Sunday, July 29, 2007

SDCC '07 - Riding The Comic/Graphic Novel Gravy Train

Is there anyone in Hollywood NOT involved with a comic book these days? At this year's SDCC everyone from Rosario Dawson to Neil Young (yes, THAT Neil Young) unveiled new comic book & graphic novels.
Look, I'm all for artistic types stretching their craft and trying new things .. but its getting kind of ridiculous.
My big beef is that a lot of these people aren't actually creating these new projects they're involved with. They're doing the publication equivalent of 'executive producing.' And that's not how graphic novels or comic books or manga WORK.

You can't produce a graphic novel or comic book. You can't present one either, unless your name's Stan Lee. Otherwise, you haven't earned that distinction. You can write, pencil, ink, letter and/or edit one. Because then you're involved in the true creative process that creates a comic or GN.

Maybe I'm just splitting hairs here but I'm not that impressed when I hear about Rosario Dawson's GN "O.C.T. - Occult Crimes Taskforce" - because she didn't write or illustrate it. She may be involved in the storytelling process in some way but if she's not handling any of the two primary tasks, how much input into the story can she have? [BTW, O.C.T.'s first TPB is due out soon, and Dawson announced at Comic Con that more stories are due.]

Same thing with Neil Young. DC announced at their Vertigo panel plans to have Josh Dysart write the GN adaptation of Young's 2003 album "Greendale." At the panel, Dysart said the book " about a woman who finds her place as an activist. It's a blend of surrealistic Vertigo, my aesthetic and Neil Young." It was also said Young would have significant input -- whatever that means.

Look, I'm a big Neil Young fan but last time I checked he had no comic book experience so chances are he's not doing much more than giving the occasional piece of advice to the writer about what certain songs in the album meant. I could be completely wrong about that ... but I bet I'm not.

Not all of this new wave of 'Hollywood graphic novelists' take such a hands-off approach. Actor Thomas Jane ("The Punisher," "Stander," the upcoming "The Mist") has launched his own comic publishing firm, RAW Studios, to put out traditional comics as well as digital comics online. Jane is partnering with "30 Days of Night" creator Steve Niles on the project and Jane is co-writing the books. That's a big difference. [I'll have more on Jane's multitude of multimedia offerings in my next post. He's a busy guy!]

My concern with this new trend is that it cheapens the hard work, the dedication comic pros put in to making their books. There are no shortcuts for true artistic endeavors. Brian K. Vaugh, Brian Azzarello, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons,et all .. none of them have 'ghostwriters' helping them with their stories. Its their work, their vision.

The blurring of the creative lines is giving someone whose main contribution is likely restricted to the promotional front, just as much credit as the person or persons responsible for the story. And that's not right.

I'd love to hear thoughts on this issue, no matter which way you stand.

Friday, July 27, 2007

INNNDYYYYYY!!!! (Guess Who's Back?) -SDCC News

One of the several big things to come out of Thursday's Paramount panel was the 'live via satellite' appearance by director Steven Spielberg and the cast of Indy 4 sitting on directors chairs. Harrison Ford looked great in his worn adventurer's outfit, Ray Winstone (who's also starring in Bob Zemeckis' Beowulf) and Shia LaBeouf were also there from the film's current shooting location.
Spielberg and Ford shared few details other than the fact that after 18 years, 25 days of shooting have been completed. Ford seemed genuinely excited to be doing another Indy movie and I can't wait to see him working with Winstone onscreen. No confirmation about LaBeouf's role, other than Ford calling him his 'other sidekick.' Spielberg told the audience this movie is for the fans and they're going to get it right - frankly, how can you doubt this crew?
Oh yeah .. almost forgot. Before signing off, spielberg went and grabbed another directors chair -- with the name 'Marion Ravenwood' on it! The crowd in Hall H inside San Diego's Convention Center went nuts when Karen Allen, the first and to many fans the best of Indy's girls, walked into view and sat in the chair.
And she looked amazing!! I mean, really, really good. I'm all of a sudden extremely excited about this movie. Everything seems to be falling into place for a great return for Indy. And while I'm a huge Cate Blanchett fan, I'm hoping Karen Allen gets more than just a cameo walk-on role, because the character of Marion Ravenwood deserves better. Thankfully, it appears Spielberg is well aware of what the fans want with this movie and he wants to get it right.
More SDCC updates later.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

San Diego Comic Con '07 - Trek Casting Call

Big Star Trek news broken @ SDCC today. At the Paramount Pictures panel, director J.J. Abrams revealed Zachary Quinto from "Heroes" will play young Spock in Abrams' still-untitled Star Trek project due out next year. Its assumed Abrams is taking the crew from TOS back to the beginning, maybe as far back as to the Academy. But before the crowd could even settle down from the well-received news of Quinto's casting, Abrams & Co. announced ANOTHER casting note for the movie - LEONARD NIMOY!!
Yep, original Spock will play himself in the new film. When Nimoy walked out on stage, it set off perhaps the most pure form of Fanboy enthusiasm I have ever witnessed, and that's saying alot. It was a great moment.
Meanwhile, Abrams said he hasn't cast Kirk yet and he wants Shatner in the film too but he wants to do it right and not screw with Shatner's legacy or that of Capt. James Tiberius Kirk.
I'll post pix when I return home to NYC and give you updates on Iron Man & Indy 4!!!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Billy Crudup is Dr. Manhattan!!

So a VERY, VERY well-placed source told me over the weekend that Billy Crudup is definitely, 100% inked to play Dr. Manhattan in the long-awaited and even longer-in-development "Watchmen" movie. Its expected that '300' director and the current King of all things graphically-oriented Zach Snyder will announce this and perhaps other casting notes this Friday @ the San Diego Comic Con during the "Watchmen" portion of the Warners panel.

Interesting decision on both sides. Snyder proved with 300 he 'gets' the source material and understands the responsibility a filmmaker has to bring a well-respected and beloved story to the screen. With "Watchmen" its doubly so because its nearly universally viewed as the apex of comic book literature. He knows if he screws this up, he's toast with the rabidly loyal fans who are bowing at his feet now because of his adaptation of Miller's bloody masterpiece.

What I like about Snyder is that unlike most folks in Hollywood, he realizes that to be a true commercially successful entity, a comic book/graphic novel adaptation should first and foremost appeal to the core fans. Of course, you want casual fans to get into your movie, but if you hook the diehards who are familiar with the source material, chances are you've got a hit. So I'm cautiously optimistic about "Watchmen," despite the fact that I have doubts about how they're going to pull off some of the bigger scenes from the comics.

As for Crudup, this could put him back in the public eye after years of ducking mainstream movie attention. Not even his too-brief turn in MI:III last year was enough to get him off the Hwood Milk Carton he's been on the past few years. If it wasn't for his voice on those 'priceless' Mastercard commercials, you'd think the man who portrayed 'The Golden God' Russell Hammond in the practically-perfect "Almost Famous" had fallen off the face of the earth. He hasn't. He's been on Broadway, but for most movie fans, that's the same thing.

Whatever the reason he's jumping onboard (hopefully he likes the original comics), Crudup's good in ANYTHING. This is a good step forward for "Watchmen." Can't wait to hear who else signs on.

Make This Guy A Star, Already!

The opening weekend success of "Hairspray" (not to mention the sterling reviews) may finally, FINALLY, solve a nagging mystery in Hollywood - why James Marsden isn't a bigger star?

Just look at the guy. He's annoyingly good-looking, perfectly coiffed and just about always well-dressed. On top of that, the guy can flat out ACT. His work on Ally McBeal, the X-Men trilogy, The Notebook and especially Superman Returns proves that. In Hairspray, he also shows he can sing & dance like a Broadway star. So I ask again, why isn't he a bigger star?

It has nothing to do with off-set headlines. He's never in Page Six or any other gossip columns because he lives the nice, comfortable life of a married man. It may have EVERYTHING to do with the fact he has perfected the role of the third wheel, the guy who NEVER gets the girl. As Cyclops, he may have technically gotten the girl (Jean Grey/Phoenix) but she obliterated him in the third film and always seemed to pine for Wolverine -- so that doesn't really count. In The Notebook, he loses Rachel McAdams to Ryan Gosling. Now, I enjoyed this movie, I did. Thought it was a great love story. My wife, though, LOVES this movie. Its one of her all-time Top 5 films. But she says the one flaw she has with it is that no woman in her right mind would leave a guy like Marsden for a sourpuss like Gosling's character. But it happens anyway!

Then in Superman Returns, Marsden has to compete with the Man of Steel. Impossible, yet, he somehow manages to make you sympathize with his character, knowing he's being held up to an impossible standard, and hoping he comes out of this incredibly awkward situation OK. THAT'S GOOD ACTING.

In Hairspray, the Stillwater, Oklahoma native turns a nothing part in the Broadway show into a scene-stealing effort that's bursting with charisma and conscience. He could have played it in a self-absorbed, Vince Fontaine-styled performance, but Marsden's natural likeability comes through onscreen and infuses Corny Collins with a personality he really didn't have in the Broadway show. If you caught the cast's appearance on TODAY last Friday, you saw it there as well. (Of course, you didn't hear a word from James during the interview portion because they only wanted to talk to the other stars. Talk about a slight!)

So again - why isn't he a big star? Beats me. Maybe casting directors feel he's the prototypical 'too good to be true' guy, someone the audience can't relate to. Could be, the right parts/scripts haven't come his way, or perhaps they have and he hasn't jumped on them. And sometimes, its just bad timing and bad luck. Who knew Hugh Jackman would be the breakout star of the X movies? Or that Preacher (based on the graphic novels), a project Marsden had been actively trying to get off the ground so he could star in it, would keep getting stalled in the Hwood pipeline? To illustrate my point about luck and timing, Marsden told me Preacher is finally getting made -- as a cable TV series. He won't be a part of it. Too bad. He would have been great in a really interesting role. But once again, things didn't break his way.

Regardless, he's way overdue to break out.

We had him on REEL TALK last week and he was one of the most down-to-earth guys we've had on. Laid back, self-deprecating, and very aware of the industry and his place. He seemed genuinely excited about Hairspray's chances of raising his profile. I hope it does that for him. Enchanted seems like another can't-miss hit later in November, which should also show off his sense of humor (he's playing a buffoon-like Prince Charming, as he put it - check out the trailer here. HE's also got a romantic comedy with Katherine Heigl and Ed Burns called 27 Dresses coming out later this year. If this isn't the year James Marsden becomes a big star, then there's no hope.

Keep this in mind. Outside of Hugh Jackman and maybe Matt Damon, name another under 40 star who can do comedy/action/drama/musicals. Think about it and get back to me when someone comes to mind. And I'm only including Damon because of his 'Will & Grace' episode.

So hopefully Hollywood finally smarts up and realizes their next genre-juggling star has been right under their noses, waiting to show what he can do. Someone give this guy a LEAD ROLE!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Potter Bandwagon

So yesterday I was talking about how Harry Potter has become the dominant force in pop culture. Admittedly, not such an 'out-there' statement to make. But I have to admit it was funny to wake up and read the front page of USA TODAY's LIFE section today and see their cover story.

Seems I'm far from the only person to notice the bespectacled one's pervasive influence and cash-hoarding prowess.

Also, is there any greater indication of someone (or something)'s "IT" factor than becoming a victim of piracy or getting prematurely leaked onto the Internet? If so, then further proof that it's Harry's world and we all just live in it can be found
If those really are the pages from the last Potter book, I hope they catch the person who put 'em up there. Its one thing to give an early heads up for a preview screening of an upcoming movie, but to go ahead and steal shots of the pages to post them .. its not just wrong but its cheapening how the audience can enjoy the book. Reading photographs of the pages of perhaps the most anticipated book of the last quarter century is not the way people should experience it. So if anyone is thinking of going on an online search for those pages, DON'T! Wait 'til Saturday and buy the book, sit down and read it on the couch, and enjoy Harry's last adventure the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

My PSA is done. Now I'm off to eat some Cuban food at Havana Central (which is pretty good, despite being right in the middle of tourist hell in Times Square).

Monday, July 16, 2007

The King of Pop (Culture)?

After scoring a mind-boggling $44 million its first day in theaters, $77.4M for the weekend, $140M for its first 5 days .. however you add it up, the totals compute to a ridiculous figure. Mind you, "HP:ATOOTP" is easily the worst-reviewed of the Potter films, so these totals prove the franchise is officially critic-proof. No matter what people say (my guys on REEL TALK didn't like it at all, BTW) the fans intend to go see it. That, along with the stellar box office, must have the executive folks at Warner Bros. exhaling and resuming their Hamptons house-hunting. They're also an indicator of just how strong a hold Mr. Potter has on mass audiences.

In TV a long-running series starts to lose steam, creatively and popularly, after its 3rd or 4th season. In the movies, the decline begins even earlier (Remember how fast the Matrix lost its coolness once Reloaded & Revolutions stumbled into theaters?). And the few franchises that have lasted past 3 chapters (off the top of my head ... Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Land Before Time, Halloween, Friday the 13th ..) have all either hit significant stumbling blocks that they could never fully recover from (Phantom Menace, ST: The Final Frontier .. any Land Before Time after the first, Winona Ryder) or degenerated into self-parodying schlock that was churned out just to cash in a quick buck. Harry Potter is different, however.

The unique situation of having the book series that inspired the movies continuing to be insanely popular has helped sustain interest in the franchise beyond the usual lifespan. Also, since the books were a few chapters ahead of when the first film was made, its built anticipation amongst the audience waiting for the chapters they've read to show up onscreen.

I also think the fact that the 3 stars were so well-cast is going to pay off in these last 3 films. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have really made their characters their own, to the point that the fans couldn't see anyone else in those roles. And now that they've reached their late teens - in real life and in the films - it will make for better movies. Think about it. They're all veteran actors now who have learned their craft in these roles. The next 2 films should only see more improvement as they mature. And maturing along with them, are the fans who have grown up reading the books/watching films. Because Harry and the others have continued to age and grow up and not be stuck in an 'Archie in Riverdale' time warp, the Potter franchise has avoided the potential problem of being left behind by kids who have 'outgrown' the material.

Alot of people, myself included, have criticized the films for being too close to the original source material. Its as if the directors were somewhat lazy and didn't try to take too many liberties with the subject matter. Considering how popular the movies have been, its painfully apparent most people disagree with that assessment. Potter fans don't want a different spin on the stories they read. They want to see them AS IS on the screen, and the filmmakers have obliged.

Now obviously the key ingredient in all this is JK Rowling's incredible characters and storylines. Its a one-in-a-million Perfect Storm that appeals to practically anyone who's ever read them. I have NEVER met someone who has said, "yeah, I picked up the first Potter book, but I just couldn't get into it." NEVER.

My 62-year-old mother pores over each book like one of those 10-year-olds you see on the news whenever a new Potter book goes on sale at midnight. Then she gives them to my 2 nieces, who are 14 and 11. Its incredible. And that's how it is ACROSS THE WORLD. Its important to remember, that no matter how popular he is here in the States, he's that much more popular everywhere else on the planet. Harry Potter may be the last literary phenomenon of our lifetime. With so many other options competing for kids' free time, that's not a far-fetched statement to make. And that's all due to Ms. Rowling's imaginative writing.

The very nature of the books - the story of a boy wizard who learns about spells and real life while dealing with all the complications that go along with both - lends itself to a certain kind of devoted following that a regular, dyed-in-the wool, grounded-in-reality TV show/Movie/Broadway show just can't earn.
Grey's Anatomy may be TV's top show, but you don't see people dressing up as Mcdreamy at conventions do you?
Jersey Boys may be Broadway's hardest ticket to score, but they don't have a crowd of teenage, free-spending fans waiting outside the stage door like Spring Awakening does.

My point is, if you want success, any quality production can earn it. But if you want a Cultural touchstone, you should set the cop drama in space or in Fantasyland or someplace other than Brooklyn. Because the really devoted fans, the ones that make it a 'happening,' that buy all the related merchandise .. want their real-life metaphors wrapped in escapist fare, and they want their heroes to attend a school called Hogwarts.

So in this fragmented, Demo-specific, 500 channel, Internet-always-on universe we live in, a British boy wizard has become perhaps the last across-the-charts singular pop culture sensation. And folks, there isn't anyone - or anything - that's even close.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Whats In Your Playlist?

I mainly use my iPod for running, and I hear it as I walk to work, which thankfully is only a 10 block walk from my apartment to 30 Rock (yes, I work in the same building, just 2 floors below, for the same company ((NBC)) that Tina Fey ridicules on her hilarious sitcom).

Latest additions to my playlist: couple new Bon Jovi songs, "Any Other Day" and "Lost Highway" which is a sickeningly addictive song. Those guys know how to rock a catchy tune.

Also have Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry", a new Martina McBride song .. and as for classics, how about The Clash's "Police on my Back"? Perfect song near the tail end of a run when you're starting to fade. The moment that comes on your adrenaline spikes. God Bless The Clash.

I'm up to about 400 songs on my Nano and I usually don't blow anything out 'til I'm completely sick of it.

LMK what you've got playing ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

'Prime' Example of A Blockbuster Weekend

The Fourth of July has been a heavy-hitting weekend for the movie industry for quite some time. It has all the elements that make it one of the Top 2 or 3 weekends of the year for Hollywood, alongside Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.

This year its no different, except for the sheer variety of the movies being offered up. First you have the comedy "License to Wed" which -- despite the fact it looks incredibly lame -- features a proven favorite (Robin Williams) in a role perfectly suited for his bombastic, ad-libbing comedy skills.

Then you have the 800 lb. gorilla of the holiday, and maybe the entire summer, in "Transformers." I've seen it and it was a true cinematic experience. With so many CGI-heavy 'event' pictures being made these days, you don't really get to experience something so ... BIG very often anymore. But Transformers felt different to me. And no, I'm not one of those super-Transformers fans from the 80s. When the toys came out I was 13 and was just starting to stiff-arm myself away from my geeky pre-teen passions. That said, the moment in the film where all the Autobots are revealed was one of the best 'Geek-Out' moments EVER. Trust me when I say this is not a movie you want to see in an empty theater. This movie is meant to be shared with an audience full of Ringer Tee-wearing, toy-collecting fanboys. Oh, and don't sit close to the screen. You'll thank me for it later.

But while I think Transformers is definitely THE MOVIE to see this weekend, running a close second would be "Rescue Dawn" starring Christian Bale. Based on a true story, it has you on edge 5 minutes into the picture. Bale is always good but here's he's surreal. He plays Dieter Dengler just different enough so that you know this is not some cookie-cutter escape drama. Bale's POW is a picture of madness, but also one of dogged determination. The best thing about is that Bale plays him with wild eyes and Texas-sized intestinal fortitude, and makes the audience believe that nothing will keep him from escaping.

Because its such a dominating performance, Bale's work will overshadow everyone else, which is too bad because Steve Zahn really impresses with his work as a fellow prisoner. This could be the role that breaks him out of the goofy sidekick prison he's been trapped in his whole career.

Director Werner Herzog was born to make this movie. And his fingerprints are all over the film because it just ... FEELS DIFFERENT. In the hands of most of the filmmakers in the studio system, this would have been a by-the-books Prisoner of War drama. But Herzog does just enough to give it a wholly unique rhythm, keeping you from getting too comfortable with the pacing of the movie -- which then puts you in perfect position for the several SHOCKING scenes in the picture.
Excellent movie, one that I hope doesn't get buried in the avalanche of blockbusters this summer.

And you heard it here first - Christian Bale will get an Oscar nod for this role.
And you can hear a really good interview with Mr. Bale on Reel Talk this weekend - or check it out online at

I'm out.