Sasha Baron Cohen’s next project will, according to The Sun, be another mockumentary about character trying to enter the Eurovision song contest. I would love to see him walk away from that style as Borat and Bruno were too hit-and-miss for my tastes. Isn’t this well dry?
Terminator Salvation/Avatar duffer Sam Worthington is in talks to star in The Tourist, alongside Charlize Theron.
Hugh Jackman is going to star in The Greatest Showman on Earth, a biopic of PT Barnum.
Carla Gugino is to reteam with Watchmen director Zack Snyder on his Sucker Punch.
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen follow-up Sucker Punch has run into a little further casting trouble with two more of his leading cast members dropping out of the project.
First, lead Amanda Seyfried left owing to commitments with other projects, notably her filming schedule for HBO’s Big Love. Now it seems that Emma Stone and Evan Rachel Wood have joined Seyfried in leaving the project, leaving only Abbie Cornish and Vanessa Hudgens from the original five named for the movie.
According to the report on /Film, both Stone and Wood have dropped out owing to scheduling conflicts. I would have to partially go against the assertion made in the /Film article however by saying that this must, just must, have to do with both the disappointing Watchmen box-office and, more than that, with the negative press given to Snyder’s direction of the film.
He certainly picked up praise for taking on the project in the face of such potential fanboy backlash, but his actual direction of the movie was it’s biggest problem, lacking the kind of nuance and emotional intention which goes hand-in-hand with better directors who had been interested in the project.
Anyway, back to Sucker Punch. Joining with Stalwarts Cornish and Hudgens, and Seyfried’s replacement Emily Browning, are Donnie Darko’s Jenna Malone and Dragonball: Evolution’s Jamie Chung.
I’ve seen Malone in a few projects in the past but she’s never struck me or been particularly memorable, outside of her turn in Darko. I literally know nothing about Chung at all so I’ll just give her the benefit of the doubt for now.
So the questions are being raised and the production is beginning to role into gear for Snyder big follow-up. Whether he needs to deliver is unlikely as Watchmen will have given him currency for a little while. But with so many dropouts already, this production is starting to feel troubled from the outset.
I was probably sitting right in the centre of the grand Watchmen debate. I didn’t hate the film with fanboy outrage or the bemused annoyance of the un-anointed. But I didn’t sing its praises in the way many others did. I will freely admit the film is a startling vision, but beyond looking just about right in comparison to its source material, it was poorly handled emotionally and imaginatively. Director Zack Snyder was my primary source of scorn. I don’t doubt the difficulty of the position in which he was placed. No one, Greengrass or Gilliam included, could possibly have pleased everyone with an adaptation of such beloved graphic fiction.
But, while that can be taken into account briefly, his attempt to please as many people as possible meant the overall work was compromised, ending up giving the world and mixed, muddled and messy moving storyboard of frames linked only briefly in the running time. He works so hard to make everything so close to Alan Moore’s print vision that he forgets to differentiate in his own mind between the two mediums. He is desperate to fit in as much dialogue and as many scenes from the novel as he can, in the process sacrificing any creativity which should be brought to any adaptation.
Watchmen feels flat and lifeless on the screen, only managing to break into moments of greatness through the generally good performances and some superlative sequences. Is it not telling that easily the most brilliant moment of Watchmen is the opening title sequence? Tracking the alternative history Moore sets up through visually breathtaking montage; re-appropriating Dylan’s ‘The Times Are A-Changin’ to be an anthem for his history rather than for 1960s America; these are the brave moves taken by a director who understands he cannot possibly fit the source material onto the screen wholesale and must improvise. It’s that moment, when Snyder gives himself the freedom to interpret the source material in his own way, that you feel finally as though a real adaptation is occurring in front of your eyes.
For me, although I think Watchmen is a finer achievement of scale, Dawn of the Dead is still the most successful and satisfying project of Synder’s. Here, he had no qualms about giving his own take on a classic original film, eschewing the political and social concerns of Romero’s original to produce a visceral, thrilling action film. He interpreted the material brilliantly, something he resolutely fails to do in either Watchmen or the turgid 300.
Snyder has now been talking up his next project, Sucker Punch, and the bravery of Warner Bros in putting out his films in the past. I don’t deny WB has become the top major studio for taking risks with its major projects. But Watchmen directed by Zack Snyder is nowhere near the risk which would have been involved in taking on Watchmen by Gilliam or Watchmen by Greengrass (even if his re-contextualisation would have been a step too far). Sucker Punch, which will follow a young girl sent to a mental asylum and her fantasies of escaping alongside her fellow inmates, doesn’t really sound like much of a risk either. Snyder’s Watchmen may not have done the kind of business many were hoping for – although I will continue to argue against that – but this is a project in which a relatively bankable director has recruited five very attractive young women (lead Emily Browning joined by Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Evan Rachel Wood and Emma Stone) to take part in what I predict will be a series of semi-intense action sequences and recall the kind of Grindhouse films Tarantino so desperately aimed for a couple of years back. I don’t deny that sounds entertaining, but I can’t imagine this will provide any evidence to contradict that Snyder is a competent director with a knack for divisive slo-motion action and no ability to harness the emotional core of a story.
Following the move by Amanda Seyfried to drop out of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, it appears a replacement has been found.
Emily Browning, most recently in The Uninvited and previous in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, is being rumoured as the replacement for Seyfried in the role of Baby Doll, the inmate of a mental asylum who lives inside a fantasy world in which she imagines escaping alongside her fellow inmates.
I know literally nothing about her as an actress but, given the rest of the casting, she does fit the attractive, young starlet category Synder appears to be seeking.
It struck me when writing my review for Watchmen recently that a divide seems to have opened up in the movie industry as regards action sequences. There seem to be two schools of notable action in common day moviemaking:
A. The hyper-kinetic, handheld, shaky-cam, mega-edited hand-to-hand combat typified by the Bourne films.
B. Slow-motion, bone-crunching, balletic brutality, sometimes but not always involving bullet-time, born from The Matrix and elongated to its logical extreme in the films of Zack Snyder.
Now, these are not the only forms of fighting we see. You could also count the newer forms of martial arts, most notably Tony Jaa’s Muay Thai style. But I would argue that the two given the most attention in the last few years, both in praise and criticism, are the two aforementioned.
It leaves a question of what exactly will become the norm for modern action. Perhaps it will remain at to two extremes, on which revels in the blow-by-blow fascination of violence and the other which spends little time on singular blows and is more interested in placing the audience amidst the combatants. Years ago, fight scenes were simply done at regular pace with easily-spotted dives taken by stuntmen (see the likes of Die Hard and onwards to so many mid-90s picks like Con Air etc.). Now it seems we must strike a balance between the two or face a war between fighting styles beloved of fans.
Some adore Snyder’s method, slowing down the action into the bullet-time motion for the purposes of the audience seeing the blows make contact and for bodies to fly across rooms in moon-walking style before speeding back up to pepper the scenes with both hyper-slow and hyper-fast beats. Other favour the Greengrass close-quarters speed-fighting, however unclear it can sometimes become.
Modern action by no means needs a norm, but it seems interesting to have these two duelling forces stepping to each other, both presenting entirely different methods for presenting fighting on screen, and which will win through in terms of followers. At present, Snyder’s style does not seem to be finding too many imitators, although you could put forward the point that his style is a slightly-altered version of that peddled popularly by The Matrix in the early-00s and before that by wire-fighting extravaganzas from the Asian circuit. The Bourne style has been aped most famously in the recent Bond incarnations.
So, which do you prefer?
Also, check out this excellent article from Slate on the evolution of the fight scene.
Anticipation for comic book adaptations come in very different forms. The Batman movies all suffer from a similar fate in that fans want darker every time, hence the widespread spurning given to Joel Schumacher’s Cyberpunk nightmares during the 1990s. Daredevil suffered a similar fate, although in both cases, little argument can be made for the actual quality of the adaptations, let alone their inability to tap into the desires that fans have of what they envisage for beloved characters. Sometimes, the criticism becomes slightly unfair. Witness the recent news that Fantastic Four is to be rebooted by Fox with a view to providing a darker vision of their super-family strife. The Fantastic Four movies are not great but, admit it, they capture the spirit of the comics very well indeed.
Watchmen is an entirely different beast. You could compare them to other Alan Moore adaptations and the treatment they had, but that doesn’t quite grasp the kind of no-win situation into which Zack Snyder plunged himself by taking on, and subsequently talking up, a film version of Moore’s most revered work. V for Vendetta inspires great love amongst Moore fans but that adaptation seemed doomed from the beginning given the presence in the directorial chair of James McTeigue, the perfect example of what Kevin Smith described as ‘failing upwards’ in Hollywood. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen isn’t Moore’s most revered but it is a brilliant, rollicking set of tales. It should have been easy to adapt but, beset by problems across the board, you can understand why that one fell to pieces. None though carry with them the stigma of adaptation that Watchmen has. It is an distinctly mixed desire amongst fans to see the film adapted anyway. It has often been described as unfilmable, not least by Moore himself, while the likes of Terry Gilliam (who was advised not to embark on the venture by Moore himself) and Paul Greengrass walked on past without managing to bring it to life. So, as this beast arrives, the question is raised as to whether Snyder managed to pull it off, and whether he should have tried at all.
The answer to both is a very tentative yes. Watchmen is some achievement, a linear and entertaining action movie gleaned from source material which never gives any concession to such narrative convention. You could never deny that Snyder has pulled off the adaptation, and for that he should be applauded. But he should not be lauded because, while this is undoubtedly something to see, nearly every problem that this film has offsets the positives and, on both sides of that coin, Snyder takes responsibility.
Snyder is undoubtedly a visual stylist, maybe even auteur, and his fingerprints are smeared on every scene. There are a great number of moments from the graphic novel which get lifted into the film wholesale, itself a visceral thrill for any fan watching. In doing so, he manages to include a number of the bigger themes that the book explores, not to mention the moments of humour that Moore often slips in, a welcome addition to what is a big, serious movie. The title sequence deserves a significant amount of praise, given that it manages to provide the alternative history of Moore’s United States with panache and skill without every feeling like important information is being shoehorned in; it’s a lesson for anyone taking on big, difficult adaptations and how to deal with the fact that five-hour movies don’t tend to sell. The other huge positive the movie has is Dr Manhattan, a brilliant CG/human creation which outstanding work from Billy Crudup, joining Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach, Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian in bringing the characters to life with verve and skill. Manhattan’s screen-incarnation is so well-judged and intelligently used, he is easily the most fully-realised and well understood adapted creation in Snyder’s universe.
But, for all the good, the bad and mistepping comes streaming through to match. The minor gripes first. The sex scene, itself used in a semi-comic context in the movie, is incredibly poorly filmed and badly judged by Snyder, coming across like the worst form of late-night, Channel 5 nonsense. Akerman is weak as Silk Spectre 2, an undemanding character which she manages to make completely unbelievable, especially in the S&M variation on the original costume which reaks of at-least partial sexism. Matthew Goode too, whilst relatively good in terms of look and attitude as Ozymandias, is slightly out of place and, although reportedly this was an acting choice, his accent is all over the shop.
The real problems though fall to Snyder himself. He is a director with great visual flair and an understanding of action quotients and slickness. However, his addiction to slo-mo fight scenes and, in this case, astonishing violence in given parts (the alley way and Rorschach’s turning point with a cleaver). Snyder seems far too interested in the slo-motion sequences, themselves extremely annoying and lacking in the kind of pace needed, and ends up fetishising the violence in truly disturbing fashion. It seems as though his history on 300, a far less illustrious project but equally strewn with heavy, slo-mo battles, was more indicative of his overall style rather than his adherence to Frank Miller’s work. Any concentration on the violence in Watchmen is to miss the point of the story, especially when he’s putting in the action sequences in slo-mo and taking up time which should be used to bring in other story parts (most notably the magazine vendor and kid reading comic which frame the story in the comic so brilliantly). It seems to me that Snyder was much more interested in amping up the violence and action scenes and producing a linear movie, rather than managing to balance the more difficult moments in Watchmen with those base elements.
As a director, he can undoubtedly make a film in which you are dazzled by the visuals and the gung-ho entertainment value. But it seems he does not have the ability to grasp wider emotional issues. For that reason, Watchmen doesn’t quite manage to ascend to greatness. But, for all the faults that strew the movie, I would argue that this is the absolute best that Snyder could ever have done and, therefore, he can be rewarded on a personal level. But I cannot help but wonder what a more versatile directorial talent would have made of it. Given all the history though, I think I can just be pleased that Snyder managed to adequately sidestep fucking up the greatest work of graphic fiction of all time.
Kevin Smith is to launch outside of his comfort zone (no View Askew, no Scott Mosier producing) to direct A Couple of Cops, a buddy movie to star Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Could provide an interesting view on how Smith is developing as a director and possibly give the world another really good buddy movie which, on premise, seems closely in the vein of late-80s Shane Black-style stuff.
Zack Snyder is forming an all-girl cast for Sucker Punch, about girls in a mental asylum who fantasises about escaping with all her inmates. Likely to star the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Evan Rachel Wood and Emma Stone. Doesn’t specifically make me too excited but I would be interested to see what Snyder does next because he handled the entire Watchmen saga, the build-up and movie, with aplomb.
Megan Fox has begun to take up some new offers which are likely to offer very little new to her current persona. Fox has reportedly joined the cast of Jonah Hex alongside Josh Brolin and will star in Fathom, an adaptation of the comic series. Cinematical reports that Fox has been a fan of the comic series for some time and is helping to bring it to the screen, likely making her the dream girl for many, many JoBlo readers around the world. Maybe however she should get a little praise for understanding that she has limits and using her talents in the most lucrative way possible. Hats off to Ms Fox.
Leonardo DiCaprio is to team with Christopher Nolan on the latter’s post-Dark Knight project, Inception. the film has been described as a science fiction piece ‘set in the architecture of the mind’ and was also written by Nolan. You’d have to suggest that this won’t garner anything near the level of business Dark Knight did but it’s good to see Nolan is nourishing his filmmaking skills elsewhere, something that would have been advisable to Sam Raimi back in the day and would most likely have provided the world with better Spiderman sequels.
Talk is rife on what the next Danny Boyle movie will be. Reports emerged early in the week, very speculative, that he could direct the next James Bond. Later however, it seems he is closing in on doing a remake of My Fair Lady, putting of another project called Hanna, about a teenage assassin.
Also in the news: Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control has a trailer; Mickey Rourke, Vince Cassell and Alice Braga will star in an adaptation of Paulo Coehlo’s 11 Minutes; A viewpoint from Slate on how a Tarantino Watchmen would look; Barry Sonnenfeld will direct an adaptation of Korean film Scandal Makers; Keira Knightley is to star in Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s amazing novel, which you should probably read instead now Knightley has signed up; A three minute clip of The Boat that Rocked has turned up; Ed Zwick is to direct In the Heart of the Sea by Nathan Philbrick; Ridley Scott has talked a little more about his Monopoly movie.