I love Sin City and I love Frank Miller’s comics, but I’m still not sold on The Spirit. It really irritates me when people talk about “Frank Miller movies” and his “film style” when they fail to realize that he has no style yet. Sin City was only co-directed by Miller; the actual directing was done by Robert Rodriguez. He brought Miller on as a co-director in order to preserve the style of the comic books. Miller had previously never allowed his work to be filmed, but when Rodriguez offered him co-director credit and an opportunity to be on the set to be certain that Rodriguez wasn’t screwing up his work, he agreed to let him make Sin City. Miller had little to no part in the actual directing of the film and the style is literally his comic book brought to life.

Photo by Phasekitty.

The Spirit is Frank Miller’s actual first film, as he is directing someone else’s material in his first solo effort. So far, it all looks like a cheap Sin City to me, as though he hasn’t actually developed his own style and is simply aiming for the praise that Sin City earned. I’m nowhere near being sold on The Spirit yet, especially since there’s just no reason to give it that Sin City style. I will give Frank this though, this is the third Comic-Con I’ve seen him speak at and this was the most vocal I’ve ever seen him. He’s normally very quiet and introverted during panels with short answers, yet he seemed very enthused to show some Spirit footage for us. He brought out some of his cast: Gabriel Macht (The Spirit himself), Jamie King (Lorelei Rox), and Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus) and showed us various clips from the film.

The first clip showed The Spirit with one of his many women, Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson) as they have an intimate conversation. The second clip was prefaced with a long explanation of this new technology that they used in order for the actors to look like they were underwater though they actually weren’t…however it didn’t look to me as though they were underwater at all. The clip showed Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) looking for something in a lake when The Octopus shows up. The final clip was a campy fight sequence between The Octopus and The Spirit, and the closest thing to the actual source material.

The problem with all these clips was that they all looked like they were from different films. The first conversation appeared out of a 50’s noir flick, the second underwater sequence out of a cheesy sci fi flick with bad effects, and the third appeared to be a campy super hero flick, which is what I think the rest of the film should look like. It all makes me just a little nervous that Miller’s trying to do too much in his first outing. If anything though, it certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself.

Photo by Phasekitty.

I started off my panels at Comic-con with the Fox panel which promised both Keanu Reeves and Mark Wahlberg, and then threw a cherry on top with a surprise visit from Hugh Jackman! Keep reading for a rundown of the 20th Century Fox Panel.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Director Scott Derickson came out with cast members Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly. Keanu talked about what it’s like to play an emotionless alien (heh) and Derickson talked about modifying, but still doing justice to the original 1951 film. They assured us that there would be a Gort (though there previously hadn’t been a sign of him in the released footage), but they had taken liberties in updating the space ship. To be honest I can’t get on board with this film. The original is a classic and there was more violence in the three clips they showed during the panel than the entire original film.

Max Payne
This movie looks like it’ll be this year’s Shoot Em Up. It’s got intense and stunning action, but with a little tongue in cheek. I’m not quite sure where the demons fit in (I guess I didn’t get that far in the video game), but Mila Kunis is hot and Mark Wahlberg makes an awesome Max Payne. The film looks like it’s shot very uniquely and they mentioned that they were implementing technology of a new-to-the-industry slow motion camera called Phantom to recreate the “bullet time” of the video game. Mark Whalberg, Mila Kunis and Ludacris were all there to talk about the film. Whalberg was really funny, but was also majorly into the self promotion. I think he mentioned every single film he’s been in during that panel throughout different stories and references.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Everyone was getting up to leave the panel when…surprise! Hugh Jackman came bounding out onto the stage saying he literally just stepped off a plane from Australia. They’d just wrapped Wolverine, and he’d walked off the set with a handful of footage and hopped on a flight to Comic-con. Before he showed it, Jackman hopped off the stage, high fiving the crowd as he made his way through to shake the hand of Len Wein, creator of Wolverine, for starting his career. Jackman seems so humble, gracious, and like an all around awesome guy. He was so enthusiastic about the film and he really built the crowd up. Then he showed some amazing footage that gave us a great look at the Wolverine/Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) relationship, as well as a glimpse of other mutants in the flick such as the Blob, Deadpool, and Gambit. The crowd went absolutely nuts for it.

At this years San Diego Comic-Con, Summit Entertainment showcased three upcoming films in their panel; Push, Knowing and the highly anticipated Twilight. Keep reading to find out what was revealed.

Photo by Phasekitty

Push

They started off their panel with a trailer for a film called Push, about those with super powers that live amongst us. They brought out cast members Chris Evans, Camille Bella, and Djimon Honsou, plus director Le to talk about the film and show some more clips. Poor little Dakota Fanning was stuck in a massive traffic jam on the I-5 and couldn’t make it to the panel, but in the first clip we were all able to see how much she’s grown up in an action sequence with herself and Chris Evans running from the villains of the film. She plays a “watcher” (those that can see the future), while Evans plays a “mover” (telekenetic) and Camille Bella and Djimon Honsou are “pushers” (those who can put thoughts into others heads). The problem with this film was that Comic-con should be its target audience, yet the crowd didn’t seem too enthused, myself included.

Knowing

Here’s the next Nic Cage flop a la Next, amongst others. The concept is actually pretty spooky: a code is unearthed through a school time capsule that predicts every disaster and the death toll that will accompany it. These disasters seem to follow Nic Cage around as he goes crazy cracking the code. They showed the trailer and the director came out to discuss it a bit, but all in all it looked pretty forgettable.

Twilight

I didn’t know what a “Twilighter” was until a few weeks ago when I read an article in Entertainment Weekly. Despite this, there was no amount of reading that I could have done to prepare me for this panel. I had seen young girls in “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” t-shirts standing in line that morning (and the night before for that matter), but the deafening screams that came from the crowd when this came onto the screen were absolutely insane:

I’ve had Twilight sitting on my bookshelf for a few months now and have been putting off reading it until the movie gets closer. I knew it was popular, and it seems like I’ll love it, but I had no idea that there was such a gigantic following of young girls. This was something Comic-con has never seen before. The girl to guy ratio at this panel was at least 5:1. The Q&A attracted shaking 12 year olds walking up to the mic and professing their love for Stephanie Meyer and the hunky Robert Pattinson who plays the impossibly beautiful vampire Edward. The panel consisted of director Catherine Hardwick, author Stephanie Meyer, and actors Kristen Stewart (Bella), Robert Pattinson (Edward), Cam Gigandet (James), Rachelle Lefevre (Victoria), Edi Gathegi (Laurent), and Taylor Lautner (Jacob). Every time Robert Pattinson came on the screen, tried to speak, or was addressed, the crowd erupted in girlish screams and shrieks. The poor guy couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He was a far cry from Cedric Diggory, with his spiky gelled hair, seriously fanglike teeth (which is funny because supposedly Twilight’s vampires don’t have fangs), and spacey attitude. Kristen Stewart was cute, punky, and incredibly nervous and intimidated by the crowd. They showed a clip of a fight sequence between Edward and James with Bella and it looked incredible. It looks like this film will both please the fans and be easy for the non readers to watch as well.

Just before the panel ended, the mod announced that someone just wanted to say hello. Little (or not so little anymore) Dakota Fanning came out and graciously thanked the audience for coming to see the Push panel and apologized profusely for being stuck in traffic and not being able to attend the panel. She was such a cutie.

I’m assuming everyone’s seen this and if you haven’t, you should watch it at least 3 times. Watchmen is more than just a graphic novel, it changed the face of comics by proving that something mind blowing, intelligent, and meaningful can come out of the medium. Until Watchmen, the general population assumed comic books were for children; exclusive to tales of super heroes and monsters. Then Alan Moore came along with his critically acclaimed, award winning graphic novel that changed everything.

Photo by Phasekitty.

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Maybe you should brace yourself, because most people will hate what I have to say…

The Book:
Hugely popular and considered one of the best books of 2006, this is the story of Amir, who witnesses something horrific happen to his best friend, Hassan, and does nothing, then tries to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan many years later to help Hassan’s son. I know that I’m hugely in the minority here when I say that I really disliked this book. But hear me out for a second. It’s a riveting story and it’s great for those who are looking for a quick and easy read (easy like it flows well, but that won’t make it any easier to stomach the material). However, I got to a point about halfway through the book where I became annoyed with how many things were going wrong. I don’t want to spoil it for the few people out there who have yet to read this, but everything was just too coincidental, too horrifying for the sake of being horrifying. It’s written to pick you up with glorifying images, then knock you down with a traumatic incident, then pick you back up…and knock you down again, over, and over, and over. I realize that there are many hardships to those in Afghanistan and that traumatic events happen every day to children and adults alike over there, but everything in this book happening to one person is just too depressing to be real. For example (this is by no means a spoiler), Amir meets with someone in the embassy at one point to travel back to America and that person is rather short and rude to him. On his way out, he says “Your boss could use some manners” to the secretary, and she replies back with, “Yes, he hasn’t been the same since his daughter killed herself.” Really? Seriously? Why did that have to be so shocking!? Why can’t this character, who literally exists in all of 3 or 4 pages of the book, just be a crabby guy? Does he have to have such a tragic background? He can’t just be in a bad mood? Apparently not. And that’s why I hated this book, because about halfway through I got sick of everything being so damn sad and started laughing at the ridiculous circumstances that make it this way. This book has a great story in there, if you just subtract some of the bad coincidences and give it a reality check. However, it seems as though it was written to be a Hollywood film, complete with twists and tragic turns and in my opinion, that is no way to write the sad story of two Afghani boys.

 

The Movie:
The movie captured a lot of the book, in both beautiful and haunting images, yet something felt as though it was missing. While the book is twisty and tragic, the film is all off on the deliverance. When it reveals the book’s biggest twist, it’s a fact that’s simply stated to Amir and takes just moments for him to accept. It relies too much on the audience to fill in the emotional blanks, and I just couldn’t do it. Even the few parts that choked me up in the book did nothing for me on film. I did enjoy the kite flying and racing competitions. As silly as it may sound, the sound effect that accompanied the cutting down of kites was really neat. I never realized that the point of flying kites was to cut down other ones (personally I would have been pissed if someone did that to my kite when I was a kid), but to see it executed on film was pretty cool. Other than that, I really had a hard time enjoying this film and it wasn’t because it was so sad to watch (though it is), it was because it was lacking any engaging performances or plot lines.

What’s Missing:
The film manages to cram a lot of the book’s material into it, but of course there are some losses. We don’t get much of Ali, Hassan’s father and the missing mothers are cut out altogether (most noticeably Hassan’s gypsy mother who reappears in the book). When Amir arrives in Pakistan, there is less of him and Rahim Khan and no fake American family living in Pakistan taking in orphans. There’s a lot less of Farid, the driver who takes Amir from Pakistan to Afghanistan and we don’t meet his family at all. There’s no embassy issues, no hospital stays, and finally, the most notable absence is the last tragic event of the book that befalls Amir and Sohrab.

What’s New:
Not a lot. The film is almost a direct adaptation that cuts characters and plot lines out, but never adds to it. Even most of the dialogue is ripped directly from the pages of the book.

Overall Adaptation:
I didn’t like the book, and therefore liked the film even less. While I can see how the book would be very emotional to some, the film felt like it lacked that heart. They were just going through the motions of adapting this tragic story, rather than embracing it and making it their own. There are cases when a direct adaptation is not necessarily a good thing, and I believe this is one of them.

Okay, commence the insults because I know they’re coming. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like the book, so I imagine all the ones who love it will be a bit upset by this review. But bear in mind, I’m in no way belittling the hardships that have fallen on those who still live in Afghanistan or have managed to escape. I know that it’s not easy, and these tragic things happen every day, but this book just does it too neatly for me to truly believe it. I’m generally against the norm in my opinion, and this is no different.

I’ve been meaning to write up this one for a while- if you haven’t yet seen the movie, I’d advise reading the book first. They go so well together and both are terrific!

The Book:
A 13 year old storyteller, Briony, sees her older sister Cecilia with Robbie, the housekeeper’s son, and makes assumptions that will change all of their lives forever. Weaving together the three central character’s narratives, we read what they saw, or in some cases what they think they saw. The story moves seamlessly through more than half a century, paralleling the war in France and the heightened anxiety as the soldiers retreat and the terror encroaches on England.

The Movie:
Beautifully shot with a thrilling score, this movie was truly a joy to watch. Fantastic performances from the whole cast, especially Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, but the real scene stealer is Soairse Ronan as young Briony. All three actresses that portray Briony are fantastic (and amazing how much they really look like the same person!), but Ronan stands out in a real breakthrough performance. I loved nearly everything about this movie when I first saw it, and the only real problem I had with it after reflecting was a small nitpick with the ending, however, I truly believe that this film deserves all the awards attention that it’s receiving. It was stunning, beautiful, and very well made.

 

What’s Missing:
The war sequence is significantly shorter in the film than in the novel, but just as affective. We lose a few bombings and the scene with the gypsy is quite different (there’s no pig for one, and she appears to be more of a hallucination), however it still remains a devastating part of the film with an amazing five minute tracking shot through all the soldiers on the beach that would have been far more impressive if I hadn’t seen the incredibly moving ten minute tracking shot in last year’s Children of Men.

What’s New:
The ending is almost the same, but creates an interview setting for Briony to discuss her last novel of a new name. While I understand it would have been hard to do otherwise by replacing the setting they put Briony’s character in a situation where she is literally explaining the ending. This is a surefire way for me to lose interest in a film that had otherwise been fantastic- by talking down to the audience and detailing everything so that we fully understand. This is often a major flaw in film adaptations, however it’s usually done through a narrative, so in the very least they’ve come up with a more original way to do it. I didn’t mind it so much during the actual execution, but when my boyfriend pointed out how much it bothered him I thought back and realized that it wasn’t sitting well with me either. In their defense, if they had kept the original setting for the end, all of that likely would have been done in narration and it probably would have been cringe-worthy.

Overall Adaptation:
The film is very true to the book and they’ve found great actors and wonderfully visual way to tell the story. I wish there had been a better way to tell the ending, I would have loved for them to go back to the house, however, they probably found the best possible way to do it without being too cheesy. All in all, I look forward to seeing this as an entry in the Best Adapted Screenplay category at the Oscars this year, amongst the many other nominations it is sure to get.

I’m a sucker for old Westerns, usually of the John Wayne and John Ford variety, but this story proves timeless in both its classic and current incarnations.

 

1957:
This film serves as a great example of the old black and white, sweepingly cinematic, character driven westerns that were so popular in the early to mid 1900’s. Dan (Van Heflin), a rancher down on his luck because of a draught, agrees to escort infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) onto the train headed to Yuma prison while keeping one step ahead of Wade’s gang and their attempts to free Ben. Ford brings to life Ben Wade with an intense performance that calls to mind the toughness of most Western villains, but with the sympathy of the typical cowboy hero. Every scene between Dan and Ben is filled with tension, as the two characters begrudgingly achieve a mutual respect and recognize their own characteristics and tendencies in the other. The film accomplishes the difficult task of getting its audience to root for both sides. We want Dan to gain back the respect he deserves from his family, and get the money to support his ranch, but we also want Ben to escape with his gang, as it is in his nature to be an outlaw. The world would have no heroes if there were no villains out there like Ben Wade.

2007:
In this updated version, we get a lot more characters and sub plots to deal with, but the story is mostly untouched and a lot of the dialogue remains fully intact. Dan’s family is fleshed out more, as well as Wade’s gang and those who accompany Dan and Ben as they head to Contention. It’s reassuring to see that today’s modern actors can still be very convincing cowboys. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe (as Dan and Ben, respectively) both give wonderful performances that play off each other well, however, the most notable performance is given by Ben Foster as Charlie, Wade’s second in command. The character has evolved from the original, envious Charlie into Charlie Prince, a psychopathic murderer who would go to the ends of the earth for his boss. Even with most of the original dialogue, the story does not seem outdated and still stands as a riveting tale. The new film takes the liberties that come with today’s “R” rating, offering a lot of profanity and violence that would not have passed in 1957. It’s more realistic, however I often found myself wondering if the phrase “a**hole” was around back in the 1800’s. While this version is longer, it cuts back on the one on one scenes between Ben and Dan and replaces the bulk of their battle of wits with those of guns. This is a shame, as Bale and Crowe’s performances excel here, however today’s audiences will be more satisfied with the action, gun play, and suspense that is in its place.

What’s Different:
Ben Wade’s character. In the original he is sympathetic from the beginning, and only kills when he has to. In the new film, he is rotten through and through, and allows his gang to kill often, though their victims are mostly railroad workers so they presumably kill with purpose. Also, the ending. Without giving away any spoilers, when I saw the original I figured they would have to change things up a bit as today’s audiences may see it as anticlimactic, and it turns out I was right. I think many will be surprised leaving the theater, but I can understand how the new ending is more interesting for today’s audiences.

What’s New:
Back in 1957, if there was one thing that Westerns didn’t have it was disrespectful children. The sons and daughters were always innocent, sweet, and upstanding, even when wronged by their parents. In today’s society, such is not the case. In the 2007 film, Dan’s son William is 14, and does exactly what you would expect from a 14 year old. He disrespects and sasses his father, secretly admires the outlaw Ben Wade, and sneaks out to follow the gang taking Ben to Contention. His character has a great arc, though, and really works to make Dan a more sympathetic character. Not only is he now risking his own life, but his son’s as well, and is working harder to earn his respect. There are many new characters to accompany Dan and Ben on the journey, from the pig headed lackey Tucker to the bounty hunter McElroy and the vet, Doc Potter. Also, the 1957 film is 90 minutes long, while the 2007 version stands at 120. The extra 30 minutes is mainly spent on the journey in between Dan’s ranch and Contention, adding what audiences expect from a western: camp fires, sleeping under the stars, shootouts with Indians, and narrow escapes on horses. We also see what happens to the decoy stagecoach and Wade attempts to give Dan and the boys the slip a lot.

Overall Remake:
Both movies are beautifully made with wonderful performances. The update pays the homage that the original deserves, and beefs it up with more characters, action, and violence. While adding 30 minutes to the runtime makes the 2007 film a tad on the lengthy side, it remains faster paced than the original and ensures that even those who are not fans of the original, slower paced Westerns, will still enjoy this film by adding action and Western clichés.

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