29 June 2006

An Animated Life...

...and how! Stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen--arguably the special effects industry's only true auteur (other than, say, Georges Melies?)--celebrates his 86th birthday today. Ray's still going strong despite having not worked on a film since 1981's "Clash Of The Titans"--a new book ("The Art Of Ray Harryhausen"), a new DVD compilation of early shorts (including the newly-finished "Tortoise And The Hare"), audio commentary on the long overdue special edition DVD of the original 1933 "King Kong", and a recently-announced teamup with Mindfire Entertainment to produce merchandise from his amazing filmography, as well as oversee some new films based upon some of his unrealized fantasy projects (maybe he'll get his aborted "Beowulf" off the ground, too?). Happy birthday, Ray--and thanks!

20 June 2006

"My Friends, You Know Me To Be Neither Rash, Nor Impulsive...Nor Alive..."

Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" turned out to be a damn good film--not quite perfect (its leads are a little too baby-faced to have had all their "history", and what will they do now with Superkid?!)--but a soulful and handsomely produced ode to Richard Donner's still-definitive take on the character that will--hopefully-set things up for a series that will look to the comics, specifically, the the revamped "Superman" universe streamlined by John Byrne in the 80s, and avoid Big Blue's supersonic slide into mediocrity with "Superman 3" and "4".

Considering the advance hoopla and shroud of secrecy, I was disappointed by Brando's promised digital "resurrection" as Jor-El--which amounted to a mere few seconds of screen time with a dialogue take not terribly different than the one from the 1978 classic.

Still, it's a mean feat of digital wizardry, and Ain't It Cool New is still hosting the demo on how Rhythm And Hues pulled it off. You can check it out here.

15 June 2006

What Your Favorite "Scott" Reveals About Your Personality

Ridley vs. Tony--do I have to choose just one? Why must one's artistic and entertainment preferences always be confined to one camp or the other? When I was in university, people would peruse my record collection (I'm dating myself with that one) and marvel that I'd have The Clash's "London Calling" or Joy Division's "Closer" right next to Springsteen's "The River" and Lindsay Buckingham solo albums--was I schizo? Hardly--just eclectic, and years later, I still can't understand why everything must be defined as either "mainstream" or "alternative" (or the dreaded "guilty pleasure"). Can't Ridley's more austere and meditative works (well, comparatively) reside on my video shelf along with Tony's giddy and operatic bombast? Not all that long ago, I used to hate Tony Scott's films--"Top Gun", "Days Of Thunder", and "Beverly Hills Cop 2" are among the most excruciating endurance-fests I've ever had the displeasure to witness--but he's redeemed himself with "Crimson Tide", "Enemy Of The State", "True Romance", "Man On Fire", and last year's delirious and woefully undervalued "Domino".

The New Republic's Lee Seigel lays it on thick with typical criticspeak and lambastes Tony as the very embodiment of everything wrong with cinema today, while The New York Observor's Ron Rosenbaum finds the younger Scott's recent films progressive and subversive.

Siegel's lament can be found here, after which you can read Rosenbaum's defense here.

02 June 2006

May I Suggest A Chipper (And Lock It With A Zipper...)

I woke up this morning to find all the problems of the world must have been solved: this week Italy-- the land that gave us Baron Zarth Arn, pornstar politicians, and many fine salty meats (make up your own joke here)-- is hosting The Annual World Robot Championships...that's right, they been having these all along and none of us knew anything about it.

Over a hundred robots from 28 countries are competing in rounds of robo-golf, with some unusual rules: droids play in pairs, points are scored by putting colored balls into identically-colored holes, points are lost if the balls go into the wrong hole. So rest easy, it's obvious we lowly humans won't be enslaved into caddydom until there have been a few upgrades.

Wonder if Asimo kicks the ball when no one's looking (assuming he won't fall over)?

The whole story's tee'd up here.

01 June 2006

Bean Gets Hitched...

Fewer films need "improvement" than Robert Harmon's taut n' terrifying mid-80s nailbiter "The Hitcher", which remains a textbook example of how to do a thriller right. Rutger Hauer's John Ryder ranks with Hannibal Lecter and John Doe as the creepiest kook ever realized on celluloid, and two decades later, I'm still getting over what happened to Jennifer Jason Leigh. And other than Spielberg's "Duel", no other filmmaker has combined the existential with the visceral with the skill of Harmon (further props: he made a C. Thomas Howell film bearable).

Of course, there's a remake in the works, now that filmmakers seem to have remade every horror film released in the 1970s with the possible exception of "Slithis". Making his feature debut with this one is music video sensation David Meyers, and Eric Red's screenplay has been updated by Jake Wade Wall, whose revamp of "When A Stranger Calls" didn't leave much of an impression.

But the project got interesting this week with the signing of Sean Bean in the title role. Bean, last seen in a rare "good guy" role in the underrated "Silent Hill", will don Ryder's duster and make life on and off a mountain road a living hell for some as-yet-unsigned young buck or possibly "One Tree Hill"s Sophia Buck, who's listed on the cast list but her role is not yet defined (is she stepping in for C. Thomas, Jennifer J.?)

Read all about the recent tragedy in screenwriter Eric Red's life here--in which he endured his own nightmare on the road...