The Sleeper Awakens with the new Dune Trailer


Just about everyone’s waiting for Denis Villeneuve’s remake of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Having grown up on the David Lynch version (and making my way through the novel), it has some big shoes to fill. Thankfully, what we’ve seen of it so far seems interesting. Villeneuve should have an easy time with the source material, though the movie has had its share of reshoots and dealing with the pandemic. We’ll see how it goes.

We finally have a trailer and some Wormsign!!. I’m liking the look of it. Chalamet’s Paul Atreides has some attitude to him, and I’m curious to see what Stellan Skarsgard does with the Baron Harkonnen.

Enjoy.

<- Artwork of the Day: A Bloody Business Artist Profile: Stewart Rouse ->

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)


WhoFramedRogerRabbitPosterI can’t quite remember how I found out about 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Growing up, most of my movie news came from four major sources – Entertainment Tonight, Siskel & Ebert, the occasional movie poster you’d see at a bus stop or cinema. If you were really lucky, the production company would sometimes create a “Behind the Scenes”/”Making of” showcase a little after the movie premiered. If possible, I would read the billing block of a poster to see if I could recognize anyone familiar, Just seeing Amblin Entertainment meant you’d have Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall involved. Nothing new there. I knew Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri from Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future. Movies have had mixes of animation and live action – Bedrooms & Broomsticks, Mary Poppins, etc., but the big buzz here was the film planned to somehow involve both the Disney and Warner Bros. animation studios. It was an alien concept for me, because they couldn’t be more different from each other. Historically, animation on the WB side of things were edgy and almost dared to be even raunchy if they could get away with it. Disney, on the other hand, was pristine and extremely  kid friendly. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? Daffy Duck vs. Donald Duck, all on the same screen? It was the 1980’s equivalent of asking Marvel (which ironically, is owned by Disney now) and DC (which the WB has owned for decades) to write a single Justice League / Avengers crossover story.

At the time, Steven Spielberg was already well known for blockbusters like the Indiana Jones films and E.T., but did he really have enough clout to bring two major companies together like that? It blew my 13 year old mind and I became completely obsessed.

Around the time Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out, I picked up anything I could find about it. I had Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack, a poster, a stuffed Roger doll, and the video game when it came out. I even read Gary Wolf’s novel. I begged my parents to let me see it, and it was one of the rare times where my Mom took my sis and I to the movies instead of my dad (the major movie buff, who took us to see Robocop twice the year before). I think she went in part to shut me up, and to give herself a break from my nearly 2 year old brother. It remains one of the two best movie related memories I have of her.

In the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, humans and cartoons share the same space in Los Angeles. Cartoons live in Toontown, owned by Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). It’s the story of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins – Hook, Mermaids), a Los Angeles Private Eye with a bit of a grudge against toons. For a quick buck, Valiant is hired by R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern – Firefox, Little Shop of Horrors) to snoop on Acme. Valiant’s work puts him in the path of Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer, Back to the Future Part II), after Eddie takes some racy pictures of Acme playing patty cake with Roger’s wife, Jessica (Kathleen Turner, Romancing the Stone). Roger angrily swears they’re still a happy couple and that Acme somehow coerced her before running off into the night. The next morning, Eddie is informed that the Marvin Acme’s been killed overnight. To make things worse, Acme’s Will is missing, leaving the fate of Toontown up in the air. All of the evidence points to Roger, but Roger asks for Eddie’s assistance in clearing his name. Can Eddie save Roger before Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) and his pack of weasels get their hands on him?

The production for the film required jumping over a number of hurdles. Zemeckis, himself a cartoon fan, wanted to bring some of the Warner Bros. characters along with Disney characters. Even better, he also wanted to add some of Tex Avery’s classic style to the film. Similar to what he did with Ready Player One, Spielberg negotiated with some of the studios, and while he couldn’t get everyone, he did manage to get Disney, WB and a few others to commit. With this in place, they had to somehow merge animation with live-action in a way that made it look like the cartoons were interacting with their environment.

This would require one really huge magic trick, made up from an assortment of parts.

Since it was around 1986-1987, there really was no CG, yet.. James Cameron made 6 stuntmen in Alien suits look like 600 through the use of Oscar Winning Editing, and the technology that gave us the paradigm shifting dinosaurs of Jurassic Park wouldn’t occur for another 3 or 4 years. For Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the approach was a mix of robotics, puppetry, sleight of hand gadgetry, and a lot of imagination.

The art was handled by Richard Williams and his team, who would go on to win a Special Achievement Oscar for his contribution to the film. They had to draw every cell/frame by hand, on paper and then have them inked. These would then go to Industrial Light & Magic, who would add shadow, highlights and special effects To make things harder, the artists had to work around Zemeckis’ filming style and figure out how to fit the characters into each scene.

Take Jessica Rabbit’s performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, sung by Amy Irving (Carrie, The Fury). At first glance, it seems a really easy shot. Girl steps on the stage, performs and leaves, right? However, there are so many things happening here on an effects level that I still don’t fully understand how they did it after all these years. ILM handled the lighting, from the sparkles in the dress, the use of the handkerchief and the great moment where Jessica blocks the spotlight in her walk from Acme to Valiant. I had to later explain to my mom that the “Wow” I whispered in the theatre during that scene had little or nothing to do with puberty. It was because I hadn’t seen anything like that before with a cartoon, and I’d hate the Academy forever if the movie didn’t win an Oscar for that.

Having cartoons on screen is one thing, but making it feel like they were interacting with people is another. Hoskins was the anchor that tied most of it all together. Having to work with nearly nothing – not even a green screen – and perform the physical actions required of the role was quite a feat compared to what some actors do with the motion capture rooms and digital walls we use today. Near lifesize models of Roger were created to help Hoskins handle some of the physical “grab and move” sequences, and actor Charles Fleischer actually spent time dressed as Roger on set (but off camera, of course) to feed his side of the conversation to Hoskins when filming a scene.

Puppeteers were brought on for moments were toon characters needed to hold objects, such as guns or knives. There is a moment of the movie where you can see one of the holes for the guns that the weasels, but it’s a pretty minute hiccup with all of the great work that was done. For the car sequences with Benny the Cab (also Fleischer), they used a special mini-car with a driver in the back. The car and driver were painted over (still, frame for frame) by the animators.

And ff course, it wouldn’t be a Zemeckis film without Alan Silvestri at the helm, musically speaking. Silvestri’s score for was a mix of detective noir and cartoony antics, which made for a perfect fit for the film. Overall, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those films I cherished growing up, and it’s almost impossible for me to avoid recommending it.

 

 

Birds of Prey (dir. by Cathy Yan)


Once upon a time, there was this comic book company called DC. DC was fortunate enough to be owned by Warner Bros. back in 1968. I’ve always thought of this as a good thing, despite not being the best of fans. It meant that any tv show or movie would have the full backing of Warner Bros., and DC would never need to shop around for production and/or distribution  rights for their work. So, when Superman finally happened in 1978, it was a watershed moment in the history of Comic Book films. It would take more than a decade for the WB to finally make a film about a second DC Hero with Tim Burton’s Batman.

But over the last 30 years, we’ve had:

  • 7 Superman Films (5 Original, plus the Singer reboot, the Snyder Reboot and a sequel with Batman v. Superman)
  • 4 Batman Films (4 Original, plus the Nolan Reboot and Snyder sneak-in on Batman v. Superman
  • Green Lantern 
  • Wonder Woman
  • Aquaman
  • Suicide Squad
  • Shazam!

That’s not counting films like Steel, but generally, outside of 2011’s Green Lantern, the support for DC’s character base outside of what they needed for Justice League really wasn’t strong, in my opinion. So getting a movie that stands outside of the usual top tier is worth trying, even if it stutter steps the way Suicide Squad did.

So, Birds of Prey, fully known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and give me a bit of hope for what comes next from DC/WB. The film focuses on Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie, reprising her role from Suicide Squad), who suffers a bad break up from The Joker. To cope, she gets herself a new place and a new pet hyena (a good throwback to the Paul Dini / Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series version of the character). When she runs into mobster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Doctor Sleep), he gives her a mission to recover a precious diamond from Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco), a young pickpocket. Also thrown into the hunt for the diamond is Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, True Blood), who works for Sionis. Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez, Do the Right Thing) is looking to take down Sionis and The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof), who has her own reasons.

The performances are nice, and it seems like everyone enjoyed themselves. No one really phones in their roles – both McGregor and Robbie excel with their parts, and there’s nothing really wrong with anyone’s work here. I haven’t much to say on that.

The story for Birds of Prey, written by Bumblebee‘s Christina Hodson, is a bit unsteady at first. It makes sense, given Harley’s madness, and makes for some fun exposition in the same way Suicide Squad did. Of particular note are the fight scenes, which feels a lot like what you’d find in John Wick. Birds of Prey has its own particular style.  My only real problem with the film was the change over in Cassandra Cain’s character from the comic, who is pretty dangerous. Bosco’s Cain isn’t really written that way, but her pickpocket abilities does make up for it, somewhat. It’s not a terrible thing, but if you’re expecting the Batgirl you’ve read about, it’s not happening. Additionally, Moviegoers expecting to see either Jared Leto or Ben Affleck will probably be a little disappointed. Birds of Prey works with the inclusion of the two DC majors, but I enjoyed that.

Overall, Birds of Prey is a fun popcorn flick that may not be as strong as Shazam!, but offers quite a bit in the way of humor and action. I’m happy that DC’s taking these chances, and hope they continue to do so going forward.

At least it’s not another Batman film.

Todd Phillips’ “Joker” Trailer


DC will never fully give Gotham any rest.

Why should they, though? With Batman’s 80th birthday, it makes sense to keep the fires burning by announcing a film taking place in his playground. With Joker, we now have the 4th iteration of Batman’s nemesis over the last 30 years (not counting animated/tv versions, anyway).

When Todd Phillips’ name is mentioned, the first movie that comes to my mind is The Hangover. Comedy is where he shines, so seeing the first trailer for his upcoming Joker is interesting. It’s looking more like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down or Scorsese’s Taxi Driver than anything else. I’m curious to see where this goes, honestly.  If there’s anyone that can bring the creepy and crazy to The Joker, it’s Joaquin Phoenix.

Phoenix stars as an individual trying his best to smile through life’s challenges, only to become Gotham City’s greatest villian.

Joker makes his appearance in theatres this October, which worked extremely well for Venom in 2018.

 

Made Man: Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS (Warner Brothers 1973)


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Let’s talk about Martin Scorsese a bit, shall we? The much-lauded, Oscar-winning director/producer/film historian has rightly been recognized as one of out greatest living filmmakers, with classics like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED on his resume. Yet Scorsese started small, directing shorts and the low-budget WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? as a film student. He got work as an editor (UNHOLY ROLLERS) and assistant director (WOODSTOCK) before directing a feature for Roger Corman called BOXCAR BERTHA, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. When Scorsese and Mardik Martin cowrote a screenplay based on Martin’s experiences growing up in New York’s Little Italy, Corman wanted to produce, but only if the film could be turned into a Blaxploitation movie! Fortunately, Warner Brothers picked it up, and the result was MEAN STREETS, which put Scorsese on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

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Spring Fever: Joe E. Brown in ELMER THE GREAT (Warner Brothers 1933)


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It may be cold and snowy here in New England, but down in sunny Florida, Spring Training has already begun – which means baseball season is on it’s way! The Red Sox are looking good, although they got pounded by the Orioles in the game I watched this afternoon (I’m writing this on a Saturday), but just hearing the crack of the bats has whetted my appetite for the return of America’s National Pastime. So while we wait for Opening Day to arrive, let’s take a look at the 1933 baseball comedy ELMER THE GREAT.

Comedian Joe E. Brown plays yet another amiable country bumpkin, this time Elmer Kane of small town Gentryville, Indiana. Elmer’s  laid back to the point of inertia, except when he’s eating… or on a baseball field! He’s better than Babe Ruth and he knows it, and so do the Chicago Cubs, who’ve bought his contract…

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Living History: Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (Warner Brothers 2018)


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If you like history as much as old movies, Oscar-winning New Zealander Peter Jackson has a treat for you – THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, a World War I documentary utilizing 100+ year old footage from the Imperial War Museum (most of it never viewed outside there) to tell the story of the British Empire’s infantry during The Great War. Jackson was given access to hundreds of hours of actual film and audio and commissioned to create something “unique and original”, and with the aid of modern technology he certainly succeeded in his mission.

Jackson’s narrative is told through the eyes of the young men and boys (some as young as 15) as they go through enlistment and boot camp, training to kill the enemy, then follows them to the Western Front, where they encountered not only battles in the trenches, but dysentery, rats gnawing at their fallen comrades, lice…

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40 Years of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Warner Brothers 1978)


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Unlike today, when superheroes dominate at the box office and your local multiplex, costumed crusaders were dead as the proverbial doornail in theaters of the 1970’s. The last was 1966’s BATMAN, at the height of the camp craze, but after that zer0… zilch… nada. I didn’t care; my comic book reading days were pretty much at an end by 1978, driven away by other distractions, like making money, girls, beer, and girls. I had moved on.

But when Warner Brothers announced they were making a new, big budget Superman movie, I was intrigued. I’d always loved the old 50’s TV series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, corny as it was, and with a cast featuring Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , and Glenn Ford , not to mention that girl from Brian DePalma’s SISTERS as Lois Lane, I wanted to see this new version. I also wanted…

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Hollywood Babylon: TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (Warner Brothers 1958)


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Hollywood biopics are by and large more about their entertainment value than historical accuracy. TOO MUCH TOO SOON is no exception. It tells the story of actress Diana Barrymore, daughter of “The Great Profile” John, based on her 1957 best-selling tell-all, and though it pretty much sticks to the facts, many of them have been sanitized for audience consumption. Dorothy Malone , fresh off her Oscar-winning role in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, is very good indeed as Diana, whose true life was much more sordid than fiction, and we’ll get to all that later. What makes the film for me was the actor portraying the dissipated John Barrymore – none other than Errol Flynn !

Errol Flynn (1909-1959) as John Barrymore

Don’t expect to see the dashing star of CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD here. Flynn (who a year later would release his own tell-all book, MY…

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Heavy Hitter: THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK (Warner Brothers 1974)


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The last time we saw BILLY JACK , he was being hauled off to jail – and raking in about 60 million bucks at the box office! The eponymous hero of the surprise 1973 indie hit struck a chord with young audiences disillusioned with the Establishment’s endless wars and crushing their hobnail boots on the throats of dissidents (like I always say, the more things change…), and cheered as Billy Jack struck karate blows and Hapkido kicks in the cause of freedom. A sequel was inevitable, with Tom Laughlin returning as star/director/co-writer (along with wife Delores Taylor, who plays Jean) in a film loaded with political and spiritual philosophies designed to open those young moviegoers’ hearts and minds (not to mention wallets!).

But while BILLY JACK (and its predecessor, BORN LOSERS ) are fun flicks, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK suffers from that dreaded disease many filmmakers are prone to…

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