Saturday, April 28, 2007

S3 comes in on a web and a prayer

I caught the eleventh-hour press screening of Spider-Man 3 last night, almost literally at the eleventh hour. Spidey geeks camped out for the midnight showing, in fact, glanced up from their trading cards and Game Boys just long enough to give us "VIPs" dirty looks of Venom-like proportions for cutting to the head of the line. Didn't look much happier as we threw them a friendly wave on the way out either.

But on to the movie.

The short version: S3 is somewhere on the upper end of good and the lower end of great. Alright, much lower than great.

Part three of any trilogy is make-or-break time. You either end on a high note (Revenge of the Sith) or drag down the whole shebang (X-Men 3).

Personally, I tend to favor origins stories. Fellowship of the Ring is still tops with me despite Return of the King's superior firepower as spectacle. That's largely how I feel about S3. The effects are better, the story has greater depth, and the themes are deeper. It's just hard to beat the emotional impact and story arc of the "genesis" installment for me.

That, and S3's too-many sources of villainy -- presented sympathetically and connected in loose ways that tend to dissipate much of the tension -- are the biggest negatives. The Sandman looks phenomenal, but it's hard to hate a guy motivated by the love of his daughter the way we could hate the demonic fury of Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man.

But fans of director Sam Raimi's earlier, darker, quirkier career will still appreciate a return to style at times here. A completely random sequence showing the "evil" Peter Parker strutting his sexy stuff on the streets of New York is some of the funniest stuff in the film. A lot of people are hating that exact bit, but it's old school Raimi to the core. (Remember the Three Stooges-esque eye pokes Ash endured in the graveyard during Army of Darkness? Feels a little like that.)

The great and mighty Bruce Campbell makes his usual cameo for Raimi as well, this time as a hilariously over-the-top Maître de at a French restaurant. Clearly a better choice for the recent Pink Panther remake, had a remake not been pure blasphemy in the first place.

Oh, did I mention Bryce Dallas Howard? Turns out the daughter of Opie Cunningham is fine, foxy lady, despite what The Village or Lady in the Water may have led us to believe.

Conservatives too should give this a thumbs up. While hardly a political movie and has no obvious subplot involving, say, a mechanical, multi-tentacled Osama bin Laden, the film never strays from its earnest Red State roots.

Which basically means it doesn't take much to please conservatives anymore.

It's manna from heaven these days when Christianity isn't maligned, when gratuitous jabs at George Bush don't materialize, when the everyman (and woman) characters don't shack up, and when the hero somehow manages to speak without a sniff of irony about things like the power of forgiveness and making moral choices in life.

Sure it's a little corny at times, but I like corn.

Superman Returns, you may recall, drew fire for avoiding the Man of Steele's American hero status. (I hear it from my own manager all the time: "It won't play well overseas!") In stark contrast, S3 has Spidey swing into battle framed by a giant American flag.

Happily, that one shot is already pissing off Eurotrash critics like Leo Lewis at the Times Online, who ends his review with:

"Also disappointing is the inability of the director, Sam Raimi, to end the romp without a fleeting shot of the American flag. The Stars and Stripes just happens to be fluttering behind Spidey as he makes his triumphal return to honour, probity and good honest fist-fighting."

The filmmakers say they weren't trying to say anything with that flag. Could be. Could be they're just smart enough to realize films that do well overseas often don't do well here, where the money actually is.


"I'm a patriotic guy. I do believe it's absolutely true this country strives to do the right thing," said director Sam Raimi during a recent interview with Wold Magazine.

S3 also contains a "conversion" scene of sorts taking place at the foot of a massive cathedral cross.

I'll leave it at that.

The film will be a runaway hit regardless of critics' opinions, which are also running strong in S3's favor.

And when it is, look for talk of Raimi's involvement in New Line's Hobbit project to heat up too.

Friday, April 27, 2007

An 'ugly' turn of events

Banned in Stockholm

What was that Rush Limbaugh said about feminism being invented to let ugly women compete?

Yes, tragic news from the Miss Sweden competition: bikini models need not apply.

All thanks to a brand of woman cut from the same burlap as America's own favorite Miss Photogenic. Women who raised a stink two years ago and have now eliminated swimsuits from the pageant.

Nor will Sweden be taking part in the Miss Universe Pageant until the rest of the world gets with the new "books, not boobs!" spirit of the event.

"...'The modernization of the international competition has been significantly slower than the Swedish contest, although we see signs of change on horizon. Until the parent organization catches up we have chosen not to participate this year,' [Miss Sweden] organizer Panos Papadopoulos said in a statement on Wednesday."

Personally, I have zero problem with beauty being skin deep. Or at least starting there.

"...The decision follows revelations that the current Miss Sweden, Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, posed in a swimsuit for the Swedish edition of men's magazine FHM. Papadopoulous told The Local earlier this week that the pictures were out of line with the contest's new modern image, adding he was considering removing her crown..."

Talk about squandering your country's natural resources.

And is someone named 'Panos Papadopoulous' really qualified to make important decisions like this for Sweden? I used to live there. Don't I get a vote?

But hey... Finally, a civil rights issue on which Bill Clinton and I stand in complete solidarity. For I have a dream. [Cue music.] And I will not rest or be silenced until that day women the world over are judged not by the content of their craniums, but on the color of their tans.

Farewell, Rosie

I wasn't going to bother commenting on Rosie's overdue demise, but then I came across Letterman's Top 10. It suffices nicely. Enjoy.

Top Ten Reasons Rosie O'Donnell Is Leaving "The View"

10. Couldn't maintain rigorous one-hour-a-day work schedule
9. It's been akward ever since she threw Joy Behar through a plate glass window
8. Gearing up for the Kucinich-O'Donnell 2008 campaign
7. Fed up with Elisabeth Hasselbeck being sweet
6. Taking time off to be with her fiancé Donald Trump
5. She feels she can get more feuding done by working at home
4. No number four -- writer too despondent after hearing the news
3. Can make more money wrasslin' gators in Florida
2. Tired of empty gin bottles in Barbara Walters' office
1. Tested positive for steroids
-- David Letterman CBS-TV

Thursday, April 26, 2007

September Dawn breaks

Check out this very intriguing take on the upcoming film September Dawn, the true story of the Mountain Meadows massacre that took place on Sept. 11, 1887. An event in which over one hundred people were murdered in a Mormon-led ambush of a wagon train bound for California.

That's right, September 11. And the parallels between Osama bin Laden's minions and Brigham Young's are very interesting indeed.

I take special interest in this film for the fact that it's a story I toyed with writing myself for years and years.

Conservatives will be particularly pleased with the "coming out" of the biggest name in the film. (First Dennis Hopper, now Jon Voight? Nice to know not all hippies smell.)

Gotta wonder, too, if Voight's stance on this issue has anything to do with the threats against his daughter for starring in the upcoming film about the murder of Daniel Pearl.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A new lease on Life

House of refuge at last?

For one of the best and most thorough dissections of the Supreme Court's motivations in handing down this week's landmark decision on partial-birth abortion -- complete with copious quotes from majority author Kennedy -- check out this post over at Graybrook.

"...Thankfully, we were governed for a time by a majority in Congress and a president who were sufficiently committed to protecting human life to pass this badly needed legislation. Why the butchers who continue to perform abortions, along with the current majority political party and their former president who twice vetoed similar bans, cannot see their own savagery can only be explained by their utter loss of morality and humanity, making them much akin to those enemies who would utterly destroy all of us."

And yet the bastards still call themselves "progressives."

No matter... It's on the books now, and there's not a thing they can do about it.

Yet another reason to thank God for hanging chads in 2000.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cinemania confimed

Wow, I was just making a clever point with that last post, but it turns out I was onto something after all.

We all know the Matrix connection to Columbine, and now we learn Cho was inspired by a "bit o' the ultraviolence" in a Korean film.

Ten bucks says they find at least one Marilyn Manson tune in his iPod, too.

Manson, of course, was a god to the Columbine killers. Yet the man who once in a magazine interview urged his fans to "create their own apocalypse" has yet to receive even a verbal slap on the wrist from anyone left of center in the media when fans do just that. Nor will the film community 1) admit to being enablers-for-profit or 2) self-police themselves to prevent the next wannabe Natural Born Killers when they come along.

And Rosie's again blaming "the guns" over our cultural dream makers?

Speaking of the Founders' insurance policy against bad government, don't miss this excellent piece on the renewed calls for repealing the Second Amendment in the aftermath of Virginia Tech. (And don't you love how those who see partial birth abortion in the constitution can't wait to yank what's explicitly in there?) I won't tell you who wrote the article, lest the knee-jerk lefties among us refuse to take the bait.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Directed from a script by...

A leg gun?? Brilliant!!

And in further bizarre footnotes on the Virginia Tech fallout...

"...In screenplays Cho wrote for a class last fall, characters throw hammers and attack with chainsaws, said a student who attended Virginia Tech last fall. In another, Cho concocted a tale of students who fantasize about stalking and killing a teacher who sexually molested them.

'When we read Cho’s plays, it was like something out of a nightmare,' former classmate Ian MacFarlane, now an AOL employee, wrote in a blog posted on an AOL website.

'The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of.'

Yep. And that's why you'll never make it in this town, Mr. MacFarlane.

Seriously, isn't this what critics lavish praise on films like Saw, Hostel and Grindhouse for? (Hey, one man's disturbing, telltale signs of mental illness is just another man's edgy, million-dollar intellectual property, right?)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mainstream faiths flop at Virginia Tech

As mourners gathered on the Virginia Tech campus in communal reflection over the tragedy that overwhelmed the university yesterday, I couldn't help but lean a little closer to the TV today as representatives of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity took the stage to offer these hurting people the best their religions presumably have to offer.

In case you missed it, here's the abridged version:

Islam -- You're going to die. Allah wills it. Blessed be Allah the most merciful and compassionate.

Buddhism -- You're going to die. But life is precious, so let's connect. Don't let yesterday and the whole of human history to this point fool you, we're all born with an inherently good nature. Now "let's reflect on everything."

Judaism -- The memory of good people is a blessing,'re going to die. [Repeat in Hebrew]. As a wise man once wrote, there is a time to be born and a time to die. (Sorry, but Ecclesiastes is the best we have to offer for situations like this.)

Liberal Protestantism -- My colleagues all make great points. Plus, don't hate. That's real important. Let's have a moment of prayer-like silence.

I do this not to make light of the situation but because a lot of people are hurting right now, and none of these pluralistic, equal-time toastmasters did an ounce of good.

None could offer the missing key ingredient: hope.

Notice, though, how all those faces in the crowd -- so understandably blank during the above -- melted in genuine tears as Christ-focused "Amazing Grace" began to play just after.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dirty little 'Secret'

Tim Watkin over at The Washington Post has a great piece debunking "The Secret," the latest New Age wish-fulfilment fad bilking the Lottery crowd out of their hard-earned food stamps and cigarettes, thanks in part to the book's author appearing on Oprah. As the female Pope of pop culture wisdom to far too many soccer moms out there, Oprah's blessing has turned this empty can of Bud(dhist) Light into a best seller.

The secret to 'The Secret's' secret? Visualize a million dollars, new car or that supermodel in the hot tub you so richly deserve and it will come to you, courtesy of the universe itself, simply for the wishing.

" can even print out a check from 'The Bank of the Universe' off 'The Secret's' Web site. Write in the amount you want. Imagine spending it. Then sit back and watch the cash roll in."

Watkin calls it nutty. That should be obvious. Only it's not only the Lottery crowd buying into it -- to the tune of 1.3 million copies sold in the U.S. -- it's a whole range of seekers, including investment gurus who should know better. Or maybe they've just invested in the publishing company.

"What's missing from this recycling of an old egalitarian ideal is the Protestant ethic and Enlightenment beliefs. Hard work, talent, education, even luck go unmentioned. As 'The Secret' puts it, all you have to do is 'put in your order with the universe.' Ask. Believe. Receive. That's the mantra."

Ah, life on post-Christian planet earth...

Thank the real God (as opposed to your inner deity) we're already a confirmed superpower, because this strikes me as a one-way ticket to failed nation status of Sudanese proportions.

But it explains a lot: The Democrat response to Islamic terrorism... Hillary's bid for the presidency... Sanjaya Malakar... The list goes on.

Now excuse me while I wish myself a new head of hair to replace the fistfuls I just accidentally yanked out.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What We Call the News

This one nails it. (Thanks to Dean-O for the heads up!)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Syriana II?

Come and get some, America!

Variety is reporting that Leonardo (DiCaprio, not Mutant Ninja Turtle) has signed on for a CIA political thriller set in the Middle East. And with a title like "Body of Lies" you can guess where it's headed.

Based on a soon-out novel by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who, last time I checked, was in no danger of being mistaken for a supporter of U.S. policy in the region.

Directing is Ridley Scott, last seen out that'a way trying to "right the wrongs of history" with Kingdom of Heaven, a film which, last time I checked, was in no danger of being mistaken for historically accurate.

From the booklist review, emphasis mine:

"Car bombs begin to explode in European cities, and it's only a matter of time until they reach the U.S. CIA agent Roger Ferris learns of the existence of "Suleiman," who may be responsible for the carnage. But finding Suleiman and penetrating his cell seem nearly impossible. Ferris, a rising young star in the CIA, is made station chief for Jordan, and he decides to employ a ruse used successfully by the British in World War II to deceive the Nazis. If it works, al Qaeda itself will eliminate Suleiman and deal a devastating blow to its own operations. Ferris wins over bluff, aggressive Ed Hoffman, chief of the CIA's Near East operations, and the elegant, wily, and dangerous Hani Salaam, Jordan's top spy. Meanwhile, Ferris' marriage to a Justice Department lawyer researching legal justifications for torture is failing, and he's falling in love with a woman whose passion is humanitarian aid to victims of Middle East chaos--all of which forces him to question his beliefs and worry about the unintended consequences of his actions. Body of Lies is thoroughly entertaining, but it's also a timely and plausible cautionary tale of schemes within schemes and morality compromised. It has vividly rendered locales, clever plotting, some compelling characters, and a discomforting verisimilitude."

Apparently the hero is also a former reporter, which explains the reference to "morality compromised."

Love the subplot about ditching his pro-torture wife in favor of a do-gooder anti-violence activist.

Dollars to donuts, too, those "schemes within schemes" lead to someone or someones holding a U.S. passport being the true villain at the end of it all.

My new movie will make this much!

The script will be penned by Oscar-winner William Monahan, who wrote the Islamo-fascist-ass-kissing Heaven for Scott -- nor do I now have much hope for Monahan's long-delayed Tripoli, sure to be heavy on the cooperation of American and Arab fighters bit as opposed to any real resonance such a story might have had for our times.

But what's with Ridley Scott these days? The man who gave us conservative faves Gladiator and Black Hawk Down has gone completely off the reservation at this point. Or maybe the fact that Black Hawk was a military defeat should have been the tip off. (Guess I was too busy enjoying the Clinton Administration taking one on the nose there.)

Just caught a few minutes of Kingdom of Heaven on TV yesterday, in fact. Watching the magnanimous Islamic conqueror right a fallen cross after taking the city nearly sent my fist through the TV involuntarily.

Or maybe I'm wrong and this will be fantastic. Ridley is still one of the best directors in the biz and one of my personal favorites, so I'd gladly be wrong in my assessment here. But as usual, I'm not.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More with the gayness...

Second post in a row on this stuff. Sorry. Just couldn't resist posting yet another indicator of how out of touch with the vast majority of viewers Hollywood has become. Still waiting for that pro-troop Iraq war film? Let this timely movie about murderous but loving fans of a real-life Russian lesbian singing duo keep you entertained in the meantime!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Top 50 who???

Rainbow power!

I don't know what's funnier, the fact this magazine exists or that Anderson Cooper is on a "power list" somewhere in the universe. Apart from David Geffen and a couple others near the top (poor New York Times...beat by cable and daytime TV again), I've never even heard of these movers and shakers.

Shut out

And where's Lance Bass, Dougie Howser and Sean Penn's mustache??

Also notably absent is Melissa Etheridge, recent Oscar winner for being remotely in Al Gore's orbit. Guess the Academy isn't as influential these days as it thinks it is.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

New Tolkien out this month

Who says dead men tell no tales?

As if all the talk of "The Hobbit" coming to the big screen -- with or without Peter Jackson at the helm -- wasn't tease enough for Tolkien fans, now comes this news of "The Children of Hurin."

Yes, it seems Tolkien himself will have a "new" book out this very month. The story appears to be an expansion of material from "The Silmarillion," a treasure trove of epic concepts begging to be translated to film. At least I've been begging.

The soon-to-be-published "Hurin" was evidently started by the Old Tolk in 1918 and subsequently completed/edited/reworked by Christopher. Just how this fits in with the "Unfinished Tales" with which Christopher was similarly involved, I have no idea. (As big a fan as I am, I have yet to work up the nerve to crack those densely-packed, footnote-riddled volumes.)

The news here hints that this too may end up a movie. And don't forget, New Line has stated several times that yet another Tolkien project -- a prequel set between Hobbit and LOTR -- is very much a go at this point.

Hey, the more Tolkien on film, the better if you ask me. But more actual Tolkien...? I'm in heaven.

And for my money, I agree with Elijah Wood that Jackson will be back somehow for at least "Hobbit." But if he's not, please let it be Zack Snyder.

"The Children of Hurin" is due out April 17.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Review: A Bloody Business

Courteous, professional, ready to kill

I haven't been able to post much the past few days. After passes from Jerry Bruckheimer, Tony Scott, Wolfgang Peterson, Neal Moritz and McG, my manager and I decided to rework my screenplay about private military companies (Spartans -- for the record, written and titled prior to 300, complete with references to Thermopylae).

Just turned it in yesterday. It had been set in Iraq, sort of a Seven Samurai pitting security contractors against Sunni insurgents. But as the passes have been fine with the writing, negative on the setting, we've shifted to a Darfur-like locale. H-town is down with Darfur, right? We'll see.

It turned out well, but I hated doing it. PMCs are doing some crazy, thrilling, indispensable work in Iraq every day. And most of these gutsy private soldiers deserve to have their story told.

Gerald Schumacher's "A Bloody Business" tells it. And better than any film could. (Except mine, of course.)

Schumacher rides along with these “road warriors,” witnessing or letting them relate themselves for pages at a time, the daily ambushes, firefights and high speed car chases the job entails -- a job that includes everything from guarding infrastructure to training U.S. troops and delivering their mail, protecting work crews, riding shotgun for hundreds of weekly food shipments and escorting American and Iraqi officials great and small on their daily business.

He also meets with Oregon cops training Iraqi police officers in Jordan, visits dog trainers helping to ferret out explosives, and follows the unarmed “Iron Pony Express” truckers on their suicide mail runs. (In one of many counterproductive aspects of American policy, these meat-and-potato American long-haulers are not allowed to carry weapons, resulting in a too-high hijack and casualty rate.)

Even if none of this interests you, the ground-level view of life in reconstruction Iraq -- for us and the Iraqis -- is detailed and eye-opening.

The book also addresses some of the big criticisms of PMCs -- Greed: (Most companies are operating at cost plus 1 to 3 percent profit, actually down from the Clinton era of 9 percent, while the operators themselves work around the clock for what most police make here.) Need: (Civilian support has been a part of every modern war and will only increase, given the need for occupational specialization the military can’t begin to maintain.) Cost: (With total costs to maintain one soldier averaged out over time at $25,000 per month, short-term trained contractors are a bargain). Restraint: (Most American contractors are ex-police or military special operators with deeply ingrained professionalism, and business competition makes quality work an absolute imperative.)

It’s billed as “neither a glorification nor a cheap-shot riddled expose.” But as a retired Special Forces colonel himself, Schumacher is hardly too critical. Yet he manages to point out the problems and the potential for abuses while accurately portraying these adventurers and patriots out to serve their country.

Note, too, he deals with only a handful of companies on the ground in Iraq, admitting the vast majority were not open to talking about what they do. Then again, talking about what they do can get their people killed fast. Certainly in the press.

The book contains contact info and a brief bio of some 70 companies with contracts currently in play. A great place to start if you want to get in the game yourself. And regardless of your resume, there’s probably a place for you.

But what the reader most takes away from “A Bloody Business” is the difficulty of the task that faces us in Iraq. Schumacher is likely a hawk, as I am, but even he all but says the hill is too tall to climb. Democracy in Iraq hinges on a total change of the Iraqi mindset and creation of a national spirit completely foreign -- and actively discouraged at every level of society -- in that part of the world.

Best part for me? Realizing just how spot-on my script turned out to be even before the recent revisions. Now to find a producer willing to put me under contract.

All Jacked up?

Wait... Where do I point this thing again?

"24" is starting to bear a scary resemblance to "E-Ring."

If you remember it, and you probably don't, "E-Ring" was NBC's short lived, Jerry Bruckheimer produced answer to "24," and a precursor to CBS's infinitely superior, David Mamet-produced "The Unit." It starred (using the term loosely here) Benjamin Bratt as a Jack Bauerish special ops soldier promoted against his will to the Pentagon, where he and crusty but lovable warmonger Dennis Hopper (say what??) broke the rules to fight terrorism at home and abroad any way possible.

So far, so good.

But what started out as a nice little show about Americans blowing up Greenpeace boats and laughing about it over the satellite footage soon fell apart.

Just as it was experiencing a ratings bump -- and just after I stuck my neck out to convince people to watch -- we were treated to an episode featuring murderous American Christian terrorists taking over a mosque. (Because that's happening all over the world on a daily basis, right?)

And it just went downhill from there.

The show was suddenly obsessed with depicting the many high-ranking patriotic Muslims rolling out their prayer rugs towards Mecca at the Pentagon on a daily basis. And being careful to give the Koran equal time as "the good book" whenever someone said something nice about the Bible.

And just like that, the show was off the air.

I can only assume a show actually superior to "24" at times, at least in terms of its production values, caved under pressure from the network to be all things to all people.

Likewise, I want to assume "24" is merely following the same pattern this year to either remain "fresh" and unpredictable or because it's run out of authentic storylines to follow.

Either way, it all amounts to biting the Red State hand that feeds you. And if "E-Ring" is any indication, that hand can just as easily sweep you aside.

Speaking of "The Unit," let me stick my neck out again and recommend this show. David Mamet, one of the top dramatists of any medium, also happens to be a hardcore, pro-Israel Jewish American who knows the score in the War on Terror and has yet to give off even a whiff of politically correct or anti-American pluralism. (Check it out Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.)