24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Comic-Con

'21 Jump Street': Channing Tatum-Jonah Hill bromance disarms critics

March 16, 2012 |  2:31 pm

Though ostensibly based on the '80s cult TV series of the same name, the new action-comedy "21 Jump Street" also draws heavily on buddy-cop conventions, "Superbad"-style high-school high jinks and the grand tradition of the stoner bromance (see also: the "Harold & Kumar" films, "Pineapple Express"). For all its raunchy familiarity, the film, which stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as rookie cops going undercover to bust a drug ring in their old high school, is charming critics.

Times film critic Betsy Sharkey writes that "21 Jump Street" has "an endearing, punch-you-in-the-arm-because-I-like-you-man charm" and that Hill and Tatum display "great goofball gusto." Both actors — "rock hard" Tatum and "squishy soft" Hill — "bring a kind of vulnerability to their characters that makes whatever mayhem they are up to OK." Sharkey notes that the film is not only about but also created by a buddy pair: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), who "clearly understand the push-and-pull and hyper-competitiveness that make guy friendships both complex and stupid."

Continue reading »

'The Darkness' looks to move into the film light

July 19, 2011 |  2:57 pm

EXCLUSIVE: The upcoming San Diego Comic-con usually yields its fair share of announcements and deals about properties being developed as entertainment vehicles. One of the more noteworthy nuggets going into this year's confab? New life for a movie based on the popular comic book property "The Darkness."

24 Frames has learned that Mandeville Films, the Walt Disney-affiliated producers behind last year's Oscar contender "The Fighter," has pacted with "Darkness" publisher Top Cow to develop a film based on the dark genre piece. A spokeswoman for Mandeville confirmed the deal.

The graphic novels center on a mobster named Jackie Estacado who discovers he has inherited a murderous power known as "the darkness" that allows him to summon creatures from another realm. Estacado must then find a way to tame the power while vanquishing his enemies within the crime family in which he operates.

Co-created by Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri in 1996, "The Darkness” has yielded more than 115 books and sold 25 million copies around the world, according to the company. It's also spawned a popular video game, with a sequel set to come out next year.

The deal marks the latest collaboration between the publisher and the producer.  The two have previously partnered to develop movies based on Top Cow's "Alibi" and "Crosshair" titles. (Mandeville's David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman will produce, while the company's David Manpearl and  Top Cow's Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins will executive produce.)

"The Darkness" has had several go-rounds in Hollywood. About seven years ago, genre specialists Dimension Films took a crack, and more recently "The Break-Up" producer Scott Stuber attempted to move it forward. But principals are hoping that the time is now right for a dark comic book piece, with anticipation building for Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" next year and Ryan Reynolds preparing to shoot "R.I.P.D.," an underworld revenge story based on a popular graphic novel.

The deal comes at a time of expansion for Mandeville. The company is set to bring out  a remake of the iconic "The Muppets" in the fall as it diversifies beyond the mid-budget comedies of  "The Proposal" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." Among other projects, it's also working on a new comedy from the writers of "The Hangover" and contemplating a follow-up to "The Fighter" based on Micky Ward's bouts with Arturo Gatti.


Hero Complex: Complete Comic-con coverage

'The Fighter' becomes a contender

'The Muppets' looks to find the rainbow connection

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A screen shot from "The Darkness" video game. Credit: Top Cow

'Paul' location prompts anxiety from another world

March 18, 2011 |  4:18 pm

When the alien comedy "Paul" opens today, filmgoers will be given a look at a number of real-life locations, including Comic-Con's San Diego Convention Center and the Little A'Le'Inn, a bar and restaurant outside Area 51 in Rachel, Nev. The latter is portrayed in a scene that has the film's stars, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, on a road trip of notable extraterrestrial spots; it offers a colorful look at a bar that's filled with all manner of outer-space  kitsch.

But that sort of authenticity doesn't come without snags or stress. The Little A'Le'Inn's two owners cried foul this week, telling 24 Frames that their bar was reconstructed on the movie's New Mexico set without their permission. and that one of the pair, played by Jane Lynch, was depicted in the Universal/Working Title film without their permission as well.

"If they [production managers] had been up front and honest, we would have agreed to it. But they weren't," said Connie West, who owns the bar with her mother, Pat Travis-Laudenklos, portrayed by Lynch in the film.

West said she and Travis-Laudenklos had originally been told by someone who came to the bar that they were making a  documentary and they then agreed to allow photos to be taken on that assumption. She also sold a production scout $4,000 worth of merchandise. They were surprised to see, then, their bar replicated to a high level of specificity both in "Paul" and at the after-party of the film's premiere (Universal paid for them to come). West said she is contemplating legal action.

Universal declined to comment, but 24 Frames was able, via a source familiar with the project, to get a look at a series of legal documents. Among them was a set of releases that contained signatures that appeared to belong to Travis-Laudenklos granting permission to depict both the bar and her likeness, on documents that clearly referred to a feature film titled "Paul."

Still, the complaints highlight how difficult it is for movies to depict locations with authenticity, and why producers often opt for entirely fictional sites instead.  (In this weekend's "The Lincoln Lawyer," for instance, some of the Southland landmarks from Michael Connelly's novel are replaced by more generic sites.) When filmmakers aim for something more realistic -- Pegg and Frost wrote part of their script in the bar and modeled the scene after it -- it can cause waves among the real-life people, who are surprised to see their handiwork in someone else's creation.

"You understand on an emotional level why people feel like something was taken from them," said Bill Grantham, an entertament lawyer based in Santa Monica, of cases like this. "But the question is often whether they own what's been taken and whether they can stop someone from taking it."

Grantham noted that  a wide range of 1st Amendment protections makes these cases difficult for a plaintiff to win, especially when there's a release; aggrieved parties would need to prove, among other things, that there was some misrepresentation involved in securing it.

Still, Grantham recalled the instance of Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" in which a high-end design chair was copyrighted and portrayed without permission in the film, resulting in a court granting an injunction after the movie was already in theaters. Litigiousness can make studios either waiver-crazy or, worse, opt out of locations altogether. Or, perhaps, wish they'd set a movie in outer space, where there aren't many people around to complain.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from "Paul." Credit: Double Negative/Universal Pictures

Comic-Con 2010: Who swam, who sank and who treaded water

July 26, 2010 |  7:30 am


What would happen if every day was Comic-Con? For one thing, we'd probably lose our minds. The show's hype is like lead paint -- a small amount is tolerable, even sweet, but too much leaves you prostrate and numb.  For another, if every day was actually Comic-Con no studio executive would ever lose his job. Every movie is a hit in Hall H, that magical place where dreams come true and where creators and executives can always turn for a validation fix. Thousands of people are cheering and taking cellphone pictures -- how can a film not be a blockbuster? (Here's the link, by the way, to the complete compendium of Comic-Con stories from our sister blog Hero Complex. Some more specific URLs below.)

Yet while a movie's reception at Comic-Con isn't predictive of either the very broadly oriented releases ("Avatar," which drew a mixed reaction last year) or the very fan-centric ones ("Kick-Ass" played extremely well in San Diego but struggled upon release), for the many movies in the vast middle, it can presage plenty. There's cheering and there's cheering; how loud the cheers come, and from whom, does indicate plenty about a movie's prospects.

With that in mind, we decided to run down a batch of movies from the show and offer a few thoughts about how, from where we sat, they all fared.

"Cowboys and Aliens"

The Pre-Con Status: Intense interest in Jon Favreau, the original graphic novel and the genre-jumping premise overcame some early distaste caused by Robert Downey Jr. jumping ship.

The Play: Emphasize the Harrison Ford of it all, let the panelists say very little (they're at a relatively early stage of production) and allow the hybrid-y extended footage (atmospheric period western turns into an explosion-heavy UFO-attack movie) do the talking.

The Payoff: The weird truth of Comic-Con is that sometimes the earlier you are in production, the better off your chances with fans. That helped here.The footage was also different enough from anything else that plays Comic-Con (or the multiplex), helping to make it one of the best-received of the studio panels. There was also plenty of good feeling from Ford's presence, though that's precisely the kind of Comic-Con moment that's long forgotten when a film finally comes out.

"Sucker Punch"

The Pre-Con Status: Zack Snyder could no wrong after "300." Then he did "Watchmen." His new film came into San Diego in an uncertain place.

The Play: Emphasize the "300"-esque stylized violence -- and the bombshell female cast, as about a half-dozen on the actresses joined Snyder for a panel.

The Payoff: The footage sometimes looked as slick and kinetic as "300," and this could be the rare Snyder films that brings in women. But the director wasn't hugely articulate/compelling in his own comments, and  while fanboys always like a whip-snapping woman hero, the panel might have played a little too pink-hearts-and-rainbows (hello, Vanessa Hudgens) to snag the all-important young-male demo. Women, for their part, could be an equally tough sell.

"The Green Hornet"

The Pre-Con Status: Questions about Seth Rogen's ability to pull off the superhero character -- not to mention similar questions about the film's tone -- have bedeviled this serio-comic take on the radio and TV character for a while now.

The Play: Let Rogen trot out his stoner comedy and lock down the slacker segment of the "Knocked Up" crowd, while simultaneously redefine him as as a swaggering hero.

The Payoff: The panel was vexed by the same problem as the trailer: the inability to choose, or find the right space, between comedy and the more serious business of superhero mythology. This one made few inroads at Comic-Con.

Continue reading »

Comic-Con 2010: 'Expendables' swim in testosterone, 'Battle: Los Angeles' burns our retinas, and Jeff Bridges really doesn't like Arrowhead

July 22, 2010 |  8:34 pm


We're down at Comic-Con, in the land of Batman capes and Chewbacca-Storm Trooper fights, writing primarily for our colleague Geoff Boucher's Hero Complex blog. But at the end of a long day of dodging the costumed masses, we wanted to offer a little sample of what's been happening in and around the grounds of the San Diego Convention Center.

Earlier today, we watched as the cast of "Tron: Legacy" offered some motivations for the new film. Star Jeff Bridges and original "Tron" director Steven Lisberger described the need for "new myths," with Lisberger also citing the prophetic qualities of his film.  "The generation that grew up with 'Tron' accepts it as the founding myth of the Internet and technology that's theirs," Lisberger said. "The story came true."

A surreal moment -- Dude-like, even -- came when Bridges took a turn to talk about the "darker side of technology,"  that is, how he's repulsed by the use of plastic water bottles. (He held up an Arrowhead bottle, called for the product's elimination, and directed attendees to a website offering information about the cause.) The Hall H panel also saw an unusual moment in which the entire crowd, numbering about 6,000 people, was asked to quiet down, and then instructed by some text on a giant screen to shout out various catchphrases and stomp their feet in unison. We could have sworn it was an elaborate psychological experiment of group behavior, but director Joseph Kosinski said the idea was to mix some of the sound into the final cut so the Comic-Con attendees would essentially become vocal extras.

Meanwhile, as our colleague Alex Pham wrote, Jonathan Liebesman's "Battle: Los Angeles" showed itself to be a kind of first-person shooter with a heavy dose of destruction porn. Readers who live in Los Angeles and are feeling a little self-flagellating might relish the latter; as Pham writes, "Angelenos who enjoyed watching their city crumble in '2012' will be treated to scenes of its sandy beaches, concrete freeways and skyscrapers blown into smithereens in this upcoming movie from Sony."

Almost as explosive was a panel for "The Expendables," what with its footage of half of Brazil getting blown up, lots of talk of how Sylvester Stallone, Steve Austin, Randy Coutoure and Dolph Lundgren all broke each other's necks on the set; indeed, there may have been more testosterone on that panel than there is anywhere outside of a BALCO lab.

If attendees' retinas were burning after watching all that footage, they were glowing as Angelina Jolie made a rare Comic-Con appearance to promote "Salt," in a gambit that has the studio trying to flog a movie that opens in just 24 hours.

An odd moment came with the day's biggest news: that Guillermo del Toro would direct a movie based on Disney's Haunted Mansion theme-park attraction. (It was considerably more exciting than the other bit of fanboy news: Joss Whedon's announcement he would direct "Avengers," which everyone and their cousin knew.) The Del Toro news came at the "Tron" panel, after another surprise, a Johnny Depp video teaser for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which itself came after the "Tron" panel. A good number of fans were filing out before they realized the genre legend was on stage talking about his vision for the haunted house.

Some of the the biggest non-surprises, meanwhile, came when two big personalities didn't show. Despite teasing of same, neither Brad Pitt nor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned up for the panels for their respective movies ("Megamind" and "The Expendables"). "Megamind" co-stars Tina Fey and Will Ferrell brought out a cut-out of Pitt, but the actor never turned up. It was a rare moment of absence in a day filled with over-the-top presences.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Tron: Legacy." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

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Steve Coogan could send up fanboy culture (again)

July 20, 2010 |  6:17 pm


The 2008 high school farce "Hamlet 2" may not have exactly been a hit, but it was a perfect showcase for Steve Coogan's manic talents. Now Focus Features, which released that film, could be showcasing even more Coogan.

Sources say the specialty division is developing a remake of the fanboy-themed British comedy "Cruise of the Gods," with Coogan set to reprise his role.  As Comic-con approaches, it's hard to imagine a more timely piece of news: The film is about a fan cruise in honor of a fictitious science-fiction series and the clashes among the cast when they reunite several decades after the series goes off the air. (Coogan's character is more successful than the rest, among other comic premises.) The BBC produced and aired the original film back in 2002.

The new version, which is tentatively titled "The Great Beyond," has some other talented names on it. Attached to write and direct are Dave Guion and Michael Handelman. The pair, who toiled as writers on Jay Roach's development-world cautionary tale "Used Guys," did a skillful job balancing the outrageous and the human in next weekend's "Dinner for Schmucks" (more on that movie in an upcoming print story).

We've been waiting for the studio world to give Coogan the same chance to carry a film that it's given  Ricky Gervais. Until now, Coogan has starred in indies (Focus picked up "Hamlet 2" after it was completed) or played more supporting parts, like his role in the upcoming "The Other Guys."

With Comic-con highlighting not just what's hot but also properties long past their shelf life that somehow still find a fan base (Viking Quest, anyone?), "The Great Beyond" seems like it could almost be ripped from the booths at the San Diego Convention Center. We'll keep an eye out for some real-life inspirations down there this weekend.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Steve Coogan in "Hamlet 2." Credit: Focus Features


Dark Knight executive producers turns the camera on Comic-con fans

San Diego insiders share their survival tips (and ninja tricks)

The Hero Complex guide to San Diego madness

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Marvel replaces Ed Norton as the Hulk in 'The Avengers,' but will it matter?

July 11, 2010 |  9:35 pm


Our colleague Geoff Boucher at sister blog Hero Complex delves into Marvel's pointed decision to drop Edward Norton from the company's upcoming "Avengers" movie.

"We have made the decision to not bring Ed Norton back to portray the title role of Bruce Banner in 'The Avengers.' Our decision is definitely not one based on monetary factors, but instead rooted in the need for an actor who embodies the creativity and collaborative spirit of our other talented cast members," the company rebuked in a statement made to Hit Fix, which  broke the Norton story. It marks the second time that Marvel has gone "Bewitched' and replaced a well-known actor, previously swapping out Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle as War Machine after the former might have gotten a little too precious with his demands ahead of "Iron Man 2."

The Hero Complex post takes the tack that this is an understandable move for the studio given Norton's reputation as a strong personality on set and in the development process (a reputation executives came to be acquainted with firsthand after working with him, rockily, on 2008's "The Incredible Hulk.") That take stands in contrast to Hit Fix's point of view, which basically is that it could look mighty odd, both in promotional moments and on the screen, to see an unknown or lesser-name actor alongside the film's mostly A-list group.

But the truth is that it's exactly that group that probably makes this a move of less consequence than it might first appear. The entire point of the "Avengers" movie (and, to a lesser extent, Marvel's studio operation in general) is to make the ensemble greater than the individual. That's a creative and marketing rationale, since it means the studio can mix and match characters with ease, as it's already begun to do with "Iron Man 2" and other movies and which will culminate with Joss Whedon's "Avengers" in two years. But maybe just as important, it's a production and deal-making strategy, since when you're creating a slate based on ensembles, that means no single character gets too big, which means no single actor can hold a slate hostage.

Marvel might find some initial resistance to the presence of a new Hulk. But it's not like Norton, for all his acting skills, was that deeply associated with the character anyway.  And as important to the canon as the Hulk is, a lot of film-goers probably be caught up in seeing the character on screen in this context as much as they'll be scrutinizing who's playing him, especially if they're already being feted with the reassuring sight of an iconic fixture like Robert Downey Jr., as Iron Man. We're more concerned, frankly, that the Whedon film could wind up being a mythology mash-up than we are worried about any individual casting choice.

After initially absorbing the backlash that it would hire an unknown for the part, Marvel course-corrected  today, saying it would hire a "name actor" to play the Hulk. That's fine to calm the initial fan reaction, but it's probably not essential for the movie. When you're building a super-group, you can afford to replace the drummer.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk. Credit: Marvel Studios


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Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


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