Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oscar Aftermath

Congratulations to Heath Ledger and his family for the late actor’s Academy Award honoring his nuanced take on iconic Batman villain the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film, The Dark Knight. Ledger’s victory in the Best Supporting Actor category comes as a surprise to nearly no one, as the real-life drama surrounding the 28-year-old actor’s untimely death coupled with his critically-acclaimed performance almost demanded Academy recognition.

However, one wonders if Ledger’s turn as the Clown Prince of Crime would have gotten the Oscar recognition that it received had Ledger been alive to accept the award himself. Would the Academy have voted similarly if Ledger’s arguably brilliant performance was not among his last? As host of the 81st Academy Awards and X-Men star Hugh Jackman pointed out in the ceremony’s opening number, comic book films typically aren’t top-shelf choices for awards outside of technical categories. Sadly, we’ll never quite know what kind of role emotion truly played in the Academy’s selection process.

Kudos are also in order for the big winners of the night, namely Sean Penn for his lauded performance as gay rights activist Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, Penélope Cruz for her supporting role in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Kate Winslet for her leading role as an ex-Nazi prison guard in Stephen Daldry’s The Reader and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which picked up a staggering eight awards including Best Director and Best Picture.

Visit Oscar.com for a full list of winners and nominees.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Literary Classic with a Dash of the Undead

While zombies have been invading bookshelves a lot these days with modern titles such as Max Brooks’ World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide, classic literature has remained relatively safe from the undead. Until now.

Later this year, Quirk Books will unleash Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an updated version of the Jane Austen classic that is swarming with, as its title suggests, the living dead. Writer Seth Grahame-Smith has transformed the British novel of manners into a gory horror tale pitting characters Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy against legions of decomposing flesh eaters. Grahame-Smith told Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blog that zombies were a natural fit for a mash-up of the public domain work over other popular horror phenomena such as robots or vampires.

“…when you take a look at the original book, it's almost as if, subconsciously, Jane Austen is laying out the perfect groundwork for an ultraviolent bone-crushing zombie massacre to take place.” He added, “These aristocrats are trying to get on with their lives as best they can, despite the fact that the country is being devoured around them. They still have their balls and their teas and their manners. It was terrific fun to write, in the style of Jane Austen, describing horrific deaths and entire villages being slaughtered and burned to the ground.”

But will it be terrific fun to read? We’ll find out when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hits shelves on April 1st.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Will Scarlett Johansson Join the Cast of Iron Man 2?

According to Entertainment Weekly’s Hollywood Insider blog, Scarlett Johansson is in talks to replace Emily Blunt as the sexy Russian spy Natasha Romanoff—also known as the Black Widow—in Marvel Studios’ anticipated Iron Man sequel. Reportedly, Blunt may not be able to participate in the film due to her commitment to Twentieth Century Fox’s Gulliver’s Travels, which begins shooting April 15. Iron Man 2, directed by Jon Favreau with Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as the titular super hero, is still without a shooting script as it nears its May 7, 2010 release date.

Is this genuine casting news, or are we all just a bit too eager to see Ms. Johansson squeeze herself into a skin-tight leather costume?

Check Out the New Trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Most fans got their first eyeful of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen during its Super Bowl spot, but a full-length teaser trailer premiered on February 13 in front of the Bay-produced Friday the 13th remake. You can catch it online via Yahoo! Movies.

Should you be excited about this? If explosions and giant robots got your motor running in the first film, Revenge of the Fallen looks to take everything that worked before and make it bigger, louder and more intense. I’m sure there’s a plot nestled somewhere amid the metal-on-metal action, but as long as this sequel features good robots fighting bad robots while causing massive amounts of property damage, I’ll be there when Revenge of the Fallen hits theaters on June 24th.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spider-Man's Menace Unmasked

It may surprise the general, non-geeky population, but The Amazing Spider-Man is a comic book worth buying even when it doesn’t have the 44th president of the United States on its cover. While the title has had its ups and downs in recent years, it has flourished following its reboot with the “Brand New Day” storyline, which established a new status quo for the web-slinger and brought the character back to his roots. It also completely erased Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane, so you can imagine the kinds of shenanigans he's getting into these days. Once again, Spider-Man is fun, providing the type of escapism that attracted most readers to comic books in the first place.

The Amazing Spider-Man #586 is no exception, shedding necessary light on a relatively new villain, the diabolical Menace. First thought to be an amateur following in the footsteps of Spidey's arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin, Menace emerges in this issue as something far more than that. I’m not going to spoil it for casual readers, but this issue reveals that Menace is a lot closer to Spider-Man/Peter Parker than we first thought. And no, Menace is not an Osborn. That would just be predictable.

If you’ve ever been a Spider-Man fan and were turned off by the character in years past, rest assured that Marvel Comics’ “Spidey Braintrust”—Bob Gale, Marc Guggenheim, Dan Slott and Zeb Wells—is taking good care of him.

Bring the Funny, Chuckleheads!

Calling all Wortmaniacs! Reader's Digest editor and friend of the Report, Jill Krasny, gave me the heads-up earlier today that her magazine is sponsoring the World's Best Joke Contest, which awards ten winners with a cool $500 dollars for an original or ripped joke (no anecdotes or one-liners). The U.S. grand prize winner receives an extra $1,000 and will be automatically entered in the separate International Best Joke in the World Contest.

Now, I know you guys can be funny when you want to be, as evidenced in your comments, so why not earn some cash while you're at it? Click here for contest information and rules. Just remember: Keep it clean! Reader's Digest isn't interested in any jokes that are lewd, obscene, sexually explicit, pornographic, disparaging, defamatory, libelous or otherwise inappropriate or objectionable. So be original, be creative and try not to be filthy!

The deadline for the contest is Sunday, February 15th. So get crackin' (jokes)!

Inglourious Basterds Trailer Hits the Web

For those eagerly anticipating Quentin Tarantino’s blood-soaked World War II revenge flick, Inglourious Basterds, Yahoo! Movies has premiered its teaser trailer.

The trailer doesn’t give all that much away, aside from hints of gruesome, stylized violence and glimpses of the ragtag band of Jewish-American soldiers who, behind enemy lines, go on a Nazi killing spree. The trailer also features an impassioned speech by their commanding officer, Lt. Aldo Raine, played by a mustachioed Brad Pitt.

“We are going to be doing one thing and one thing only: Killing Nazis,” he tells his troops. "We will be cruel to the German. And through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us." Bring the kids!

Inglourious Basterds is scheduled to hit U.S. theaters on August 21.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Snikt! X-Men Origins: Wolverine – The Video Game Wows Fans at NYCC

He’s the best there is at what he does. But what he does best isn’t very nice.

At New York Comic Con, Activision and Raven Software invited fans to a sneak peek at their upcoming adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a title that already looks far superior to most movie-to-game translations and seems to do a great deal of justice to the iconic X-Man.

First off, this game is violent. Very violent. Whenever Wolverine is translated to a medium outside of comic books—be it animation, feature films or video games—the character is typically never able to fully let loose with his claws. Sure, there may have been some bloodless takedowns in the X-Men film series courtesy of our favorite clawed Canuck, but the character's trademark ferocity always seems restrained by the need to keep him kid-friendly. It’s pretty difficult to sell plastic Wolverine claws in toy stores when they spend most of their screen time covered in viscera. Raven, however, doesn’t seem all that concerned with making Wolverine fun for the whole family. In this game, he kills people and holds nothing back.

Based on the 15-minute demo I saw at NYCC, it seems as though Wolverine spends the majority of the game impaling, decapitating and even cutting in half any enemy that stands in his path. While graphic content is in no way a substitute for solid gameplay, it certainly doesn't hurt in this case. Like God of War and other similar brawlers, Wolverine allows players to upgrade their attacks and chain combos together to dispatch their enemies in the most satisfying—and gory—ways possible. Also, the game showcases Wolverine’s healing abilities amazingly through real-time regeneration on his character model whenever he sustains heavy damage.

A visually stunning game, this may turn out to be one of the few video games based on a film to transcend expectations. It looks phenomenal, and seems to both follow the film’s storyline as well as provide its own unique thrills.

Look for X-Men Origins: Wolverine – The Video Game on store shelves May 1. Visit the game’s official site at uncaged.com for more details.

Oh, and as for the demonstration itself, Activision easily had the coolest giveaway at NYCC: Giant foam Wolverine claws. Awesome.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Joss Whedon Talks Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible at NYCC

In a February 8 panel discussion at New York Comic Con, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) unveiled never-before-seen footage from his upcoming Fox series Dollhouse and alluded to a possible sequel to his acclaimed web-exclusive musical comedy, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku, revolves around an organization that removes the memories of certain people, called Actives, and replaces them with entirely new ones for the benefit of its high-paying clients. Echo, Dushku’s character is introduced as someone who has reluctantly entered the Dollhouse program— allegedly a volunteer decision—but is then shown in the next scene as a sexy biker at her wealthy boyfriend's birthday party. She’s escorted away for “treatment,” which turns out to be a procedure that eliminates her memories entirely, reverting her to a child-like state. If she says she didn’t want to enter into this program, then why is she putting herself through this?

Whedon told the crowd at the jam-packed IGN Theater that Dushku essentially plays a different character every week, as the Dollhouse assigns her to different clients who pay top dollar for her to be whatever they want her to be.

“Every episode is a pilot ...and she's working her ass off,” said Whedon, who was joined onstage by Dushku’s co-star, Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica), whose character was not featured in the footage. “The cast is phenomenal, and we really get to put them through their paces.”

While Dollhouse has been saddled with a Friday night timeslot, long considered to be a kiss of death for any fledgling series, Whedon assured fans that his partnership with Fox has improved significantly since his experience working on Firefly, which the network notoriously aired out of order and canceled after only eleven episodes.

“The relationship with the network has been completely different,” he said. “They’ve been completely honest, they’ve been totally supportive…it’s been a real collaboration and it’s been a much better experience in that sense.”

When asked about a possible follow-up to Dr. Horrible—which stars Neil Patrick Harris as the titular lovelorn supervillain, Whedon hinted that it’s not out of the question once he has some free time.

“I very much loved working on the Internet—it’s different,” he said. “I definitely intend to pursue both the idea of creating new Internet ventures and the idea of, ‘What’s up with Dr. Horrible?’”

However, for those craving more Whedonesque musical numbers right now, Dollhouse delivers fairly early on.

“Eliza sings in the third episode,” Whedon explained. “She’s actually the backup singer of a diva pop star [and] has a beautiful voice. Somewhere out there, she’s rockin’ ‘Suddenly Seymour’ [from Little Shop of Horrors] on karaoke."

Dollhouse premieres February 13 at 9 p.m.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Christian Bale Apologizes for Foul-Mouthed Rant

Okay, so just about everyone with an Internet connection has listened to Christian Bale’s verbal tirade on the set of Terminator Salvation, which leaked just a few days ago. Now, the star is speaking out for the first time about his expletive-filled explosion aimed at the film’s director of photography, Shane Hurlbut. On February 6, Bale called the Kevin & Bean show on Los Angeles’ KROQ radio station to clear the air, E! Online reports.

"The thing that I really want to stress is I have no confusion whatsoever. I was out of order beyond belief. I was way out of order. I acted like a punk. I regret that,” Bale said. "There is nobody that has heard that tape that is hit harder by it than me. I make no excuses for it. It is inexcusable. I hope that that is absolutely clear."

Bale explained that he and Hurlbut had reconciled following the on-set outburst, and that there were no hard feelings between them."We have resolved this completely...I have no intention of getting anyone fired,” he said. “There is no problem whatsoever."

Regarding those who have been mocking his rant—including Los Angeles-based producer RevoLucian, who transformed it into a dance track—Bale admits that he had it coming. “Feel free to make fun of me at my expense,” he said. “I deserve it completely.”

Fanboys Hits Theaters!

Regardless of how we all felt about the finished product, the months leading up to the May 19, 1999 release of Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace were an exciting time to be a geek. For the first time in 16 years, a new Star Wars adventure was on its way, inspiring some of the most devout followers of the Force to go so far as to set up camp outside movie theaters weeks ahead of the film's opening just to be among the first to experience it. Sure, the actions of those people did little to endear Star Wars fans to the general public, but it was their moment and no one could deny them that.

Commemorating the extreme level of Star Wars fervor during that unique era in movie history is Fanboys, a film directed by Kyle Newman that chronicles four fans' trip across the country to George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to steal an early print of The Phantom Menace. You see, one of them has been diagnosed with cancer and wishes to see the Star Wars prequel before he dies. While cancer is certainly never funny, Fanboys is touted as a comedy by and for Star Wars fans, and has been hotly anticipated for the past several years. It was supposed to hit theaters in 2007—the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars film—but distributor The Weinstein Company's disapproval of Fanboys' cancer subplot led to a series of reshoots and edits to remove that piece of the story in favor of Superbad-esque raunchy humor. The extensive cuts sparked an outcry among Star Wars fans to restore the cancer subplot, urging the studio to release the film as intended. Fan activism ultimately paid off.

Fanboys opens this weekend on 44 screens nationwide in Austin, Seattle, Houston, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago. If it does well enough, it might receive a wider release, according to the film's MySpace page. And guys, even if you're not into the whole Star Wars thing (shame on you), the film feature's Kristen Bell in a gold, metal bikini. That should pique your interest.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of LOLZ


While I admittedly kind of liked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for what it was—although my opinion of it has soured significantly since it hit theaters last May—I found it impossible not to crack a smile when I came across this parody trailer on Topless Robot this morning.

Christian Bale Versus Bill O'Reilly


This is an incredibly inspired mash-up that I just had to share. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Regarding That Christian Bale Meltdown

Since an audio clip of Christian Bale’s profanity-laced explosion on the set of Terminator Salvation hit the web earlier this week, it seems as though everyone on the blogosphere is weighing in on it. Of course, one can hardly blame the Internet’s impulsive finger wagging whenever a public figure does something embarrassing. However, is it possible that the nearly four-minute tirade directed at the film’s director of photography Shane Hurlbut—who was apparently adjusting lighting on the set during a crucial scene between Bale (savior of mankind John Connor) and Bryce Dallas Howard (his wife, Kate)—has been taken completely out of context? Whatever the case, to quote Bale, the whole thing is “f*cking distracting.”

Don’t get me wrong, the Dark Knight star has been accused of flying off the handle before. As ABC News reports, the frightening on-set outburst came just days after Bale's July arrest in London, where he was apprehended after an allegedly heated argument with his mother and sister. Needless to say, it must have been a rough month for him. Whether this behavior hints at underlying anger management issues remains to be seen.

Some, such as Ain’t It Cool News founder Harry Knowles, have rushed to Bale’s defense. “Bale had indeed warned the DP on multiple occasions about messing with lights while the cameras were rolling, and Bale was in the midst of a painful scene with Bryce, what was described to me as being the emotional center of the film and his character for the film,” Knowles writes, adding that “the DP really was doing something that professional DPs with experience just don’t do. Not During a performance.”

He makes a valid point, and claims that he received the inside scoop from someone who was on-set that day. If Hurlbut had repeatedly ruined Bale's concentration, then a little verbal scolding was probably in order. It’s when the drawn-out tantrum devolves more than once into threats of physical violence that it becomes a concern.

“I’m going to f*cking kick your f*cking ass if you don’t shut up for a second,” Bale warns as others on-set try to calm him down. No matter what Hurlbut was doing that ruined Bale’s scene, threatening to beat someone up over a Terminator sequel is a bit much.

While troubling, it’s important to realize that we as the general public have only heard a small piece of this story. The saga behind this incident is sure to play out for a long while, or at least until the press gets bored with it and online jokesters get tired of remixing Bale’s rant into hilarious dance songs and even funnier soundboards ideal for prank phone calls (not that I condone that sort of thing).

Should we be passing judgment? Not quite yet. For now, it’s likely that fault lies on both Bale and Hurlbut’s shoulders. Hurlbut should not have been messing with the lights and distracting the actors, while Bale should not have continued to go off on someone long after they’d apologized. It’s a gray issue, and it’s ugly all around.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comic Books: Not Just Kids' Stuff

I’m not easily offended, but when I came across one particular blurb titled “Comics and Combovers” on The New York TimesCity Room Blog, I couldn’t help but shake my shiny head in disgust. As many comic book fans know, New York Comic Con opens on February 6 and is the premier geek gathering outside of San Diego where the main event, Comic-Con International, opens in July. Of course, both events—and all comic book conventions—have grown beyond a sole focus on comic books to include programming to drum up awareness of new films, books, television series and video games.

However, whenever a comic book convention starts grabbing headlines, the geek culture—and I use the term affectionately—is approached with a disheartening ethnographic detachment, as it is in the City Room Blog piece. Posted by Alan Feuer, it reads, “The culture is strewn with examples of grown men in their 40s — some in their 50s — unabashedly proclaiming love for comic books, an obsession that hints at lingering boyhood hungers and ranks up there with coin collecting as something to be given up by age 13. Maybe the security of affluence has permitted men to remain adolescents at heart well after middle age has taken their bodies.” It then directs readers to New York Comic Con's website for ticket information so they can observe these sad, strange people in person.

What’s being said here perhaps isn’t all that bad. Comic books, since their inception, have always been viewed as a childish diversion. However, not only is the NY Times blogger ignoring the fact that the majority of comic book readers are adults these days—and not all of us are the basement-dwelling introverts that stereotypes would suggest—and that the subject matter of most books is geared toward a mature audience and has been since the mid-1980s or so. I would hardly call Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman “adolescent” in nature. But what do I know? I have “lingering boyhood hungers.”

The New York Times Building is located just seconds away from Midtown Comics’ Times Square location. Perhaps staffers should plan a visit and get educated before marginalizing a legitimate art form.