Director Joe Wright switches gears from his solid Brit-lit adaptations (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice“) and the ill-fated “The Soloist” and gives us a bit of Luc Besson (I hope less thin than “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional”), a bit of fairy tale and “Kasper Hauser,” a probably coincidental resemblance to a certain aspect of “Kick-Ass,” a bit of Bourne, and, I hope, a bit of Le Carre, Green and, and other classic spy writers, because we need more of that right now. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett star and the always wondrous Olivia Williams is also on board. Interesting cast for an action flick. This one is interesting.
And that’s only “pre” on the West coast. Anyhow, thing are going to get a lot less verbose from me over the next few days and I’m in a relatively laconic mood tonight, so enjoy the relative brevity to come.
* “The Hobbit” remains in suspended animation because of MGM’s fiscal limbo, says Guillermo del Toro. Anne Thompson has some added details on the possible future of MGM, such as it is.
* “Alice in Wonderland” just crossed the $1 billion mark. Mike Fleming speculates that this might might make Johnny Depp — say it like Dana Carvey’s impression of Mickey Rooney now — the biggest star in the wooorld. If true, the questionable virtues of playing it artistically safe look ever more questionable.
* Interviews with remarkable men: Michael Caine and an extremely funny George Romero in Vanity Fair plugging his new “Survival of the Dead” which is a very limited release right now. Definitely read the Romero whose zombies, we must repeat, never ate brains and, since everyone else is doing it anyway, is working on his own zombie novel. And, yeah, someone is working on “Night of the Living Dead” musical for Broadway, but Romero’s smart enough to stay off of that particular gravy train.
* I’ve never seen them, and they’re not available on DVD, but the autobiographical dramas by Terrence Davies, “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” have an incredible reputation among critics and others. Davies is coming back with an adaptation of a play by Terrence Rattigan, “The Deep Blue Sea.” This will be the first movie adaptation of a play by the English writer since David Mamet’s perfectly swell — and, believe it or not G-rated — 1999 version of “The Winslow Boy.”
* “Lost Boys 3” starring the late Corey Feldman doing a Batman-style raspy voice. I don’t even begin to know what to think. [Update: I obviously made a mistake here last night. Mr. Feldman is still, I’m happy to say, very much with us. See comments.]
* He didn’t make many movies, but RIP Gary Coleman anyway. Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific remembrance a couple of posts below this one.
* It’s TV but this is too close to home to ignore…the cast of the upcoming HBO TV show starring Diane Keaton and directed by Bill Condon which is not about Nikki Finke just keeps getting better. Recent additions include Ellen Page and Wes Bentley.
* As part of a lame maneuver to try and do and end-run around critics on behalf of what surely seems to be a lame movie, alleged actor Ashton Kutcher is claiming that he’ll pirate and release — all on his own of course — the first ten minutes of his upcoming and pretty lame looking “Killers.” Spare me. Truly.
* If you live in the movie capital, things tend to get a bit quiet over holiday weekends like Memorial Day. It can be kind of nice. Not like the beautiful short below by Ross Ching, but not completely removed from it either. Strangely enough given the impossibility of what’s being shown, this, by the way, is one of the closer depictions of how L.A. actually looks to a native like me.
As the creator of such beloved action films as “La Femme Nikita” and “Leon: The Professional,” Luc Besson knows a thing or two about staging a great action sequence. Although the French filmmaker has recently devoted his time to adapting children’s fare like “Arthur and the Invisibles,” he’s remained an integral player in the genre as a writer and producer on some of the best action movies of the last decade. For the follow-up to the 2004 cult hit, “District 13,” Besson has returned with a new story that brings super cop Damien Tomasso (Cyril Rafaela) and reformed criminal Leito (David Belle) back together to save the titular ghetto once again. It’s been three years since they last averted a plan to detonate a nuke within the crime-ridden alleys of District 13, but when a corrupt politician and his security force try to destroy the district for capital gain, Damien and Leito join forces with the local gang leaders to stop them before it’s too late.
Besson’s man-on-a-mission stories are about as predictable as they come, but while some of the exposition can seem a bit contrived at times (not to mention unbelievably boring), it’s a necessary evil that helps bridge together the incredible action sequences. And between Rafaela’s cleverly choreographed fight scenes and Belle’s jaw-dropping, parkour-inspired stunts, “District 13: Ultimatum” features some of the best action you’ll see all year. The fact that they’re actually performing every bone-crunching hit and gravity-defying leap only increases the entertainment level, with some stunts begging to be watched over and over again on a loop. The film’s uninspired story certainly doesn’t do it any favors, but between the high-energy action sequences and the chemistry of its two stars, “District 13: Ultimatum” is still a must-see for any fan of the original.
* Inevitably, the apparent mega-success of “Avatar” brings out Hollywood’s copycat side re: 3-D. Oy.
* Every cinephile’s favorite company, Criterion, plugs their 2010 release schedule via primitivist postcard. Next time, they should go the extra mile and promote their releases via cave painting. Tops on my wish list: the restored “The Red Shoes.”
* I suppose I should wait until I’ve caught up with “Taken” to pass full judgment, but I can’t help but wonder about Paramount’s apparent approach to choosing directors for the latest attempt at Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” It’s not that I think Pierre Morel is a bad director. His “Banluie 13” had some very good sequences, even if its story was the usual Luc Besson not-quite-story. But why does Paramount apparently think this is just another hard-charging action flick? To me, this is a movie that needs someone with a bit of David Lean or John Ford in him. Giving helmers who are strong on thud and blunder, but not necessarily on story and character, “Dune” is like assigning a smart second-grader to do a book report on The Brothers Karamazov. They might figure out the storyline with a lot of effort, but they’ll never get near the meaning — though I’d be delighted to be proven wrong.
As at least a large chunk of America mourns the passing of Ted Kennedy, today is a day when we honor William Faulkner’s phrase: “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
* Did you know that the late Walter Cronkite stumbled into a den of Colombian narco-terrorists? The result was that a few years later the most trusted man in America gave testimony before a Florida jury. No surprise, a major conviction resulted. Now, as Michael Fleming tells it, international thrillmeister Luc Besson wants to turn Uncle Walter into a movie action hero, or something close. Interesting.
* Great news for those of us who are involved with cinema’s past here in Southern California. The endangered film program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been given a $150,000 reprieve.
* Something tells me that maybe Vin Diesel is taking that Faulkner quote a bit too seriously. Does anyone want XXX III?
* Martin Anderson of Den of Geek wonders about the future of Blu-Ray in general and a newer superduper 3-D compatible version being tied to “Avatar.” He’s right about the still-problematic nature of at least some of the glasses and the fact that we quickly forget we’re even watching 3-D after the first few minutes, so there’s a point of diminishing returns for the viewer which might prevent folks from making the large initial investment in the technology. For me, I love 3-D as a novelty for certain kinds of movies, but I really don’t think we need it to become standard. Having 3-D available to me at home would almost defeat the purpose and ruin the fun.
* More deaths: Writer turned film producer turned diarist Dominick Dunne (h/t David Hudson) and widescreen/large format pioneer, Panavision cofounder, cinematographer, and director Richard Moore.