Transcript: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel on ‘Noah’

Transcript

Darren Aronofsky, Director, co-writer Noah

Ari Handel, co-writer, Noah

March 14, 2014

New York Paramount Offices

Warning: Some spoilers in the conversation.

Patheos: Tell me about your personal relationship with this story. How did it come about?

DA: It started probably when I was 13, I was a public school kid in Brooklyn. I had a really great teacher who asked us all to take out a piece of paper and pen and write something about peace. I ended up writing a poem called Dove about Noah. It turned out it was a contest for the UN. I ended up winning it and having to recite it in front of the UN a few weeks later. And so, Noah has sort of been a patron saint of mine, in setting me down the path of creativity. When I eventually made the film Pi and was thinking about future films, I thought it was so weird no one has ever done the Noah story as a movie. In fact, it’s a little weird that the Bible epic as a genre has been dead for 50 years. There seems to be this new frontier there. Back in 2000 I started pitching it. In 2003 we started writing a draft. And then 2006 we set it up somewhere but it didn’t happen. And then after Black Swan, suddenly a lot of doors were open and my representation was like, you know you might be able to get that made. It’s kind of been a life long passion and adventure so far.

AH: I came to it when Darren, around 2003, said let’s do this.

DA: We were college roommates, Ari and me, Ari actually has a PhD in neuroscience. After college, he also got

Patheos: Was that at Harvard?

DA: We were roommates in college and then he got a PhD at ..(audio unclear)

DA: And then when he got his PhD, he was kind of wondering what he was going to do with his doctorate. Over those seven or eight years you were in training, I would always pick on Ari’s brain because he’s a neuroscientist and he’s really really smart. And he would always help us and I was like hey do you want to write something together and that’s how it all began between us as a collaboration.

Patheos: So let’s talk, the controversy, one of the controversies, is the environmental issue, and so what’s your reaction to people saying oh well the sin of Noah is not that he wasn’t an environmentalist.

DA: The sin of man was not that they were destroying the world.

Patheos: The sin of man. I misspoke, you’re right.

DA: That they weren’t destroying the earth.

DA: You just saw the film so you can see that surely there are issues about man’s violence against man, that’s really outlined in that war montage, there’s definitely man destroying, killing animals, brutally, that’s a part of it. And there’s also the sin of murder with Cain and Abel, I mean what happened is we looked at the Bible really really closely for clues and if you look at tradition, the Noahic laws, the seven laws of Noahic laws, which were the laws that came before the ten commandments, were set up after the flood. But before that, what were the laws? And there’s only kind of three rules we could find. The first rule was don’t eat from that tree, which we broke, and there was probably don’t kill, even though that wasn’t a rule before it happened, after Cain kills Abel, God was clearly upset with it. And there was a third rule which was all the green things in this garden are for you to eat. It’s in tradition that Noah and his family were vegetarians and didn’t eat from animals until after the Noahic laws. In fact, one of the Noahic laws is an interesting one, which is you can eat animals now but don’t eat live animals. Which made us go, what does that mean don’t eat live animals? That’s disgusting. It must have to do that before the flood, they were somehow brutally you know destroying animals. When you look at the story of Noah, he’s saving the animals. That’s what he’s entrusted to do. It’s not saving all the good people or trying to find the good people to put on the ark.  He’s saving the animals, all two by two, he’s saving God’s creation. And like Pope Frances is now talking about, he was a steward of creation. And you know I think people are putting this political agenda on it, which isn’t really part of what we’re doing. We’re just trying to represent what is in Genesis.

AH: If you look, at what it literally says in the Noah story, of what the wickedness of man is, cuz, Obviously we went right there to figure out what’s going on, it doesn’t say very much, it says they corrupted the earth and filled it with violence, so obviously if they’re going to corrupt the earth, it has to be something that is pure in order to be corrupted. So the idea of corrupting a pure earth and the idea of filling it with violence, and we tried to very much show that violence, which I’m sure you saw the man on man violence, we see a corruption of pure earth. We’re just trying to find what is the story telling us actually happened.

Patheos: How important – I’m getting a sense of this – but how important was it to you to stay with the text and do you, is there anywhere in your knowledge where you went, where you feel like you didn’t adhere to the text?

DA: We, not making a joke now, the text was paramount, not talking about the studio, it was the final word on everything. We worked very hard not to contradict anything in the actual text. And if you go through the film, you can see there’s nothing that contradicts the text, but the text is four chapters long. There’s no way a two hour movie in those four chapters. In fact, Noah never even speaks in the entire, up till the flood is over, he doesn’t speak. How can you cast Russell Crowe, you can’t really make a silent movie with him. But there were clues, there were really interesting clues. The second thing that Noah does after the flood is he gets drunk. A lot of people forget that, but it’s the first mention of wine in the entire bible, and he’s naked and he doesn’t get covered by Ham. For us, it’s like, well that’s really interesting, maybe that’s not just one event, maybe something led to that.

AH: A relationship story

DA: A relationship. What type of relationship led to it. If you look at our movie, it’s a pretty well-woven thing. You follow Ham’s story back to him plucking the flower in that opening scene. A kid, you know, who’s curious. And where that leads in a situation that’s very difficult, where that relationship falls apart even though it’s a very loving relationship. We wanted to bring that to life. And we wanted to show, that when Ham goes off and is cursed and his descendants, you know, end up Nimrod and Babel, that this idea that yes, the first story after the flood is the tower of Babel, so it goes from restarting everything to the wickedness of man again. So for us, there’s this idea, it was like ok, clearly there’s this idea of what is good and what is wicked and how we go through these waves. So clearly Noah and his family was carrying the idea of wickedness. They had original sin in them. How do you portray that as a story? How do you bring that to life?

AH: And find a way to treat that mercifully as opposed to judgmentally, which at the beginning of the story, has this, you know, people are going to be punished for what they’ve done, and by the end there’s this notion that yes there’s still wickedness and also you have those temptations, but there’s mercy for that. And we’re not gonna punish the world, so you know,

DA: We were always coming back to the text and grounding in the text and looking for clues in the text. Whenever we got stuck, we looked for clues in the text.

Patheos: I was like, but he didn’t bring the wives on the ark, and then you got me. I was, like, I’m obviously not going to reveal, I was thinking, oh man they really deviated here, but you didn’t.

DA: It’s funny. We talked to a lot of religious people and I’m like ok tell me where we contradicted the text, directly contradicted the text. And there are a few things, a few lines, but basically, it’s very truthful and honorable of the original text. If you go through it, we did dramatize it.

AH: It is the way people have preconceived notions themselves of what the text may mean, you know, like with the wives.

DA: One guy was like, what about the fact he wasn’t 940 years old? And so you know we tried to sort of say, first of all, how are you ever going to do that? Everyone is going to be in age makeup? It’s silly, you know, to create a film like that. So we decided to say it predeluvian times, who knows how time was and what that aging was? And maybe they were that old, we don’t really know, but you know, we basically took the length of his life and divided it to a hundred year old man. And basically said at this point he’s 40 and at this point he’s 50.

AH: Noah died when he was 930, so he’s 500 years old when he has his children and the flood comes when he’s 600 years old. And maybe over a thousand years, that’s middle aged. And that seemed actually more realistic actually to being longlived, to just you know, the first 80 years you’re kind of young and then you become just kind of old.

Patheos: What about the …so this is, at least in my world, this is being discussed in religious circles, and but I’m almost wondering if the fact that it’s being in kind of the Christian right and Bible movie circles, do you want a broader audience, do you think the broader audience will be interested, do you think they’ll be turned away because it’s been “How Noah was blah blah blah.”

DA: For us, the film’s for everyone. It’s for believers and nonbelievers. And I hope it creates conversation between both sides. One thing I’ve noticed is how much anger there is out there between those two sides, just seeing some of the articles written on the internet and seeing comments, there’s a big battle, and I hope this film can actually make the conversation civil, it can bring people together to talk about these ideas. Because I think believers are not, if they let go of their expectations that this isn’t exactly how they imagined it, but actually look a little bit beneath the surface and look at the themes of this story, they’re going to see the same themes of hope, second chances, survival, family, they’re all values that I think believers find in the story and that definitely preachers and pastors can talk about it and relate it back to ideas that they’re trying to discuss. The exciting thing is that nonbelievers are going to get a film that ‘s an action filled exciting great, hopeful, warm top-notch actors in the world right now, bring these character to life, so that it’s, so they’re going to have a very deep entertainment that’s a family drama about a man who has an impossible task ahead of him and has to sort of accomplish it. It’s a superhero film in many ways, um so…

AH: And they can have the feeling that just because a story is in the Bible, doesn’t mean it’s a not story that they’re interested in, and those same themes that we’re talking about, they don’t have to have a religious stance to being completely invested in those themes as human beings because they’re universal themes.

DA: I do think we do want it to go to everyone.

Patheos: So talk to me a little bit about the Tubal-Cain character. He was a big surprise for me. Almost his laying out of theology. Where did that come from, his view of God, and man’s role in the universe?

DA: I think um, he’s a character named in the Bible, he’s a, if you follow the genealogies, he was alive at the same time as Noah, he’s described as the first worker of metal and weapons, and so he seemed like the right guy to sort of create a personification of the wickedness of man. But I think once again what was important to us is that we’re all descendants of original sin. You know, Adam and Eve are all of our distant ancestor. And so that original sin is in everyone and so we didn’t want to paint just a purely evil guy and a purely good guy. We wanted to discuss how all of us have temptations and how all of us have to make choices to do the right thing in our lives. What’s interesting is most of the time when you make a bad guy in a movie, if it’s a religious movie, you make the guy a nonbeliever or something. But that’s not the case. Everyone believes in God in this movie because god is ten generations ago. Adam is ten generations ago, creation was just ten generations ago.

AH: In his genealogy, Noah is the first person born after Adam died. So the idea that God doesn’t exist in the universe, it nonsense. So Tubal-Cain has a relationship with God, it’s just a negative relationship with God. He’s angry but he’s also, in that scene, he’s also looking for more. It’s complicated.

DA: There’s a lot of father son relationships going on here. Throughout the film, Noah and his sons and between the Creator and Noah, there’s a father son relationship but also between Tubal-Cain and his Creator, there’s  relationship. But what was interesting to us is that God is not mentioned in the Bible in those ten generations after Cain. The last thing God does is he marks Cain and then you don’t hear about it until his heart is grieved because of the wickedness of man. For us that was a really interesting thing. There’s a big gap here of God’s presence. So how would a character who didn’t have God for ten generations feel? It’s interesting because Ray Winston would talk about it, as I was describing this relationship, he would say it’s kind of being a latch key kid who’s like left alone and burns down the kitchen and then the parent comes home and is really upset and the kid is like what did you want me to do I was here all alone. And that’s how he feels is that God has abandoned us and now he comes back and wants justice, that’s not fair, which for us was kind of a really cool theological idea. And just you know because people can look at this time now and go where is God in this world and what is our responsibility to God, so it relates to a lot of ideas that people are thinking about now.

Patheos: So I felt like –I’m trying to think – you left it open whether Noah had failed or not. Whether or not he was supposed to, or at least in his mind, it seems like he never really settled that, is that something you want people to wrestle with, kind of the sin, how dark humanity is?

DA: Well, I think, it is second chances, is kind of for me, what it is. There is an ambiguous end to the story if you think about it the next story is the story of Babel as I said, so we go right back to wickedness.

Patheos: You had it even on the ark they’re fighting, trying to kill each other, father against son.

DA: Yeah yeah yeah. We were just trying to play out that conflict. But for me, I think, what Eula says on the rock, maybe don’t print this, just for your own take, I think she’s sort of explaining that you were tested and you went through a test and maybe this is what you want. And I think with second chance comes responsibility and I think that’s kind of how Russell played it, sort of hope and responsibility and then that kind of rainbow cosmic image at the end is a new pact, like ok we’re going to try a second chance

AH: When you look at the Noahic laws and you look at the covenant that comes, theirs is an added responsibility, it’s that people are supposed to have courts, they’re supposed to judge themselves, they’re supposed to take a little responsibility for how they behave and for enforcing it. So I think there’s an ambiguity there but I think the solution of the ambiguity for Noah is, oh, maybe we don’t know, we’re not all good, we have dark tendencies within us but we can do a better job, we can do better, we have to better ourselves.

DA: See this is what we want, we want conversation, exactly what’s going, because I think there’s a lot of ways to think about the film and I think there’s a lot of nervousness about Hollywood but this is not a “Hollywood” movie, this is something that I’ve been passionate about my entire life and this is something Ari and I spent a decade studying and thinking about and trying to think about a way to bring it to life. There is no, like, agenda of some you know people trying to make money off of Bible stories.

AH: The only agenda is like these themes you’re bringing up, the relationship between man and God, the relationship between goodness and wickedness, mercy and judgment, We went to the story to find those themes of what those stories are about, what questions is it asking, why is Babel next? Is wickedness and goodness between people or in every person? Those are the questions we saw there and that’s what we were trying to bring forth into the film and dramatize and that’s what we’d love people to be talking about and not whether, you know….

Patheos: That’s what makes it challenging too.

DA: It is challenging. You know, it’s interesting because people have a lot of preconceptions about Noah, they think he’s all good, a good old man, but it doesn’t actually say that he’s good, it says that he was righteous in his generation. And there’s been a lot of Jewish thought for centuries about what that means, righteousness in his generation and what we sort of came away with is that righteousness is a good balance of justice and mercy. As a parent you may be able to understand that if you’re too just you destroy your child through strictness and if you’re too merciful you destroy your child through leniency. So being a good parent is about balancing justice and mercy, which is what Noah is. And at the beginning of the story of Noah, God is purely, purely vengeful and wants justice. And so we decided to sort of align Noah with that, that he is upset and wants justice for the world, and like the rainbow at the end, where god basically finds mercy and grace for mankind, Noah too finds mercy and grace, so we kind of gave him a similar emotional journey and then with the balance of mercy and justice, he actually is righteous in his generation.

Patheos: You took it down off the nursery wall, which I think needed to be done How much did you go back to older versions of the story. In the scene where the water first comes and they’re all on that rock of that reminded me of

DA: Doré

Patheos: Is that the woodcutting?

DA: Yes, exactly, that’s good you’re the first person to pick up on that.

DA: That’s called the Doré shot, actually, it’s named after, that’s what we called it.

Patheos: When the drop fell, it reminded me of the passion of the Christ.

DA: I don’t think I was referencing that. I..

Patheos: Were there other shout outs?

DA: We looked at every piece of art that’s ever been done on the Noah story that we could find. And it was really interesting it’s like, for instance the white dove is maybe four or five hundred years old. Before that the dove is different colors and stuff.

AH: It doesn’t say it was white and there’s lots of different kinds of doves.

DA: Like the ark is a perfect example. Most people picture this houseboat but if you actually look at this description in genesis, it describes a box, it tells you this many cubits long, and if you really think about it, it didn’t need to steer anywhere, it doesn’t need a keel. It was basically a storage device three levels big. That’s how it was described. If you look at our vision of what the ark looked like, it’s probably the most accurate of what’s been done according to Genesis. We tried to find a lot of artwork to help us but there’s very very few that sort of captured the magnitude of it because it’s been turned for a very long time into something comedic and for children and I think it’s because of the animals, it’s because of man saving the animals and that’s something kids can relate to

AH: I even think it’s something deeper than that, I think there’s something really scary in the story which is that God would think about killing all of the people. That ‘s a really dark thought and I think the reactions to that really dark thought is to put it under the rug a little bit and not think about that. There’s a way there’s a part of the story that people have turned away from by sanitizing it.

DA: You just gave me a flashback of my childhood, of hearing the story early on as a kid and being scared that that could happen again and I could not get on the boat. I just actually felt that for a second. Sorry I haven’t felt that for a long time.

I’ve long thought it was bizarre we put it up on children’s walls.

DA: It’s a very intense story. We wanted to capture the spirit of that and bring it to life because I think actually there’s a lot to get from that story. There’s a lot there. It’s a lot richer than just a nursery story, absolute faith, there’s lots of interpretations but it doesn’t usually get into the whole idea of wickedness and sin and goodness and grace, which is the stuff we were attracted to talking about.

 

Shocking Story of Hollywood’s Collaboration with Nazis During 1930s

What happens when the most powerful force in the world for shaping public opinion coordinates with the most evil force on earth?

The Hollywood Reporter has a fascinating and scandalous book excerpt about the widespread and paralyzing practice of multiple studios in Tinseltown to kowtow to Nazi censorship during the 1930s. They didn’t want to lose the German market, even as Nazi Germany acted like thugs: Demanding extensive edits, squelching projects, even forcing a MGM studio executive in Germany to divorce his Jewish wife:

Over the next few years, the studios actively cultivated personal contacts with prominent Nazis. In 1937, Paramount chose a new manager for its German branch: Paul Thiefes, a member of the Nazi Party. The head of MGM in Germany, Frits Strengholt, divorced his Jewish wife at the request of the Propaganda Ministry. She ended up in a concentration camp.

The studios also adopted new tactics. When Give Us This Night and The General Died at Dawn were banned, Paramount wrote to the Propaganda Ministry and speculated on what was objectionable in each case. Give Us This Night was scored by a Jewish composer, so the studio offered to dub in music by a German composer instead. The General Died at Dawn had been directed by Lewis Milestone,who had also directed All Quiet on the Western Front, so the studio offered to slash his name from the credits.

All Quiet on the Western Front offended the Nazis because it showed the Germans losing. World War I. Which they did, indeed, lose.

The most shocking and revealing fact is that the most powerful force for shaping opinion in the world, which Hollywood was then as it is now, stayed silent or complicity supported Naziism during the 1930s. Herman J. Mankiewicz, who later wrote Citizen Kane, produced a script called The Mad Dog of Europe, exposing the mistreatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.

It was quashed.

A sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, The Three Comrades, was changed beyond recognition.

And this was no small feat, for Three Comrades would have been the first explicitly anti-Nazi film by an American studio. At this critical historical moment, when a major Hollywood production could have alerted the world to what was going on in Germany, the director did not have the final cut; the Nazis did.

Shocking indeed. The whole article is worth a read. And you can bet I’ll be reading the book when it comes out September 9: The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand (Harvard University Press).

Wrap up on Comic Con: What to check out in tech and art

Comic Con is a great place to check out new tech, artists, authors and sundries. Here are just a few things cool things t0 check out this year.

Disney Infinity

An all-new Disney game release that unlocks the freedom to create stories and play experiences starring some of the most beloved characters from the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios.

MOGA Pro Controller

Fox Digital Entertaiment previewed the MOGA Pro control for gaming on mobile devices. It’s a console style controller similar to something you’d use on any game system but it connects directly to your mobile. The controller was demoed along with FOX’s new released of 3rd person action shooter game AVP: Evolution.

MOGA Pro Controller

GameSpot 3D Rendering Tech

Gamesoft set up a 3D mapping booth where fans could stand while 89 camera mapped a 3D image of their body. They were given a rendering to be uploaded to their social media accounts and after a voting period, the winner will receive a miniature 3D rendering of themselves. Watch the rendering of CNET’s Jeff Bakalar here.

GameSoft 3D Rendering Booth

Artists Galore

Part of San Diego Comic Con’s massive exhibit hall is dedicated to small press artists and you will find some of the most amazing talent. Here’s a sampling.

Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying  - – Married couple, Disney artists and mentors in Motvarti’s art program – they produce art for learning, children and fun

Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying

Joey Chou – Gorgeous magical people and animals

Joey Chou

Papercutz – The Hardy Boys, Bionicals and so many more as comics.

Papercutz

Jeffrey Brown – Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess

Jeffrey Brown

Firefly Online

Fox Digital Entertainment is throwing a bone to the crazed Firefly/Serenity fandom with the first officially licensed video game, Firefly Online.

Firefly Online (FFO) is a multi-user, social online role-playing game that will initially be available for smartphones and tablets, including those based on iOS and Android operating systems.

Conversations for a Cause

Nerd HQ hosts panels each day of Comic Con with writers and start who are also appearing at the convention center during the main Con. For $22 you can be one of 25o in an intimate setting, with a much better opportunity to ask questions in a relaxed environment sans publicists. Proceeds go to Operation Smile and all the Conversations can be viewed online. Be sure to check out Nathan Fillion’s 2nd panel where he and Alan Tudyk auction off all their crap to benefit Operation Smile.

Nathan Fillion auctions his stuff for charity at Nerd HQ

Comic Con 2013 Wrap: What to check out on TV and film

San Diego Comic Con is both a fan celebration of all that’s happened in the past year(s) and a launch pad for new projects.. Keep an eye out for these in the next year:

TELEVISION

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) – Producer/Director Joss Whedon has gone on record to say Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson – killed in The Avengers – has returned from the dead thanks to fan love.  Ming-Na (Eureka), Elizabeth Henstridge (Hollyoaks), Ian De Caestecker (The Fades), Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln) and Chloe Bennet (Nashville) round out the team who handle the world’s superheroes. Premieres Sept 24, 2013.

INTELLIGENCE (CBS) – Josh Holloway (LOST) plays a computer enhanced cyber-agent assigned a Secret Service handler (Once Upon a Time’s Megan Ory). Marg Hellenberger (CSI) stars as Holloway’s boss. Based on an unpublished novel, coming to TV February, 2014.

THE 100 (CW) – 100 years after fleeing an irradiated Earth in a space colony, human survivors sent 100 juvenile delinquents back down to the planet to see if it in habitable. Starring Henry Ian Cusack (LOST), Paige Turco (The Agency), Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy) and Eliza Taylor (Neighbours). Coming spring 2014.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (FOX) – Ichabod Crane finds himself pulled into a ravaged modern age. He partners with a small town sheriff to fight evil and defend the world. From Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (Transformers, Fringe, Star Trek) and starring Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie (Shame). Premieres Sept 16, 2013.

ALMOST HUMAN (FOX) – An unlikely pairing of part human/part android cops investigate crime and espionage in a future world. Starring Karl Urban (Star Trek) and Michael Ealy (Sleeper Cell). Produced by J.J. Abrams. Look for it in late fall 2013

ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND (ABC) – Down the rabbit hole with writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz as they spin off Once Upon a Time, mixing Alice’s Wonderland with Storybrooke. Starring Sophia Lowe (Two Mothers), Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks), Naveen Andrews (LOST), and John Lithgow as the voice of the White Rabbit. Premiers October 10, 2013.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America) – It’s already aired one season on BBC America and is gaining momentum stateside. Following the lives and mysteries of multiple clones, the show is critically acclaimed for storytelling and asking important ethical questions. Starring Tatiana Maslany (The Nativity), Dylan Bruce (As the World Turns) and Jordan Gavaris (Unnatural History). Catch the first season on BBC America, season 2 returns in 2014.

MOVIES

THE ZERO THEOREM (Voltage Pictures) – A tiny film compared to some of these others, Zero follows an eccentric recluse of a computer genius  working to solve the Zero Theorem and discover the purpose of life.  Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Tilda Swinton (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), David Thewlis (Harry Potter series) and Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom). Releasing Dec 20, 2o13.

THE WOLVERINE (20th Century Fox) –Pining over the loss of Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand, Hugh Jackman’s Logan is embroiled in a world of Japanese intrigue. Smaller and more personal than most of the hero films coming out, The Wolverine hopes to reconnect with fans disappointed by 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Currently in theaters

THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN 2 (Sony Pictures) – Spider-Man is credited with kicking off the superhero franchises with the 2002 Tobey Maguire version and these “Amazing” reboots starring Andrew Garfield have secured the series a reputation for solid storytelling. Neither the flashiest nor the darkest of the comic franchises, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings Jamie Foxx in as villain Electro. Releasing May 2, 2014.

DIVERGENT (Summit Entertainment) – Veronica Roth’s Divergent novel series  is still growing it’s fanbase, but after The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes and goes in late 2013, fans hungry for dystopian young adult drama may lock on. It’s a strong story set in future Chicago, where humans have been divided into five personality-based factions. But not everybody fits – some are divergent… Releasing March 21, 2014.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (20th Century Fox) – Uniting a gigantic cast of nearly all previous mutants (twenty principal cast members!) Future Past may have bitten off more than can be chewed in one story. If it works it will be a colossal success, if not it could be the death-knell of all X-films. Releasing May 23, 2014.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Marvel) – Chris Evans Captain and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow defend America. That’s about all we know, except that the footage looks great and there’s a good amount of Marvel’s patented humorous banter. Also featuring Samuel L. Jackson and…Robert Redford! Releasing April 4, 2014.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate) – Thought the book is a bit of a lull between the first and third titles, Jennifer Lawrence’s thoughtful portrayal of Katniss Everdeen already guarantees Catching Fire will be a huge success. The big question about this sequel is whether to see it opening night. Releasing Nov 22, 2013

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Marvel) – Marvel needs to be a little careful, as audiences may burn out on separate stories and a united cast in The Avengers 2. Thor wasn’t the strongest origin story of the bunch, though it did give us Loki to make life difficult for The Avengers. Thor: The Dark World needs to do something impressively different to keep fans coming back.  Still, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston! Releasing Nov 8, 2013

THE AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON (Marvel) – Discovering the villains is one of the fun things for comic movie watchers who are not comic book readers. Ultron is an AI creation who will take on The Avengers May 1, 2015. We’ll hear more about it at next year’s Comic Con.

ENDER’S GAME (Summit Entertainment) – All my feelings on this adaptation can be found here. See the movie, but don’t cheat yourself – read the book first. Releasing Nov 11, 2013.

Untitled Superman + Batman film (Warner Bros) – Arguably the most shocking moment in Hall H this year was this reveal of a combo film. No word yet on whether it will be a buddy, team or rival story and it’s not even scheduled until 2015, leaving plenty of time for speculation and fan arguments.

Comic Con ’13 Day 2: Helix, Ender’s Game, Falling Skies, The 100

Things you only see at Comic Con
1. A table of elves lunching at The Old Spaghetti Factory
2. R2D2 making catcalls
3. Marvin the Martian at the ATM
4. Trolley signs in Dothraki
5. Predator just hanging out in the corner of an exhibit booth

Marvin needs cash too

If you enjoy having big questions woven into your entertainment there are two things – one on TV one in the theater – for you to watch for this year. And I mean questions of existence, meaning, faith and ethics, not just “How’d they do that?” More on those in a minute.

A busy Friday included panels for SyFy’s Defiance, TNT’s Falling Skies, Riddick, strange science videos, new book releases from Penguin, and a preview of the CW’s new fall show The 100.

The 100
This new teen drama from The CW has the same feel as The Secret Circle. 100 years after humanity fled an irradiated Earth, a group of 100 delinquent teen prisoners is sent back to Earth to see if it’s habitable. Early on we learn of the politics that lead to the decision as well as the dangers facing the teens on their first trip to Earth.

If it can build smart, full characters this one should be popular with the younger set of Hunger Games fans.

FALLING SKIES

Noah Wyle as Tom Mason in TNT’s Falling Skies – Photo courtesy TNT

I love this show, which stands out in a TV landscape littered with post-apocalyptic shows these days.

Geek god Wil Wheaton hosted this panel with cast and crew, delighting fans with his patented Wheaton charm. At the end of the Q&A he said “Last question. All of you in line make your sad face and get out.” I’m starting to understand why Sheldon Cooper hates the guy.

Falling Skies cast and writers shared their appreciation for their solid fan base, paying heed to the difference between fans of a show and the kind of communities that some shows are blessed with. It took a while for this show to grow its fan base and you can sense their gratitude for those who have spread the word.

They showed a clip from this upcoming Sunday’s episode that makes this one a MUST SEE. If you follow the show, just know that the entire room erupted into extended cheers and applause. You’ll know the moment when you see it.

ENDER’S GAME

Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggen – Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment

Someone asked recently what one book I’d give to everybody as required reading. My answer was Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Written in 1985 it’s been through years of false starts in Hollywood largely due to Card’s tight grip on the material. And he’s holding on to it for good reason. Card knows what he has in this important work and how easy it would be to screw it up in our current culture of filmmaking. As a battle story, any director with a set could turn this into a war movie, which would rob the material of its intent and the audience of the story they deserve.

Set on future Earth, Ender’s Game is the story of bright children taken from their homes to train to defend the world. The story is rich and satisfying, by turns moving between global, interpersonal and family politics.

Just a few of the themes include choice and consequences, the greater good, and how the ends justify the means. As a reader it left me content yet bothered, happy with the payoff of a good story while wanting more concrete answers from my own heart about mankind.

Orson Scott Card is well known as an outspoken conservative Mormon and his faith beliefs underpin the all his work. (The LGBT community is actively protesting the film.) Not through preachy moral lessons but in the way he asks big questions. He doesn’t always answer them, but presents smart options and opinions as thought through by the characters.

Summit Entertainment hit the jackpot when they landed this film in a completely different way than with Twilight. They scored an all star cast including Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley,and Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as Ender.

From the footage I’ve seen I have high hopes for the quality of the film and am crossing my fingers that they’ve left the material intact. Look for Ender’s Game in theaters November 1st. And please, please read the book first.

HELIX

If you’re looking for TV that means something, Helix is a new SyFy show entering production this week, set to premier early in 2014. Produced by Ronald D. Moore, the story takes us to the Arctic Circle where a virus has locked down the staff of a remote biologic research facility.

The story was written by former development banker Cameron Porsandeh, who has scored a dream producing team of Steven Madea (LOST) and Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica) for his first show.

Porsandeh grew up in an ultra conservative home with a Jehovah Witness mother and Iranian father. He didn’t come to pop culture until later in life when LOST and BSG became two of his favorite shows.

He knows he’s living any writer’s dream and says that while he loved the work he did with the World Bank, he believes there are many ways to contribute, storytelling being one he wants to try. He describes the show as a story that starts with infectious disease as the first layer of the onion. So much more is happening on the research station that goes deeper and deeper.

Ron Moore is arguably the best writer/producer working today with themes of life, meaning, faith and humanity. His work is meant for mature audiences, not only because it usually contains some provocative moments but because it asks the viewer to invest thought and wrestle with uncomfortable questions. These aren’t Sunday School stories. He never goes overt with his own beliefs but crafts stories with mass appeal across a variety of value systems.

And for all these reasons he – even more than Joss Whedon, Carlton Cuse or JJ Abrams – is the writer/producer whose projects I wait for impatiently. It’s worth the time and effort for a show that makes you think about your own big questions.

Helix has locked in Billy Campbell for the lead and will be announcing more casting news soon.

DEFIANCE

If you’re not watching SyFy’s Defiance, consider giving it a look. Another show set in post apocalyptic America it has a completely unique look and feel from Falling Skies or Revolution. In this next season the show will continue delving into the origin stories of the eight alien races and the dance of their communal existence.

Comic Con ’13 Day 1: Nerd HQ, Psych, NASA

By Karen Veazey  @kmyvz

San Diego Convention Center has closed for the night but the Gaslamp Quarter is party central. MTV, Wootstock and Geek & Sundry are hosting the larger events while industry parties and special screenings are tucked into secret hotels.

Right now I’m happy to be far away, cozy in comfy clothes enjoying quiet time by the bay after an exciting first day of Comic Con.

Much Madness Happening at Comic Con

Much Madness Happening at Comic Con

I keep thinking the Con won’t get any more popular, but the first round of tickets sold out in 93 minutes last fall. Over 140,000 people crowd the Convention Center for the four day event consisting of discussion and Q&A panels from networks, studios, writers, fans and scientists. Plus an awesome 525,000 square foot exhibit hall. (I think it’s awesome, my sister thinks its borderline masochistic to spend time in there.)

As a whole the Con isn’t for the faint of heart, the crowds are overwhelming, the lines are long and you’ll be walking all day. But for a fan, it’s a once in a lifetime event to see the people who create your entertainment – or science – up close and unplugged. Plus TBS set up a free King of the Nerds cereal bar this year. You give us free cereal we make you a king.

Come to the nerd side, we have cereal

NERD HQ at Petco Park

We spent most of today at our favorite offsite spot, Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ (more info on what Nerd HQ is all about here.) Nerd HQ has become so popular in just its third year that nearly all its Conversations for a Cause panels sold out in less than three minutes. Limited to 250 tickets, with proceeds benefiting Operation Smile, it’s well worth $20 to see panels like Supernatural or speakers like Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy) in this intimate setting. It can literally save you hours of standing in line at the convention center to see the same panel from the far corner of a ballroom with 2,000 other fans.

The HQ relocated to a much larger, more comfortable setup at Petco Park with a ton of opportunities for online and arcade gaming. I squealed when I saw Galaga and wasn’t a bit embarrassed about it.

You can play the new D&D online game Never Winter to win prizes, or check out the amazing technology of the Virtuix Omni interactive virtual reality system. Whether you game or not this is cool technology you really don’t want to miss so check out the demo on their fully funded Kickstarter.

On our schedule today – Nerd HQ panels with Psych, Zachary Levi and the NASA Mars Curiosity JPL Team.

PSYCH

Dulé Hill and James Roday – USA’s Psych

The cast and writers of USA’s Psych love their fans and don’t take themselves too seriously. Their show is edgy family fun that winks at the conventions of crime procedurals and you can see they’re all grateful for how good they have it.

No surprise reveals from this panel from stars Dulé Hill and James Roday, writer Steve Franks and producers Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak, but keep an eye out for their upcoming musical episode in December and a remake of an episode from a previous season. That’s unprecedented in television and I’m really curious what it will look like. If anyone can pull off something like that it’s this Psych team,

Fans were also relieved to hear Maggie Lawson’s character Jules will be back this season despite her new lead role in ABC’s family comedy Back in the Game.

ZACHARY LEVI

Zac Levi talks with fans at NERD HQ panel

Zachary Levi could be Ryan Seacrest in another life. He spent all day hosting panels, taking photos with fans, then wrapped the day by doing his own Q&A panel.The big question was what’s up next for Zac, who’s currently starting on Broadway in First Date.

He spoke pretty extensively about his entrepreneurial ideas and desire to help create content that gives more control to the fans. Less about studios and money, more about content and fan support. It’s a bold statement from a fairly young actor, and one which could get him in trouble with future jobs. But he believes in his vision and as a fan of many good canceled shows -*cough* Arrested Development *cough*- I hope he succeeds.

Talking about why he supports Operation Smile through Nerd HQ Zac encouraged fans to think bigger. “Go find something, be bigger than yourself.” Which kind of perfectly sums up what the guy is all about.

 NASA JPL MARS CUROSITY TEAM

Seriously smart: NASA JPL Mars Curiosity Team

I’m going to try and contain myself here because the NASA JPL team rocks.

I went to this year’s Con with one big goal, to see the Thursday afternoon panel for the upcoming Ender’s Game movie (Nov 2013 from Summit Entertainment.) I even planned to camp out overnight if necessary. But when I heard Nerd HQ added a panel with the NASA JPL team at the same time as Ender’s Game it was no contest. These guys are the real deal. In fact Curiosity Flight Director Bobak Ferdowsi introduced his co worker by saying “Raise your hand if you sent commands to a real spaceship yesterday.”

Ferdowsi, Fred Serricchio, and Rob Zimmerman showed the video of the landing and talked about their own experiences working on the Mars rover project. It’s fascinating science. Did you know that spacecraft are built using “old” technology, since the tech approved for the space program is usually several years old by the time the build starts, and older yet by the launch date? Me either! By the way it’s not bad tech, I was just surprised anything going into space isn’t blinged out with the newest shiniest gadgets we could slap on that thing.

One comment on the video about the landing summed up how great science is in real life – to paraphrase: Things are tough in our country right now, but that’s a ton of American ingenuity that just touched down on Mars.

We are still doing great things. And this team of funny, unassuming, relatable guys who happen to fly spaceships came to share their part in that with us nerds.

Always do science when you can

The panel was announced just a few hours before it went on sale so it didn’t sell out, but watch for it again the future. Zachary Levi recommended that if you enjoy things like this, or want to see a particular panelist, tweet them and let them know.

You can watch all the Conversations for a Cause videos here, and if you like them consider a donation to Operation Smile on behalf of Nerd HQ.

Review: ‘Nicky’s Family’ Tells True Story of “Britain’s Schindler”

British mother choosing adoptive child in Winton’s office.

Imagine you are twenty-nine years old, preparing to go on a skiing vacation in Switzerland with your friend. At the last minute, he calls to cancel, asking you instead to accompany him to Czechoslovakia to visit camps where refugees are fleeing a brutal dictator annexing parts of their country. Your friend is part of a commission trying to help adult refugees to flee, but when you get there you see that  there is no one working to help the children of these camps. Parents ask for your help, some finding the hotel where you are staying at and pleading with you to do something. It is 1939. The dictator’s name is Adolf Hitler. [Read more...]

Interview: Ronald Maxwell Details His New Civil War Movie ‘Copperhead’

If you’re tired of men in tights and things exploding this summer, you might want to check out Copperhead, a new movie delving into issues of the Civil War. This is the third film about the Recent Unpleasantness directed by Ronald Maxwell. 1993′s Gettysburg told the story of the seminal battle while 2003′s Gods and Generals attempts to explain the viewpoint of the South. I have not yet seen Copperhead, which is set in the North and explores the effects of the war on those who stayed behind.

I spoke with Maxwell via phone about his new project:

“Basically, when I was making the other two movies, what I came to understand over those decades was that those two movies together became an exploration of why good, ethical, moral men choose go to war. That’s a big question. My father was one of those men. He enlisted and chose to go to WWII. I’ve never met a more ethical man than my father. Over the decades, when I was grappling with that, the men that I chose to follow were really honorable men. I wasn’t exploring the base morals of why people go to war. ….bad stuff goes on in any war. But I was concerned with why the good men were in the war. That’s what makes it tragic, that really good men were involved in this.”

Copperhead, however, is concerned with the other side of the coin: “Why good decent, moral, ethical men choose not to go to war that other good men did decide to go in. As we know, there were people on both sides of the Mason Dixon line who thought the war was a tragic mistake.”

“Copperhead was a term of contempt, insult and division that was hurled at people who were against the war in the North.”

Set in rural New York, the leading character Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) is a copperhead, or at least accused of being a copperhead.

Maxwell sees the questions of the Civil War as still being explored today: “The issues that the Civil Was was supposed to have settled, it may have settled them legally, slavery was abolished. But the underlying issues are still there: Free speech.International sovereignty.”

We say we are for free speech. “It’s something that we revere in our society. It’s protected in the Constitution. Speech is protected. But when we’re suddenly confronted with it, some people don’t find it easy to accept.”

“The Civil War is the kind of crystalizing, huge tragic event that explefies this tension.”

Copperhead also explores issues of faith.

“Abner Beach has Biblical foundations for his views. He says to congregation, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers. Is that still in the Bible?’”

But the faith issues go even deeper. “In 1862, this was an entirely Christian community of believers. They go to the same church. But they interpret their duty as Christians differently.”

How citizens of the same nation, readers of the same Bible, and followers of the same God so differently interpreted Scripture and holiness that the only recourse was gruesome war is one of the great puzzles of our shared history.

If you see Copperhead, let me know what you think. It’s rated PG-13 “for a disturbing sequence” and opens June 28.

Review: Brad Pitt Battles Undead in ‘World War Z’

“What would you do if it all went down?” my husband asked the family at dinner the other night, “What’s your plan?”

This is not an unusual topic of conversation for us, I’m sorry to say. I think when you scratch a conservative, underneath you’ll find a person itching, just a little, for a Wild West frontier where they can protect their family with nothing more than a sixshooter and their wits.

Throughout a long, involved conversation covering many scenarios, we decided that in the case of zombies, the only thing to do is flee on boat.

Which is exactly what Brad Pitt does when the newly undead start making things unpleasant at the beginning of World War Z. 

This is not a thinking movie, this zombie flick. Nor is it a classic horror film. Rather, it is a bit of a hybrid that attempts to bring a big name and massive scope to the zombie genre, hoping for a mainstream hit.

To that point, it’s rated PG-13 and although billions of people die in unpleasant ways, the gore is kept to a minimum, the sexuality is nonexistent, and the language minimal. You could, if you were the sort of family who enjoys horror flicks together, take your steel-nerved youngsters to the film.

People who enjoy horror and watch the AMC show The Walking Dead will be underwhelmed by the film. It has neither the character development nor the goopy gory horror element of the TV show.

Think of it as a gateway zombie flick.

Gerry (Pitt) and Karin (Mireille Enos) are minding their business with their two daughters when the populace starts acting in odd ways: violently attacking each other, biting each other, dying, and then – to top it off – reanimating and starting the whole cycle again. It takes mere seconds for a bitten human to go from, say, Steelers-fan-Harley-owner-gulten-intolerant-fisherman to Mr. Teethy McChompington trying to gnaw your personhood. From one famished zombie grows a crowd of hungry hungry hombres until the sheer numbers of crazed newly-turned overwhelm a city like a tidal wave.

Just as soon as Gerry hacks, shoots, and wrestles his family to a helicopter that takes them to the safety of a ship, the world calls him back into action. He is a UN investigator of some sort. For reasons that remain unclear, besides that he’s Brad Pitt, he is the only one who can figure out the mystery of the zombie infection and find a key to help humanity fight back.

To find that key, he has to go to a lot of nasty places with a lot of quite crabby corpses who would appreciate it if Gerry would just stop fighting and get eaten and infected already. First, he’s off to supposed Ground Zero, in Korea. Then to the amazingly walled and protected Israel, then to, well, you get the idea. Things are bad everywhere.

And things pretty much look the same everywhere: Dark and twisty with nasty things jumping out at you just when you most expect it. The advantage of being a major movie is the scope: Thousands of CGI zombies scaling walls, zombies crawling over each other to make undead ladders that reach helicopters, zombies crashing through narrow streets like a flash flood.

It’s a bit overwhelming at times.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t see a lot of this movie. I had my eyes closed or my head turned. Some of it I saw from between my fingers. This is because I’m the world’s worst horror reviewer. Everything scares me.

But I did catch enough to see that the plot really makes no sense. Based on the novel by Max Brooks, the movie necessarily deviates from its structure. The novel is set after the zombie wars, an account by researchers to figure out what happened in diverse places with diverse resources and problems. There are a lot of characters and a lot of divergent storylines.

This movie is pretty much Brad and his stringy hair (sorry…fan of Brad but not of this haircut) versus zombies. If anything, Brad Pitt is too highpowered for the role, making us totally believe his family man, hero of humanity shtick. If it were someone lesser in the role, the movie wouldn’t make it, but he pulls it off, nonsensical plot and all.

To recap: Zombies bad, Brad good.

Enjoy!

Review: ‘The Bling Ring’ a Teenage Wasteland Dressed in Designer Clothes

On the outside everything looks like a normal, upscale California gated community. Once the sun goes down, all laws are suspended and members of respectable families do whatever they want with seemingly no conscience and no fear of reprisals. [Read more...]


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