Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Tropic Thunder," Production Weekly

Production Weekly is reporting that Jack Black has signed on to star in, Tropic Thunder, to be directed by Ben Stiller. While the idea of these two men teaming up seems intriguing (Stiller will also be acting), it's happened before, lest we forget.

To everyone's credit, the concept of Tropic Thunder seems pretty solid, if not chuckle-worthy: while filming an action movie, things go horribly wrong and the actors are forced to become the commandos they are playing (although can they possibly defend themselves when firing blanks?). Throwing Robert Downy Junior into the mix playing a 4-time Oscar winner can't hurt either.

And while I'd still like to get excited, given the actors alone, if we take Ben Stiller as an example, it's obvious that some material works really well for his comedic abilities, whereas other material...well, doesn't.

The problem for me at this point is that I'm having trouble getting a feel for this movie. Stiller has directed, for example, Zoolander and The Cable Guy. Two funny movies. Two totally different styles. In looking at the credited writers, Etan Cohen wrote and directed a movie called My Wife is Retarded (I had to make that bold because it's not like I could italicize it more for emphasis), and according to IMDB, the second writer, actor Justin Theroux, has Tropic Thunder listed as his only writing credit.

Not that any of this really matters at this point, given that the film isn't set to be released until July of 2008, but suffice it to say, we'll be tracking it here at League HQ.

FYI, Production Weekly is a great site loaded with breaking news in the industry (of the good variety. This, not so much.) You can also subscribe to a weekly production breakdown service, but at a price . Regardless, it's worth bookmarking.

Write on...

Another Take on "300"

While it may come off as redundant to post a second review for 300, the movie did make $70 million dollars this weekend. This is courtesy of Norphen, and if you would rather, you may also read this review on his blog.



Let's Send Spartans to Iraq - Problem Solved!

Comparisons to Sin City are inevitable. 300 is another Frank Miller comic adapted into a feature film sporting real actors in totally digital environments. It's the second film from director Zack Snyder, who had one hell of a debut three years ago with the stellar remake of Dawn of the Dead. The man certainly ups the ante on his own skills, and the movie itself provides a fair amount of satisfaction.

The film is a stylized take on the legendary Battle of Thermopylae (Greek for "hot gates"). A rampaging Persian army is overtaking all of Eastern Europe under the command of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a gigantic man who believes himself to be a god, and the city of Sparta is in the empire's line of fire. Unable to secure the approval of the city's council, the fierce King Leonidas (Forceful work from Gerard Butler) defies tradition and gathers 300 of the finest Spartan warriors to take on Xerxes's army of over 250,000. To try and turn the overwhelming odds in their favor, Leonidas lures the army into a narrow pass at Thermopylae and aims to use the close quarters to his advantage in the coming war.

And what beautiful war it is. After having spent the first half-hour making sure everyone in the audience knows just how hardcore Spartan soldiers are (especially by kicking a Persian messenger into a seemingly bottomless pit while shouting "This is...SPARTA!" The line has become ubiquitous in the movie's trailers, but in reality the scene is fairly drawn out, making for an unintentionally humorous build-up to that line), they go to work on the Persians with exquisitely choreographed battles, with blood splatterings worthy of Jackson Pollock. The Spartans are trained from childhood to be warriors, while the Persians are mostly unwilling slaves. This gives the Spartans an early advantage, but can they really hold out against this huge army? Especially in nothing but capes and loincloths? (In Miller's comic, they all fought naked, which would have secured an NC-17 for the film adaptation faster than any of the numerous decapitations and impalements shown).

A problem with 300 is that though everything is very exciting and fun to watch, there's almost no emotional attachment to what's going on. This was the same with Sin City, though nothing in that over the top noir was meant to be taken seriously. This film, while more concerned with how cool everything looks than historical detail, is still based on real life heroism on an epic scale. Such phenomenal bravery really ought to provoke more emotion than 300 ultimately does.

The movie got a hostile reception when it screened in Europe; many film scribes thought that an army refusing to give up against a hostile Arab army was a metaphor endorsing the current War in Iraq. I find this fairly ludicrous...anything that talks about the virtues of freedom and democracy is suddenly pro-Bush? It would be just as easy to frame the film as representing Iraqi insurgents fighting against a much bigger nation led by a man with delusions of grandeur. The war depicted in 300 is a simple sort that we don't see in today's times. No faulty intelligence, no corporate profits. Just an army trying to take over your home.

Even though it's all fairly superficial, 300 is still a good time at the movies and should be especially popular with men. (Women will have to settle for the sub-plot featuring Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) dealing with corruption among Sparta's elite) The visual effects are great, but I can't help but feel like they are a mixed blessing. They are ideal in a situation like this where a filmmaker is trying to capture the distinct visual style of a source material, but if we ever get to the point where the majority of filmmakers rely on all digital backgrounds, it will get old quick. Anyone who has seen some of the great sights Earth has to offer knows that no digital trickery can top Mother Nature. That, however, is an issue for another day. B+