headline the new Disney picture 'John Carter Of Mars'</p>

Taylor Kitsch, pictured here as Gambit in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' has been tapped to headline the new Disney picture 'John Carter Of Mars'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

'John Carter Of Mars' starting to come into focus

Casting and location news raises some interesting questions

So I guess Christian Bale's denial was accurate, eh?

Look, I've seen the first season of "Friday Night Lights," and I think Taylor Kitsch did a really solid job as Tim Riggins, local bad boy and football star.  I guess I'm just a little nonplussed to see Andrew Stanton cast a guy Kitsch's age in the role.  I've always pictured John Carter as a man in the most basic definition of the word.  Rugged.  Battle-hardened.  Older.  To be fair, though, he was perpetually 30 years old, no matter what happened.  Something about his travel to and from Mars kept him the same age while his family grew old around him.  So Kitsch isn't wrong as far as age.  He's not 6'2" with jet-black hair, though, but I'm not going to be the guy who pitches a fit based on a mere physical description.  If he convinced Stanton that he's the guy, then I'm willing to wait and see how it plays onscreen.

As far as Lynn Collins is concerned, her work on "True Blood" would suggest that she's got at least two of the primary qualifications for the role as Dejah Thoris, and I'm not just making a sleazy sex joke, either.  As Edgar Rice Burroughs originally described her, she spent most of her time topless, and Collins certainly seemed happy to do the same on "True Blood."  I didn't really care for her work in "Wolverine," but it was a thankless role that wasn't really her fault.  Maybe she's great.  Maybe she absolutely killed in the audition.

[more after the jump]

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