24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Science Fiction

Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Super 8'

June 30, 2011 |  7:41 am


Writer-director J.J. Abrams has a way of meshing sci-fi with ordinary people to create extraordinary entertainment, which he’s done extremely well in “Lost” and in 2009’s explosive “Star Trek.” He goes with adolescent charm in his latest, “Super 8,” which lands a group of small-town preteens in the middle of crises both major -– a military coverup of an alien life force on the loose-- and minor –- who will win the affections of Alice, played by Elle Fanning, who once again shows she has all the acting chops of her talented older sister, Dakota. (For early Elle at her best, pick up 2004's "The Door in the Floor" on DVD. The actress, only 5 when it was filmed, is mesmerizing. And it has the added treat of an exceptional performance from Jeff Bridges.)

The “caught on tape” element drives the action and helps the kids unlock the mystery, set in 1979 during a time of such electronic innocence that it makes the film feel like a slice of nostalgic heaven. Friendships are face-to-face, not Facebook. In this movie-within-a-movie, Joe (Joel Courtney) mans the Super 8 and his best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths), is the director. But there is friction on the set as Abrams has something to say about an early auteur with a cinematic vision.

Kyle Chandler’s single dad, a local cop trying to outwit the military bad boys and keep up with Joe, brings an earthy, ordinary-guy appeal and grown-up problems. Ron Eldard as Alice's deadbeat dad helps keep the tension tight. It might be easy to take a pass on this as just another kid’s movie. It’s more. “Super 8” is smartly satisfying, super no matter your age. 

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: From left, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard in J.J. Abrams' sci-fi drama, "Super 8." Credit: Francois Duhamel/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/MCT

L.A. Film Festival: Teens take on extraterrestrials in 'Attack the Block'

June 23, 2011 |  1:59 pm

Who'd be better at fending off an alien invasion: cowboys from the Old West or kids from the inner city?

It's a question that could keep one occupied for hours during a night of mind-altering substances. But thanks to the scheduling geniuses in Hollywood, movie fans will actually get to have that question answered on July 29. That's when "Attack the Block," a dry comedy about a south London gang set upon by extraterrestrials, comes out -- on the same day as "Cowboys & Aliens."

Written and directed by Joe Cornish and produced by the guys involved in fan favorites "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," "Attack" was acquired by Sony Screen Gems after an enthusiastic  SXSW screening this spring. On Wednesday night at the L.A. Film Festival, several hundred Angelenos got a chance to size up the relative merits of the earthly defenders.

One thing's for sure: The British kids in "Attack" are hardly as well-equipped as Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and the other American rough riders of "Cowboys": Aside from a gun or two, the Brit posse's arsenal consists mainly of a samurai sword, kitchen knives, fireworks and a super-soaker.

Then again, their alien visitors seem to come from a much less advanced planet. (No flying saucers with tractor beams here, a la "Cowboys.") One beastie is aptly described as looking like what would happen if a "monkey [had sex with] a fish" while others are extremely furry, ape-like creatures on speed with teeth that glow blue. Actor John Boyega, who plays the 15-year-old crew leader Moses and was present for Wednesday night's screening, said the invaders were on set, not digitally added later.

Unlike the we're-dead-serious, this-is-not-a-comedy "Cowboys," "Attack" thankfully has a sense of humor about itself, if you can keep up with the thick accents. Funnyman Nick Frost appears as Ron, the public housing complex's resident pot farmer, but most of the laughs come from the much younger gang of relatively fresh-faced teens. These are kids who get around on bikes or motor scooters, still have 10 p.m. curfews and face certain challenges in fending off the aliens. One of them runs out of credits on his mobile phone, while another has to convince some local girls that no, he's not playing Xbox -- those really are aliens invading.


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-- Julie Makinen

Photo: A gang of teens from a south London housing complex are vexed by some alien beasties to comic effect in "Attack the Block." Credit: Screen Gems

Which unproduced movie should Hollywood make right now?

June 7, 2011 |  4:26 pm

At a gathering of Hollywood producers this past weekend, one question recurred at a number of sessions: Which unproduced film would panelists most like to see made?

Harvey Weinstein said he'd long wanted to pull off a sequel to "Rounders." "I never make sequels but it's something I'd like to revisit," the independent film mogul said, adding that the Web had changed the world of poker such that he could imagine a whole new vein of drama. (There is a preliminary agreement for Weinstein to develop a sequel with the company that bought the Miramax library, but nothing actively is in the works.)

Chabon Morgan Freeman, meanwhile, added his own dream project: a movie based on an Arthur C. Clarke work titled "Rendezvous With Rama." The 1972 sci-fi novel tells of humans who come upon an alien craft that has entered Earth's path. Freeman acquired rights from Clarke about 15 years ago, he said, with high hopes. There's only one obstacle in the way. "If we get a script, we got a movie," Freeman said. It's hardly a small hurdle, and it's a reason the movie likely won't get made anytime soon.

But these difficulties notwithstanding, the discussions called to mind the many unfulfilled ambitions in Hollywood, and which project the rest of us would like to see made. We took a quick informal poll around the office asking which novel, property or real-life story people would most like to see turned into a film.

Among the names that popped up was an adaptation of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winner that has been stuck in development limbo for a decade, as well as "Geek Love," Katherine Dunn's cult classic about carnival parents who begin experimenting on their own children.

There's also the screen version of "Independence Day" and the two related books in Richard Ford's series about a troubled male protagonist; there had been off-and-on attempts to develop it, including an effort as an HBO miniseries with "Walk the Line" director James Mangold, but no dice so so far.

If one were to ask late film legends, the answer might come back differently: Stanley Kubrick, for instance, dreamed for years of making an epic out of the story of Napoleon.

The list could go on. For years, fans clamored for "Ender's Game" and are finally getting their wish as a film moves forward with "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" director Gavin Hood. "Atlas Shrugged" is already a movie, but hard-core Randians could be yearning for adaptations of other works.

Most of us have mixed feelings about these dream projects: we're curious to see how the material would be rendered onscreen even as we fear that he development delays (not to mention the difficulty of the material) signal that a film version won't be very good. And yet we remain hopeful.

We thought we'd ask you to weigh in with your preferred material -- could be a novel, could be a real-life story, could even be a video game -- that you'd most like to see turned into a movie. Maybe even throw in an actor or director you'd most like to see do it. We'll tally the results and see which project comes out on top.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The jacket of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." Credit: Picador

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' brings things back to this world [Trailer]

June 2, 2011 |  8:05 pm

Pierre Boulle's apes have made numerous appearances on the big screen over the years, starting when Charlton Heston crash-landed on what seemed to be a distant planet and continuing with Tim Burton taking Mark Wahlberg to a faraway planet in the year 3002.

But the property has rarely forsaken the interstellar future in favor of the Earthly present ("Escape from the Planet of the Apes" did do some of it via time travel). Rupert Wyatt's origin story "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," whose theatrical trailer hit the Web today ahead of its Aug. 5 release, offers its take on how the apes came to emulate and surpass humans, and right here on Earth.

The trailer for the James Franco film starts out like a standard-issue medical thriller -- scientist tinkers with monkeys, leading to disastrous consequences ("You're trying to control things that aren't meant to be controlled!") -- before turning into a man vs. beast story with with echoes of "Avatar," "Battle: Los Angeles" and other tales of the apocalypse. "Evolution becomes revolution," the tag summarizes.

One of big questions that's captivated the blogosphere since the film went into production is how the simulated apes -- for the first time depicted using special effects, not actors in makeup -- will appear in the film. They seem convincing enough here. But maybe more interesting is whether the prequel can avoid the sameness of a thousand other disaster movies  and instead distinguish itself with the racial and social subtexts that have permeated the best moments of the franchise. To answer that, though, you kind of need the full movie.

--Steven Zeitchik



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Alex Proyas goes back to his roots

May 26, 2011 |  4:50 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Director Alex Proyas developed a cult following in the 1990s with such movies as “The Crow” and "Dark City,” merging mainstream action with an apocalyptic vision.

 Proyas' bigger studio efforts have been less widely acclaimed –- most recently, the Nicolas Cage thriller “Knowing." But fans hoping for the filmmaker's return to his roots could get just that, with Proyas signing on to produce and godfather a new project called “Future Perfect,” a film with echoes of “Hanna” and other father-daughter thrillers, according to two people familiar with the project who were not authorized to talk about it publicly.

The film has a conceit reminiscent of "Paper Moon": An older man and a young girl, both eugenically created assassins, must go on the run, in a dynamic that may or may not be that of a father and daughter. The Australia-based production, said one source, aims to use the "District 9" model of grouping a young director, a high-profile producer, independent financing and a location far from Hollywood to make a vision-driven film that looks bigger than its relatively modest price tag.

Shane Abbess, the director of the Australian spiritual action film “Gabriel" (he was also at one time  slated to direct “Source Code”) will helm the film. The script has been written by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman, the writers who are penning a reboot of “Zorro” as well as “Dracula.”

Interestingly, Proyas has a Dracula movie in development too, as well as a supernatural action film modeled on “Paradise Lost." He's done well by going small and scrappy, and "Future Perfect" certainly fits the definition.


With new movie, Zorro goes to the future

-- Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Brandon Lee in Alex Proyas' "The Crow." Credit: Miramax

When will 'Apollo 18' land?

April 29, 2011 |  5:06 pm

It's become a piece of information as elusive as a NASA launch code: When in the name of Robert Goddard is "Apollo 18" hitting theaters?

Apollo18 The found-footage movie imagines that the famed scrapped lunar mission really happened, with the astronauts facing some horrific consequences when they arrived on the moon (trailer below if you'd like a refresher). When the film was signed up by the Weinstein Co.'s genre division, Dimension Films, last fall,  the company announced an ambitious March 4 date. That soon became an April 22 release date, and then an Aug. 12 date, as filmmakers needed more time to get the movie shot and edited.

The horror/science-fiction hybrid, from Spanish genre filmmaker Gonzalo Lopez Gallego, this week was shuffled to January 2012. But a few days later, it moved back to August, this time to Aug. 26, after  "Final Destination 5," a formidable competitor among the genre crowd, moved off Aug. 26 to Aug. 12.

If that isn't more complicated than a NASA rocket diagram, the story gets more knotty still. The "Final Destination" move to Aug.  12 prompted the genre movie that was already on that date -- the Guillermo del Toro-produced "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" -- to get the heck out of the way and move to...Aug. 26.

That means that both "Apollo 18" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" sit on the same end-of-summer weekend, a situation that at least one distribution expert feels is untenable given that both appeal to the same horror crowd. So it's likely one of them -- possibly "Apollo 18" -- will move again.

At this point it may be simpler just to go to the moon.



'Apollo 18' looks to explain the reason we never went back

--Steven Zeitchik



'Cowboys & Aliens' hosts a genre marriage [Trailer]

April 15, 2011 |  2:41 pm

There's a quiet, almost soulful moment at the beginning of the new trailer for "Cowboys & Aliens," when an amnesiac Daniel Craig has dropped in from another world, that suggests an intimacy you don't often find in summer-blockbuster filmmaking. It's not long before it gives way to the necessary quick-cut explosions. In-between, at least, we do get glimpses of a story, which apparently has to do with Harrison Ford's character's family being kidnapped by the aliens and Olivia Wilde's character fearing what the interplanetary interlopers will do to her people, challenges Craig's Jake Lonergan is tasked with when he's not trying to remember who he is.

It's still too soon to tell if the mash-up of westerns and science-fiction conventions will come off as interesting  or incongruous.  What does emerge from the trailer is that the movie doesn't skimp on the western atmosphere — something we suspect will play a lot better in a post-"True Grit" world — and that there isn't as much humor in Jon Favreau's July release as there was in the director's "Iron Man" movies. Still, the western cliche of a horse chase is nicely subverted with pursuit from an alien craft, and at the end there's even a nod to Ford's Indiana Jones shoot-the-swordsman moment from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when Craig one-ups bad guys with a more sophisticated weapon.


— Steven Zeitchik



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Around Town: 'Star Trek,' 'Kill Bill,' John Cassavetes and John Barry tributes and more

March 24, 2011 |  5:00 am


Attention Trekkers -- this weekend is all about you. The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood presents "To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before: Celebrating Star Trek," Thursday through Sunday with an opening-night screening of 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," directed by Robert Wise. A discussion with art director Richard Taylor and others will follow.

Friday's offering is a double bill: 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and 1984's "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." The Times' Geoff Boucher will talk with George Takei between films, while on Saturday Boucher will chat with Walter Koenig between screenings of 1986's "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" and 1989's "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier." On Sunday, Boucher will sit down with writer/director Nicholas Meyer after the screening of 1991's "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

The work of British director Peter Yates, who died in January at the age of 81, is being celebrated Thursday evening at the Cinematheque's Aero Theater in Santa Monica with a program of two of his best thrillers: his first American film, 1968's "Bullitt," with Steve McQueen, and 1973's "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," starring Robert Mitchum.

Continue reading »

'Apollo 18' looks to explain the reason we never went back [Video]

February 24, 2011 |  4:10 pm

Armchair astronomers and space enthusiasts have long had a field day with why the U.S. government  scrapped the Apollo 18 lunar mission as well as two other planned voyages to the moon. Budget limitations was one of the official reasons given. But Gonzalo Lopez Gallego's new movie suggests a different motive.

A mission did make the trip in 1973, Gallego's (fictional) film suggests, but some kind of horror-movie monster/virus attacked the astronauts, resulting in the U.S. never going back. Citing "unconfirmed intelligence," Gallego's movie, which was shot this winter in Vancouver, tracks the mission from its buoyant early days to its spine-tingling final ones.

The trailer for the found-footage film, with an appealingly grainy pseudo-historicity, hit a few days ago. (You can watch it below.) According to Dimension Films, which is set to release the movie on April 22, the trailer has already garnered more than 3 million hits on Apple.

Combining the conventions of science fiction and horror sometimes works ("The X-Files") and sometimes doesn't (Danny Boyle's "Sunshine"). Whether "Apollo" will be the "Blair Witch"-like hit Dimension hopes is unclear, but plenty of new theories (and some old ones) could come in its wake. And, of course, a potential "Apollo 19" sequel.

-- Steven Zeitchik



'Men in Black III' production pushed back again

February 15, 2011 |  2:29 pm

EXCLUSIVE: The theme song goes, “Here come the Men in Black.” But they’re not coming so fast.

After a hiatus of nearly two months, "Men in Black III," the third installment in the sci-fi/comedy franchise, was to resume production this week in New York. But studio Sony and the film's producers have pushed back the production date again. Shooting is now delayed to March 28 owing to ongoing script issues, according to a person close to the 3-D production who was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

The delay comes on the heels of a previous postponement and hiatus. The Will Smith sequel was initially set to start shooting in October. But producers delayed the start date by nearly a month (a New York Post report at the time noted creative disagreements between Smith and filmmakers, a report that Sony denied). About a month later, producers opted to break production of the film into two phases: the first part, set in the present, would begin in November and wrap before the holidays (it in fact did that), but the second part, set in 1969, would not begin shooting until mid-February.

In the meantime, "Catch Me If You Can" screenwriter Jeff Nathanson was brought in to do new work on the script, working off a previous draft by "Tropic Thunder" writer Etan Cohen.

It's very unusual for a production of such scale to take a holiday break of nearly two months. At the time, producer Walter Parkes and a Sony spokesperson said that a mix of seasonal concerns and tax incentives, not creative disagreements, were responsible for the break.

"We had to start shooting this year to take advantage of New York State tax incentives, but we also needed to be able to shoot certain exteriors in warmer weather," Parkes told 24 Frames last year. "So back in July we had the idea to keep the start date but build in a hiatus so we could essentially extend the production to late spring.”

The person close to the production said that although producers had hoped they could begin shooting this week, the lack of a ready script made that impossible. Parkes and a Sony spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

The plot for the new film, which is being directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (helmer of the first two installments), takes the franchise further into whimsical territory. In addition to Smith as Agent J, Tommy Lee Jones reprises his role as the wisecracking Agent K in the present (the part already shot). Josh Brolin, through a time-travel twist, plays a young Agent K from 1969 who encounters countercultural figures such as Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono, according to a person who read a version of the script in November.

It's unclear if the delays will affect the movie's planned May 2012 release date. [UPDATE, 3:38 PM: A Sony spokesman says the release date will not be affected by the production delay.]

After years of rumors, "Men in Black III" began to come together in 2009, as Sony looked to reprise the magic that made the franchise a global blockbuster. The initial two movies -- the first of which was released in 1997 and the second in 2002 -- tallied a whopping $1.03 billion in combined worldwide box office.

In a recent interview, Brolin told 24 Frames that the delays were making him a little impatient. "It’s one of those things where they say, 'OK, I’m going to go in a week' and then they say, 'Actually, it’s going to be two weeks.' OK, that’s all right. And then they go, 'OK, it’s going to be three,' " he said. "I mean, come on already."

— Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling


Photo: Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smtih in "Men in Black." Credit: Sony Pictures.


Here comes the 'Men in Black' hiatus


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