Casting Friday: Ultra-Spader, Huisman of Thrones, and More

Each Friday, I will summarize the important casting news or rumors from the preceding week, giving you a preview of who’ll be playing who in the future!

Ultra-Spader

Less than a week after the earth-shattering casting news for the Man of Steel sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron is not to be outdone. Announced yesterday, Ultron, the titular villain of the film, will be played by James Spader, a veteran screen actor.

The actor’s career goes all the way back to Hughes’ classic Pretty in Pink, but more recently he’d be better known as Robert California in The Office, his work on Boston Legal, or Lincoln

Spader seems to be a well-liked actor, as the response online has been largely positive, in sharp contrast to last weeks news. It isn’t like Spader looks particularly like Ultron. In fact, considering the villain is a robot, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason he would look like James Spader. Perhaps the idea is to use motion capture, or just the actor’s voice? No further details to clarify this point were released. If this shows us anything, it’s that, obviously, the internet is far more open to having their villains redefined than the heroes. I suppose it stands to reason.

Joss Whedon recently spoke about the character of Ultron, making it clear Spader will have work to do aside from “standard robot stuff”:

“I knew right away what I wanted to do with him. He’s always trying to destroy the Avengers, goddamn it, he’s got a bee in his bonnet. He’s not a happy guy, which means he’s an interesting guy. He’s got pain. And the way that manifests is not going to be standard robot stuff. So we’ll take away some of those powers because at some point everybody becomes magic, and I already have someone [Scarlet Witch] who’s a witch.”

Huisman Naharis

michiel-huismanGame of Thrones fans must be sitting on the edge of their seats as the fourth season of the show is being filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Dutch actor Michiel Huisman will be appearing in the series.

It was later confirmed that Huisman would actually be replacing an existing cast member – Ed Skrein, who played Daario Naharis in the previous season.

There has been no word on why Ed Skrein is leaving the show.

Huisman recently appeared in World War Z, the series Treme, and the recently passed-on The Sixth Gun pilot, based on the Oni comic book.

Bernal Desierto

220px-GaelGarciaBernalLFFJonas Cuaron, son of director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of MenGravity), is making his English-language feature debut in Desierto, about illegal immigrants being pursued by an American that had taken the border patrol in his own hands.

Gael Garcia Bernal is set to star in the film as one of the immigrants leads.

While I am not familiar with Jonas Cuaron’s previous work, Bernal is a fantastic actor, and Alfonso Cuaron is one of the greatest currently working directors, so with him producing, I have faith in this being a potentially impressive movie.

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Trailer Tuesday: Her

Every Tuesday, I will post a trailer I saw in the past week that I felt was worth sharing.

Her:

Written and directed by Spike Jonze,  Her will be released on December 18th, and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, and Rooney Mara.

After the initially limited release, the film will go wide in January, to qualify for an award run.

I chose the trailer because I think the film has a good chance, particularly given Jonze’s track record, of really capturing that particular brand of loneliness where any, even illusory, human contact, can be both incredibly difficult and completely vital.

Karen O, who also wrote a lot of the music for Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, which I thought was wonderful, also wrote a track for Her. 

 

Casting Friday: Batffleck, Rocket Cooper, Scarlet Olsen, and more

Each Friday, I will summarize the important casting news or rumors from the preceding week, giving you a preview of who’ll be playing who in the future!

Batffleck

affleckIn what is by far the biggest movie headline of the week, Ben Affleck was confirmed to be playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming Batman vs Superman movie. The news coming out last night simultaneously ended months of speculation, and set hundreds of thousands of fans on a joke/complaint tirade across the internet.

This is hardly surprising, as the decision is definitely controversial. Ben Affleck has gone from being written off by Hollywood entirely, to winning several Oscars last year for Argo. His road to redemption has, however, been in more grounded films, playing simpler characters, and letting the film’s writing and directing drive the picture. Is a return to superheroics a good idea for Affleck? That being said, Affleck is clearly a capable actor, and while his resume is not characterized by very broodingly dark characters, maybe that is precisely what the Batman franchise needs. Clearly, the era of the Dark Knight is done, Christin Bale is not returning to the role. Going in a slightly different direction is what the new DC franchise very much needed.

Zack Snyder, director of Man of Steel as well as the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film had the following to say in the press that broke the story: “Ben provides an interesting counter-balance to Henry’s Superman. He has the acting chops to create a layered portrayal of a man who is older and wiser than Clark Kent and bears the scars of a seasoned crime fighter, but retain the charm that the world sees in billionaire Bruce Wayne. I can’t wait to work with him.” Ben Affleck is Cavill’s senior by 11 years.

This is not the first we’ve heard of Affleck flirting with the DCU, of course – a year ago, Affleck reportedly may have been offered the director’s chair for a Justice League movie, and turned it down, sources claiming he may simply be not interested if he is not allowed to play one of the leading characters.

An interesting side-note is the fact that Affleck himself has already played Superman – or at least, worn the suit, when he played George Reeves, the 50s TV Superman, in the 2006 biopic Hollywoodland.

The same press release that confirmed the casting news, also reported on an initial release date, which is July 17th, 2015. This sets the release of the film two months after the planned May 1st release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is sure to be the film’s main competition in the box office. So, three years later, we have another Avengers vs Batman rematch in terms of success in the cinemas; a battle which was won by the Avengers in 2012, making over 623 mln. in domestic box office vs Dark Knight Rises‘ 448.

I suppose we really won’t know what to really expect with the direction the character is taking until we begin seeing set photos and a trailer, which will most likely be coming in a bit over a year.

ComicBookResources’ poll currently says 49.3 percent of voters said “I’m not sure – I’ll have to wait and see”, while 34.8 percent selected “He’s absolutely the wrong choice”, and 15.9% – “He’s perfect for the role – I love it!”. What do you think? State your opinions below!

Rocket Cooper

cooperMoving over to the Marvel side, last week we had news that Vin Diesel is voicing Groot in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film. This leaves one spot on the core cast available – that of Rocket Raccoon, the talking, flying, gun-toting racoon.

It may be filled shortly, however. According to Latino Review, which, while having a spotty record, has broken big Marvel news in the past (including the fact the studio is working on a Guardians of the Galaxy film), claims that Bradley Cooper is in talks to voice the character in the upcoming picture.

This news has since been confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, making this seem all the more likely to be true.

Scarlet Olsen

olsenThe same article by The Hollywood Reporter also claimed that Elizabeth Olsen, who made big waves in the indie community in 2011 with Martha Marcy May Marlene, and is starring in next year’s Godzilla, is in talks to play the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Her and the character’s brother Quicksilver are the two major new additions to the hero cast of the film, with all of the Avengers from last year’s film expected to return.

Olsen’s talks for the role are evidently further along than Cooper’s are for the Guardians.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is reportedly in talks to play Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch’s brother. Quicksilver is also set to appear in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Cumberbatch-less Peak

cumberbatchBenedict Cumberbatch has dropped out of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a gothic horror film which the filmmaker says will be “the first time I get to do a movie more akin to what I do in the Spanish movies.”

According to Deadline, Cumberbatch’s departure is not due to scheduling conflicts – which means there was likely some disagreement or creative difference must have caused it. Perhaps with time, the details of the move will be released.

The film is still expected to star Mia Wasikowska in the lead role.

22 Russell Street

Wyatt Russell, who previously had roles in Cowboys & Aliens and This is 40, is confirmed to have a role in the sequel to last year’s delightfully funny 21 Jump Street, which will feature the returning characters played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in college. The sequel will be called 22 Jump Street and is set for a June 13, 2014 release.

Vin Diesel Claims to Be Playing Groot in Upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy

grootAccording to CinemaBlend, Vin Diesel is voicing the character Groot in Marvel’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. This comes after months of speculation and guessing, mostly generated by Vin DIesel himself continuously teasing various meetings with Marvel. One gets the impression Diesel is too impatient, breaking news that Marvel subsequently has to come out and debunk as being simply not true.

It started a month ago, as Vin Diesel put up on his Facebook page the following message: “P.s. Marvel has requested a meeting… no idea what for… haha, you probably know better than me…” The teasing message set the internet on fire, particularly considering that almost a year before that, he had already stirred rumors himself by setting a picture of Vision of Avengers as his profile photo.

Vin DIesel in Avengers 2?

Vin Diesel in Avengers 2?

This was followed up by a picture in July next to an issue of Avengers #2, coupled with a cryptic mention of “tunnel vision” –

Marvel meeting today…

Only the people in the room can tell you what was discussed…P.s. Thanks to Our page, for pushing to make it happen… you know I get tunnel vision with my work… and after that meeting today… wow!

After all of this, however, Kevin Feige, Head of Marvel Studios, publicly denied any immediate plans regarding Diesel’s role in the cinematic universe: “No. It’s so far ahead it may not even exist. So, there’s nothing to announce. But, I love Vin and he’s an amazing personality. Look how much attention he’s gotten for a meeting. He’s incredibly shrewd. He’s got a Riddick movie that I can’t wait to see. And the “Fast & Furious” franchise, in addition to Vin, is a franchise I admire a lot for turning the sixth and next year the seventh into the biggest and most popular one. As far as a piece of it? Could someday we do a “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” in that kind of vein. Totally.”

Earlier today, however, the actor confirmed he is playing Groot, the tree-like Guardian of the Galaxy. The actor is evidently excited to do the role because it “defies expectations”: “So if everybody thinks you’re going to go for this one thing and you flip it entirely and go for the strangest Marvel character, it’s interesting. And when something is interesting, it’s inspiring.”

I’m not sure if I’m inspired by the choice, but it is exciting to have the next-to-last GoG spot filled. Diesel also indicated that the actual role he took may have been due to scheduling, planning to knock out the part between press for the upcoming Riddick and filming Fast and Furious 7.

In other news, the first production stills of Guardians of the Galaxy surfaced earlier this week – you can see the pictures below, featuring someone identified as Glenn Close, playing Nova Prime in heavy make-up, as well as a Nova Corps member, and some aliens fleeing from an unseen danger. guardians4 guardians3 guardians2

Violet & Daisy Is Probably the Most Underrated Film of the Year

Violet-and-Daisy-Poster350Violet & Daisy is an almost perfect film. I say almost, because, let’s be honest – nothing is perfect, particularly movies. There are things to complain about when it comes to Geoffrey Fletcher’s film (his other credit of note is as the writer of Precious). I don’t care about those complaints. Nor do I, frankly, care much for the people making those complaints. Boring, they will yell! Pretentious! Nothing happens!

Phooey to that. Plenty happens in each frame of Violet & Daisy. The entire film is a complete subversion of everything we’ve come to expect from movies, while still remaining completely enjoyable.

To be fair, I understand why some will not like it. The film goes through such a range of genres and emotions that some will have a hard time keeping up, and yet others will simply keep hoping that the rest of the movie will be more like that one part they liked. The truth is, Violet & Daisy is not like itself at times. The opening chapter has the titular girls blast their way through a house in nurse costumes, executing their targets with precision and finesse. It’s almost ridiculous; these girls should both be knocked off their feet by the recoil of their hand-cannons alone, not to mention being killed by the numerous bullets flying in their direction. What it does establish, is that we aren’t meant to fear for their safety – this isn’t the level of discourse we should expect from the movie. While they do come in peril later in the film, blasting away their opposition is clearly not a problem here. The nun costumes are funny in themselves, while not being anything we haven’t seen before (Machete comes to mind). Indeed, that entire chapter calls to mind something Rodriguez might produce. Gleefully hyper-violent and fun, the sequence introduces us to these characters as action movie badasses. While the rest of the movie could work without that setup, this establishes the film as satire, as opposed to something that might be angling for an Oscar with an overly-serious performance of a pair of hired killers in an uncomfortable situation.

The uncomfortable situation is encountered along with James Gandolfini, who instantly establishes his character as an absolute sweetheart. He looks sad, and tired, and one can’t help but think of that given the actor’s recent death. As a performance we only got to see after the actor’s demise alone, it is wonderful. The man wants to die, and consequently he’s gone out and ripped off the right people to get that done. When the girls realize that their target is beyond willing to die, it all turns sour. Why is that? How can they bring themselves to do it now that they’ve talked to him, and inadvertently gotten to know him a bit? In a manner similar to Carnage, where the characters simply can’t seem to leave the farcical situation they’ve found  themselves in, the two girls here, Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan, just can’t seem to finish their job and leave. Through the experience, we slowly begin to understand what drives the different characters, a bit of why they are the way they are. We begin to appreciate that much of what we had assumed about them is actually false; that their lives are not at all on the surface, where most other movies take place.

Now, yes, the movie is very violent, but those moments are there to present a contrast which gives the entire film the air of a VERY black comedy. And yes, for fans of action movies, this really isn’t one! It’s not sexy, or particularly exciting, despite being about a couple of female assassins. I, for one think that’s incredibly brave and awesome. The crossover of viewers, however, might be unfortunately small. You have to be one of those rare people that like movies, not specific just genres of movies, to appreciate this one. This, combined with the fact that the film’s clashing sensibilities make the film nearly unmarketable, will mean that you almost certainly won’t see, or won’t like this movie. Which is a shame, because I’ll say it again – in my view, it’s nearly perfect, and anybody serious about cinema will recognize that.

P.S. I’m very serious about that, and I therefore think the 22% Rotten Tomatoes score (meaning that 22 percent of critics gave the film a positive score) is a very sad reflection on the state of modern film criticism. Any generic, by-the-numbers movie that shows even a smidge of competence can expect high marks, but a movie that actually strives for originality is cut down. And then those same critics have the audacity to whine that the only movies we see released are remakes and sequels. For shame.

Elysium Is Interesting, But Ultimately Shallow

Poster of Elysium, Courtesy of TriStar

Poster of Elysium,
Courtesy of TriStar

It’s difficult to say, ultimately, what makes Elysium, the latest movie from the South African director Neill Blomkamp, less than completely satisfying. I liked his previous film, District 9, well enough, though I had similar complaints about it, which I’ll get to shortly. I like Jodie Foster and Matt Damon, and almost without a doubt Damon was cast due to his near-universal likability. I like it when action movies or science fiction have an underlying theme, and similarly I like a little visual flair injected in generally more thought-provoking movies.

Why, then, did I begin fidgeting uncomfortably in my seat half-way through the movie? Why did I not cheer for Matt Damon as he took down the entire corrupt system, freeing the poor masses? I suppose it begins with a prologue flashback, establishing the film immediately as one that does not take itself too seriously. A child on a swing, being counseled by a nun, is told he is special and will do great things, and he promises his little girlfriend that he will one day take her to Elysium. The entire scene is shot with the sort of coloration and blurriness to suggest not only poor production value, but a lack of innovation on the part of the filmmaker. The child playing the young Max, who grows up to be Matt Damon, is beyond wooden in his line reading, failing entirely to deliver the correct emotional responses we would normally expect here. I don’t want to saddle the entire production’s faults on this child, however; the flashbacks were simply poorly conceived – other than a few things that could just as easily be explained in dialogue, the flashbacks serve no purpose, slow the story down immensely, and never fails to elicit a groan from those paying attention to the acting, which is not at all consistent with the adult character of Max.

The other thing that is established immediately is the basic premise – the rich have left the polluted, overpopulated Earth, and now reside on a space station called Elysium, enjoying almost magically amazing healthcare and garden parties. They do not care for the suffering of the human beings below them, allowing them to die in thousands of diseases which are easily cured there. No time is spent establishing how such dire difference in medical technology was arrived at. We instead are launched, after the flashbacks, into illustration of the evil that is border control – three shuttles bound for Elysium in search of healthcare take off, and are promptly, and evidently illegally, shot down by Jodie Foster and her brutal henchmen Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley, who was the protagonist in District 9.

That part of the movie works. We are shown the plight of the Earth’s population, and we want something done about it. The problem is that the actual plot of Elysium has little to do with that, the micro story of Max’s struggle does not mirror that of the society he is meant to be redeeming. He is an arrogant ex-convict and an anti-hero, who helps without meaning to, and sometimes quite unexpectedly, having established that his ultimate goal is his own survival. The rest of it, his relationship with his childhood sweetheart Frey and her daughter, is… Chuffa, as Bruce Willis would put it, nonsense that slows down the entire piece without saying anything new. Once it is established that the world of Elysium is unjust, the movie jumps right into action, and really does not explore that injustice any further. In fact, the emerging villains are not even the proper products of that injustice, but rogues themselves. If the border control measures which were blatantly illegal according to the movie itself were not being taken, would it be different? Would we feel as much pleasure, then, when Matt Damon ripped robots heads off? Probably not, and even those moments are unfortunately fleeting.

I went back to reread my review of District 9 to refresh my memory, and I wrote much the same thing then. The message is good, and the action is cool, but the two don’t align in some central way to make the merge of the two palatable. Max’s struggle is interesting, but it doesn’t really represent anything in the larger context, other than the fact that his actions trigger an entire sequence of events, entirely coincidentally, which bring about a change. Because that isn’t truly what he sought for the majority of the movie, the end seems pointless. Really, Blomkamp? Is that what ending the social inequality will take? A reformed car thief with an exo-skelleton that gives him powers? Or was there something more you wanted to say aside from showing us that something’s wrong with our society? Because we knew that already, and I frankly didn’t see anything else in the movie to think about for an extra second.