John Carter of Mars — a trilogy of Pixar films?


John Carter of Mars, a space fantasy based on a series of stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan the Ape Man fame, has had an interesting ride through “development hell”.

A few years ago, Robert Rodriguez was attached to direct a movie of this name, but the opportunity to do so fell through when he quit the Directors Guild over the credits for Sin City (2005; my review). (Rodriguez’s two films since then — 2005′s Shark Boy & Lava Girl and this year’s Grindhouse — were both flops.)

Then the project went to Jon Favreau, who ultimately ankled the film and has since been working on the Iron Man movie.

And now … it’s a Pixar film!? Yup, according to ERBzine:

The Pixar creative team spent Tuesday morning exploring the massive Edgar Rice Burroughs archives in the ERB, Inc. offices on Ventura Blvd. Pixar’s Jim Morris (vp), Andrew Stanton (director), Mark Andrews (script) discussed the “John Carter of Mars” film project with Burroughs representatives, Danton Burroughs, Sandra Galfas and Jim Sullos.

All six members at the meeting expressed a deep commitment to the project, acknowledging that they had been inspired by Burroughs’ creations from a very early age. This is evidenced in the excitement held for the John Carter property and the plans for a film trilogy faithful to the Burroughs books. Projected release date is sometime before 2012.

A trilogy! Stanton, BTW, is the Oscar-winning director of Finding Nemo (2003) and the upcoming WALL-E, while Andrews has worked on all three of Brad Bird’s feature films, as well as one of my personal favorites, the non-Pixar Osmosis Jones (2001).

There are a striking number of “firsts” here, for Pixar.

First, this would seem to be the first Pixar film that was adapted from a book or some similar pre-existing work. So far, while some Pixar films have seemed a bit derivative of other movies, they have all been “original” stories in the technical sense.

Second, this would seem to mark the first time that Pixar has gone into production with the intention of making a trilogy. True, a second sequel is currently in the works for Toy Story (1995), but the original film was made as a stand-alone. If memory serves, the second film was originally conceived as a straight-to-video project, before it got promoted, while the third film was fiercely resisted by Pixar prior to the company’s acquisition by Disney — at which point the sequel that Disney had been developing on its own was scrapped in favour of a homegrown Pixar project.

Third, as reported by IESB.net back in June, this would seem to be the first Pixar film to mix live-action footage with animation — and depending on when it comes out in relation to Brad Bird’s 1906, it just might be the first Pixar film to use live-action, period.

Of course, these days, most live-action fantasy movies use lots of special effects that are computer-generated — so most fantasy movies mix live-action footage with animation anyway. It will be interesting to see whether the animation in this film goes beyond the traditional special-effects route, and if so, in what way.

Canadian box-office stats — October 7

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Sydney White — CDN $1,610,000 — N.AM $10,214,000 — 15.8%
Eastern Promises — CDN $2,160,000 — N.AM $14,343,000 — 15.1%
Across the Universe — CDN $1,160,000 — N.AM $7,984,000 — 14.5%

Resident Evil: Extinction — CDN $4,110,000 — N.AM $43,474,000 — 9.5%
Good Luck Chuck — CDN $2,740,000 — N.AM $29,098,000 — 9.4%
The Kingdom — CDN $2,850,000 — N.AM $31,368,000 — 9.1%

The Brave One — CDN $2,810,000 — N.AM $34,319,000 — 8.2%
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising — CDN $294,978 — N.AM $3,725,000 — 7.9%
The Heartbreak Kid — CDN $1,110,000 — N.AM $14,031,000 — 7.9%
The Game Plan — CDN $2,590,000 — N.AM $42,811,000 — 6.0%

A couple of discrepancies: Eastern Promises, Across the Universe and Sydney White were #7, #8 and #9 on the Canadian chart, respectively (they were #11, #12 and #15 in North America as a whole), while Feel the Noise, 3:10 to Yuma and Mr. Woodcock were #7, #8 and #10 on the North American chart, respectively.

Crystal skulls “up there with the Ark”: Lucas

George Lucas teases MTV News with hints about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:

While Indy’s Holy Grail “Crusade” gave him a taste of immortality, and his “Temple” quest for Sankara Stones brought him a glimpse of “fortune and glory,” those relics are stuffy museum pieces compared to the power of the crystal skulls, Lucas asserted.

“I think this is actually better, it’s up there with the Ark of the Covenant,” he declared of the fourth film’s “McGuffin” (a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe an object which drives a film’s plot). “Sankara Stones and the Holy Grail were a little tough, but I think this time we’ve really got a great one.

“The skulls themselves are real and a lot of the stuff in the movie is real, just like in the other movies,” Lucas continued. “We don’t base it on a lot of phony-baloney stuff. It’s all based on at least true mythology that exists today that … a certain amount of the population actually believes in.”

Lucas emphasized that “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is shaping up to be the best Indy flick since the first one, even going so far as to call “Skulls” tonally most like “Raiders.” But whereas the Ark of the Covenant has very few historically ascribed powers, true believers attribute all sorts of abilities to the crystal skulls, ranging from the skulls being psychic amplifiers to tools of death to repositories of ancient knowledge (something like an Atlantian supercomputer).

So which theory will be in the film?

“There’s several different kinds of skulls, several different kinds of theories, several myths that are surrounding them,” Lucas said, clearly delighted by his secret knowledge. “So, you just have to put all the pieces together, look it up and figure out which one it is. Or just wait until the movie comes out, which is so much easier.”

Lucas also mentions that he got the idea for “crystal skulls” while working on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-1994) — the TV series where Harrison Ford last played Indy, in a prologue set in 1949 or 1951. (The first three movies took place between 1935 and 1938; the new movie is said to take place in 1957.)

The Netherlands Film Festival’s top prize is the Golden Calf? Really?

Apparently so.

Hat tip to Variety. I had never heard of this before.

VIFF — a few capsule reviews

The Vancouver International Film Festival is about half-over now, so it’s about time I posted a few more brief capsule reviews.

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Atonement (dir. Joe Wright; UK, 123 min.)

I’ve already written my review, which will appear in print closer to the film’s North American release in December. But suffice to say that the film brilliantly engages both the heart and the brain. I would agree with those who think the World War II scenes are a bit of a letdown after the fantastic first act — at least on first viewing — but by the end of the film, I was in tears. And I wasn’t even sure who, exactly, I was crying for. I want to see this one again.

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My Kid Could Paint That (dir. Amir Bar-Lev; USA, 81 min.)

Is abstract art so simple and undemanding a child could do it? Or does it require a certain maturity of the artist? These are only the most obvious questions raised by the case of Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old girl whose paintings earned over $300,000 — until a 60 Minutes report did serious damage to her reputation, by interviewing a psychiatrist who said the paintings sold in Marla’s name could only have been done by a grown-up. This surprisingly complex film touches on many interesting issues — such as the nature of art criticism, the exploitation of prodigies, and whether four-year-old girls should even have reputations — but the one that intrigues me most is the statement made by one of the interviewees, who says that all works of art tell stories, even the ones that are calculated to avoid story-telling. People bought Jackson Pollock paintings, it is said, because they bought into the story of Jackson Pollock — a story that existed outside of the paintings but was nevertheless read into them by his admirers. So would the paintings sold in Marla’s name be just as beautiful (or not) if it turned out that someone else had made them? Or is it Marla’s story that people are really buying? I am particularly struck by the fact that one of Marla’s paintings is called “Ode to Pollock”. Who gave it that name? Surely not Marla herself? Either way, the very title of the painting implies a story too, doesn’t it? We hear it, and we either imagine a four-year-old girl sitting at an easel and thinking to herself, “I think I want to pay homage to Jackson Pollock,” or we imagine an adult looking at her painting after she’s done with it and saying, “Oh, that’s very good, honey; this reminds us of Jackson Pollock.” Or, perhaps, we imagine an adult creating the painting and calling it “Ode to Pollock” and then trying to pass it off as the work of a little girl. Among other things, My Kid Could Paint That is a compelling look at what happens when the artist loses control of the story behind the art.

Thu Oct 11 @ 3pm @ GR1

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The Savages (dir. Tamara Jenkins; USA, 113 min.)

One of my longstanding pet peeves is the lack of films about adult brother-sister relationships — so a film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as the brother and Laura Linney as the sister (she played a similar part in 2000′s You Can Count on Me, where the brother was played by Mark Ruffalo) was a must-see, for me. Hoffman and Linney play siblings who have to deal with the fact that their father is suffering from dementia, and the fact that he was distant if not abusive to at least one of them when they were children makes things a little more complicated, emotionally. I am used to projecting myself and my own sisters onto characters like these, but this was the first film of this sort that I have seen since my twins were born, and I was startled to realize that I was imagining how Thomas and Elizabeth — toddlers whose diapers I change every day right now — might have to help me look after myself in 30 or 40 years, just as Hoffman and Linney take care of their father, sometimes bickering over how to do so. I am still mulling over what to make of the film’s final moments, and I question whether the father is so old that he would ask to watch The Jazz Singer (1927), and I doubt that a man who has been denied a major fellowship several times would not ask to see the letter — just out of curiosity — when someone he knows says she has just been accepted for it. But I really liked the subtle nuances in the writing and the performances. This felt like real life, to me.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (dir. Sidney Lumet; USA, 123 min.)

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a brother in this movie, too — but instead of a slice-of-life drama, it’s a heist-gone-wrong thriller. Like a lot of crime flicks, this one jumps around in time, and it’s got style to burn; it’s also quite merciless to its characters. Ethan Hawke plays the kid brother who desperately needs money, and the fearlessly naked Marisa Tomei plays the woman caught between the two men (she’s Hoffman’s wife, but she sleeps with Hawke, too); Albert Finney is also on hand as the pater familias who doesn’t know his sons are responsible for the death of his wife. I had heard some great buzz about the film before I saw it, but I don’t think it is quite as good as I was led to believe; still, if you’re into really bleak stories about divorce, theft, drugs, murder, blackmail, revenge, and all that good stuff, this could be right up your alley. I particularly like the way the film emphasizes the awkward clumsiness with which the crimes are committed.

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Elijah (dir. Paul Unwin; Canada, 88 min.)

No, not a film about the biblical prophet — though that would be nice, some day — but rather, a film about Elijah Harper, the aboriginal politician from Manitoba who single-handedly defeated the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 and thus either saved the country or brought it close to ruin, depending on your point of view. (I lean towards the former view, myself.) Produced for TV, this is in some ways a conventional biopic, but it jazzes things up every now and then with irreverent history-lesson cartoons and other satiric touches. My favorite bit is the scene where Prime Minister Brian Mulroney says he cannot meet with the Native leaders personally because he has to meet Nelson Mandela; at a time when there were only a few days left to pass the Accord, because of a deadline built into it, the man who insisted that passing the Accord was some sort of moral imperative could not be bothered to meet with his own country’s natives, all because he was hosting a recently liberated native leader from some other country. I was curious to see if the film would allude to the real-life Harper’s faith in any way, but I am not too surprised to find that it doesn’t; I believe he returned to Christianity a few years after the events depicted here. So if religion comes up at all here, it is usually in the context of things like the residential school system — a big black mark on this country and all the churches involved in that.

Mon Oct 8 @ 1:30pm @ PCT

Star Trek XI — last week’s casting rumours

This post is way, way overdue, but I haven’t mentioned the latest Star Trek casting rumours yet. Then again, they are only rumours, and the closest thing to actual news here is that at least one of the people mentioned has auditioned for a part in the film.

While the rumours have originated at various sites, for simplicity’s sake, I will stick to the summaries posted at IGN.com.

First up, Paul McGillion of Stargate: Atlantis has auditioned for the part of Scotty — and like James Doohan, the actor who created the role (and whose son is rooting for McGillion), he is a Canadian who can fake a Scottish accent. McGillion would turn 39 during the film’s production; Doohan was 46 when he created the role.

Second, Mike Vogel of the Poseidon and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes is rumoured to be the “front runner” for Kirk. Vogel is 28; William Shatner was 35 when he created the role.

Finally, Karl Urban of The Lord of the Rings and Pathfinder and Doom and The Bourne Supremacy is rumoured to be in the running for … what, exactly? Scotty? McCoy? Pike? The villain? All of these possibilities are raised at IGN.com, but nobody’s saying. At any rate, Urban is 35, which is old for this movie’s cast.


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