Fuzz Buzz Harshed

Walt Disney’s obsession with maintaining the pixie-sprinkled “Magic Kingdom” facade of his corporate empire – up to and including forbidding cartoon voice-actors to publically admit that the characters weren’t “real” for fear of angering children – is the stuff of legends. His methods may have been extreme, but they were more than mere eccentricity. Walt understood, like few before or after him, the power of having an audience see the purveyor of their entertainment as a figure of innate, intangible goodness as opposed to “just” a business.

Someone else who understood that – albeit while operating on a smaller plane and aesthetic – was Jim Henson. If you’ve ever seen the behind-the-scenes materials associated with his Muppet productions, you understand how hard he and his people worked to make their intricate artistry look like an effortless, hippie-infused “groove.”

One imagines if either man were reading these headlines, they’d be instantly reminded WHY they so carefully managed public image. Apparently there’s been serious bad-blood in the production of the new “Muppets” movie; and it’s just spilled out into the open. That spinning sound you hear is Disney P.R. reps, getting ready to justify the existance of their jobs…

The big “hook” of the new Muppet movie is that it’s an in-narrative relaunch of the franchise: The Muppets have broken up at some point in the last decade (the last feature movie was in 1999) and are being reunited “Blues Brothers” by a starstruck fan.

Jason Segel, who plays the human sidekick to said fan (a new Muppet named Walt. Heh) and real-life Muppet fanatic, is the driving force behind the new film, which is also the first to be set up entirely by new the Muppet owners at Disney. That’s ALL new territory for the remaining members of the “original” Henson Muppet-crew, who’d previously done everything including writing and directing “in-house, so there were always going to be bumps to be worked out. Unfortunately, it sounds as though “worked out” didn’t fully happen.

In an interview two days ago with Metro, Muppet O.G. Frank Oz dropped a bombshell: The reason he’s not back as the voice of Miss Piggy in this new film is that he didn’t like the script… and that he felt it “disrespected the characters.” That’s nightmare-scenario stuff for Muppet diehards, who’ve feared that Disney would overhaul the signature Hensonian soul out of the characters since they were first purchased. The Hollywood Reporter followed up on the story (and nicely summarized the difficulty the franchise has suffered over the last decade) and uncovered that a substantial number of the longtime Muppet crew felt the same way – up to an including wanting to take their names off the film.

So… yeah. So much for the “happy happy fan film” vibe this had been selling itself on so far. THIS would be why guys like Disney and Henson wanted to keep corporate shenanigans as far in the background of their projects as possible.

On the one hand, one wants to “side” with the originators on things like these. On the other hand, the issues raised (risque jokes, altered characterization) sound more than a little like overprotectiveness and resistance to new blood. Deep as my respect for Team Henson runs, it can’t really be ignored that the franchise was on a long downswing after “Muppet Christmas Carol;” and the last “in-house” feature “Muppets From Space” just wasn’t all that good. Also, some extra information in the THR article – namely that Oz was actually developing a Muppet-reboot of his own that got sidelined in favor of “it-guy” Segel’s pitch – casts some of the reaction in a different light altogether.

Batman in Nanking

Hat-tip to Hollywood-Elsewhere

Below, the trailer for Zhang Yimou’s “Flowers of War,” innevitably to be less-pleasantly known as “The Rape of Nanking Movie.” The most expensively-mounted film in mainland Chinese history; it’s a historical epic about the Japanese occupation of Nanking during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The main story focuses on a group of Chinese prostitutes who volunteer to swap-places with schoolgirls who’ve been selected to be sex slaves for the occupying Japanese army. Christian Bale has the ostensible lead as a Priest organizing refugee support efforts and, of perhaps equal importance, existing as an English-speaking white guy to help hold the hands of Western audiences potentially frightened away by all the funny words and dark faces…

Seriously, this looks REALLY good and the material has never really been done this big and attention-getting before… but it’s JUST a little bit depressing that even a Chinese-made film from Yimou feels the need to do the Edward Zwick “White hero” thing – yes, even if the character in question was a real guy.

In any case, “Flowers” is now officially China’s entry in this year’s “Best Foriegn Language” Oscar category, though it won’t open in China until December with a U.S. run yet to be determined.

JJ Abrams to Produce "Micronauts" for Paramount

A part of me wants to automatically give the benefit of the doubt to movies based on toys just to counterbalance all the critics/commentators who still act like the very IDEA of these projects is an affront to the medium itself. There’s no reason you can’t make a decent movie out of a toy franchise with the right people working on it; even if that hasn’t happened much so far.

In any case, Paramount and Hasbro – still swimming in cash from their awful yet awfully-successful “Transformers” movies – have tapped JJ Abrams and the hot writing due from “Zombieland” to put together a feature/franchise based on the late-70s/early-80s “MICRONAUTS” figure line. I’m indifferent to Abrams at this point, but the Zombieland dudes are good people.

This is where this story get’s kind of interesting, in a “convoluted corporate politics of Hollywood way..

Okay, so… “Micronauts” actually date from before the idea of assinging some semblance of a storyline to toy lines; so initially they didn’t really have a “universe” beyond character names and assingments of good/bad. The line was actually the U.S. import of Japan’s mega-popular “Microman” figures (themselves a spinoff of a Japanese robot-version of the G.I. Joe molds toy history is a fucking RABBIT HOLE!) and the big hook was that they were modular; i.e. you could pop some of the arms/legs/etc off the figures and their vehicles and swap them around in new combinations. Some of said vehicles actually got repurposed into some of the G1 Transformers (RABBIT HOLE!!!)

The line got a story when Marvel Comics writer Bill Mantlo saw his son playing with them and convinced his bosses to license the rights. It was Mantlo who created (with some inspiration from the original Microman backstory) the characterizations for the Micronauts; along with a pretty keen story gimmick: The Micronauts themselves hail from a “Microverse,” and when their epic Star Wars-esque struggle spills over to Earth they find themselves to be the proportionate size of the “Micronauts” action figures. That’s kind of brilliant, really, and would still be a killer movie hook for today – hey kids, your toys ARE The Micronauts!!!

BUT that’s probably not the story (at least not exactly) that the new Hasbro/Paramount film will be working from, even if it wanted to – see, most of the original-to-the-comics stuff that Mantlo came up with is still owned by Marvel, which in turn is owned by rival movie studio Disney. In fact, several of the Mantlo-reworked characters are still kicking around the Marvel Universe, albeit with any official Micronauts branding discreetly stripped away. At least one of them is actually supposed to be part of the new “Gaurdians of The Galaxy;” which Marvel is angling to be a movie of it’s own down the line.

So… eventually someone takes another whack at He-Man, right? That happens before this all topples over?

Wise Guys

Pictured: The teaser poster for the Farrelly Bros. upcoming “Three Stooges” update.
Y’know, it’s not so much that I’m amazed that the Farrelly’s and a succession of studios and producers somehow decided it was a good idea to make NOT a movie “about” the actual Three Stooges but instead a modern-day comedy with new actors (Sean Hayes, Will Sasso and Chris Diamantopolous) playing new incarnations of Moe, Larry and Curly. That’s all perfectly believable Hollywood behavior at this point.
No, what’s amazing is that this isn’t a “new” project… the Farrelly’s have been trying to make this movie – which NOBODY thinks is a good idea and ever FEWER people want to see – for over a decade now. I mean… Wow.

The film itself is due to be dumped in theaters April 4th. Below the jump, my favorite bit from the ACTUAL Stooges, “A Plumbing We Will Go” (1940)…

This Means Suck

Below, the trailer for “This Means War;” in which two CIA agent pals (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine) learn they’re both dating Reese Witherspoon and… well, the title and such…

Oh yeah, let’s all get in line for that, huh?

Anyone remember why I’m supposed to be exicted to see Chris Pine in ANYTHING? He was terrible in “Star Trek,” and generally has all the charisma of the block of wood for which he is named (easy joke, I know, but still…)

For that matter, what happened to the new “Trek” reviving that franchise, again? Remember, that was supposed to happen? Movie made a bunch of money, reviews skewed pretty positive, and yet… Trek doesn’t seem to be “back” at all. It’s not hard to tell when a franchise is “hot” these days; and any objective read of Star Trek’s pop-culture presence can tell you it’s back to being as cold as when “Enterprise” went off the air. Where’s the excitement, in the fandom or otherwise? The web is full-to-bursting with casting-rumor and “conceptual” fanart of every minor figure who MIGHT possibly show up in an “Avengers” sequel, but NOBODY is talking about who or what turns up in JJ Abrams Trek sequels.

Yeah, I didn’t much care for the movie myself, but just looking at things objectively it seems to have COMPLETELY failed in it’s mission-statement to make “Star Trek” a vital part of the cultural discussion again, no?

Is "Act of Valor" the Movie the "Call of Duty" Generation Has Been Waiting For?

Here’s a production-backstory that will make some people kinda queasy and others kinda thrilled:

“Act of Valor” supposedly began life as a bigger-budget-than-usual, up-to-date Navy SEAL recruitment film; but was reworked into a “traditional” feature film (one has to assume public-interest in the SEALs following the killing of bin Laden played a part, yes?) and is now being released in February by Relativity Media. The Navy still seems to have “signed off” on the project, though – so all the gear, tech and tactics are as authentic as possible and (most interestingly of all) the main hero-cast are played by actual SEAL members.

Big Picture: "War of The Gargantuas"

Before anyone asks: YES, I’m aware that James Rolfe – aka “The Angry Nintendo Nerd” did this one as part of HIS October Monster Movies series yesterday last year.

People should go watch James’ anyway, though – his work for Cinemassacre deserves to be at least as widely seen as his AVGN material.

First "Avengers" Trailer Hits

I’m predisposed to be irrationally excited for “The Avengers” because of what it represents: The idea of comic-style shared-universe “continuity” – the type that blurs through arbitrary genre lines by suggesting that “real” characters and “fantasy” characters exist side-by-side – become part of “movie language” is one of the wish-dreams of the Geek Age. If this works, everything changes.

That the film actually looks really good – with actors who came to play and a sharp script already evident – is quite a relief, though…

First teaser is a little Iron Man heavy, but that’s not surprising since his main selling point – he’s “the funny one” – doesn’t require any finished FX. It’s hard to get a good read on the big picture of it; since it’s obviously unfinished footage (no color-correction, people shooting guns at empty space, cars being blown up by nothing) but so far I’m encouraged.