Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for July, 2012

Susan George

Susan Melody George (born 26 July 1950) is an English film and television actress, film producer and Arabian horse breeder.

She trained at the Stage School, Corona Theatre School and has acted since the age of four, appearing on both television and film. In the early 1970s George came to be associated with rather provocative, sometimes (as in Straw Dogs) controversial, roles and became quite type-cast. Cinema writer Leslie Halliwell’s rather terse summary of her career was: “British leading lady, former child actress; usually typed as sexpot”

She featured as Lucy Weston in the television adaptation of Dracula (1968), part of the series Mystery and Imagination, before her most notable role as Amy Sumner in Straw Dogs (1971) opposite Dustin Hoffman. Straw Dogs is a psychological thriller directed by Sam Peckinpah based upon the 1969 novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm by Gordon Williams. The film is noted for its violent concluding sequences and a complicated rape scene that critics point to as an example of Peckinpah’s (and Hollywood’s) debasement of women. Released theatrically the same year as A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry, the film sparked heated controversy over the perceived increase of violence in cinema. Although controversial in 1971, Straw Dogs is considered by many to be one of Peckinpah’s greatest films.

George then followed up with a series of horror thrillers such as Die Screaming, Marianne (also Die, Beautiful Marianne) (1971), and Fright (1971), about a homicidal escapee from a mental asylum terrorises a babysitter (George) who is looking after his son. She also had a great role as Mary Coombs in the cult car-chase movie Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), with Peter Fonda.

She featured in a few minor 7o’s movies and on TV in Tales of the Unexpected, before starring in Venom (1981) as a maid trapped in a house with a deadly Black Mamba, and The House Where Evil Dwells (1892), an American/Japanese horror film with Doug McClure about an American family that moves into a reputed haunted house in the hills of Japan.

George has also produced Stealing Heaven (1988), Djavolji raj (1989) and The House that Mary Bought (1995).


Hubert Selby, Jr.

Hubert “Cubby” Selby, Jr. (July 23, 1928 – April 26, 2004) was a 20th century American writer. His best-known novels are Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) and Requiem for a Dream (1978). Both novels were later adapted into films within his lifetime.

Hubert Selby Jr. lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bay Ridge. He attended various New York state school, including Stuyvesant High School. His childhood nickname, “Cubby,” stuck with him his entire life.

Selby dropped out of school, and at the age of 15, was able to persuade the recruiters to allow him to join the Merchant Marines, which his father had recently rejoined. In 1947, while at sea, Selby was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis; doctors predicted that he would live less than a year. For the next three and a half years, Selby was in and out of the Marine Hospital in New York for treatment.

Selby went through an experimental drug treatment, streptomycin, that later caused some severe complications. During an operation, surgeons removed several of Selby’s ribs in order to reach his lungs, one of his lungs collapsed, and doctors removed part of the other. The surgery saved Selby’s life, but left him with a year-long recuperation and chronic pulmonary problems for the rest of his life. The medical treatments also marked the beginning of Selby’s dependence on painkillers and heroin, an addiction that lasted for decades.

With no qualifications, no work experience aside from the Merchant Marine, and his poor health, Selby had trouble finding a job. He spent most of the time at home, raising his daughter while his wife worked in a department store.

For the next ten years, Selby remained bedridden and was frequently hospitalized with a variety of lung-related ailments. A childhood friend, writer Gilbert Sorrentino, encouraged Selby to write.

With no formal training, Selby used his raw language to narrate the bleak and violent world that was part of his youth. He stated, “I write, in part, by ear. I hear, as well as feel and see, what I am writing. I have always been enamoured with the music of the speech in New York.” In style, Selby also differed from other writers. He was not concerned with proper grammer, punctuation, or diction, although Selby’s work is internally consistent; he uses the same unorthodox techniques in most of his works.

Like Jack Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”, Selby’s writing was often completed in a fast, stream of consciousness style, and to facilitate this he replaced his apostrophes with forward slashes “/” due to their closer proximity on his typewriter, thus allowing uninterrupted typing. He did not use quotation marks, and his dialogue might consist of a complete paragraph, with no denotion among alternating speakers. His prose was stripped down, bare and blunt.

His experience with longshoremen, the homeless, thugs, pimps, transvestites, prostitutes, homosexuals, addicts and the overall poverty-stricken community, was to become the subject matter for his work.

Selby started working on his first short story, “The Queen Is Dead”, in 1958. At the time, he worked on his fiction every night after his day work as a secretary, a gas station attendant, and a freelance copywriter. The short story evolved slowly for the next six years before it saw the light of publication.

In 1961, one of Selby’s short stories, “Tralala”, was published in a literary journal, The Provincetown Review. It also appeared in Black Mountain Review andNew Directions. With his unstructured style and coarse descriptions, Selby examined the seedy life (ridden with violence, theft and mediocre con-artistry) and the gang rape of a prostitute. He quickly drew negative attention from a number of critics. The editor was arrested for selling pornographic literature to a minor and the publication was used as evidence in an obscenity trial, but the case was later dismissed on appeal.

As Selby continued to work on his writing, Amiri Baraka, Selby’s longtime friend, encouraged Selby to contact Sterling Lord, who at the time was Jack Kerouac’s agent. In 1964, “Tralala”, “The Queen Is Dead” and four other loosely linked short stories appeared in Selby’s first novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn. The novel was accepted and published by Grove Press, which had already released works by William S. Burroughs.

The novel was praised by many, including Allen Ginsberg, who predicted that it would “explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years.” But as with any controversial work, not everyone was happy. Because of the detailed depictions of homosexuality and drug addiction, as well as gang rape and other forms of human brutality and cruelty in the novel, it was prosecuted for obscenity in the U.K. in 1967. Anthony Burgess was among a number of writers who appeared as witnesses in defense of the novel.

In 1967, Selby moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in an attempt to escape his addictions. That same year, Selby met his future wife, Suzanne, and they married in 1969.

Even though all his work was written while he was sober, Selby continued to battle drug addiction. In 1967 his heroin addiction landed him in Los Angeles County jail, where he spent two months for heroin possession. After his release from jail, he kicked the habit and stayed clean of drugs and alcohol until his death. He even refused morphine on his deathbed, although he was in pain.

In 1971, Selby published his second novel, The Room. The novel received positive reviews. The Room was about a criminally insane man locked up in one room in a prison who reminisces about his disturbing past. Selby himself described The Room as “the most disturbing book ever written,” and he noted that he could not read it for decades after writing it.

Requiem for a Dream (1978), concerns four New Yorkers whose are all initially searching for the key to their dreams, only for their lives to spiral out of control as they succumb to their addictions.

His last published novel, The Willow Tree, was published in 1998. As bleak as his writing before, it follows the story of a young African American boy and his Hispanic girlfriend who are viciously attacked by a local gang… things get worse.

Selby continued to write short fiction, screenplays and teleplays, and his work appeared in many magazines, including YugenBlack Mountain ReviewEvergreen ReviewProvincetown ReviewKulchurNew Directions AnnualSwank and Open City. For the last 20 years of his life, Selby also taught creative writing as an adjunct professor in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California.

A film adaptation of Last Exit to Brooklyn, directed by Uli Edel, was made in 1989, while Selby’s 1978 novel Requiem for a Dream was made into a film by Darren Aronofsky in 2000. Brooklyn featured Selby himself in a brief cameo as a taxi driver; in Dream he appeared in a small role as a prison guard. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress for her role in the latter film. During the filming of Last Exit, a documentary was shot, following Selby and some friends around the neighborhood as they reminisced.

In the 1980s, Selby made the acquaintance of singer/writer Henry Rollins, who had long admired Selby’s works and publicly championed them. Rollins not only helped broaden Selby’s readership, but also arranged recording sessions and reading tours for Selby. Rollins issued original recordings through his own 2.13.61 publications, and distributed Selby’s other works.

During the last years of his life, Selby suffered from depression and fits of rage, but was always a caring father and grandfather. The last month of his life Selby spent in and out of the hospital. He died in Highland Park, Los Angeles, on April 26, 2004 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Selby was survived by his wife of 35 years, Suzanne; four children and 11 grandchildren.


Lynda Carter

Lynda Jean Carter (born July 24, 1951) is an American actress and singer, best known for being Miss World USA 1972 and as the star of the 1970s television series The New Original Wonder Woman (1975–77) and The New Adventures of Wonder Woman (1977–79).

Carter was born in Phoenix, Arizona, her father, Colby Carter, is an art dealer and her mother, Juana Córdova. She went to Arcadia High School in Phoenix and Kachina Elementary School in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1972, Carter entered a local beauty contest and gained national attention in the United States by winning Miss World USA, representing Arizona; in the international 1972 Miss World pageant, representing the U.S., she reached the semi-finals.

After taking acting classes at several New York acting schools, she began making appearances on such TV shows as Starsky and Hutch, Cos, and Nakia and in “B-movies,” including her only nude appearance, in Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976).

Carter’s acting career took off when she landed the starring role in The New Adventures of Wonder Woman as Wonder Woman and her alter ego Diana Prince. The savings her parents had set aside for her to pursue acting in Los Angeles were almost depleted, and Carter was close to returning to Arizona when her manager informed her that she had won the part. Her earnest performance endeared her to fans and critics, and the series lasted three seasons. Thirty years after first taking on the role, Carter continues to be closely identified with Wonder Woman.

As the program was winding down, Carter told US magazine: 

“I never meant to be a sexual object for anyone but my husband. I never thought a picture of my body would be tacked up in men’s bathrooms. I hate men looking at me and thinking what they think. And I know what they think. They write and tell me.”

She was referring to the feedback she had received for her poster as Wonder Woman.

In 1985, DC Comics named Carter as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great for her work on the Wonder Woman series. In 2007, toy company DC Direct released a 13″ full-figure statue of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, limited to 5,000 pieces; it was re-released in 2010. Also in 2010, DC Direct began selling a 5½-inch bust of Carter’s rendition of Wonder Woman to celebrate the DC Comics’ 75th anniversary.

Carter’s other credits include the title role in a biopic of actress Rita Hayworth, titled Rita Hayworth, Love Goddess (1983) and a variety of her own TV specials: Lynda Carter’s Special (1980), Encore! (1980), Celebration (1981), Street Life (1982), and Body And Soul (1984). Throughout the 1990s, Carter appeared in a string of tv movies that resulted in a resurgence in television appearances. Also, because of the re-syndication of Wonder Woman on such cable networks as FX and SyFy, Carter even participated in two scheduled on-line chat sessions with fans.


The Dark Knight Rises – Madrid Street Art

After a weekend of tragic news surrounding the midnight screenings of The Dark Knight Rises, it feels slightly pointless to post this image from Madrid on the eve of the film’s opening there, however, it’s such a joyful image of people celebrating the release with style, that I wanted to share it.


Paul Schrader

Paul Joseph Schrader (born July 22, 1946) is an American screenwriter, film director, and former film critic. Apart from his credentials as a director, Schrader is most known for his screenplays for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. 

Schrader was born in Grand rapids, Michigan. Schrader’s family practiced in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church, and his early life was based upon the religion’s strict principles and parental education. He did not see a film until he was seventeen years old, and was able to sneak away from home. Schrader refers his intellectual rather than emotional approach towards movies and movie making to his having no adolescent’s movie memories.

A recurring theme in Schrader’s films is the portrayal of a protagonist who is on a self-destructive path or who undertakes actions which work against himself, deliberately or subconsciously. The finale often bears an element of redemption, preceded by a painful sacrifice or a cathartic act of violence.

Schrader received his BA from Calvin College, with a minor in Theology. He then earned an MA in Film Studies from the UCLA Film School graduate program upon the recommendation of the legendary film critic Pauline Kael. With her as his mentor, he became a film critic, writing for the Los Angeles Free Press, and later for Cinema magazine. His book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, which examines the cross-cultural similarities between Robert Bresson, Yasujirō Ozu and Carl Theodor Dreyer, was published in 1972. The endings of Schrader’s films American Gigolo and Light Sleeper bear obvious resemblance to that of Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket. His essay Notes on Film Noir from the same year has become a much cited source in literature on film.

Other filmmakers who made a lasting impression on Schrader were John Ford, Jean Renoir, Roberto Rossellini, Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Peckinpah. He called Renoir’s The Rules of the Game, the “quintessential movie” which represents “all of the cinema”.

In 1974, Schrader and his brother Leonard co-wrote The Yakuza, set in the Japanese crime world. Schrader became involved in a bidding war over the script and it sold for $325,000, which was more than any other screenplay up to that time. Although The Yakuza failed commercially, it brought Schrader to the attention of the new generation Hollywood directors, and in 1975, he wrote the screenplay of Obsession for Brian De Palma.

His script of Taxi Driver was turned into the Martin Scorsese film, which was nominated for a 1976 Best Picture Academy Award. Besides Taxi Driver (1976), Scorsese also drew on scripts by Schrader for Raging Bull (1980), co-written with Mardik Martin, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999).

Schrader also participated in an early draft of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), but Spielberg disliked the screenplay, calling it “terribly guilt-ridden”, and opted for a lighter script. His script for Rolling Thunder (1977) was reworked without his participation, and Schrader disapproved of the final film.

Taxi Driver provided the critical acclaim and consequently available funding that enabled Schrader to direct Blue Collar (1978), also co-written with his brother Leonard. Blue Collar features Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto as car factory workers attempting to escape their socio-economic rut through theft and blackmail. Schrader recalls that shooting the film was difficult, because of the artistic and personal tension among him and the actors; it was the only occasion he suffered an on-set mental collapse and made him seriously reconsider his career. John Milius acted as executive producer on the following year’s Hardcore (again written by Schrader), which showed autobiographical parallels in the depicted Calvinist milieu of Grand Rapids.

Among Paul Schrader’s films in the 1980s were American Gigolo (1980), his 1982 remake of Cat People, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985, again co-written with Leonard Schrader), for which he was nominated for the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, and Patty Hearst (1988), about the kidnapping and transformation of the Hearst Corporation heiress.

His work in the 1990s included The Comfort of Strangers (1990), Light Sleeper (1992), a sympathetic study of a drug dealer vying for a normal life, which he called his “most personal” film, Touch (1997), from an Elmore Leonard novel, and the rural drama Affliction (1997), which gained wide critical acclaim.

In 2002 he directed the biopic Auto Focus, loosely based on the life and murder of Hogan’s Heroes actor, Bob Crane. It was an excellent film, however, as appears to be the case with a lot of Schrader’s work, it found no audience.

In 2003, Schrader made entertainment headlines for being fired from Exorcist: Dominion, a prequel film to The Exorcist (1973). However, the production company, Morgan Creek/Warner Bros. disliked the resulting film and had large segments re-shot under director Renny Harlin; it was released as Exorcist: The Beginning in 2004, and is an awful film. Schrader’s version eventually had its premiere at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film on March 18, 2005 as Exorcist: The Original Prequel. It received limited cinema release under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist in mid-2005.

After that, he filmed The Walker (2007) and Adam Resurrected (2008), which to my shame I’m yet to see… they’re now on the top of my list.

On July 2, 2009, Schrader was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Achievement in Screenwriting award at the ScreenLit Festival in Nottingham, England. Several of his films were shown at the festival, including Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which followed the presentation of the award by director Shane Meadows.

He is currently in production on The Canyons, written by Bret Easton Ellis. The project, partially funded via Kickstarter, is described as a “contemporary thriller” that “documents five twenty-somethings’ quest for power, love, sex and success in 2012 Hollywood.”


Guillermo Del Toro – Interview at Comic Con

Excellent Comic Con interview with Guillermo Del Toro. Courtesy of DEADLINE.

Del Toro is back at Comic-Con after completing the robots vs monsters saga Pacific Rim financed by Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. While it won’t be released until July 12, 2013, some in the industry have seen the early visuals and said they are stunning and they predict Del Toro will make a stirring return that was informed by his setbacks.

DEADLINE: You are finally here with a movie you directed. Describe your road here.

DEL TORO: Two years in New Zealand on The Hobbit, a year in L.A. and Canada developingMountains. Luckily, during the year of Mountains, I started on Pacific Rim and when people ask me why I have four or five things in development, here’s the answer. Paraphrasing John Lennon, a career is what happens when you’re making other plans. I once had a gap between Mimic and Devil’s Backbone of four years and haven’t had that long a gap until now. It is four years since Hellboy II. In 1998, my father was kidnapped for 72 days, I had to emigrate to Texas, and start over. I was recuperating from a bad experience on Mimic and luckily I found Pedro Almodovar, who basically supported me in doing Devil’s Backbone, which I consider my first movie in many ways. To me, this second four-year gap, finding Thomas Tull, John Jashni and Warners, was vital for me to continue. Pacific Rimhas given me an injection of life that I very much needed. I am reinvigorated, and at the most basic existential level, I needed this. I needed to have as good as an experience as this was. I came back from The Hobbit and met the Legendary guys and the experience was life changing. Thomas wanted me to read Travis Beacham’s pitch they had for Pacific Rim and I instantly saw the world.

DEADLINE: What did you see?

DEL TORO: This is a medium that requires large investment, and as a storyteller on this scale, there are only five guys who can write their own ticket; James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Chris Nolan and Michael Bay. The rest of us, we can only do certain things and they are mostly linear. If you are good at doing a comedy, the industry and the audience sees you only doing that comedy. This was a huge opportunity for me to step beyond where I was. And it was huge for me because I am a such a fan of robots and Kaiju, since I was a kid.

DEADLINE: You mean those cheesy, dubbed Japanese monsters…

DEL TORO: Speak for yourself. How about those fantastic Japanese monster movies? When I was a real young kid, 10 or maybe younger, I wanted to see a movie called The War of the Gargantuas. It was opening and I knew it was designed originally to be a companions piece to Frankenstein Conquers the World. I had to see it and I took the bus to the other side of town, because a movie like that doesn’t open in the A or B circuit, it opened in the Z theaters. It was and old, rundown 2000 seat movie palace, and as I was sitting there enjoying the movie, somebody from the balcony throws a big empty glass…full of pee. It lands on my head. This is how much I love Kaiju; I finished the movie. And then I came out, with a There’s Something About Mary kind of hairdo, and I rode the bus back and nobody sat next to me. Japanese properties were probably cheap to acquire, so the theaters in Mexico were inundated with these films. I saw them all. And it instantly came back to me with Pacific Rim. I pitched scenes to Thomas and Jon, and they said, you have to direct it. I said I can’t, I have Mountains. I came on as producer and in a month, we had done a teaser trailer we animated, we had had silhouettes for 40 robots and some of the monsters and we were doing clay models. I did the Bible for the movie, and found myself feeling, damn, what lucky director is going to play in this world with all these toys?Mountains looked like it was going to happen. Until what I call that Black Friday, and then it wasn’t. I called Thomas and said, I’ll come on board Monday, if you are willing to really ready to take the step into pre-production. And it happened so fast. I’ve never worked as hard on a movie, to hit the budget number. We came in under budget, and under schedule. Hellboy took 135 days, the sequel 132 days. We did this in 103 days.

DEADLINE: You got close on The Hobbit, closer on Mountains. From an outside perspective, it feels like you were at the altar twice, and each time the girl didn’t show up. How’d you feel?

DEL TORO: I don’t know if I would characterize it quite that way. I am a writer of at least the first Hobbit film. The one that really hurt most was Mountains, because it was really abrupt. It was devastating. We were scouting, on the border of Alaska, in the glaciers in a helicopter. And I get the call, you gotta come back for a meeting on Friday. I said, eh…why do we need to meet?

DEADLINE: After I wrote about the film being halted because the studio would not make a $150 million film and give you the right for it to be an R rated movie, numerous studio execs said they would have done the same thing, even though they wanted to see the movie. It’s hard to make your money back on a big budget R film. Do you regret not being more flexible?

DEL TORO: No. But you’re guilty of a lot of my problems, not on Mountains, but you were the one whose article said I was busy till 2015, when in my mind, I’m unemployed and go movie to movie.

DEADLINE: Well, that was an editor at my former workplace, Daily Variety, trying to be clever. But what you say is true. But should you have caved on the rating and been willing to do Mountains at PG-13?

DEL TORO: I don’t regret it. Look at Prometheus. There’s an R rated horror movie that doesn’t have big name stars. We had Tom Cruise, and Jim Cameron producing. But I completely understand why they did it and I can’t argue, I can’t say they were wrong and I was right to take that position. I could never have their job because I would approve Mountains and many others, but I understand. I’ve been here 20 years and I don’t go for the altar reference because I never go into these things feeling it’s unthinkable they might not happen. But it still hurt like a motherfucker. You’ve got hundreds of drawings, dozens of paintings, storyboarded sequences, animatics, ILM did a test that was phenomenal and proved to me that everything we wanted to do was actually possible. It hurts always for the director because there is a movie you see in your head, and you want people to see it. [Del Toro’s manager Gary Ungar stops by our table to give him a carefully bubble wrapped package. He unfolds it, and it is a leather-bound brown journal, the pages filled with elaborate sketches of his Hellboy character. The pen and ink drawings look like paintings, and the handwritten notes beautifully scrawled in the filmmaker’s hand are so perfectly crafted that the book looks like a movie prop out of Indiana Jones or The Da Vinci Code].

DEADLINE: That is magnificent. Are you a closet calligrapher?

DEL TORO: This was on loan to the Seattle Science Fiction Museum. It’s just my notebook on Hellboy and some different stuff. These are all my drawings, and I just got it back. I’m an obsessive compulsive, what can I say.

DEADLINE: Will you still make At The Mountains of Madness, especially if Pacific Rim puts you near the category of those five directors you mentioned who can write their own tickets on big buck films?

DEL TORO: I want to see Prometheusfirst [there are plot similarities]. To me,Pacific Rim is a catalyst for so many things. You learn your craft little by little, and you do it publicly. You make mistakes in front of an audience. Make a wrong casting or editorial decision, and it’s all out in the open, like crashing a car in slow motion, publicly. Everybody can see your head bounce, your spine snap, and they comment on every single fracture. You’re giving interviews, or reading opinions. “Look at the way his wrist snapped! He’s never going to walk again the way his spine just broke!” You learn your craft that way and it’s rare that you can calculate or control it. You get lucky sometimes. I desire to direct big crazy movies and small crazy movies, and on Pan’s Labyrinth I was able to do that with some degree of control. Pacific Rim is the first time I have been able to articulate something that is purely entertaining, big and bold in this large format. I was incredibly aware of every choice, both creatively and fiscally. I stayed under budget and wanted that to be part of the experience. To be as bold and big as possible, but within the parameters I had agreed to. The narrative comes first, but I was a producer on this as well.

DEADLINE: At Disney’s Comic-Con panel, early The Lone Ranger footage was stylish and impressive, but the first connotation of that film is budget struggles. Unless you’re making a sequel, it seems very hard to create new tent poles. How much has pressure increased when you are creating something completely new?

DEL TORO: When you are producer and director, you are basically making a vow to be able to whistle and keep the tune. I’m aware of how much each extra costs, that I have to give up two cars to get four extras for five days. I have to pre-plan so if I say a sequence will take three days, it takes three days. I had the partnership of guys who believed in creating something new. They were not asking for a re-launch or a sequel. Finding a partner like this who shares not only in the financials but fully in the creative dream is a blessing that doesn’t happen often. But as to your question, I don’t believe any experience is bad and I’m not trying to sound wide-eyed or naïve. I don’t know if I could have done Pacific Rimwithout having prepped The Hobbit and especially Mountains because we got so close. It was a warm up for prepping movies that size, fiscally and technically. My contact with ILM started on Mountains, all the creative heads that came intoPacific Rim were guys who wanted to do Mountains. They knew what I wanted to try, that it was a new way of trying effects. The core of my creative team of designers moved from Mountains on a Friday to Pacific Rim on Monday. That tough experience allowed me to do this. To me, it’s harder to recuperate from success than failure. You can get a little lost in analyzing your success too much. Our culture prepares you on how to overcome failure. Look down, soldier on, figure it out. No one tells you how to avoid the trappings of success. That you figure out by brutally going through experiences. You learn much more about who you are going through difficulty.

DEADLINE: What look were you after with Pacific Rim?

DEL TORO: I wanted to do a big adventure movie with saturated colors, operatic battle set pieces and saturated colors and richly textured. As a kid I loved the Korda adventure films and I used them for inspiration. I wanted to evoke the feeling I had as a kid when I dreamed of being a cowboy or a pirate or an astronaut. I didn’t want to make a war movie, and visually avoided all the trappings of that like the long lens, super polished blue steely images that looked like a recruitment video, and the winner aesthetics that immediately tell you that a select group saves the world. I wanted it to be all of us who saved the world. So when I wanted Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, and Ron Perlman, they got it. Sometimes you pitch that and watch the studio head glaze over and say, yeah, but we need these five names to make this work.

DEADLINE: Will you be involved in Legendary’s Godzilla remake?

DEL TORO: No, we made it a point so far not to discuss that. Our conversations are limited to this. We were planning a sequence on Pacific Rim and when I described it to Thomas Tull, there was a landmark involved and he said, that one is taken in Godzilla. You have to guarantee me you won’t stomp, burn or destroy X, because Godzilla’s already doing that.

DEADLINE: Will it be odd having The Hobbit on the same Comic-Con bill as Pacific Rim?

DEL TORO: No. I haven’t seen the footage, but The Hobbit decision took a long time to make. And when you make a decision like that, you don’t look back, at least I don’t. I really think the movie’s in the right hands. I want to see it and wish it the best of luck. For me, the one that hurt was Mountains because it was not one where I had time to absorb or think about. That year was a hard year. But there is a contraction of the industry and Mountains three years before would happened. With DVD and Blu-ray, they would have taken the bigger risk.

DEADLINE: Fans will look at Mountains the same way we look at Halo, and wonder what might have been had Neill Blomkamp done that as his debut film instead of District 9.

DEL TORO: You mention Halo. We developed that movie, with D.B. Weiss, one of the creators of Game of Thrones. We made a screenplay and nobody talks about it but it was amazing. I went to WETA, met with them to talk about designs, had a big meeting. And then I went and made Hellboy.

DEADLINE: So leaving was your choice?

DEL TORO: That one was my choice.

DEADLINE: It really feels like this is a game of choices and it’s understandable why it’s so hard to choreograph success, especially now, when studios don’t really know what to make except sequels.

DEL TORO: It has always been that way though, no? When you read the real tales of movie making, it has always been pretty turbulent. Always, a few guys can write their own ticket, whether it was Capra and Sturges, Howard Hawks. The names change, but it’s usually limited to the same number of guys. I was just saying to a studio executive the other day that in the best of circumstances, when you hire a director, you are hiring either a guy who has the touch with actors, is a world creator visually, and maybe a guy who brings a certain tone that make his films recognizable. Everything else is a crap shoot. And all the preconceptions that used to guide the movie business through the years, like reliance on stars, are basically gone.

DEADLINE: How are you with that?

DEL TORO: I think that’s thrilling. At the end of the day, if you have a worthy story to tell, you’re going to tell it. If you can only tell a story with a certain range of budget, then you should worry. It softens your tissue somehow. But if you can write a book, make a small or big budget film or tell your story in a graphic novel, then it is a very exciting time.

DEADLINE: You mentioned Michael Bay as one of the five guys. After John Carter and Battleship, I heard more than a few people say they had new found respect for Bay and the skill it takes to make these big popcorn pictures.

DEL TORO: A lot of people think erroneously that it gets easier with more money. It doesn’t, because you are steering a much bigger ship. Imagine you are the rudder of a small fishing boat. If you become the rudder of a trans-Atlantic oil tanker, it doesn’t get easier on the rudder, it’s more taxing. There’s a feeling that CGI writes itself and happens while the director is riding with a starlet on the PCH in a convertible, on the phone saying, how is the CGI going? It’s a specific logistical, almost military operation you have to be able to run.

DEADLINE: How helpful is it to be here at Comic-Con with a movie that’s not coming out until next summer?

DEL TORO: To me, Comic-Con has always been invaluable, it doesn’t matter what project, I want to be here. Spiritually, it’s a beautiful place for me, I truly love Comic-Con. I feel at home. Whether it’s Pacific Rim or Pan’s Labyrinth, I come here.

DEADLINE: It’s easy to be condescending and cynical, but the passion of this crowd is charming when you get to observe it up close.

DEL TORO: It’s more than that to me. It’s pretty easy to be reactionary, to be like a parent in the 50s seeing their kids with rock and roll. What are you doing in your room all day? You are doing nothing! Same with video games. But the craftsmanship that allows for that narrative interface with video games, it’s huge and transformative. It has transformed the storytelling of the visual medium. Cultural swings are defined by clashes. Counterculture clashed with narrative in the 70s and you got intense, thoughtful, hardcore movie making, and you have pop culture colliding with narrative and these are waves you ride.

DEADLINE: It’s hard to figure out this current wave.

DEL TORO: There’s a very interesting confluence where you have this very intense awareness of pop culture, to a point where essentially nothing is fringe that cannot be taken by a corporation and commercialized by it. That’s the bad aspect of it. At the same time, you are finding a lot of the young generation galvanized socially in a collective way, whether it’s hacking or taking on Wall Street. It’s a curious time. I, myself at 47, am more interesting in find what’s alive, what is the pulse, than mourning any loss.


The Dark Knight Rises ****½

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a reclusive Howard Hughes-like figure, hidden away in Wayne manor, mentally and physically broken from his battles as Batman. Gotham has largely forgotten Batman, believed to be responsible for the death of the lionised Harvey Dent, the city has moved on since the end of The Dark Knight.

Wayne still lives with his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), as ever, the heart of these films and Bruce Wayne’s link to humanity, who reminds him that he isn’t living his life.

Lured back into the world by two women, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), socialite investor in Wayne Enterprises’ clean-energy programs, and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Wayne finds his world and Gotham on the brink of collapse when a new villain, the remorseless Bane (Tom Hardy), emerges with a plan to destroy Gotham and everyone in it. Batman must return to confront this new threat, to save both Gotham and his own legacy from ashes.

You really need to have seen Batman Begins before watching The Dark Knight Rises. Bane’s modus operandi is similar in tone to that of Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman’s former mentor and nemesis. Bane states that: “Gotham is beyond saving and must be allowed to die” and he means it, targeting Gotham’s stock exchange and football stadium in two hugely impressive set-pieces.

Modern-day themes and fears are central to this final part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy; corporate collapse, global and local terrorism, and class warfare (people may draw parallels with the recent ‘occupy’ protests), which could be lifted from any recent headline. These are distilled in the dubious motivations of Bane, who for all his ‘smash the system’ rhetoric actually makes a few good points.

In Bane, Batman faces an enemy with similar motivation of the Joker, but in a much more physically imposing form. Hardy manages to instil Bane with some personality beyond his face mask and monolithic appearance, however his performance, and especially his dialogue delivery suffers due to the constraints of his mask.

Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), although still oozing sex-appeal, is less fetishist than in previous outings, here she’s a real presence, with a real story arc and a sly sense of humour, she has great chemistry with Bale.

Unlike The Dark Knight, where The Joker was central to the whole, here the film revolves around Batman, and fittingly, this is also Christian Bale’s best performance in the role, he was always good as Bruce Wayne, portrayed this time as an older, more thoughtful, melancholic character, and this time his Batman is a more fully rendered character.

The returning cast of Michael Caine and Gary Oldman are as solid as ever, Marion Cotillard is restrained and the introduction of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an earnest young police officer gives the audience hope for Gotham’s future.

As with Nolan’s previous Batman movies, this is more dark and serious than most superhero movies, and the previous Batman outings. There are many ideas thrown around in this film, not all of which lead to the expected conclusions, and it feels like Nolan has tried to fit a little too much in there, however the film works, it is spectacular entertainment.

It is visually beautiful, and cinematic on a massive scale, again due to Nolan regular, Wally Pfister’s gorgeous cinematography and fantastic production design by Nathan Crowley.

The film is also quite long, the first half build-up gives each character their moments, as well as a backstory that encompasses the previous movies and beyond; as it moves into a massive second half everything is geared towards a spectacularly ambitious conclusion. It’s been a big year for superheroes, with Marvel’s The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man already box-office hits; it’s time for DC’s Dark Knight to stake his claim back at the top where he belongs.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars