>> New Line Tries Their Hand at Animation

New Line Tries Their Hand at AnimationNew Line is venturing into the animation business for the first time in its 40-year history by acquiring Ilion Animation Studios’ $60 million feature “Planet 51” from Handmade Films International.Written by Joe Stillman (“Shrek”), the story is set on a planet whose inhabitants live in fear of an alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Capt. Charles “Chuck” Baker arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, the astronaut has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and return home.

The film is directed by Jorge Blanco and co-directed by Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, who worked with Blanco on the worldwide best-selling video game “Commandos.”

“Planet 51” is scheduled for completion in March 2009.

New Line plans to release the movie in 2009, backed up with a merchandising push that will involve a video game from Pyro Studios.

Yahoo! Movies

>> “G.I. Joe” Finds a Baroness in Miller

BaronessSienna Miller is the first thesp to enlist in Paramount Pictures’ big-budget tentpole “G.I. Joe.”British actress will play the film’s female lead, described as a raven-haired baroness and sexy femme fatale skilled in espionage.

Stephen Sommers directs the live-action film based on the Hasbro toys, comicbook and TV series.

Paramount, which has set a mid-February start date, has slotted the film for an Aug. 7, 2009, release.

Story is set at Brussels-based GIJOE, an acronym for the Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, and revolves around an international co-ed force of operatives who use high-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil org headed by a Scottish arms dealer.

Variety 

>> Christian Bale cast as John Connor in “Terminator 4”

John ConnorHarry Knowles spills the beans over on AICN

“Just got off the phone with an extremely trusted source who has never been wrong before. he revealed exclusively to AICN that in the upcoming McG reboot, TERMINATOR SALVATION: The Future Begins, that they have cast CHRISTIAN BALE as none other than JOHN CONNER.”

The crazy capitalization is all Harry’s, but I’ll share in his enthusiasm. An interesting project just became a VERY interesting project. See–I can randomly capitalize too!

–John

>> Beowulf (John’s Review, 7.5/10)

Beowulf Despite Square and Sony’s adult-oriented CG-animated box office dud of some years back, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, maybe there is an actual audience for something like this? Director Robert Zemeckis can’t seem to shake his fascination with motion-capture technology–the process in which actors are tracked by a computer while wearing a body suit covered in ping pong balls, then “drawn over” with a computer. So, instead of seeing just Anthony Hopkins, I can see a fat, naked, strangely plasticine ANIMATED Anthony Hopkins. Hooo-kay…

Zemeckis has set his sights on the epic poem Beowulf, and my memories are too vague from 9th grade English class to make any kind of decent comparison between that work and this one. I do know that we did NOT have to wear 3-D glasses in the classroom, and that’s a pretty big difference right there. Maybe I would’ve remembered the poem better if my teacher was throwing mead right in my face or perhaps poking spearheads directly at my eye.

Beowulf is an oddly fractured narrative about the legendary hero (Ray Winstone) and his apparently life-long struggles with the monster Grendel and Grendel’s smoking hot mother, played by a nude, gold-skinned Angelina Jolie. The film is rigidly structured into three acts that seem to fight against any kind of typical writing structure of rising action, climax, falling action. It’s basically three battles–Beowulf/Grendel, Beowulf/Grendel’s Mom, then Beowulf/Dragon. There’s sort-of a throughline about what it means to be a hero, but Beowulf himself is not an entirely likeable character here, motivated too much by lust and a braggart’s spirit. It takes the air out of most of the moments an audience whould be cheering for him. When bad things happen in the film, they are a direct action of the stupid mistakes of our “good guys”, and we can’t help but sit back and go, “well, you brought this on yourself, really…” That’s not the kind of response you typically want from an audience in an action flick.

Those criticisms aside, I still recommend the film, especially in 3-D if you can catch it. The movie is certianly the kind of thing you should see on a big screen anyways, and the 3-D effect is just butter on the popcorn. The dragon battle in particular uses the 3-D to really enhance the action on screen. There is a video gamey element to the whole thing and the cast generally have the same animated mannequin look like the human characters from Shrek, but there’s an unexpectedly high quotient of pulpy swashbuckling, sex, and gore to keep things moving.

I’m all for 3-D and animation, but I’m ready for Zemeckis to return to the world of live-action filmmaking. When push comes to shove, I’d rather watch the actual John Malkovish than the animated John Malkovich. Could Zemeckis’s Beowulf have been told in live-action? Yes, actually. So why is this animated? So Ray Winstone can be skinny, and Anthony Hopkins can be fat, I guess. Shut up and munch your popcorn, Gholson.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Mulberry Street (John’s Review, 8/10)

Mulberry St. PosterWhen this film was over, I had to tell someone what I just saw. Mulberry Street is not a revolutionary film, barely an original film, but an effective film. It’s a harrowing nightmare of urban paranoia with the feel and depth of a well-made independent drama.

This is a fast-paced, low-budget take on plague zombies ala 28 Days Later, but places the fast-spreading virus into New York City. The city’s rats are infected with something horrible–something that causes humans to mutate into voracious rat-people with a single rat bite.

The story focuses primarily on former boxer, Clutch (Nick Damici, who also co-wrote the film), who awaits the return of his daughter (Kim Blair) from her recent military service. He’s one of a dozen tenants in a crappy apartment where most of the story takes place. It’s a simple story–a survival tale that will feel like old-shoe comfort to most horror fans, in the best way possible. Take interesting characters that we care about, let all hell break loose, pray for some folks to live by the time the credits roll. It’s a familiar formula, but it’s a formula because when it works, it works.

Director Jim Mickle has created a dark, frantic, entertaining movie that bests bigger budget horror flicks by delivering something that you’ve seen before in a way that feels exciting and new. Mickle is, quite frankly, a force to be reckoned with. He keeps things moving, always moving, and seems remarkably skilled at directing actors into performances that feel 100% natural. I’ll be surprised if this guy doesn’t either amass a cult following or make a big break-through hit someday (or both).

Mulberry Street is playing as part of the After Dark Horrorfest 2007 this week at theatres all over the U.S., so if you miss it, you’ll have to wait for the DVD. This is not only better than any of After Dark 06’s offerings, it’s one of the best films of the year in terms of delivering on what it promises.

8 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> P2 (Brandon’s Review, 4/10)

P2 PosterLet’s not mince words here. I really like Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levassuer they are an imaginative duo who really like gore and they make intense films (“High Tension”) but when they are at their best they make intense films with real people and real stakes (“The Hills Have Eyes” remake), but as producers and writers of the parking garage/empty building one woman-one psycho show “P2” not only have they failed themselves but their audience as well.If there is one thing I am getting tired of in the horror genre it’s the sermonizing, moralizing killer, taken closer to its nadir with every subsequent “Saw” film (despite that, all of the “Saw” films are better than this one). The only thing that can make such an affront to basking in the glory of the gory a more odious offense is a godawful performance and boy does “P2” ever deliver on that front. Wes Bentley is the offender in question here as Thomas the night attendant of the parking garage in the building where Angela (Rachel Nichols) is overworking herself on Christmas Eve. He starts out innocently enough (as psychos are wont to do) offering to give Angela a jump when her car won’t start and even diffusing her understandable albeit unintentional hostility when his efforts fail by offering up the cliche that it’s the holidays and we should be thankful (for what? psycho parking attendants? santa suits? tire irons?). In that spirirt Thomas offers her dinner but she declines the offer and calls a cab only to discover that he has locked her inside the building/ parking garage area when she tries to leave.

Shortly thereafter, she is drugged and wakes up chained to a chair as Thomas’ unwilling dinner guest. He even dressed her up and put makeup on her while she was unconscious and now he is trying to make small talk with her like she would forgive him if she would just hear him out. The small talk is really inane and Thomas isn’t even remotely charming as the good samaritan from before or the obsessed, murderous stalker he is about to reveal himself to be. I get that Thomas is a psycho and overacting is a part of the package, but Wes Bentley never comes across as anything other than an evil, sniveling titty baby. He likes Angela and wants to defend her virtue but despite his creepiness he appears to have all the sexual menace of a eunuch. Wes Bentley isn’t the only guilty party here. Rachel Nichols despite making me believe that Angela is truly repulsed by Thomas never comes across as a real person: she’s both too pretty and too generic. There’s a scene where she talks to a security guard about keeping it real (because he’s black, I think). I’ve seen interviews with this girl before and she’s not interesting, too reserved while trying to seem not so much. It’s the kind of iciness that makes you not care about her peril. I’m not saying that because you aren’t likeable you should be trapped in P2 with a crazy guy and his killer pup but the way you distance everyone makes you less recognizable as a human being so I have no interest in rooting for you. Plus, you’re a ridiculously hot girl working late on Christmas Eve (are you a lawyer?), why not go and be with your family earlier in the day or meet some stud in a bar for inconsequential meaningless sex or something. The more I think about it the more I believe that you’re being here only means you brought it upon yourself. Similarly, in “High Tension” you mostly had two characters trapped in close quarters (I don’t count the hostage as much as the pursuer and the pursued) and they said much less about themselves but still you were more invested. They also had people who popped up to die every once in a while but for the most part it was two people and they were quite people. It was like being plunged into a waking nightmare. This is more like a crappy date with a fair amount of blood.

I said earlier that Wes Bentley had all the sexual menace of a eunuch, I also forgot to mention that he drives his penis (by that, I mean car) and he rams a guy tied to a swivel chair into a parking garage wall and keeps driving into him until he blows his load (by that I mean the guy shoots blood all over the car from his being crushed into the wall). This film also has the sexually motivated killings of “High Tension.” Clearly, “P2” is like a bottom rung version of that film and since they don’t really want to leave anything out we get the killer dog schtick from “The Hills Have Eyes” for good measure, though I would argue that hot girl with nice rack is enough of a nod to “The Hills Have Eyes.”

In addition to some bad acting characters also do really stupid things and/or unsatisfying things like carry around an axe and break security cameras but never once use it to cave in a skull. Also, just before the heroine can gain the upper hand Thomas puts on a tape of him dressing her up while she is unconscious and she stops to watch it instead of trying to make a getaway or find the guy and cave his skull in with an axe. Seriously, who would do that?

On the whole “P2” is a pretty tedious exercise that fails to exploit women’s innate fear of parking garages and our innate desire to be terrified. However, it treads familiar ground and if thats your thing then more power to you but I would suggest seeking validation elsewhere.

4 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Saw IV (Brandon’s Review, 6.5/10)

Saw IVI don’t know what there is left to say about the franchise. Do you like blood and guts and flashbacks? You’ll get all of those. Do you want complications, contradictions and contrivances? You’ll get those too. I don’t completely hate the “Saw” franchise– part two works best, one is just the shoddy realization of what turned out to be a durable franchise and part three was genuinely squirm inducing but it had an uppity biting the hand that feeds it attitude that rubbed me the wrong way. I realized as this one started that departing writers James Wan and Leigh Whannell (here on board as producers) were trying to kill the franchise dead… for themselves. As you can see it worked out for them. I was eager for the new blood to come in, but I find myself somewhat of a fence sitter.Following the events of “SAW III” two FBI agents are sent in to investigate the death of Detective Kerry (Dina Meyer) and discover that death is just the beginning as Jigsaw’s work continues unabated by his death. A former colleague of Kerry’s (Lyriq Bent) has a problem with helping people and so begins a game that will teach him the value of learning to let go, an odd tactic considering the original intentions were the importance of valuing the life you have and not being a horrible person. But the “Saw” franchise is nothing if not a fan of supplanting you pretty firmly in “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” territory. And while this old colleague of Kerry’s faces his test a couple of FBI agent contacts of hers go to work looking for Jigsaw’s accomplice– a fact they gather from keenly observing the crime scene and realizing that little petite, dead Amanda couldn’t have lifted up Kerry alone, she needed bigger, stronger help.

The good news is that this is the best acted film in the franchise so far and I don’t mean that it has some good bad performances, everyone is actually really good. The film is only about a quarter as “aren’t jump cuts scary” as you’d expect and there are a couple of really nice transitional wipes. There is also a long autopsy at the beginning and some other good gory stuff but I thought someone might care enough to want to know that other facets of the production have improved dramatically as well.

A downside to the film is that with Jigsaw and Amanda dead and the way the film ends you find yourself wondering whose left to test and why didn’t this person set up some kind of booby trap for whoever got the door shut on them? It looks like they could easily walk out a couple of minutes later and everyone can go home and buy light bulbs and be glad that this damn crazy morality test is over and done with.

The “Saw” films are what they are, the craftsmanship will improve but I doubt that your emotional investment will increase in any way.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale