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The Genius of Ray Harryhausen

El Ray

To honor the memory of Ray Harryhausen, who passed away today, May 7, 2013, I am republishing this article that was originally published on November 11, 2011.

My love for movies started at an early age.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t overwhelmed by the magic of cinema.  I can remember being only about seven or eight and asking what the difference between a director and a producer was; I knew they were the most important people on a motion picture, but was only beginning to grasp what these people did to create the stories on the screen.  More than anything, movies with special effects swept me away, giving me a great love of the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  It’s no wonder that one of the first names I became aware of in filmmaking was Ray Harryhausen. Continue Reading »

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Can M. Night Shyamalan Redeem Himself?

When M. Night Shyamalan made a huge splash in the movie industry with The Sixth Sense, critics hailed him as the second coming of Steven Spielberg (an honor bestowed on other filmmakers since such as Bryan Singer and J.J. Abrams) despite the fact that his filmmaking style and choice of stories were completely different from the elder director–perhaps it was simply that Shyamalan was able to get a convincing performance from a child actor (interestingly enough, Spielberg later used The Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence).  His next couple films were successful, but had mixed criticism.  Unbreakable did the unthinkable and gave audiences a real-world take on superheroes before it was trendy, and Signs told yet another aliens-invade-the-Earth story, but was more interested in religious philosophy than pyrotechnics.

Shyamalan wrote, directed, and often acted in his own movies, making him a true auteur in an industry built on collaboration.  He ostracized himself in the motion picture industry by coming off incredibly arrogant in interviews and making-of documentaries on his DVDs as well as refusing to go Hollywood by insisting on making his films in his home state of Pennsylvania.  Insiders waited for the inevitable fall, while fickle fans who love to tear down their straw men turned him into the punch line of a joke upon the release of his subsequent films.  His films gained notoriety by having the coolest twist endings this side of The Twilight Zone, but the big reveal in The Village disappointed fans (of course, it didn’t occur at the end, but as the Act 3 turning point).  Then came the “bedtime story” Lady in the Water, which was all over the place tonally.  That was followed by his disaster of a film, The Happening (which made it to Round 3 of the Filmverse Summer ’12 Theatre of Shame).  What started out with a compelling concept degenerated into a laughably bad film with weak protagonists, a lame conflict, and ludicrous random “happenings.”  That was nothing compared to the travesty of The Last Airbender, his adaptation of the excellent animated series.  These last trio of films begs the question of whether he can make another good movie again.

His next effort looks promising.  After Earth teams Will Smith and his son Jaden in a futuristic adventure where the two crash on a hostile Earth-like planet (or perhaps Earth itself) where the boy must save his injured father’s life.  Check out the French trailer, which is apparently the only one released so far (thanks to the Focused Filmmaker for the heads up):

It looks visually exciting, though it is distinctly reminiscent of a certain James Cameron film–perhaps it could be renamed Avatar Earth.  Smith Senior’s monologue (presumably to his son) is on the bland side, which is not unusual for performances in a Shyamalan film.  For some reason, he directs normally engaging actors (Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Robin Wright, Samuel L. Jackson, Sigourney Weaver to name a few) to be nearly emotionless.  It’s a technique that sometimes works because it allows the audience to project their own feelings onto the characters; however, it can result in lackluster performances when the opposite is required–see The Last Airbender.  For a story that’s essentially a science fiction retelling of Robinson Crusoe or Cast Away with a juvenile lead, we need to see Jaden Smith deal with the dangers around him in a human way; if he takes a dead-panned approach, it may prevent the audience from connecting with his character’s plight.

Another of Shyamalan’s directorial choices is to photograph the action in an objective manner–placing the camera somewhere outside the action and letting us watch the events unfold before us instead of putting us in the midst of the action.  He loves extended takes, and his compositions are often very intriguing.  However, After Earth seems to be heavy on adventure rather than on drama, and that technique may hurt the production (though I actually got a kick out of the framing of action scenes in The Last Airbender, one of the few things that I liked about the movie).  As a director, he’s usually more about mood than action.  The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs all worked so well because of the sense of dread and fear that Shyamalan was able to build, whereas Lady and the Water and The Happening could not establish a consistent mood and seemed to at times want to be comedies in addition to having horrific elements.  He already proved that he could handle comedy well with his little-known earlier film Wide Awake, which deftly handled dramatic and comedic elements equally well.

One plus that After Earth has is that its protagonist is a young actor, as one of Shyamalan’s strengths has been in directing kids.  Until his last two bombs, his films could be judged on their quality by how prominently young characters played in the plots.  Wide Awake and The Sixth Sense both had kids in leading roles, while Unbreakable and Signs had strong supporting children.  The Village and Lady in the Water were fairly devoid of kids.  The Happening featured a girl that required constant protection and a couple of ill-fated teenagers in one sequence.  Of course, The Last Airbender was all about kids, and given the material the actors had to work with, they weren’t half bad (Ang was completely out of character, though Noah Ringer was the perfect choice for the role, and his performance in Cowboys and Aliens proves that he can act).  Given that After Earth appears to be focused primarily on Jaden Smith, there is hope that Shyamalan will be back in form.  The young Smith proved with The Karate Kid that he can carry a movie, as long as his apparently large ego (based on talk show appearances) doesn’t get in the way.

In 2010, Shyamalan tried an experiment where he produced a film, Devil, that was based on his original story, but he handed off the screenwriting and directing duties to others.  It was supposed to be the first of several Twilight Zone-ish movies that he was going to make in this manner.  In a sense, he was acquiescing to the pressure put on him to give up some control of his movies when his genius was proving to be fleeting.  It worked for George Lucas with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and his return to the director’s chair churned out the dreaded prequels.  What’s interesting is that in After Earth, Shyamalan shares writing credits with three other people, so perhaps he’s learned a lesson after all.  Let’s hope that this film regains his status as a respected writer and director.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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FilmVerse Summer ’12 Theatre of Shame–Winner!

After starting out with 64 truly awful motion pictures, week by week voters have whittled down the list, composed of such turkeys as Smokey and the Bandit 3, Grease 2, Batman & Robin, Jaws the Revenge, The Wicker Man, The Wiz, The Room, and yes, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  Round by round, we narrowed the cinematic nightmares down to Jack and Jill and Sex and the City 2, which competed in the Semi-Finals.  With 69% of the vote, Adam Sandler’s opus where he played brother and sister became the Most Shameful movie in the FilmVerse Summer 2012 Theatre of Shame!

Adam Sandler has made some stinkers in the past (Little Nicky comes to mind) and continues to share his dreadful “talents” with his loyal fans (That’s My Boy anyone?).  But Jack and Jill, with its story of a guy being harassed by his incredibly annoying twin sister, has the honor of receiving a whopping 3% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Okay, so only 3% of the critics gave it a positive review.  It’s not surprising that so many critics hated it (Metacritic scored it with 23 out of 100 based on actual critic scores averaged together), but what about the audience?  Surely the fans enjoyed Sandler’s cross-dressing antics.  Well, the film did make money.  Domestically, it brought in $74,158,157 with a worldwide gross of $149,673,788, meaning that half of its earnings were in the United States–not great considering that comedies generally do best in their countries of origin due to language and cultural differences in humor.  This lack of entertainment value is supported by the fact that 28,458 users on IMDb scored it an average of 3.4 out of 10.  There wasn’t much love shared on this movie.

In fact, in addition to this little website honoring its poor filmmaking, the 2012 Golden Raspberry Awards gave Jack and Jill a Razzie for every single category, the first time in history that this has happened to a movie.  So it’s no wonder that FilmVerse voters singled it out as one of the worst films in the history of motion pictures.  Congratulations to star Sandler, director Denis Dugan, screenwriters Sandler and Steve Koren, and the rest of the cast and crew for creating a truly memorable bad movie.  Ed Wood would be proud!

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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The Batman Movie Quiz

As expected, The Dark Knight Rises is one of the biggest movies of the year, closing in on a billion dollars worldwide with critcial support.  Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman for comic books in 1939, and the character has been with us in theaters and on TV in both live action and animation practically ever since.  The Cape Crusader’s popularity hasn’t waned, even after Joel Schumacher attempted to kill the series.

How much do you know about Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego on the silver screen?  Click the following button and take the Batman Movie Quiz.

After taking the quiz, scroll down to see more information about the questions (or cheat and skip the quiz altogether):

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Last warning for spoilers!

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1

Batman made his first big-screen appearance in 1943’s 15-part serial Batman starring Lewis Wilson as the titular character.  The cast included Douglas Croft as Robin, William Austen as Alfred, Shirley Patterson as Bruce Wayne’s love interest Linda Page, and J. Carrol Naish as the villain, Dr. Daka.

2

In addition to 1943’s Batman, there was second serial in 1949 called Batman and Robin.  Robert Lowrey starred as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin.  Also featured: Jane Adams as Vicki Vale, Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Gordon, an uncredited Eric Walton as Alfred, and Leonard Penn as the villain The Wizard.

3

Catwoman made four live action appearances in feature films:  Julie Newmar in 1966’s Batman; Michelle Pfeiffer in 1992’s Batman Returns; Halle Berry in 2004’s Catwoman; and Anne Hathaway in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.  Of course, it’s debatable as to whether or not Catwoman is truly a villain.

The Joker comes in second with three live action roles: Cesar Romero in 1966’s Batman; Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman; and Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight.  Additionally, Mark Hamill provided the character’s voice in 1993’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

4

Just one animated film was released theatrically, the aforementioned Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in 1993.

5

The first theatrical film (not counting the two movie serials) featuring Batman, Batman in 1966, was one of the first times that a TV series made the jump to the big screen.  The movie was intended to be released before the series premiered in order to promote the show, but instead was held off until the summer between the first and second season (the show only lasted two seasons).  In Europe, however, the film came out first due to a lag of when the TV show made it overseas.

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Robin Williams was considered for the role of the Joker before Jack Nicholson took on the psychotic clown role.  Williams was again approached to play the Riddler for Batman Forever, but was turned down in favor of up-and-coming manic comedic actor Jim Carrey.

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Tim Burton’s Batman made a total of $411,348,924 worldwide ($251,188,924 domestically).  It was the highest grossing movie as of 1989, though it was later topped by The Dark Knight at $1,001,921,825 and The Dark Knight Rises at $897,716,000

8

The Batman feature films have had four directors:

  • Leslie H. Martinson — Batman (1966)
  • Tim Burton — Batman (1989) & Batman Returns (1992)
  • Joel Schumacher — Batman Forever (1995) & Batman & Robin (1997)
  • Christopher Nolan — Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) & The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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1997’s Batman & Robin was the 12th highest grossing film for that year, making $107,325,195 domestically and a total worldwide gross of $238,207,122.

10

14 actors who played Batman villains had been nominated for Oscars (and several had won).  Of course, all but one was for movies other than the Batman films.  “Villain” means any character that could be considered to be an antagonist in  at any point in the film (spoiler alert!).  They are as follows (in alphabetical order):

  1. Marion Cotillard (won)
  2. Danny DeVito (for Best Picture)
  3. Anne Hathaway
  4. Tommy Lee Jones (won)
  5. Heath Ledger (won posthumously for The Dark Knight)
  6. Burgess Meredith
  7. Liam Neeson
  8. Jack Nicholson (won 3)
  9. Michelle Pfeiffer
  10. Eric Roberts
  11. Uma Thurman
  12. Ken Watanabe
  13. Christopher Walken (won)
  14. Tom Wilkinson

* Information about the questions and answers taken from IMDb, Wikipedia, and Box Office Mojo.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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How Jurassic Park III Could Have Been Better

When Jurassic Park hit the theaters in 1993, it caused a revolution in CGI filmmaking because for the first time we had what appeared to be living creatures created entirely digitally–also, those creatures were dinosaurs!  It went on to be the highest grossing movie of all time (the third time a film directed by Steven Spielberg was to hold such an honor).  Naturally, a sequel was in order, so Spielberg loosely based The Lost World: Jurassic Park on the novel by Michael Crichton.  The follow-up made a ton of money, though was met with mixed critical response.  It’s not surprising that Spielberg decided to pass on directing the third film and instead took a producing role, allowing Joe Johnston to helm the new adventure.

While the first film was science fiction horror, the second attempted to deal with themes such as “hunters vs. gatherers” (while providing more humans for the dinos to eat).  Jurassic Park III, however, was straight-up adventure.  It was a sparse, fast-paced story about Alan Grant being suckered into flying to Isla Sorna (site B from The Lost World) in order to rescue a boy who was stranded on the dinosaur-infected island.  With a running time of 92 minutes, it was only 3/4 of the length of the previous entries in the series and left most of the audience yearning for the magic of the original.

It seems that Jurassic Park III (oddly named since there was technically no Jurassic Park II) suffered the curse of the third film in a trilogy.  Despite having a screenplay re-written by Oscar-winners Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the story was too slight to have much of an impact and featured far too many problems to be enjoyable.  That’s not to say that the entire movie was a failure; in fact the dinosaurs were perhaps the most realistic yet, including a redesigned velociraptor with feathers and odd colorings and a very cool spinosaurus that made a T-rex seem like a puppy dog.  Several scenes were quite effective, such as the “bird cage” scene with pteranodons, the raptor attack in the lab, and the spino tracking the heroes through the river while the phone it ate rings.  Johnston handled the action and the effects well, but was saddled with an inferior screenplay.  The frustrating thing is that it didn’t need to be this way–with a few changes, this could have been a great popcorn movie.

Alan Grant

Sam Neill’s character, paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant, was the heart of the first movie.  He was a “digger” who found himself “extinct” in the face of genetically cloned living dinosaurs.  While planning his future with his co-worker and apparent lover Dr. Ellie Sattler, he makes it plain that he doesn’t want children–but in the course of the story has to be a surrogate father to two kids while crossing the island where dangerous beasts have escaped their pens.  Spielberg explored his common theme of broken families and missing fathers through these characters, wrapping it up nicely in the final scene where the exhausted kids are cuddled up with him in the helicopter flying them to safety while a bemused Ellie looks on.

Grant was not featured in The Lost World in favor of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm taking over as the lead (also proving to be a largely MIA father).  With the third film, Grant returned as the protagonist, but was given very little to do.  His presence almost seemed like an after-thought.  We’re introduced to him visiting Ellie, now married to another man with a 3-year-old son, and then quickly we see him giving a boring lecture where he does not want to acknowledge the fact that there are once again live dinosaurs on the planet.  He’s then conned into leading an aerial tour of Isla Sorna (an island he never stepped foot on) for a supposedly rich couple, only learning when it’s too late that they are neither wealthy nor still a couple, but rather they are looking for their son who went missing on the island.  Grant then spends the rest of the movie running around trying to keep everyone alive, a function that mostly wastes his knowledge of the animals hunting them.

The first mistake is how the writers dealt with Grant several years after the events in Jurassic Park.  For him to think that anyone would be interested in hearing about fossilized bones and theories of dinosaur behavior when there are living examples of these creatures in existence is ludicrous.  Yet he naively gives a speech and refuses to even acknowledge his experience on Isla Nebular.  It wouldn’t be in his character to profit off of tragedy, but he is self-defeating to not even discuss his adventures, even in a clinical manner.  Wouldn’t his lectures be so much more interesting if he compared what the theories based on fossils told him compared to what he saw in real life?

Secondly, why were he and Ellie no longer together?  Their single scene together barely touched upon their relationship, alluding to the fact that they were now merely friends or colleagues.  These two had been planning a future together, both professionally and romantically!  Did the events in the first movie tear them apart?  Did they just realize that they weren’t right for each other?  Did his insistence on pursuing fossils rather than live animals cause a rift between them?  It would have been nice for the movie to provide some answers as well as conflict.  Did Grant have any regrets for breaking up with Ellie?  She’s moved on to an apparently happy life with a husband and child while maintaining her career, while Grant is a relic in his own time.  He never wanted children and she did (another possible source of their separation), and both got exactly what they wanted–but is he happy with that decision?  Perhaps he could have seen the missed opportunity in her child.  This and his downward career spiral could cause him to be at a rather bleak part in his life, but this is not explored in the film other than a sense of melancholy that undermines the adventurous tone of the movie.

As an alternative, the movie could shown the two characters married (happily or otherwise).  With him being called back into action, how would he react to be separated from his wife and child now that he’s adjusted to the role of father?  This could be especially poignant given that he must rescue another couple’s child.  Even keeping Grant single without any kids, he could look at the missing boy as a means to make up for not being the father of Ellie’s child like he should have been.  He was a surrogate father once and missed his chance at being one for real.  The decision to go after the boy could have been driven by this inner need in him, which would have been a lot stronger than what was actually on screen.

Speaking of which, Grant doesn’t even know about the missing boy until he’s stranded on the island.  Why?  A primary rule of storytelling is that the protagonist drives the story.  As it is, Grant is just along for the ride, being misled by the boy’s parents in order to get him to agree to one thing while plotting something completely different.  Why couldn’t they have just been up front with him and pleaded to his sense of decency?  This would have given him inner conflict–there’s no way he would return to Jurassic Park or its Site B under normal circumstances, but a lost child would play upon his conscience.  In making the decision to go in search of him, that puts him in the story’s driver’s seat rather than being there just because he happened to have been in the first film.

Not only would this strengthen his character, but he would then be able to call the shots through the rest of the story.  Rather than be hapless (and helpless) survivors of a plane crash, Grant and the other characters would have started with a solid plan, albeit one that would fall apart and need to be improvised along the way.  This would give them solid hurdles to overcome that would be organic to the story and not forced upon them simply because the film needed an action scene here and there.

Finally, Grant needs to grow through the course of the movie, something that doesn’t currently happen.  In the first movie, he learns to be a father figure, though by the third film he has regressed as if that change in him never happened.  Does he need to relearn that lesson all over again?  That would be redundant.  Perhaps he needs to mature so that he’s ready to take on the responsibility of being a husband and father–something that was lacking in him that drove Ellie away.  Or if he is married to Ellie and is the father of her little boy, maybe he’s still not dealing with the situation, and this new adventure gives him a new perspective on his life.  After all, what if it was his own son that was missing on an island filled with vicious dinosaurs?

Ellie Sattler

Why bring Laura Dern back only for a one-scene cameo?  Especially since she doesn’t do anything in that scene except establish the fact that her character has moved on with her life without Alan Grant?  Her character, palebotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, was a tough, resourceful heroine in the first film.  In this one, she is relegated to the role of deus ex machina, sending in the Marines to rescue Grant and company off screen.  There’s a joke where Grant uses a satellite phone and contacts Ellie’s little boy, who watches Barney while Grant is being threatened by a real, non-purple dinosaur.  Ellie presumably gets to the phone in time to hear screams and somehow puts the pieces together to call for help.  Why couldn’t we see her being resourceful once again and urgently trying to get the U.S. military to respond?  That would have been great conflict to contrast with what the characters on the island were going for.  It also would have created suspense rather than just have a surprise ending where the heroes get saved out of the blue.

The Bickering Ex-Spouses

William H. Macy and Téa Leoni play Paul and Amanda Kirby, separated parents of Trevor Morgan’s Erik Kirby, who was para-sailing with Amanda’s boyfriend near Isla Sorna when disaster struck and left him stranded to fend for himself on the island.  At first, the Kirbys pretend to be wealthy business owners wanting a unique vacation and convince Alan Grant to give them a guided tour of the island in hopes of spotting some dinosaurs.  However, they also hire mercenaries to help defend themselves against the beasts when they land on the island–which they do only after one of the mercenaries knock Grant unconscious.  Paul and Amanda spend the rest of the movie arguing loudly and quite annoyingly.  In fact, Amanda proves to be the most shrill film character since Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

As was mentioned before, why couldn’t they have been upfront with Grant about their real purpose?  The sneaky shenanigans do nothing to advance the story other than make Grant look like a weak protagonist.  Once their subterfuge is discovered in Act 2, it’s pretty much dropped from the plot.  They’re used to develop the theme of the broken family that is a common denominator in this series; that’s fine, but it’s handled in a clunky manner.  The script treats high-volumed bickering as character development, and all too quickly the estranged couple finds themselves back together.  In fact, when they find the skeletal remains of Amanda’s boyfriend, she reacts with an hysterical scream–not for the boyfriend, but for her son.  It’s as if the boyfriend was inconsequential.  At least Erik could take care of himself, something that cannot be said for the parents.

The Mercenaries

The first Jurassic Park featured the game warden, Muldoon, who carried a powerful looking gun but was still bested by the raptors.  In The Lost World, his character was one-upped by Pete Postlethwaite’s big game hunter Roland Tembo, whose desire was to bag a T-rex.  In fact, he brought along a whole team of wranglers who ended up as a moveable dinosaur feast.  It only makes sense that Jurassic Park III would take this type of role to the next level with a team of mercenaries–though if the definition of “team” is two generic tough guys led by the weaselly little Mr. Udesky (Michael Jeter in one of his last screen roles before succumbing to AIDS).

Having the team leader be the complete opposite of the rugged gunsman that the first two films featured was a nice twist; it’s just too bad that the firepower featured in an early scene was never used.  Also, the two mercenaries were only in the movie long enough to be eaten shortly after the plane carrying the heroes landed.  Perhaps the filmmakers thought this was ironic, but in reality it robbed the movie the potential to have some awesome action scenes involving these characters and their weapons.  It’s not that they were killed that’s the problem, it’s just that they’re dispatched so quickly.  Maybe the movie could have had at least one more mercenary that survived the initial attack in order to last a little way into the plot.

Additionally, Udesky is barely developed as a character and is merely used as the bait in a trap the raptors set for the others.  This was actually a brilliant idea, but since we knew little to nothing about the guy, it was hard to care about his fate.  The movie would have been so much richer if this scene were put off until later into the story and allow him to show his worth (or lack thereof).  The slimy lawyer in the first film had more screen time, and his death was very satisfying!

The Running Time and the Ending

To say this film feels rushed is an understatement.  Probably in response to The Lost World taking 45 minutes to gear up for some action, Jurassic Park III wastes little time in getting to Isla Sorna and putting the characters in danger.  But as stated before, this robs the movie from any character development, rendering them merely action figures to be moved around in the admittedly effective set pieces.  It can be argued that these films were never heavy on deep character analysis, but at least there was motivation for their actions (beyond, of course, the Kirbys wanting to rescue their son).  A lot of the problem is the fact that this movie is very short.  Why did the filmmakers feel the need to make it barely an hour and a half long?  It feels like the Cliff Notes version of a story and could have easily been fleshed out to be a full two hours long and still be exciting.  Screenwriters Payne and Taylor know how to craft character-driven stories, so it’s inexplicable that they ended up doing the exact opposite here.

The Lost World ended its Act 2 with a rescue from the island and proceeded into its third act with taking a T-rex (and its baby) to San Diego.  A lot of criticism was given to this movie for tacking on a Godzilla-like climax with the Tyrannosaur running loose through the city, but it was vastly different from the first film and it completed the theme of letting animals live free that ran through the film.  Jurassic Park III ended at the same point that The Lost World geared up for its climax, with a surprise rescue by the Marines.  As stated earlier, it’s implied that Ellie Sattler called in the cavalry while off screen, but that’s a cheat.  Alan Grant is the protagonist, yet not only did he not cause the plot to happen, he didn’t resolve the conflict either.  Sure, he gave the eggs back to the raptors, but he and his companions surely would have been eaten regardless until the comically huge beach assualt saved them at the last minute.  Granted, Grant and his original companions were saved in a similar manner by a T-rex, allowing them to simply run out of the building, but that at least felt somewhat organic to the plot (after all, the T-rex had a habit of showing up out of nowhere to chow down on unsuspecting animals).  The ending to Jurassic Park III is a cheat.  It makes the characters completely helpless and ineffectual–ultimately, everything they went through was meaningless.  The first two films had a point, but this one was pointless.  The characters ran around the island, being chased by the dinosaurs, and then were rescued.  The end.  No, no, no–they needed to provide the means for their own escape.

This film had so much potential and was entertaining in a shallow way, but it could have been a great adventure film if more effort was put into it.  Spielberg even said one time that a different story came to his attention that would have been far better than the one that was filmed.  Why they didn’t turn that into Jurassic Park IV is a mystery.  There’s talk that a fourth film is in the works, but given that it’s now more than a decade since the third, it makes one wonder what they’re waiting for.  A good script?

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

2 Comments

Ham and Jam and Spam a Lot

 

It’s been a few months since we looked at some of the crazy spam messages that FilmVerse has received, so it’s time to revisit this nonsense.  As before, the messages are left intact with all their creative spelling, grammar, and punctuation for your enjoyment.

“Hi I’m a scammer, check out my site.”
— I’m a scammer

(Let’s hear it for honesty!)

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copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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Observations of the 2012 Emmy Nominations

Earlier this week, the 2012 Emmy nominations were announced.  As is typical, there were snubs and surprises with the usual expectations.  Here are a few observations from this year’s list of potential award winners.

If You Want Drama, Go To Cable

Of the six shows nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, the only one that was from an over-the-air broadcast network was Downton Abbey, which aired in the U.S. on PBS, though it is originally a British program (or is it programme?).  HBO and AMC has two shows each–Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones for HBO, Breaking Bad and Mad Men for AMC (not bad for a network named American Movie Channel).  Showtime has a sole entry, Homeland.  It seems that the days of the Big Four (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) putting out award-winning dramas is over.  Part of the problem is that they produce safe, traditional TV shows for the consumer who wants comfort television.  Turn on NCIS or Law & Order: SVU or Blue Bloods (is that show still on the air?) and you’ll pretty much get the same thing week after week.  The characters will act the same, the plots will be resolved in a similar manner, and no real surprises happen unless a cast member departs.  With these nominated series, you never know what to expect.  It is true drama where you can expect to be riveted and moved, and not just have TV wash over you.

The same can be said about the performances in dramas as well.  The lead actors nominated for dramas all come from one of these shows with the exception of Michael C. Hall from Showtime’s Dexter.  Was Hugh Laurie snubbed in his final season of House?  He’s a terrific actor, but he was nominated six times previously for that role–and let’s face it, he hasn’t brought anything new this season that he didn’t already do.  Even the supporting actors in dramas are limited to one of the nominated shows.  These series have amazingly talented casts, and nothing against the supporting actors from CSI or…what other dramas are on broadcast television?

Women fared a little better with Kathy Bates from NBC’s now-cancelled Harry’s Law and Emmy regular Julianna Margulies from CBS’s The Good Wife.  Both are solid actors, and with Glenn Close from FX’s Damages, there’s competition for the women from the nominated dramas.  It seems that broadcast networks are kinder on women, offering a better chance at getting juicy roles.  Or at least they do on The Good Wife, which offers two supporting actress nominations in Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski.  The rest of the supporting noms?  You guessed it–from the cable shows.

Comedies Are Getting Stale

Remember when Modern Family took the airwaves by storm and caused such an excitement in viewers and with the Academy?  Well, that was two years ago, which in Hollywood terms is an eternity.  This admittedly brilliant show just finished its third season and is starting to show signs of fatigue.  In addition to Modern Family, three other nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series are long-timers: The Big Bang Theory, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and 30 Rock.  These perennials are probably the funniest shows on TV, but there’s not much fresh about them.  The two newbies are (surprise, surprise) from HBO–Girls and Veep.  While cable allows the characters to swear and show skin, it also allows for the writing to be sharper and try out more extreme ways of storytelling that the broadcast networks just can’t do, or when they try they get Suburbia or the awful Two Broke Girls (the opening scene of the pilot was both insulting and offensive).

As expected, the lead actors, both male and female, of these shows have earned their own nominations.  This isn’t surprising since sitcoms depend on their stars.  If the stars are funny, then so are their shows, and it’s hard to say a show is the best on TV without honoring its cast.  Several leads have been nominated without their shows being up for an award, primarily in the actress category: Zooey Deschanel from New Girl, Edie Falco from the cancelled Nurse Jackie, Melissa McCarthy from Mike & Molly (surely cashing in on her Golden Globe and Oscar good will), and Amy Poehler from Parks & Recreation. For the guys, there’s Don Cheadle from Showtime’s House of Lies, Louis C.K. from FX’s Louis, and Jon Cryer from Two and a Half Men.  Wait a minute–Jon Cryer?!?  Has anyone in the Academy actually watched Two and a Half Men this season?  Cryer’s performance has degenerated from that of the long-suffering straight man to a pale parody of his character.

The supporting categories are rather skewed because the ensemble cast of Modern Family has decided en masse to be put in this category rather than single out one or two of them as the leads (good for them).  Unfortunately, this means that there’s only two slots available in the male category with four in the female category.  Though typical of Hollywood, none of the four young actors on the shows (who truly could be listed as supporting cast) are recognized for their work.  It can be argued that while not as seasoned as the adult actors on the show, these kids are superb in their performances and are just as important to the success of the show.  But because they’re minors, they are ignored by the Academy and by the industry as a whole.  It’s great to see Mayim Bialik recognized for her role on The Big Bang Theory.  The late Kathryn Joosten is nominated for her role in Desperate Housewives, which is debatable to be considered a comedy.

Saturday Night Live Is Somehow Still Relevant

The 37-year-old sketch comedy show has been a consistent source of comedic actors who transition from the show into their own television series or to the big screen.  Some of our biggest movie stars got their start on SNL–John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, and most recently Kristin Wiig to name a few.  However, the show has had its ups and downs through the years.  The last decade or so has shown that Lorne Michaels’s brainchild is a machine that runs on entropy; it has its proven formula and format that never wavers.  As such, SNL is like your grandmother’s chocolate cake–it may taste good, but it’s so familiar and comfortable that its taste loses all meaning.  In recent years, the show has become a shadow of its one time glory and has become all but unwatchable.  Except somehow, it continues to not only plod on, but actually generate some moments of inspiration if not brilliance.  This is reflected in its 6 Emmy nominations: Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series; Bill Hader for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series; Kristin Wiig for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series; Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series; and Jimmy Fallon for Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.  It’s interesting to note that both Hader and Wiig are leaving the show, Rudolph and Fallon are former cast members who returned to host, and McCarthy is being praised all over the place.  It makes one wonder as to the reason behind these Emmy nominations.

Michael J. Fox Is A National Treasure

The former Family Ties and Spin City star is up for two Emmys this year, Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Curb Your Enthusiasm and Guest Actor in a Drama Series for The Good Wife (proving that not only women on that show are acclaimed).  Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Fox has largely been in retirement except for a few guest appearances here and there.  Each time he shows up, it’s an event because he’s so well loved and is extremely talented.  He can entertain effortlessly, despite his body betraying him.  Let’s hope that these nominations are for his peerless acting skills and not because he is forced to perform with a crippling condition.

Movie Stars Are Guaranteed a Nomination

Once upon a time, TV stars stayed on the small screen and movie stars never slummed it in broadcast entertainment.  Those days are long gone.  Movie stars (especially ones who may be on the decline, or actresses in general who want meaty roles) often find compelling work with TV movies and mini-series.  The following actors who made a name for themselves in film have been nominated in various categories:  Tom Berenger, Kevin Costner, Judy Davis,  Idris Elba, Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris, Ashley Judd, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange, Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Bill Paxton, David Strathairn, Emma Thompson, and Mare Winningham.  Imagine a feature film starring that cast?

Conan, Leno, and Letterman are MIA

All the hoopla over the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud and the Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien feud seems very, very distant given the fact that none of their shows are on the Emmy roster for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series, especially considering The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon (which succeeded both Letterman and O’Brien), Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Saturday Night Live are all nominated.  Leno’s absence is no surprise–does anyone really think he’s funny?  Letterman has now been on the air longer than Johnny Carson, and his acerbic wit seems muted these days.  Even O’Brien’s new show on TBS, which is far superior to his version of The Tonight Show, seems lost in the mix.

The Academy Has No Clue Regarding Animated Shows

Bob’s Burgers was nominated for Outstanding Animated Program.  Let me repeat that: Bob’s Burgers was nominated for an Emmy.  I’m sure it must have its fans.  It’s somehow been renewed.  Granted, it’s better than FOX’s other attempts at retaining its Animation Domination timeslots such as Napoleon Dynomite and the horrid Allen Gregory, but that’s not saying much.  Seth MacFarlane’s American Dad received a nom when Family Guy didn’t.  The never-ending The Simpsons has been nominated in this category for nearly every one of its 24-year existence, winning 10 times (along with countless other Emmy nominations in different categories and non-Emmy awards).  It received this year’s nomination despite giving us the worst Treehouse of Horror episode ever.  Did The Simpsons make the cut simply because it’s been around forever?  Then we have The Penguins Of Madagascar: The Return Of The Revenge Of Dr. Blowhole.  Seriously?  Where is the most original and creative animated series currently on the air–Adventure Time?  Where’s the innovative and cutting edge Robot Chicken?  Where’s the funny and irreverent Mad?  Where’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, that has proven to be a huge improvement to the prequel films and has grown increasingly darker and more mature with each season?  But hey, Bob’s Burgers and Penguins of Madagascar were nominated!  At least they didn’t overlook Futurama.  There’s some hope in the world.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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Poll: Spider-man Reboot or Sequel?

Sony’s reboot The Amazing Spider-man has arrived to critical and financial success (and yes, it is technically a reboot since it starts a new series in a different continuity rather than just remaking the same story–well, sort of).  Despite overwhelming approval of the cast (in particular Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and Dennis Leary as Captain Stacy), most critics agree that re-telling the origin story after only a decade of seeing it in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man was completely unnecessary.

The history of bringing Spidey to the screen is a long and tangled web.  Publicity hit the public for a film adaptation of the comic book hero in the ’80s, but rights issues prevented a movie from being made at that time.  James Cameron planned a film in the ’90s with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doc Ock, but that also was sidelined.  Finally, Sony Pictures acquired the rights (for a limited time) and put Raimi’s film into production for a 2002 release.  Of course, it was a big hit, and its two sequels made even more money.  However, as we all know, Spider-man 3 fell short of expectations and was universally dismissed by fans (to put it lightly).  Raimi blamed Sony for interfering.  After all, he was pretty much left alone to make the movies he wanted with the first two installments in the series, but was forced to include Venom as one of the villains even though he disliked the character.

When discussions of the fourth film came up, Raimi made it clear that he wasn’t interested in making another mess of a film, so the studio promised to back of–then promptly gave him several scripts that they insisted he film.  Because the rights would revert back to Marvel if another movie was not greenlit by a certain date, studio execs pressured Raimi until he finally quit.  After that, the entire cast walked off the project as well.  Sony then had a choice–recast and proceed with Spider-man 4 or simply start a brand new series with a new director and actors.

One of the popular screenplays they had was a retelling of the origin story, except featuring Dr. Curt Connors (AKA Lizard) instead of Green Goblin.  Raimi’s films featured Dylan Baker as the one-armed scientist who mentored Peter Parker, presumably as a set-up for his eventual metamorphosis into the reptilian villain.  Now that the slate was wiped clean of the past and with Sony feeling the wrath of fans after the let-down of the third of the trilogy, it was decided that even though the last film was released a mere five years ago that starting a new series was in order.

Based onThe Amazing Spider-man’s reception, it seems that Sony made the right decision.  But there were other ways they could have done things.  They could have given in to Raimi and made the fourth film in the series the way he wanted.  They could have simply done a fourth film without Raimi and replace the actors who did not return (following the Batman model).  They could have gone ahead with a reboot set in a different filmic universe, but not re-told the origin story.  Or finally, they could have done this exact movie, but held off a few years to give some space between Raimi’s films and this one (what they would have done with the rights entanglement is anyone’s guess).

What do you think the right course of action would have been?  Was Sony justified in making this film, or should they have gone another route?  Tell us your opinion in the following poll:

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

15 Comments

Movies Completely Unlike the Books They Are Based On

It’s common practice for screenwriters to change the details of a novel when adapting it into a movie; after all, books and motion pictures are two different media and require different means to tell a story.  With books, an author can tell you exactly what goes on inside a character’s head, where thoughts are difficult to portray on film.  Certain elements are cinematic where others aren’t (for instance, will the upcoming remake of Carrie use the book’s manner of killing off Carrie’s mother by having the title character telepathically stop her heart, or follow Brian De Palma’s visual depiction of knives flying through the air to crucify her?).  It’s also understandable when a movie pares down story elements to fit into a two hour running time–exactly how many Quidditch matches do we really need to see?  However, certain movies that are “based” on books take more than a few liberties and actually throw out everything except for the basic concept, thereby creating an entirely new story for the big screen.  Here are a few examples.

War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005)

The H.G. Wells classic was adapted for the big screen twice, in 1953 with Gene Barry and produced by George Pal, and in 2005 starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg.  While both kept certain elements from the book, namely the “tripod” concept of the alien hardware and the fact that bacteria on Earth is what ultimately kills the aliens after human military proves to be useless, neither movie actually tells the story in the book.  Wells uses the technique of a first-person report by an unnamed narrator (similar to what he did in The Time Machine) who witnesses the first Martian “cylinder” land and open.  He sends his wife to London, then spends the rest of the story trying to reconnect to her while the world around him is destroyed.  The movies decided to set their plots in contemporary times and relocate the setting to the United States (the first in California, the second in New York–it’s good that aliens don’t land anywhere in the center of the continent).  This allowed for scenes with modern weaponry to battle against the aliens (who can forget the tanks being vaporized in the first adaptation?).  The plot of the 1953 film was pretty much about the lead characters caught in the midst of the battle, but executed extraordinarily well.  The Spielberg version has a divorced father trying to protect his kids while taking them across the battlefield to be reunited with their mother.  It would be great for a big-budget adaptation to be made that was actually consistent with the novel.  Imagine seeing a fleet of late 1800’s Naval ships being wiped out by alien technology!

Planet of the Apes (1969)

Planet of the Apes has had a curious history that includes the following: the original movie series encompassing five films with a curiously cyclical mythology; a poorly-received “re-imagining” by Tim Burton; a successful sort-of prequel that will probably spawn its own series of movies; a short-lived live-action TV show; a short-lived animated TV show; and if The Simpsons is to be believed, a stage musical.  However, none of them are anything like the original novel by Pierre Boulle.  The book’s protagonist is a French scientist named Ulysse Mérou, who invents a near light speed space ship that takes him to a planet in the Betelgeuse system (ah, that’s why Tim Burton wanted to make his version!).  The apes he finds on that planet live in a society almost identical to that of 20th Century Earth, including modern technology and transportation (in the movie, the apes had a somewhat primitive society).  He learns the ape language to fit into the simian culture, but is targeted by prejudice against humans.  Eventually, he falls in love with a human woman, who has his child, and he escapes the planet with his family to return to Earth.  Because of time distortion during space travel, hundreds of years have passed, so when he lands in Paris, he discovers that apes have now become the dominant species back home, too.  This entire story is told in a “message in a bottle” found by a couple “sailing” in space, who of course turn out to be apes that find the entire tale incredulous.

The Running Man (1987)

Stephen King wrote several books under the pen name Richard Bachman, including this science fiction tale set in a dystopian future, where a man competes on a game show to the death.  He is presented on stage as a horrible, menacing person for the audience to hate him, and then is turned loose with bounty hunters on his tail.  For every day he can stay alive, he racks up more money that will be turned over to his poverty-stricken family when he finally dies.  He must videotape 10 minutes of his surroundings and send the tapes back to the TV studio, which of course allows the hunters to track down his location.  To complicate matters, a reward is put on his head, so that any citizen can turn him in and receive a fortune, thereby turning every single person against him.  It’s a dark yet action-packed story that has no happy ending.  Of course, the movie became an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle where he spends a couple hours inside a building that’s been turned into the equivalent of a giant laser tag arena being pursued by cartoonish WWE rejects.  The Hunger Games did a better job telling this story than the movie adaption of The Running Man did.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Most people don’t even know that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was based on a book called Who Censored Roger Rabbit? written by Gary Wolf.  The popular movie combines live action with animation, using innovative techniques to make the cartoons seem a part of the real landscape.  The film is noteworthy for being the first time that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appear on screen together–and let’s not forget Donald Duck and Daffy Duck duelling on pianos.  The book by contrast features none of the classic characters from Walt Disney or Warner Bros.  In fact, the ‘toons featured in the novel aren’t even animated–they’re comic strip characters who have word balloons over their heads when they speak.  If that’s not blasphemy enough, Roger Rabbit is the one who’s actually murdered!  Yes, Eddie Valiant is the detective who must solve this mystery, but he teams up with Roger’s doppelganger, a splitting of the soul of sorts that the ‘toons do when they need stunt performers.  Roger’s doppelganger was running loose when he was killed, and has a finite amount of time to find out who killed him before the shade vanishes into nothingness.  Also, the plot has nothing to do with the film’s Cloverleaf corporation or the development of Los Angeles highways, as is the basis for the movie.

Forrest Gump (1994)

As he did with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Robert Zemeckis took the basics of the novel Forrest Gump and made it into something quite different.  Both the book and the movie feature the mentally-challenged eponymous character, Jenny, Bubba, and Lt. Dan; both version also show Forrest going to college on a football scholarship before serving in the Vietnam War and playing ping pong in China.  But that’s where the similarities end.  While the novel has instances where Forrest interacts with historical figures, they are different than ones in the film and seem to be used for comedy; the film instead uses these brushes with greatness to develop the theme that one man can make a difference by influencing countless people in his lifetime.  The movie cuts scenes from the book involving a NASA expedition, a chimp named Sue, cannibals, and explicit sex; instead, the film deals with the long-term effects of child abuse, the loss of faith in God due to tragedy, the early spread of AIDS from promiscuity and drug abuse, and how simple actions have great consequences.  The book featured a happy ending with Forrest settling down with Jenny to raise their child and go into the shrimping business, whereas the movie has a much more profound resolution.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

When Steven Spielberg made cinematic history (again) by adapting Michael Crichton’s best seller Jurassic Park (with a first draft by the author himself), a sequel was a surety.  Crichton released his highly anticipated follow-up, The Lost World, a few years later.  However, the director wasn’t terribly fond of the book, which promoted Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm as the protagonist and introduced a whole slew of new characters (including two stow-away children).  The only thing Spielberg liked was the concept of a second island, Site B, where dinosaurs roam without fences, and the characters trapped in a double-trailer that tyrannosauruses  push off the side of a cliff.  Supporting characters were re-worked, combined, or jettisoned completely; a new villain (John Hammond’s greedy nephew) was introduced; and the theme of hunters vs. gatherers was developed.  Additionally, the third act was a T-rex/car chase through San Diego–an event that was completely non-existent in the book.  It’s too bad, however, that Spielberg decided not to use Crichton’s depiction of a carnotaurus, a huge dino that hides by camouflaging itself like a chameleon.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

The Bourne Identity is a classic Robert Ludlum tale of a spy with amnesia who discovers that he’s being targeted for assassination by the CIA and other groups.  It was a hit movie with Matt Damon (and previous to that, a TV movie with Richard Chamberlain) that focused more on shaky-cam action rather than espionage and suspense.  But because it made a gajillion dollars, a sequel was in order.  Good news!  Ludlum had one already waiting to be adapted.  Universal Pictures bought the rights to The Bourne Supremacy and promptly threw out the story.  Eschewing the book’s plot about a Chinese coup and a Jason Bourne imitator, the movie picks up two years after the events in the first movie and essentially continues the action where it left off.  Since the story in the second film was changed so drastically from the novel, it stands to reason that the third film would follow the lead.  Sure enough, The Bourne Ultimatum finished the cinematic trilogy, picking up where Supremacy left off and progressing on like it was just an extension of that film.  The book had Bourne (aka David Webb) facing off against his old nemesis Carlos the Jackal.  Maybe some day these stories can be told on film.

I, Robot (2004)

Hopes were high when the Will Smith summer blockbuster I, Robot was made, because science fiction fans have been anxiously awaiting a film version of the Isaac Asimov book since it was published in 1950.  They’re still waiting.  The film casts Smith as a futuristic cop investigating a murder, and the primary suspect is a robot servant despite the Three Laws of Robotics.  CGI action ensues.  Asimov’s book was actually a collection of short stories whose only connection is the future where robots co-exist in harmony with humans (none of the stories were actually called “I, Robot,” but the anthology was inspired by a short story with that name by Eando Binder).  While Asimov’s Laws and a few character names from the stories are featured in the movie, the entire story is original–well, as original as any Hollywood extravaganza can be.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s award winning film There Will Be Blood is “loosely” based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!–and by loosely, it means that both are about drilling oil in the early 1900’s and the protagonists are a father and son.  Other than that, most details are quite different.  The book focuses on the son, while the movie focuses on the father (character names are different in each version).  Sinclair meant for his book to be a social and political satire, similar to what he did with the anti-meat packing industry novel The Jungle.  Anderson said he only adapted the first 150 pages of the book for the film, a technique that had already been used in The Neverending Story and Simon Birch, two films that only used the first half of the books upon which they were based.

The question may be asked why studios and producers go through the trouble of buying the rights to books, only to discard everything but the title (and in the case of There Will Be Blood, that went out the window, too).  The answer is that Hollywood is notorious for not having trust in originality.  If a property is a proven product, like a book, TV series, previous movie, game, song, etc., then they can justify spending millions of dollars on the project.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse

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Humble Beginnings of Prominent Directors

It seems like these days, new directors are pulled out of obscurity to helm major studio blockbuster.  For instance, Universal Pictures put $170 million in the hands of first-time director Rupert Sanders to make Snow White and the Huntsman.  Why?  His IMDb page literally only has two other entries besides this film, and they’re “playing” himself in two TV shows, one about Hollywood and the other something from Portugal.  Oh, he was nominated for an award for directing television commercials.  Apparently according to studio executive philosophy, one award nomination is good enough to put someone in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars for a summer tent pole release.  Sure, other directors have hit it big on their first film–Orson Welles had Citizen Kane, Quentin Tarantino had Reservoir Dogs, and Zack Snyder had the remake of Dawn of the Dead (yes, Citizen Kane was just compared to Dawn of the Dead)–but most directors have to pay their dues.  Their early films were not necessarily instant classics, as the following proves:

Steven Spielberg

If you ask people what Steven Spielberg‘s first movie is, most would probably say Jaws, though his true fans may proudly proclaim that Duel holds that title.  Both are wrong.  Spielberg famously convinced Universal Studios honcho Sid Sheinberg to take him under his wing after showing off 16mm films he made as a teenager.  His first professional directing job was for the pilot of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, which in itself is pretty impressive.  He knocked around television for a few years, directing episodes of shows like Columbo and Marcus Welby, M.D. before graduating to TV movies like the aforementioned Duel (which was released in the theaters in Europe with additional footage) and the little-seen Something Evil (a precursor to Poltergeist with Sandy Dennis and Johnny Whitaker).  Finally, he broke into theatrical motion pictures with The Sugarland Express starring Goldie Hawn as a mother who breaks her husband out of jail, kidnaps a cop, and goes on the run to retrieve her baby from Social Services.  Not many people are familiar with this movie nowadays, and it didn’t make a huge splash at the box office when it was released, but it did win an award for its screenplay at Cannes.  It was while working on that film that Spielberg came across a manuscript for an as-yet-unreleased novel about a killer shark on the desk of producer David Brown that was to be his next film.

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese continues to impress audiences and critics alike with films like The Departed and Hugo, but of course he made a name for himself directing gritty, violent films with Robert De Niro like Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull (not to mention Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which was the basis for the ’70s sitcom Alice)Scorsese went to film school at NYU, and the first film he did upon leaving school established his long-term relationship with actor Harvey Keitel and editor Thelma Schoonmaker with a little black and white movie called Who’s That Knocking on My Door (originally titled I Call First) that no one saw.  However, it got him noticed by producer Roger Corman, who was known for low-budget exploitation films.  Originally Corman wanted Scorsese to do a sequel to Bloody Mama, but changed his mind and asked him to direct Boxcar Bertha, which Scorsese accepted–with the instructions of having sex, violence, or explosions every 15 pages of the screenplay.  This film allowed him to learn more about the craft of filmmaking while having fun on the set, paving the way for his next film, the critically acclaimed Mean Streets.

Robert Wise

The late Robert Wise walked away with two Oscars each for directing and producing The Sound of Music and West Side Story, but is also known for such classics as The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the non-Keanu Reeves version), The Sand Pebbles, The Andromeda Strain, The Hindenburg, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, not to mention the fact that he was nominated for an Academy Award for editing Citizen Kane.  However, few people know that his first credited film as a director was Curse of the Cat People (even though IMDb lists Mademoiselle Fifi, which came out the same year).  Wise had a successful run as a film editor, and it was this job that he was to do on the sequel to the hit horror flick The Cat People; though when the film’s first director, Gunther Von Fritsch, was fired, Wise stepped in to finish it.  Both shared directing credit, but that started a decades-long career for Wise as a director/producer, proving that he could shift genres smoothly, going from science fiction to musicals to thrillers easily.

Francis Ford Coppola

Like Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola is known for mobster movies from the ’70s with Robert De Niro–The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are legendary.  Also like Scorsese, he was a film school graduate (though from UCLA) who knocked around in the low-budget arena before hitting it big–primarily doing nudie films like Tonight for Sure and The Bellboy and the Playgirls, where he shot new color footage to a black-and-white German film.  Then he moved up in the world by working for Roger Corman (again, like Scorsese) with an uncredited directing job on The Terror with Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff and on Dementia 13The Godfather is actually the ninth film listed on IMDb for Coppola.  Apparently, the training those un-famous movies gave him paid off, considering he won five Oscars (plus an honorary one) with nine additional nominations.  He is also known for taking chances with his films, often financing them himself, and often going bankrupt as a result.  At least he has his wine as a backup.

Alfred Hitchcock

The “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock has created some of the most memorable films of all time–Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window, and Dial M for Murder, just to name a few.  Any one of those movies would be enough for most directors to envy him, let alone his entire body of work.  Of course, most people have never seen his entire body of work; in fact, it would surprise people to find out that he actually directed a screwball comedy.  Hitch didn’t even start making movies in Hollywood until 1940 with the Oscar-winning Rebecca starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, his 26th feature film as a director.  Until then, he worked in his homeland of England, having started out in the days of silent films.  In fact, he began his film career as a writer and also designed title cards for silent films before moving into the directing chair himself.  His earliest work has been lost, however; half of his silent film The White Shadow was recently discovered in New Zealand.  It wasn’t until his tenth film, Blackmail, that sound was introduced, and that was in the middle of production.  Mostly in that film, he played around with sound effects to add to the suspense he created with the visuals.  Many of these early silent and sound productions are in the public domain, and can be found in box sets in most video stores.

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2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 19,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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FilmVerse Summer ’12 Theatre of Shame – Finalists

Polls are now closed. Check out the winner!

We’re down to the last round in the FilmVerse Summer 2012 Theatre of Shame, the contest where voters determine the worst of the worst in motion pictures.

The Semi-Finalists came down to the Dynamic Duo Batman & Robin vs. a double-dose of Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill, and two lousy sequels fighting it out–Sex and the City 2 against Grease 2.  We here at FilmVerse speculated that it was going to be a showdown of Batman & Robin and Grease 2, but we were wrong on both counts. As it turns out, Jack and Jill pounded Batman & Robin into the ground with 74% of the votes whereas Sex and the City 2 took on an overwhelming 76% to beat Grease 2 into a pulp.

So now the question goes out to you, Constant Voter, on which film is the most terrible?  Will Jack and Jill or Sex and the City 2 be crowned the most shameful of all movies (at least for this contest)?  You decide, if you dare watch either of these dreadful, disgusting displays of dreck from the world of cinema!

The “winner” will be announced Monday, September 24, 2012.  Keep those votes coming in!

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FilmVerse Summer ’12 Theatre of Shame – Semi-Finalists

Polls are now closed.  Please go to the Finalists.

We are now down to four very, very terrible movies in the FilmVerse Summer 2012 Theatre of Shame!

Round 3 saw Jack and Jill battling Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  Michael Bay’s smashing robots must have more fans than a cross-dressing Adam Sandler does, because the so-called comedy trounced all over the summer blockbuster sequel with an astounding two-thirds of the votes.  It moves into the Semi-Finalist #1 contest against Batman & Robin, which fought its arch-villain, the animated disaster Titanic: The Legend Goes On.  The two were actually tied, but FilmVerse reserved its right as tie-breaker and chose the Joel Schumacher embarrassment as the worst of the two.  It was a tough call, though!

The other two contestants for Semi-Finalist #2 were close calls.  Sex and the City 2 squeaked past Disaster Movie with 52% of the vote.  Meanwhile, Grease 2 earned 53% over The Happening.  This week we see the sex-crazed vixens vacationing in Abu Dhabi duking it out with singing motorcycle chick Michelle Pfeiffer.

Next Monday, the two Finalists will fight to the death as the most shameful movie ever made (at least until the next Theatre of Shame competition)!  For now, cast your vote for the Semi-Finalists:

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FilmVerse Summer ’12 Theatre of Shame – Round 3

Polls are now closed.  Please go to the Semi-Finals.

More terrible films have been eliminated!  We’re now down to 8 awful films competing for the worst film in the FilmVerse Summer 2012 Theatre of Shame.  Which movie will be the most shameful?

Round 2 had 16 movies squaring off in 8 categories.  This time we’ll present 4 categories.  Next week we’ll be down to the Semi-Finalist, and then the 2 Finalists will go face-to-face, nose-to-nose, and toe-to-toe on Monday, September 17.  The following day we’ll announce the winner (or loser, depending on your point of view).

In the last competition, Freddy Got Fingered battled Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the Filmmaker category.  This was a tough one for voters, as both movies were neck-in-neck all week.  But ultimately, Tom Green’s inept directing could not topple Michael Bay’s smashing robots.  The Transformers sequel squeaked by with 54% of the votes.

However, the Actor category proved to be no contest.  Despite a lot of hatred for Nicholas Cage all over the Internet, his travesty The Wicker Man was held in high esteem compared to Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, which receieved a whopping 81%!  The gender-bending “comedy” now goes against Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in this week’s Filmmaker vs Actor category.

Bad family films were difficult to choose from, as Titanic: The Legend Goes On held its own against the quickly approaching Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.  The animated retelling of the sinking of the unsinkable ship (which also remade history) ended its voyage with 54%.  Not even Bill Murray’s sloth-like cat could sink this powerhouse of awful animation.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree upon is that Hollywood makes bad sequels.  The consensus is that it doesn’t come much worse than Batman & Robin, despite Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 garnering a third of the hatred.  This week sees Family Films vs Sequels, and while it might seem unfair to pit the movie that nearly destroyed the Dark Knight against an animated movie most people had never heard of, bear in mind that Titanic: The Legend Goes On is listed in the bottom 100 on IMDb–an honor not even Batman & Robin achieved.

Not only is Hollywood known for making bad sequels, but it also rips off every other conceivable form of entertainment, largely making terrible adaptations.  Which ripoff is the worst, Sex in the City 2 or Psycho?  58% of voters felt that Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic wasn’t bad enough to hack its way past a sequel to a retread of a TV show, so the “girls” go on to the next round.

Do some filmmakers purposefully make bad movies?  Perhaps–it definitely seems that way with The Room and Disaster Movie.  These two held their own against each other, but with 54% of the vote, the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer parody of a comedy beat Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece of cluelessness.  Now we can see whether Sex and the City 2 can cut Disaster Movie down to size in this week’s Ripoff vs Maybe Intentionally Bad Movie category.

The two genres represented this time around were Musical and Found Footage Flick, with Grease 2 and Project X determined as the worst of their respective genres.  Fighting each other, the Michelle Pfieffer starring singing sequel squashed the out-of-control party-goers with 68% of the vote.

Finally, we have the ‘Splody category, named after Michael Bay’s predilection of making things go boom.  Of course, he had his own category this time around, so his films didn’t qualify here.  Also ironic is that the two movies in this showdown weren’t particularly explosive considering one was about killer trees and the other was set on a planet covered in water.  Kevins Costner’s and Reynold’s Waterworld sunk under the weight of hate directed toward M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which scored a record-breaking 83%.  It now will compete against Grease 2 in the Genre vs ‘Splody category.

Get ready to go back into the ballot booth to determine the Semi-Finalists in Round 3!

SEMI-FINALIST #1

SEMI-FINALIST #2

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse