Friday, 30 August 2013

Gilbert Taylor: Dr. Strangelove and Star Wars cinematographer dies aged 99

Influential and respected veteran cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, whose career encompassed the likes of Dr. Strangelove (1964), A Hard Day’s Night (1964), The Omen (1976) and Star Wars (1977), has died aged 99.

According to his wife Dee, Taylor died last Friday with his family at his bedside at his home on the Isle of Wight.

Born in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire in 1914, Taylor entered the film industry in 1929 as a camera assistant, working at Gainsborough Studios in London. 

His many credits include Ice Cold In Alex (1958), The Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate film, Frenzy (1972).

He also worked with Roman Polanski on such films as the nightmarish Repulsion (1965), starring Catherine Deneuve, and Cul-de-Sac (1966), for which he received back-to-back BAFTA nominations in consecutive years.

According to his wife, Taylor "turned down a Bond picture" to work with Polanski, "because he thought Roman was a very interesting guy".

"The three of us became very firm friends, and we've been friends until this day."

Taylor also had a hand in the special effects for 1955 classic The Dam Busters and was director of photography on the 1980 kitsch fantasy Flash Gordon.

To many, though, he will be best remembered for his contribution to the first Star Wars film, on which he worked under the auspices of director George Lucas.

"George avoided all meetings and contact with me from day one," Taylor would later tell American Cinematographer magazine.

"So I read the extra-long script many times and made my own decisions as to how I would shoot the picture. I took it upon myself to experiment with photographing the lightsabers and other things onstage before we moved on to our two weeks of location work in Tunisia.

"I am most happy to be remembered as the man who set the look for Star Wars. I wanted to give it a unique visual style that would distinguish it from other films in the science fiction genre. I wanted Star Wars to have clarity, because I don’t think space is out of focus."

Taylor had slightly happier memories during his time photographing Ken Adam's famous War Room set for Doctor Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 Cold War satire.

"Lighting that set was sheer magic," he later recalled. "I don't quite know how I got away with it all."

Taylor's distinguished career included six years with the Royal Air Force during World War II, shooting the results of night time raids over Germany at the request of Winston Churchill.

He went on to become a founder member of the British Society of Cinematographers, which presented him with a lifetime achievement award in 2001.

Taylor also worked in television, shooting episodes for the likes of The Avengers and The Baron during the 1960s.

He stopped making feature films in 1994 but continued to shoot commercials while turning his hand to painting.

Speaking to the BBC, Gilbert's widow said their life together had been "a Technicolor dream".

Dee, a script supervisor, was 23 years his junior. They met on the set of the 1963 Tony Hancock film The Punch and Judy Man and married four years later.

They continued to work together for the rest of their lives. When the British film industry went through hard times in the mid 1970s, they set up a dairy farm with 250 cattle.

Mrs Taylor remembered her late husband as "wonderful, kind, funny, amusing [and] terribly talented in every aspect".

"There was nothing he couldn't do," she told the BBC.

He truly left his mark on the industry and will be much missed

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Star Wars: Episode VII to shoot on 35mm

It was announced this week that J. J. Abrams' cinematographer of choice, Dan Mindel, has signed up to shoot Star Wars: Episode VII. Further more, Mindel confirmed at an ASC breakfast in Los Angeles that it will be filmed entirely in glorious anamorphic 35mm.

This marks a huge step away from the high definition sanitised veneer of George Lucas's last two digitally shot prequels, and a thrilling return to the grittier, earthier look of the originals. Abrams is clearly looking to recapture the look and feel of A New Hope (1977), an analogue aesthetic in a digital age. It's a prospect that should certainly thrill Star Wars fans.

There were a few clues dropped earlier this year when Abrams told the Producers Guild conference that, "If film were to go away then the standard for the highest, best quality would go away. I have not yet shot a movie digitally. Film is the thing I am most comfortable with."

In his passion for celluloid Abrams has a long established accomplice in Mindel. The pair have worked together on Mission: Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Mindel also shot Enemy Of The State (1998) for Tony Scott, Savages for Oliver Stone (2012) and John Carter (2012) for Andrew Stanton.

In an interview with Digital Content Producer back in 2009, Abrams' discussed his rationale for sticking with celluloid on his Star Trek reboot. "I wanted this movie to feel real," Abrams explained. "I’m not saying you can't be real with digital. But with film, for me, there was such a familiarity and comfort to it, a real warmth. We wanted to avoid coldness and any unnatural sense of perfection."

Cameras are scheduled to start rolling on Star Wars: Episode VII in London early 2014.

Ben Affleck to be the next Batman

Warner Bros have announced this week that Ben Affleck (Argo) is set to play Batman in the forthcoming Superman sequel.

"We knew we needed an extraordinary actor to take on one of DC Comics' most enduringly popular super heroes, and Ben Affleck certainly fits that bill and then some," Warner Bros President Greg Silverman said in a statement.

Following in the footsteps of Lewis G. Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale, Affleck will star opposite British actor Henry Cavill, who will reprise his role as the Man of Steel.

Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) announced the big screen superhero mash-up at this years Comic Con in San Diego, suggesting an older actor would take on the cowl as a counterpoint to Henry Cavill's more youthful Superman. Several contenders including Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling were mooted, but Warners has gone for someone the studio has a strong history with, both in front of and, more successfully following the likes of Gone Baby Gone (2007) and Argo (2012), behind the camera.

Neither is Affleck new to the superhero genre, having played former Superman, George Reeves, in the film Hollywoodland (2006). He also played Marvel hero Daredevil in the lacklustre 2003 movie of the same name, where he also met his future off-screen wife Jennifer Garner.

Whilst Affleck will only be on acting duty for the new film, Snyder is clearly happy with his choice. "Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry's Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne," the Man Of Steel director said in a statement picked up by Variety. "I can’t wait to work with him."

As for the choice, it has already provoked a strong reaction online, with some raising the spectre of Daredevil and others worrying that his personality will overwhelm the role. Some may remember the negative backlash surrounding Michael Keaton being cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman back in the 1980s. His particular take on the Caped Crusader is now considered a fan favourite. So much so that when word came that the character was to return in Snyder's Man Of Steel sequel, there was no small portion of fans who immediately called for Keaton's return.

It will certainly be interesting to see what Affleck does with the part, and how his interpretation of the Bat fits into the world Snyder has established. He's certainly got a lot to live up to given the success of Bale's time in the suit, but at least Affleck has an understanding of the pressure he's under. Introducing a brand new take on the character in a film that will also have to service Kal-El is still a big task to nail, then again, with production yet to start until 2014, it's clearly a little early to judge.

Batman Vs. Superman, or whatever it ends up being called, is scheduled for a crowded marketplace slot in summer 2015, with a US release date already set for 17 July that year.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

X-Men: Days Of Future Past launches viral marketing campaign

As social media channels continue to grow their ability to inform our lives, film studios are relying heavily on 'see and share' content designed for moviegoers. This social networking trend has taken a step further this year with new campaigns for X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Using viral campaigns as a way of promoting the latest film releases are nothing new. As far back as 1999, The Blair Witch Project had the world fooled into thinking that what it was seeing was actually found footage. Recent years have also seen both online excitement and commercial reward generated by campaigns for likes of The Dark Knight (2008), District 9 (2009), Inception (2010) and Tron: Legacy (2010). Yet despite the commercial motivation, most fans appear to be enjoying the shift.

Viral movie marketing encourages engagement with cinema, wider conversation and expands the worlds of movies people love. Much more than just a trailer, poster or an A-list roster, these campaigns use shared user experiences to lead fans on a digital treasure hunt, scouring the internet for clues regarding upcoming movie projects. It's a game an increasing number of studios and film makers are playing.

Whilst X-Men: Days Of Future Past isn't scheduled for release until 2014, the marketing activity has already begun with a series of anti-mutant posters and a fake TV commercial for Trask Industries. But how effective are these campaigns really?

Today it would seem that no superhero film release or science fiction blockbuster is complete without a huge marketing effort filling in the back stories of key characters and the apparent organisations involved. For 20th Century Fox's X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Los Angeles based agency Ignition Creative has built a detailed website for Trask Industries, the company supposedly responsible for building the giant Sentinels, a robot army bent on capturing and destroying all mutants.

The website presents Trask Industries as "the world's leading full-spectrum genetic security and containment company, Trask Industries continues to uncover new ways to control the mounting X-gene threat. We are proud to bring decades of experience, along with 118,000 innovative minds as we continue to secure human freedoms in every nation on Earth. Our goal is to solve tomorrow's problems, today."

20th Century Fox have also released their latest viral site for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, somewhat ironically dedicated to educating us on the dangers of a Simian Flu virus, the same chemical that enhanced the apes intelligence but proved to be fatal to humans in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011). The website also goes on to explain all the symptoms of the disease, as well as an interactive map showing a time line of its spread.

These increasingly elaborate campaigns have production values equalled only by the films they are promoting. Most notable of these perhaps, was the campaign for Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012), which included a fake TED Talk by character Peter Weyland, and a promotional video launching the latest range of emotive androids from Weyland Industries.

Whether it be Guy Pearce as grandstanding techno-mogul Peter Weyland speaking at the 2023 TED Conference, or the chilling advert hawking the Weyland Corporation's new emotionally aware android David 8, played with sycophantic naivety by Michael Fassbender, these campaigns made us want to know more, to tell our friends and – the holy grail of viral marketing – to get involved.

But are these increasingly complex and costly productions merely preaching to the converted? Marc Berry Reid, regional director of digital communications agency Way To Blue certainly thinks so. "The big question for me is how can viral campaigns break out of just appealing to the core audience. They are typically adopted by the 'fan boy' audience who, it could be argued, are going to see the film anyway. Avengers Assemble is a good example of a movie that, even though it screamed for one, had no elaborate viral campaign. Did the lack of one impact the movie? The box office so far doesn't seem to suggest so."

Case in point, the immaculate, award winning campaign for Tron: Legacy failed to put bums on seats, while James Cameron's Avatar had no viral campaign to speak of. Either way, you can be sure that a good viral campaign will be deemed central to successful movie marketing for some time to come.

"If you can fight, fight. Be prepared for anything. Our war has just begun."

When the first zombie flicks twitched into life, there was a niche concern, with budgets to match. An invasion of a farmhouse was fine, a city block just about doable, but anything bigger had to be relayed via a flickering TV or crackly radio transmission. Flash forward several decades and you have World War Z. A big budget summer release, starring one of Hollywood's biggest A-listers, that sets out to actually show a worldwide assault by the undead. The result is slick, tense and hangs together pretty well, far from the disaster many predicted during its torturous production. But it's also somewhat sterile and generic. In particular, horror fans looking for grand scale carnage are unlikely to come away entirely satisfied.

Written in 2006 by Max Brooks (son a Mel Brooks fact fans), the apocalyptic horror novel from which the film takes its name and loose outline, zips all over the globe, looking at the horror from a range of perspectives. Inspired by Studs Terkel's The Good War, an oral history of World War II, World War Z reads as a satirical survival manual that has smart things to say about geo-politics. It also has some astounding images, like a submarine being overrun by zombies on an ocean bed, or the US army's Alamo-esque last stand against millions of the walking dead. Almost none of this has made it into the film. Instead, we travel around with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a family man and former UN investigator who once ran operations in global war zones. With military infrastructures in shambles and entire nations going radio silent, he alone must trace the source of the outbreak, as Pitt leads us through the carnage with his usual charm and stoic grace.

World War Z's opening charge is terrific. Apocalyptic blockbusters usually take a while to crank up and tease what lies ahead, but World War Z launches straight into it. By the time you've finished your first mouthful of popcorn, an entire city (Philadelphia) is being overrun. Director Marc Forster (Quantum Of Solace) plays the sequence beautifully, keeping the ghouls virtually unseen and making the chaos unnerving in itself. It’s powerful stuff. But it also sets the tone for what to expect in terms of gore, or indeed the lack of it. This is a movie in which millions of people die, but barely a drop of blood is seen. As for guts, it would seem these zombies don’t have much of an appetite.

That said, they're still damn scary, particularly when swarming across the screen like pissed off army ants. These reanimated corpses don't just run, they sprint, leap, clamber and power-slide with inhuman gusto, head butting their way through civilisation in a swarm of thousands. It's undeniably effective to see thousands of them descend upon their prey, all the while screeching like Velociraptors and chomping their teeth. The special effects of which are handled well, though the editing is at times over frenetic. The real shame is that, whether for budgetary reasons or to try to keep things more character based, this type of vast scale action is limited to a single set piece, during the film's mid-point Israel segment. With the undead CG hoards pouring through it's crowded streets, piling high up city walls and overrunning military helicopters. But considering the films title, it would have been nice to see a lot more war.

Instead, the majority of the running time sees Pitt and an assortment of sidekicks facing down 'Zeke' in a familiar array of bunkers, apartment blocks and labs. It's all handled with skill though and the actors do a good job of selling the fear. But ultimately the conspicuously bloodless PG-13 rating rears its family friendly head whenever the camera gets too close for comfort. Plus a dumbed down climax (which was famously re-shot at great expense) looks rather like a scene from every zombie flick that's ever been made. But it's not just the intestines that are missing – with Lane's family crisis set against such a monumental backdrop, World War Z is sorely lacking in heart and a genuine sense of danger.

This is clearly a studio dipping its toe in the water. The closing line, "This isn't the end... not even close," suggests that there are plans ahead for future instalments, should there be public appetite. In the meantime, this just about succeeds on its own merits. Whilst few of the characters are memorable, there's enough stunning imagery here that's genuinely horrifying. Choosing quantity over quality, intensity over tension and big screen thrills over low-fi shocks – this is probably what a zombie apocalypse would actually look like.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

"I'll take the red one!"

20th Century Fox have released their first trailer for Ben Stiller's The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

A remake of the classic 1947 film, the story sees Stiller play bored office worker Walter Mitty, who spends his days creating elaborate fantasy worlds for himself in which he gets to live a life of adventure while romancing co-worker Kristen Wiig.

However, when both their jobs are threatened in the real world, Walter finally shakes off his lethargy and sets off on a global journey to introduce some genuine excitement into his life.

The trailer gives us our first look at Sean Penn (Milk), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) and Adam Scott (Step Brothers) as Stiller's support, whilst delivering a flavour of the film's soaring tone. The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is a long-time Stiller passion project that will grasp for the epic or die trying.

"It's not like I’m trying to prove anything, or force something down people's throats," Stiller explains. "I'm just trying to do different things, to make the kind of movie I'm interested in making. The kind of movie I’d like to go and see." We're already on board for the ride.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is out on 26 December.

"Who's the master: the painter? Or the forger?"

Columbia Pictures have this week released their first trailer for David O. Russell's American Hustle, which sees the director combine some of his Silver Linings Playbook (2012) cast (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro) with some of his The Fighter (2010) cast (Amy Adams, Christian Bale).

Along for the ride are Jeremy Renner (The Bourne Legacy), Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmin) and Michael Peña (End Of Watch). De Niro and Louis C.K. don't make it into this teaser, but here's hoping they're wearing some '80s gear and dodgy toupees in the next one.

A loosely truth-based tale of an FBI sting operation that took down some high-profile US government types, American Hustle was originally called American Bullshit when it was at number eight on 2010's Black List list of the best unproduced screenplays.

The film finds Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld, a Bronx-raised con man who raises the suspicion of driven FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).

Under threat of prison, DiMaso forces Rosenfeld and his lover/accomplice Sydney (Amy Adams) to work up the Abscam sting, which saw a US senator and five congressmen convicted on corruption charges. "That era was very much like our era now," says Russell. "The economy was not in a good place and people had to struggle to figure out how to reinvent themselves."

American Hustle will arrive in US cinemas on 25 December before hopping across the pond to launch here on Boxing Day.

New character one sheets and trailer for Kick-Ass 2

Following their successful panel at this years Comic Con in San Diego, Universal have released a brand new four minute trailer for Kick-Ass 2. During Comic Con, director Jeff Wadlow (Never Back Down) told the crowd that the red band trailer arriving online would be more violent, and profanity laden than the footage shown, and he wasn't lying.

This time around, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's (Savages) Kick-Ass / Dave Lizewski has teamed up with another group of makeshift superheroes, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Chloë Grace Moretz' (Hugo) Hit Girl is attempting to adjust to life as teenager Mindy MacReady with mixed results, and they're all threatened by Christopher Mintz-Plasse's (Superbad) orphaned mad man set on revenge.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson has been praising Jeff Wadlow's script, saying that the various story arcs "bring these characters to a whole new level."

Mintz-Plasse agrees, although he was thankful that Wadlow had softened some of his character's edges. There will be no rape in the movie version, nor will there be any dog-killing.

Watch out for John Leguizamo as the Mother Fucker's exasperated number two, who seems to be a little uncomfortable taking orders from a geeky teenager.

Kick-Ass 2 also stars Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine), John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge!), Morris Chestnut (American Horror Story) and Lyndsy Fonseca (How I Met Your Mother), and hits UK cinemas on 14 August.

"You must be truly desperate to come to me for help."

Marvel have just released their brand new full length trailer for Thor: The Dark World, giving fans a chance to see some of the material that was shown at this years Comic Con in San Diego.

The sequel sees the next step in Marvel’s Phase 2 master plan, picking up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) after the events of The Avengers (2012). This time around Asgard is under threat from the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, led by Christopher Eccleston's (G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra) formidable Malekith, with Earth too facing destruction at the hands of this mysterious force. Meanwhile, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) gets a tour of Asgard (with the film set to explore more of the mythology’s Nine Realms), and Thor is forced to call upon his treacherous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who seems to be the one person around who might have useful information on this new enemy.

Directed by Alan Taylor (Game Of Thrones), Thor: The Dark World also stars Idris Elba (American Gangster, Prometheus), Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair), Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls), Zachary Levi (Chuck), Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand), Stellan Skarsgård (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and Ray Stevenson (The Three Musketeers).

Thor: The Dark World hits cinemas on 30 October.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

James Cameron confirms Avatar 2, 3 and 4

James Cameron and 20th Century Fox have announced this week that they are to make three more Avatar sequels, and have set three high level screenwriters to get the movies in shape ready to be shot simultaneously. Surely a recipe for the most expensive set of pictures ever made, and an ambitious production plan not seen since New Line and Peter Jackson made three The Lord Of The Rings films back to back. Back then, Jackson was coming off The Frighteners (1996). Fox at least has the confidence of knowing Cameron's last two films are the largest grossing pictures in movie history, with Avatar (2009) at the top by quite a margin having grossed over $2.8 billion. Even so, it is not unimaginable that three Avatar installments could cost close to $1 billion.

Cameron has set Josh Friedman (War Of The Worlds) to write the first sequel, with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise Of Planet Of The Apes) to write the second, and the third to be written by Shane Salerno, who wrote and directed the upcoming documentary Salinger and who previously worked with Cameron on the Fantastic Voyage remake, currently in development at Fox. The writers will collaborate with Cameron separately and co-write the three movies with him. 

"Building upon the world we created with Avatar has been a rare and incredibly rewarding experience. In writing the new films, I’ve come to realise that Avatar's world, story and characters have become even richer than I anticipated, and it became apparent that two films would not be enough to capture everything I wanted to put on screen," says Cameron. "And to help me continue to expand this universe, I'm pleased to bring aboard Amanda, Rick, Shane and Josh – all writers I've long admired – to join me in completing the films' screenplays.”

The three pictures are to be filmed simultaneously, with production beginning next year in New Zealand. The first sequel already has a release date of December 2016, with the second to follow in December 2017, and the third a year later. The sequels will be produced by Cameron and Jon Landau through their Lightstorm Entertainment banner. Lightstorm will once again be working with Academy Award® winner Joe Letteri and his team at WETA Digital on the three films.

This is far and away the largest project for 20th Century Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, who pulled Cameron out of a proposed plan to direct Cleopatra at Sony with Angelina Jolie, and instead made a deal that ensured his focus would be on expanding the Avatar universe and the groundbreaking 3D technology that brought it to life. The move by Gianopulos keeps Cameron in the Fox fold and continues a relationship that has spanned almost 30 years, beginning with Aliens in 1985.

Cameron wrote Avatar from an idea he worked on for over a decade, developing the technology required to make it happen in immersive 3D, which Cameron accomplished with the help of WETA Digital. This explained the long absence he took after helming Best Picture Oscar winner Titanic (1997), which was co-financed by Fox and Paramount. Aside from being the largest grossing film of all time, Avatar is also the biggest selling Blu-ray disc ever.

"Bring me my double Ds!"

There's no end of insanity in this second trailer for Robert Reriguez's Machete Kills, the second full length outing for Danny Trejo's super tough Federale. We have Charlie Sheen (a.k.a. Carlos Estevez), taking over his father's old job as President of the United States. Then there's an army of super soldiers that includes Antonio Banderas (Haywire) in the world's most ridiculous moustache. Not mention Sofia Vergara (New Years Eve) sporting fully automatic 'Double Ds' and, of course, there's Machete, yet again bringing the hurt to the bad guys.

As you can see here, this latest instalment sees Machete called back into action by the President of the United States to deal with the threat of Mel Gibson's (Edge Of Darkness) Luther Voz and the weapon of mass destruction he has pointed at Washington.

The women in Machete’s life get a fair bit of screen time in the trailer too, with Amber Heard (The Rum Diary) as Miss San Antonio, Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar) once again donning the eye patch, and Lady Gaga making one hell of an entrance. The male cast also includes Oscar nominee Demian Bichir (Savages), Edward James Olmos (Dexter) and William Sadler (Iron Man 3).

Machete Kills hits US screens on 11 October and should follow here soon after.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Glorious new Thor: The Dark World one sheet arrives

Marvel has released a brand new one sheet for Thor: The Dark World this week, Alan Taylor's (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire) sequel to the 2011 Norse blockbuster. Enjoying the familiar superhero movie montage trope of the magical pyramid, the poster, which manages to include nearly a dozen characters from the upcoming sequel, centres on Thor himself, (Chris Hemsworth), and his Asgard belle Jane (Natalie Portman).

What makes this poster so intriguing, aside from its detail, is the looming face of Christopher Eccleston (G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra) as Malekith The Accursed, the ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, and the film's Big Bad.

Set one year after Avengers, the Thor sequel will see Asgard battered by war after the Marauder invasion - only for a worse threat to turn up in the form of Malekith and his Dark Elves, who are out for vengeance against the Asgard realm because of an ancient grudge.

Says producer Craig Kyle, "Like in Indiana Jones, while there's high stakes and high threat and high danger, there's always fun. It's a very complicated blend. Thor is, until Guardians Of The Galaxy hits, by far our most wild, fringe Marvel piece. But that's why it's the Marvel Universe and not Marvel Earth!"

As well as the latest one sheet, new stills from the film have also made their way online via, and we've got them here for you to enjoy as well.

Thor: The Dark World also stars Idris Elba (American Gangster, Prometheus), Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Stellan Skarsgård (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Ray Stevenson (The Three Musketeers), Zachary Levi (Chuck), Jaime Alexander (The Last Stand), Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls), Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (The Thing) and Tadanobu Asano (Battleship).

Thor: The Dark World hits cinemas on 30 October.

New Amazing Spider-Man 2 stills arrive online

The latest stills for Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 have arrived online, showcasing Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) as Electro and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) as Aleksei Sytsevich, before he turns into The Rhino, plus Dane DeHaan (Lawless) as Harry Osborn. We also get additional shots featuring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) in and out of the Spider-Man costume, and Emma Stone (Easy A) as Gwen Stacy.

Life is busy for Peter Parker (Garfield) – between taking out the bad guys as Spider-Man and spending time with the person he loves, Gwen (Emma Stone), high school graduation can't come quickly enough. Peter hasn't forgotten about the promise he made to Gwen's father to protect her by staying away – but that's a promise he just can't keep. Things change for Peter when a new villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx), emerges, an old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), returns, and Peter uncovers new clues about his past.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens 2 May 2014.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

"It's a little bit more complicated then that mother."

Only God Forgives, the latest film from Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, has a stunning new colour drenched one sheet and trailer.

Eschewing the typical cast shot, this looks to be a nod to the karaoke bars and Thai boxing dens that our hero frequents. There's a motion version of the one sheet too, further enhancing that seedy flashing sign vibe.

Only God Forgives sees Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, The Ides Of March) as Julian, a Westerner exiled to Bangkok, running said fighting establishment as a front for a drug smuggling operation. When his brother is killed in revenge for slaughtering a young prostitute, he is sent by his terrifying mother (Kristin Scott-Thomas) deep into the city's criminal underworld, on a quest to find a notorious kingpin known as The Angel of Vengeance. Only problem: the man responsible is Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a retribution machine working with the city's police.

It sounds like it's going to marry the urban grime of Drive (2009) with the mad existential head trip of Valhalla Rising (2009)... and that can only be an good thing.

It may be a wholly different animal, granted, but Refn's latest does at least reunite us with a few of the key ingredients that made Drive such a cult hit. Ryan Gosling's brooding charisma for one, plus moments of brutal violence, dazzling photography and a pulsating score by Cliff Martinez.

Only God Forgives is out now.

James McAvoy to play Victor Von Frankenstein

With Frankenstein's monster returning to challenge vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures for cinematic dominance, 20th Century Fox has been slowly putting the pieces together for their own take on Victor Von Frankenstein and his most famous creation. Now Deadline reports that James McAvoy (Wanted, X-Men: First Class) is set to play Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein in director Paul McGuigan's (Lucky Number Slevin, Sherlock) film, which pits the trustworthy Igor as the protagonist.

Working from Max Landis' script, McGuigan's film will blend Mary Shelley's original tale with an expanded look at the Frankenstein universe told through the eyes of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) and through the filter of the old pop-culture take on the characters.

Though Fox had wanted this one rolling before competing Frankenstein movies such as I, Frankenstein, the San Diego Comic Con panel for that Aaron Eckhart starrer suggests that McGuigan and co have lost this particular race. That said, with an intriguing Landis script and two very talented types in the lead roles, we must admit that this new version of Frankie goes to Hollywood has raised our interest to a much higher level.

McAvoy beat the likes of Toby Kebbell (War Horse) and Jack Houston (Kill Your Darlings) for the role, and should bring the requisite depth required to the troubled scientist. With a busy schedule ahead, McAvoy can next be seen in Filth (out September 27) and double bill drama The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, which is yet to have a release date. Not to mention X-Men: Days Of Future Past, due to land here on 22 May next year.

"Never was there a story of more woe…"

The latest one sheet and trailer has arrived for Juilan Fellowes' adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet.

Written by the Academy Award® winner and creator of Downtown Abbey, this retelling of the ill-fated star crossed lovers, sees Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) play Juliet alongside Douglas Booth (Great Expectations) as Romeo. Youngest members of the Capulet and Montague houses, we follow their feuding families and their growing attraction as the story spirals towards tragedy.

Shooting in Verona and Mantua, italy, this latest version appears to strip things back to a more traditional form. Playing closer to Franco Zeffirelli's take on the tragedy, than say Baz Luhrmann's bold and brassy vision of the Bard's best known texts. This will no doubt please traditionalists, but might not make it stand out from these impressive predecessors.

Director Carlo Carlei has assembled a solid cast though, including Damian Lewis (The Sweeney, Homeland), Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Stellan Skarsgård (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Natascha McElhone (Californication), Ed Westwick (J. Edgar), Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Lesley Manville (Another Year). Let's hope it can reach a younger audience beyond those being forced to watch it by their English teacher.

Romeo And Juliet has yet to receive a release date, but look out for it later in the year.

"Their army is infinite. We are 47."

After skipping this years San Diego Comic Con, Universal Pictures have finally decided to kick off its promotional campaign with four new character one sheets and trailer for their long delayed samurai film, 47 Ronin.

Based on a true Japanese story, albeit with plenty of mystical cinematic embellishment, 47 Ronin finds a group of warriors in disarray.

After a treacherous warlord kills their master and banishes their kind, 47 leaderless samurai vow to seek vengeance and restore honour to their people. Driven from their homes and dispersed across the land, this band of Ronin must seek the help of Kai (Keanu Reeves), a half Japanese/half British warrior they once rejected, as they fight their way across a savage world of mythical beasts and shape shifting witches. One of which is the mesmerising and hot right now Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim).

As this exiled, enslaved outcast becomes their most deadly weapon, he will transform into the hero who inspires the band of outnumbered rebels to seize eternity.

The film has suffered from some real production challenges, including talk of re-edited cuts and clashes between first time director Carl Rinsch and executives. The result appears to be a mash-up of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) with 300 (2206), which certainly seems intriguing, even if the proof will be in the execution. Whilst a few lines of dialogue seem standard action fare, there is enough here to pique our interest.

47 Ronin will be out on 26 December.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Eileen Brennan: Private Benjamin star dies aged 80

Eileen Brennan, the actress best known for her Oscar nominated role as gruff Capt Doreen Lewis, Goldie Hawn's tormentor in army comedy Private Benjamin (1980), has died aged 80.

Her managers said she died on Sunday at her home in Burbank, Los Angeles after suffering from bladder cancer.

Brennan, who also appeared in The Last Picture Show (1971) and Clue (1985), was best known for her husky voice and spiky demeanour.

"Our world has lost a rare human," said Hawn in a statement in which she paid tribute to her "old friend".

"Eileen was a brilliant comedian, a powerful dramatic actress and had the voice of an angel."

Brennan earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her role as US Army Captain Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin.

She reprised the role in an adapted TV series from 1981 to 1983, winning an Emmy and a Golden Globe in the process.

The daughter of a doctor of Irish descent, Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born in September 1932. Her mother had acted in silent films. Educated in convent schools, she went on to study at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, before heading to Hollywood in the late 1960s.

Her first major role on the New York stage was in Little Mary Sunshine, a musical that earned her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. She also went on to play Irene Malloy in the original 1964 production of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway.

After appearing alongside Hawn in the first series of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, she was singled out for praise and a Bafta nomination, for her role as careworn waitress Genevieve in The Last Picture Show.

Brennan continued her association with its director, Peter Bogdanovich, by appearing in his films Daisy Miller (1974) and At Long Last Love (1975).

She was also seen in comic roles in Murder By Death (1976) and The Cheap Detective (1978), appearing in both alongside the late Peter Falk.

Brennan was seriously injured in 1982 when she was hit by a car after a dinner with Goldie Hawn in Los Angeles. She later recalled seething with rage at what had happened: "I was no saint. I was angry, and anger is a powerful emotion. It increased my determination not to go under, to get well."

The actress to three years off to recover, became dependent on painkillers as a result and later entered the Betty Ford clinic to cure her addiction.

Ten years after the accident Brennan said she was glad she had been hit by the car. "You learn from powerful things," she said in 1992. "Initially, there's enormous anger, but your priorities get shifted around."

She returned to the screen as the aloof and world-weary Mrs Peacock in 1985's Clue, a murder mystery spoof inspired by the board game Cluedo. 

In later life she gave supporting turns in such films as Jeepers Creepers (2001), Miss Congeniality 2 (2005) and TV's Will and Grace.

"I love meanies... because they have no sense of humour," Brennan told the Associated Press in 1988.

"If we can't laugh at ourselves and the human condition, we're going to be mean."

The actress is survived by her ex-husband, David John Lampson, and their two sons, Patrick and Sam.

In a statement, her family remembered her as "funny and caring and truly one of a kind".

Our thoughts go out to her friends and family.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

"It's not an 'S'. On my world, it means hope."

Since his inception in 1933 by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, the character of Superman has appeared in several films and serials of varying quality. Sold to Detective Comics, Inc. (known today as simply DC Comics) in 1938 for just $130, has was first introduced to cinemas in a series of animated cartoon shorts in the 1940s. Following two serials in 1948 and 1950, the first Superman feature film, Superman and the Mole Men, was released in 1951.

Then in 1973, film producer Ilya Salkind convinced his father Alexander and French film producer Pierre Spengler to purchase the film rights to Superman. After numerous setbacks and script rewrites, Richard Donner was hired to direct the film, opting to shoot Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) simultaneously. Donner had already shot 80% of Superman II before it was decided to finish shooting the first film. The Salkinds then fired Donner after Superman's release and commissioned Richard Lester as the director to finish Superman II. Lester later returned for Superman III (1983) and the Salkinds went on to produce the 1984 spin off, Supergirl, before selling the rights to Cannon Films, resulting in the awful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). In the years that followed, numerous attempts were made to bring the last Son of Krypton back to the big screen, including Kevin Smith's Superman Reborn, Tim Burton's Superman Lives (set to star Nicholas Cage* in the famous cape and tights) and J. J. Abrams' Superman: Flyby. With over 15 years of development for a fifth Superman film, Superman Returns, an alternate sequel to Superman and Superman II directed by Bryan Singer, was released in 2006 alongside Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which reinstated Donner's original vision. Despite the disappointing financial and critical results of Superman Returns, Warner Bros decided it was time to reboot one of cinemas most enduring characters. 

Superman has never seemed the easiest character to realise. Thick necked, square jawed, serious and utterly benevolent, he hardly provides an actor or writer with gritty material to work with. Unlike Batman who has a layered dark interior to explore, a whole murky cavern. The troubled childhood, the phobia, the anger, the guilt, the discipline. With Batman, as Christian Bale found and exploited so well, you can climb inside and get your hands dirty. He bruises, he bleeds, he breaks.

Superman can literally jump over the moon. Bullets bounce off his boulder-like pectorals. It is far harder to get inside that invulnerable and morally burnished exterior. Like Bruce Wayne, Kal-EL is an orphan, but one brought up by a loving couple in the heart of apple pie country. He is also, to all intents and purposes, a god. He may look like us, but he is not one of us. To misquote Shakespeare: try to prick him, he will not bleed.

Christopher Reeve found his way into the character via Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. In Reeve's deft hands, the humble, stuttering, bumbling side of Kal-El, was immediately likable and relatable. But Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals) doesn't have that luxury. Writer David Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins), under the aegis of Chris Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), isn't paying tribute to the Richard Donner/Richard Lester movies of old. Bryan Singer had already tried that, and despite Superman Returns' many overlooked merits, it simply didn't connect with audiences. In Goyer, Nolan and director Zack Snyder's (300, Sucker Punch) new take on the origin story, the Clark/Kal dichotomy is not a contrast between a bespectacled clown and a knight in primary colour armour, it is between a Kryptonian and an Earthling. A child of two worlds, one deceased, one floundering. It's a tough gig for the relatively green Cavill, and while there are some lovely touches (grinning like a loon as he climbs the clouds for the first time, or the release of long suppressed rage when he first strikes Zod – a bully he's finally allowed to hit), his Kal is somewhat stiff and slow to thaw. The same could also be said of Goyer's script. Don't expect many laughs in Man Of Steel.

Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was accused of being humourless, which was somewhat unfair. It simply took itself seriously. Besides, Batman had Alfred, and Bale's angst was leavened by Michael Caine's dry wit. He also had the Joker (whilst terrifying, had some great one-liners) then Selina Kyle. Not to mention his own Clark Kent, in the dim playboy persona of Bruce Wayne. Surprisingly, Man Of Steel features less levity than the Nolan Batman series. Cavill's Kal-El is granted no such wisecracking foils, only speechifying mentors. Kevin Costner's (Open Range, The Company Men) gravelly Jonathan Kent telling him, effectively, to keep his Y-fronts under his trousers, and Russell Crowe's (State Of Play, Robin Hood) hirsute Jor-El imploring him to give Earth a chance. Both of whom bring much needed gravitas to proceedings. His nemesis is General Zod, played with impressive ferocity and intensity by Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, The Iceman), who with his black body armour, spiked fringe and severe goatee could be a Roman dictator or the last survivor of David Lynch's Dune. Armoured up and steaming with righteous fury, there is none of the snooty disinterest of Terence Stamp's take here. Zod is all agenda and fiery commitment, whose eugenically predetermined 'noble' intentions remorselessly square the circle of genocide. He is a worthy and physically matched adversary for Kal, but unlike nefarious villain of old Lex Luthor, there are no smart quips here.

You may have expected some levity from Lois Lane, who appears in the smart, substantial form of Amy Adams (Junebug, The Master). But she's less sassy than edgy. There's no, "You’ve got me, who's got you?" here. Still, you can't really blame her for having less of a sense of humour than the Margot Kidder incarnation. Not only is the internet trying to close her paper, a genocidal alien has landed in her city and decided to 'terraform' all Earth life into oblivion.

Other longstanding elements of the Superman mythology are also given a much darker spin. The Fortress Of Solitude is no longer the gleaming Swarovski crystal haystack of the earlier movies, but a shadowy labyrinth that doesn't take kindly to visitors. Meanwhile, every schoolboy's dream superpower, x-ray vision, here becomes the stuff of waking nightmares for the young Clark Kent.

Man Of Steel, then, takes itself very seriously. But it also arguably needs to. Apart from anything else, with Superman returning to a cinematic landscape that has another godlike alien in the shape of Thor, not to mention Iron Man, Hulk – hell, all the Avengers – it wasn't a daft move to avoid any winks to his inherent absurdity. In its recalibration of the mythos, Man Of Steel allows a few irritating logic lapses, but you can appreciate the way Goyer considers Kal-El in a modern geopolitical context. There is dramatic tension to be wrung from this. Not only is he an illegal immigrant, he's a man-sized weapon of mass destruction. Of course the US government will distrust him. And while Man Of Steel won't outdo Avengers in its snappy dialogue and sheer laughs, it certainly tops it when it comes to spectacle.

Man Of Steel is huge. It opens on Krypton, a fully realised biosphere of striated volcanic landscapes and large, bellowing, reptilian monsters. It's an ecologically ravaged world which, with its biomechanical baby farming pods, recalls the horrifying 'desert of the real' scene in The Matrix (1999). Immense spacecraft soar through its burnt skies, as do strange, zoologically improbable creatures. When a movie features Russell Crowe riding a four-winged dragon during its opening act, you have to take that as a statement of outrageously epic intent. It is a space opera writ even larger, which slickly relocates its vast, unearthly hyper-dramatics to the streets of America, both small-town and metropolitan.

Either way, the collateral damage is immense, as Superman trades devastating, high velocity (Snyder stowing his fetish for slow motion meddling) blows with the black caped Zod squad, including the impressive Antje Traue as Zod's slinky lieutenant, Faora. Buildings crumble, collapse and explode, with the Earthling multitudes presumably perishing amid the dust and fire.

Whilst some repetition hampers the climactic smack down, the robust and clearly confident Zack Snyder was certainly a good choice to call action on this. Just what you would expect from the man who gave us The Watchmen (2009). A man, appropriately, whose favourite word is "awesome". Whilst it aches for more depth, warmth and humour, there is no denying this is spectacular sci-fi. Operatic, melodramatic and impressive. It feels the right Superman origin story for our time, and teases what could be a welcome new super franchise.

*A life long fan of the Superman comic series, Nicholas Cage named his son Kal-El after the super heroes Kryptonian name.