Jake Gyllenhaal's Prince of Persia

27-May-10 11:27 AM by
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Tomorrow marks the debut of the film Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, based on a game franchise that originated on the Apple II. Disney's adaptation of the game is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and stars Jake Gyllenhaal. Although Mr. Bruckheimer is commonly related with blockbuster action films, Mr. Gyllenhaal has a more diverse and interesting filmography.

His film debut was a bit part in the AFI's 86th funniest movie of all time, City Slickers, but most people first noticed Mr. Gyllenhaal in his leading roles in the historical tale of October Sky or the bizarre cult hit, Donnie Darko, in which his sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal, played his sister. At one time, he was rumored to replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man when Mr. Maguire strained his back in Seabiscuit, leaving him unable to perform the stunts of the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. Such a substitution would've put Mr. Gyllenhaal opposite his then-girlfriend, Kirsten Dunst. The resemblance between the two male actors was also a factor that led to them portraying siblings in the 2009 film Brothers. More notably, he is the surviving half of the leading pair from the controversial Brokeback Mountain, though his role in the action film The Day After Tomorrow, was apparently overlooked by Game Informer magazine when they noted that PoP was Mr. Gyllenhaal's first action movie.

An actor of such varying roles has certainly deserved to have made a name for itself. The only question is: which name is that?

What's your favorite Gyllenhaal film, and what are your expectations for Prince of Persia?

(Hat tip to ROFLrazzi)

The Technology and Security of Iron Man 2

17-May-10 10:49 AM by
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Iron Man 2 Three years ago, my then-new employment at Computerworld partnered me with security maven Angela Gunn to produce a series of articles on a topic of mutual interest: geeky films. To make it appropriate for our employer's audience, we dissected the IT in films, she from a security perspective and I from a cinematic one. We wrote three such articles before Angela found employment elsewhere.

Movies are not a core topic for an enterprise IT magazine, so the series was put on the backburner. Fortunately, I recently found a new co-author with whom to collaborate. Bill Brenner of CSO Online, a publication affiliated with Computerworld, and I decide to revive the "Security Goes to the Movies" brand with a few changes. Instead of writing in two voices with one commenting on the other, we tried integrating our commentary into a consistent tone, making for a less jarring reading experience.

Our first outing was to see Iron Man 2 opening night with former Computerworld copyeditor Gene Demaitre, with whom I wrote the similarly cinematic IT piece, "Do Sci-Fi Films Get Advanced Tech Right?". Angela and I had reviewed the original Iron Man, and I was eager to put its successor to the same scrutiny.

The first fruit of this labor is now online:

The summer blockbuster season officially kicked off last Friday with Iron Man 2, an action-packed superhero flick that had the fifth-highest-grossing opening weekend in Hollywood's history. Whether you like the movie or not, at least one thing about it rings true — the plot and the characters provide a striking reflection of today's tech security industry.

Marvel's metallic superhero was first portrayed on the silver screen by Robert Downey Jr. in 2008's Iron Man. In that film, playboy industrialist Tony Stark has a crisis of conscience and brings the manufacture of weapons at his defense company to a halt. To chase down terrorists who have misappropriated his munitions, Stark builds himself an armored, weaponized exoskeleton suit (that can fly!) and becomes Iron Man, making his invention an object of desire to military profiteers.

The sequel is much the same, with more villains, more conniving and more suits. A montage catches us up on what's happened since the previous movie: With no country's military able to match Iron Man's technological superiority, Stark's vigilante action and deterrent policy have brought about a worldwide détente.

Since Stark is the only person who knows what makes Iron Man tick, the world's security rests entirely in his hands. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government wants to reproduce the Iron Man suit for its own militaristic purposes; the debate over private vs. public security forms one of the movie's core conflicts.

You can read the rest of our story at Computerworld.com (or CSO Online, if you prefer). Bill and I pretty happy with it and look forward to working together again.

One passage was rightfully left on the cutting room floor as it had little relevance to security technology, but Showbits readers may find it helpful to know:

There is a scene in Monaco in which Stark acts heroically without his suit, underscoring the fact that superpowers do not a superhero make. But the pendulum swings both ways, as later, we see an armored Stark making an ass of himself, akin to the Iron Man comic book plot "Demon in a Bottle." When he does battle evildoers, the film focuses tightly on the action, which provides less context for the overall scene; had the director pulled back on the camera a bit more, we'd have a better grasp of what's happening when.

Have you seen the film that kicked off the summer blockbuster season? What did you think, from any perspective?

The A-Team: Back in Action

21-Jan-10 1:28 PM by
Filed under Television, Trailers; 2 comments.

When Hollywood adapts a television series to film, it's easy to view the maneuver as an uncreative and desperate attempt to cash in on a well-known brand without any respect for the original property and its fans. From Car 54 and Mod Squad to G.I. Joe and The Transformers, there are myriad examples of stories that were best left to the small screen.

But to paint all such adaptations so negatively is to overlook the overwhelming success, both critically and financially, of film such as Serenity and Star Trek. Such home runs give us reason for optimism, even if their lackluster counterparts temper that optimism with caution.

I'm therefore ambivalent toward the feature film reboot of The A-Team. The original series, which ran for 98 episodes from 1983 to 1987, had a colorful and recognizable cast that included George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's), Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica), Dwight Schultz (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Mr. T (who will not appear in the reboot). It doesn't seem feasible that any modern studio could recapture that magic.

And yet, the following trailer has me positively giddy:

As Dayton Ward said, "Does Liam Neeson look like a dead ringer for George Peppard, or what?" And it goes beyond just superb casting — the opening dialogue, the music, the one-liners, and the action all seem lifted right from the original series:

Maybe this studio knows what they're doing, after all. We'll find out on June 11, 2010.

(Hat tip to ComingSoon.net)

Iron Man 2 Gets Whiplashed

06-Jan-10 2:39 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 4 comments.

Iron Man was one of the most realistic and enjoyable superhero films of the last decade (Oughts? Noughts?). It captured both the struggle and the enthusiasm that we imagine anyone bequeathed superpowers would experience. (And it made for a dang funny RiffTrax.)

Though Iron Man may not be one of Marvel's most recognizable superheroes, being overshadowed by the likes of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk, his theatrical debut paid off and quickly warranted itself a sequel. Last summer's purchase of Marvel by Disney hasn't slowed down the fast track our tin-can hero is on. The summer blockbuster season kicks off on May 7, 2010, with Iron Man 2:

The trailer shows Iron Man joined in combat by Rhodey as War Machine, as foreshadowed in the first film. The Mandarin was also a hinted villain in Iron Man, but I didn't recognize the enemy above; I had to consult IMDb to determine that it is Mickey Rourke as "Whiplash". Whoever that is (I don't follow the comic book), it's better than rumors that Stark's villain would be alcoholism, as seen in the 1979 comic book storyline "Demon in a Bottle" — that plot was already handled by 2008's Hancock.

What are your thoughts for Iron Man 2? High hopes, or low expectations?

You Can't Have Iron Man Without IT

15-May-08 3:32 PM by
Filed under Films; 4 comments.

It's summer blockbuster season, which means it's time again for a dynamic duo team-up. No, not Batman & Robin — Angela Gunn and I have joined forces to review the technology in yet another explosive film. As we did last year with Live Free or Die Hard and The Bourne Ultimatum, we now turn to the IT in Iron Man.

As submitted to Angela, my initial review was rather lengthy and leaned more to the cinematic side, so to accommodate the IT angle called for by the publication venue, some content had to be cut. But Showbits is first and foremost about films, so I present to you that missing content, with ellipses used to indicate where in the final product it would've gone:

… we know that Stark's kryptonite and our own are one and the same.

Though Iron Man ostensibly shares the same world as his Marvel cohorts, the movie is not replete with clever cameos and geeky nods to his literary origins. Nonetheless, there's enough fine detail to reward those with even a passing knowledge of the Iron Man comic. There is a tease of Iron Man's sidekick, War Machine, that I honestly didn't know which way it would go. I was surprised to find myself holding my breath the potential of a surprise superhero. (Speaking of which, be sure to stay through the end of the credits for a bonus scene!)

There's little that Iron Man does badly, though perhaps it does some things less well than it could've. Gwyneth Paltrow's character of Pepper Potts has more depth than a Bond girl but still comes across as a bit weak — more a result of the scripting than the acting, I suspect. There's also plenty of borrowing from other genre films, including Marvel's own library. The villain's origin and appearance is similar to what we'll see next month in The Incredible Hulk; we've already seen the "bring the enemy into the atmosphere until his jets cool" trick in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; and the hero and villain having an unmasked showdown is a staple of the Spider-Man line.

But hey, you're not here because you're a comic book geek; you're here because you're an IT geek. (There's a difference?) What makes this hero super is the technology, and there's plenty of it …

… Parts in a diagram can be rotated, separated and dragged to the trash, or worn like a glove. Très cool.

The less traditional machines in his house are more like versatile pets. With natural English speech recognition, Stark easily commands them to adjust variables, record logs, and assemble parts, though some machines exhibit personality traits that make them as annoying as helpful. It may not be flawless artificial intelligence, but they won't be threatening us with global thermonuclear war anytime soon, either.

Stark also sports a digital butler …

Read the full review at Computerworld.com »

Streaming Racer

08-May-08 5:31 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 2 comments.

When I previewed the summer blockbuster season, I declared Iron Man a must-see and Speed Racer a maybe-see. I've so far been right — Marvel's first of two superhero films this year was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more (with a full review to be posted here as soon as my editor is finished with it). With Speed Racer not being released until tomorrow, this other live-action adaptation remains an unknown quantity.

But more and more, I'm finding myself opening to the idea of spending 135 minutes watching a film from the same brothers who invented, and then ruined, the Matrix trilogy. What most recently nudged my opinion in a positive direction was this uninterrupted three-minute clip. It's corny, but that's okay: as with the second Fantastic Four film, it's not necessarily about having low expectations, but realistic expectations. And the more I see of Speed Racer, the better an idea I get of what to expect.

I was surprised that the plethora of Iron Man clips the studio released to the Internet did not ruin the film; despite all the previews, I went into the theater still not knowing as large a detail as the villain's identity. Given that safe philosophy, here are the three minutes of Speed Racer linked to above, along with its preceding four minutes, in the film's first seven minutes:

Play Misty For Me

17-Apr-08 3:19 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I read Stephen King's The Mist concurrent with its adaptation playing in theaters. I was hoping to go right from one to the next, but the movie's cinematic stay was brief, delaying me until last month's DVD release.

I am not normally a fan of Stephen King, but I was eager to see film based on its similarities to one of my favorite video game franchises, Silent Hill. I hoped The Mist would meet the expectations that the mediocre film adaptation of Silent Hill left unfulfilled. Both properties are about normal people who suddenly find their world encroached upon by another — a dark, murky dimension filled with unspeakable horrors. Indeed, the same siren terrifingly heralds hell's transition, and the scene in which a Mist monster first broaches the survivors' safe harbor almost perfectly parallels a similar introduction in the first Silent Hill game.

Laurie Holden in Silent Hill Laurie Holden in The Mist
Actress Laurie Holden, having patrolled the streets of Silent Hill,
retired from the force to teach in Maine, bringing The Mist with her.

But director Frank Darabont commented that "The story is less about the monsters outside than about the monsters inside, the people you're stuck with, your friends and neighbors breaking under the strain." The internal politics of the townspeople stranded in a grocery store enveloped in mist are certainly the film's focus. The characters in the movie are more distinct than their literary counterparts, with unique personalities and backgrounds. It's easy to understand the different reactions each has to the crisis: fear, anger, disbelief, action. It makes me wonder: how would I respond to such a threat?


The Mist

One brave, stupid man walks into the mist. Guess how much of him walks out.

A store clerk posits that it was to impose order on such chaos that religion and politics were invented. Mrs. Carmody manifests that power when she founds her own cult within the store, quickly gaining disciples seeking salvation. A friend of mine interpreted this portrayal as an anti-religion subtext, but I didn't see it. Though Carmody's cult is extreme and violent, we the audience are given no reason to question the effectiveness of her methods in these desperate times. Does she offer salvation by coincidence, or, were the situation to persist, would we see her religion prove true? The answer seems clearer in the book, whereas the movie leaves the audience with more questions.

There were two more concrete elements from the book that didn't make the cut: one, Mr. Drayton and Mrs. Dumfries deal with their desperation in a rather intimate way; and two, the different experiences of the grocery store inhabitants and those of the pharmacy are explained. Given that the original Mist was a novella (halfway between a novel and a short story), the level of detail that was preserved in translating the story to film is admirable compared to similar efforts involving longer texts, so I assume these two aspects were cut by directorial mandate and not the confines of the medium. Neither thread was critical to the overall plot, but both would've offered something substantial to the film's development.


Silent Hill

The Silent Hill game and movie came out in 1999 and 2006, respectively.
The Mist bookends them with a novella and film in 1980 and 2007.

By contrast, two other aspects were introduced. Neither the nature of the mist nor the role of the military were confirmed in the book, left to the speculation of both the characters and the audience; but in the movie, they're more substantiated. There is also a completely new ending, which I suspected would be the case, as the book's final chapter was too open-ended to offer the typical moviegoer the closure he expects. I found the film's conclusion predictable yet disturbing — and consistent with how King treats his protagonists.

The Mist was a good film with some nice character moments, clever nuances, and unsettling effects. Having already read The Mist made for an odd experience of seeing the movie for the first time and yet knowing what's going to happen. Some scenes that were intended to be scary I instead found myself laughing at, though I admit it may've been a nervous laughter. Though the source material is always better, I'm unsure that means it should come first. By watching a movie first, I've ruined half of the more detailed book, whereas a book ruins all of a movie. A novella like The Mist may not follow those rules, but I know there will never be a perfect way to experience the same story a second time, even in a new medium.

Movie Opening, Collect $50 From Every Player

17-Aug-07 12:16 PM by
Filed under Films, Humor; 2 comments.

In this, the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott will apply his cinematic genius to a film adaptation for which we've all been longing…

Monopoly?!

It's true: Mr. Scott is involved in bringing the Parker Bros. board game to the silver screen. But what may appear on the surface to be a stretch may in fact be justified by Hollywood's history.

I don't know that there is any longer any criteria for judging a concept's worthiness based on its origin. In the past ten years, I've enjoyed the likes of Mortal Kombat, The Brady Bunch Movie, and Superman Returns, despite being unoriginal properties. And the theatergoing masses's overwhelming approval of Disney transforming an amusement park ride into a trilogy of Johnny Depp films extends the list of acceptable inspirations. But Monopoly? I don't get it. What's the hook? What can this game license do that films like Wall Street and Boiler Room can't?

Granted, board game adaptations are not unprecedented; give Monopoly an all-star cast and a good sense a humor, and I'll admit Mr. Scott might not be clueless. But regardless of the film's quality, if the public flocks to Monopoly and makes it a success, we can be sure the clones will follow. Which begs the question: where will it all end?