Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Daze

It's been a rather eventful summer for me. Besides the usual summer movie coverage craziness - which includes writing about the BEST film of the summer, "District 9" [read my review HERE], I also found myself out of work.

After four successful years, NBC cancelled the show I produced, REEL TALK. No more debating with Jeffrey and Alison which movies or guests should/would make the show, or explaining the difference between Mar-Vell Comics and Marvel Comics (the former is a superhero, the other is the publisher,..). No more uncomfortable moments ordering a turkey & cheese wrap from Johnny the Sandwich Guy at the NBC Commissary, and hoping he doesn't sabotage it. After six years working for NBC at 30 Rock, I was becoming one of the Dept. of Labor's key statistics.

Er...that sucked pterodactyl 'nads, to be perfectly honest.

It still does, but that's OK. As many dear friends of mine reminded, one door opens, another blah, blah, blah...

I wouldn't exactly describe myself at the proverbial crossroads. I'm certainly not looking to switch careers, go back to school (God knows I don't want to do that) or anything so drastic. I've been fortunate to have enjoyed a decent amount of success in my TV career, with REEL TALK being the highlight thus far. I lost my job because my show was cancelled. Stinks, and I may not like it, but I understand. That's what shows do. They get cancelled. I'm not very worried about landing something else.

Positive thinking? Absolutely. Confident? Without a doubt. Delusional? Perhaps. But that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

No, when I got the heave-ho, I decided to approach my 'summer hiatus' as a chance to recharge my creative batteries. Because while i loved working on RT, the truth is, after four years I could do the show in my sleep. And as budgets were slashed and opportunities to do various specials, on-location shows and other outside-the-box programming were slowly phased out, it was occasionally monotonous. Nature of the beast for any job, in any profession, I suppose.

Anyway, I told myself I would try some new things, would sharpen certain skills - such as writing - that have atrophied during the last eight years, most of which I've spent formulating grammatically incorrect copy.

[Not my fault. It's what we do in TV. We fracture sentences and phrases like Steven Seagal smashed Jamaican gang member bones in "Marked for Death" - with impunity and with no regard for lasting damage.]

I've been doing a lot of writing for the website Newsarama, a very popular pop culture site that specializes in comic book news and anything else that touches that particular genre. Generally I cover movies, an obvious choice. But I hope to do more in the TV and animation field and whatever else they'll let me get away with. With any luck, the message board haters will light me up with their fanboy brio (thanks Marc).

Aside from that, I've made myself a promise to accomplish 3 specific things before the end of this year. Because if there's one thing I do well, it's procrastinate. So here goes:

1) Finish one of the large handfuls of screenplays I've started and tossed aside over the past decade. No, I haven't actually tossed them aside, because that implies that I'm printing pages. That's not very eco-friendly. i mean, tossed aside virtually, in some folder on my iBook. Don't know if there's even a good idea in any of those incomplete ideas, but I'm considering it just an exercise in completionism. Why, I do believe I've made up a word!

2) Complete a script for a comic book proposal, and pitch it to someone, anyone. I'm a geek, have been since before I could take myself to the bathroom. For someone whose first memorized words were likely "Stan Lee Presents," cracking the comics business is the ultimate goal. First things first. Realize idea, commit idea. Execute idea.

3) Get a job. C'mon, my wife reads this blog (at least i hope she does).

Now that I've blogified my Fall resolutions, I have no choice but to actually follow through. Keep me honest.

[and in case you didn't notice, blogified makes 2 new words coined in 1 post. Eat my vocabulary, punks!]

Next time, I think I'll discuss the fun I had getting my ass kicked by a bull while taping a reality show in France.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bad Trailering A Hollywood Epidemic

Years ago, before it became 'the Ryan Seacrest and his stable of crappy reality shows channel,' E! used to air a fun show hosted by Todd Newton, called "Coming Attractions." His tag line was that it spotlighted 'the best part about going to the movies - the trailers!' He had a point, back then. Getting an early look at what's coming down the pike used to be one of the big treats to a day or night at the cinema.

Not anymore.

Movie trailers have become infuriatingly spoiler-laden, cinematic killjoys that give away key plot points and basically sap much of the need to actually see the movie it's supposed to be encouraging people to see. It's gotten so bad I find myself trying to time my arrival to the theater so that I miss everything but the fake crying baby sound that tells the moron in the 6th row aisle seat to turn off his Blackberry.

This has been bothering me for years. In fact, I can pinpoint it to a specific trailer, 1998's "The Negotiator." I remember seeing the spot for the first time in Miami, at the AMC at Mall of the Americas. I vividly recall thinking, as the trailer unspooled, how cool this movie looked. Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey butting heads in an action thriller, with guns ablazing, corrupt cops, and in a high-rise? I'm there Opening Day! How often do you see A-list stars oppose each other in a big-budget film, I thought?

And then, the trailer gave away the big twist, that these two wind up on the same side. See for yourself.

How annoyed must I have been at the Spoiler-ish nature of that trailer that I still remember, more than 10 years later, how much it ticked me off...yet I have not the foggiest idea which film it preceded?

Two especially egregious examples of bad trailering have occurred this summer, involving the same studio. Warner Bros.' decision to include a MAJOR plot twist from "Terminator Salvation" in a trailer is one of the dumbest Hollywood decisions this year (although a clear second to Universal's decision to greenlight "Land of the Lost"). Whichever schmendrake at the studio said, "let's reveal that Sam Worthington is part machine in the trailer" should be forced to work the craft services table on the set of the "Hotel for Dogs" sequel.

[It's hinted strongly around 1:00 into the trailer, then flat-out Spoiled around the 2:20 mark. And don't bother getting mad at me for Spoiling it for you. You lose the right to complain about that stuff when the film's been out for a few week.]

Why does the fact that studios can't seem to help themselves from Spoiling the surprise twist get me so upset?

Because seeing the Next Big Thing, or at least 2:30 of it, gets the juices going for movie fans unlike any other. I'm sure I'm not the only one who starts nervously tapping his fingers on the armrest when a familiar logo, such as Lucasfilm, pops up suddenly onscreen, heralding a preview for an eagerly awaited epic. Remember the Geek-bumps you felt when you saw the trailer for "The Phantom Menace" for the very first time? The first time you viewed the teaser for "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?"

So what if both movies turned out to be crap? We didn't know that when we glimpsed the advance reels. Our interest was piqued. Anticipation built. Lines formed outside theaters. Unrealistic expectations were formed. Many not-so collectible collector's items were sold and stacked unopened in parents' basements.

What I'm saying is, those trailers DID THEIR JOBS.

Trailers are teasers, appetizers meant to water your cinema taste buds and expand your belly in advance of a film feast.

Which gets me to my other example of Bad Trailering by the WB, involving this year's breakout hit, "The Hangover."

I saw "The Hangover" back in April, two months before it hit theaters on its way to nearly $170 million box office to date (as of this writing). I hadn't seen a single ad for it. About all I knew about the film was that early online buzz was strong and the annoying guy from "Alias" and "Wedding Crashers" was part of the cast.

So after seeing it - and LMAO during just about the entire movie - I started recommending it to everyone who asked me about it. Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes did the same during their review on my sadly-cancelled movie show REEL TALK.

You know what else I was telling everyone? DON'T WATCH THE TRAILERS! Change the channel the moment one of the ads (and there were LOTS of TV spots) came on, because the spots include just about every wild twist in the movie. Don't believe me? Watch it below.

Now some may argue this is an example of why reveal-heavy trailers work. After all, "The Hangover" is on its way to becoming the biggest-grossing comedy of the past decade, with a sequel already in the works. But for those in the audience who saw the trailers, who know Mike Tyson is going to be singing Phil Collins and punching someone out and know there's a Tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and a naked Asian guy in the trunk, they missed out on the NO IDEA LAUGH. What's that?

The laugh that comes when something comes so thoroughly out of left field you nearly pop a button in your 501s guffawing. I was lucky enough to experience that with "The Hangover." I wonder how many people were able to do the same.

I can't stand watching movie trailers anymore. Why? Because less is more when it comes to teasers, and because I still enjoy surprises, especially at the theater. Modern movie trailers seem designed to eliminate that element of the moviegoing experience. For the life of me, I can't fathom why.

Incidentally, I have never bothered to see "The Negotiator." Don't need to. I saw the stinkin' trailer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

iPod Shuffle: 'Just Like Paradise'

This classic late 80s pop-metal gem from David Lee Roth has been a mainstay on my Nano since I saw the Broadway show "Rock of Ages." I literally hadn't heard it for nearly 20 years. When the band at RoA started playing that wailing guitar solo at the start of the show, it didn't register at first. Once I heard the chorus ... I instantly was back in the days of Edwin jeans, 3/4 sleeve rock jerseys and highly intoxicated concerts at venues like the long-gone Hollywood Sportatorium.

Big Hair metal bands don't get much more respect now than they did back in the brief heyday but there is no doubt those groups could crank out some catchy tunes. My jogging playlists always have a few metal bands in the rotation. Besides DLR, right now I have Rush, original Van Halen and Bon Jovi to keep me moving. Something about the standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus template that just lends itself to a good run.

BTW, I saw David Lee and his band perform "Just Like Paradise" at the Sportatorium in 1988. Wouldn't you know it, some wily bootlegger snuck in a camcorder to the cheap seats. Nice security...anyway, enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Daily $&@% Rant - Fantasy Baseball

Reason No. 451 Why Life Isn't Fair: When injuries cripple your fantasy baseball team. I have so many hurt players right now I've run out of spots on the disabled list. Jabroni Nation (that's my team name) currently resides in 7th place in my 10-team ESPN league.

If you don't do fantasy sports then you've no doubt stopped reading this.

If you have signed up at one point for the office baseball league as a morale-building exercise, then you know how frustrating it can be to build what you think is a quality team through the draft and free agent pickups, only to see your chances of success get cut off at the knees by a rash of injuries. It happens to every fantasy guy at some point -- happens all the time during football season, actually -- but this is the first year I've endured so many damn injuries.

I know I sound like I'm a whiny, complaining little schmendrake. So what if I am? Is it too much to ask of your big league multi-millionaires to stay somewhat healthy for at least 3/4 of the season. Hey Grady Sizemore, would a little extra stretching before games kill you? Because your being on the DL is certainly KILLING ME NOW.

If Brandon Webb were a super villain, he would be known as the Man of Porcelain. Good grief dude, why is it every time I draft your health collapses like a house of cards??

I've been doing fantasy sports for nearly 20 years. I know when you're in a deep league, if you lose one of two of your starting lineup at the same time for an extended period of time, you're up the proverbial creek sans paddle. Part of the game. But I've got a half dozen starters riding pine right now. For the sake of Pete's luv, Fantasy Gods, SHOW SOME MERCY!!

The only upside to my team resembling an outline for a very special episode of "Greys Anatomy" is that all my guys were hurt early. Nady, Sizemore, Webb and Kyle Lohse. Hopefully they'll come back fresh and ready to give me a big boost in stats after the All-Star break.

It will be especially nice to see Nady and Webb back on the active roster. Both of those dudes have been on a fantasy milk carton since the season began.

Guys, feel free to contribute to the Jabroni cause as soon as possible. It's the least you could do.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thomas Haden Church Imagines Life on 'Mars'

Here's the interview THC did with Jeffrey Lyons for this weekend's episode of REEL TALK. A few minutes in, he mentions his likely next role, in the John Carter film.

Watch Kevin Costner Interviews exclusively from Reeltalk.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thomas Haden Church Going to Mars?

Earlier today Thomas Haden Church, hands down one of the funniest guys you will ever have the pleasure of crossing paths with, dropped by REEL TALK's 30 Rock studio to chat up Jeffrey Lyons about his role opposite Eddie Murphy in the kid-friendly "Imagine That." In the middle of an interview that was all over the place -- it tends to happen with Jeffrey & THC, who go wayyy back -- Church mentioned that his next project will 'probably' be a big science fiction film for Disney.

That movie? "John Carter of Mars."

I wasn't in the studio at the time but when I heard it in playback I was taken aback. Now, unfortunately, it appears he's in the film in a supporting role, not the lead role, which I think he would be perfect for. He's got the rugged look that fits and he's a dude's dude. He can pull off all the macho crap you could want or ask for in an action part ... and John Carter's all about action. Still, any Thomas Haden Church is better than no Thomas Haden Church.

He's probably doubly excited since the production would be a home game for him. According to, the movie is planning to shoot in Texas, Church's home state and the place he still calls home.

It's good to see him involved in another high-profile project. He was fantastic as Sandman in "Spider-Man 3" and I have zero doubt he'll be a big asset here.

Of course, with a film as laden with roadblocks as this one, He may never get a chance to show his stuff. This film is really taking the long way around the development stage, and it may need a brand new GPS to make its way to production. Too bad, because as unproduced properties go, this one's off the charts in terms of potential.

That Edgar Rice Burroughs guy kinda knew his stuff, know what I'm sayin'?

Scorsese Gets Creepy

Looks like Martin Scorsese is going spookier than he's ever gone before with his next film. "Shutter Island" reunites the now Oscar-winning director with his muse Leonardo DiCaprio for the latest Dennis Lehane movie adaptation. The first trailer for the film is downright creepy. It will be interesting to see if Scorsese can still bring the spook and scare, since it has been 18 years since "Cape Fear" (that scene between De Niro and a young Juliette Lewis is still so, SO WRONG!!).

And is there anything that can cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up faster, than a mental hospital on a remote island? Methinks not.

Another frightening thought: Leo actually looks believable as what appears to be a grizzed federal marshal. When that guy starts looking the part of a 'grizzled' anything, then I know I'm getting old. "Shutter Island" debuts in October.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Man and Machine: A Love Story

One of the MANY great threads running through Duncan Jones' tremendous new film "Moon" is the complicated relationship between Sam Rockwell's lunar miner and the only other entity he is able to communicate with on the Dark Side of the Moon, GERTY (Kevin Spacey, you have one creepy voice).

At first, it's almost like the relationship between a master and his pet. Only it becomes clear very quickly that who you think is in those roles, is not really the case. Then the tension between the two increases, until...well, you'll just have to see the film to find out.

I've been talking this movie up for more than two months now. I just hope now that it's finally opening (NY/LA this weekend) it will find the audience it deserves.

One of the many things "Moon" has made me think about is how humans and highly-evolved machines get along in the movies. While often it's an adversarial relationship - Machines rebel against their creators, go A.I. and tell puny humans to know their role -- there are just as many examples of light-hearted bromances, like Buck Rogers and the 25th century sidekick Twiggy, and of course that 80s Dynamic Duo, Michael Knight and K.I.T.T.

There are so many other examples... two that come to mind is Dr. David Bowman butting wireheads with HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey", and of course, the two droids who showed Luke Skywalker there was more to life than moisture vaporators on Tattoine. Go ahead and take your bow, Threepio, R2.

When done well, this dynamic delivers strong commentary on everything from our growing dependence on modern technology to the dangers of artificially intellectualizing (is that even a word?) the devices and gadgets we build, because we're too lazy to do things on our own. They can also be great comic relief. And who doesn't get a kick from a cute, bumbling robot now and again?

I know I'm missing several other notable examples. Care to enlighten me? LMK your memorable Man (or Woman) & Machine movie relationships. Post 'em in the comments.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Update: Spider-Man Musical Ticket Info + Video

A day after getting an unexpected behind-the-scenes look at the in-progress musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," today I received an email from Marvel regarding ticket information. If you use a special code (1MARVL), American Express cardholders can buy advance tix to the musical now through June 23rd. After that, ALL AMEX users can buy them. The advance code works either on or via phone, 877-250-2929.

All the information is on the show's official website.

You can also find video interviews with director Julie Taymor, as well as Bono and The Edge.

Preview performances for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" begin January, with the official opening set for Feb. 18, 2010.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Exclusive!! Spider-Man Musical Info (sort of)

First, I'd like to apologize to my three or four regular readers for being so slack with the updates recently. Been slammed dealing with the fallout from the unfortunate cancellation of the syndicated movie show I produce, "REEL TALK." We'll hopefully have some good news regarding the next incarnation of the show with Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes. Until then, I promise I'll stay on top of this blog much more than I have, sharing whatever news and opinions I stumble, bumble and fumble across.

To show you I mean business, I have some very interesting news to report today, regarding the upcoming Broadway musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." There has been NOTHING about this show, outside of the recent casting call and the news that Julie Taymor will direct from a score by U2's Bono and The Edge. So imagine my surprise this morning when I snagged a peek at some very early footage of the show.

It was completely by accident, and not due to any clever journalism on my part. I happened to be attending the Tony Awards rehearsal at Radio City Music Hall with my wife. It's sort of an annual tradition for Cindi and I, since we're both big theatre fans. They run through the entire show, full cast performances, announcing the nominees, congratulating fake 'winners'...even the host , Neil Patrick Harris, ran through his quips.

So during the down time in what will be the commercial breaks, they run various video clips. Some are old TV spots for long-forgotten Broadway shows like "Timbuktu." Others are promos for upcoming shows. Imagine my fanboy surprise when an image of Spider-Man showed up on the massive Radio City screens.

Then they played a montage reel that showed Bono, Edge and Taymor discussing the show and what they plan/hope it will be. They had video of actors in harnesses flying through the air on wires, along with some special effects that looked to be in the early stages. There was also a shot of a drawing of Spidey's Rogue's Gallery, featuring familiar faces such as Electro, Carnage and Sandman.

I couldn't make out the others because I was busy taking pictures with my wife's iPhone. Apologies for the distant pix but i was sitting in the rear mezzanine.

Now, very little is actually known about the show's storyline. In fact, other than the fact it will involve the 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility' angle, NOTHING is known. We don't even know who's going to be playing Peter Parker (although Evan Rachel Wood has done some public campaigning for the role of Mary Jane Watson).

But there are a few kernels of info we can glean from the video shown at the Tony rehearsal. For one, it looks to have visual effects unlike anything Broadway's ever seen (makes sense, with the estimated $40 million price tag). There were two shots shown (one of which I caught in a pic) that featured these effects.

More important, I glimpsed one guy flying around with some kind of wingspan, not in any way resembling how Spidey would look web-swinging around town. My first instinct was this was a look at one of the villains in the show.

The Vulture, maybe? Morbius?? The Green Goblin perhaps, although it did not look like someone sitting on any type of Glider.

Obviously this is all speculation, but I can certainly picture a story that includes several familiar foes tackling Webhead on stage. Regardless, this is one of the more fascinating events to appear on the pop culture radar in some time, because of the sheer risk involved. I can easily see this being either a tremendous success or a humongous flop.

Julie Taymor is a visionary director. Forget her brilliant work with "Across the Universe." if you've ever seen "The Lion King" on Broadway, you know she's capable of incredible stage reinterpretation of iconic movies. She has some heavy duty help with half of U2 in charge of the songs. Will that be enough to make a memorable musical out of our beloved Web-Spinner?

"Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark" opens in February, 2010.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

We Need A Hero! (A Super One)

Mystique, take note. Bonnie Tyler would have been a way better choice for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants pre-cog than Destiny.

If there were any doubt about the importance of comic book heroes to the movie business, just go stand around the watercooler or Keurig coffeemaker at work. The deafening silence you hear is proof that without our beloved capes, Hollywood's money-making time of year is missing that all-important ingredient: BUZZ.

Pardon me for bursting the bubble of "Star Trek" fans everywhere. That film has been the big hit so far -- deservedly so, it's a fantastic overhaul of Gene Roddenberry's universe -- but it hasn't sparked the zeitgeist like last year's early breakout star "Iron Man" did, or how the late-season phenom "The Dark Knight" did.

Some could argue "Sex and the City: The Movie" had more people talking than "Trek." Look, when you've made $230M+ at the box office in less than a month, you have nothing to apologize for. J.J. Abrams and his team did their job. But six weeks in, the Summer of 2009 is well on its way to falling short of the Summer of '08 not just in terms of overall dollars earned, but pop culture immersion. In fact, this summer movieseason is actually kind of boring.

It just feels like we're going through the motions. Obviously, people are still going to the movies. "Up" and "The Hangover" were neck-and-neck for the box office crown this weekend, so there's proof right there. However, people just aren't talking about the movies as much as in years past.

"Did you see the new Pixar movie? Yes, it was great! So sad...cute dog...old people rock!"

"Up" was an incredible moviegoing experience, and perhaps the best movie of the year up to this point. But it hasn't captured the imagination of a large section of the country. Partly because no Pixar movie ever does anymore, because each year, when we think this is the movie that will finally be a letdown -- a chef rat? A robot movie with no dialogue for 30 minutes? An old guy in a balloon-lifted house?!? -- Pixar proves us wrong. But it's almost as if we expect them to do it. So it doesn't catch us off-guard like Robert Downey Jr. suddenly reinventing himself as an action hero did.

Part of the problem is unavoidable because it has to do with timing. After all, you can slot in monster-budgeted event films all summer long but phenoms can't be predicted or programmed. They just happen.

Everyone knew TDK was going to be big, but NO ONE could have predicted it would have been 'second highest-grossing film of all time' big. No one knew "Sex and the City" would prove that a chick flick could do blockbuster biz. And we were waiting nearly 20 years for a new Indiana Jones film, so forgive us if our excitement to see Harrison Ford don the fedora again clouded our judgement on THAT film.

Contrast last year's crop with this summer, when we've had up to now a new Trek, a Terminator sequel that made T3 look cool, another top-notch Pixar movie, "Night at the Museum 2" and..."Land of the Lost."

No wonder people aren't talking movies as much.

Yes, I know "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" - a 100% comic book movie -- kicked off the season, but doesn't that film seem like it opened a million years ago? Hugh Jackman's film is the only comic adaptation opening this summer, and that's precisely my point. Without these caped crusaders, men of steel or friendly neighborhood multiplexers, the movies just don't seem be very much on people's minds, during the 'fun' time to be a movie fan.

The comic book movie is the dominant Hollywood species right now, the type of movie that get people excited about rushing out, opening night, to see it. In the 40s it was war movies; the 50s were the era of the sword and sandal epics; the Bond movies became must-see movies in the 1960s; the 70s saw the high-concept blockbusters rise to glory; the 80s were all about the action movie.

The first decade of the 21st century? All about the comic book adaptations, baby. These movies stir Hollywood's drink, butter its bread, shine its shoes.

In other words, super heroes are the home run hitters. Comedies are the spray hitters who hit for a high average but who rarely hit one out of the park. Nothing wrong with that. You need good tablesetters to have a successful team (just ask Warners, which looks to have a big comedy hit with "The Hangover" that could ease the sting of "Terminator Salvation's disappointing performance). But without your power guys, you're likely not going to win, at baseball or movie profiteering.

Chicks dig the long ball, and so do studio execs.

Without any more comic book films in the wings, the boys of summer, circa 2009, have become singles hitters.

Last summer, admittedly an aberration, two comic-based films earned over $300M, "Iron Man" and "TDK." Unless "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" or "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" do it, there will be no summer movie to cross that threshold.

It's important to note that making $200 million at the box office remains a spectacular measure of success, by any type of accounting (even Hollywood's notoriously shady calculations). But when a film hits $300 mil, then it becomes a true blue, rub-your-eyes and say-what? phenomenon.

That figure is far from exclusive to comic book movies. The LOTR and Star Wars prequels all reached it, as did the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But in this day and age of reboots, remakes and franchise continuations, movies based on super heroes offer studios the best chance to soar to such heights.

The expectations are so high for comic book-based films that a movie which makes nearly $400 million can be considered such a disappointment, it sends the entire franchise back to the drawing board.

Do you know how many studios would rape, pillage and torture to have the box office receipts "Superman Returns" brought in? Only problem is, when you're talking about the World's Most Famous Super Hero, anything less than $600-700 mil worldwide is out of the question.

The reasons why expectations are so high for such films are probably well known to most of you: Sequel potential, merchandising opportunities, multi-media expansion, etc, etc.

They also offer the greatest potential for the most powerful form of marketing known to man: Word of Mouth. I can't tell you how many non-comic fans waited until after the first week to see "Iron Man." Once they started hearing from me or other friends how good it was, they rushed out to get in line.

We geeks, we're an excited bunch. When there's a film we like, we'll talk it up through any means available to us. Be it Facebook, Twitter or our own blogs (look Ma, no servers!), we'll spread the word.

But while I LOVED "The Hangover", after a few Tweets saying how LOL funny it was, I kinda run out of things to say about it. Now, "Hellboy II" or "Watchmen" or "TDK", you can break those movies down on a variety of levels. How it compared to the original comics, the actors, the special effects, the tone ... the Easter Eggs hidden inside the movies. The texture to these films lend themselves to being overanalyzed, unlike comedies or romances and many dramas.

How many message boards devoted to "The Departed" have you lurked on? Registered on any "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" fan sites recently?

A word of warning however, to my four-color friends. Better enjoy this ride while it lasts, because if history is any indication, it won't.

As studios mine comics for any and all possible franchise starters, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. The Spider-Man and X-Men franchises exist as proof, and the "Wolverine" prequel offers more confirmation. Just as science fiction movies fell out of a favor in the early 80s, and action films in the early 90s, you can bet your CGC 9.8 copy of Marvel Two-in-One #51
that the same thing will happen with comic book movies. It is inevitable.

How many more Spidey movies can Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire make? How many X-prequels can Fox squeeze out before they wind up being direct-to-DVD fodder? Marvel's already rebooted two big-name heroes - Punisher and Hulk - within 5 years. All that does is dilute the core property.

Besides, what fresh faces are left to prop Hollywood on it's broad, spandexed shoulders? Green Lantern seems, at least to me, to be the best hope for breakout success. It has the type of character and mythology that if done right, could be something spectacular. Flash too. Some would say Wonder Woman, but they're all DC characters and that company seems to have a problem getting corporate sibling Warner Bros. to do right by any of its heroes who aren't Batman.

As for Marvel, Captain America is the obvious choice for their Next Big Thing. But considering his most identifiable move is throwing his mighty shield, I'm a bit concerned on how he will translate to the screen properly. I have similar concerns for Thor and the Avengers movie Marvel's film studio is laying all this groundwork for.

I'm personally hoping each company has an 'Iron Man' or 2 still left in them. By that, I mean an adaptation that catches people off-guard with its fresh ideas and inventive reinterpretation. I don't know if it's Luke Cage or Booster Gold, or even Invincible (Image guy I know), but watching a B-level hero break out onto the A-list would be just as, if not more than, much fun as seeing "Spider-Man 4" break box office records in 2011.

There is something to be said for being surprised, after all.

(now go click on the video. you know you want to)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Say 'Hasta La Vista Baby' To Terminator

Interesting little rumor by SlashFilm about the possible setting for "Terminator 5." What really caught my eye was not the information it had -- that T5 could possibly be set in 2011 post-war London -- but that it discussed a fifth Terminator movie as if it had a remote chance of happening.

Because we'll hear Glenn Close announce Steven Seagal as the Best Actor winner at the Oscars before we see another Terminator film. The franchise is dead. Not Marcus Wright dead. Not Jean Grey dead. Uncle Ben dead. (my apologies to those of you not up on your comic book history but a quick Google search will enlighten you.)

As of today, Saturday June 6, "Terminator Salvation" hasn't even cleared $100M domestically. That's half of its $200 million budget and the way the picture is hemorrhaging audience share and theaters, it will be lucky to hit $125M in the U.S.

Now we know the way to finally unplug Skynet: Send in McG!

Couple that with the recent cancellation of TV's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles", the signs are clear: The Terminator franchise is just about out of gas.

The kiss of death for a fanboy-targeted film like this is bad word of mouth. Because if the diehards aren't behind your movie, it doesn't have a chance. Go ahead and scour some genre sites and read what's been posted about T4. Just make sure the little ones aren't reading over your shoulder. Some of it is downright harsh.

Most critics agreed (although REEL TALK did give it a positive review. Hit the clip to see it). T4 is currently at 34% at Rotten Tomatoes. That's worse than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" ("Star Trek" BTW, is at 95%).

What went wrong? We could point the finger at McG- everyone else has - and yes, as director he deserves much of the blame. Aside from cool action scenes -- notice I said cool, not groundbreaking -- the unfortunately-named helmer didn't do anything to disprove the haters who said he didn't have the filmmaking depth to follow in James Cameron's footsteps. When you have Christian Bale in your lead role, you need to make sure he isn't overshadowed by an unknown actor who can't disguise his Aussie accent.

You also need to make sure you don't start shooting with a one-dimensional script that gives the cast so little to work with. But it's not all McG's fault. After all, he did deliver on the hardware worship he'd been promising for the past year, with the Moto-Terminator cycles setting a new standard for post-apocalyptic cool. The sheer look and sound of the movie was superb. Unfortunately, the film was all style, no substance.

And an equally large chunk of the blame needs to fall directly at the feet of McG's handpicked star. Now understand before you read the following: I am a HUGE Christian Bale fan. Not only do I consider him one of the most talented actors working today, I think he is as good as any star at picking good scripts. Look at the projects he's been involved in.

"American Psycho." "Rescue Dawn." "Equilibrium." "3:10 to Yuma." "I'm Not There." "The Prestige." "The Machinist." "Velvet Goldmine." I didn't even mention the two Batman movies. Something else you notice as you peruse Bale's all-over-the-place resume is how it's the material, not the actual role, that seems to pull him in.

He's made a career of being second fiddle to other actors, whether it be Ewan McGregor, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and most famously, Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight." He plays the straight man again in T4, to Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright.

That decision, however, to sidekick John Connor is one of the key reasons why "Terminator Salvation" doesn't work. He's the prophesized leader of the resistance. How do you NOT make your movie about Connor? HE'S THE KEY TO THE ENTIRE MYTHOLOGY!! (didn't anyone bother to re-watch T1 and T2 before shooting began?)

Bale has said repeatedly in interviews that he didn't sign on until T4's script was to his liking. How could he possibly have been happy with this screenplay? None of the roles were fleshed out, while some were downright wastes of talent (I hope the woefully-underused Bryce Dallas Howard at least got to enjoy the craft services on the set).

I know many people will say the reported $8 million + profit participation salary was the reason Bale signed on, but I don't buy it.

He already has a cash cow, and its name is Batman. He's also one of the first 3 or 4 guys the studios think of for any potential franchise, new or reboot. The rumors of him doing "John Carter Man of Mars" keep gaining steam (Drew McWeeney over @ had a detailed writeup about it recently). Also, Bale doesn't live the 'Entourage' celebrity lifestyle that demands taking certain roles just for the amount of zeros on the paycheck. Just a guess, but I think the family Bale is not wanting for anything right now, outside of some privacy. So while money is always part of any Hollywood equation, I don't believe that was the primary motivation here.

So while Bale's rep for picking good projects will take a hit, he'll be fine in the long run. Advance word on "Public Enemies" is good and besides, he's already showed Dennis Rodman-like rebounding ability in the wake of his on-set tantrum.

This is likely the last hurrah for the Terminator property, however.

There was an alarming lack of buzz surrounding the pic in the months leading up to its release. Summer movie talk seemed to center on Wolverine, Harry Potter 6 and the current cyber-cinema du jour, Transformers 2.

The fact is, "Terminator 2" came out 18 years ago! Yes, there was a 14-year break between Star Wars films, but as popular as the first two Terminator movies are, they have never come close to approaching the popularity and mainstream reach of Lucas' universe. It also didn't have all the ancillary parts of the Jedi empire - the books, comics and toys - keeping the property in the public eye. It had a few comic book series, but none with any staying power. And when a sequel finally did arrive, "Rise of the Machines" in 2003 sapped whatever excitement remained for the mythology. The small-screen TSCC didn't do much to boost interest either. What I'm trying to say is, there haven't been a lot of online petitions demanding a Terminator revival.

Despite all signs pointing downward, the disappointing third chapter, the face of the franchise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, too busy Governing California, producers decided to go ahead and revive it anyway.

The deck was already stacked against T4. And the film failed to live up to the challenge.

Instead, "Salvation" mirrored another notorious fourth film - "The Phantom Menace" - in driving a stake through the heart of fanboys. The now-grown kids who had been teased by those frightening visions of the future war between man and machine had waited patiently for the payoff, and just like the Clone Wars, one of the Star Wars universe's most fabled events, it turned out to be a colossal disappointment.

Not only was John Connor a remarkably uninteresting character, but he also had a terrible memory. Why didn't Connor remember the T-800 he sent back in time to protect his younger self? Or the fact that Terminators have been sent back in time twice to save his life. What happened, the screenwriters used up all their expository dialogue on Helena Bonham Carter's role?

Talk about missed opportunities. There were so many with this movie. Not just with the John Connor role but with the technology and the advantage of the time period it was set in. How did we not see an all-out assault on Skynet by the resistance, taking on an army of Terminators? Where was the 'Oh S@#t' moment of the movie that EVERY Terminator film needs, demands.

'Salvation' didn't have that, though I did enjoy the truck chase scene with the Moto-Terminators. But not only did that scene not overwhelm you, it wasn't even the best chase scene involving a truck in the series. In fact, it was only third best. T2 and the much-maligned T3 both had more jaw-dropping road rage moments.

In the middle of all the salt-rubbing I'm doing in "Terminator Salvation's" wounds, I should point out that maybe the best part of the whole film was the look of it. Much of that credit goes to cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who was on the receiving end of Bale's now-legendary rant. You go keeping double-checking those lights, Shane. Because this movie proved you know what the hell you're doing.

Bale and McG both talked about having clear visions of what they wanted to see unfold during their Terminator trilogy. I would suggest to both that they compare notes, hire a great artist and collaborate on a graphic novel to finish up their story. I know I'd buy it. why wouldn't I? It would be the last, best chance I have to see the Terminator saga played out to the very end.

Because I have a better chance of breaking 80 at the Black Course at Bethpage next weekend than they do of getting the green light to do a fifth Terminator movie. And I'm a really bad golfer. And this is tough to write, because I have loved this franchise since I was 13 years old.

But it won't be back.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Angels and Demons Picks Up Pace

Looks like Ron Howard read most of the scathing reviews for "The DaVinci Code." After that film was crucified by the press - not for the blasphemy the Catholic Church accused it of but for committed the cinematic sin of being boring. I just caught a screening of "Angels and Demons" today and it was a thrilling, if preposterous, movie. Tom Hanks was his reliable self, and Ewan McGregor finally woke up from the three-year slumber sleepwalking through the three Star Wars prequels induced in him. Here's the trailer, if you haven't seen it:

Best. SNL Skit. Ever.

Haven't seen this in years, but Shatner's 'Get A Life' rant on SNL from '86 is still funny as hell, and perfectly appropriate to share right about now, as a new wave of Trek-mania builds, thanks to the boffo box office of "Star Trek." Enjoy --

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Movie Revamps

My apologies to the 2 or 3 readers of my infinitely entertaining blog (thanks Mom, thanks Cin!) for the lack of posts this week. Been genuinely busy working on REEL TALK and screening a bunch of movies. and preparing for some cool guests coming to the show: Ewan McGregor, Sam Worthington, maybe Christian Bale...

Also been busy on a few articles due this week, including a piece on the Best & Worst Hollywood reboots. Or Reimaginings. Or revamps. Whichever silly term you prefer to use to describe the remakes the movie industry loves to throw $$ at these days.

Its up on the popular geek site Newsarama, Click Here to read my Top 5 Best facelifts. Feel free to post your comments/thoughts/snarky barbs here or on the article page.

The Top 5 Worst article goes up later today. That one was MUCH easier to write, since Hollywood usually gets these things wrong. VERY WRONG.

Speaking of reboots, go see "Star Trek" this weekend. It's tons o' fun in outer space.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Geek Christmas! (AKA 'Free Comic Book Day)

Today is Free Comic Book Day. What does that mean?

Well, if you're not a fan of the four-color, 22-page pamphlets of spandex goodness that are comic books, then you've stopped reading this post as soon as you saw the headline and gone back to reading your friends' Facebook updates.

However, if you're like me and you know With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, then you've probably dropped by your LCS (Local Comics Shop) and picked up a few freebies today. Because you know, as I do, that our beloved hobby depends on it.

I picked up five books @ Jim Hanley's Universe (33rd & 5th Ave, by the Empire St. Bldg) today. here are images of three of them:

The Free Comic Book Day tradition began in 2002 after Josh Fields, owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, CA, came up with the idea as a way to publicize the industry. The first one took place a day after the first "Spider-Man" opened to record-breaking box office.

In a nutshell, FCBD is the industry's way of keeping itself alive. How well that's worked is up for debate.

It's no secret comics long ago stopped being a mainstream form of entertainment, with dwindling readership numbers. It's now a specialized medium existing mainly in imposing comic shops that seem to scream at casual passerby, "NO NEWBIES! WE DON'T SERVE YOUR KIND HERE!"

I've never seen a comics shop that actually discourages new customers, but that's the vibe they give off, intentionally or not. Walk into a comic shop - any comic book store - and notice how they're set up like Medieval castles. The rows of longboxes packed with bagged & boarded back issues and character statues & action figures act as the front line of defense against intruders looking to penetrate the Fortress of Nerditude.

I noticed it today even, on a day that's supposed to be all about accommodating and welcoming newcomers. When I walked into Jim Hanley's today with my wife, she looked like I had just dropped her off at the corner of Murder & Mayhem in South Central LA, wearing Crips colors. As soon as you walked in all you saw was row after row of comics & TPBs, with no clear signage as to what was where, and vice versa.

How about sections clearly marked for new readers? Or for female readers? Comic shop owners should also consider assigning employees with finding TPBs from various titles (Avengers, X-Men, Spidey, Batman, Noble Causes ... whatever) that are particularly New Reader-Friendly and put those front & center. In other words, court the customer. Make it easy for someone to try something fresh & exciting.

I'm just throwing around ideas here. I'd love to hear other suggestions, because frankly, while FCBD is a great idea, I don't know how effective it's been at luring new eyeballs to comics. Which is a shame, because there are INCREDIBLE comic books being published today. Stories of all types for all kinds of readers. Too bad the number of people who actually read & buy comics keeps shrinking faster than Ant-Man.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I get tons of promotional SWAG sent to my office @ 30 Rock. Comes with the REEL TALK gig. Kinda nice because it allows me to decorate my office in my favorite style - Geek Chic.

I also get some really useless crap. The picture at the top shows a dvd (I must get 15-20 dvds per week) of "The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series" that just arrived today. And yes, that's a mini-Tribble you see next to the dvd.

As a guy who has a talking Yoda doll, a missile-firing Iron Man action figure, a Jack Bauer kicking down a door action figure and a mini-bust of Bug from The Micronauts taking up space in his cubicle, I'm not going to knock anyone wanting a toy Tribble.

I just don't want one. I mean, who the hell's going to know what it is anyway? It looks like some weird, homeless Troll. Maybe i'll take it home and let my dog Bernice play with it.

I give it 2 days before this Tribble's toast.

The summer movie season's always good for lots of SWAG. I'll keep you posted on other stuff I get.

Meantime, anyone want a Nacho Libre bobblehead??

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We Don't Need Another 'Heroes' (season), Do We?

Season 3 of "Heroes" wrapped up last night. Don't worry, this is a spoiler-free post. Mainly because I have no idea what's going on in that show, because I haven't seen a single frame since I saw the Season 3 premiere @ Comic Con last summer. Which really says something about the decline of the show.

When an uber-geek like me isn't watching a show about people with extraordinary powers (airing on NBC, the network that signs my checks, BTW), a show that owes a HUGE debt to one of my favorite comic series, The Uncanny X-Men, then something's wrong.

Zach Quinto, who plays the main baddie on the show, Sylar, is dropping by the REEL TALK studios today to talk up "Star Trek." In case you've been locked up at ShadyBrook the past few weeks, he plays Spock in the reboot, which is FANTASTIC.

But Trek is a post for another day. Today is about "Heroes" and whether it should return next season. I'm looking forward to hearing what Zach thinks should happen with the show.

It will return, FYI. NBC is planning on bringing it back for 18-20 episodes, slightly fewer than this season. From what I hear, the show does great on DVD and overseas, so financially it's still a winner for the Peacock (yippee for us!).

But creatively, the show just has never been able to follow up the incredible promise it showed in its first season. Part of that is unavoidable. How do you follow up "Save the cheerleader, Save the world?"

It's the same problem "24" had in season 6, when they nuked LA in hour 4. How the hell do you build on that and not come up short? Serial dramas, especially those like "Heroes" that are based in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, with alternate realities, time travel, superpowers, tend to lose steam after awhile because you simply run out of ways to keep the audience interested.

The mythology gets too convoluted, characters get stale, plots get recycled....any of this sound familiar to you "Heroes" fans out there?

The creative team behind "Lost" recognized this problem, and took steps to fix their ailing show when it went off the rails with Season 2. What did they do? Well, besides burying Paolo and Nikki alive, they decided to end their show. They announced season 6 would be the end of it.

Ask anyone who watches "Lost" and they will tell you that ever since an end-date was set, the show has been firing on all cylinders. It's as if the writers, seeing the finish line, have been freed to do anything & everything to make the last few miles of this mystifying, occassionally maddening marathon of a show as fascinating as possible.

The argument has been made recently that high-concept shows like "Lost", "Heroes" and the unfairly short-lived "Life on Mars" would be better served to run as limited run series. Perhaps a single season, or 2 or 3 seasons at most.

Not only would it give the writers a chance to map out a clear journey for the storyline and its characters, but it would also improve the chances of drawing top- caliber actors to projects, because they wouldn't have to worry about committing long-term to TV work, which, due to the long seasons, tend to be much more grueling than film work (I know, poor little actors, having to spend all day in luxury trailers).

Would "Heroes" be better served by announcing that next season would be its last? I think so. Then we could FINALLY see the show's creative staff stop holding back and let these characters realize their true potential. As it is, I think the show's ultimate legacy is that of disappointment. "Heroes" is like the cant-miss college football prospect taken #1 overall in the NFL Draft, who, while not a complete Ryan Leaf-like bust, falls far short of a Hall of Fame career. A journeyman QB, who once he retires, leaves no lasting accomplishments.

Considering how good "Heroes" was at the beginning, that would be a shame. Unfortunately, unless the PTBs make some dramatic changes, that's exactly where it's headed: The Hall of OK TV.

To Torture or Not To Torture: The 24 Dilemma

Almost since it launched seven seasons ago, "24" has come under fire from critics who say it's a right-wing wish fulfillment fantasy masquerading as a TV series. As someone who has seen every single episode of the show (at least twice), I disagree.

I think the show has shown over the years of showing the consequences - political and personal - of choosing the greater good over individual rights. This season alone that topic has been front and center as Jack Bauer's methods have been questioned by everyone from Congressmen to his temporary fieldmates at the FBI.

Does Jack get away with murder? Of course he does, ultimately. Jack Bauer is one of the most compelling characters in the history of television, and without him, "24" wouldn't work.

Unfortunately, there are some people out there who do tend to blur reality with the DVR program guide. For those poor misguided folks, my buddy and former co-worker Jay DeDapper has a few words. Check out his diatribe about "24's" oft-used torture methods and why in the real world, Jack Bauer would have been downsized for poor on-the-job performance.

24 Sucks and Torture Doesn't Work from Jay DeDapper on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

STV Review: Alien Raiders

One of the main perks of my gig as REEL TALK showrunner is that I get sent lots of DVDs. TONS. I'm not kidding. So many regular & Blu-ray discs come across my desk/cubicle @ 30 Rock, that every few weeks I have huge 'everything must go!' giveaways for everyone at WNBC (our show is produced by WNBC for NBC Uni Syndication).

I don't give all of them away. I pass on some DVDs to certain people in the building who help me whenever I need assistance to make things happen, whether for the show or for one of our many interview guests. Some may call this a bribe but I look at it as rewarding ingenuity.

Still others I hold on to - mainly direct-to-DVD and movies making their Blu-ray debut -- so I can watch them and write reviews for the REEL TALK website. Alison & Jeffrey have to watch so many movies that they literally don't have enough time in the day to add films not getting theatrical releases to their must-see pile.

That's where I come in.

I love watching Action, Horror and Sci-Fi movies, any and all kinds. And those genres are well-represented in the STV category (STV standing for Straight-to-Video). And with more and more of these films featuring well-known stars (Sam L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Gerard Butler and Ewan McGregor are just some of the familiar names toplining STVs I've been sent recently), Ive decided it's time to give some of the films a closer look and see if they live down to the turgid reputation films that skip the cinema have, or if there's an occasional diamond in the rough out there the studios missed ("Slumdog Millionaire" was thisclose to going STV, after all).

Yep, just what the Web needs: More movie reviews!

Our first STV is "Alien Raiders." Aside from being a hybrid of all three of my favorite film genres, it also stars one of my favorite TV actors, Carlos Bernard (AKA Tony Almeida from "24").

Bernard is the leader of a militia-style group tracking alien life forms who have arrived on our planet. These alien beings plant themselves inside a host human body ('Alien' style) and then at some point, take it over and turn that host body into a mutated, grotesque mess. The King & Queen are their target, because if you kill the parent aliens, they can't produce more disgusting little critters.

The 'Alien Raiders' track the aliens to a small town Arizona supermarket. At closing time, Bernard's team moves in and stages a holdup to seal off the market and contain the aliens. One member of the team is a spotter, someone who has the ability to spot an infected human. If the spotter IDs you as being infected, another member of the team puts a bullet in your brain. As they explain in the movie, you're already dead, anyway.

(One apparently becomes a spotter by being a junkie. the chemicals in your system prevent an alien from completely infecting you, but with enough alien stuff inside you to help you detect them. Oh, and the only way to stay alive is to keep using.)

As luck (and cinematic plot devices) would have it, this market is where the town sheriff's stepdaughter works, so soon the local police surround the building and now we have an Alien Search & Destroy mission disguised as a supermarket heist, combined with a hostage crisis.

Soon, complications arise and the raiders are forced to improvise to figure out which of the hostages is infected. Director Ben Rock uses the supermarket setting for some effective cat-and-mouse sequences.

Having one main set piece probably saved him a ton of production costs, but he should have figured out a way to get more lights. I know some of the murky photography was by design, to disguise the barebones monster makeup and to emphasize the scarier moments, but some scenes are so dark you can't make out what the hell's going on.

The script is bare bones and contains the usual types of characters who populate these kinds of movies. As the grim-faced, tortured leader, Bernard brings his full bag of Almeida glares and anguished looks to the film. He even utters one of his "24" character's most popular catchphrases at one point. Rockmond Dunbar (from "Prison Break") displays his usual angry guy gruffness as the commando team's most tightly-wound member.

And can someone please explain to me why Matthew St. Patrick ALWAYS plays a cop? First on "All My Children," then on "Six Feet Under" and "Reunion," and now here, as the ex-big city cop now hickville sheriff. Would it kill him to play a bad guy??

The hostages are, for the most part, forgettable. You have the young victims, the cowardly manager, the practical older guy and the annoying loser you hope and pray gets killed.

The standard plot holes exist in the story. How does a group of ex-Jet Propulsion Laboratories workers suddenly transform into a commando unit spouting NAVY SEAL lingo, with top-shelf weaponry and equipment? Why are they the only ones who know about these alien invaders?

How "Alien Raiders" unfolds, however, is somewhat entertaining, and rather merciless. The ending seemed unnecessary in some ways, but there is a nice twist that leaves open the possibility for more sequels.

Something else the movie has going for it is its conciseness. There should be a law that no STV pic is longer than 100 minutes. AR clocks in at 85 min., which is perfect. You want science fiction with character development? Go buy "Blade Runner" or check out "Moon" in June. For a nice afternoon diversion, "Alien Raiders" does the trick.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribeca '09 - LOVE THE BEAST a Must-See

Last night I saw a film that reminded me why film festivals are so great.

"Love the Beast," actor Eric Bana's directorial debut, simply blew me away. The film is part love letter to his beloved Ford Falcon GT Coupe, part tribute to loyalty, family and friendship, and a little bit of a psyche profile. It's relaxed and refreshingly random in how it jumps from his younger days to the present day, where he's an actor thisclose to superstardom.

Bana mixes in incredible home movie footage from his formative days as a gearhead Aussie teenager. We actually see him and his buddies (they are all still friends today, BTW) working on the car, the first one he ever owned. As he says during an early part of the film (Bana serves as narrator), the car - and the garage at his parents' house where they worked on it - was like the campfire his buddies gathered around.

You know when you get together with old friends you haven't seen in years, either for dinner or for a few beers? The parade of memories and stories and ball-busting jokes that inevitably spill out? Those moments become rarer as we get older, due to distance and adult responsibilities. Sometimes though, friends drift apart because the things they had in common as kids change, until one day you all realize you've taken completely different paths into adulthood.

I imagine that happens alot with people who became famous athletes/musicians/actors. For Bana, the car provided a chance to have one more 'night out with the boys.' Except this one lasted a bit longer. They rebuilt the car - AGAIN - to race it in The Targa Tasmania Rally, one of the most grueling road races in the world.

The footage of Bana in the race is riveting, but the race isn't what this is about. It's about his friends, and holding on to something that has been a part of his life for 25 years, about tradition.

On another note, seeing Bana as a youth in those home movies not only helped me understand his passion for cars at an early age, but it made me wish my parents would have had the foresight to get a video camera and tape some of the day-to-day of my younger days.

Another highlight: Bana's conversation with fellow car nut Jay Leno. Listening to these two talk about their wheels with such ... affection .... gives true insight into the mind of a 'car guy.'

Now I'm not a car guy. I live in NYC. I don't even own a car anymore. Even when I lived in Miami, a car was just a means to an end, an appliance that took me to work, to the beach, to the movies. It never meant more than that to me.

Watching "Love the Beast" helped me understand why to some people, four wheels and fuel-injected engines mean so very much.

The film debuts Tuesday @ Tribeca. We have Bana coming in for an in-studio interview about it that will air next week on REEL TALK. I'll post a link to it here afterward.

Talk about a busy summer. Not only is Bana making his directorial debut with this doc, he's also co-starring in "Star Trek", Judd Apatow's "Funny People" and "The Time Traveler's Wife." WHEW!

Monday, April 20, 2009

'The Hangover': Perfect Cure for Blockbuster Blues

Psst. Wanna know the main contender for sleeper hit of Summer 2009?

"The Hangover."

Raunchy, vulgar, and utterly unafraid to sacrifice political correctness in the name of a good laugh, this is the kind of comedy Hollywood's tried to make over and over again since "Wedding Crashers", only this time they got it right.

The movie doesn't even open until June 5th, but if the laughs I heard at the screening I attended Monday were any indication, this is this year's "Superbad." And just like that film was centered around that time-honored, and Hollywood-immortalized tradition -- the end of the school year party -- this movie is based around another oft-used plot device: The Vegas bachelor party.

You know what? This is the best bachelor party movie EVER. Even better than "Very Bad Things."

It's so good it even made me like Bradley Cooper. And I usually HATE Bradley Cooper.

The guy who everyone's going to leave the theater talking about though, is Zach Galifianakis. He plays Alan, a guy who takes socially awkward to new heights. He steals every scene. Every single one. This movie will do for him what "Knocked Up" did for Seth Rogen and "Superbad" did for Jonah Hill.

Watch for "The Hangover" in theaters June 5th. And check your car's trunk for limp-wristed Asian dudes with a man purse.

'STAR TREK' Takes Bold Leap Into New Film Frontier

We're just under two weeks from the start of the summer movie season, and I can already tell you one sure-fire blockbuster:

"Star Trek."

I saw the film Monday night along with a small group of journalists in Midtown Manhattan, and while I can't do a detailed review right now (because the suits at Paramount would have several farm animals if I did), I can say that J.J. Abrams has done masterful work reinvigorating Gene Roddenberry's iconic franchise.

The casting of the major characters, especially Chris Pine as young, hotheaded James T. Kirk, and Zach Quinto as Spock, is dead-on. The only one who I wasn't sure of was Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, and even he won me over by the end. And Simon Pegg as Mr. Scott...well, he enlivens the picture as only Pegg can.

Eric Bana is ferocious as Nero, the Romulan driven mad by revenge and looking to make the entire Federation pay.

No plot spoilers here, just know that certain staples of Abrams storytelling will seem familiar to "Alias" and "Lost" fans in due time.

More Along with writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the team behind "Transformers" and the upcoming sequel), Abrams has crafted a film that not only tips the hat many times to TOS fans (The Original Series) but also welcomes non-Trekkies with open arms into an action-packed, and often very funny thrill ride. It also sets the stage for a series of fresh adventures with the classic characters who first made Trek a worldwide legend.

It's not "Wrath of Khan" good -- after all, who could ever top two titans of scenery chewing like Shatner & Montalban? -- but "Star Trek" is exactly the kind of kick in the shorts sci-fi's warhorse property needed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Broadway Show For The Ages

Booze, babes and tunes - Is that something you might be interested in?

If you've been searching for a great idea to gather all your friends but have been struggling to get out of the 'dinner & a movie' rut all get-together gangs endure, head to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 47th St. in Midtown (Manhattan for those out-of-towners reading this).

That's where you will find the rowdiest, headbangingest time on Broadway: "Rock of Ages."

A simultaneous sendup of and homage to 80's heavy metal, the show features a soundtrack that would make K-Tel proud. Everyone from Pat Benatar to Whitesnake to Journey get their turn to blow out the Marshall Amps ... er overhead speakers.

There's even an American Idol presence. Constantine Maroulis from Season 4 is the star. Here's the story: It's 1987 LA and a mousy, wanna-be rocker named Drew (Constantine) falls for a farmgirl named Sheri fresh off the midwest bus. The famous Sunset Strip bar they work at, The Bourbon Room, is about to be bulldozed by greedy developers looking to turn glam metal's birthplace into a strip mall. Faster than you can say Dee Snider, the Motley Crew at the club say, 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and galvanize to save their precious place.

Along the way, you hear some truly inspired (and downright hilarious) interpretations of some of the most memorable metal songs of the era.

Wait, that's still not enough to convince you to check out the show? Would it help to point out that they sell alcohol during the show, and waiters come down the aisles to take your order?

[You can have your can of Coors Light brought right to your seat. Classy!]

So break out that Van Halen "Diver Down tour" t-shirt, your ratty denim jacket and go check out "Rock of Ages."

After all, when will you ever get a chance to flick your Bic at a Broadway show again?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garner In Need of Career Counseling

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

After blowing up with "Alias", she turned her Emmy-nominated turn as Sydney Bristow into what seemed to be a sure-fire feature career. She's not only gorgeous and athletic, she's likeable. You want to cheer Jenny on, whether it's as the grieving daughter in "Daredevil" or in the saccharine sweet "13 Going on 30." You want to her get the guy. You even want her to divorce the guy, when the guy's a creep like Jason Bateman in "Juno."

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

At first glance you would think it's because she's been largely out of the scene the past few years starting a family with hubby Ben Affleck. Nothing wrong with that if that were the case, but it's not. 2008 was the first calendar year without a Jenny Garner project since her "Alias" breakout. In 2007, she co-starred in "The Kingdom" and "Juno." The latter was obviously a sensation but "The Kingdom" was an underrated thriller that didn't find the audience it deserved, mostly because anything to do with the war on terror became box-office poison.

No, family life isn't why she's not the star she should be. It's because she's being wasted in crap like "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," a putrid RomCom opening May 1st. I caught an early screening for 'editorial consideration,' which is industry speak for screenings for show producers like myself to decide who they want to try and book from the film. I had a feeling from the trailer that Matthew McConaughey would be doing his usual 'fratboy ladies man w/a drawl' schtick, and I was right. His career is bleeding out too, but it's from a self-inflicted wound, so no advice for him.

But Jenny ...ahh, Jenny Jenny ('Who Can I turn to?' Sorry, couldn't help myself). You need to fire your manager/agent/palm reader/barista...whoever brought you this script. Because there's no way a smart girl like you read the script for this steaming pile of dog dung and said, 'this is a perfect comeback vehicle. Sign me up!'

A twist on "A Christmas Carol" that's set during the winter but NOT Christmas? Set around a wedding weekend at the stereotypical lavish estate with every stock character cliche from Hollywood's romantic comedy playbook?? Seriously, didn't the fact that it co-starred McConaughey, the King of brainless chick flicks the past few years, trigger any warning bells?

I at least hope you cashed a fat check for this.

I get the whole 'you do one for them, and one for you' business strategy in Hollywood. Its worked for lots of people, like George Clooney. But if you're going to pick a nice fluffy better be a good one. All you need to know about "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is that my wife - a McConaughey fan, FYI - wanted to walk out 30 minutes in. Walk out. OF A FREE MOVIE!

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

Beats me, but here's what I would tell her if she asked me for career advice over iced caramel macchiatos (she strikes me as a fan of that type of drink):

1) Pick better scripts. Let me repeat myself: PICK BETTER SCRIPTS! I know, easier said than done. But its certainly not impossible to do. Just ask Christian Bale. Or Angelina Jolie. Even Rachel McAdams.

2) When in doubt, pass on anything Matthew McConaughey's attached to.

3) Leave the romantic comedy genre behind. You've taken three swings ("13 Going on 30", "Catch & Release" & now "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") and whiffed. Head back to the dugout, grab new lumber and look for a better pitch your next at-bat. Comedies are fine, especially when Ricky Gervais is writing/directing it. So "This Side of the Truth" (due out in Sept) sounds very promising. But if Ricky hands you a re-worked draft that finds you in some cheesy embrace with the movie's man-candy, burn it and stay in your trailer until they rewrite it.

4) Focus on dramas. Flex those thesp muscles, baby! Look how well "Juno" did. I'm encouraged by one of your upcoming projects, "Be With You." A romantic drama is right in your wheelhouse.

5) ACTION! You kicked your hubby's ass in "Daredevil" and God knows, you were unbelievable in the climax of "The Kingdom." Find a script that shows off your athleticism and your sensitive side. There has to be some good action movie scripts out there for strong women. Get your team to dig 'em out, use your "Alias" experience to fine-tune it, and make it work, girl! We need more female action stars, and since Angelina has 5 kids and you only have 2, you're in perfect position.

There you have it. Free advice, from someone who wants you to achieve the stardom you very much deserve.

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

Who really knows, but I know she should be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 24 Twist

**IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THIS WEEK'S EPISODE OF 24, STOP READING NOW. (No, seriously. Stop reading now)**

Anyone else out there in Jack Bauer-land who feels as betrayed as I do by Monday's ep of "24"? I don't mean by Tony Almeida, who pulled a heel turn reminiscent of the glory days of the NWO by smothering Agent Larry Moss at the end of an otherwise fantastic hour. I mean by the "24" writers.

Last night's absurd, out-of-left-field twist pretty much canceled out many of this season's best moments.

Much of this resurgent season has been about the redemption of Tony, only the second greatest character in "24" history behind Jack. There was that great moment early on when Tony, in FBI custody nearly pushed Jack to the breaking point only to whisper to him the code that allowed him to discover he was an inside man. And when he warned Jack not to ignore his own rules about 'collateral damage' to save a Port Authority cop, only to have Bauer's back in a 2-on-9 firefight.

And last night, he saved half the east coast from Jonas Hodges' missile brigade all by himself. BY HIMSELF. With the FBI guys on the outside looking in, Tony took on the Starkwood mercs to save the day. Why would he do that if he was a Starkwood mole, or a plant for the 'higher ups' Hodges referred to in the White House? I can understand deep cover, but he had plenty of chances to not put himself in harm's way without drawing suspicion.

And I don't wanna hear about suspending disbelief. I'm the world's biggest 24 apologist, but where do they go from here? And even better question, why did they choose to take the story in this direction?

With Jack incapacitated by the bio-toxin, Tony stepped up to be The Man in the field. Instead of rolling with that and finally - FINALLY - giving much of the 24 universe what it's been hoping would happen for years: A Jack & Tony team-up. The role reversal that put Jack in the unfamiliar spot of tech support while Tony took point in the field has been a huge success the past few weeks, humanizing the once-indestructible Jack Bauer while elevating the Soul Patch from sidekick to partner.

Instead, the writers took the lazy way out, sacrificing story coherence for pure shock value. I can't wait for the obligatory exposition scene in hour 23 where Tony is cornered by Jack and tries to make sense of his actions.

He should save his breath and just give us one of the Almeida patented open-mouthed stares of anguish. Because there is no way they can make all this fit into anything resembling consistent character actions.

Tony's road to redemption has reached a dead end. There is no way for him to come back from this. It's one thing to kill a merc in Emerson's crew for info about the planned White House break-in. He gets the 'in the line of duty' pass for that.

That's why, at the start of the season, when we first thought he was a bad guy, he didn't crash the passenger jet. It was the first indicator that all was not what it appeared to be with Tony. Because crashing a plane full of people can't be forgiven, no matter what kind of Op you're running.

Know what else can't be forgiven? Smothering an FBI agent - a genuine good guy - in a mouthful of his own blood.

That's it. Tony's gone to the dark side, and he's not coming back.

Frankly, that stinks. A great character wasted. And a fabulous comeback year for my favorite show has been derailed. I'll still be watching, hoping they get back on track. But to be honest, I think Jack getting a happy ending has a better chance of occurring.

Tribeca 2009

awkward interviews

Watch Kevin Costner Interviews exclusively from Reeltalk.

Here's exhibit A on why sometimes it's sometimes better not to meet your heroes. I've been covering the Tribeca Film Festival junket for three consecutive years, as part of the festival coverage we do on REEL TALK & also WNBC (our show is owned by WNBC and syndicated by NBC Uni Syndication), since the Peacock is a media sponsor.

That means I've had the 'pleasure' of sitting down with co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal each year. Alot of my friends think that's extremely cool, getting a chance to sit down with Travis Bickle, Jimmy Conway, young Vito Corleone, Neil McAuley for goodness sake!

Cool it may be; good interview it is not. As great an actor as he is, 'Bob' (as his friends call him; I am NOT a friend but I do it anyway) is equally as bad when a mic is clipped on his shirt and questions are tossed his way.

He's not rude. Very polite and he tries to answer what you ask him, but ... it just never turns out well. Hit the clip above to see this year's edition of Avila's Awkward interview with De Niro - which actually is probably the best one I've ever done with him.

And at least he did confirm that there is no truth to the rumor that he'll reprise his Neil McAuley character from "HEAT" (my favorite De Niro role, BTW) in a video game spinoff of the film. That stinks.

A McG Musical 'Awakening'?

When I first read this article about "Terminator Salvation" director McG circling a movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical "Spring Awakening," I immediately cringed.

As a BIG fan of the show, I'd rather not have my very fond memories of that great musical ruined by an out-of-his-league director (that would be YOU I'm referring to, Chris Columbus, and your castrated take on RENT). However, McG may actually be the perfect guy to adapt a musical about masturbating teenagers in 19th century Germany.

[I know what you're thinking. Another musical about masturbating teenagers in 19th century Germany?!]

McG's first studio pic, "Charlie's Angels", was basically a long-form music video. Hyper-kinetic editing, loud, catchy music, ridiculously gorgeous people filling the screen...that kind of style may be what's needed to successfully translate "Spring Awakening" from the theatre, to theaters.

Remember, just because Hugh Jackman says musicals are back, doesn't really mean that's the case. Yeah, "Dreamgirls" and "Hairspray" were big hits (and very entertaining) but "Rent" was considered a can't-miss adaptation - until it arrived as a flat, soulless shell of its Broadway ancestor.

In other words, you need more than just great songs to make a great movie musical.

Sometimes you need to take a sharp left turn from the road of safe travels to make a movie musical work. Think "Moulin Rouge." The angry, desperate voice at the heart of "Spring Awakening" could use a bit of the frat-boy flash McG is known for. No studio is attached yet, so there's still time for this to all fall apart.

If it does happen, will he be able to somehow work in "Spring Awakening" co-creator Duncan Sheik's best-known song into the movie?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Legendary Band Gets Hall of Fame KISS-Off

“I feel uptight on a Saturday night
Nine o' clock, the radio's the only light”

With all due respect to Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Wanda Jackson, DJ Fontana, Bill Black, Spooner Oldham, Run-D.M.C. & Metallica, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend once again made a mockery of its mission to safeguard and celebrate music history.

Why? Because the Hall gave its annual brush-off to a band whose impact on music is unquestioned.


That’s right, those makeup wearing, platform boots wearing, 3-chord song writing pop metal gods who were the bane of parents’ existence in the 1970s, now best known for being shameless merchandise whores. They should have been welcomed into music Valhalla with open arms a decade ago, as soon as they became eligible for induction.

Too bad the 600 dimwits on the induction board keep giving them the brush off.

As a longstanding member of the KISS Army, I’ve had just about enough of this disrespect toward one of rock’s most influential bands. Wait, is that a chorus of Doubting Thomases I hear? Here are a few things you should know:

85. That’s the approximate number of albums the band has sold worldwide since its debut with its eponymously-titled debut album in 1973. Wait. Did I say 85? I meant 85 MILLION!

64. How many millions the 2003 KISS tour earned worldwide, 30 years after the band’s debut. How many bands who aren’t the Rolling Stones, the Who or reside on E Street can claim to have that kind of earning power?

24. the number of gold records the band has scored, the most of any American rock band (more than Aerosmith, Van Halen and ZZ Top, who are all in the HOF). The only groups with more are the Beatles and the Stones. FYI, KISS’s number is 28 if you include the four 1978 solo albums.

Even more than the album sales and tour grosses is the influence the band has had since it first Rock-n-Rolled All Night and Partied Every Day. KISS was a game-changing band, in a variety of ways.

Before Frampton Came Alive, “KISS Alive!” redefined the live album when it dropped in 1975. The band was already a hot live ticket back then. But it was only when they captured the power of their live act on vinyl that Kiss really became ‘the hottest band in the land.’

In fact, onstage is where KISS had few peers. The band’s outrageous stage shows, full of pyrotechnics, rising platforms, smoking guitars and Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing, blood spilling antics, set new standards for rock concerts. Even today, a KISS concert has to be seen, and heard, to be believed.

The group’s kabuki-style makeup (and the individual personas: The Demon, Starchild, Space Ace, The Cat) turned the band into a true-blue pop culture sensation that extended way past the Hit Parader & Circus crowd, and into mainstream America. You know all the cross-platform sports and entertainment stars you see on Access Hollywood and every magazine? That was KISS in the 1970s.

There were lunchboxes, toys, pinball games…anything you could slap a logo on.

They also crossed over into movies, with the 1978 TV-pic “Kiss Meets the Phantom in the Park.” Sure, the film stunk. But it was still a big ratings draw.

After the original foursome split, the band stayed together, regrouped, unmasked and continued to put out solid records throughout the 80s, and even into the 1990s (‘Revenge’ is an absolute scorcher of a record).

Along the way, an entire genre of rock – Welcome to the Big Hair Metal days of the 1980s! – blossomed thanks to KISS. Groups such as Bon Jovi, Poison, and Motley Crue all owe a debt to the guys who were NOT Knights in Satan’s Service (it was just KISS). Hell, the Crue should be paying royalties for the way they aped the makeup and stage antics.

Countless groups – from across the spectrum of music - have paid tribute to KISS as an inspiration, from Tupac to Garth Brooks. The 1994 tribute album “KISS MY A$$”..even featured Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Extreme and Anthrax doing KISS covers.

Let’s see…massively popular, long, enduring career, incredibly influential…does that sound like a Hall of Fame band? It does to me.

What, the voters don’t like that most KISS songs were about getting laid? AC-DC sang about ‘Big Balls’ and ZZ Top talked about legs and, um…pearl necklaces. I LOVE Van Halen, but those guys weren’t debating human rights issues on ‘Diver Down’ or ‘Fair Warning,’ either.

Those bands’ catalogs make Love Gun seem practically poetic.

Sex just so happens to be the dominant writing influence in rock music. Take a look at Madonna’s song list, folks. Only the beat’s different.

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the band pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in rock history in 1996 when the original quartet reunited, makeup, smoking guitars and all, for the year’s highest-grossing tour.

It’s that bottom line success, actually, that is perhaps the main reason KISS hasn’t been voted into the hall yet. No band in music history has probably embraced mass commercialism as wholeheartedly as these guys.

Since the ’96 reunion, Gene Simmons – who never met a product he wouldn’t slap the KISS logo on – has approved condoms, cocktail tables, wine (KISS Cabernet!), even a KISS coffin. That was probably the death knell for the band’s Hall chances.

I’m the first guy to admit to being embarrassed to be a fan the night Simmons went on Conan O’Brien’s show to plug the coffin, bragging how it could be used as a beer cooler until it was time to be used as a, er…human cooler.

But rock music has been about selling out to the highest bidder for decades. Don’t believe me?

The Stones’ “Start Me Up” as a Microsoft Windows sales pitch; Seger’s “Like a Rock” used to sell Chevy Trucks; Mellencamp’s “This is my Country” to sell more trucks; The Who’s entire catalog for anyone who meets Townsend’s asking price. Madonna – really, do I even need to list an example?

By the mid-90s, the music biz had degenerated to the point that hack bands like Smash Mouth would write cheesy jingles like “All Star” and pitch it to Madison Avenue BEFORE it had even hit radio!

Another thing. Name one big time performer worth their $45 souvenir t-shirt – outside of Springsteen – who hasn’t had their tour sponsored in the last 15 years. Exactly.

My point is, integrity and the music industry have been mutually exclusive terms for … well, forever. So to punish a band that embraces commercialism – and really, broke new ground in showing other bands how to capitalize on their success – isn’t right. You can’t judge them by different standards than other groups.

You know what though? At the end of the day, it’s about the music, and KISS has delivered the goods for nearly 40 years.

Maybe one day, the RRHOF will figure it out.

I'll be a gambler, baby.. Lay down the bet
We get together, mama.. You'll sweat

No place for hidin' baby.. No place to run
You pull the trigger of my.. Love Gun!