No fooling, it’s Thor’s-day at the movies

I don’t usually do these kind of posts on Thursdays, and it’s April Fools’ Day. However, there’s simply too much apparently non-joking, actual movie news to leave for Friday. So, here we go.

* Of course, in Hollywood, it’s not always easy to spot the April Fool’s story from the real thing. That’s why IESB frontloads their big possible, eventual scoop today with all sorts of promises that they’re not joking. Anyhow, it appears that #1 cult creator Joss Whedon, most recently of “Dollhouse” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” fame, is supposedly on the short list to direct “The Avengers,” currently being penned by Zak Penn.

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If you’re skeptical about this, you’re far from alone. Just check out the slightly quizzical reaction from Whedon’s robotic and slavishly devoted cult — of which I am a known member — over at Whedonesque. (I’ve even forgiven Whedon for listening too much to Rahm Emmanuel and selling out to big pharma and not fighting hard enough to keep the public option in the health care bill….Oh, wait, wrong blog.) Still, Whedon’s known for staying in touch with his fans. I strongly suspect that, if the story were completely unfounded, he’d have posted something about it by now.

One creative point. Some fans seem skeptical that a collaboration between Penn and Whedon could work. Well, of course, Whedon has actually done any number of rewrites and polishes on other people’s scripts — a lot of folks give him credit for most of the wittier portions of “Speed” — and though Penn has been involved with some pretty conventionally dull flicks in his day, he’s not completely lacking imagination and humor. His little seen 2004 comedy-thriller mock-documentary, “Incident at Loch Ness,” has some remarkably hilarious moments,  most of them courtesy of Werner Herzog, playing himself and also taking a cowriting credit. If Penn’s good enough for Herr Herzog, he’s perhaps good enough for Joss Whedon.

* Speaking of “The Avengers,” the movie about the only actual deity in the group, “Thor,” is currently in production and director Kenneth Branagh talked about the film and his affection for the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/et al comic books in today’s L.A. Times. This was not some random publicity glad-handing but a deliberate effort to squelch some unpleasant — and, to my ear, unlikely — rumors being reported in the tabloid press which allege open on-set criticism/anger directed at newcomer-lead Chris Hemsworth from venerable master thespian Anthony Hopkins, presumably relating to the 26 year-old star’s relative lack of experience, at least compared to Hopkins.  Hopkins, who’ll be playing Thor’s even more venerable dad, Odin, and Branagh have strongly denied the rumors and painted a picture of a happy set.

I was fairly impressed with Hemsworth’s work in the opening of “Star Trek,” so I tend to lean towards the official story here. He’s also a veteran of an Aussie soap, “Home and Away,” and history teaches us that soap vets tend to become pretty good actors when actually allowed time to learn their lines properly and develop characters. I don’t know much about Hopkins on a personal level except that he’s gotten this far in his career without these kind of incidents being an issue that I can think of. I suspect it would take a titanic lack of talent/ability to visibly annoy him at this point.

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Friday night movie news dump…

And, for a change, it’s barely even night here on west coast as I begin.

*  We’re seeing some major league “New Moon” girl-power at the box office, already. $26.3 million, to be specific. That’s just for midnight shows.

* Just a few days back I noted the casting of Japanese star Tadanobu Asano as Hogun in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming “Mighty Thor” flick. As a part of Norse (i.e., Viking) mythology, Asgard is, by definition, a pretty strictly Nordic place, so I thought this casting was interesting.  Visually, the Marvel comics Hogun was based on Charles Bronson, whose face had a definite Asiatic/Mongolian-by-way-of-Lithuania cast, so going with the star of “Mongol” was a stretch worth noting, but maybe not a definite sign of completely race blind nontraditional  casting.

However, Branagh has now cast the very fine African-English actor Idris Elba of “The Wire” and several great episodes of “The Office” in the part of Heimdall, guardian of Asgard. As a commentor at the Heat Vision blog that spread the news mentioned, Branagh did something very similar when he cast Denzel Washington as an Italian warrior-prince in his version of “Much Ado About Nothing.” I’ll quote myself from the Bullz-Eye piece I did on less well known Denzel Washington performances:

As a major production featuring truly race-blind “nontraditional” casting in a key role, “Much Ado About Nothing” is something of an onscreen first. In fact, audiences and critics had no more problem accepting Washington as an Italian prince than they did accepting the extremely British, pasty-faced Branagh as a Mediterranean nobleman.

Especially in films set far away from a realistic context and where the actor has as much authority as both Washington and Elba have, I think we’re sophisticated enough about the nature of movies that this will not be a problem, even for viewers who know a little about mythology. And here’s the best part: it will piss off some white supremacists. I’ve personally heard about young Neo-Nazis who dig the comic book “Mighty Thor” and apparently are too stupid and ignorant to realize that the series was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a.k.a., Stanley Leiber and Jacob Kurtzberg, two rather brilliant New York Jews. As always, the joke is on the hate fetishists.

Like I said before, this is not your father’s Asgard, and I’m fine with that.

800px-Asgard

* It’s thirty days before the release of “Avatar,” the movie isn’t quite done yet, and some of us insist on going about our business as if life as we have always known it was not about to be forever altered. Quick, send out Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi to say nice things about James Cameron!

* He’s brought us everything from “School of Rock” to “Chuck and Buck”, but very talented quirk/comedy writer/actor Mike White’s next film is about Santa war, but I doubt it’ll be very violent. On the other hand, he appeared in the comically mega-violent “Zombieland,” so perhaps his thinking has evolved some. I pretty violently disagreed with his op-ed, but he gets credit for even thinking about stuff like this.

* And, now for something completely different, from OC Weekly restaurant critic Edwin Goei comes his list of the five greatest food movies. I’d steal some of his YouTube clips, but I’m starving and I’m supposed to go to the gym later, dammit. Just go see for yourselves.

  

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Disney, Diablo, and the King Kirby clan’s Spidey claim

Just  a few interesting items in recent movieworld news.

* Nikki Finke selects a possible future “toldja” candidate for the next Disney chairman. Toothy, bespectacled Rich Ross is not a name that’s likely to excite movie fans, as his background is pretty much Disney Channel material. Interesting comments on this one.

* Fresh on the heels of the bad box office of  the graphic comedy horror flick, “Jennifer’s Body,” “Juno” authoress Diablo Cody’s next outing will be a major dialing down of the “edgy” factor, as she will be adopting the Sweet Valley High book series for the movies. I had only heard of the television series until I saw this item, but according to the Heat Vision blog, a humongous 150 of the books were published between 1983 and 2003 and 60 million copies are in print. That’s not small and reminds me of a female-skewing variant on classic pulp series based on characters like the Shadow and Doc Savage.

Attaching Cody to this project strikes me as a canny move. Not only is she apparently a fan, but giving it to a writer with a known “edge” might broaden the appeal to cynics and, possibly, males. I’m far from Cody’s biggest fan, but I’m still a lot more likely to check out the movie than I would have been otherwise.

* Also courtesy of Heat Vision, the Jack Kirby estate law suit against the Disney owned Marvel continues to play out. The THR blog’s Borys Kits and Matthew Belloni say that they’ve seen some of the legal “termination notices” and that this might be a more sweeping suit that was thought. To me, the really interesting portion of this is that one of the notices was for Spiderman, a character Kirby never drew that’s usually credited largely to the eccentric and brilliant Steve Ditko. However…

According to several accounts, Kirby, with his Captain America co-creator Joe Simon, did create a character called the Silver Spider, whose alter ego was an orphaned boy living with two elderly people, and that character was morphed into Spider-Man. Other accounts have the Silver Spider becoming the Fly for another comic company.

It gets a lot broader than that, with the Kirby claiming some possession of several Spidey supporting characters, but that may be just so much legal jockeying. We’ll see.

  

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Oy, what a weekend: A Disney exit and a Toronto bloodbath (Updated)

You may not have heard it, but the movie world’s been shifting on its axis over the last few days. It might not be very pretty.

* Dick Cook, the Chairman of Disney who doesn’t get nearly the amount of press of CEO Bob Iger, resigned just before the start of Rosh Hashanah last Friday night. In the inevitable “did he fall or was he pushed?” argument, the “push” side seems to have the edge and the repercussions are significant, but not completely clear.

The short version seems to be that Cook and Iger simply had different views on too many issues and that the movie side of Disney, Pixar aside, hasn’t been doing quite as well lately as some would like. Cook was, however, apparently rather well liked by such superstars as Steven Spielberg and Johnny Depp, and that might have an impact on such issues as whether not they’ll be a fourth “Pirates” movie. Marc Graser of Variety has more — including the tantalizing suggestion that the job might be Pixar head John Lasseter’s to turn down. Of course, Nikki Finke has yet more of the seemingly endless lowdown.

Johnny Depp and Dick Cook

* Speaking of Disney and its famous recent acquisition, there’s a second lawsuit similar to the one that wrapped a while back regarding the rights to Superman — or not. Let’s just say it’s from the same lawyer and this time the target is Time Warner/DC Comics competitor, the newly Disnified Marvel Entertainment. As described by Nikki Finke, who picked up the story from the comics site Bleeding Cool, this time the creator in question is the late, great Jack Kirby, one of the most respected figures in all of comicsdom and the co-creator with Stan Lee of many of Marvel’s best known characters including the Fantastic Four and the Mighty Thor. (He also co-created Captain America with Joe Simon just months before America’s entry into World War II.) There’s a long history on the whole issue of Kirby’s role in creating these comics in relation to Stan Lee, and there are a number of issues here. Like anything legal, it gets pretty thorny and there’s some pretty “lively” debate among the commenters at Deadline Hollywood.

* Perhaps most significant of all, reporter/blogger Anne Thompson has written a post that’s sent shockwaves through the online film world and probably the actual film world as well — though the news itself is known to those affected. She concisely entitled her post-festival piece “Toronto Wrap: Indie Bloodbath.” The villain here seems to be, at least partly, rising marketing costs — though I’d like someone to explain to me why they are rising as we’re coming out of a recession with a more or less jobless recovery. Nevertheless:

It costs too much money these days to make a dent, a mark, an impression that will create enough urgency in filmgoers to make them go out and see a movie. While Ted Mundorff insists that business is up at indie-branded Landmark Cinemas around the country, and Apparition’s Bob Berney is hopeful that exec changes at Cinemark and AMC will bring a new awareness to booking the right movies in the right locations, the indie market needs help.

With the exception of the high profile deal for a “A Single Man” last week, very little business got done in Toronto and struggling indie filmmakers are, rather than selling their films, paying to have their films released. Terms like “tectonic shift” are being bandied about. Via David Hudson/The Auteurs Daily, we have reaction from my personal movie Yoda, Roger Ebert and Vadim Rizov, who comments on Universal’s recent troubles and its ensuing spending freeze.

The irony is, of course, that all of this comes after a  very successful movie summer. Another chapter, I suppose, in the ongoing realignment of all media, though the timing sure seems odd. Movies will survive, but it’s a most definitely a tough time for all but the most micro-budgeted of indies and the big budgeted productions of ordinary Hollywood, and life’s not exactly a feather-bed for them, either.

UPDATE: Also via The Auteur’s Daily, apparently there’s been some delayed Toronto-related action and some blood just got mopped off the floor. And a little more. Things are, I’m sure, still bad, but perhaps the mood might be a hair less apocalyptic for larger indies.

  

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Neverending battles

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Some continuations of ongoing tales in the never ending movie wars…

* Naturally, Nikke Finke has more on the Disney-Marvel deal. Of course, there’s a discussion of Universal’s currently existing use of Marvel licensed characters at theme parks, which Finke points out is pretty much a job security plan for lawyers. Disney may spend decades slowly bringing the characters fully on board. Much more interesting to me is another post on the background of the deal. It’s been brewing for nearly a decade, but she reminds us of the genetic link Iger has to the history of comics.

His late great-uncle (his grandfather’s brother) was illustrator/cartoonist Jerry Iger, who partnered with illustrator/cartoonist Will Eisner back in the 1930s to create — you guessed it — the comic book packager Eisner & Iger Studios...And their first hire was Jack Kirby, who as you know later became the co-creator of many of Marvel’s best known characters with Stan Lee.

Kirby almost needs no introduction. Eisner, for those of you with less than obsessive old school comics knowledge,  is probably the comic book equivalent of John Ford with a dash of D.W. Griffith in terms of his influence on the medium as an artist/writer. He was also a very successful entrepreneur on various ends of the comic book industry for decades. (He’s best known as the creator of “The Spirit,” a great series which may take years to recover from the damage done to its memory by Frank Miller’s reprehensible film version.)

* I haven’t really had the chance to geek out with either friends or even online about how much I loved “Inglourious Basterds.”  If you were similarly entranced and want to read more, more, more about the movie, you need to check out last week’s ‘net colloquy between Dennis Cozzalio of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and Bill R. of The Kind of Face You Hate. It’s an involved discussion that went to some surprising places as it addressed some explosive comments by film historian/critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who eventually was mensch enough to join the discussion.

It’s a lengthy three part discussion at two sites, but probably the easiest place to start is the final post, because it has links to the previous three. Got it? There are some fairly significant spoilers hidden here and there, for sure, but if those don’t bother you too much and you haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie, you still might want to check it out. I was already spoiled on the main ones before I saw the movie, and it didn’t harm my enjoyment of it.

* One of the main villains of “Inglourious Basterds,” who has recently been making a name for himself one of the more recognizable ‘net commentators on geek matters, weighs in on last weeks “Avatar Day.” (H/t Den of Geek.)

  

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