The Black Dahlia
Monday, September 18, 2006
Based on the novel by James Ellroy, director Brian De Palma's version of The Black Dahlia uses the LAPD's investigation of the January 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth "Betty" Short (portrayed by Mia Kirshner) as the backdrop for a larger story about corruption in post-World War II Los Angeles.
The main characters are ex-boxers turned detectives Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Ambitious Asst. D.A. Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler) exploits their athletic celebrity for political purposes (dubbing them "Mr. Fire and Mr. Ice"). Assigned to the cushy Warrants Squad, Bucky and Lee soon involve themselves in the sensational "Black Dahlia" murder investigation, despite it not being their case. Lee, for reasons that are not initially clear, grows obsessed (and increasingly self-destructive) with finding the Dahlia's killer.
Although he's falling for Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), Lee's girlfriend with a questionable past, Bucky also becomes infatuated with Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank), the naughty daughter of Emmet Linscott (John Kavanagh), a politically connected construction mogul from Scotland, and his hard-drinking, unbalanced society wife Ramona (Fiona Shaw). Madeleine, who was acquainted with Betty, knows more about her demise than she's letting on. While in reality the murder of Elizabeth Short remains officially unsolved, Bucky eventually discovers the truth behind her grisly murder. He, too, allows the case to become his obsession, which prompts him to commit increasingly questionable acts along the way.
The Black Dahlia is a mess, albeit an interesting one. While there are many visual flourishes peppered throughout the film, as one would expect from a De Palma picture, the cons outweigh the pros here. Much has been excised from Ellroy's novel but what remains doesn't come across nearly as intriguing onscreen as it may have read.
Betty Short's murder seems almost an afterthought. While the movie nicely underplays her case at first, gradually pulling its cop protagonists deeper into the mystery, the subplots about Bucky and Lee (and their relationships with Kay), as well as the storyline of Bucky and Madeleine, are not nearly as compelling as the story of this dead girl and who could have so horrifically killed her.
In a movie called The Black Dahlia, there's not as much about her as you might have hoped or expected. Any of Betty's "screentest" vignettes are far more captivating than all of Madeleine's scenes. (It doesn't help that Swank – whose character is supposed to be Betty's doppelganger – doesn't even remotely resemble Kirshner.) Once you see Kirshner/Betty onscreen, you want to watch more of her story. Alas, this film is not really even about Betty. It's about the idea of her and what it does to two cops.
As a whodunit, we can figure out which party was behind Betty's death a mile away. As a Film Noir, Dahlia seems more of a send-up than an homage. It makes all the mistakes that its counterpart, L.A. Confidential, wisely avoided (comparisons between the two films are inevitable). Whereas Confidential happened to take place during the era of Noir, Dahlia apes the genre to the point of cliche, making it feel too staged and aware of its own artificiality. The actors often appear too self-conscious of their Noir dialogue; only Hartnett and Kirshner come out with consistent and nuanced performances.
Brian De Palma is certainly an underrated director but it's the sloppy, over-the-top fare that he's made over the last decade or so that has diminished his standing as a filmmaker. Unfortunately, rather than being his comeback film, The Black Dahlia is just the latest in a long line of disappointments from De Palma.
posted by Evil @ 6:38 AM, ,
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Fox's presentation on Friday at the Comic-Con International in San Diego included the first extended look at one of this fall's most anticipated releases, Eragon.
Fox 2000 topper Elizabeth Gabler was on-hand for the panel, introducing both clips from the movie as well as its young star, newcomer Ed Speleers. Gabler recalled how close the production came to shutting down because it could not find its lead only to discover Speleers at the eleventh hour.
A very humble Speleers recalled his immediate and furious regimen of training once he was cast, and spoke about how he felt an affinity for his character since he himself has come from "nothing" to this lofty new position.
The footage included shots of the dragon Saphira, which is being designed by ILM and Weta, as well as a voice-over narration by co-star Jeremy Irons on the lore of dragon-riders. There was lots of battle footage and more!
posted by Evil @ 6:49 AM, ,
Warner Bros. presented new footage from its upcoming big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Saturday. The extended footage, cut in the style of a trailer but roughly five minutes or so in length, went over so well with the crowd of thousands that it was played three times to resounding applause.
The footage was accompanied by appearances by director Zack Snyder, comic book legend Frank Miller, and two of the film's stars, Gerard Butler and David Wenham. The panelists answered questions from the crowd, mainly of the "how was it like working on this film" variety.
The 300 segment included striking images of the Spartans in battle against the invading Persians, with many a limb, eye and even a spinning severed head lost in the bloodshed. The highly stylized cinematography and direction was, like Sin City before it, an almost direct translation of Miller's and Lynn Varney's imagery to the silver screen.
The footage tracked Leonidas (Butler), king of the ill-fated Spartans, from birth, through his lifelong training as a warrior to the threat posed to the Greek states by the invading Persians. The 300 Spartans of Miller's imagination are recreated here in exquisite detail, down to the way in which their capes flow and their battlefield moves.
Along with the crowd reactions to Spider-Man 3 and Grind House, 300 proved to be one of the big winners at this year's Comic-Con.
posted by Evil @ 6:18 AM, ,
Dark Knight Tidbits
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Nolan talks up Bat-sequel.
Director Christopher Nolan has gone on the record about the next Batman film, , in one of his first interviews about the project.
Nolan did address some of themes of the next installment. Whereas the first film addressed confronting fear and the meaning of justice versus revenge, The Dark Knight is "about things having to get worse before they get better."
While he would not go into great detail about The Joker, to be played by Oscar nominee Heath Ledger in the sequel, Nolan did advise fans that Alan Moore's classic graphic novel The Killing Joke won't be the only influence on the sequel's depiction of the Clown Prince of Crime.
"I also would point very much to the first two appearances of the Joker in the comic. If you look at where the Joker comes from there's a very clear direction that fits what we're doing very well," Nolan said.
The rest of the interview can be found in the next issue of Mean Magazine.
posted by Evil @ 6:51 AM, ,
We crash Michael Bay's Los Angeles smash-fest and emerge with new movie details.
One by one, the dreams of '80s youth are coming true. In the past few years, motion picture technology has progressed to the point where superhero films are not only possible but beautiful, and live action treatments of things that were once inconceivable are making their way to the Cineplex.
Such is the case with Transformers, a movie that seeks to capture the imaginations of the nostalgic throngs who ran home to watch an animated series about transmogrifying robots locked in an epic clash of good versus evil… or collected the accompanying toys, transforming plastic into fantasy. These same boys and girls are now (in the immortal words of T from Swingers) "all growns up," and their childhood dreams are set to be played out onscreen through a combination of live action and CG. Lauded action director Michael Bay is at the helm, and we got a chance to crash his set in downtown LA this weekend.
If you have never been on the set of a big-budget action movie, the only way it can be described is as "delicately orchestrated chaos." The production shut down a block of our busy city, and in addition to the hundreds who crowded barriers at the ends of the block, random folks would wander onto set, through the production, somehow oblivious to the fact that people were running screaming from invisible robots.
The scene being filmed was one near the end of the movie as the battle between Autobots and Decepticons rages in the streets of Los Angeles. The specific shots we saw were of mayhem and terror—extras running through smoke, the military folk reacting to the carnage, and the Autobots—in vehicle form—ostensibly getting in position for combat.
Several matte black dune buggies armed with chain guns and full of Section 7 (a branch of the government who deals with the Decepticon threat) military men were parked on the street, and at various points, the heavily-armed soldiers piled out of them and rushed on, presumably to battle the coming Decepticons.
Before each take, foul-smelling green smoke (think a concentrated version of the Fourth of July fuse smell) was blasted on the set, partially obscuring the set and adding another layer of confusion and mayhem to the proceedings.
At one end of the street, the set was being built for the next day of shooting. Huge chunks of asphalt were brought in to make it look like the street was completely torn apart, cars were lying crumpled on their backs, and a large fire-spewing hole was opened up in the center of the road. On the other end of the block, a giant box truck emblazoned with the Furby logo was being raised on hydraulics. The truck was slated for explosion, but sadly we did not get to see the blast; only test-runs of the hydraulics.
Four Autobots were on-set: Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet and Jazz. Bumblebee is in fact the yellow and black Camaro we have been seeing on the Internet. Ironhide is a huge GMC 4X4 truck, complete with enormous exhaust pipes and an Autobots logo stamped into the tailgate. Ratchet is a rescue vehicle, looking less like an ambulance and more like a modified Humvee. A sticker on the vehicle bears the traditional Autobots logo. Jazz is a curvy silver coupe, the latest Pontiac Solstice. It seemed like one guy's entire job was to buff the car and make sure it remained shiny during the carnage.
The scene we saw filmed serves to bring all of the divergent storylines together, so plenty of cast members were on-set, including Shia LeBeauf, Tyrese Gibson, Megan Fox and Josh Duhamel. We got a chance to interview all of them, and will bring each interview to you as we progress toward the July 4th, 2007 release.
All of them were unified in their excitement for the project and the involvement of Michael Bay, whose own enthusiasm was apparent throughout the shoot. Wearing a "Giant F***ing Robots Are Coming" T-shirt (with an Autobots logo on the back), Bay was joking with actors between takes, and was able to take some time during the shoot to speak with journalists. A full interview will be featured on the site in the coming months.
In addition to Bay, we were able to chat with several producers, including Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy, Tom De Santo and Ian Bryce. They spoke about story structure, Transformers designs, key elements from the series that must be preserved, and whether there are already sequel plans. Mild spoilers follow.
Don Murphy was the most forthcoming with information, describing the structure of the film as a disaster movie where five separate storylines converge at the end of the movie into one epic battle. The street scene we witnessed was integral to the final confrontation. He also stated that the "transforming sound" is likely to make it into the film, and that although the timing does not yet call for it, they are definitely looking into getting Frank Welker to voice Megatron. At Comic-Con 2006, the studio announced that the fan favorite and original actor who did Optimus Prime will be voicing the Autobot leader in the film. Murphy went on to say that Soundwave is being saved for a possible sequel, and he will play a large role in the proceedings.
posted by Evil @ 6:45 AM, ,
On set of the Viking action epic with director Marcus Nipsel.
Director Marcus Nipesl, the fella who brought us 2003's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is taking a big chance with Pathfinder. Making any film these days is a big risk, but when your flick is set 1,000 years before the purchase of New York and has almost no dialogue, then, yeah... it's not an average movie. And that's exactly what Nipsel says he wants to deliver. "What I'm interested in is taking a proven genre and deconstructing it," he tells IGN FilmForce on the Vancouver set. "I always wanted to make a gladiator movie, then Gladiator happened. Then I wanted to make a pirate movie, and Pirates of the Caribbean happened. That was that. But none of them really deconstructed the genre, and did something really grungy, dirty and subversive." So Nipsel considered the subjects that, for the most part, haven't been touched, and concluded: "Vikings was it."
"The story itself is set in a pocket of history where the Vikings came to North America and had a conflict with the American Indians," says visual effects supervisor Randy Goux, whose prior work includes Serenity and TV's Firefly. The film has three major effects-driven elements: the Viking ship, the battle aboard the ship, and an action sequence on a frozen lake. "Where I'm really helping Marcus is there's a pretty heavy action scene in the boat. That's where the thing is going to be bigger and broader and more epic."
This is day 49 of the 51-day shoot, and the cast and crew occupy platforms suspended over an expansive indoor wave pool. It's the ice pond scene, and four cameras will film it; two from the main platform; one on a giant crane; and one underwater. "It's a money shot," says the sound recordist. "We'll have a couple of chances to get it right. If we can get it on the first take, when everyone's dry, that's best." A dozen or so ironcald Vikings are positioned on white foam boards over the pool. Behind them, more Vikings on horseback. At the center of this, over the pool, is Karl Urban. Behind him, chained to her Viking captor on horseback, is Moon Bloodgood.
"What's happening in this scene is Karl Urban, along with Moon Bloodgood, the two of them are survivors who've been taken as prisoners from the Indian village, which has been raided and pillaged and destroyed by these Vikings," says Goux. "The Vikings now want the rest of them, who are in a neighboring village somewhere away, and they've asked Karl to lead them to the other village, otherwise they're going to kill the girl, and kill all of them." What the Vikings don't know is Urban's character has set traps along the way. Here, his intent is to lead them, with their hulking armor, to where he knows the ice is weak. "These plates of ice are on gimbals, and those guy over there with the air tanks… once they hit the trigger, the whole thing comes up and you'll everybody go to the bottom."
At intervals, the air tanks shoot the ice plates upward. The Vikings flail and collapse into the water. Some grab the edge of the shoals. Some go under completely. A horse and its rider try to retreat backward. Urban goes under. Moon Bloodgood is at the edge of a shoal - chained to her drowning captor.
"Karl! Keep on going!" says Nipsel. "Right and left! Swish around! Loose Moon! Karl! Fish around! And... cut!"
"Cut! Cut! Breathe, everyone breathe!" says the first assistant director.
"Make sure they're safe," says Nipsel. He turns to one of his camera operators, "What I like is the liveliness. You go over it. Swipe over it."
Urban wades through the artificial ice to a ladder, climbs up, and goes to the bank of monitors. "Playback for Karl's underwater camera please!" says Nipsel. The scene appears, showing Urban under the ice, breaking to the surface, and fending off a Viking attempting to clutch the same shoal. "You can kick him, but hopefully it will force his nose up, okay? And let it fly. Hit him, the one you're standing on. He's going to approach you and add weight and hopeful it will bring you up."
Nipsel turns to his crane camera operator, "Zoom over Karl and zoom in on Moon only," then shouts across the pool, "Moon, the camera comes at you! Stay where you are! Go back to your shoals. When it comes in, give me a push-me-pull-me with your chains." Then to Urban, "Tell me when you're good to go again."
"We can play that rougher. Let me give you one guy that pushed you down," say Nipsel
Urban climbs back into the pool, and we ask Nipsel about the genesis of Pathfinder. "It's something that happened on its own accord. Originally, it was a coming of age story based on a short film I made. Then I heard that Karl loved the script." What evolved is a story about "an unnamed Viking who was stranded here as a child, raised by the Indians, and becomes their hope for defeating a second invading Viking force." The script and ensuring storyboard process "took on a life of it's own," he says. "Unless it sucks, I don't stop it. I always like getting surprised by that. I draw every frame, and it looks like something very specific in mind, but I abandon it immediately if I think something else comes along that makes it different and keeps it interesting."
posted by Evil @ 6:35 AM, ,
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Review: A midly entertaining showcase of 19th century trickery.
Set in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, Edward Norton plays a mysterious magician named Eisenheim, whose trickery is capturing the imaginations of the masses. His show-stopping tricks go far beyond any magician before him, and many begin to believe that Eisenheim may in fact possess magical powers. When the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) is baffled by the trickery, he sets out to uncover the reality behind the magic. Vienna's Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) is committed to discovering the truth behind Eisenheim, but the magician refuses to cooperate, leading to a battle of wits.
The Crown Prince's bride-to-be, Sophie von Teschen, actually knows Eisenheim from childhood, and the two soon find themselves rekindling feelings of a youthful attraction. She is fascinated by the bold and mysterious Eisenheim, quickly realizing that her pending matrimony to the insecure, volatile Leopold is bound to end in misery. Part love triangle, part police investigation and part magical showcase, The Illusionist is an intriguing tale of royalty and theatrics in 19th century Vienna.
The Illusionist is directed by Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin) from a script Berger based on the short story by Steven Millhauser.
Comparisons to Christopher Nolan's hotly-anticipated upcoming holiday release, The Prestige, are unavoidable. That film features an impressive cast list as well, including Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson amongst others. Both occur around the same time period in Europe, although Eisenheim is faced with a police investigator instead of a rival magician. As bizarre as it seems, this Hollywood trend of two films with similar stories releasing close to one another is an ongoing tradition, especially in recent years. I'm not really sure how or why it keeps happening, but for better or worse, the Illusionist has beaten The Prestige to the punch as the first turn of the 19th century European magician film of 2006.
The jump-off point for The Illusionist works well enough. Much like the audiences that come to watch Eisenheim, film audiences will enjoy watching the magic tricks performed, especially in light of the fact that many of these amazing tricks were actually performed at the time. I suspect many audiences will never believe this, but the true historical basis is fascinating stuff.
There's nothing especially bad about The Illusionist, it just never steps above and beyond an average thriller mystery. The feel is more like a TNT original than a theatrical release featuring a cast of this magnitude. It's entertaining enough to pass the time, but it isn't worth going out of your way for.
For all of the flare presented during Eisenheim's act, the non-magical moments are pretty mundane. Biel is gorgeous and very appealing, but the story of their love is dull and typical. They don't share a great amount of chemistry either, but then again, as great an actor as Norton is, I can't remember seeing him share true chemistry with any actress. He hasn't played the romantic lead much, but maybe there's a reason.
Giamatti's battle of wits with Norton provides a suitable side drop to all the illusions. Norton and Giamatti are such great actors that seeing them square off is a treat in itself. Unfortunately, Berger plays the entire film relatively safe, so there isn't as much meat as you might hope for in their encounters.
Rufus Sewell, who looks radically different than he did way back in Dark City (plastic surgery, anyone?), seems to have found a temporary niche for himself playing smug, evil royalty. He works as the villain, even if Leopold is a bit cartoonish and one-dimensional.
It's hard to avoid the overall ho-hum reaction to The Illusionist in the end. Such a great cast, a great story, some very cool magic. There's got to be something more here, right? It's an entertaining film that passes the time, but it doesn't make the lasting impression I was hoping for.
posted by Evil @ 6:09 AM, ,
Check out the Autobots and Decepticons featured in the film.
Transformers screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci revealed Friday morning, in a live webcast on Yahoo! Movies, which Autobots and Decepticons will appear in the forthcoming Michael Bay-directed movie based on the popular franchise. Here's the list with a few random notes from the screenwriters...
Optimus Prime - "The king!"
Bumblebee - "He's the same underdog character we always knew and loved." [Note: Except he's a Camaro in the new movie.]
Jazz - "He's eager to take on the Decepticons."
Ratchet - "Ratchet, who was an ambulance in the cartoon, will appear in a new form."
Ironhide - "The muscle. A tough soldier who can make any Transformer bust an o-ring just with his stare!"
Megatron - "He's been portrayed as pure evil but we're trying to get a little bit behind the evil in this movie. ... He has a slightly less idealistic version of what he thinks humanity is worth."
Starscream - "Always secretly plotting to dethrone Megatron..."
Brawl - "An extremely pissed off Decepticon."
Bonecrusher - "The closest thing to a Constructicon in the film."
Barricade - "The hunter of the group -- a cop car."
Scorpinok - "Closest thing to Beast Wars or Dinobot in the film."
Frenzy - "A smaller form able to infiltrate spaces -- a stealth spy."
Blackout - "The guy who takes out our ability to fight back."
Transformers rolls out on the big screen on July 4th.Keep watching The Latest Movie Review for the latest!
posted by Evil @ 5:59 AM, ,
X Men 4 Update
Thursday, August 17, 2006
And a word on Wolverine.
X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner says contract renegotiations are the biggest stumbling blocks in order for X-Men 4 to become a reality.
That would mean veteran cast members, such as Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry, could be too expensive now for 20th Century Fox.
Jackman, however, is onboard for the prequel/spinoff Wolverine, which he is also producing for Fox via his Seed Prods. shingle.
"Next, we're going to do Wolverine, but not before the end of the year because he's in the Baz Luhrmann film," Shuler Donner confirmed. "We have the [Wolverine] script and are working on it. ... We also have Young Magneto in development."
Sheldon Turner is writing the Magneto screenplay, while David Benioff is penning Wolverine. No directors are attached to either project yet.
posted by Evil @ 6:32 AM, ,
A Date For Harry Potter
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Prince and Phoenix updates!
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has announced that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will open November 21, 2008.
No director has been hired yet for the sixth installment but series vet Steven Kloves will pen the screenplay adaptation of J.K. Rowling's bestselling novel.
The November bow signifies a return of sorts for the Warners franchise. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban opened in July and the upcoming installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is also set for a July debut. But otherwise all the Potter films have opened in November.
In related news, set reports for the now-filming Order of the Phoenix are popping up online. HP4U.co.uk has a report on scenes being shot at Virginia Water involving the characters of Professor McGonagall, Hagrid and Slytherins Draco, Crabbe and Goyle.
Meanwhile, The-Leaky-Cauldron.org has posted spy photos of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry on the Phoenix set. The set is reportedly supposed to be Privet Drive.
posted by Evil @ 7:14 AM, ,