Film Divider Film and TV commentary, reviews and features Sat, 02 Aug 2014 12:12:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stephen Chow casting his new Mermaid movie with a public talent search Sat, 02 Aug 2014 12:12:30 +0000 stephen chow mermaid graphic

For his follow up to Journey to the West, which with its Chapter One subtitle seems to be due a sequel every bit as much as Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow will be directing a new film about a mermaid. It seems the picture will be called Mermaid, in fact, though some Chinese media outlets have actually called it The Little Mermaid.

If Chow’s plan really is to adapt Hans Christian Andersen, it will be quite the do-over with a present day setting and the near-obligatory martial arts action. And, surprising absolutely no-one, the film is also going to be a comedy. Judging from Chow’s previous work, any Little Mermaid he could make would be more Tex Avery than Walt Disney.

As you can see above, the film’s official graphic – which has also been packaged as a teaser poster in lower resolution, below – doesn’t show the mermaid’s face. That’s because she’s going to be cast through a public talent search, ala Andrew Lloyd Webber at the BBC or, I suppose, the Chinese supporting cast of Transformers: Age of Extinction.

I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a known actress stepping over the unknowns and snatching the role, however; I honestly can’t see any water-tight promises that the star will be plucked from obscurity.

Production on Mermaid starts later this year and it’s expected that the film will release in the Spring of 2016, for the Chinese New Year. As with Journey to the West, Chow is planning to work with a co-director on the film and won’t be taking a lead role in the movie, if indeed he gives himself any kind of on-screen role at all.

You can trust that we’ll be keeping a close eye on proceedings with this one.

stephen chow mermaid

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Bill Murray is the voice of Baloo in Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book Sat, 02 Aug 2014 00:38:23 +0000 baloo bagheeraJon Favreau has bettered my own idea of casting Matthew McConaughey and booked the irresistible Bill Murray to voice super-laid back bear, Baloo in his new film of The Jungle Book. Looking at the image above, it all makes perfect sense.

Last time Murray played a laconic CG animal in a live action film we got Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties but, as a brilliant side-effect, Murray’s excellent anecdotes about taking the role of Garfield because he mistakenly thought the Coen Bros. were involved.

I do wonder if Favreau will be using performance capture for his animal characters – though, you know, that will probably be pretty hard for the quadrapeds, not to mention Scarlett Johansson as Kaa the snake. Maybe just for the faces?

Anyway, if Favreau does get Murray and Christopher Walken, who will be playing King Louise, dancing about in performance capture suits, I’ll most definitely be investing in whatever Blu-ray special edition gives me the most behind the scenes footage.

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Heard but not seen: The voice cameos of Guardians of the Galaxy Sat, 02 Aug 2014 00:07:17 +0000 guardians of the galaxy posterInterest in Marvel’s beloved post-credit tag scenes may well have peaked this week with Guardians of the Galaxy. The studio made the shrewd decision to keep the new scene under wraps and, until a leak on Wednesday, its details remained entirely secret and hotly debated.

There had been speculation and excitement about the tag for weeks. When James Gunn admitted that his friend Nathan Fillion had lately arranged to make a cameo in the film, the internet came to assume that Fillion would be popping up in the tag, possibly as Nova, possibly as Cosmo. Wrong on both counts, as it happens.

Some solid info came to light when Stitch Kingdom got their hands on Disney’s final, approved credits list for the film. These didn’t only tell us where to look for Fillion – or listen – they also revealed more information about some other cameo appearances.

If you haven’t yet seen Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t read on. I’m about to spoil the film’s ‘voice only’ cameos.

When the Guardians are shipped off to The Kyln prison, they cross paths with a disgusting alien who threatens Peter Quill with horrendous abuse. That, I believe, is Fillion’s voice coming out of CG creation “Monstrous Inmate.”

Another of Gunn’s friends who lends just his voice to the film is Rob Zombie, earning a credit for bringing us the “Ravager Navigator Voice.” That’s self explanatory.

The last cameo, popping up in that elusive, much-desired final tag doesn’t garner a credit for the performer. There is one for the character, though, and for his creators Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik. I don’t think I really have to name him… do I?

But I will name the actor.

We’ve tonight confirmed that the role went to Seth Green, spawn of Evil, sometime Buffy werewolf, the co-creator of Robot Chicken and a prolific voiceover artist.

It was fun to hear him, and fun to then find out who it was I had heard. I’d love to know if Marvel made him sign a multi-picture deal, though. “Just in case.”

Guardians of the Galaxy is in cinemas now.

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James Gunn’s visual guide to Guardians of the Galaxy Fri, 01 Aug 2014 15:40:19 +0000 colours guardians

Before embarking on the process of writing and directing Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn first drew up a detailed, nineteen page document detailing what would eventually become the filmmakers’ visual approach to the film. While he wasn’t about to give me a copy of this aesthetic manifesto to read for myself, Gunn did talk me through a lot of the specifics.

Below, you can read what Gunn told me. I’ve done my best to illustrate his comments with a sample of the appropriate visual materials.

The document was talking about the injection of colour, and being able to use a bright colour palette that, usually people are very afraid of, and to be very bold and brazen in every way. When Alien and Blade Runner came along they made everything very dark, but I loved the pulp colours of the 50s and 60s. I liked the griminess and dirtiness that Alien especially brought in, but I wanted to mix that with the bright colours.


1956's Forbidden Planet

nostromo interior

There was a lot in there about the colour yellow. That colour is really important to the movie. Every time a good character comes into some baptismal situation, there is yellow everywhere. Yellow is a colour that’s very under-utilised in film. That colour was very important to me.

yellow guardians

The artwork of Chris Foss, a science fiction illustrator and painter who did a lot of stuff especially in the 70s and 80s, was very important. So much so that we hired him and he came over and helped to design some of the space ships.

A Chris Foss painting

A frame from Guardians

There’s a series of paintings by René Magritte called Visions of Light, where it’s darkness on the bottom and daylight in the sky. I put those paintings in the document and talked a little bit about why that was a guiding influence in terms of the overall feel.

magritte 2 magritte 3

The planet Morag

On Morag, the first planet, it’s a very dark ugly place with a beautiful sky; or when you go to Knowhere, there’s this industrial, fucked up place but they walk out onto the balcony and there’s another beautiful sky. We show that there’s a beautiful outer world but our own inner world is not a very beautiful place, it’s a pretty ugly place, but what really exists for us is this bigger, beautiful thing. That’s what the Magritte paintings do.

magritte 1balcony guardiansbalcony close guardians

There was a lot of stuff in there about the architecture. Most movies, if you see a science fiction film, you go to another planet and it looks like, you know, one architect designed every single building on the planet. But when you look outside in London here you see something very new next to something from the 1940s next to something that’s very, very old and they’re all very different architectural styles. It was about doing that with different types of buildings that look like they’re designed by different architects from different time periods, in most of our locations, especially the cities.


There was a lot about the Dark Aster in there. I wanted it to feel like something that just didn’t belong in outer space, this heavy, monolithic stone object that somehow they got up into the sky. It’s very much like the pyramids, where you go “Holy fuck, how did they do that? It just seems so overwhelming,” and when you see The Dark Aster you go “I don’t know how that thing got in the sky.”

Concept art

The Dark Aster as it appears in the film

I swear, I’m going to get my hands on that full document one day, through fair means or foul. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll include it as a supplement on the eventual Blu-ray or DVD release.

In the meantime, you can see these visuals the way they should be seen: on the very big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy is in cinemas across the UK and US now.

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Ten films to see at the cinema this week – August 1st 2014 Fri, 01 Aug 2014 12:25:37 +0000 boyhood

There are ten new releases this week, eleven if you count the re-release of The Deer Hunter, and three of them have made it into our weekly list of the ten best films currently on release, according to me.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Blackwood, Delight or A Night at the Cinema in 1914. It’s likely that at least one or two of the above might have made it onto the list if I had caught them, particularly the latter, which sounds fascinating.

1) Boyhood. Richard Linklater‘s 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece. I’d say this is not just the best film of the year, but a strong contender for the best film of the decade.

2) Begin Again. It’s been weeks since I saw Begin Again, but I still keep bursting into a goofy grin whenever I remember it. There aren’t many films that can do that so see this one.

rocket raccoon guardians of the galaxy

3) Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel’s gloriously enjoyable space adventure is enormous fun from start to finish with great action, terrific characters, a very funny script, eye-popping special effects work and assured direction from James Gunn. Make sure you stay for the post-credits sting.

4) Finding Vivian Maier. Charlie Siskel‘s riveting documentary-slash-detective-story will have you trawling the internets to find more of reclusive shutterbug Vivian Maier‘s extraordinary photographs.

mood indigo

5) Mood Indigo. Michel Gondry turns it up to eleven for this delightfully inventive adaptation of  L’ecume des jours, aka Froth on the Daydream, the cult novel by Boris Vian. A free-spirited inventor (Romain Duris) meets the girl of his dreams (Audrey Tautou), only to discover that she has a terminal illness – a water-lilly growing in her lung, since you asked.

6) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Matt Reeves‘ gripping second instalment of the rebooted Apes saga swaps the crowd-pleasing surprises of the first film for something much darker and the result is a remarkably – and depressingly – timely sci-fi thriller augmented by jaw-dropping special effects work.

7) Joe. David Gordon Green‘s drama offers definitive proof that Nic Cage can still turn in a serious performance when he wants to. Favourite Cage moment here: when he teaches young protégé Tye Sheridan how to make a “cool face”.

earth to echo

8) Earth to Echo. It’s not E.T. and nothing ever will be but David Green‘s found footage fantasy drama pushes some very similar buttons with a tale of three young boys discovering an alien creature in their neighbourhood.

9) The Purge: Anarchy. Twitter’s @_AKA_ recently suggested that Frank Grillo‘s performance in The Purge: Anarchy essentially turns this into the Punisher movie that Marvel never made. It’s hard not to disagree with that.

10) Hide Your Smiling Faces. Writer-director Daniel Patrick Carbone‘s debut feature is an engaging and dreamlike coming-of-age tale with two brothers dealing with the unexplained death of their young friend. Think of it as a more arthouse-skewed take on Mud or The Kings of Summer.

Also out this week, though not making it onto the list are  A Promise, The Nut Job, and Step Up 5: All In.

a promise patrice leconte

Patrice Leconte‘s A Promise, based on the novel by Stefan Zweig, has ended up an interminably boring period drama brought down by a wooden central performance by Richard Madden as a young man who falls for his benefactor’s wife. Rebecca Hall gives it her all, but even she can’t bring this to life, while Alan Rickman largely phones it in as the aforementioned benefactor.

Animated adventure The Nut Job, with CG work from a Korean Studio, certainly has its moments and benefits from a strong voice cast – Liam Neeson voicing a raccoon makes this an exceptionally strong week for talking raccoons – but the direction and script are all over the place and the gags often fall flat.

And Step Up 5: All In… well, if you’re a fan of the Step Up franchise, you probably won’t be too disappointed, but this felt like the weakest entry so far, despite the presence of Step Up 2 star Briana Evigan. Its biggest problems: a choppy, poorly thought out script and a painfully bland male lead in Step Up 4‘s Ryan Guzman.

step up 5 all in

Finally, don’t forget, it’s important to See Smaller Films First. There’s even a Twitter hashtag ready for you to spread the word: #SSFF.

If you’re planning on seeing Hide Your Smiling Faces, A Promise or Mood Indigo, then make sure you see them this weekend. Smaller films need strong opening weekend support to survive, whereas the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Step Up 5: All In will be around for several weeks yet. #SSFF

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First teaser for Rob Marshall’s film of Into the Woods Thu, 31 Jul 2014 16:32:11 +0000 Disney have decided to give their online teaser for Into the Woods an iTunes premiere, though it has also arrived on YouTube. Like Chicago before it, but arguably more so, this Rob Marshall picture is derived from a truly excellent stage production, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine‘s enchanting, but sometimes dread-soaked and neuroses-ridden revision of fairy tale staples.

Of course, the typical Hollywood fear of musicals means that this trailer has absolutely none of the show’s singing in it. Instead, there are lots of FX and characters we’ll think that we already know well from fairy tales and, of course, other Disney movies. The main thrust, though, seems to be selling this as a star-studded celebathon.

Later trailers will be more representative, I hope.

Into the Woods is undergoing additional shooting right now, ahead of a release in the US on December 25th and the UK on January 9th.

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First trailer for Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:17:20 +0000 The second Spongebob Squarepants movie mixes traditional ’2D’ animation, even-more-traditional live action and some CG characters. The title seems to suggest that there will be a lot more CG than ’2D’ animated material but this trailer represents a pretty balanced mix.

I was curious to know if the ’2D’ animation had been converted to 3D but YouTube wasn’t offering stereo playback. The files were in there, though, so I pulled one out and uploaded it myself. And yes, as you can see if you have a 3D monitor or TV set, this whole trailer is in stereo 3D. Doesn’t look too bad, though the 2D conversion is maybe not quite up to the standards of The Lion King, at least in this early trailer.

There are some great visual gags in that trailer. Let’s take a freeze-frame look at the pre- and post-apocalyptic versions of Bikini Bottom. Mouseover and Mouse-out to change the image back and forth.

Sponge Out of Water will land (ahem) in February of next year, on both sides of the Atlantic (ahem again). I’m liking the look of this one.

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James DeMonaco on The Purge: Anarchy, the original film and “smuggler’s cinema” Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:02:25 +0000 the purge anarchy god

This interview with James DeMonaco came about after Jason Blum, his producer on The Purge and its new sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, promised me that we’d hit if off and have a lot to talk about. It’s certainly true that we saw eye to eye about a lot of things and there was a lot more talk crammed into our ten minute phone call than is typical.

Here’s James’ side of the conversation, which picks up at the very end of the filmmaking process on the original Purge and then takes us into a discussion of its follow up.

I have a very strange relationship with my movies. I can’t watch them after I leave the mix. The moment I’m told I can no longer work on the film I’m unable to look at them again. All I can see is what I wasn’t able to do in the time allotted. I wish I could look at it but if I watch it, all I do is get very angry.

I see the flaws in The Purge. I can see why there was an anger. I totally understand that there was an anger towards the first film because we didn’t explore the size of the concept in a way that audiences would have liked. Audiences aren’t aware that I had nineteen days to shoot a 2.7 million dollar film, a budget that we were really bound by on the storytelling. They shouldn’t know that, which budget we’re dealing with, or care. I’m pretty happy with what we did in the tome allotted.

I wish I made different – without getting too specific – casting choices. I don’t blame the actor, I blame the choice. My choice of certain people in certain roles went wrong and, I’ll be honest, there was a rewrite I did right before production that I don’t know if I ever got right. I only see the flaws. There’s really fun stuff in there, cool stuff, I think Ethan is very good, but at the same time I see that the claustrophobic nature of the piece does not match the size of the concept and I think that angered audiences, and I completely understand the anger now that I’ve got some distance from it.

That anger inspired my concept for the second film. I think they were right. It’s very strange how the first one came about. I wrote it thinking it was going to be a movie that played one theatre in Manhattan and one theatre in LA, a two million dollar indie, a genre piece with some political undertones. I thought it was too violent and too anti-American to get any kind of wide release.

I guess it was very strange to me when Universal deemed it something they would put on 3000 screens. The whole thing was schizophrenic; it was conceived as a much smaller thing, just something I wanted to direct. My first film was not a giant success in any way, shape or form – another indie I did with Ethan Hawke before called Staten Island – and I was just trying to get behind the camera again. Then it became this thing I never expected.

I always knew we weren’t exploiting the concept in the way a mass audience would want. Even me, as a filmgoer, if I heard this concept about a night of lawlessness, I would expect to see a lot more. When I use the word anger it’s because I remember there was a lot of fanboys going “Where is all of this? We’re not seeing the streets of America.” Because that’s what’s promised in the concept. With the second film, I was trying to satisfy the love of genre that I have. I loved The Warriors growing up and Escape From New York, and the idea was to get out there, get on the streets like those films did.

I read an article by Scorsese in Cahiers du Cinema where he spoke of something he called “Smuggler’s cinema.” He was talking about the films of the 40s and 50s where the big studio directors, John Ford, Anthony Mann,were always forced to make cowboy movies or army movies. They didn’t always want to, but that’s what the audience want and what the studios want, but what they did was smuggle their own ideas into these films. They found a way to say something else within a genre piece. I love genre, and I love John Carpenter because I think he always had some kind of lefty political attitude in his films.

Sebastien Lemercier, one of the main producers on this film, this was our fourth film together, we always like the idea of a film that works on two levels. Can it be straight up entertaining, a blast, bad-ass and fun, but can we also say something about America’s treatment of guns, violence and the treatment of the lower class without being heavy handed or preachy? If we can say something I thought that would be cool.

It’s a tough balance, but there’s where editing comes into play. With the first film, to be quite honest, the balance was off in the early screenings and the audience hated the film back then. They despised the rich family… I think my cut was way off. Through re-editing for a couple of months, I think we got the balance right. In the second one, then, I was more aware of how to handle the balance and the satire to have some kind of statement but nothing that will hammer people on the head.

Some people pick up on it, some people see that this is maybe a statement on America’s relationship with guns, violence, class warfare, and the weird thing, some people don’t. Some people say “Let’s talk about guns” and some people say “That’s just a fun action movie.” If a movie can do both, great, if it works on one level then that’s cool too.
This is not a subtle film. I’m with you, I can’t believe that people miss it, but what I’ve learned is that European audiences see the message so much more clearly. Even European critics.

Jason Blum took the movie on a tour from London to Rome to France to Berlin, and he said “They got the gun message so clearly that it’s all they would talk about.” Then he came back here and was doing the tour with Frank Grillo and the American press didn’t want to talk about it. If they see it, they see it in a much different way. It’s the strangest thing in the world. I’ve spoken to American journalists and the politics don’t even come up, and that’s all we spoke about on the European press tour. Maybe Americans don’t want to look in a mirror.

grillo purge

Grillo and I may have spoken a little about Batman, but we spoke a lot about The Outlaw Josey Wales. I love the way you put it, though, “Non-fascist Batman.” I think that’s perfect. The character always was an old cowboy to me. I was obsessed with The Man With No Name growing up and, you’ll see, there’s no name in the movie for that character. He’s the archetype of the gunslinger, the reluctant hero on this journey where he’s lost touch with humanity and slowly re-finds that love of people and family.

The movie always had a Roger Corman concept and has this absurd B-movie reality not unlike Soylent Green or Logan’s Run. We always made the choice to treat it this strange, unrealistic concept as though it’s real – again, there are people who don’t think it’s that unrealistic. I pray they’re wrong, obviously. I think some people in the audience, some older males specifically, have trouble grasping the concept and accepting the absurdity of it. I had to draw a fine line and decide how much I’d fall into a Paul Verhoeven-like satire of America, the Robocop, Total Recall or Starship Troopers views of society. We pulled back, saying “You know what, we’re still trying to scare.” If you fall too much into satire the audience won’t be so scared or so engaged when there’s constantly a comment being made. We decided “Okay, it’s absurd, but let’s treat it real.” I wonder if I was watching this movie just as a viewer if I’d now be able to buy into this as much as I would have as a fifteen year old boy.

I think that calling shots falls down to instinct telling you where the camera should be. As I’m getting older I’m realising that where I choose the camera to go isn’t the only place it can be and maybe not even the best but you’re going off of all of years of watching film and learning a certain language. With this film, a lot of the choices went towards creating almost a cinema verite, almost docustyle look. I don’t know if it’s as handheld as a Paul Greengrass style but it is about creating this reality. I think a lot of the choices were about how we could make it feel very voyeuristic. You hope your instincts are right and you’re working, hopefully, with a great crew and you trust yourself… and then you get into the editing room and realise “Jesus, I should have put the camera over here.” That happens on a daily basis. “Why didn’t I get this shot?” But production moves so quickly it just comes down to trust between the director, the DP and the actors. There’s almost no time and you just have to keep moving. We had 19 days on the first film, 30 on this one, but the size of this one is so much bigger that 30 days felt like less than last time.

I’d like to thank James again for his time and thoughtful answers. The Purge: Anarchy is in UK and US cinemas now. It’s a potent film, and does feel like an honest part of the long legacy of socio-political genre movie nightmares, from Logan’s Run to John Carpenter, that DeMonaco invoked.

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Jason Blum on The Purge: Anarchy and the Blumhouse way Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:02:21 +0000 Jason Blum

Film producers tend to stand in the shadows, unnoticed and unquestioned, but not Jason Blum. Because of the success of so many of his films - Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Conjuring and The Purge are brands now – and particularly because of his more responsible, lower-cost approach to making genre films, he’s become both a talking point and, with film buffs, something of a name.

As a man, he’s endlessly interesting, and also very interested. When I sat down with him a few weeks ago, the conversation proved to be way more energetic, multidimensional and surprising than the typical interview.

Here’s a transcript of our chat, starting with The Purge, ending with The Purge: Anarchy, but looping off in many other directions along the way.

Film Divider: When you decided to make the first Purge, did you feel like you were taking a risk on James DeMonaco or taking a risk on his idea?

Jason Blum: I was taking a risk on both. We rarely work with directors who have as little experience as he did. He’d only done one move, Staten Island, and usually our directors have a few more movies under their belt. Though I did put Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s company, on the movie as extra support for James because he was a newer director. And… actually, because our movies don’t cost so much, we’re not taking a lot of risk. I’m very risk averse in our financial model because out movies are so inexpensive. Definitely, though, if you’d have pitched that movie to a studio as a $25 million movie they’d have said “Get out of our office.” The idea is a very risky idea. At $3 million it becomes less risky, and that’s how we’re able to make weird movies that are different, or I like to think so, anyway. But definitely, those two variables were riskier variables.

But when films are made at that low cost… well, there’s still a couple of Blumhouse films I’ve been waiting to see a while. It seems like your films can shuffle off into the future a little bit sometimes.

That’s something we’re very transparent about. It’s not just a couple of things. Almost 40 to 50 percent of the original movies we make don’t get a wide release, they go straight to VOD like Barry Levinson’s movie The Bay, Rob Zombie’s movie Lords of Salem, Joe Carnahan’s movie Stretch, which will come out on VOD. I’m really transparent with the directors and I tell them this, and we don’t make any distribution guarantee until the movie is finished. But, just to make a counterpoint, let’s conservative and say it’s less than a one in two chance of a wide release, if you’re making a normal, low budget movie for under $5 million, your chance of getting a release is one in twenty. I think that for the filmmakers, it’s incredibly low risk. You might compare us to studio movies, which I understand as studios do distribute our films, but the budget level is that of an independent movie. 90% of independent movies never see the light of day.

So I’m looking at Amazon thinking “Am I going to import this Eastern European DVD of Not Safe For Work?” and last week I see that the MPAA classified a movie called Area 51 and I’m thinking “Is that it? Am I finally going to get to see it?”

Are you serious. Did Area 51 get a rating? That means it’s going to come out. And did Not Safe For Work come out in Eastern Europe?

There’s a DVD from Russia or Eastern Europe, apparently a legitimate one, on Amazon in the United States. [I since double checked, and it’s actually Thai]

You’re kidding me. Is it Russian subtitled? And can you order that in the UK?

Well, what I’d do is order it through an Amazon storefront in the US and have it shipped to the UK. I buy a lot of stuff that way. Amazon in the US will ship to the UK.

I love that. I had no idea.

I’m looking at these films that are risky and potentially exciting, and if this is what I have to do to see them…

Not Safe For Work is kinda cool. It’s a good effort.

The conversation now turned towards the times that Blumhouse have sent films back for reshoots. It’s amongst the great potential unlocked at their budget range that films can get the extra attention they need. Blum settled on Paranormal Activity as the best example of how this has worked or them.

We reshot Paranormal Activity fifty times. A reshoot might consist of Katie and Mica going to San Diego, Oren [Peli, the film's director] would shoot them with his camera, and it’d cost us $180 plus sandwiches. We did than endlessly on Paranormal Activity. With [Peli's upcoming follow-up] Area 51, the scope was bigger, the crew was bigger, and so were only able to reshoot four times or five times, rather than fifty. I think Oren might have kept going but eventually we had to say “There’s no more money for this.”

When was the last time you spoke to Oren?

I spoke to him over e-mail two days ago. He’s a producer on Insidious. We meet about once a month over Paranormal Activity.

the purge anarchy

I spoke to Frank Grillo on the phone. We were ostensibly talking about Captain America but I’d just seen Purge and so I wanted to speak to him about that.

Good. Did you see both Purge and Purge 2?

I did.

And which did you like better?

The second one, by some considerable distance.

Good. Me too.

If it has faults, they’re almost assets.

The second one? What are these faults? Let me hear it, I’m curious.

I think there are some story issues…


To do with some characters’ motivations at certain points. And I think some of the story points that are big, bold metaphors seem like a bit of a stretch as something people might actually carry off.


Well, the Big Daddy character. Whether he’s that world’s Bush or that world’s Rumsfeld or whoever he is, the idea of him going out and being recognisable…

You mean him doing it himself?

I know that it’s a metaphor. And it works as a metaphor. It’s like a nightmare, it goes into my head and gets all of my anxieties and makes a nightmare out of them.

That’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a cautionary tale. What did Frank say?

I asked him that, after Captain America and this, he seems to be choosing films that are a bit more charged, that have a bit more political heft behind them – that’s getting me going, I like that – and if that’s deliberate. And he said “Hell yeah it’s deliberate.” He’s at a point now where he can choose what he does. And I said that he’s one of the best Batmen I’ve ever seen in this film, like “What if Batman was real and didn’t dress up.”

I love that idea. I never thought of it. You have to ask James about that. James is one of the most film-literate directors. He’s thoughtful, neurotic and awesome. You’ll love him.

How did he get in front of you?

I developed a movie fifteen years ago called Ordinary Lives that we never made. He worked on it for a year, then I totally lost touch with him. Then he got in touch with me. He was trying to make a movie for $8 million and nobody would give it to him. He was working with Europacorp on The Purge and then they passed on it. He has a creative partner, Sebastien LeMercier, great producer, who is French and who worked for Luc Besson. When they sent it to me, I loved the idea and so we did it.

Do you feel kinship with Besson? I see similarities.

I feel much more kinship with James DeMonaco. I don’t know Luc Besson but I like what he’s done. But he’s creative and business, right?

Absolutely. And he’s got a real devotion to genre films.

Cool movies.

Do you think about Europe at all?

All the time. We have a foreign sales company and so I sell all my movies internationally. When Universal doesn’t do them we do it ourselves. We have an output deal in the UK with Lionsgate, in France with Wild Bunch, in Russia with Top Film. I think about the international market for our movies all the time. It’s oftentimes 50% of the business of the movie and many times much more than that. On Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, we did 75% of the business internationally. On a movie like The Purge it’s so much more fun to talk to you guys, the press in Europe, because in America, a lot less people than you would think understand it.

Oh, come on.

I swear. But you guys have gun control here. When you don’t have gun control, it doesn’t feel… it’s not immediately apparent that this is a cautionary tale. I had an argument with a woman who writes for a newspaper in the US, a big reporter in Chicago. I had lunch with her for an hour and she just couldn’t see my point. Not in an hour.

How? How is that even possible?

She said “You made a violent movie that advocates violence, you’re irresponsible and you’re doing a disservice to the world.” She was serious about it.

You must find that, just because you portray violence, some reactionary people must think you’re endorsing it.

From Sinister, okay, I’ll take it. But from The Purge? No. With Sinister and “You made a violent movie as entertainment,” I have a different opinion than that but I can appreciate their point of view. But when it’s The Purge? No.

The Purge: Anarchy is in cinemas across the US and UK now. At it’s best, it’s a strange, surreal film with unsettling, disturbing images. At the same time, it’s grounded in a perverse, absurdly twisted reality of its own. I really would recommend it.

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Blu-ray essentials: Re-Animator Wed, 30 Jul 2014 20:23:38 +0000 Reanimator_SteelBook_for2D3DguidelinesRather surprisingly Stuart Gordon‘s début feature, Re-Animator, was originally conceived as a television series for PBS. The source material, H.P. Lovecraft‘s Herbert West-Reanimator, would have lent the project a certain amount of in-built respectability but it’s hard to imagine the small screen version would have been quite so splatter filled and delightfully boundary pushing. But, oh boy, what an effect this project could have had as the unprepared casually flipped through their TV channels.

In fact, so TV unfriendly was Re-Animator that it was originally cut for release in the UK, and in the US it was released in unrated and R-rated versions. Interestingly, whilst some gore was removed from the R-rated version, a number of deleted scenes were edited back in. This was presumably to pad the film out a bit, because a Re-Animator with a lot of the grue removed would be very short indeed.

For this recent Blu-ray release Second Sight have decided to include both the unrated version, which is Gordon’s preferred and uncut version, and the “Integral” version, which is essentially the R-rated version with the gore put back in. This Integral version therefore runs a great deal longer than the ‘uncut’ version and even includes a subplot involving mind control that, aside from a few faint echoes, didn’t make it into the unrated theatrical version.

Whilst this complex history of cuts for censorship and multiple versions may suggest that Re-Animator is something of a violent or nasty film, it’s actually nothing of the sort. This may seem like an unlikely appraisal of a film that includes decapitations and a sequence in which a re-animated severed head attempts to sexually assault a young woman, but the filmmakers have balanced the scenes which could otherwise be highly problematic with a great deal of wit and intelligence. On balance, Re-Animator is a good natured endeavour, and plays out without even a whiff of cynicism or meanness.

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Stuart Gordon had been a theatre director for a great many years before becoming a feature filmmaker with Re-Animator, and there is a definite youthful exuberance on display, a willingness to please that bleeds onto the screen. The resulting film is just so much fun and, at eighty-six minutes, it positively gallops along with never a dull minute.

But Re-Animator isn’t simply about larks and having a good time. Working from a screenplay adaptation he wrote with Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, Gordon has managed to weave a highly engrossing and surprisingly layered story into the film’s brief running time. Absolutely key are the multiple relationship triangles that cause friction between the characters and provide crucial motivation for behaviour that would otherwise be very difficult to swallow.

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One could wax lyrical for pages about the highly impressive special effects, the excellent performances, the superb score, the wonderful jumps and the deep belly laughs that the film elicit, but it’s ultimately Gordon’s skills as a storyteller that have helped make Re-Animator a classic. He shows a real understanding of how and when to push the audience’s buttons to best to get the desired reactions, both visceral and emotional. Just like one of the film’s many tracking shots, everything in Re-Animator creeps up on you, and in the closing minutes you really won’t want it to end.

There have been multiple sequels and a great many imitators but there really is only one Re-Animator.

This new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is such a superb showcase for Gordon’s film. Derived from a recent 4K restoration, the transfer of the unrated version of the film is the best home video representation of the film to date. There are no obvious signs of digital mishandling.

Both DTS-HD 5.1 and stereo tracks are included and while the latter is more historically accurate, I particularly enjoyed the way in which the sound design opens up a little in 5.1, giving Richard Band‘s excellent score a bit more room to breathe as the various aspects of the soundtrack separate out.

The transfer of the integral version isn’t quite up to the same standard as the unrated version, with more signs of wear and a little less strength to the blacks and more vivid colours, but it is still of a high standard.

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The package comes with a number of great special features that, to the best of my knowledge, are all taken from previous releases. These include two commentary tracks, one featuring Stuart Gordon, and the other featuring producer Brian Yuzna and actors Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott. The second track is fun and filled with amusing recollections but it is Gordon’s commentary in which the best content will be found. Play that one first and then throw on the other one if you’re still looking for more.

There’s also an incredibly informative documentary entitled Re-Animator Resurrectus and separate interviews with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. Plus, disc two also includes extended scenes, deleted scenes and trailers. It’s a fine package and a worthy release for such a first rate feature.

Re-Animator is available to buy now on Blu-ray.

The following screengrabs are taken from the Second Sight disc but are not necessarily captured at native resolution. Click through to see them full size.

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A new trailer for birthday boy Chris Nolan’s Interstellar Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:55:06 +0000 Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 19.04.30

The third trailer for Chris Nolan‘s Interstellar has been released through the film’s official site. Rather than making you wade through their games, I thought it better to share a direct link.

If you’d rather go the long way round, visit the official site and use the code 7201969, which is the date of the moon landing.

Why this couldn’t just be released to Warner Bros. YouTube channel, I don’t know. I suppose there’s some marketing value in these little games the movie studios dream up? I don’t know that making me type in a combination before I can see a trailer will convince me that the film is better and more appealing than just giving me the trailer direct, but I’ve read enough pop-psy books to know that marketeers will try anything.

Interstellar will be released in both the UK and US on November 7th.

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First poster for Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight promises a 2015 “roadshow” release Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:45:44 +0000 For reasons I’d love to hear explained in detail, next week’s issue of Empire Magazine will contain a full-page ad for Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight, a film that has yet to enter production.

Here it is now, courtesy of Empire writer Nick de Semylen’s Twitter feed. He originally posted a lower quality copy, but we’ve since updated.

hateful straight

There was also a poster for the staged reading of the screenplay, as you can see at the foot of this post, but this is a new design in the magazine, and is specifically promoting the film itself. Do note that the poster mentions this will be “a special roadshow engagement.”

The plan is that The Hateful Eight will be filmed in 70mm, and from the looks of things, only projected that way too, giving us the full “70mm Super Cinemascope” experience.

Some audiences may have to travel some way to see this film, or at least see it the way that Tarantino intends. Tarantino is planning to start production early next year, so expect that 2015 release date to be a late one. December late, most likely. And then expect an awful lot of beloved but grizzled faces at the Oscars just a few months later.

hateful eight world premiere reading stage poster

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Filth and Babylon director Jon S. Baird planning a Laurel and Hardy biopic Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:46:03 +0000 laurel and hardy 1953 tourAt the moment, Jon S. Baird is in post production on his episodes of Babylon, the mordant but, in the pilot at least, occasional strident comedy about modern London cops from writers Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and producer Danny Boyle. It’s Baird’s second project about the police in a row, having last year directed a feature adaptation of Irvine Welsh‘s Filth.

But don’t rush to pigeonhole him. Speaking to STV, Baird has revealed that he’s also developing a movie about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

My hunch is that this is the very same film that Philomena‘s Jeff Pope is writing. I will try to clarify this and update this story if anybody can confirm the specifics.

Baird explained his interest in this project, saying,

It’s a fascinating story, one I never knew until I started looking into it. Stan always played this slightly simple-minded person in the films. But, off screen, he was one of the shrewdest people you could imagine. And when you look at some of the work they did, it was extraordinary. I’m not sure they have been given enough credit for it. They are almost taken for granted, but they were fascinating characters. That really appealed to me. My work is always character-driven, not genre-driven.

Pope’s screenplay focuses on the duo’s 1953 tour. When the BBC announced their involvement in the film they issued a press release that described the context. This is a big old chunk of text, but it will give you some idea of the story Pope is telling.

Their shtick – Stan the wide-eyed ingénue, Ollie the pompous fool, their meticulously rehearsed physical routines and their charming musical numbers had made them superstars all over Europe, South America and beyond. However, a split from their controlling mentor, the vagaries of studio politics and a run of poorly received films had resulted in their star falling. A series of acrimonious divorces, alimony battles and Oliver Hardy’s failing health didn’t help.

The British tour was supposed to relieve some of the gloom and, despite numerous glitches, the public loved them. Audiences grew and grew as word spread that Laurel and Hardy were back and as funny as ever and, as audiences swelled, so did morale. But as their careers and friendship blossomed, disaster struck as Ollie suffered a heart attack. He tried to carry on performing on the tour, but it became clear that he was too ill. Replacement performers were found to fill in but, without Stan and Ollie’s charm and warmth, the shows simply weren’t the same.

Eventually, with it clear that Hardy’s health problems were serious, Stan was offered the chance to perform alone, but refused. He realised that neither worked without the other, that they were so much more together than they were apart. Appreciating the sacrifice made by his friend, Ollie roused himself from his sickbed for a few last, triumphant performances, the very last of their extraordinary career.

The Weinsteins are also involved and the film is expected to play in cinemas in both the UK and the US. Casting the leads is going to be tricky, but I can see how the roles will be very attractive to actors too.

More on this film – or possibly films, Pope and Baird may be on different projects – as it comes to light.

Here’s a Pathe Newsreel from the time of the tour. You may also like to read an archive of correspondence written by Laurel at the time.

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A new trailer for The Maze Runner Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:12:12 +0000 If director Wes Ball is good to his word, The Maze Runner will deliver the usual YA melodrama and teen-angst metaphor but with a harder, sharper edge than might be typical. Ball loves his genre movies, and takes his inspiration from films like Aliens and The Thing as much as the recent wave of novel-to-film teen fantasies. You’ll sense an appreciation for video gaming too, I think.

I believe that Ball cut this trailer himself. If so, this is how he wants to sell his own movie to us, and that makes the trailer an interesting artefact in its own right.

I hope this works, I really do. It might be hard to justify such an outlandish concept, so I hope that if there isn’t a good solution they just leave it well alone, and wrap the story up some other, more satisfying way.

The Maze Runner will open in the US on September 19th and the UK on October 10th.

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Just to clarify some things about the Guardians of the Galaxy “post credits scene” Tue, 29 Jul 2014 11:25:19 +0000 guardians 1

When Guardians of the Galaxy opens in the UK on Thursday, the end credits will be followed by an additional scene. This is now the Marvel way.

This scene wasn’t played at any of the film’s international premieres or press screenings and it’s going to stay hidden until the release version reaches cinemas later this week. I dare say some projectionist or cinema staff member will be responsible for spoilers, if not a pirated online video, sometime on Wednesday.

Of course, the scene will be best appreciated and enjoyed the way it was intended: on the big screen, with big sound.

When I spoke to writer-directr James Gunn last week, I was able to clarify some things about the button scene in question.

  • There’s just one end credits scene on this film, not the two that we’ve had on recent Marvel releases.
  • Gunn directed it himself.
  • It comes right at the very end, after everything else.
  • It’s “cool” and “pure joy.”

Gunn implied that this tag doesn’t tie into the larger Marvel cinematic universe, but wouldn’t be definite and specific either way. But so much for our theory, probably.

Guardians of the Galaxy will be released in the UK on August 31st and the US on August 1st. Guardians 2 has a US release date of July 28th 2017, and during the same interview with Gunn, we got him to tell us as much about that film as he could right now.

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Here’s the BBFC’s new infomercial about the 12A certificate Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:36:11 +0000 Prompted by a high number of complaints, the BBFC have decided to create a new video that should, in theory, clarify what their 12a rating means. This will play in cinemas from August 1st.

According to the BBFC’s own research, the 12a rating is understood by 75% of the British public. Who constitutes the other 25% or quite what misunderstandings that minority has isn’t known, though I would dare to speculate that a lot of people who don’t understand the12a either don’t go to the cinema or don’t have kids and have therefore never given it any thought. Neither of these groups would need to understand it.

The BBFC’s David Cooke said,

We want to remind parents that the certificate was designed to help them decide if a film at the 12 level is suitable for their child. 

Which doesn’t quite make sense if you take it absolutely literally. Better said, perhaps, that the certificate was designed to tell a parent that they must decide for themselves if their under-12 year old child is ready for slightly more adult material. That makes sense.

To use the certificate perfectly it seems like a parent would have to see the film twice, first without the child. The compromised approach would be to refer to the so-called BBFCinsight on the board’s website.

Jack Reacher is the film that garnered the most complaints over its 12a certificate, but since the film was later re-edited and re-certificated as a 15, the original 12a version of the film’s ‘insight’ has been replaced on the BBFC website. It would have been a key reference point in this particular debate, so it’s a shame it has now vanished.

I wil be very interested to find out if this ad increases the 75% score for public understanding. I suspect it’s going to be more useful a sign that the BBFC are “doing something” than actually working as a remedy for any problem the 12a might have.

Probably the best thing the board could do, if they really want to clarify things for the public, is to be very open and specific about what criteria are used in awarding a film a 12a certificate. If any individual could, at least in theory, understand the classification process to the point that they’d be able to award the certificates themselves, then we’d be getting somewhere. As it is, the process still smacks of elitist alchemy, of decisions made seemingly arbitrarily, hidden away behind closed doors and a veil of anonymity.

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Skull Island is the next “maybe picture” for Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:08:51 +0000 skull island

There’s been a steady string of stories about Joe Cornish in the Hollywood trade papers since the release of his still remarkable debut feature, Attack the Block.

Some stories were there because of his screenwriting work, as Edgar Wright‘s co-writer on Tintin and, now rather sadly, Ant-Man. Many mentions were about projects that he was working on as a director, including Snow Crash, Rust and Section 6. Other times, his name popped up because he was simply on a studio’s wish list, or being courted for a job, as with Die Hard 5, Star Trek 3 and now, Deadline say, Legendary’s King Kong picture, Skull Island.

From the outside, of course, we have no idea about the specifics but it does seem like Cornish is having a terrible run of luck. It feels like rotten luck for audiences too.

If activity within casting agencies is anything to measure by, Snow Crash seemed pretty likely to go just around a year, maybe a year and a half ago. Then it didn’t, and we hope this didn’t sour his relationship with producer Kathleen Kennedy because, honestly, there’s nobody else we’d rather see direct Star Wars: Episode IX than Cornish.

Cornish worked with Aline Brosh McKenna on an adaptation of the Archaia comic Rust for some time, before Rio‘s Carlos Saldanha was announced as a new director. That’s most definitely “a new direction” for the project.

Most recently, the period spy drama Section 6 seemed like a cert, and maybe it is still close, even while it’s caught up in a lawsuit that alleges plagiarism of the James Bond series.

If Legendary do manage to make a deal with Cornish for Skull Island, he’ll be working towards a November 2016 release date. At this stage, in the summer of 2014, such a deal could all but force his other projects onto the sidelines for a while, if not into the dusty, madness-inspiring “What If?” files at the back of the cabinet.

The script for Skull Island is being written by Godzilla‘s Max Borenstein. One would hope that Cornish himself would at least get to take a pass at the pages too. Attack the Block‘s screenplay stands head and shoulders above Godzilla.

Whatever Cornish does end up doing next, we hope it’s the project he really wants to do. You can feel the love and care in every corner of every frame of Attack the Block, and it’s the cast and crew’s attention to almost every little detail as though their life depended on it that makes the film really sing.

We’ll keep you posted on Skull Island.

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Zoe Saldana on motion capture, and owning Neytiri’s performance 100% Mon, 28 Jul 2014 22:50:52 +0000 neytiriI spoke to Zoe Saldana last week about her work on Guardians of the Galaxy and, for a moment, as Neytiri in Avatar. What she had to say about performance capture flew right in the face of what I’d previously been told about the technology.

From previous conversations with Weta’s Joe Letteri, to name just the most high profile example, I had learned that performance capture does not instantly create a perfect recording of an actor, and that if the data gathered during capture is taken and mapped precisely onto a virtual puppet, the process doesn’t just jump ahead to the end result. There’s no such thing as “digital make-up,” resurfacing one face perfectly with the look of another, because there’s simply too much intervention necessary.

Even at the cutting of this technology, some manual work is still needed after the “capture” phase. Whether or not you’d call this work “animation” is subject enough for a huge debate.

I’m very interested in performance capture and its massive potential. There seems to be scope here to create characters and a nuance of delivery that an actor would find impossible by themselves. To my mind, the possibility to edit the raw data and to “plus” it, however subtly, is so rich, it’s crazy that we’re sold a narrative in which the ideal is a pure, unfiltered transition of what the actor did to what the virtual puppet does on screen.

I asked Saldana if she feels total ownership of her performance as Neytiri. Here’s how our exchange went.

Film Divider: Would you say that some of your performance as Neytiri is owed to, or some percentage of it belongs to, the people at Weta?

Zoe Saldana: No. Motion capture makes it impossible for an animator to take any kind of credit over a performance. An animator paints over the performance that the actor leaves on screen. That’s the difference between animation and motion capture, and it’s why motion capture became a technology that took 20, 30, 40 years to develop, because directors felt that it was necessary that, if you’re going to hire an actor to be the essence of something, it should actually be the actor, and you paint over the actor.

James Cameron is a very honourable director, however if motion capture falls in the hands of a very dishonorable director, that can happen in a second. But whatever you did, and that’s the part that makes me happy, that when you see Neytiri, the fact that they made her longer, my eyes are in a different place, my tits are bigger too – it’s awesome! – she has a tail, she’s blue, that is all Weta. But when it came to the performance, every growl, every gesture that I made with my eyebrow, the way my eyeballs moved, it was all reference, it was all my performance.

I’m very happy that James was adamant about that with every single actor. He was like “If that was the case, if any company can come and do that, then why would I spend ten years out of my life trying to create and develop the technology to do Avatar? I could have just done it in 1998.” You see what I’m saying? But it wasn’t an animation.

There’s no doubt that Saldana’s work comes through loud and clear in Avatar, and that she’s given a truly engaging and exciting performance. It’s also exciting to think she’s about to do it again, three times over. I also look forward to seeing what the teams at Weta can bring to the table now they’ve had more time to develop their techniques.

In the meantime, we can enjoy all Saldana acting under some actual make-up of the non-digital variety in this week’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel’s latest will hit UK cinemas on July 31s then opens in the US on August 1st.


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Christopher Walken joins Jungle Book as King Louie, still no Matthew McConaughey as Baloo Mon, 28 Jul 2014 20:06:30 +0000 jungle book

Jon Favreau has rounded up a remarkable voice cast for his new, live action-ish take on The Jungle Book but, despite all good taste and logic, he’s yet to cast Matthew McConaughey as Baloo the Bear.

I can only assume that negotiations are underway and McConaughey’s people, understanding that there’s no real alternative, are playing hardball. It’s hard to accept any other version of reality, especially one that will see the role going to somebody else.

Here’s the voice list so far:

  • Christopher Walken as King Louie
  • Giancarlo Esposito as Akela
  • Ben Kingsley as Bagheera
  • Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha
  • Idris Elba as Shere Khan
  • Scarlett Johansson as Kaa

Mowgli will be played, in vision, by newcome Neel Sethi.

Nobody has claimed that this film will feature the Sherman Bros. songs of the original animated movie – as brilliant as it would be to hear Walken’s version of I Wanna Be Like You – but Favreau is definitely working to that picture’s shape as much as the original Rudyard Kipling novel.

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Full teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Mon, 28 Jul 2014 19:00:21 +0000 When it was first announced that The Hobbit would take three movies, the last instalment was slotted in for this summer, just six months behind the second. It didn’t take too long for those plans to change, and the picture was given a December slot like its sisters, almost one year on from the second.

As you’ll see from this teaser, these films are huge undertakings. I don’t know how anybody though Peter Jackson could turn around post production on one of them in just six months.

That final line is a loaded one, of course, and is being used to leverage the fandom’s sense of this being the final Middle Earth movie as much as it is to tap into this actual story or Thorin’s character.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies will be released on December 17th.

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Fury character images find honour, glory and war Mon, 28 Jul 2014 11:44:38 +0000 The following posters appeared in the US last week; we’ve now been sent versions with the UK release date in place, so we’re going with these instead.

My feelings about war are more in step with something like M*A*S*H than the sentiments expressed by these taglines, and never having been to war, I feel a little inappropriate saying even that.

Fury 2 72 Fury 3 72 Fury 4 72

If you thought that those might just be cut up pieces of a previously released image, then you’d be close. Here’s what this lot look like when glued together.

full bannerAnd here are other images of the cast sitting around on their tank that have been released already. It’s a “key image” for the campaign, clearly.

fury tank 2 fury tank


If you were paying close attention, you’ll have seen that the UK release for Fury is set for October 24th, whereas in the US, the film will be out in November.


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Trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:06:34 +0000 This trailer was premiered in San Diego this weekend, off-site and only for fans who queued to get into a heavily sponsor-driven corporate ‘experience.’ That doesn’t seem at all compatible with the meanings and values of the film itself, or at least the novel it was based upon.

This trailer doesn’t give away much, but those who know the story will recognise traces of the original’s brutality and overtly political dramatics.

I’m still quite in love with the first film and thought the second did a very good job of adapting what was an essentially flawed novel. It’s with Mockingjay that everything has to come together, however. And this is where the filmmakers have to dramatise great suffering, capturing it in a sci-fi action movie without debasing it.

Mockingjay Part One will be released in the UK on November 20th, and the US one day later on November 21st.

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Quentin Tarantino says The Hateful Eight will go ahead after all Sun, 27 Jul 2014 22:33:45 +0000 the hateful eight poster clip

Under the pressure of a fan question at Comic Con just minutes ago, Quentin Tarantino has admitted,

Yeah, we’re going to be doing The Hateful Eight.

Good news. He had previously said that the film was scrapped after its script was leaked and ended up spread all over the internet.

The plan now seems to be for production on the character-driven Western to get underway at the start of next year. If Tarantino is good to his word, he’ll use the cast from his recent live production, wrap the story with an all-new final chapter and shoot the production on 70mm film.

Here’s the cast on the night of the live reading, with Elvis Mitchell – who presumably won’t be in the film in any way – lying on the floor that the front. Score one point for each that you can name.

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The first footage from The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:57:34 +0000 It would seem that the first teaser for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is due tomorrow. Here’s a first taste, and there’s a whole lot of fighting going on. The heads per second count her is ridiculous.

Peter Jackson told Comic Con’s crowds that this last one is his favourite of the three Hobbit films. He also said that it’s going to be hard to get it done in time.

Still, I expect we can look forward to seeing this roll out in time this December.

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The brilliance of Panna Rittikrai’s inspirational action cinema Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:07:11 +0000 Panna-Rittikrai

Filmmaker, action choreographer and martial artist Panna Rittikrai sadly passed away on July 20th. He was just 53 years old.

One of my favourite memories of his work is from his 1984 directorial debut, Born to Fight. There’s a scene where Rittikrai is teaching two kids how to fight, and he gives a demonstration of his own skills as a martial artist. Rittikrai mixes his personal style with a dash of Bruce Lee footwork and a very heavy dose of Jackie Chan, even going so far as to mimic the latter’s work in Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow by the request of the children.

It’s a fine showcase for Rittikrai’s talents as a martial artist but it at no point feels egotistical. This is not a scene in which our hero, or the actor himself, ‘shows off’. It’s about a passion for Jackie Chan’s work, and for the many other martial artists who led the way. Rittikrai’s character self-deprecatingly references the fact that he learnt his moves from movies. But this scene shows that Thai martial artists can do these moves too – and that they may even have something new to offer.

Later in the film, Rittikrai’s character fights a group of ninjas and when one of them comes at him with a “Chinese sword” he fights back with “Thai swords.” These are actually just steel pipes.

Rittikrai’s films were so often about that kind of love for the underdog, and demonstrated a belief that anyone can fight back and stand up for themselves. It’s what often made them so compelling even when the plotting was perhaps a little hit and miss. You really wanted the hero to win.

In 2004, Rittikrai directed another film which was released under the title Born to Fight and whilst it wasn’t a remake of his 1984 film – as it is often misreported to be – it carries the same message and belief in the little guy triumphing over an oppressive force.

And it also features some of the most extraordinary and terrifying stunt work ever committed to film.

Born to Fight

Born to Fight (1984) ends with a credit that states that it was made by the P.P.N Stunt Team, which would later become the Muay Thai Stunt Team. This was a group of highly skilled experts in martial arts, gymnastics, stunts and a whole variety of other disciplines that Rittikrai helped to tutor. They worked on his own films and those of his frequent collaborator Prachya Pinkaew, as well as for many films that were made beyond the borders of Thailand.

The most famous member of the P.P.N Stunt Team is without a doubt the martial arts superstar Tony Jaa. The story of how Jaa and Rittikrai first met is actually really extraordinary. I have no doubt that someone will, one day, attempt a biopic of Jaa and many people will doubt this particular part of the story.

Tony Jaa had been banned from seeing the original Born to Fight but he was so desperate to see it, he disobeyed orders and jumped from a second floor window to get out. Afterwards, he was so inspired that he forced his dad to drive with him to try and find Rittikrai. Once they tracked him down, Jaa threatened to kill himself if his family wouldn’t allow him to Rittkirai. The master told the potential student that he must first go back to school, and so he did, but Jaa did finally get his wish and joined the P.P.N Stunt Team.

Rittikrai worked with Jaa on all of his films prior to Jaa’s temporary retirement after Ong Bak 3. The most notable are Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong (aka The Protector), which between them helped Tony Jaa become a break out star in both Thailand and ultimately abroad.

These two films changed the way that filmmakers approached martial arts and stunt work as well as what audiences would come to expect from them. Rittikrai upped the ante. He showed, vividly, that seemingly impossible feats could be achieved without the use of wires or CGI. One again, his work was inspiring a great many people.

One of these is Gareth Evans, the director of The Raid.

Following a falling out with Jaa during the troubled production of Ong Bak 3, Rittikrai directed BKO: Bangkok Knockout, a film that shared many of the themes and much of the approach of the two Born to Fight film. The plot and acting may be a little shaky at times but the action in Bangkok Knockout left me with my jaw on the floor.

The fluid editing and astute attention to how best to frame the action in Bangkok Knockout works so well to showcase a number of stunning action feats and stunts that so often defy belief. I’ll admit that I must have watched the trailer for Bangkok Knockout at least twenty or thirty times before the film was released. I could never quite believe what I was seeing.

And the film certainly didn’t disappoint, despite those high expectations.

Rittikrai’s final credit looks set to be his work as action co-ordinator on A Man Will Rise, a feature film starring Dolph Lundgren and Jaa.

The treatment of Rittikrai’s films on DVD and Blu-ray has resulted in a very mixed bag but if you’re looking to dive into some of his work, the bigger films are reasonably easy to see on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix, and the original Born to Fight also received a rather fine DVD release in the UK.

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First trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road looks like cutting edge action cinema Sun, 27 Jul 2014 17:30:53 +0000 Here are three minutes worth of George Miller‘s passion project, Mad Max: Fury Road. This footage premiered at Comic Con yesterday and it would have been absolutely thrilling, I’m sure, to see this on their big, big screen.

What a wonderfully controlled aesthetic.

I’ve ‘read’ the storyboards for this film and it exciting to see evidence that Miller has recreate them in such a visceral, dynamic fashion. If the whole film breathes fire and electricity into those storyboard images the way this trailer does then we should be looking at gold standard action.

“The Gravity of car chase movies, without the much less successful second bit.” There. I might print that poster myself.

Fury Road is set for release on May 15th next year.

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A recap of Marvel’s Hall H panel from San Diego Comic Con Sun, 27 Jul 2014 01:57:15 +0000 marvel studios logo

For several years now Marvel have been the champs of San Diego Comic Con, claiming genre movie supremacy with huge, razzle-dazzle shows that light a fire in the vast fanpit of Hall H.

With The Guardians of the Galaxy out this week, a sequel to the all-conquering Avengers next year and the largely secret Phase 3 to be teased, there was no doubt that Marvel would make a real effort with their 2014 show. Starting over 15 minutes late might not have been the best idea, but when things did get started, with a compilation of footage from Marvel’s movies to date, the delay was quickly forgotten.

The first portion of the session introduced Ant-Man and confirmed the casting of Evangeline Lily as Hope van Dyne, aka Hope Pym, and Corey Stoll as the villainous Yellowjacket. Though the film doesn’t start shooting until August, there was a prepared piece of test footage with a miniature Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), interacting with ants and taking orders from Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) through his helmet intercom.

After this, the Avengers were assembled to talk about next year’s Age of Ultron. There were twelve of them spread across the stage, and that’s with Joss Whedon in hospital, in the UK, after surgery to his knee and Scarlett Johansson taking time out to bring a baby into the world.

There was some Avengers footage screened, featuring the now infamous party where everybody tries to lift Thor’s hammer and the closest is Steve Rogers who can move it just a little.

Then one of the old Iron Man suits was seen, lumbering like a zombie, possessed by Ultron. “You want to protect the world but you don’t want it to change,” he says, “There’s only one path to peace. Your extinction.”

There were also glimpses of The Hulk vs. Stark in his Hulkbuster armour and Ultron in his final form, riffing on Pinocchio with “There are no strings on me.” Finally, a shot of Tony Stark looking out over a spoiled battleground, the rest of The Avengers lying bruised and battered on the ground. Of course, they’re okay – this might be a Joss Whedon movie but it’s also Marvel – but they’ve obviously taken a whooping.

The last bit of news on The Avengers was a confirmation of something we really already knew, underlining the casting of Josh Brolin as Thanos. Having already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, and hearing his voice eminating from the CG figure there, I wasn’t in any doubt, but now it’s officially official.

The panel then came to a close with just one more announcement. As another story on the site will tell you, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 has been given a July 28th 2017 release date.

My guess would be that Doctor Strange was left out of the program when Marvel failed to make a deal with their leading man. Does this mean Joaquin Phoenix and Justin Theroux are both out of the running?

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Marvel announce Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for July 28th, 2017 Sun, 27 Jul 2014 01:43:37 +0000 peter quill

A video message from James Gunn and Chris Pratt was just played in San Diego Comic Con’s Hall H. Gunn said “It’s time for the kids to take over the candy store” and a title card appeared, announcing Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for July 28th, 2017.

Just yesterday, Gunn told me some of what the sequel will be about. I’ll leave the details behind that link in case you might consider it a spoiler for the first film, however slight.

In any case, this sequel release date is a wonderful show of confidence for the first Guardians movie. I know that it’s definitely a fine film and well-crafted, but I wouldn’t even hazard a guess at how popular it’s going to be. It’s nice to know that Marvel have already decided it doesn’t really matter at this stage and they’re pressing ahead with more.

Previously: a brief recap of the full Hall H panel, from Ant-Man to Age of Ultron but not, surprisingly, going anywhere near Doctor Strange.

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Four Mad Max: Fury Road posters freeze chaos and introduce the cast Sat, 26 Jul 2014 20:19:08 +0000 Look closely and you’ll see that at least three of these posters is a different viewpoint on the same frozen instant. The first one is probably an exception, but it has a head-spinning perspective all of its own.

fury road poster 1 fury road poster 2 fury road poster 3 fury road poster 4


And check out those character names.

Five minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road footage unspooled at Comic Con today. The crowd seemed to be quite taken by the large scale, frenetic action, and many commented on how fresh it felt.

The film isn’t made of new ideas, though – at least not new to director George Miller. This is him finally enacting detailed plans that he made about a decade and a half ago and protected ever since.

Fury Road will be released in the US on May 15th next year. I’m looking forward to it very much indeed.

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Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah to appear in Godzilla sequel Sat, 26 Jul 2014 20:03:38 +0000 Legendary Pictures have used their Comic Con panel to announce a supporting cast of their Godzilla sequel, teasing other all-time Kaiju hall of fame players Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. A video played that showed all of these beasties, ending with the line “Let them fight!”

Some rights issues must have been cleared up recently as Legendary did not have these characters at their disposal when developing the first film.

There’s going to be some delay on delivering Godzilla 2 as director Gareth Edwards first has a Star Wars spin-off to direct. Indeed, he’s so busy with his work there that he didn’t come to San Diego in purpose.

This won’t be the first time these particular monsters have met. Here’s a video from before.

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Karen Gillan explains her love of Michael Haneke Sat, 26 Jul 2014 12:46:34 +0000 karen gillanHere’s an odd aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy junket, but I think it’s quite amusing. I was sitting in a group discussion with Karen Gillan, and somehow managed to guide the conversation onto Michael Haneke.

While I don’t agree with her precise appraisal of his films I can at least share much of the enthusiasm. Here’s how the conversation went down.

Karen Gillan: My choices are really focused on who the filmmakers are. That’s what is going to make or break the film, really, the vision of the person who is making it. So I want them to be good. It’s really cool to work with young, new, exciting directors like Mike Flanagan and Ti West, and James [Gunn] as well, he’s kind of in that group. These filmmakers seem to like finding me as well so that’s really cool.

Film Divider: So who’s on your list of people you’d like to work with?

I want to work with Michael Haneke more than anything in the world. Can you make that happen for me? I love his films so much. He’s my favourite director in the world. I like big, huge films as well but they’re far more manipulative and so they’re going to make you feel sad at this point, and then the music kicks in and then you know how you’re supposed to feel, they’re telling you what to feel. With Haneke’s stuff there’s really just this unbiased view of events that happen and you get to choose how you feel towards it, and that’s really fun for me.

He’s making a film about flashmobs. You should try and get in there.

What!? When?!

What you need to do is create a flashmob to show him, “Look, I can do it.” The film is going to be set in America and I’m sure it’s going to be in the English language.

Really? Come on, Haneke! I can do an American accent.

You’ll be able to judge Gillan’s American accent for yourself when Guardians of the Galaxy opens this week, in the UK on July 31st and the US on August 1st. I can’t find an Austrian release date listed but the film will be playing in Germany from August 28th.

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An image of The Thing from the set of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four Sat, 26 Jul 2014 10:44:30 +0000 I’m told that this image, which appeared on the now-deleted Justified Films Twitter account and lives on courtesy of Miles Teller Fans, is indeed a model of The Thing as he’ll appear in Josh Trank‘s new Fantastic Four film. What we’re looking at is a lighting and texture reference model that is used on the set.

the thing

Jamie Bell is playing Ben Grimm in the film, a member of the Fantastic Four and the alias of the stonefaced creature you see above. Maybe it’s only my imagination but I do believe there are some traces of Bell’s features in this model, albeit greatly Thingified.

20th Century Fox decided to not present The Fantastic Four in any way during their Comic Con panel on Friday. There was vocal dissent, apparently as a number of fans were, somehow, feeling entitled to at least some kind of marketing artefact. Perhaps this picture will more than make up for their sense of disappointment.

The Fantastic Four will be released on June 19th 2015.

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James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – the promise of Nebula, Yondu and Peter Quill’s father Sat, 26 Jul 2014 01:18:24 +0000 peter quill chris pratt guardians of the galaxy

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to have not one, nor two but three opportunities to listen to James Gunn talk, and even to speak with him about Guardians of the Galaxy and his work as a filmmaker and storyteller. At first there was a press conference, where I just sat back quietly; then there was a roundtable chat where I chipped in a few questions; and finally, I got to interview him one-to-one and in more depth.

Just a little of this time was given over to talk of what a second Guardians film might well entail. As all of the trades are rushing to publish variants on “James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 2” tonight, I’ll share his comments on the prospective sequel now, and we’ll come back to the bigger, more in-depth discussion of the first film after the weekend.

At first, I asked what remains of Nicole Perlman‘s script in the finished film. Many of those trade stories have said something like “It’s not clear if co-writer Nicole Perlman will return.” Well, it’s pretty darn clear to me that she’s not likely to be involved at all, not now there’s a writer-director with plenty of ideas sitting in the driving sear.

So here’s Gunn, addressing the changes he made to Perlman’s screenplay; and then, after that, his own plans to move things ahead in the next movie.

Really, in Nicole’s script everything is pretty different. I mean the story is different, there’s no Walkman, the character arcs are different, it’s not about the same stuff. But that’s how the WGA works. They like first writers an awful lot.

michael rooker yonduI know a lot of where I want to go. I have a lot of ideas for stories and characters that are going to appear, and there are documents written up, that some people have, about Peter Quill’s father and his relationship, a lot of stuff about Yondu and a lot of stuff about Drax that nobody knows.

There are a lot of things that are part of the overall schematic that already exist, not to mention a lot of stuff about all of the cultures. There’s a lot of stuff about Xandarian and Kree culture that I’ve written down or I have in my head, as well as Krylorians and Ravagers.

Those comments were made to me, but during the roundtable chat. Gunn later elaborated when we were speaking again.

Kevin Feige has stuff. I wrote up a lot. He knows all the stuff and if I died tomorrow they could go make a movie. They could write the story of Peter Quill’s father and it would all be there. I think Yondu is a very important character, a really important character in this universe, and I think Nebula is really important too and so I think we’ll see more of both of those characters.

Back at the start of the day, during the press conference, Gunn was asked what tracks would be on Quill’s Awesome Mix 2 tape and therefore make up the soundtrack to a second film. As the songs are selected to the scenes, he explained, they hadn’t all been worked out yet. The implication there, perhaps, is that he had some of them worked out.

It sounds very much like Gunn knows where he wants to take Guardians 2 and it’s now going to be a job of developing the finer detail and drafting it on the page. Anything might change as that work goes on, of course, but really, I think he’s given us enough clues for the meantime. He certainly seems set on expanding the “fathers and children” theme, for example. Seems like a sound choice.

Guardians of the Galaxy will be released on July 31st in the UK and August 1st in the US. I had a whale of a time with it and can’t wait to see it again.

Previously: Vin Diesel’s chat with me about Groot and his other, unfinished business with Marvel Studios.

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Joe review Fri, 25 Jul 2014 23:08:11 +0000 nicolas cage and tye sheridan in joe

In recent years it has seemed as though one would have to wade through five bad Nicolas Cage movies to get to a good one. Joe is most definitely one of the good ones, and good enough to make the wading worthwhile.

It might be a little unfair to describe the film in those terms, however. Not least because the rest of the cast shine just as brightly as Cage, particularly Tree of Life‘s Tye Sheridan as 15-year-old Gary, and the real-life vagrant Gary Poulter as his abusive father.

Cage is playing the titular Joe, a gruffly compassionate man who lives on the outskirts of society. His is the strata of small-town community made up of drifters, day labourers and criminals.

When Gary and his family move into a condemned house nearby, Joe allows Gary to work with his crew on a mission to poison trees and provide the landowner with a legal reason to clear the forest. This scheme sets the tone for the rest of the film, where poverty makes casual lawbreaking an inevitable part of the characters’ lives.

Director David Gordon Green had intended to provide a sense of authenticity by casting several non-professional actors in background roles, but Poulter impressed him so much during auditions that he was hired to play one of the central characters. It’s sad to note that this was not only is Gary Poulter’s first acting role, it was sadly his last. Poulter died just two months after filming was completed.

As the unpredictable, perpetually drunk Wade, Poulter gives a realistic and disturbing performance that most likely would not have been created by a Hollywood actor. Himself a homeless alcoholic for many years, Poulter’s own experiences as a homeless alcoholic, not to mention his physical appearance, have left an indelible mark on the role.

This issue of “real”-looking actors is one of the few potential problems with Joe. Tye Sheridan’s fresh-faced gawkiness works for his character, who seems comparatively innocent against the cast of cynics and abusers. But with so many of the supporting roles taken up by people who look convincingly grizzled and hollow-eyed, Cage may actually look too good.

While his performance is one of the best of his career, it’s difficult not to compare Cage’s surprisingly youthful skin and white teeth to that of his more scarred and wrinkled counterparts. The worst is the almost comedic ugliness of Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), a local man with whom Joe shares a violent and pointless feud. Since the rest of the film feels so authentic, it’s odd to see an almost pantomime-like contrast between the heroic Cage, and a scarred, toothless pervert as the villain. Still, this is a minor quibble offset by the uniformly excellent performances of the cast.

Director David Gordon Green evidently knows how to use Cage’s infamous frenetic energy just when needed, and how to tamp it down the rest of the time. Joe has an undercurrent of rage boiling beneath his surface at all times, but unlike Gary’s father, Joe always attempts to rein in his own violence and anger. So we get the best of both worlds: a subtle, emotionally complex performance, along with the occasional explosions of weird aggression for which Nic Cage is so beloved.

Joe brings to mind Beasts of the Southern Wild, another film where childhood and optimism clash with extreme poverty in contemporary America, and where a close-knit rural community is shown living in a way that is rarely seen on film. However, Joe has none of the magic realism of Beasts, instead aiming for a pragmatic depiction of a lifestyle where poverty and violence are well-nigh unavoidable.

Although Joe is often bleak, it’s not without moments of humor, particularly between Gary and Joe. The slow build of their relationship is as moving and three-dimensional as you could hope for, and almost feels like a product of another time. Social services never seem to be an option for Gary or his sister, Gary’s family are so poor they cannot even afford a clock, and the setting often feels like something out of a Western: forests, dirt, family feuds, friendly neighbourhood prostitutes, and gallons of cheap whisky. And like a Western, some kind of showdown is inevitable. Black clouds hover overhead even when anything seems to be go well for the film’s long-suffering protagonists.

Joe is in UK cinemas now and also available via VOD.

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Joe and Anthony Russo to direct episodes of the Agent Carter TV series Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:25:16 +0000 agent carter logo

The Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony, have built up a good catalogue of work on both the big screen and small, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier proving both the most ambitious and impressive to date. We can’t help but be happy when a movie tries to have a point of view and add spice to your popcorn all at once.

The Russos are currently at work developing the third Cap film for the studio and, as just announced at Comic Con, will also be directing two episodes of the Agent Carter spin-off series. Good news all round.

Marvel’s Jeph Loeb also promised that Joe Johnston, director of the first Captain America film, will work on the show too, if his schedule permits it. They’re trying to work out the deal now.

So, the directors would run: Marvel’s own Louis D’Esposito for the pilot, the Russos for episodes two and three, maybe Johnston for episode four.

This new series is set in 1946 and follows Hayley Atwell‘s Peggy Carter after the end of World War II and the loss of Steve Rogers to the icy deep. We scored some exclusive details on the new characters just last week, and while we expected Marvel to maybe drop a cast name or two in San Diego, they certainly didn’t during this panel. Perhaps deals are still being finalised – shooting on the show has yet to begin.

You may wish to read our interview with the Russos. They’re certainly smart, engaging guys.

Agent Carter will start airing in the US in January.

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Report: Warner Bros. want Argo’s Chris Terrio to write Justice League Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:05:10 +0000 ben affleck batman closeup

Warner Bros. will tomorrow present their panel at San Diego Comic Con. They’ve got a lot to gain, and are expected to build on last year’s surprise announcement of Zack Snyder‘s Batman-Superman mash-up movie, the one we now know is Dawn of Justice.

That film was originally written by David S. Goyer, with Chris Terrio called in for rewrites. Now there’s growing buzz, with Deadline being the first to report, that Warner Bros. want to secure Terrio’s services for the Justice League movie they’re planning as a follow up.

Are they looking to book Terrio today because they want to announce him as being attached tomorrow? Well, maybe. Screenwriters don’t normally get such attention but this one did win an Oscar for Argo, and being able to announce that they’re keeping him on after Batman v. Superman will show confidence in that movie.

You can definitely expect word on Justice League tomorrow, whether or not that word is “Terrio”. Zack Snyder will be coming back to direct again, with Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck starring alongside Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa.

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Sam Raimi claims that he’s writing an Evil Dead TV show Fri, 25 Jul 2014 20:43:40 +0000 evil dead ash

Early last year, Sam Raimi told the crowd at an in-store “Meet the Filmmaker” event that he was gearing up to write a fourth Evil Dead film. Then, a few days later he said he wasn’t really, he just felt pressured by the fans to say that he was. And then he said that he probably would, actually, later that year.

And now, he’s today appeared on stage in the massive Hall H of San Diego Comic Con and, likely feeling that fan pressure more intensely than ever, said that he and his brother Ivan are right now writing an Evil Dead TV series, and that Bruce Campbell will be helping them out.

The questions far outweigh the solid facts, so here’s an absolute barrage of them.

Is there any kind of deal for this show in place? Is a broadcaster attached in any way? Will the show retell the story of the first film again, just like the second film did, and the recent remake? Will Campbell appear in the show? Will the continuity of the show be related to the continuity of the original films, the remake or both? The two film ‘universes’ are certainly compatible; the remake could even stand as a sequel to the originals.

It might be some time until we get anywhere with this. Still, the promise of new Evil Dead from Sam Raimi will always be worth waiting for, even while I suspect that he’s enjoying himself as he plays with our expectations.

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Justin Theroux and Joaquin Phoenix both said to be contenders for Marvel’s Doctor Strange Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:45:22 +0000 doctor strange

Absolutely all of the trade websites (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, The Wrap) are reporting that Marvel Studios are right now negotiating with Joaquin Phoenix so that they might cast him as Dr. Steven Strange, and presumably in time that they can introduce him to the fans at San Diego Comic Con tomorrow night,

But he’s not the only name being mentioned. Justin Theroux seems to be, or at least to have recently been, in the running for the role. Ain’t It Cool favour Theroux’s chances, it seems, with The Wrap favouring Phoenix.

I’m tending towards a scenario where the two are both still in the running, their agents just ironing out the deals that would apply if and when Marvel’s eeny meeny miny moe finger comes to a rest in their corner.

Mark Ruffalo tells a story about how he didn’t know until 5am in the morning before his Comic Con debut whether or not he had the role of Bruce Banner, and you can see it in the video below. Might this not be the same protocol for Doctor Strange?

Will Joaquin Phoenix wake up to that car at 5am tomorrow? Justin Theroux? Jared Leto? Edgar Ramirez? Or are Marvel just going to save on gas and go for Benedict Cumberbatch, already on site and making hay?

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Vin Diesel on his unfinished business with Marvel and taking on Groot for the fans Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:28:56 +0000 vin diesel and groot

For whatever reason, Vin Diesel was not able to make it to Marvel’s London press conference for Guardians of the Galaxy. The assembled hacks, reporters, bloggers and blaggers may not have realised it at the time, but they were really missing out. I was about to have it proven to me in the most surprising fashion.

Because later, after the press conference, I sat in a hotel room one floor up, waiting for Diesel to come and chat more intimately about the film. I might have assumed he would quietly slip in; most people do, of course and they’re not always getting over or working around whatever it might have been to keep him away from the press conference.

But he didn’t creep in. He strolled in with overflowing confidence and more than a little Movie Star glow. Most remarkably of all, he scored his own entrance with music. Diesel came in wielding a little hand-held speaker, blasting out Talib Kweli‘s Won’t You Stay.

I knew the man could work up some atmosphere because I had seen him do it before and on a grand scale. Almost exactly one year ago at San Diego Comic Con, I remember, Diesel had thousands of fans eating out of his hand from the distant stage of the cavernous Hall H.

We actually talked about this buzz of charisma, today; about Hall H and the “slightly naughty” thing he did there. Here’s that portion of our chat, which digs into how Diesel got involved with Marvel in the first place, why it happened, and whether or not Groot is the extent of his commitment to the studio.

Film Divider: Sometimes I think you’re pulling our leg. I remember you posting the picture of The Vision. I thought “This man’s pulling our leg and he knows what’s going to happen.”

Vin Diesel: I’ll tell you something about that, if we’re jumping right into it. That was in 2012. I was shooting Fast and Furious 6. It was in the morning, before I went to set, and I changed my profile pic for 60 seconds to this picture that one of the fans had put up of The Vision. And then the social media craze began. That was the beginning of what we’re going to talk about today.

After that, fans created different fan art of me as or juxtaposed with various Marvel characters. Last year, last summer, it was so crazy and I started to feel like “I’ve got to pay more attention to Marvel. I better work a little bit harder to find something for all of these fans that are wanting some association between Vin and Marvel somehow. I went to meet Marvel finally, two hours south of Hollywood. My agent had to get me in, I went and talked to Louis and Kevin Feige.

My agent said “I have never seen a meeting like that. I have never seen a meeting last two hours.” We compared notes and they complemented me on how I had produced the Fast and Furious saga to the place it was at now. They showed me a picture of Nick Fury and said that the concept of Nick Fury being black and being Sam Jackson was a film called XXX, said that film inspired them.

This meeting was all about ‘Phase 3,’ their ‘Phase 3′ plans. Last summer this social media craze hit an all time high and we realised quickly that waiting for 2017, 2018 wasn’t going to be sufficient for the fans. They wanted something more immediate, but I was already planning to shoot Fast and Furious 7. How was I ever going to deliver something for Marvel if I was already shooting? I just finished Fast and Furious 7 last week and, obviously, we know it took longer than we had anticipated, but the idea was “What can we do immediately?”

Last year at Comic Con I was in Hall H for Riddick…

Me too. I was right there.

Do you remember that I was doing the thing for Riddick. It’s going great, Drew… Drew Mc…

Drew McWeeny.

He was the orator. And there was that guy, that brother in an Iron Man outfit. He had been standing there for about ten minutes.

About twenty minutes I think.

Yes. And we were talking, talking, and he was standing there and Drew said “Let’s wrap this up and thank you all” and I said “He’s been standing there for twenty minutes just to ask a question.” And then he popped the Marvel question and that’s kind of when it all started.

There was electricity in that room at that moment.

There was electricity in that room. it was crazy. I felt it and you felt it. And they went “Whoah! Yeah! Give us something” and I had to give them something, but I didn’t have any answers.

It felt a little naughty what you did then, to be honest.

I couldn’t provide anything.

But there was a promise.

There was a promise and I always keep my promises.

I feel like there’s still a promise because you’ve done a voice now…

…I have done a voice…

…but I feel like we’re going to see you, in person, sooner or later.

Do you think like that’s outstanding a little bit? Based on Hall H, what would you say? You were there.

If they can have you twice, they want to have you twice.

Does Groot not satisfy my commitments? [Faux crying] I’ve got so much to do.

I think that, because you can get away with it, they’d want you to get away with it.

Marvel weren’t aware of that electricity, that frenzy you talked about. It’s so new.

The hairs went up on the back of 6000 necks and you can’t tell when you’re up on the stage but when you’re down in the room, you can feel it.

I felt like I had kind of satisfied the Marvel…

But there’s that outstanding comment, isn’t there, where you were talking about something off in the future.

I did. I did.

And I think people are hanging on that.

Because that was true. What you are talking about… I was forthcoming about that meeting and they weren’t used to that, as we know. I was forthcoming about that meeting. They weren’t used to that. And I wasn’t used to anyone trying to censor what I say to my very intimate Facebook page. Despite the numbers it’s always something special and intimate to me.

And it is, very clearly, a personal and since Facebook page. There’s no doubt at all that Diesel runs his own social media and does so sincerely and carefully.

It sounded today like Groot was the only deal that Diesel and Marvel were able to make. What it was they were talking about for Phase 3, and whether or not that thing ever comes round again will have to be a story he tells another time, and I hope that I can be there to hear it in person.

Guardians of the Galaxy is released in the UK next Thursday, July 31st. The US release is set for the day after, on August 1st.

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Werner Herzog is in Penguins of Madagascar; first clip reveals John Malkovich as an octopus Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:00:54 +0000 This clip was premiered at San Diego Comic Con yesterday to promote Dreamworks Animations’ upcoming Penguins of Madagascar feature. The film seems to be in surprisingly good shape, especially give that it was only recently pulled forward from a 2015 release date.

Another clip that screened at Comic Con showed off Werner Herzog‘s cameo appearance. He’s playing himself and gets to narrate the opening of the film in a sequence that riffs on his own Encounters at the End of the World. See the clip below to know what it is they’re riffing on.

If Dreamworks must stuff their films full of pop culture references, and they at least seem to believe they do, then I’m glad it’s this kind of thing they’re playing with.

Penguins of Madagascar will open across the US on November 26th and the UK on December 5th.

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Ten films to see this week – Friday July 25th 2014 Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:25:14 +0000 boyhood ellar coltrane

There are eleven new releases this week (thirteen if you count the re-releases of The Lady From Shanghai and Branded To Kill), and a whopping five of them have made it into our weekly list of the ten best films currently on release, according to me.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Believe, Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden, Mindscape, Who Is Dayani Crystal?, or Smartass, which is only playing at London’s Cine Lumiere and wasn’t screened for press. It’s likely that at least one or two of the above might have made it onto the list if I had caught them.

1) Boyhood. Is it too early to start speculating about Oscar glory for Richard Linklater‘s 12-years-in-the-making masterpiece? The editing alone is a thing of beauty: watch for the beautifully executed transitions between the different time periods.

2) Begin Again. Great songs, a positively luminous performance from Keira Knightley, some inspired New York location work and an infectiously feelgood spirit: these are just four reasons to see writer-director John Carney‘s delightful follow-up to Once. Hell, he even gets a non-irritating supporting performance out of James Corden.

finding vivian maier

3) Finding Vivian Maier. Part detective story, part portrait of an eccentric artist, Charlie Siskel‘s riveting documentary tells the fascinating story of photographer Vivian Maier, whose extraordinary images were only discovered after her death. Google her work now; you won’t regret it.

4) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “Apes. Together. STRONG.” That line is actually a pretty good review in itself. Also, how can you not love a film where apes ride horses and fire machine guns at the same time?

5) Joe. Nic Cage proves he can still knock it out of the park, acting-wise, delivering one of his best performances as Joe, a kind-hearted ex-con who becomes an unlikely role model to a 15 year-old boy (Tye Sheridan) with an abusive father. David Gordon Green directs.

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6) Grand Central. Writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski ratchets up the tension in this gripping French melodrama about an affair between two co-workers (Tahar Rahim and Lea Seydoux) at a nuclear power plant.

7) Earth to Echo. Essentially this is E.T. for the YouTube generation, a pacy, charming and nicely acted kids-find-a-lost-alien adventure, shot found footage-style.

8) Northwest. Tension-filled, downbeat Danish thriller about an ambitious teenage burglar (Gustav Dyekjær Giese) who gets in over his head when he leaves one criminal gang in order to work for some bigger players.

the purge anarchy

9) The Purge: Anarchy. Writer-director James DeMonaco‘s sequel to his 2013 hit takes a more straightforward approach to the material with entertaining results, as a group of five strangers are forced to rely on each other to survive the night when they’re trapped outdoors on the government’s annual Purge Night.

10) Hercules . If you can ignore the fact that Brett Ratner‘s swords-and-sandals action flick looks like it’s been roundly butchered to achieve a 12A rating, this is solidly entertaining fun, with a witty script, appealing characters, some exceptional objects-coming-out-of-the-screen 3D work and Dwayne Johnson on typically charming form as the titular hero.

Also out this week, though in no danger of making it onto the list is animated adventure The House of Magic, from nWave, the Belgian studio behind the likes of Fly Me To The Moon and A Turtle’s Tale. Like those films, this is a dismal effort that’s sorely lacking in both humour and plot, though the 3D effects are nicely handled. One for – very – undemanding small children only.

house of magic

Finally, don’t forget, it’s important to See Smaller Films First. There’s even a Twitter hashtag ready for you to spread the word: #SSFF.

If you’re planning on seeing Northwest, Who Is Dayani Crystal? or Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden, then make sure you see them this weekend. Smaller films need strong opening weekend support to survive, whereas the likes of Hercules will be around for several weeks yet. #SSFF

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The Edge of Utopia – It’s a good time to be a conspiracy theorist Fri, 25 Jul 2014 08:30:58 +0000 utopia eyeball

It’s a good time to be a conspiracy theorist, or – and it’s not quite the same thing –  a fan of conspiracy theory fiction. Not only is Channel 4’s mannered, but always interesting, Utopia in the midst of successful second run, but the all time heavyweight champion of the genre, Edge of Darkness, is being repeated on BBC 4.

The similarities between these two shows are fascinating, but it’s the differences that best describe the attractions of the genre. Still, we should start with the similarities, and you should be warned that we will assume some knowledge of the shows, or at least a fearlessness about mid-sized spoilers.

Both shows track a vast plan – a conspiracy, no less – that will affect everyone on the planet. In Edge of Darkness, it’s the illegal production of weapons grade plutonium at a secret facility under the Yorkshire Moors. In Utopia, the secret scheme involves the release of tailored viruses that will kill almost the entire population of the planet, supposedly in order to ensure the survival of the race.

The viruses are at the centre of every thread in Utopia. Each of the lead characters, from the ruthless, feral children of The Network to the increasingly panicked smartphone users and pub enthusiasts who are trying to unravel the truth, are affected by this plan, some of them on a visceral, cellular level. Utopia’s first season closed with Becky, whose life has been blighted by a disease that the Network created, going off by herself to die.

Meanwhile, Edge of Darkness opens with a woman dying of radiation poisoning looking for a quicker, more painless way out. Both stories tell us that death is a constant and the only agency you might claim over it is in choosing your own terms.

bob peck edge of darkness

The idea of family is also central to both series. In Edge of Darkness, it is Ronald Craven’s pathological need to find out the truth about his daughter’s death that leads him to the moors. The theme also opens the door to the show’s more overtly supernatural elements, and Craven’s conversations with his post-death daughter are one of the show’s most deliciously ambiguous elements.

Craven is clearly shown talking to Emma, but it’s ambiguous as to whether she’s actually there in any sense, and what it might mean if she is. There’s a sense of the Socratic dialogue to their scenes, but they’re also presented with a deliberately mundane edge that heightens the sense of the supernatural. Later episodes also imply, strongly, that Emma may be the mask of something indescribably larger and more complex that is using her likeness to control Craven.

In Utopia, family is a more complex affair. The reluctant, dysfunctional ‘found family’ of the leads is the clearest example of the dynamic, but it’s the curdled blood relations of The Network that really hit home hardest. The series is fascinated by the idea of broken childhoods and the different wounds that Jessica Hyde and Arby both suffer and are driven to inflict are amongst the show’s are suggested to chilling effect.

Family is under assault in Utopia, either hunted through the streets or dissected and weaponised for the good of the Network. Again there’s a similarity, with family being employed as a controlling tool of the larger conspiracy.

utopia characters

It could be argued that both conspiracies are, from a distance, altruistic. The family of humanity is being broken to be restored, whether by the planet itself in Edge of Darkness or the Network in Utopia. The conspirators certainly believe that it’s all for own good.

Finally, the two shows share the same sense of Schadenfreude that the best conspiracy thrillers will tend towards. Both gleefully fold in real world events: the miner’s strike, the troubles in Ireland and the cold war for Edge of Darkness; numerous disasters from the last few decades for Utopia. In both cases, the shows use those real world events to ground their fictional narratives and give the audience the thrill of recognition.

Conspiracy theories are intellectual junk food; fun, easy to digest and bad for you precisely because of that recognition. Utopia and Edge of Darkness play on the backbrain tickle that maybe, just maybe, this time the conspiracy is true.

Horror fans often enjoy a similar experience, knowing well the chill of seeing something awful enhanced by whatever verisimilitude the storytellers can muster, but offset with the relief that it’s not really being done to us. That’s a very difficult narrative balance to pull off and while both shows manage it, the differing routes demonstrate how much conspiracy fiction has changed over recent decades.

The major difference is in the protagonists themselves. Edge of Darkness‘ Ronald Craven and Darius Jedburgh are archetypal ‘80s fictional archetypes; Craven is a cop on the edge with a dark secret and Jedburgh is a flamboyantly over the top, brutally effective spy. Neither man is even a little normal and both open the door to the show’s biggest excesses.

edge of darknessThe image of Craven, soaked in rain and angst and holding his daughter’s teddy bear in one hand, her gun in the other, nails this. It was used as the cover art for the DVD of the show, and is both immensely fitting and completely over the top, combining 1980s cynicism with 1980s histrionics, and creating a few moments that maybe won’t be remembered for the best reasons today.

The Utopia cast couldn’t be more different. Arby, Jessica, Becky, Ian, Grant, Wilson Wilson and Dugdale cover multiple ages, ethnicities, classes and genders. They’re as much of this era’s fiction as Craven and Jedburgh were of theirs, though, and the very fact they’re so different speaks to the way these stories, and our perception of conspiracy theories, has changed.

Becky, Ian, Grant and Wilson in particular are all well-connected, tech savvy intelligent people who think they can control their lives, before being shown again and again that they can’t. The comforting distance of Edge of Darkness’ fictional archetypes is replaced by a Twitter list of characters who are all different, all flawed, all invested and all targets.

Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Jessica Hyde in Utopia

Even Jessica Hyde and Arby, both conditioned to survive in this world, show just how complex and unsafe it is. One is a barely socialized Sarah Conner-type, a soldier trained from birth who, ironically, may be the key to life rather than death. The other is a near-feral killer who is slowly beginning to develop his own conscience, values and needs.

Even those children of Utopia‘s conspiracy are denied the relative moral absolutes that Craven in particular clings to. Instead of Crave’s good and bad there’s the the Network and their sometime friends, all trapped on a planet in the process of genocide for the greater good.

The Utopia characters are also immediate and relatable in a way that Craven and Jedburgh could never have been. Make no mistake, Edge of Darkness is one of the greatest pieces of TV drama ever made but, decades after its first broadcast, its biggest weakness is clear: its two leads. Craven and Jedburgh are beautifully written and acted archetypes but in the end that’s all they are. In contrast, for all their deliberately untidy lives and, occasionally wooden, acting, the Utopia cast are remarkably multifaceted and realistic.

The strong female characters, multiple age groups and people of colour all reflect the UK that the show is produced for as much as the one it’s set in. We recognise the people, and that sells us the world and so we can’t help but buy in, just a little. And that’s something even the best conspiracy theory will need if it’s going to really thrill and excite and chill: just enough plausibility to make you wonder.

Utopia continues on Channel 4 on Tuesday nights. You can catch up from the beginning with 4OD. Edge of Darkness is available on DVD from the BBC.

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A new close-up of Ben Affleck as Batman Thu, 24 Jul 2014 21:00:26 +0000 ben affleck batman closeup

We’re suffering from serious server strain at Film Divider tonight and thought we’d really like to put it to the test. What could do that more than this new close-up image of Ben Affleck as Batman, courtesy of Warner Bros. and their Batman 75 promotion?

Surely Warner Bros. will reveal something below the neck by the end of Comic Con.

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New images and a poster from The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:52:21 +0000 battle of five armies hobbit poster defining chapter

Ahead of Warner Bros. presenting their third and final Hobbit movie in San Diego, which will ideally lead to the release of a teaser trailer for the world at large, the marketing has kicked off in earnest with the above poster.

That’s an interesting strapline. Isn’t the final chapter always the defining chapter, by virtue of it having the last word? Discuss.

The below images come from the Entertainment Weekly Comic Con special issue where there’s a little feature on the film.

hobbit 5 1 hobbit 5 2


Peter Jackson will himself be in San Diego to present footage from the film. He’s getting very near the end of his time in Middle Earth now, and besides Doctor Who, there’s not much of an indication of what he’ll do next.

I’ll bet on Mortal Engines over Temeraire. Maybe he’ll finally get that Dam Busters movie done too, with or without Christian Rivers.

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Full trailer for 50 Shades of Grey Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:29:29 +0000 The talented Kelly Marcel was amongst the screenwriters for 50 Shades of Grey and for that, and pretty much that alone, I’m keen to see the film.

There is also something pleasingly cold and austere about this trailer, even if Jamie Dornan doesn’t seem anything like ‘dom’ enough as Christian Grey.

Fifty Shades of Grey will be released for Valentine’s Day next year, which is either a joke or just weird. I still think Mary Harron was the right woman for the job.

Here are a series of official stills from the film. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey seems to have done a good job at least.

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First image of the new, big screen CG versions of the classic Spongebob characters Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:47:24 +0000 In his new movie, Sponge Out of Water, Spongebob Squarepants will always sound the same as usual, with Tom Kenny still on board to provide his voice. For many scenes, he’ll also still be rendered in the same, hand-drawn 2D animated style.

And then, when the title becomes relevant, and Spongebob comes out of the ocean and onto the land, he’s going to evolve into a new, CG incarnation. This image, from USA Today, shows Patrick, Spongebob, Squidward and Mr. Krabs in their redesigned style.

spongebob cg

Okay, one of their redesigned styles, because Spongebob isn’t going to be superbuff and pumped up throughout, just for this superhero sequence. Their aliases here are apparently Mr. Superawesomeness, The Invincibubble, Sour Note and Sir Pinch-A-Lot respectively.

According to the movie’s creative director Vincent Waller, the trailer is going to play at San Diego Comic Con today. This should reveal more of the live-action component, including Antonio Banderas as the piratical villain, and give us a look at the 2D material too. There’s some chance Paramount will post it online afterwards, and if they do, I’ll be sure to pass it on.

Spongebob Squarepants: A Sponge Out of Water opens in the US and UK next February.

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When Marvel movies start to look alike: Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord and Ant-Man Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:19:24 +0000 If you come back later you’ll be able to read our full review of Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the most visually imaginative films in the Marvel Studios oeuvre.

Meanwhile, Comic Con is underway and a new poster for Ant-Man has arrived, and reminds us that, actually, there’s more visual similarity in the Marvel universe than might be ideal.

Here’s the new Ant-Man art poster, and below that, an old concept art rendering of Star Lord. It’s actually pretty accurate to the finished, on screen look.

ant man art poster

guardians concept art

The most unfortunate thing here, perhaps, is that these were acts of parallel invention. Edgar Wright and team created this Ant-Man look, as evinced by the demo footage screened at Comic Con last year; meanwhile, James Gunn and his team would have been creating the Star Lord look independently, and very possibly at more or less the same time.

How did they end up being so similar? Because, I’d think, both parties were trying to create comparable end effects within parameters that are, ultimately, more limiting than they might at first seem. And also, very possibly because nobody was there monitoring the whole, cross-movie aesthetic with an eye to avoiding these overlaps.

Guardians‘ more outre visuals do push the envelope for Marvel, with smaller roles and set-pieces proving far more surprising than the main character was ever likely to. Hopefully it will be a roaring success and encourage more visual diversity and a broader range of aesthetic approaches in the Marvel movies. Lord knows there’s enough of these films coming that, if somebody doesn’t get them off track a little, they’re bound to start looking really boring at some point along the line.

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Peter Jackson is “probably” going to direct an episode of Doctor Who Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:36:18 +0000 sir peter jackson

Sir Peter Jackson may well be a card carrying fan of Doctor Who but when he first admitted publicly that he wanted to direct an episode, many commentators considered it just too good to be true. Still, both Jackson and Who showrunner Steven Moffat have been asked about this possibility again and again, and every time, they do seem to be taking it seriously.

And now, Moffat has made it clear that it’s really more a case of “when” not “if.” Speaking to SFX magazine, The Moff has said,

I’ve spoken to him face to face, and he would like to do one. He accepts that there’s no money and that there’s no time, and it would have to be when he’s available…  I think it will probably happen at some point. I mean, he can do what the hell he likes.

With The Hobbit series finally wrapping up in the next few months, it would seem that Jackson is about to get “a little” more free time on his hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t end up shooting one of next year’s episodes, something for season nine, before embarking on whatever other epic, multi-movie undertaking he’ll use to keep New Zealand’s film industry prosperous and vibrant.

Anybody who knows Jackson’s earlier work will be well aware of what he can accomplish on a very limited budget. Indeed, the BBC now have way more advanced tools to play with on Doctor Who than anything Jackson had all the way up to Heavenly Creatures.

He’s also a very astute storyteller, and can create just the right sense of dynamism and adventure for something like this. Jackson’s energy seemed to be a great match for Matt Smith‘s Doctor, and hopefully the same will apply with Peter Capaldi.

This year’s run of Who kicks off on August 23rd with an extended episode directed by Ben Wheatley. If Wheatley is not the first established feature film director to take control of an episode then I don’t know who is. Perhaps the show’s cool enough now that we might see more of this.

Here’s a new, short trailer for the new series, as published today by the BBC.

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First banner reveals Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:29:54 +0000 The title character in Chappie is a robot abducted and reprogrammed by gangsters in the South Africa of the near future. He’s being played by Sharlto Copley, not just as a voice over nor, as we understand it, through motion capture. Instead, director Neill Blomkamp shot him on set pretty much normally and then had him “painted over” by the CG artists and animators. The film is based on Blomkamp’s short Tetra Vaal, which you can watch at the bottom of this post. If you compare that film to these images from the San Diego Conference Centre, taken by Collider as preparation for Comic Con is underway, you’ll see that Chappie’s design has evolved a fair bit. chappie 1 chappie 2 chappie 3 That’s what happens when you try to take a photo towards a California window on a cellphone or tablet. You know, if somebody tried to tell me that Chappie was to be set in the same world as Elysium, I’d believe it. The design philosophy of the robots is certainly close enough. elysium robot   Chappie is set for release in the US on march 6th next year. We’ll hopefully learn a lot more about the film as Comic Con actually starts and there’s more to see than a convention centre lobby. Here’s Tetra Vaal.

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Film Divider is still new, but we’re working hard to do this right Tue, 22 Jul 2014 21:44:16 +0000 dawn of the planet of the apes

Film Divider has no budget. On its best day, the site has generated advertising income of around £4. We can’t afford a huge staff, and because we pay something for all of the contributions we run, the amount of content is limited by how much money we’ve got in our back pockets. This site loses money every single day.

But we believe in Film Divider and in our mission statement. We’re going to keep growing, and covering a wider variety of films through a broader spread of approaches. We see only a bright future ahead.

We’ve managed to net a few big scoops so far and I hope you’ve had a chance to see them. Not all of those stories have gained much traction with our colleagues at other sites. They’re still quite sceptical about us, I guess. They don’t know whether or not they can believe what we report. They actually can, for sure. They just don’t know it yet.

But we don’t want you to worry about that. We want you to trust what we tell you. Here’s a reminder of our more scoop-like exclusives so far.

beauty and the beast

Way back on April 10th we Tweeted,

Expect Breaking Dawn and Gods and Monsters’ Bill Condon to direct Disney’s live action take on Beauty and the Beast.

Variety later claimed an exclusive on June 4th with the headline:

Bill Condon to Direct Live-Action Beauty and the Beast Film for Disney

Something similar happened when we reported on Flash Gordon. On April 14th we ran the story,

Flash Gordon’s alive! Alex Raymond’s pulp hero getting ready to rise again

and revealed that JD Payne and Patrick McKay were working on plans for a new, big screen outing for the pulp hero.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up on April 22nd with

Flash Gordon Movie in the Works at Fox (Exclusive)

On June 16th we reported that Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater Kinney and Portlandia, was taking a new run at the script for Sam Mendes’ Lost in Austen. The very same day, we filled in some details of Dreamworks Animation’s Trolls movie, and how it was rooted in the work of Terry Pratchett. This was all built on exclusive information from our most excellent and trustworthy sources.

The next day, we revealed plot details of Dario Argento‘s secretive new movie The Sandman. We touched on plans for two new Expendables spin-offs on June 23rd, revealing that Sylvester Stallone would be taking only a supporting role in each.

tina fey

On July 2nd, we clarified exactly what Tina Fey‘s new supernatural comedy will be. Lots of people were reporting “its not Hocus Pocus” but we had something more affirmative to add.

In just this last week we’ve revealed some new plot and character details for the upcoming second season of True Detective and broken into the Bad Robot mystery box to share casting and story details on Jonah Nolan‘s new Westworld. We’ve also uncovered some of Marvel’s plans for Agent Carter.

It’s been a very good week.

We’re lucky to have such good sources, we know that, and we’re very grateful to them for their favour. But we do also work hard to cross-check this information, and to deliver it to you. Please trust us when we tell you that these stories are based on solid, well-sourced information that we’ve vetted as scrupulously as our position in the industry allows. We wouldn’t run these stories if we didn’t actually believe in them ourselves.

Film Divider is young and we’re still just getting going. We’re always looking for new friends to help us do what we do so if you have a tip you’d like to send us, please do get in touch.

And if you’re even reading this in the first place, then it seems you’re already one of our supporters. That means you’re the reason we do this. Thank you.

Please stay tuned to our Twitter feed and Facebook page. Every time somebody follows or likes us, shares, retweets or comments on one of our stories, it provides another burst of encouragement, more fuel in the tank to keep working at this.

Now, please, why not go to the front page and have a look around, see what else you can find? There’s a lot here, and not just scoop reporting. And if there’s something missing, something you’d like to see us do that we’re not, then let us know about that too.

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Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Key and Peele showrunners planning Manimal movie Tue, 22 Jul 2014 20:27:46 +0000 manimal

The premise of 1980s TV series Manimal is right there in the title: Doctor Jonathan Chase is a man, and he has learned an “ancient African technique” that allows him to transform into any animal he wishes. This mainly meant a hawk and a black panther, presumably because the TV producers had those on retainer, but sometimes a horse, a dolphin, or a snake.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the show didn’t last an entire series. Of course, this only primed it for some sort of supposedly ironic cult status, fostered more by YouTube clips and nostalgia than anybody actually watching the thing in full, and in turn, this has led to enough awareness to encourage a big screen remake.

According to Deadline Will Ferrell and Adam McKay will produce the film while Key and Peele showrunners Jay Martel and Ian Roberts are writing the screenplay. A better indicator of success might be word on the director and cast.

Whenever one of Manimal’s transformations was featured on screen it was created by Stan Winston and his workshop. The new film,which is being produced as a live action and CG hybrid for Sony Animation, will no doubt use computer techniques.

Here’s a transformation into a black panther from the pilot episode. If the new movie can’t improve on at least the editing then we should all pack up, close the multiplexes and have a few weeks off to regroup and think about how mainstream cinema is going.

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Edgar Wright revving up crime musical Baby Driver Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:58:03 +0000 radar edgar wrightNow that six years of work on Ant Man are fading away behind him in the most unfortunate fashion, Edgar Wright is returning to another long-held passion project. According to Deadline, his self-initiated action thriller Baby Driver is now on the fast track with Working Title and Big Talk. “Fast track” could probably count as a pun.

Their description of the film is quite abstract, calling it,

a collision of crime, action, music and sound.

I was told, some years ago now, that the film is a musical, though “not a traditional musical.” The info all sits together pretty well.

No more details have come to light in the meantime, though if the film is about to start gearing up again, we’re bound to hear more soon.

There are two pop songs called Baby Driver, incidentally. Here’s both, though I’m not saying you should expect the film to have anything to do with the Kiss one.

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Tremors remake plans still coming along with Don Michael Paul Tue, 22 Jul 2014 18:39:24 +0000 tremors tongue

More through circumstance than design, I’ve yet to see any of the films of Don Michael Paul. Ten minutes ago, I knew almost nothing about him. For all I know, Don isn’t his name but some kind of title.

Judging from a quick look at IMDB, his work has been for TV and direct to video productions, and often for sequels. Next up will be the improbable Jarhead 2, subtitled Field of Fire and he’s currently at work on a sequel to his own Company of Heroes. After that, he says, he’ll be moving on to a reboot of Tremors.

This update was posted to his blog:

After I finish up Company Of Heroes: The Fourth Reich I will be headed to Johannesburg, South Africa to reboot the Tremors franchise for Universal. Big year ahead and I’m excited to keep it going with the support of all you genre movie lovers out there.

A couple of sites have today claimed to have found that on Paul’s blog. JoBlo posted first, so let’s give them the credit.

I can imagine there will be some scepticism about a Tremors reboot, more so when it appears to be a low-budget, low-profile and probably direct to video movie. Of course, the first film wouldn’t have seemed like a shoo-in when it first went into production.

If I were producing a low-budget Tremors reboot I’d go straight to Jack Perez. I’m not, of coure, and as I admitted, I don’t know anything about this Don Michael Paul fellow. Let’s try to keep open minds and let B-movies be B-movies.

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Taylor Lautner is Andy Samberg’s son in new trailer for BBC comedy Cuckoo Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:45:05 +0000 When the BBC first announced a second series of Cuckoo it was expected that Andy Samberg would return; the show is, after all, named after his character. Before long it became clear that he wouldn’t be back, and shortly after this it was revealed that Taylor Lautner would be taking his place. Eyebrows were raised.

Now the series is in the bag and the first trailer has been published and reveals the plot justification for the swap.

Still cuckoo by nature if not by name.

While that trailer seemed to rule out any return by Samberg in the future, I wouldn’t be entirely sure. This is either the kind of show that casts a 22 year old as the son of a 35 year old, in which case they don’t give a damn, or the kind of show that lies about characters and their relationships.

The new season will start on BBC Three at 10pm on August 7th.

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New series of Fargo to be Sioux Falls preview set in 1979 Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:01:07 +0000 fargo tapestry

At risk of spoiling a surprise for those who didn’t catch Noah Hawley‘s television version of Fargo the first time around, the show was eventually revealed to be a direct sequel to the original Coen Bros. movie. Now that FX have commissioned a second year’s worth of episodes, the plan is to go ahead and make a prequel to that sequel.

Indeed, the idea is to set season two in 1979, long before the events of either season one or the film. It’s possible that the new story may serve as a prequel to the film, in some loose fashion, but it’s definitely going to be tied to the first run of the TV series. There was a lot of groundwork already laid out in those ten episodes.

If you did see the show, you likely wouldn’t have missed the recurring references to Sioux Falls. Something happened there, at some time in the past, and it involved Molly’s father, Lou Solverson, and Gus’s old boss, Lt. Ben Schmidt of Duluth.

Hawley spoke to the press yesterday at the TCA Fall preview and fleshed out FX’s announcement of a Fargo series two.

It will take place in 1979 and take place around Luverne, Minnesota and Fargo and Sioux Falls.

All we really know about Sioux Falls is that Solverson and Schmidt were there and a lot of people died. We’re now promised that the new series will introduce Solverson’s wife, who is Molly’s mother, and then her father, Lou’s father-in-law, who is a Minnesota State Sheriff.

Hawley also noted that several more Coen Bros. movies would be referenced in the second series, just as many were echoed in the first. As well as Fargo, which is obvious enough, there will apparently be trace scents of Miller’s Crossing and The Man Who Wasn’t There. And the new stories won’t be stuck in Winter, moving out of the snowy weather and into the thaw of Spring, which should have some effect on the tone.

Production on Fargo‘s second season is set for the new year and it will likely start screening late in 2015. It has a lot to live up to.

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Alternative trailer for The Interview introduces Diana Bang as Sook Mon, 21 Jul 2014 23:06:25 +0000 Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s next comedy picture, The Interview, has unsurprisingly hit something of a nerve with the North Korean administration. It’s based upon the hopefully absurd premise of the CIA recruiting a TV host, here played by James Franco, to assassinate Kim Jong-Un.

Surprising almost nobody, the North Korean government rushed out a statement decrying the film – which they haven’t seen, of course – as an act of war, and threatening some sort of vague retribution.

This decision was probably made by some kind of propaganda minister on Lil’ Kim’s behalf, the kind of figure who is going to play an important role for a government so invested in smoke and mirrors.

There’s a character with this role in the picture. She was hardly glimpsed in the original, US teaser for the film but this Brazilian edit even gives her dialogue. This is Sook, as played by Diana Bang.

We were actually expecting to see Jamie Chung in this role. She was certainly in line to have a role at some point. Still, we’re not displeased to see Bang at all.

The Interview will be released in the US on October 10th, the UK on October 29th, and North Korea on April 1st 2015.

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Excellent poster for new Pixar TV special, The Toy Story That Time Forgot Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:30:43 +0000 toy story that time forgot poster mike mignola

The second Toy Story TV special after last Halloween’s witty, polished and adventurous Toy Story of Terror is the dinosaur-themed Toy Story That Time Forgot. The above poster was premiered by TV Line. It was designed by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.

Comic Con audiences will get the first look at the show in motion next week, far in advance of its premiere on ABC this December.

The show’s premise is seasonal, with Woody, Buzz, Jessie and co. caught in risky misadventure with some delusional dino-design action figures in the days after Christmas. Kevin McKidd is playing one of these new characters, Reptilius Maximus.

Sam and Max creator and Brave co-director Steve Purcell is directing this new special and will be on the Comic Con panel next week. We’ll hopefully learn a lot more information then.

We understand that a third Toy Story TV special is planned though it could be some time until we learn what it will be about.

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Two trailers for Alan Turing pic The Imitation Game, opening film of the 2014 London Film Festival Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:13:40 +0000 Morten Tyldum‘s The Imitation Game is a biopic of Alan Turing with a Black Listed script by Graham Moore and a very Awards-friendly cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, Keira Knightley and Mark Strong.  Matthew Goode and Allen Leach should add value too.

Factor in that this is a film made in Britain about a British story, and it’s no surprise that the film has already been booked to open the London Film Festival this November.

London’s fest has garnered something of a “Best of” reputation for its typically strong program of second-hand festival fare. They score relatively few global premieres, but some films seem like the perfect fit, and this is definitely one of them.

Here’s the UK trailer followed by the substantially different US one.

The Imitation Game will premiere at the London Film Festival on October 8th, both in London and through several satellite screenings across the UK. It will then open wide on November 14th. The US release is set for November 21st, the better to contend in the Academy Awards.

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First trailer for Spierig Bros.’ time travel thriller Predestination Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:44:22 +0000 Michael and Peter Spierig have only completed two more feature films since their debut in 2003 and I, for one, find that rather disappointing.

Their debut picture, Undead, was a wittily made, ambitious but low-budget zombie picture; they upped the scale a little with vampire thriller Daybreakers, and showed an excellent flair for world-building; and now they’re reuniting with that film’s star, Ethan Hawke, for what seems to be a similarly snazzy genre piece.

Predestination is a time travel film with a couple of its own, fresh-feeling hooks and some retro-cool styling. It’s also good to see co-stars Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor.

Thanks to Pinnacle Films for the heads up on that trailer.

The Spierigs obviously love genre, and that love is infectious. They create their cinematic universes with some flair and a good sense of fun. It’s a shame their planned sequel to The Dark Crystal never got off the ground. It’s not exactly in step with their less family-friendly output but would have put their skillset to good use.

Predestination opens in Australia on August 28th. I hope it rolls out around the rest of the world soon enough – I’d like to see this on the big screen first of all, not just an import Blu-ray.

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An official look at a Star Wars: Episode VII X-Wing Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:04:15 +0000 J.J. Abrams has made another of his Force For Change promotional videos and, knowing how well the surprise alien cameo worked the last time, repeated the trick with what seems to be one of the Star Wars: Episode VII X-Wing fighters.

A shrewd way of hyping this charitable cause. I feel obliged to share, really.

As pointed out previously, that’s a redesign of the X-Wing from how we last saw it, and the new look seems more faithful to some of the original trilogy concept art. Everything old is new again.

ralph mcquarrie x wing

Officially, it’s an X-Wing and not a Z-95, whatever that is. I know because the official Star Wars tweeters themselves said so.

Star Wars: Episode VII will open worldwide on December 18th 2015. I’m 99% sure that Star Wars Episode VIII will open on Friday May 4th, 2018. Anybody prepared to place a bet with me?

You can make donations to Force For Change at the Omaze website.

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An extended clip from Guardians of the Galaxy’s prison scene Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:46:44 +0000 Marvel have been previewing a 16-minute sequence from Guardians of the Galaxy in IMAX cinemas around the world. They’ve now taken around four minutes of that same material and released it to the web in the wider 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the film’s ‘normal’ presentation.

These scenes take the Guardians from Nova custody to imprisonment at The Kyln. They won’t be staying there long, though, as Rocket has an escape plan.

It’s maybe a shame that the clip ends there because things were just about to kick off in a big way. On the other hand, perhaps it’s best that audiences get their first chance to see the big action on the big screen.

I chatted with James Gunn about the action in the film when I visited the set last year. He was certainly interesting and encouraging, and I was relieved to see he’d lived up to his claims when the action was finally all shot and cut together.

Guardians of the Galaxy will be released next week, reaching UK cinemas on Thursday 31st and US screens one day later on August 1st. I’ll leave you with two shorter clips.

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Dwayne Johnson leaves absolutely no doubt that he’ll star in a Shazam movie Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:20:27 +0000 dwayne johnson shazam

Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment will this week use San Diego Comic Con to announce a movie version of their comic book series Shazam, and it’s going to star the beefcake formerly known as The Rock. This is all made abundantly clear by the following video of Dwayne Johnson speaking to Josh Winning.

It’s Johnson’s final comment, “Just say the word” which absolutely seals it. There’s no doubt remaining that he’s alluding to the character of Shazam, formerly Captain Marvel, and the super-powered alias of an otherwise normal young boy, Billy Batson. Whenever Batson says the word Shazam, he transforms into… well, into The Rock, it seems.

It would be most amusing if the filmmakers CG-dehance Johnson into the weakling Batson rather than cast another actor. It would be like the scenes of a skinny Captain America but even less so.

For years the plan was to have Get Smart and Grudge Match‘s Peter Segal direct this picture. Perhaps we’ll also find out this week if he’s still involved.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on Comic Con for you and bringing updates as fast as possible. Stay tuned to our Twitter feed for breaking news the second it happens.

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Too Late Blues Blu-ray Review Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:50:22 +0000 12236809793_7b6023e530_oThere’s a moment towards the end of John Cassavetes’ superb 1962 jazz picture Too Late Blues in which Benny Flowers (Everett Chambers) verbally destroys Ghost (Bobby Darin), the tragic hero of the film. Flowers lays out the way in which Ghost, a talented jazz pianist, has sold out and you can see Ghost slowly fall apart, decimated by the idea that he has wasted his shot at something that matters in life.

This scene comes with the definite sense that Cassavetes and co-writer Richard Carr had something to say and weren’t holding back. Flowers’ words are powerful enough to knock you back in your seat; what he’s saying is true and important, and Cassavetes and Carr know it all too well.

Too Late Blues was Cassavetes’ first studio picture and only his second feature film as director, following his thrilling debut with 1959′s Shadows. There’s no coincidence that an attack on the idea of selling out and ‘betraying your indie roots’ comes in the midst of Cassavetes’ first studio picture. It’s surely not an accident that Ghost’s actual name is John, either.

But Too Late Blues is far from Cassavetes selling out then chastising himself for it. It’s an honest attempt to make the kind of film he wanted to, but all within the constraints of a studio. Whilst he might not have been successful in every respect, Cassevetes did manage to make a wonderful picture.

Over the twenty-five years that followed Too Late Blues and his second studio film, the next year’s A Child is Waiting, Cassavetes forged an extraordinary career in which his name became synonymous with American independent filmmaking. Many of his films are rightly regarded as masterpieces and when, a few years ago I was asked for a top ten list of films, I gave his 1974 picture A Woman Under the Influence a prime spot. And I still would.


You can see the roots of films like A Woman Under the Influence or Minnie and Moskowitz in Too Late Blues. There are even hints of the characters to come, with Jess Polanski (Stella Stevens) proving to be something of a proto-Mabel or Minnie.

We are first introduced to Jess as she struggles to keep a grip on herself. Later on, she has a short period in which things appear to go a little better for her, but there is tragic shapre to her story, all foreshadowed in the first scene. Jess always feels a little on the edge, a delicate branch swaying in the wind, creaking and always threatening to snap. The blustery wind is provided by the men in her life.

Jess is easily as fascinating as Ghost, if not more so, and the complexity in her behaviour and motivation is a large part of what makes the film so compelling. There’s a delicate power to her character that really comes over clearly. Elegant, simple lines that are as stripped down as, “I’m just me, Ghost” can carry a great deal of weight and significance thanks to the intelligent, multidimensional writing. There’s a truth to what we’re seeing and a sincerity in the emotion that renders it deeply affecting.


Cassavetes always seemed to be striving for truth in cinema and while he appears to have attacked Too Late Blues with more technical rigour than his début feature there is still a sense that he wants to keep things ‘real’ and loose. Characters often talk over each other and dialogue weaves around in much the same way as the characters do, and the blocking of the actors and camera often appears to be an afterthought.

Cassavetes’ filmmaking has often been compared to jazz, and that seems especially appropriate here given the subject. But this film is not like a lengthy live recording of Coleman freely improvising but more like a crafted, melancholy and beautiful Mingus album cut. This is Cassavetes’ filmmaking at its most controlled.


This latest Blu-ray of Too Late Blues from Masters of Cinema features an excellent transfer of the film, from a print which seems to have survived in very good condition. There are visible signs of damage in the source but they are very minor and certainly not a distraction.

While there may be no brilliant whites or deep blacks to this image, the picture has a wide gradient of greys. There is also a thin and consistent layer of grain present throughout.

The audio track, which features some wonderful music from David Raskin, is mono and surprisingly crisp, and the dialogue is always clearly understandable.

Extras are a little light, with the disc offering only a video discussion with critic David Cairns. This is a good addition to the feature, however, and there is also an excellent booklet, including writing on the film and a particularly terse interview with Stella Stevens. This is a fine release of a wonderful early Cassavetes flick.

Too Late Blues is out now.

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More found footage dinosaurs in this trailer for The Expedition Sun, 20 Jul 2014 20:28:27 +0000 Dinosaurs might not match the ‘found footage’ style quite as perfectly as Bigfoot, suburban hauntings or presidential assassination stories but it’s an obviously appealing notion, at least in a B-movie way.

A UK picture called The Dinosaur Project came and went in 2012, though to its credit, the CG dinosaurs were surprisingly efficient. Now there’s Adam SpinksThe Expedition, and the formula seems to be much the same.

There might be some scares in Jurassic World but the drive for a PG-13 rating should keep things relatively family friendly. The Dinosaur Project took the tropes of found footage horror and made them more kid-appropriate; there’s an obvious gap in the market for a film that goes in the opposite direction, and makes dinosaurs more ferocious and scary. If that happens to be The Expedition, we could have a little cult article on our hands.

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Rumoured plot details for Star Wars: Episode VII introduce an unexpected MacGuffin Sun, 20 Jul 2014 18:25:38 +0000 luke skywalker hand cut off bespin

I’ve been teased with a few tiny scraps of information over the last few months, fragments of what seem to be the plot of Star Wars: Episode VII. Try as I might, I’ve not been able to pull them all together into anything coherent, and definitely not any kind of cause-and-effect chain that you’d call a story.

They were, I thought, completely useless snippets of gossip, things I couldn’t even pass on. Today, though, they’ve taken on some kind of use as comparators, measures of a new and well fleshed-out story line that’s said to reveal just what the new Star Wars movie is all about. And, for whatever reason – very probably that the actual, real storyline is slowly leaking – everything seems to add up just fine.

Devin Faraci of Badass Digest has cited multiple sources and spoken with real confidence in relating the broad sweeps of Episode VII‘s plot. His description starts with the first shot’s big surprise, and continues the potential spoilers throughout.

Imagine the standard Star Wars crawl, and when it ends the camera pans up to the stars. But instead of a spaceship zooming into frame we see… a hand! A severed hand, tumbling through space. A severed hand gripping a light saber. That hand falls onto a desert planet, where it is discovered by characters who will be our heroes.

This is Luke Skywalker’s hand, presumably as severed in his duel with Vader in the belly of Bespin at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Let’s not question the likelihood of this hand making it through a planet’s atmosphere intact and remember that Star Wars was always more fantasy than sci-fi, and at its best when it didn’t even try to engage with scientific thinking.

And, actually, this story has always hinged on some very un-scientific thinking. So did the hand just tumble randomly, or is there some magical design to its trajectory? Faraci notes:

Instead of R2 coming to Tatooine it’s a hand falling from the sky, but the basic sweep of the story is similar, and intentionally so.

This perhaps implies, gently, that the hand is a message from Luke, or perhaps just from The Force itself, demonstrating not just ‘the guiding hand of fate’ as the fates guiding a hand.

john boyega daisy ridley

The two characters who find the hand and lightsaber are said to be those played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. What I’ve heard about Ridley’s role would make it something of a coincidence for her to make this find, and that would support the “guided hand” reading. The Force is magic, and this film is going to ask you to accept that in numerous ways; I don’t know why this wouldn’t be one of them.

As part of their mission to return the lightsaber, this Jedi relic, to where it belongs, the two characters will apparently make their way – not coincidentally – to Han Solo and Chewbacca who, for now at least, are piloting something other than the Millennium Falcon. They recognise the ‘saber as belonging to Luke, and so the next stage of the chase is on.

While Luke and Han are obviously totally instrumental to these events, there’s no mention of Leia anywhere in the broad strokes of story that were laid out today. Perhaps she’s been denied anything genuinely important to do, which wouldn’t be too surprising, or perhaps her role would be too much of a spoiler to reveal for now. Sadly, I suspect it’s the former.

the glove of darth vaderAs for what the villains are up to, the report says that there’s a weapon being built on an ice planet. This one has destructive capabilities that will wipe out not just planets but entire solar systems. Do note that the story simply refers to these villains as “nefarious forces” and not “remnants of the Empire,” or indeed anybody else. While Faraci doesn’t say so, I believe that there are recognisable Stormtroopers on this ice planet and that a good number of them are going to factor into a climactic battle scene.

The overall shape of this story does seem to echo Episode IV pretty closely, and there’s a little of Episode VI too. Of course, the climax of Episode VI already reflected Episode IV fairly well to begin with.

There’s a slim chance that something concrete will be announced at Comic Con this week, though I’m not personally expecting it. I’d think that the first official reveal of what Episode VII will entail, whether that’s through a title, a synopsis or a teaser trailer of some kind, is likely to be many months away.

Still, the leaks seem to be picking up pace. Can a film with this much intense geek attention focused upon it really go unspoiled all the way to release? Are today’s reveals just the thin end of the wedge?

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JJ Abrams and Jonah Nolan invite Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood and more to Westworld Sat, 19 Jul 2014 14:59:30 +0000 westworld poster

Watching Michael Crichton’s Westworld now, it’s hard to believe that it’s quite as old as it is. The hit 1973 film about an Western-themed amusement park populated by robots who overcome their programming and attack the guests got a sequel, Futureworld, in 1976, and Michael Crichton himself was behind a TV spinoff, Beyond Westworld in1980, but that only ran for five episodes, and the potential has laid dormant since.

It’s surprising that a cult property with such a fun, modern concept has been absent from popular culture for nearly 35 years, even while there have been some attempts to get a film reboot off the ground and almost everything else has been remade already. JJ Abrams and Jonah Nolan evidently share that view and last August it was announced that the pair, through Abrams’ Bad Robot and Warner Bros. TV, had started work on developing a reinvention of Crichton’s film for HBO.

westworld control

Nolan and his wife Lisa Joy have co-written the pilot script, Nolan will himself direct, and JJ is executive producing along Bryan Burk and Jerry Weintraub. They’ve described their version as “a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin,” but we knew all of that already, and just hoped they didn’t mean this would feel like a prequel to Almost Human.

We’ve been doing some digging into the new show and have uncovered the specific approach to that Nolan and Joy are taking. It actually sounds very interesting indeed, taking the very loose concept of the film and running off in a brave new direction.

The story will still take place in a Western themed amusement park populated by robots and guests, but whereas Crichton’s film had guests played by James Brolin and Richard Benjamin as its lead characters, the TV version would focus more on the park’s robot attractions. But of course, they wouldn’t be aware that they’re robots.

The concept makes me think of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse - and, while Whedon is in mind, the sci-fi-Western tropes also feel a little bit Firefly – but with the greatest of respect to Eliza Dushku, Westworld is gunning for actors who have a little more dramatic range.

The new take also calls to mind the recent films in the Planet of the Apes series, with the humans portrayed as less sympathetic than the ‘others.’ It probably bodes well for Westworld that there are so many interesting touchstones of modern pop culture that come to mind. It’s the right story for now.

Bad Robot are talking to some pretty big names about this project. In fact, one’s of them has an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a handful of BAFTAs sitting on his mantelpiece at home, so let’s lead with him.

anthony hopkins

We’ve learned that Sir Anthony Hopkins has been offered the role of Dr. Ford, the man who runs this new version of Westworld. If he chooses to take the role, Hopkins will be playing a character who sounds part Dr. Moreau, part Blade Runner’s Dr. Tyrell, and just a little bit like Jurassic Park’s John Hammond. And hey, let’s throw in Ed Harris’ Christof from The Truman Show for good measure and, not for the first time in Hopkins’ career, Alfred Hitchcock too.

Dr. Ford is the uncompromising creator of the park and conductor of the creations inside it, and he views the robots as utterly inhuman, little more than livestock. In the wider context of the show, he’s looking like a complex kind of ‘big bad’.

I never said all actors are cattle; what I said was all actors should be treated like cattle – Alfred Hitchcock.

But before we get too carried away with one of the greatest actors of his generation taking a recurring role on a TV show, I should say that, while this does sound like a meaty role and a big expansion of the part played by Alan Oppenheimer in the film, Dr. Ford is certainly not the show’s main character. A pair of robots from the park seem to be the two principle leads, and those roles have been offered to James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood.

evan rachel wood

Wood, who has history with HBO after an arc on True Blood, would play a character named Dolores Abernathy, while Marsden has been offered the excellently named role of Teddy Flood. They’d be our heroes and our way into Westworld, at least in the early episodes. Just by virtue of one of these characters being female you can tell how much of a departure this is from the original film.

Dolores is created to be a sassy farm girl; the beautiful girl next door type who has no idea that the life she’s living is a lie. She’s essentially a slave to the guests of the park but has no idea – although this probably won’t remain the case over the course of the series, should there be a full series order.

Wood has shown that she’s more than capable in the likes of The Wrestler, The Ides Of March and another HBO project, Mildred Pierce, and I can see her being a good fit for this part.

james marsden

Flood, meanwhile, would be your classic Western hero. He’s all about adventure and romance; his two pursuits in life are the open plains and, as I’m sure you guessed, the lovely Dolores Abernathy. I’m excited about this particular piece of casting; Marsden has the kind of classic good looks, wit and acting chops to be all kinds of fun in a role like this.

There is an inherent tragedy to this romance. It sounds like Flood’s job is to be killed by the guests over and over again, and no matter how close he comes to winning Dolores’ heart, her programming means she’ll always end up with one of the guests instead. This is what brings Dollhouse to mind but thank goodness this is a project being developed by HBO, a place where Nolan and Joy could really explore the black heart of the concept. Is one of the show’s leads an unknowing sex slave? And another doomed to die, over and over, just for the gratification of others?

I should reiterate that these actors haven’t necessarily accepted the roles yet, but they’ve certainly been sought for them, and as far as I’m concerned they’re all excellent choices. Hopkins would be the big get, and hopefully he’ll look to the movie stars that HBO have attracted with other projects and see the merit of taking a part on TV.

We don’t know yet how Bad Robot are thinking of the rest of the cast, but there are many interesting roles to fill. The character that sounds the closest to Yul Brynner’s indelible creation in the original feature is called Harlan Bell; a ‘Most Wanted’ kind of gunslinger who is the resort’s villain by design. Interestingly he’s only bound to become more sympathetic when he discovers his true nature.

The more straightforward, ground level villain seems to be a wealthy guest going by the name of ‘The Man In Black.’ If JJ casts Titus Welliver here then Lost fans will lose their minds.

titus welliver

The Man in Black enjoys brutalising the robots hosts of the park and visits yearly to exorcise his demons in a truly sadistic manner. Of course, so did the heroes in the original Westworld, and we were asked to root for them. It’s going to be a lot harder to root with the guests when the robots are properly developed characters.

As the story goes on, The Man in Black will come into contact with a mysterious robot host that he’s never met before and, from here, start unravelling the secrets of Westworld. Is there a wider conspiracy with Hopkins’ Dr. Ford at the centre of it perhaps? Anyway, the casting of The Man in Black will be key. I wish I had some idea who they had in mind.

Many of the other regular roles will be robots in the park or staff who work in the programming division. There will be a good number of recurring roles around the characters we’ve described already.

It all sounds very promising so far, but of course it will come down to the execution. Nolan’s previous TV work was as creator of Bad Robot’s Person Of Interest, while Joy has worked on Burn Notice and Pushing Daisies. That’s all solid, big scale stuff, but our hopes for Westworld, based on the concepts we’ve shared and the rest of the information we’ve been made party to, are significantly higher. If they really get this right, it’s going to be essential.

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Marvel have announced their schedule through to May 2019 Sat, 19 Jul 2014 10:31:35 +0000 avengers costumesJust days ahead of San Diego Comic Con, Marvel Studios have marked out a series of new release dates for their ever-expanding cinematic universe. This is alongside their also-exploding TV and Netflix output. They’re certainly an industrious organisation.

Here’s the complete list of every release on their calendar so far. We’ll keep this to the US dates for clarity; other countries’ scheduling does tend to be similar.

August 1st 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

May 1st 2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron

July 17th 2015: Ant-Man

May 6th 2016: Captain America 3.

July 8th 2016: A previously announced empty slot. Doctor Strange seems to be the furthest along, with Scott Derickson officially announced to direct, so it might seem obvious that Marvel would position that film here.

May 5th 2017: A previously announced empty slot. It’s in May, so it might be the third Avengers. That would fit the pattern, but things are expanding. I’d expect that the pattern needs to change scale.

July 28th 2017: Unannounced, but I’m betting that Thor 3 takes either this date or the previous one.

November 3rd 2017: And this makes 2017 the first year with three dates on it. Or, perhaps, the previously announced July 2016 and May 2017 slots don’t still stand. They weren’t explicitly referenced in the new press release so there is some ambiguity here.

May 2018: Not on the schedule. But there is a reason I mention it. This is the one May that they’re leaving well alone, and yet it would be the perfect May for Star Wars: Episode VIII. Disney synergy at work? I’m prepared to bet you that’s what we’re seeing here.

July 6th 2018: Marvel have most definitely been at work casting actors to play Black Panther and Captain Marvel. I’m sure, in fact, that they’ve already signed an actress for the latter. Will either of these characters get their own solo picture? The studio hasn’t given us a lead that isn’t a white male so far, but surely they’re going to fix that before too long?

November 2nd 2018: If Guardians of the Galaxy is going to get a direct sequel, this seems as likely a place for it as any, and particularly as the story line would very probably play directly into the culmination of the “Phase 3″ storyline.

May 3rd 2019: Well, this is going to be the third Avengers movie, isn’t it? I expect this will be the one that brings it all together for a massive, infinity gems-scarmbling ruckus with Thanos.

I do hope Avengers 3 is set for 2019 and not 2017 because of what this might imply for Joss Whedon. It would be disappointing to see anybody else take charge of the third Avengers film, but I’d also love for him to have the time to step away for a bit. Who knows, we might even get something new and non-Marvel out of him if he’s only given the option.

All in all, this schedule marks out an incredible run for the studio. I don’t know how easy they will find it to keep moving forward indefinitely, but there’s certainly a lot more they can do beyond a third Avengers film and I’d like to see them try.

And while the studio’s brand is a successful draw for audiences in its own right, it would be good for them take as many chances as possible and push as many boundaries as they can. Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies would certainly be an advance on the representations we’ve seen to date.

I’m sure the studio has considered spin-off films for The Hulk, Black Widow and even Iron Patriot, and any of these could end up on this release slate. Mind you, each of those options seems less likely than the last. There’s a fair chance with The Hulk, I think, some chance with Black Widow – not least because of Scarlett Johansson’s profile – and an outside chance with the Patriot.

My best guess is that Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige will announce titles for some, but not all, of these release dates during their panel at Comic Con next Saturday. I’m hoping for the bravest, boldest choices.

We’ll let you know what he actually says as soon as we can. From his mouth, to my fingers, to this website, to your eyes. Stay tuned.

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London Indian Film Festival: Qissa review Fri, 18 Jul 2014 23:21:38 +0000 qissa

In Qissa, a father is so desperate for a son that he treats his newborn daughter as a boy from the moment she is born. The father is played by Irrfan Khan, a familiar face from Life of Pi and The Lunchbox, and here the head of a Sikh family who fled their homeland during Partition.

The whole family is now forced to go along with the father’s pretense and the film succeeds in revealing this exercise of power as the form of violence that it is. Because if you come to this picture thinking that a girl in India might gain some benefit from living her life as a man, you will swiftly have that illusion broken.

When the precious ‘son’ Kanwar breaks his leg on an outing with his sisters, he is forced to watch as his father beats the girls violently and threatens their mother when she intervenes. The scene encapsulates how all the females in the family, including Kanwar, are terrorized by their father’s desire for control.

It’s impressive when a filmmaker is able to make us develop some degree of sympathy for every character in the film, rather than setting up simplistic dichotomies between good and evil characters. Qissa‘s writer-director Anup Singh has certainly attempted to do just this.

Introducing the film at the London Indian Film Festival last weekend, Singh explained the concept of ‘qissa’ through the symbolic image of a dividing river that appears in the film, a mystical notion of eternal separation. This could be between the self and the outside world, for example, or between two lovers who can never be completely united. By setting the film against the backdrop of Partition, the director ties the underlying theme of separation to the characters’ removal from their ancestral homeland.

The anxiety and sorrow associated with this displacement is meant to explain the father’s destructive obsession with needing a son to carry on the family line. It also prompts a comparison between the divided self of Kanwar, biologically female but socialised as male, and the divided self of the father, with his ancestors and his heart in one country and his life and family in another. The audience is invited to understand the father’s violence against his family as the result of Partition’s violence against him.

It is a noble aim to find the humanity even in the most monstrous character—and the lengths to which the father goes to realise his ambitions are indeed monstrous. It is offensive, however, to suggest that the father’s suffering is comparable to the suffering he imposes on Kanwar. It is an abstract entity, a government, that imposes exile on the father: it is impersonal, and a one-off event that may trouble but can never fundamentally change his identity. When the father imposes a different gender on his child, however, it is intensely personal, and violates her identity every day of her entire life.

Audiences will be most interested in Kanwar’s experiences and point of view, not her father’s same old story of obsession with a male heir. A woman’s feelings about being forced to live as a man is a new story we’d all like to hear.

Unfortunately, Kanwar has little opportunity to articulate how she feels about her situation. The strongest and most vibrant scenes in the film are those few where Kanwar, away from her father’s control, speaks for herself. Tillotama Shome plays the grown-up Kanwar with a superb combination of charming bravura and brooding vulnerability, but she can only do so much within the constraints of the script.

The father, meanwhile, has the advantage of voiceover, giving the audience direct access to his feelings, and giving him first and last word in the film. It’s a troubling and baffling decision, and is perversely used, ultimately, to turn the father into the very monster the director apparently wanted to avoid.

Qissa played at the London Indian Film Festival.

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Full trailer for Tokyo Tribe shows off some of how the battle scenes work Fri, 18 Jul 2014 22:54:31 +0000 Among the key dramatic set pieces of Sion Sono‘s Tokyo Tribe are hip hop battle scenes that include actual, real violence as well as rhymes. You’ll get some idea of how it works from this longer trailer.

It all looks a little more Scott Pilgrim than Sono’s usual work. It’s interesting to see him branching out, of course, and I’m certainly intrigued by everything we see here. Characters stepping up and rhyming down the lens could try my patience, and some of the FX work was a little rough, but that won’t be a lot to overlook if the rest of the movie delivers on its promise.

Previously, the film’s exciting poster and brief teaser. Tokyo Tribe will be released in Japan on August 30th. Eureka have the UK distribution rights and we wait eagerly to find out what they’ll be doing with it.

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Ten Films To See At The Cinema This Week – July 18th 2014 Fri, 18 Jul 2014 22:34:52 +0000 pudsey the dog the movie

There are nine new releases this week, ten if you count the re-release of Some Like It Hot, and a whopping five of them have made it into our weekly list of the ten best films currently on release, according to me.

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Pudsey The Dog: The Movie, largely because they cancelled the screening I was planning to attend, which is never a good sign. Reviews like Peter Bradshaw’s make me think I had a lucky escape.

I also haven’t seen Jealousy, which is only playing at London’s Cine Lumiere and wasn’t screened for press; Killers, also not screened for press; or Norte: The End of History, though I have heard great things about the latter and it’s likely it would have made the list if I had caught it. All four and a half hours of it.

1) Boyhood. Unquestionably the best film you’ll see all year, though Richard Linklater‘s masterpiece will stay with you long after that. Its very conception is mind-boggling enough, but the fact that such a profoundly moving film has emerged from a twelve year process feels like a miracle of modern filmmaking.

begin again mark ruffalo keira knightley

2) Begin Again. Writer-director John Carney’s latest feature treads very similar ground to that of his break-out hit, Once, but it’s hard to quibble when the results are this good. Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo both shine in this tale of a down-on-his-luck New York music producer recording an album with a singer-songwriter he meets in a bar.

3) Finding Vivian Maier. Charlie Siskel‘s fascinating documentary tells the extraordinary story of Maier, a reclusive and eccentric nanny who took over 100,000 incredible photographs that remained hidden until after her death.

4) The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. Still the funniest comedy currently in cinemas, thanks to a witty script, assured comic direction and a charming central performance from Robert Gustafsson as the titular centenarian. The film Forrest Gump should have been.

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5) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A worthy follow-up to 2011′s reboot, Matt Reeves‘ apocalyptic thriller combines jaw-dropping special effects (you’ll believe an ape can ride a horse while firing a machine gun, etc.), a powerfully emotional, painfully relevant script and spectacularly rendered digital, motion-capture performances from the ape players that out-act their human counterparts.

6) Grand Central. Gripping slice of French melodrama from writer-director Rebecca Zlotowski, starring Tahar Rahim as a nuclear power plant worker who begins a dangerous affair with a co-worker’s fiancée, played by Lea Seydoux.

7) I Am Divine. Jeffrey Schwarz‘s hugely entertaining documentary is an affectionate and touching tribute to actor and performer-turned-cult icon Glenn Milstead, better known to the world as Divine, the much-loved star of John Waters‘ movies.

My beautiful picture

8) Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. The third of this week’s recommended documentaries is this pleasingly anecdote-heavy portrait of legendary talent manager Shep Gordon. Features warm-hearted talking head contributions from the likes of Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Alice Cooper and Mike Myers, who also directed the film.

9) Chef. Jon Favreau‘s feelgood foodtruck film continues to trundle its way into audience’s hearts thanks to its charming ensemble cast, an efficient script and some mouth-watering food photography.

10) The Fault In Our Stars. Bring tissues.

Finally, don’t forget, it’s important to See Smaller Films First. There’s even a Twitter hashtag ready for you to spread the word: #SSFF.

If you’re planning on seeing Finding Vivian Maier, Grand Central, I Am Divine or Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, then make sure you see them this weekend. Smaller films need strong opening weekend support to survive, whereas the likes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be around for several weeks yet. #SSFF

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Why Warner Bros. are right to want Mark Romanek for their Shining prequel, The Overlook Hotel Fri, 18 Jul 2014 18:14:35 +0000 overlook hotel

Some film makers are famously considered as though echoes, perhaps proteges, of those that came before them.

Brian De Palma, for example, will always be compared to Alfred Hitchcock, John Lasseter to Walt Disney, Michel Gondry to Georges Melies. For some time, M. Night Shyamalan was drawing comparisons to Steven Spielberg.

Both Jonathan Glazer, the director of Sexy Beast, Birth and Under the Skin, and Mark Romanek, the director of One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go, have garnered frequent comparison to Stanley Kubrick.

As a starting point, it’s not a bad way in to looking at any of these filmmakers and their inspirations – or, from the other side, their legacies – but this sort of thinking won’t ever tell you the whole story. Just one of Mark Romanek’s music videos, for example, will be a mixture of images, approaches, allusions and inspirations that stretch beyond narrative cinema, let alone Hollywood movies and, of course, the work of Kubrick alone.

Nonetheless, if Warner Bros. are looking to make their prequel to The Shining ring with the same unsettling vibrations as the 1980 movie, they really couldn’t do better than let Romanek take control. According to Variety, the studio and director are negotiating now, and if the deal is made, Romanek will come on board to direct the picture.

While Jonathan Glazer has more transparently quoted Kubrick, particularly with his promo videos for Blur’s The Universal and Massive Attack’s Karmacoma, you don’t have to look too long at Romanek’s work to see the influence. If we were to consider only One Hour Photo, there are still plenty of connections, some more subtle than others, to Kubrick’s work.

Most pervasively, there’s the sense of fastidiously ordered, precisely coloured compositions. In One Hour Photo, the regimented mise en scene is symptomatic of Sy the Photo Guy’s obsessions – if not also Romanek’s, in much the way that stack of All Work and No Play pages betray Jack Torrance’s cracking in The Shining. I think One Hour Photo is evidence of Romanek being at least a little obsessive about the details of film form.

Some of the most visceral scenes in The Shining are the steadicam shots in pursuit of Danny Torrance’s trike. Romanek flips these around almost literally for an exciting climactic chase in One Hour Photo, his camera focused on Sy as he runs towards the camera. Both Sy and the camera run first through a hotel, and then even more strikingly through the subtly warped lines of its parking structure. If you wanted to call the feeling of this sequence “Kubrickian,” I’d let you get away with it.

The reverberations are frequent enough that it wouldn’t be too hard to populate an entire DVD commentary track with discussion of One Hour Photo‘s Kubrick-like traits, from the plot-point track towards a wall-mounted photograph, to the off-centre, unsettling scenes in quiet hotel rooms.

It’s believed that The Overlook Hotel is to be a period piece that leads towards the hotel’s grand ball of 1921. This would suggest that Romanek’s acute eye for production design could prove to be another asset, as well as his sensitivity to how sound and image work together to create atmosphere – remember the ghostly, haunting music in Jack’s delusions? Romanek has to take us back to that time and place without undermining Kubrick’s version.

The only question, really, is if Warner Bros. will allow Romanek the freedom and support necessary. The director previously left both The Wolfman and Cinderella after completing huge amounts of work, and I’m sure he would rather step away from The Overlook Hotel than have his hand forced or resources cut off in a way that will compromise the finished film.

If the studio is honest in their desire to pair this director with this material, though, and they’ll give him the freedom that Kubrick had in the late 70s to build the original, then I think it’s all an electrifying prospect.

We’ll keep an eye on Romanek’s deal and the progress of the film and report back.

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Ben Whishaw is the new voice of Paddington Bear Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:39:35 +0000 paddington palace

Not only is Ben Whishaw replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington, he appears to be providing facial performance capture for the role, or at least providing up-close Go Pro reference footage of his phizzog. He told The Daily Mail,

I just arrive and wear this funny helmet that has a camera attached to it. It’s highly mysterious to me. I just see what they’ve done on screen, which is really beautiful and very exciting.

Director Paul King explains that he auditioned Whishaw for the role and then knew he had the right man because he just started hearing the character with the actor’s voice. That’s a pretty convincing case, I think, even while I must admit that, right now, I’m having a hard time imagining the match for myself.

The first trailer and promotional images for Paddington garnered a lot of the wrong sort of attention, inspiring the Creepy Paddington meme. Firth’s departure won’t have been the best publicity either, though I nonetheless remain confident that King’s honest love of both the character and Michael Bond‘s stories will give this one a fighting shot.

Paddington will open in the UK on November 28th and the US on December 12th.

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The teaser trailer for God Help the Girl looks and sounds great Thu, 17 Jul 2014 23:05:04 +0000 Giles Nuttgen‘s cinematography, Emily Browning‘s face and Stuart Murdoch‘s sparkly pop songwriting all conspire to make this trailer for God Help the Girl a pretty striking tease for the whole, sweet thing.

I’ve seen the film, in all of its Jacques Demy-goes-Glasgow glory, and look forward to seeing it again when it rolls out across the UK on August 16th. The US release is set for September 5th.

Yesterday, I posted the title track in full, or you may wish to listen to the original 2009 album on Spotify.

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Meet the supporting characters of Marvel’s Agent Carter Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:02:32 +0000 agent carter logo

Marvel have dominated the comics news cycle for close to a week now. They’ve announced a new, female Thor, confirmed that Sam Wilson will shortly become Captain America and have announced the existence of Superior Iron Man, a relaunch that sees Tony Stark relocate to San Francisco.

Whilst little has been released about the new Iron Man as yet, Thor and Captain America both speak to something far more positive than a simple sales tactic. Marvel are acknowledging, and embracing, the fact their audience is diverse. Even better, they’re reconfiguring books and characters alike to represent every element of that audience.

While no female-led Marvel movies have been announced just yet, their TV shows are also embracing diversity. The cast of Agents of SHIELD is not only multi-ethnic but gender balanced and the upcoming Jessica Jones Netflix show looks set to continue that trend. Plus, given that Jessica’s friends include both Jennifer ’She-Hulk’ Walters and Carol ‘Captain Marvel’ Danvers, there’s some chance of Marvel’s best female characters making their on-screen debut during that series.

The Marvel Netflix flotilla will begin to appear in 2015. Agents of SHIELD on the other hand will return this year and bring the period adventure series Agent Carter with it. Expected to sit in SHIELD‘s mid-season hiatus, Agent Carter features Hayley Atwell’s secret agent from the Captain America movies.

Set during the early days of SHIELD, the series will focus on her twin struggles to help form SHIELD and prove herself to her colleagues. We have some idea just who those colleagues will be. Here’s a run down of the supporting characters you can expect to make their debut in the show’s pilot episode.

Deputy Director Roger Hooley is a hardworking, principled older man and Peggy’s boss. As you might expect, he’s bothered by ongoing problems in his personal life as well as the challenges of his day job.

Agent Jack Thompson is in his 30s, handsome and damn well knows it. The polar opposite of Dooley, he doesn’t take kindly to women in the workplace, nor how little recognition he gets. Worse, he wants Dooley’s job and is desperate to prove himself.

Edward Hutchins is a highly professional agent with an unusual problem; duplicity. He’s lying to his wife about what he does to stop her worrying. True Lies, SHIELD style.

Daniel Sousa is everything Jack Thompson wants to be. He’s a war hero who walks using a leg brace, but finds dealing with office politics to be harder than working around his injury. Sousa is also a fiercely honourable, gentle man and we’re betting he becomes one of Peggy’s major allies.

And outside of the agency, there’s Angie Martinelli. Working as an automat waitress, Angie dreams of being a singer. She’s a tough, compassionate young woman who is smart and loyal and seems set to be Peggy’s anchor to the world away from SHIELD.

That’s an interesting bunch, as much for who isn’t there as who is. Bradley Whitford’s wonderfully smarmy Agent Flynn clearly got his comeuppance between the Agent Carter one-shot and now, and Peggy’s new boss seems distinctly more fatherly and engaged than Flynn even was.

It’s also tempting to look at Hutchins and Sousa and wonder if one of them is Peggy’s future husband, as referenced in The Winter Soldier. All it would take is a brief mention of them being introduced to her by Captain America and that particular speculation train will be off and running at full steam.

Angie might superficially look like a stereotypical best friend. Even if she is, there’s promise in just including somebody outside of SHIELD to react to the sort of high-adventure things Peggy would find commonplace.

Still, Skye on Agents of SHIELD shows how this kind of character can go wrong. Like Skye, Angie might end up being the character who changes the most as the series goes on.

What I find most interesting is how well-grounded these characters seem. There’s more than a hint of Mad Men or Downton Abbey to elements like Hooley’s home trouble, Hutchins’ well-meaning lying and Sousa’s injury. These people are all survivors, like Peggy and, again like Peggy, they’re all carrying wounds. How those wounds reflect and inform on Peggy’s story is, I suspect, where a lot of the fun of the show will be.

Agents of SHIELD returns September 23rd with Agent Carter reportedly set fill in over the Winter. Agent Carter, and Peggy Carter, both have a lot to prove, but based on Marvel’s announcements just this week, they’re certainly feeling up to the challenge.

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Full teaser trailer for evil doll yarn, Annabelle Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:25:22 +0000 There’s nothing really surprising about this trailer for Annabelle, the first spin-off from The Conjuring, but if the film can engineer some efficient scares, that won’t matter one jot. In an ideal world, arm-gripper films like this would deliver a lot more than a few jumps; on any half-way decent Friday night out, that will be just about enough.

Annabelle opens on October 3rd in the US and October 10th in the UK.

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I Am Divine review Thu, 17 Jul 2014 16:20:36 +0000 I Am Divine In Cinemas July 18

Note: In this review I refer to both Glenn and Divine as male, using “He” and “His.” I have done this as Divine’s friend John Waters does the same throughout the film.

Harris Glenn Milstead was born in 1945 to Harris Benard Milstead and Frances Milstead. His parents were socially conservative, upper middle class and brought up young Glenn – they dropped the Harris – in the suburbs of Baltimore.

Glenn didn’t have many friends and was bullied because of his weight and his effeminate nature, but when he met film enthusiast John Waters and his performing band of Dreamland misfits, Glenn’s life was transformed forever. Waters cast Glenn in his second film, Roman Candles, and as if to cement the change, suggested that Glenn adopt the name drag name of Divine.

The rest is history.

And what a good job Jeffrey Schwarz does of laying this history out for us in I Am Divine. This is that rare documentary which manages to be a celebration of a celebrity without feeling hackneyed, hagiographic or sugar coated. This was perhaps easier for Schwarz than many because Divine was already very much about raw honesty and truth, and his friends seem all too happy to share their personal stories openly.

Following Roman Candles, Waters and Divine reunited for Eat Your Makeup, a film which recreated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In 1968, just a few years after the actual event. And with Jackie Kennedy played by Divine, a man in drag.

To think people still consider that Marilyn Manson and Samuel Bayer‘s Coma White video is controversial.

Together, Waters and Divine, with some extraordinarily daring costuming and make-up from Vin Smith, pushed both the boundaries and the buttons of middle America with this film, and then with the many more they made together.

Schwarz did a great job of speaking to all of the people involved for this film, and made efficient use of his experience in making behind the scenes docs and DVD extras. None of the interviewees disappoint and Waters is, as always, an absolute pleasure to listen to. His contributions are filled with hilarious quips, but also a great deal of emotion. It’s clear that Divine meant a great deal to those that knew him, as well as those that experienced him from afar.

Divine, while an underground figure at the start of his career and hardly a household name when he passed away, was nonetheless an important cultural icon for many people. He was not only an actor, taking roles as both Glenn and Divine, but also a stage performer and singer, and every one of these endeavours was undertaken with the same force of character and freedom.

Divine’s bravery to just do things without fear for their consequences or what people might think of him – the real punk attitude – is what ultimately makes I Am Divine so compelling. It’s made brilliantly clear that Divine’s cult status really meant something for the culture.

Schwarz also manages to uncover the incredibly sweet and emotional story of Divine’s relationship with his parents. I won’t spoil the twists and turns but the film’s moments in which Divine’s mother talks about him and how their relationship changed are incredibly moving. This story is not only deeply personal to Glenn and his mother, it manages to underline the wider influence of Divine.

I Am Divine is an absolute riot at times and a highly entertaining documentary but there’s also real heart to it and a strong story about the importance of the underground, of outsiders and those that depart from the perceived ‘norm.’

I Am Divine is out in UK cinemas this Friday and available on VOD in the US now.

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New images from Mad Max: Fury Road and the Goosebumps movie with Jack Black Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:52:25 +0000 In this week’s EW there’s a San Diego Comic Con preview. Amongst the films they discuss are Mad Max: Fury Road and Goosebumps, both of which will see their first footage unspooled at the con.

For now, though, there are images from the two, obviously very different, movies. One features a recurring skull motif; conversely, the other casts a spotlight on Jack Black’s very unskull-like mug.

mad max fury road 1 mad max fury road 2 goosebumps 1 goosebumps 2

Well, they might both work. You never know. Black’s got a great energy for this kind of thing, I think.

Mad Max: Fury Road is set for a US release on May 15th 2015, Goosebumps on August 7th 2015.

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First look at Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage and more in Chris Columbus’ Pixels Thu, 17 Jul 2014 14:24:05 +0000 pixels arcader

The premise of Pixels seems to be The Last Starfighter by way of Ghostbusters. When New York is under attack by video game alike invaders, a team of champion joystick wranglers are put on call to save the city.

I was wondering if there’s a chance it may end up feeling a little like The Watch, and the image above – from the new issue of EW – won’t do much to dispel this. That’s Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage and I expect we’ll be seeing Monaghan framed as a love interest for Sandler because, of course, Hollywood.

If this were Judd Apatow-produced and improv-fuelled somebody would call Peter Dinklage “Rock of Ages” at some point. Guaranteed. If only in a deleted take. If you’re reading this, Chris Columbus, you can have that one on me.

Go pick up a copy of the mag for the accompanying article.

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True Detective season two character and plot details: three investigators, two male and one female Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:22:58 +0000 true detective

Though the anthology format of True Detective could allow the second series to go pretty much anywhere at all, the audience seem to have a pretty clear format in mind. From the off, conjecture about the second story line has been focused on what variant of the first series’ odd couple team-up we should expect. Most fans had assumed that there would again be two characters at the centre of the story, echoing the Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson pairing of the first.

I don’t know where that assumption came from, to be honest, and I’m actually relieved that creator and showrunner Nic Pizzolatto‘s plans haven’t been so predictable.

There was always a lot of interest and enthusiasm centred around there being a pair of female leads this time, both because this would stand as a statement, but also because there’s a lot of talented actors just waiting to be fan-cast into such roles. At the same time, a second vein of rumour kept Brad Pitt associated with the series, and while I never found any solid basis to those claims at all, they did keep alive the notion that this is a show that can attract well-known, popular and even well-paid actors.

The first solid information on the new season’s detectives came along a week ago or so with the revelation that Colin Farrell had been offered a role. We heard at the same time that there was another young male part also under discussion, and the program makers had apparently considered Taylor Kitsch for that role.

I can tell you now that these would make up two corners of the series’ central triangle of investigators, two men and a woman from different Californian cities and their own distinct branches of the State’s law enforcement bodies, coming together to uncover a whole mess of corruption.

The third corner will be a woman, a character in her 30s. She’s a Monterey Sherrif with – as you might well expect – trouble in her past and problems in her day-to-day.

Her issues are with alcohol and gambling. Farrell’s character has terrible problems with cocaine and anger management. The young guy, a member of the California Highway Patrol, has been suspended for sexually exploiting a young woman he pulled over. Nobody is clean. It’s still True Detective.

Farrell will have a partner, an older detective, though he’s not one of the central players and when Pizzolatto said there are four characters at the centre of this story, I expect he meant the three main investigators and a nefarious entrepreneur

The new mystery is to be kickstarted by the murder of Ray Caspar, City Manager of a fictional Californian city. From what I can gather, the new, partly invented map that Pizzolatto is drawing will be essential to his new story. As he teased, some months ago, part of the mystery will involve California’s transportation systems. This plot will involve a corrupt scheme to link North and South California with a high speed train, all in pursuit of profitable land ownership and lucrative federal grants.

I can’t help but think of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the way it swapped out Chinatown‘s irrigation MacGuffin for a tram line conspiracy. But as with Chinatown, this may not be the real heart of the mystery.

The occult is definitely going to come back into play, at least around the edges of the picture. One early murder victim is marked with satanic etchings in his flesh, giving Pizzolatto a way back to the undercurrents of supernatural allusion that flavoured the first story. Of course, it’s not that anything supernatural actually occurred last time around, nor should you expect it to this time either.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that while some reports have placed this story in the 80s, the internet comes into play as a plot device and so we should expect something a whole lot more contemporary. I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t just located in the California of ‘today,’ even while several of the plot threads have long, deep roots.

Pizzolatto and company have been meeting with some interesting talent for the show, from Farell and Kitsch to directors like William Friedkin. Things should start getting firm pretty quickly, and I’d expect we’ll be hearing a lot more as the next few months pass by. What I’d really like to know, however, is when it’s going to hit our screens, and I know I’m certainly not alone in that.

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First trailer for the TV version of 12 Monkeys Wed, 16 Jul 2014 20:58:28 +0000 SyFy’s adaptation of Terry Gilliam and David and Janet Webb Peoples12 Monkeys is considerably more prosaic than the original. Two mutations into the process and there’s almost no trace of the original inspiration, Chris Marker‘s hypnotic La Jetee.

We’ve written about this new show before, and you might want to read our appraisal of the program makers’ new approach. There’s also this freshly released trailer, which seems determined to amplify the similarities as much as it can. Still, there’s no chance you’d be fooled by the mise en scene and cinematography. Only Gilliam really looks like Gilliam.

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The first teaser for Conjuring spin-off Annabelle is about three seconds long Wed, 16 Jul 2014 19:11:43 +0000 The first follow-up to The Conjuring won’t be a direct sequel but a spin-off focused on Annabelle, the cursed doll. It will no doubt prove rather profitable and, with a bit of luck, be bloody creepy to boot. I might scratch my head at a lot of Freud’s ideas but he was onto something with his theories of the uncanny. I’ve been sure of that since the first time I tried to sleep restfully with a porcelain doll in the room.

The director of Annabelle is John R. Leonetti, a repeat sequelizer with both Mortal Kombat and Butterfly Effect follow-ups on his resume. Perhaps more relevant to this particular case, he’s also a talented cinematographer and the man who shot The Conjuring.

Annabelle is set for release in the US on October 3rd and the UK one week later on the 10th.

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Marvel unveil new Avengers bad guy, evil robot Ultron Wed, 16 Jul 2014 18:35:27 +0000 avengers age of ultron entertainment weekly cover The credit in the corner of this week’s Entertainment Weekly cover tells you that you’re looking at,

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Ultron and Chris Evans as Captain America.

There’s no credit necessary for this all-CG rendering of the evil robot Ultron, but in the film he’s being played by James Spader. I can’t wait to see how expressive that face is when Spader’s driving it.

There’s a lot of appeal in Marvel’s movies anyway, but even if they’d been shovelling out drivel I’d still turn up early to see Spader as a killer AI. It’s an incredibly imaginative bit of casting.

Imagination is really writer-director Joss Whedon‘s strong suit. He might be dedicated to genre, but he consistently ignores the boundaries of convention. Even when he’s making a massively expensive tentpole movie like this he can be trusted to work in some real surprises and worthwhile ideas.

EW also got to premiere a gallery of new images. Here’s the lot, in no particular order. Those with a taste for leather will certainly be pleased.

aou1 aou2 aou3 aou4 aou5 aou6 aou7 aou8

There’s bound to be more revealed in the magazine proper. The strapline across the middle promises

New Villains, The Crazy Plot, Iron Man’s Master Plan

all of which intrigues. Maybe not as much as “The World’s Most Dangerous Cartoon,” as promised in the bottom right, but I’m not sure Entertainment Weekly can really deliver on that front.

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The ‘original’ Star Wars trilogy has been remastered in 4k Wed, 16 Jul 2014 14:54:43 +0000 star wars duel

It seems increasingly like the existing Star Wars episodes are set for some kind of spruced-up re-release, or even re-releases.

Earlier in the year, Roger Christian told RebelForce Radio that his short film Black Angel, originally released as a support feature for The Empire Strikes Back, was in consideration to be a supplement or bonus with an coming re-release, referring to the

digitized six Star Wars that are coming in November.

Just in time for Christmas, suggesting a download release, likely via iTunes or similar.

More recently, Making Star Wars spotted that Reliance Mediaworks have remastered what they’re calling the ‘Star Wars Trilogy‘ in 4k. This could be for any reason, from an upcoming 3D conversion to a new 4k home entertainment release.

But should we assume that they were working from the 1990s reissues, now straightened up for digital cinema presentation? I think that’s the most likely scenario, even while Reliance say that their client was Lucasfilm and not 20th Century Fox.

George Lucas himself seems to have let go of Star Wars in a big way recently, and I can only imagine how good that must feel. He even seems to have allowed significant redevelopment of his original treatment for the upcoming new episodes. But does his late casual attitude signpost that we might, finally, be about to see the unfiddled, unfaddled, all-analogue original trilogy again?

Well, it’s not impossible. The message out of Lucasfilm lately has been very carefully controlled to sell Episode VII on its connection to the practical, tangible, well-loved look and feel of the pre-CG original-original trilogy. Somehow getting those films back out there into the public domain again would be the ultimate PR move on that front, and I’m sure Fox would be happy to play along. There’s a lot of money to be made by all parties here.

But what I expect we’ll see is a limited theatrical, digital re-release of the special editions, computer enhancements and all, and maybe just for a single night’s worth of engagements. This will be followed by an iTunes rerelease in November, down-converted to 1080p from Reliance’s 4k master. That’d be my guess.

If they’re considering topping up the supplements, though, and Christian seems to have said that they are, perhaps we’ll be in for some interesting new material on the front at least.

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Here’s the web series about an abusive Teddy Bear whose creators are suing Seth MacFarlane Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:55:43 +0000 seth macfarlane and ted

A lawsuit has been filed in LA this week, alleging that Seth MacFarlane derived the idea for Ted from a web-series character, Charlie the Abusive Teddy Bear.

Some of the cited similarities between Ted and Charlie have been quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. In both cases, the characters live in a

human, adult world with all human friends. Charlie has a penchant for drinking, smoking, prostitutes, and is a generally vulgar yet humorous character.

You are no doubt going to draw your own conclusions to the merit of the suit from these original clips of Charlie. Inevitably, you’ll also make your own call as to whether MacFarlane’s version was funnier. He did have the luxury of a feature film’s running time, mind you.

It isn’t clear what could happen if the courts find in favour of the plaintiffs, but Ted 2 starts principle photography in the Boston area any day now, and the character would seem to be good for a couple more box office raids at least.

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Emily Browning and friends perform the title track to God Help the Girl Wed, 16 Jul 2014 11:03:12 +0000 god help the girl

The songs from Stuart Murdoch‘s musical God Help the Girl were published back in the summer of 2009, some five years before the release of the film that will now, finally, share that album’s name.

Murdoch enlisted his Belle and Sebastian bandmates and a group of new singers in recording the original tracks, but every one was redone for the movie with the cast performing new vocals. Emily Browning is the star of the picture, and does most of the singing throughout, though you’ll also hear Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray in there.

Here’s their version of the title track, courtesy of Pitchfork.

There are a few new songs in the film - Pretty When the Wind Blows, I Dumped You First and I’m Not Rich – but having had half a decade to learn the others before the projector rolled, these additions didn’t have quite the same impact on me. I look forward to seeing the film again, and also checking out the actual soundtrack version of the soundtrack, to get to know them better.

Hopefully a trailer for the film will be along soon.

God Help the Girl is released in the UK on August 16th and the US on September 5th. In the US, it will also be available, day and date, via VOD. The album will be along on August 18th in the UK and 2nd September in the US.

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In defense of egotistical, self-obsessed critics Wed, 16 Jul 2014 10:32:01 +0000 linklater boyhood

Last week, veteran internet film critic Drew McWeeny posted his review of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and while it got shared around on Twitter plenty and picked up a lot of love along the way, there was still an inevitable, small but vocal minority calling out McWeeny as self-obsessed egotist.

Maybe that’s true, but at the same time, I do think someone needs to step up and start singing the praises of the egotistical film critic in general.

If you haven’t read it, McWeeny spends nearly the first half of his review barely mentioning the film, instead relating his mini-memoirs, detailing a few of the defining moments of his life to date from losing his virginity, through the birth of his first child, to the break-up of his marriage.

Some have called this ‘self-indulgent’. And while I suppose that spending half of a review talking about yourself instead of the film might usually merit criticism, if recounting your personal life story is ever relevant to any film, it’s going to be Boyhood.

People complain about critics making reviews just about themselves. “Readers don’t care about you,” they cry. “This isn’t about you, people just want to know about the film!” You won’t hear that coming out of me. I love these kinds of reviews. I’m sure they are not only the future, they are what makes today’s art criticism worth reading and I’d be moved to worry about humanity if people really don’t appreciate them.

The 300 word capsule review is dead. It used to be that you’d get the Friday paper, and look at the reviews section in order to see what you might take a trip to watch that weekend. But that’s all changed. If I want to know what a film is about and who’s in it, I’ll go to IMDB or Wikipedia. I don’t need a staffer ghostwriting for Alex Zane to tell me.

McWeeny’s review has a different purpose. It’s like the conversation you’d have in the pub after you’ve seen the film. It’s coming from a real human being.

haunted house 2

To expect a film review to tell you whether a film is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or even if you should go and see it, are missing the point completely. Badass Digest’s Devon Faraci recently said on the Fogelnest Files podcast that he didn’t see the point in reviewing something like A Haunted House 2 anymore. If you happent to think that film is worth going to see in the cinema, and I’m not judging you if you do, I don’t believe you do so because you read a glowing review.

And if you already think it looks like stupid crap, a weary critic writing 500 words that just say “Yeah, it’s stupid crap” won’t be of interest  either. Instead of writing about Haunted House 2, Faraci wrote about going to a rep screening of Sorcerer instead, and that piece easily became far more interesting for everyone.

Meanwhile, the important side note to make here is that if A Haunted House 2 turns out to be a secret masterpiece, or at least a fascinating mess, then somebody should definitely write about it.

Art affects our lives, and our lives affect art. If you are a great writer, I believe you should tell your stories and explain how your life has shaped your reading of film.

And also, for that matter, how film has shaped your life. My favourite critics and pop culture writers do that: Nathan Rabin, Chuck Klosterman, Vern.

Vern’s review of Japanese period film The Great Killing manages to be a touching story of coping with an unwell loved one, some musing on the power of a certain type of movie, and a recommendation for an old samurai film you possibly haven’t heard of, all of this at the same time.

the great killing

When you read a great Roger Ebert review, you will likely also have in your mind what a great person Ebert was away from the cinema, and this bleeds into the review between the words.

Of course, it’s not that every piece of film writing should be like this. There’s great stuff to be written that can just focus just on the technical aspects, offer a formalist reading, or take a journalistic approach to the production of the film. Or a million other things.

All the writers I’ve mentioned have been, as far as I know, straight white males, so a little bit more diversity wouldn’t go amiss too. There’s a lot of people doing terrible, clichéd, and artless versions of what McWeeny does, but there’s also loads of terrible, clichéd, and artless indie moviemakers failing to be Richard Linklater, and you wouldn’t use those as a reason to hate on Boyhood, would you?

I think the world would be a much poorer, less human place if we didn’t have writing like McWeeny’s. Criticism is all about offering a viewpoint, an opinion, a take on the world and if that’s not coming across, that to be honest, you’re doing it wrong. Maybe McWeeny’s Boyhood review does take off on a tangent but his story is honest and moving, and something only he could have written.

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Japanese trailer for Disney’s Big Hero 6 tells a rather different story Wed, 16 Jul 2014 09:36:51 +0000 There’s a lot of new footage in the Japanese promo from Big Hero 6, and none of it features the superhero team of the title. Indeed, the film doesn’t even have that same name in Japan, where it’s going to be called Baymax, after the big, inflatable medibot.

It will be obvious why from this trailer. There’s a very different emphasis being made.

So, Hiro’s brother Tadashi has died and Baymax pops up, almost literally, to step in and help Hiro adjust. I’d love to see an English-friendly version of this same trailer to better understand the details and subtleties.

I have to say that I was surprised when Disney announced Scott Adsit and Daniel Henney as the English speaking voices of Baymax and Tadashi. Without wanting to give too much away, I think I can say that I was expecting one voice actor for both.

At this stage I think it’s very clear that the relationship between Hiro and Baymax is the heart of the movie, though I do expect the sci-fi heavy superheroics to get plenty of screen time too. The Big Hero 6 do have a mysterious masked to villain to expose and dimension-hopping nefariousness to thwart.

Big Hero 6 will open on November 7th in the US, December 20th in Japan and January 30th in the UK.

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Trailer for Nick Cave movie 20,000 Days on Earth, a pop movie collage Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:58:04 +0000 From the looks of this trailer, 20,000 Days on Earth takes a place in a long line reality-warping films that put pop musicians at their centre.

It may well even be paying deliberate reference to a few of the older movies, or perhaps the echoes are just a coincidences. In any case, the overall effect felt quite like a collage to me.

man who fell to earth


kylie in holy motors


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Jenny Lewis recruits Kristen Stewart, Brie Larson and Anne Hathaway for new music video Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:11 +0000 It seems GQ got to premiere Jenny Lewis‘ new music video, Just One of the Guys. This was directed by Lewis herself and features Kristen Stewart, Brie Larson and Anne Hathaway. And there’s a drummer too, who I can’t identify and is, I assume, one of Lewis’ regular collaborators.

Well, that was rather more melancholy than the “famous actresses in drag, playing keytars and dancing around” premise suggested.

My favourite Jenny Lewis video to date is actually not really ‘hers’ at all. She appeared in Jared Hess‘ ironically upbeat video for The Postal Service’s We Will Become Silhouettes. If I’m being honest, having an excuse to share this again right now is a good part of the reason I started this post in the first place.

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London Indian Film Festival: The World of Goopi and Bagha review Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:55:43 +0000 world of goopi and bagha

A singer kicked out of his village for having a voice so bad it turns the milk sour; a drummer from another village who was also banished to ‘share his music with the world’. These are Goopi and Bagha, two young men of great intentions and small talent, who meet on a dark night in a forest, each completely alone and terrified of running into ghosts. But the dead, as it turns out, are the only ones who appreciate their music, and the favours the spirits bestow send the pair on a fairytale adventure to stop a war between two kingdoms.

Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya (The World of Goopi and Bagha, 2013) is a new feature by talented animator Shilpa Ranade. It’s based on a much-loved story by Upendrakishore Raychowdury, grandfather of legendary Bengali director Satyajit Ray, who already created a live-action adaptation, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne in 1969.

As the London Indian Film Festival screened the animation with subtitles rather than dubbed, it is only suitable for children who can already read, but the silly voices and visual humour will be sure to keep them entertained.

Older audiences will appreciate a visual style that transports them back to their own childhood. The film has the air of an 80s storybook come to life, with its earth-tone watercolours, hairy curlicues and hatch marks, and joyfully grotesque exaggerated forms, from long limbs and noses to wide mouths and eyes.

world of goophi and bagha monster

In an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Goopi made its world premiere, Ranade explained that the film grew out of some children’s book illustrations she was working on. The film remained driven by the drawings throughout, and although Ranade and her team used computers to composite the drawings, they deliberately kept the animation minimal.

The film showcases a specifically Indian aesthetic through its patchwork of colours and patterns and the fantastically terrifying monsters with their many eyes, gaping maws and undulating bodies come straight from ancient folklore and mythology. The flatness of the image and the characters’ obviously hinged style of movement recall shadow puppetry, arguably cinema’s earliest predecessor and an art form with a great history in Asia.

These regional aspects tie in with Ranade’s belief that India needs to invest in telling its own stories through animation. As a professor who teaches animators at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, she finds it encouraging to see so many young people who want to learn the craft. However, she also noted, India’s animation industry is largely dedicated to American and European productions, with little funding available for domestic animated features.

The film’s soundtrack is as mesmerising as its storybook appearance. Every scene offers a chance for Goopi and Bagha to launch into songs that are not just beautiful but catchy and amusing, with I Am the Belt, You are the Pyjama proving one particularly memorable example.

A company known as 3 Brothers and a Violin supplied the music, drawing on folk and classical music from all over India. Goopi’s various songs are voiced by different artists, creating a ‘pan-Indian’ film that audiences from every region can feel a part of, and ensuring that Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya’s theme of bridging divisions is even a part of the film’s very fabric.

Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya made its European premiere at The London Indian Film Festival, which runs until July 17th.

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Sharknado tie-in book suggests Boaricane, the most ridiculous spin-off movie Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:28:53 +0000 We’re probably at peak hype for the whole Sharknado business as SyFy look to drum up interest in the new, second TV movie in the series. They’re also looking at reaping what they can from ancillary markets too, with a phone and tablet game tie-in and novelty book.

Andrew Shaffer‘s How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack is available now, though I expect it will do its best business in the run up to Christmas. It’s not really the sort of book people buy for themselves.

Here’s my favourite of the sample pages, detailing the Boaricane or Razorback Typhoon. This might as well be a pitch for a spin-off movie, and I wonder if that notion didn’t cross Shaffer’s mind.

You can click through to see this at a larger scale.


“Throw in hundreds of robotically enhanced wild boars,” it says, “and a hurricane bumps up to a full-alarm boaricane.”

Not all SyFy movies are unwatchably bad, but some really are. Sharknado was one of those, and on July 30th, we’ll find out if Sharknado 2 follows suit.

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Big Hero 6 trailer introduces the team, useless cop and mysterious villain Tue, 15 Jul 2014 09:53:50 +0000 [UPDATE: After you've read the below, you may wish to also check out the surprising and very different Japanese version of the trailer]

Half of this trailer for Disney’s Marvel adaptation Big Hero 6 seems to be an excuse for vigilantism, which I guess just cements the picture’s status as a real superhero movie. They’re almost all a little bit that way.

But this trailer is winningly designed, and the character work is good, particularly with Baymax, the inflatable robot.

Did you spot the Frozen easter egg? It was rather small, and lo-res, but Hans appears on a ‘Wanted’ notice in the background. Here’s a screen capture. He’s towards the right hand side.

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 12.05.40

Disney also released these character images, showing off the team in both their civvies and their crime fighting gear, while announcing the cast. Interestingly, they did announce the casting for the Kabuki-masked villain too but it’s one of those things where it would be a spoiler to tell you who it is.


BAYMAX (voiced by Scott Adsit)
BAYMAX cares. That’s what he was designed to do. The plus-sized inflatable robot’s job title is technically Healthcare Companion: With a simple scan, Baymax can detect vital stats, and, given a patient’s level of pain, can treat nearly any ailment. Conceived and built by Tadashi Hamada, Baymax just might revolutionize the healthcare industry. But to the inventor’s kid brother Hiro, the nurturing, guileless bot turns out to be more than what he was built for—he’s a hero, and quite possibly Hiro’s closest friend. And after some deft reprogramming that includes a rocket fist, super strength and rocket thrusters that allow him to fly, Baymax becomes one of the Big Hero 6.


FRED / FREDZILLA (voiced by TJ Miller)
Fanboy FRED comes off like a laid-back dude with no direction. But this sign-twirling, monster-loving, comic-book aficionado is sure to go places — when he’s good and ready. For example, Fred doesn’t hesitate to join Big Hero 6, and he has a lot of ideas for his super-hero skillset, too. His ferocious, fire-breathing alter ego comes complete with claws, integrated communications and a super bounce.  But his sign-spinning may still come in handy.


GO GO TOMAGO (voiced by Jamie Chung)
Aptly named GO GO TOMAGO knows what it takes to be fast. She’s tough, athletic and loyal to the bone, but not much of a conversationalist. Popping bubble gum and delivering well-placed sarcasm are totally her speed. The daredevil adrenaline junkie is at her best on wheels, and when Go Go joins forces with Big Hero 6, she rolls like never before, using maglev discs as wheels, shields and throwing weapons.


HIRO HAMADA (voiced by Ryan Potter)
Robotics prodigy HIRO HAMADA has the mind of a genius — and the heart of a 14-year-old: his state-of-the-art battle-bots dominate the underground bot fights held in the dark corners of San Fransokyo. Fortunately, big brother Tadashi redirects Hiro’s brilliance, inspiring him to put his brain to the test in a quest to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. When a tragic event changes everything, Hiro turns to a robot named Baymax, and they form an unbreakable bond — and two-sixths of a band of high-tech heroes on a very important mission.


HONEY LEMON (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez)
It’s elemental when it comes to chemistry whiz HONEY LEMON. Don’t let her glasses and funky fashion fool you: Honey may be as sweet as her namesake, but she has a fire in her belly and a can-do attitude that make her pretty much unstoppable. Her knowledge of alchemy proves powerful, too, when the effusive brainiac becomes part of the Big Hero 6 and creates clever concoctions that when thrown, can get her team out of nearly any jam.


WASABI (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr)
WASABI is committed to precision. He’s super smart and just a touch neurotic, but the big and burly neatnik can’t help but join the cause when Hiro needs him most. As part of Big Hero 6, Wasabi amplifies his martial arts skills with jaw-dropping plasma blade weaponry. Sharp doesn’t even begin to describe this guy.

You will have heard Maya Rudolph as Aunt Cass in the trailer, and James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk and Daniel Henney also have roles in the full film.

Big Hero 6 will be released in the US on November 7th and in the UK on January 30th.

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Ten films to see at the cinema this week – July 11th 2014 Fri, 11 Jul 2014 11:33:48 +0000 Boyhood Image

There are seven new releases this week and four of them have made it into our weekly list of the ten best films currently on release, according to me.

Disclaimer: The only film I haven’t seen this week is the documentary Bastards, not to be confused with Claire Denis’ Bastards, which has picked up decent reviews elsewhere and which may well have made it onto the list.

1) Boyhood. Maybe the film of the year and, in my opinion, a strong contender for the film of the decade. Director Richard Linklater filmed the subject of his fictional coming-of-age narrative every year for 12 years, between the ages of six and eighteen, and the results are nothing short of extraordinary.

begin again

2) Begin Again. Bursting with charm and featuring a cracking soundtrack, writer-director John Carney‘s follow-up to Once sees Mark Ruffalo‘s divorced, down-on-his-luck music producer getting a new lease of life when he discovers singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) in a bar and they decide to record a stripped-down album together.

3) The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. The funniest comedy currently in cinemas, this adaptation of the best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson is an absolute delight from start to finish; it also features the year’s most hilarious scene so far, a prison break involving Herbert Einstein, Albert’s not-too-smart younger brother.

4) Cold In July. Don Johnson steals the show in this enjoyable Texan noir from Stakeland director Jim Mickle, who has a lot of fun toying with genre expectations. The sharply written script was adapted from a Joe R. Lansdale novel.

scarlett johansson chef

5) Chef. Jon Favreau‘s unashamedly feelgood movie pushes all the right buttons with its straightforward tale of a disgraced chef and his young son bonding while on a road trip with a newly refurbished food van. Will make you very, very hungry.

6) Mistaken For Strangers. If you’ve ever been incredibly jealous of a more successful sibling, or, indeed, frustrated by a layabout younger sibling, then this is documentary will strike a chord with you. Chaos ensues when incompetent slacker Matt Berninger decides to make a film about his experience after older brother Tom, the lead singer of The National, invites him on tour with the band to work as a roadie.

the golden dream

7) The Golden Dream. The feature debut of director Diego Quemada-Diez. This tale of three Guatemalan teens trying to cross the border into America is a gripping, naturalistic drama that packs a powerful punch.

8) The Fault In Our Stars. There have many reports of weeping audiences for this teenagers-with-cancer drama. Shailene Woodley‘s wonderfully wobbly-lip-inducing central performance is largely to blame.

9) Goltzius and the Pelican Company. Rejoice, for Peter Greenaway has returned and it’s like he’s never been away. His latest drama delivers the expected quantities of nudity, references to famous paintings, impenetrable Dutch accents, buggery, eroticism and philosophy in a surprisingly accessible tale of a 16th century Dutch printer and his company performing dramatizations of erotic stories in order to seduce the Margave of Alsace (F. Murray Abraham) into paying for their printing press.

love me til monday

10) Love Me Till Monday. Nominated for a Best Newcomer Award at the 2013 London Film Festival, this engaging, low-budget British office romance comedy marks a pair of promising debuts for writer-director Justin Hardy and star Georgia Maguire.

Conspicuous by its absence this week is Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, which I found tedious in the extreme, a lot of surround sound and CGI fury signifying nothing. Stanley Tucci’s scene-stealing and Kelsey Grammar playing straight-up villainous without going for laughs weren’t enough to make this worth watching.

mr morgan's last love

I also didn’t care for Parisian drama Mr Morgan’s Last Love, which, despite a predictably twinkly central performance from Michael Caine, was ultimately let down by an unfocused script that wasn’t sure which story it wanted to tell.

Finally, don’t forget, it’s important to See Smaller Films First. There’s even a Twitter hashtag ready for you to spread the word. #SSFF.

If you’re planning on seeing Boyhood, Begin Again, Goltzius and the Pelican Company or Love Me Till Monday, then make sure you see them this weekend. Smaller films need strong opening weekend support to survive, whereas the likes of Transformers 4 will be around for several weeks yet. #SSFF

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First image from Doctor Who season 8 premiere, Deep Breath Thu, 10 Jul 2014 13:25:28 +0000 doctor deep breathWe’ve seen a few images of Peter Capaldi in his Doctor Who costume and some on-set fan snaps of him during the filming, but the above picture is, I believe, the first to be officially released from the season 8 premiere episode, Deep Breath.

I found it in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, at the head of Clark Collis’ entertaining article on the new season.

The script for Deep Breath and four more episodes escaped into the wild this week. Thanks to a friend of a friend, I did get to read them and enjoy them. I won’t be spoiling them, however, and any little references or in-jokes I might make will just be big sexy non sequiturs.

Deep Breath premieres on August 23rd on both BBC One and BBC America.

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James Gunn’s golden rule for the big, big screen action of Guardians of the Galaxy Thu, 10 Jul 2014 11:08:37 +0000 guardians prison

There was almost a year between James Gunn telling me about his approach to the action sequences in Guardians of the Galaxy and when I was finally able to see some proof of what he’d been preaching.

We spoke on the set of the film, sitting by the video monitors in one of Pinewood’s mammoth soundstages. The crew were setting up for a new shot, which is what gave Gunn the chance to talk, and the monitor screens were showing a reel of computer-animated pre-visualisation footage.

“Everything was drawn and everything was shot-listed but not everything in the film has been pre-vizzed,” Gunn said, “But a lot of it was, the whole last third of the movie and a lot of other sequences.”

Suddenly, an imperfection in the pre-viz caught Gunn’s eye. “This is driving me crazy, though, because they just crossed the line.”

“They” is the artist responsible for creating the pre-viz sequence in question and “the line” is the so-called line of action, or stage line. This is one of the most basic underpinnings of film theory, a theoretical axis through the action of a scene.

Observing this line and using it to maintain consistent “screen direction” can help filmmakers design their shots in a way that will cut together later with minimum disruption of the viewer’s experience. Wikipedia offers a pretty clear, basic explanation of the theory that makes sense of this diagram.

180 rule

“I’m crazy about screen direction,” Gunn explained, “You can ask the crew, I’m a fucking maniac about it. I can’t stand so many action sequences in movies, there’s so many guys out there getting individually great shots that don’t fit together into an action sequence. It drives me absolutely batty.”

He’s certainly right. There are a huge amount of modern action scenes that don’t observe this theory at all, or at least consistently. Perhaps the most infamous, thanks to video blogger Jim Emerson, is the truck chase in The Dark Knight though, honestly, there’s just too many to count. If you saw Transformers: Age of Extinction recently, or see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes when it releases this month, each of those has some notable moments where the “line of action” rule has been violated. Having considered these examples thoroughly, I can honestly say that both films would have been just that little bit better off had they stuck to ‘the rule.’

“This movie is about fitting everything together in the right way,” Gunn went on, thinking formally and apparently unaware of how, actually, that is one of the themes of his film’s narrative. “The individual shots can be stunning but they work together in a way that we really feel the adventure and the action, and screen direction is really important for that.”

And there’s the most important part of his argument: that this simple limitation on how the action is staged and later assembled in the edit ensures that the audience “really feel the adventure and the action.” This line isn’t just some stuffy old rule from the squares, something that seeks to squash invention and filmmaking liberty, but an integral part of how a movie can communicate its experience to the audience.

quill leg

Earlier in the week, Marvel started previewing Guardians with an extended sequence in the large-screen IMAX format. This was the public’s first chance to see how Gunn has built his action, and my opportunity to see if he remained true to his words on set.

Because the IMAX screen is so large, and because there are a wide range of viewing experiences depending on where in the auditorium a viewer is seated, the format can be very cruel and unforgiving to action sequences.

Filmmakers working with ‘traditional, normal sized’ screens can trust that the audience will be able to track motion between cuts rather easily. When the whole screen is visible it’s very easy for a new area of interest to capture an audience member’s attention, and within a very small number of frames, they’ll have redirected their gaze right to it. If you’re familiar with the practice of an ‘eyeline match,’ you’ll know one good example of how a viewer can be asked, very regularly, to relocate their gaze to a new area of interest after an edit.

On an IMAX screen, however, it’s possible that a viewer might be positioned so the entire screen isn’t visible to them. Whenever this viewer is presented with a new area of interest, there’s a good chance that they’ll have to move their head in order to find it. This obviously takes longer than a simple redirection of the eyes’ attention, and many frames of content can be missed by the viewer as they reorient their heads. What’s more, the experience of moving their head to find the newly relevant action or item can ‘pull’ the audience member out of the film.

In short, James Gunn’s policy of clarity and readable action is not a 100% perfect match with the IMAX exhibition format. Nonetheless, either by good fortune or excellent design, the action in Guardians was coming across loud and clear in this preview footage.

One key factor seemed to be a good number of cuts where the item of interest remained in the same area of the screen on both sides of a cut. I’ll try to describe just one example.

The scene is a prison break-out and the Guardians have split up and are brawling and smart-talking their way through a mission to collect a few key artefacts. Gamora is attempting to take a Maguffin from one of the prison guards, and it involves her getting on to a higher level of the prison structure. One shot shows her starting her journey, another meets her at the destination and leads us into what comes afterwards.

The first shot ends with Gamora in a certain screen position and when we cut, to a wildly different camera position, she’s been kept in the same area of the image. There is no need to move your eyes, much less your head, to hunt out a new location of interest as a result the cut. This isn’t such an unusual bit of filmmaking, but it has amplified importance in the IMAX format where losing track of action is a real possibility.

Whether or not Gunn was simply shooting for super-readable action no matter what the aspect ratio or if he took time to consider the implications of IMAX projection I don’t know. All the same, his smooth, well-motivated and unobtrusively structured action worked very well on the giant screen.

It’s also worth noting that Gunn does allow the line of action to hang pretty close to the camera’s axis at times. This still from the film is a good example. Quill is looking towards screen right, but only just. The line of action here is very close to going straight into the middle of the shot, not so far from being perpendicular to the screen plane.

peter quill

This kind of staging increases the likelihood of the kind of cutting I described above, where the area of interest doesn’t spontaneously leap across the screen on an edit.

My preference is for the ‘conventional’ wider aspect ratio of a non-IMAX presentation, particularly when I know that a director has been working with the knowledge that most of the audience will be seeing their film this way. I’m very keen to see the previewed action sequence again in the ‘old school’ format.

If the 17-minute IMAX Guardians preview taught me anything, though, it’s that Gunn really meant what he was saying about the film’s action. This is imaginatively conceived, imaginative and fun stuff, executed with a dedication to keeping the audience in the moment. I think we’re going to have a great time with this film.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens across the UK on July 31st and the US on August 1st. Both IMAX, non-IMAX and even 2D presentations will be available.

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Star Wars is going large with IMAX cameras, Superman v. Batman going not so large Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:16:11 +0000 imax camera star wars episode vii tatooine set

It’s long been known that J.J. Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel are shooting Star Wars: Episode VII on film, but a Tweet made yesterday by the official Bad Robot account suggested that they’re also using large-format IMAX cameras for some portions of the movie.

As seen in the image above, which presumably shows the camera in action as it captures a Tatooine panorama, it’s the 70mm analogue IMAX system in play, not the digital variant.

This doesn’t confirm that the film will have sequences in IMAX’s full-screen, 1.43:1 aspect ratio but it does make it a possibility. If these sequences are up-converted to 3D, as will be the case for the wide release version of the film, this will be first 3D release in IMAX 70mm in some time.

There’s also a possibility that the IMAX 70mm version will be 2D only, or that Abrams and Mindel will crop the image to 1.9:1, consistent with the aspect ratio of digital IMAX. We simply don’t know just yet, and the use of the camera in the Twitter image only opens up a breadth of possibility.

When IMAX confirmed their involvement in Star Wars last night, they didn’t give everybody the same message at first. For a while Pajiba were reporting that three of these IMAX cameras were in use on Episode VII, while the fourth and final functioning unit is over with Zack Snyder and Larry Fong for use on Batman v. Superman.

They’ve now made an edit and report only,

IMAX officials have said that they cannot in fact confirm how many cameras are being used on the film, or what other films are shooting in the format.

I can only guess somebody spoke out of turn. Still, it seems very likely that J.J Abrams is rolling a lot more 70mm film than Snyder.

It’s not clear if Abrams would be using the cameras simultaneously as A, B and C on the same set, or if they’d be used by three different units, though each approach would have different application and yield rather different results.

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Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here coming to Masters of Cinema Blu-ray Tue, 08 Jul 2014 10:16:40 +0000 busby berkeley gang's all here blu-ray cover masters of cinema eureka

Fans of bananas will be well pleased by Eureka’s decision to release the vibrant, exciting Busby Berkeley film The Gang’s All Here on Blu-ray.

Here’s a trailer to remind you that you have seen some of the imagery from this film if not, necessarily, the film itself.

The film itself will no doubt look better than this archive trailer, with more accurate saturation and definition. Edward Cronjager‘s cinematography is bright and bombastic but still deserves a light touch in the transfer, and I’m sure Eureka will be making sure it gets just that.

There will be a number of special features included too. These are as follows,

• New & exclusive full-length audio commentary with critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme, and film historian Ed Hulse

• The documentary Busby Berkeley: A Journey with a Star

• A deleted scene from the film

• Trailer

• A 36-page booklet featuring essays on the film by critics David Cairns and Karina Longworth

Masters of Cinema will be releasing the film on September 15th. The Blu-ray is sadly destined to be Region B only, though multi-region players do now tend to be very cheap and attainable.

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New online-only Guardians of the Galaxy trailer Tue, 08 Jul 2014 07:47:12 +0000 It was obvious by the time that Thor: The Dark World came about that Marvel Studios saw humour as a key, core ingredient to all of their movies, even the ones that promised gloom and misery with their trailers and steely posters.

Guardians of the Galaxy is being sold as a character comedy through and through. Even while there’s a lot of action – and even some macho posturing from a Raccoon - the flavour created by this new, web-only trailer is all about the funny interplay of this odd quintet, hashtag bantz, hashtag lulz.

It’s a real shame Gamora and Drax don’t get anything funny to say in that promo. There’s definitely more to them in the film itself, and it’s unfortunate that they come across a little like foils for ‘the funny ones’ in most of the marketing.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in the UK on July 31st and the US on August 1st.

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First look at an animatronic Jurassic World raptor Mon, 07 Jul 2014 21:15:48 +0000 raptor jurassic world

The dependable guys at the Jurassic World fansite are citing ‘multiple sources’ in claiming that the above image of an animatronic raptor is indeed a new build from the upcoming film. I think we can believe them.

It seems that this image was originally posted to Twitter by one @CameronZiggy, and he’s promising a video of something or other in the next couple of days. It might be very anticlimactic if it’s not something jurassic.

We can’t really read too much in the image above. The model is undoubtedly well-crafted but it won’t look quite like this once it’s been lit and graded for the final film. I guess some folk will be relieved to see physical evidence of practical effects for the film.

If Jurassic World works, however, it won’t be because they got the raptors right. They got the dinosaurs pretty much right in every film in this series.

Jurassic World is currently set for release on June 12th next year. I’m very curious to see what Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly have planned.

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Second trailer for David Fincher’s film of Gone Girl Mon, 07 Jul 2014 15:37:08 +0000 The shadows run deep in this second trailer for Gone Girl, David Fincher and Gillian Flynn‘s adaptation of Flynn’s monstrously well-selling novel.

Everybody, it seems, is suspicious. And Gone Girl is about suspicion. Seeing how Fincher and Flynn manipulate it will be one of the key points of interest here.

I hope the reverb effects are just for the trailer. That could get quite grating over the entire running time of a film.

Gone Girl is set for UK and US release on October 3rd.

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