Tagged: Michael Caine

Box Office Democracy: The Last Witch Hunter

The most painful thing about The Last Witch Hunter is how clear it is that Vin Diesel is passionate about the material and is having an amazing time. Almost every profile piece I’ve ever read on Diesel has mentioned his love of Dungeons & Dragons, or that he wrote the introduction for their 30th anniversary retrospective book, or that his character in xXx had a tattoo with the name of his D&D character on his stomach; his nerd credentials are beyond reproach and they’re on full display in this film. Unfortunately instead of turning that knowledge and experience in to a quality fantasy movie, we’re given a film that is about as interesting as listening to the guy behind you in line for Star Wars tell you stories about how amazing his character is in his buddy’s D&D game.

The Last Witch Hunter suffers immensely from a lack of stakes. It features an immortal badass killer, Kaulder, who not only can’t die but any injury he suffers heals instantly Wolverine-style. All of the supporting characters are seemingly introduced immediately before being put in peril so you have to really bond with them quickly to feel anything at all for them. Michael Caine, the only actor in the cast capable enough to overcome this script problem, is imperiled off-screen and is afflicted with some kind of curse that is barely explained nonsense seemingly designed so they could have their emotional moment but still bring Caine back for the sequel. Things ramp up dramatically toward the end of the movie when they strip Kaulder of his immortality and directly imperil the entire world or maybe just New York City (and honestly is there even a difference) but by then I was just too far-gone to care.

Reportedly, this script came about from Vin Diesel telling one of the screenwriters about one of his Dungeons & Dragons characters. While I’m not sure any movie should come about through a story like that, it makes his investment in this movie palpable. He believes in his character and every silly nonsense word that comes out of his mouth. In a weird way, it’s one of my favorite performances of his career because he’s trying to put this movie on his back and just make it better through sheer force of acting. Diesel isn’t on that rare level where he can make a movie better just by trying harder, but I can appreciate that effort even if it isn’t quite enough.

There isn’t enough original stuff in this movie to make it feel worth the time and effort of making it. Fantasy is so well trod these days there’s nothing in the flashback scenes that I haven’t seen in Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or even How to Train Your Dragon. The contemporary stuff at its very best feels like a slightly reskinned version of Men in Black and at worst like an episode of Charmed. I sort of liked their take on a bar for witches (even if that’s not exactly new ground) but my enthusiasm was dashed when the place is destroyed within five minutes of being introduced on screen. Nothing feels like a fresh take, or a new use of metaphor, or a deeper look at a theme, it’s just recycling stuff we’ve seen and hoping the new arrangement proves compelling and it doesn’t.

I often complain about movies feeling too compact or too drawn out, and The Last Witch Hunter is in a strange limbo in between. Everything feels too rushed and there isn’t any space for the story to breathe or for the characters to reveal themselves to us, but also I left that 106-minute movie convinced it had been two and a half hours long. It might be an impossible task to make this a compelling film narrative. This is a story that would work much better in a novel: it would have proper space to build, internal monologues could make exposition a little less clunky, and the stakes could be more clearly defined.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I would want to read that novel either.

Mike Gold: Alfred, Master of the Butlerverse!

alfred the butler 1943When it comes to the world of heroic fantasy, there have been a hell of a lot of really great butlers. We’ve got such luminaries as Ram Singh (The Spider), Bernardo (Zorro), Cadbury (Richie Rich), Ianto Jones (Torchwood), Lurch (The Addams Family), Max von Mayerling (Sunset Boulevard), two different Smitherses (Veronica Lodge and the Simpsons), Fritz Brenner (Nero Wolfe), Birmingham Brown (Charlie Chan) and of course Edwin Jarvis (The Avengers or Agent Carter – take your pick). There were the Green Hornet’s Kato, but that dude was more of a partner/sidekick than a butler, and Jack Benny’s pal Rochester was only technically a butler. He was actually Benny’s arch-enemy.

But head and shoulders above all other butlers, the king of the mountain of butlers is Bruce Wayne’s own Alfred Pennyworth. You can tell from the actors who played him on film and television – Michael Caine, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gough, Sean Pertwee, David McCallum, Alan Napier, to name but a few.

However, the actor who most looked like the Alfred Pennyworth of comic book and newspaper strip fame was a gentleman named William Austin, and he didn’t even receive screen credit.

Austin played Bruce Wayne’s gentleman’s gentleman in the 1943 serial, aptly named Batman. If you’re curious, you can check him out on TCM Saturday mornings at 10 AM Eastern. In fact, Alfred plays a major role in this coming Saturday’s episode, “Poison Peril.”

If you’ve never seen a movie serial, well, for most these days that’s an acquired taste. Imagine a movie with the budget of Doctor Who. The original 1963 version of Doctor Who. Now imagine spreading that budget out over 260 minutes carved into 15 spine-tinglingish parts. Worse still, Batman was made by Columbia Pictures, which at the time was Hollywood’s bargain basement so we’d better cut that budget in half. If you enjoy wonderful cheapness – and I do – then movie serials should be right up your alley.

This 1943 production starred Lewis Wilson as the title character, and when not in costume he truly looked like the Bruce Wayne of the comics. In costume, he truly looked like an idiot. But he came off a lot better than Douglas Croft’s Robin, who, according to IMDB, was 17 at the time. In costume, he looked like a 40 playing the lead in Eraserhead.

The remarkable J. Carrol Naish played the ominous villain Dr. Daka, the yellow peril of the week as mitigated by World War II. Naish was a world-class character actor with a list of performances as long as your arm. Longer.

The 1943 Batman serial was pretty damn close to its comic book origins, perhaps closer than any other filmed incarnation. But for today’s comic book fan, it is William Austin’s performance as Alfred that is most arresting. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Jerry Robinson drew him.

The interesting part to this is that it is quite possible that Alfred was redrawn to look like Austin. Introduced in comics shortly before the serial as a short, kind of goofy unmustachioed fat guy, Wikipedia   reports “when the 1943 Batman serial was released, William Austin, the actor who played Alfred, was trim and sported a thin moustache. DC editors wanted the comic Alfred to resemble his cinematic counterpart, so in Detective Comics #83 (January 1944), Alfred vacationed at a health resort, where he slimmed down and grew a mustache.” Wiki isn’t always accurate – they’re doing better – but I’d like to see more in the way of evidence.

There are two reasons why you might want to check this out. The first is that it is fun – slightly goofy fun, but far less goofy than the mid-60s teevee series.

The second is that this Saturday’s episode only runs 17 minutes. It’s worth that much of your life if the only thing you like is the logo.

 

Interstellar teaser trailer released

Interstellar teaser trailer released

Christopher Nolan’s eagerly anticipated Interstellar released its teaser trailer this morning. The movie is 11 months away so this realyl doesn’t give much away but we do know that it is about a team of astronauts travelling through a wormhole. The film began as a script by his frequent collaborator, brother Jonathan Nolan, but Christopher had his own ideas and the 2007 script became enmeshed with his own take on the story. The movie stars familiar performers from his previous works including Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine but it also stars Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Ellen Burstyn.

There’s not much new here, but as teasers go, it certainly has our attention.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition Coming in September

Batman Begins_bat-signalA day after Christian Bale confirmed he would not don the cape and cowl for a Justice League movie comes the official announcement of his three Dark Knight films being collected in time for the holidays. Christopher Nolan’s vision of Gotham City and its defender resuscitated Batman after a fallow stretch and showed us a darker view of heroism and its costs. Here’s the official press release:

Burbank, Calif. July 1, 2013 – Christopher Nolan’s reimagining of the Batman franchise beginning with 2005’s Batman Begins enjoyed phenomenal critical and box-office success.

Now on September 24, Nolan’s three Batman films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises – will be released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment as The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The six-disc set will feature all three films with their existing extra content, two new featurettes and exclusive new collectible memorabilia. This must-own collection for fans of DC Comics’ Caped Crusader is available in premium packaging and will sell for $99.97 SRP.

TheDarkKnightRises_TeaserPoster-600x887About the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (UCE):

*Disc 1 – Batman Begins Feature and Special Features

*Disc 2 – The Dark Knight Feature

*Disc 3 – The Dark Knight Special Features

*Disc 4 – The Dark Knight Rises Feature

*Disc 5 – The Dark Knight Rises Special Features

*Disc 6 – Bonus Disc of New Special Features (details follow)

NEW Special Features:

  • The Fire Rises: The Creation and Impact of The Dark Knight Trilogy  The inside perspective on the fascinating story behind the creation of one of the most celebrated franchises and how it changed the scope of movie making….forever.  Full of never-before-seen footage, rare moments, and exclusive interviews with  Guillermo Del Toro, Damon Lindelof, Michael Mann, Richard Roeper, Zack Snyder and others.
  • Christopher Nolan & Richard Donner: A Conversation – For the first time, Directors Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) and Richard Donner (Superman) sit down to discuss the trials and triumphs involved in bringing the two most iconic superheroes of all time to the big screen, and how Superman influenced Nolan when developing Batman Begins.
  • IMAX® Sequences: The Dark Knight; The Dark Knight Rises – See your favorite scenes as they were intended in the original IMAX© aspect ratio

Exclusive NEW Memorabilia:

  • Premium Mattel Hot Wheels Vehicles: Batmobile, Batpod and Tumbler
  • Newly commissioned collectible art cards by Mondo featuring Scarecrow, Joker, Bane, Harvey Dent, and Ra’s al Ghul
  • 48-page hardcover book featuring production stills and behind the scenes images from all three movies

About The Films

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight’s emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents’ murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.

New Images and IMAX TV Spot Debut For The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight (2008)

The follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective, but soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker (Heath Ledger), who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes. Returning from Batman Begins are Oldman, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.

catwoman poseBut everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane. Christian Bale stars, along with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Morgan Freeman.

THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY: ULTIMATE COLLECTOR’S EDITION (BD)

Street Date: September 24, 2013

Order Due Date: August 20, 2013

Catalog/UPC #: 1000372133 / 883929308002

Pricing: $99.97 SRP

Note: All enhanced content listed above is subject to change.

Blu-ray Disc™ and Blu-ray™ and the logos are the trademarks of Blu-ray Disc Association.

® & © 2009 IMAX Corporation. All rights reserved.

Warner Home Video Blu-ray Discs™ offer resolution six times higher than standard definition DVDs, as well as extraordinarily vibrant contrast and color and beautifully crisp sound. The format also provides a higher level of interactivity, with instant access to extra features via a seamless menu bar where viewers can enjoy features without leaving or interrupting the film.

REVIEW: The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy

The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy
By Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy
304 pages, Abrams, $40

There is so much visually wonderful about Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films that this book seemed an obvious event. An oversized hardcover, it has amazing production values with gorgeous photography on heavy paper, cleanly designed (thank you, Chip Kidd), and overall appealing. Clearly, the authors had access to everyone from Nolan on down and they spoke freely about the challenges of conceiving themes to marketing the films.

And yet, everything feels like we’ve just touched the surface and each chapter –Screenplay, Production Design, Cast, Costumes & Makeup, The Shoot,  Special Effects & Stunts, Editing, Music & Sound, Visual Effects, and Marketing – all leave you wondering about what else happened. For example, during the Shoot, one chapter per film, you never get a feel for how Nolan directs his cast, or how he adjusts to the needs of each actor. How did Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal differ in their interpretation of Rachel Dawes. We’re left wondering why the comic book antecedents for most of the characters are referenced but not Henri Ducard nor are we told about the various reveals through the films (such as Ducard really being Ra’s al Ghul, echoed in the third film by Miranda Tate being revealed as Talia). Michael Caine writes an introduction that extols Nolan’s virtues as a director, but after that, we’re still left wondering what those are.

This reads about two steps above the usual press materials sent out when films open, the canned features sent to media outlets hungry for content. The writing is clear and facile, but a little too fawning in spots and far from critical about things that worked and didn’t work.

Perhaps the most glaring omission is a real in-depth look at the wildly successful viral marketing. This section needed more content, more images of the viral marketing at work, and more examples of the Internet phenomena, especially for The Dark Knight, which raised the bar for films.

You get some great shots of how the costumes, sets, and vehicles were built and see some of the shooting challenges that were presented over the last decade. It certainly works as a primer to Nolan’s take on the caped crusader and his world, but you don’t necessarily get into the filmmaker’s head, especially why he felt he was done after three. Nor does he comment how his successful reinterpretation of the hero led to supervising next summer’s Man of Steel. The contributions from screenwriters David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan are acknowledged but hearing more from them would have certainly helped us better understand how the films evolved, especially the themes for the final film in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death. Nolan writes in his foreword, “I never thought we’d do a third – are there any great second sequels?” Well, there’s The Last Crusade for starters, but Batman has endured monthly for seventy-five years so the answer is yes.

The book is a fine read but given the size and weight of the tome, one would have hoped for depth in the written content. It leaves you want much, much more and at this price, readers deserve all that and more.

Watch The New Trailer and Viral Campaign site for “The Dark Knight Rises”

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight R...

There’s new viral stuff up at http://www.thedarkknightrises.com/ (if anybody makes it to the Empire State Building, let us know what you find) and we have a new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises to show you.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ “The Dark Knight Rises” is the epic conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Leading an all-star international cast, Christian Bale again plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The film also stars Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle; Tom Hardy as Bane; Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Michael Caine plays Alfred; Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon; and Morgan Freeman reprises the role of Lucius Fox.

“The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters July 20.

Marc Alan Fishman: Avengers Vs. Dark Knight Rises – The Battle for the Multiplex

This past week on my podcast (which you’re not listening to, but totally should), a debate sparked that was left largely unresolved. Since I have this digital soapbox, might as well use it to bring said debate to you.

In a few weeks, the mega-multiplexes of America will be screening the culmination of years of work by the House funded by the Mouse. The Avengers will see the fruition of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger in one massively multiplayer action adventure flick. About a month or so later, Warner Bros. unleashes the end to Christopher Nolan’s bat-child, The Dark Knight Rises. There’s no doubt in my mind that both of these movies will be amazingly profitable. But the debate is this: which will bank more bucks? Which will be a better movie? Let’s look at the tail of the tape.

First up? Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes. Behind the scenes, we have the consummate king of the nerds… Joss Whedon as director. His writer team? Well… Whedon wrote with Zak Penn. Penn you’ll note wrote the successes such as The Incredible Hulk and X2, and the failures such as X-Men: The Last Stand and Electra. On the screen itself, the cast is of course a veritable galaxy of stars. Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scartlet Johansson, and Gwyneth Paltrow will all be in the film. Unlike any other franchise in history, The Avengers will coalesce four franchises into a single picture. From here? It’s all but a given that the there will be a sequel, as corresponding sub-sequels for all the individual characters. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of money growing on trees. Trees that became paper. Paper that became comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises, as previously mentioned, is helmed by Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s career has been nothing short of a meteoric ascent to directorial gold. Nolan also helped pen this end to his triptych with his brother Jonathan, and David S. Goyer – who, as you will recall, helped pen Batman Begins and Blade 2. And Ghost Rider: Spirit of Bad Acting. But you can’t win them all, can you?

Under the cape and cowl will once again be Christian Bale, joined by series stalwarts Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman. The villain this go-around will be played by Tom Hardy. You’ll recognize Hardy as the mildly funny Brit in Inception. While not as big in scope as Marvel’s upcoming blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises is the follow up to the single most profitable comic book inspired movie of all time. For those who don’t recall, The Dark Knight did so well in the movie theaters, comic retailers reported sales of The Watchmen had gone up in response (which is nothing short of amazing, if you ask any retailer these days). With TDKR, Nolan puts his series to an end. Speculation on the plot, and how things will resolve has most everyone around in a tizzy.

The question then to ask: Which movie will make more money? Needless to say, both will bank boku bucks. For the sake of this argument, I’ll remove revenue from merchandise. Why? Because face it: Nolan’s Bat-Flicks haven’t spawned successful lines of toys; Marvel’s has. Specifically speaking on ticket sales? This is quite the toss up, is it not? On one hand you have the obvious ultimate popcorn movie in The Avengers. From the trailers we can safely assume there’s going to be wall to wall action, explosions, the Hulk, fighting, one liners, and boobs. Opposing that mentality, Nolan will nab those looking for a bit more substance. Whereas Marvel’s flicks were squarely targeting tweens and teens (with a side of general comic nerds and action geeks to boot…), DC’s Bat-Franchise has been nothing if adult in its complexity.

Gun to my head… if you asked me to choose, I’d end up with the nod to the Avengers making more moolah at the end of the day. The Dark Knight had the death of Heath Ledger, on top of the oscar buzz for his performance, on top of previous audience gained from Batman Begins. But TDKR features a villain most people aren’t familiar with (Bane ain’t exactly a household name now, is he?), and a star whose potential is only just now being noticed. And if other comic book trilogies are to be looked at (Spider-Man, X-Men, and previous Bat-Incarnations), the end of an era does not always translate into positive earnings. With The Avengers, we simply have too many stars to not draw an amazing crowd. Fans of any of those feeder movies no doubt want to see a team up. It’s the whole reason books like The Avengers and Justice League always sell so well!

Now, I would give The Dark Knight Rises the edge ultimately in terms of potential film quality. Not a knock on The Avengers mind you… I think from what we’ve seen, Whedon will deliver the goods. But The Avengers has more chance to pratfall than ascend to nerdvana. With so many stars on screen, there’s a real chance too much time will be spent assembling, mocking, and joking. And we can tell much of the movie will be dealing with a Loki-lead invasion fight scene. And just how much CGI action can we effectively sit through? Given the spectacle (and disappointment) of the last Matrix movie, suffice to say I’m fretful.

With Batman, Nolan seems to have been methodically building a dramatic arc. Bruce Wayne by way of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight has been an evolving force of nature. But Nolan’s best job has been grounding that force in reality. He’s delivered where so many others have failed: comic book movies without heroic quips and a knowing wink to the camera. When that theme of the dissonant chords let us know the Joker was at work, it was truly chilling. To think that Nolan is ending this series, one must postulate he’s had an ending in mind since the start. On that knowledge, I give the edge over to DC. Simply put, I’m more excited for their flick because I genuinely do not know what will happen.

In The Avengers? I’m almost certain we’ll have the following: Loki attacks. Avengers assemble by way of initial in-fighting. Disaster. True assembling. Fighting. Explosions. Boobs. Victory. Open ending for more sequels. Not that it’s a bad formula… but it’s just that: a formula.

So, plenty of points to discuss. Flame me, Internet, for I have opinions. Will Bats take more money? Will Avengers be the Return of the King for Comic Book movies? Discuss!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


WB Confirms “Dark Knight Rises” Prologue Preview in IMAX December 16

WB Confirms “Dark Knight Rises” Prologue Preview in IMAX December 16

More than a month after word of a six-minute prologue surfaced, Warner Bros. has at last officially announced the opening sequence of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises will premiere exclusively on select 70mm IMAX screens with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. The PG-13-rated prologue will debut on Dec. 16 in North America and on Dec. 21 in the United Kingdom.

The press release notes that Nolan’s 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight was the first major motion picture to utilize IMAX cameras. With its sequel, the conclusion of his Batman trilogy, the filmmaker utilized the extremely high-resolution cameras even more extensively.

“Our experience on The Dark Knight shooting and projecting IMAX 15 perf 65mm/70mm film was inspiring,” Nolan said in a statement. “The immersive quality of the image goes beyond any other filmmaking tool available, and in revisiting Gotham, we were determined to shoot even more of the movie in this unique format. Giving the fans an early look at an IMAX sequence is a great way to draw attention to what I believe will be an incredible way to experience our story when it comes out next summer.”

Review: “Cars 2”

Review: “Cars 2”

For whatever reason, my kids didn’t want to see Cars and we even missed it on cable and home video. When word spread that it was good but not Pixar’s best feature, there wasn’t a lot of desire among the family to check it out. The same feeling arrived this June when the inevitable sequel, spurred by enough box office revenues and massive merchandise success, arrived. We empty-nesters just couldn’t muster the desire to go see the film, despite an engaging trailer and a love for all things Pixar.

The home video release of the movie this coming week remedied this void in my Pixar knowledge. The movie is entertaining enough, moving at, appropriately enough, a racing clip; it reintroduces the established characters, moves them to a new setting and gives audiences (and merchandisers) some new players. Hilarity ensues for 106 minutes and the film itself is entertaining but it felt cookie cutter in its approach with little in the way of either heart or surprise. Where I found Up too implausible to make me suspend my disbelief, this felt far more like pure kiddie fare than the usual family friendly feature that offers something for everyone.

I suppose the espionage angle was for the adults in the crowd and yes, Michael Caine was a perfect choice for the automotive version of James Bond. Still, it felt unnecessarily tacked on, although his contrast with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) was a nice idea. Mater is a supporting character uncomfortably thrust into the spotlight and much like a television sitcom spinoff written around a supporting character (Joey anyone?), Mater just isn’t a strong enough personality to handle the lead.

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