Casting

Film Rant: What’s Truly Unique About #Blackstormtrooper

This week JJ Abrams released the teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and just like every other fanboy I watched the video over and over, often pausing to pick out even the most minute details. My dissection of the trailer was handled with the same level of precision as a group of Spaceballs with an giant fine-tooth comb. I mean this is JJ Abrams we’re talking about here. The guy who made Lost. Do you know how many Easter Eggs he snuck into that series?

Of course I wasn’t the only person with their eye on the trailer and it didn’t take long before people shared their discoveries and doubts to social media. It took no less than ten frames before some members of the Star Wars fan base had a collective head burst. The scene I’m talking about is the one that opens the trailer, where we see a stormtrooper with his helmet off, looking out into the distance with fear in his eyes.

Oh yeah, and he’s black.

The amount of outrage over this stormtrooper’s race has been well documented over Twitter and other social media outlets under the hashtag #blackstormtrooper. Although most is overwhelmingly positive, some try and point out the supposed “inconsistency” of his race due to the fact that stormtroopers were shown to be cloned from Jango Fett in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

Still others believe this is an attempt to appease the “PC lovers”, “Social Justice Warriors” or whatever other term kids are using these days to describe people who want to see women and minorities in films because they exist in a place we call society, just a small subset of the universe:

How this is still an issue is beyond me, although I’m sad to say I’m not surprised. I was under the assumption that science fiction had moved beyond this nonsense decades ago. Duane Jones was cast in a starring role in a major Horror/Sci-Fi film in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That was in 1968, the same year Kirk kissed Uhura. Also, I don’t remember anyone accusing George Lucas of checking “diversity boxes” when he cast Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in 1999. It’s 2014, a black stormtrooper shouldn’t be considered progress or pandering, it should be considered the norm.

That’s not to say the scene doesn’t mark a historic moment in the series. Go back and take a look at that scene.


There is definitely something striking and out of place about this stormtrooper that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.

Look again.

It’s his expression, or better yet, the fact that he has an expression at all. Provided this is truly an Imperial Stormtrooper, JJ Abrams has done something that has never been done in the Star Wars universe. He’s humanized a stormtrooper.

Stormtroopers have traditionally been portrayed as a cookie cutter military outfit. Their uniforms are monochrome, without any semblance of coloring. No personalization, like stickers. No nametags. Their appearance is skeletal, the most stripped down our bodies can be while still maintaining their shape. Their voices are monotone, devoid of any kind of inflection.  Even when they’re introduced as Jango clones, they are portrayed as mindless copies unlike the strong-willed Fett. For all intents and purposes, stormtroopers are meant to be mindless automatons, lacking any modicum of emotion or marksmanship.

There’s a reason for this in filmmaking, particularly Science Fiction, Horror and even some War and Western films. Things like zombies, robots, ninjas, orcs, brood-like aliens and the like are meant to be devoid of any humanizing features. This is so heroes can easily shoot and slash through swaths of enemies without eliciting an emotional response from audiences. It’s what differentiates Starship Troopers from becoming the sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

This method is used to great effect in the Star Wars franchise as the Empire is often depicted as masked or cloaked in battle, but the Rebels’ faces are exposed and possess features that make them unique. As an example take the first assault on the Death Star. On one side you have the the Imperial TIE Fighter Pilots, completely concealed in black helmets. Yet all the rebel pilots, from Wedge Antilles to my favorite, the portly Jek Tono Porkins, have their faces visible.

During the battle, no one cares as TIE fighters are blasted into particles, because they might as well be piloted by Death incarnate. But audiences feel for guys like Porkins as we witness him meet an untimely death as he sizzles (heh) among the stars. Porkins speaks with authority, we can tell he’s respected among his squadron and he sports a rocking neck beard. And for those of you wondering, yes, Lucas really named the heavy guy Porkins. (This was just to illustrate that Lucas humanizes his characters, not that he’s good at it.)

It’ll be interesting to see if Abrams is planning on giving the Empire a human side. It’ll certainly change the way we look at the Empire as well as explain the motivations of those within their ranks. Furthermore, it might reveal that there’s more than one side of the story when it comes to the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps like most rebellions the outcome didn’t turn out as planned.

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Film Rant: Moving Film to TV

I remember back when I was growing up that the rule was if you had a successful TV show you had to follow it up with feature film. This is apparent in films like The X-Files, Police Squad!, Firefly, Sex and the City. The list is endless especially considering that we still haven’t left the age of giving every possible old TV show a modern film remake (did we really need a Mod Squad movie?)

But it would appear with in this new golden age of TV that things are beginning to reverse. It’s becoming more and more popular to take movies (some released as early as 2002) and give them the full television treatment. Although this is nothing new, (M*A*S*H* was a film that spawned a TV show) the list of TV shows based off films coming out within the next 2 years is pretty extensive.

This year I caught two such series. Fargo, an amazing series that garnered an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries and From Dusk Till Dawn, which is a TV show based off a film.

This got me thinking about what movies I would like to see as a TV series as well as some casting choices to fill their most iconic roles.

Star Trek: The Next Next Generation

TNNG

Ok, before I get my Platinum Nerd card taken away from me, yes I’m perfectly aware that Star Trek was a TV series before it was a movie and that there actually is a new Star Trek series that tries to capture the look and feel of the original. But I argue that since JJ Abram’s rebooted the series it’s through that continuity that a new series should be born and what better way than through The Next Next Generation.

Whether die-hard Trek fans like it or not, the Abrams films are highly popular, and as such, should be the new direction of the series. What makes the idea of a rebooted TNG so appealing is that it can continue on from the timeline that Abram’s has created while simultaneously explaining some perplexing things that I feel exist in the new films.

Like for instance, what the hell is this?

Not an android!

Not an android!

That’s 0718 a Lieutenant that served on the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It has been explained that 0718 is NOT an android or a robot, but a human who integrated himself with cybernetic parts and coincidently changed his name to a model number, because that’s not at all common of androids or robots.

It seems clear to me that these new films have a heightened level of technology that simply didn’t exist in the original series like the ability to teleport from planet to planet and resurrection blood. It would stand to reason that these new technological advancements should have an impact on characters like Data who appear 70 years after the last voyage of Kirk and his fleet.

This could open up all new story possibilities. What could result is a future where technology can create a Data that is virtually indistinguishable from actual humans. Data’s interactions with others would present a new conflict in a world where the definition of humanity is blurred. Furthermore, his search to become more human and less android could take new turn if people were threatened by the possibility of his kind replacing them someday.

Think less this:

Celebrity City

And more this:

#6

In this future the threat of technology is more apparent as a result of Scotty creating new warp systems and the synthesizing of Kahn DNA.

Who should play Picard?

For me the answer is simple. Cory Stoll.

Corey Stoll Picard

Cory Stoll isn’t particularly well-known, but he has an impressive resumé. You may know him from the ill-fated Law and Order: LA where he murdered Tom Selleck and stole his mustache.

L&O Cory Stoll

But you film fans probably recognize him most from his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Make it so.

Make it so.

In my opinion Stoll can bring just a little swag to Picard that modern fans of the movies will appreciate. I mean why should Kirk get all the green chicks?   Maybe we can finally have a Picard who’ll forgo tea time and make a damn move on Beverly Crusher already.

The Legolas Power Hour

300891id5a_TheHobbit_TDOS_Legolas_BusShelter_48inW_x_70inH.indd

I don’t care how many people claim to hate Legolas, the fact of the matter remains, when a giant battle sequence occurs in any of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films every subconscious in that entire theater is begging for Legolas to show up. You know it, I know it and more importantly Peter Jackson knows it. Why else would he include him in the new Hobbit films, complete with his own storyline?

Let’s be honest, as hilarious as it is to see a Gimli repeatedly herpa derp his way across a battlefield, the joke can wear thin after a while.   The real excitement comes from that volley of arrows expertly aimed through eyes so deep you want to swim in them. Don’t lie, you felt it too.

Shhh, I hear fanboys calling.

Shhh, I hear fanboys calling.

What I propose is a retelling of the entire events of The Hobbit and LOTR in a series of hour-long television episodes told through the eyes of our favorite arrow-slinging elf. This would allow Jackson to accomplish two things that he didn’t manage to pull off in the films.

One, create a series that encompasses every possible scenario from the books, no matter how inconsequential.

Two, manage to jam Legolas into every possible frame.

By my calculations, I predict Jackson will be able to accomplish this in just under 17 seasons.

Who should play Legolas?

Who else? Orlando Bloom! I mean, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Plus, I’m sure he can take some time out of granting the collective wish of the entire planet with his fists to get back to some acting.

The Adventures of Jack and Wang and Jack

Adventures of Wang and Jack

As a child one my favorite movies was John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. It had everything an American kid could ask for in the 80’s. Jim Henson-like puppetry? Got it. Martial Arts? All day. To top it all off it’s told from the perspective of a tongue in cheek, all-American braggart by the name of Jack Burton who’s the combination of John Wayne, Indiana Jones and Ash Williams all rolled into one. Despite all of this, Jack is not the most capable character in the film; that honor goes to Wang, whose girlfriend is kidnapped, spurring on the conflict.  As a result, Jack is really just the sidekick of a high-flying, confident, ass kicking asian, making the film like Green Hornet in reverse, but with monsters.

What’s interesting about the film is that its structure leaves something to be desired. Even as a kid I was curious how all the characters seemed to know each other. It’s clear from their opening scene that Jack and Wang are close friends who both possess take no shit attitudes. One would assume that these two couldn’t have possibly have gotten along unless their friendship was forged in fires of countless adventures. Even Eddie, Wang’s friend, mentions how much Wang talks about Jack. Beyond that, Wang knows Gracie Law, a lawyer (obviously, her name is Law) who has a reputation for getting into trouble. Gracie is clearly close to Wang and his family, as shown early in the film when she walks right through the backdoor of the Wang family restaurant without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. Not to mention everyone in Chinatown knows Egg Shen, a man with mystical powers whose name Carpenter clearly got off a Chinese take out menu.

The point is, everyone in this film has history together and none of it is ever explained.

What I propose is a television series that focuses on the origin of Wang and Jack’s friendship and the adventures that follow. The pilot could involve Jack making a routine delivery to San Francisco in his infamous truck, “The Pork Chop Express”, where he meets Wang for the first time. From there, Jack’s job as a trucker can allow the two to go from state to state, righting wrongs and saving the day.

But here’s the kicker.

In following with the theme of the movie, although Jack is driving the truck and the story, ironically he’s just along for the ride. All of the conflicts the two face will be a result of Wang’s sense of justice and his need to do right, as where Jack only goes along to fulfill his own self-interests (eg, Money, women, ego, The Pork Chop Express).

Who should play Jack Burton?

Who could possibly follow Kurt Russel? It’s like his entire face is just one giant cocked eyebrow. The guy started his career playing Elvis for god’s sake… at age TEN!

Luckily though, I managed to use some of those top-notch researching skills I learned in college to find a replacement. By Google searching images of “All American Actors” and carefully deliberating for five seconds, I finally settled on the fifth or sixth picture down.

Behold, I give you Adam Mayfield!

New Jack Burton

Who is he? I’m sure that’s a question Adam’s agent is still trying to answer. He used to be on All My Children and most recently some series with Tori Spelling and Jennie Garth, that’s absolutely not 90210. Other than that, his only claim to fame is that a virtual nobody with a film blog just named him the new Jack Burton. Don’t believe me? Check out this Taco Bell commercial.

Look into that man’s furrowed brow and tell me you don’t want a quesadilla. He’s a perfect fit, because much like that quesadilla Jack Burton’s entire being is held together by one key element, a whole lot of cheese.

Are Comedians the New Indie Actors?

Kristen Wiig, Steve Carell, Rashida Jones, Will Forte, Adam Scott. You probably recognize these actors from SNL or other prime time comedy shows like Parks and Recreation or The Office. Although these comedians are most known for their roles in some of the most popular comedy shows on TV, what are they up to when those shows are off-season? Some of you might be saying, “Uh, big comedy movies, like Anchorman 2 and wasn’t Adam Scott in that Walter Mitty movie where Ben Stiller skateboards cross-country with a really tan Sean Penn or something? Oh, and wasn’t Rashida Jones in, like, eight romantic comedies with Paul Rudd…”. Well, yeah, ok, a lot of the films these actors have been in are big time Hollywood comedies, but dammit this blog is about indie filmmaking (most times) so we’re going to stick to that theme. Plus, a little searching and you’ll find that these actors aren’t all chuckles and laughs for big paychecks.

I recently came across a great film starring Adam Scott called The Vicious Kind.   In it, Scott plays a character far removed from his lovable, geeky, tabletop game playing character from Parks and Rec. Instead, we find a fast-talking, depressed asshole, brilliantly played with a seething anger, which makes you love and hate him all at the same time. Although I have always respected Scott’s acting ability from Parks and the Starz original show Party Down, this was a complete departure from these roles.

Adam Scott's other talent?  Wearing a suit like a champ.

Adam Scott’s other talent? Wearing a suit like a champ.

This caused me to look up other films similar to The Vicious Kind courtesy of Netflix’s surprisingly reliable aggregate system. This led me to Take this Waltz a drama about infidelity where Seth Rogen plays a husband whose wife cheats on him. Although there are some comedic moments in his performance, he mostly plays it straight as a man unable to communicate to his wife that their marriage may be in turmoil.   Sarah Silverman is also in this film as a recovering alcoholic who has a scene-stealing moment towards the end of the film. Just like Rogen there are moments of comedy in her performance, but for the most part she plays the part of a women struggling with addiction, conscious of the risk of self-destruction.

Any of you who may have seen Celeste and Jesse Forever may have seen Rashida Jones play opposite Andy Samburg in this dramedy about two people who break up and attempt to continue their friendship.  Through most of the film, Jones plays Celeste with a underplayed sadness at learning that Jesse has moved on and found someone new.  Not only does Jones bring a more dramatic performance than we are used to seeing her in, but she also co-wrote the film.

The most notable example of this new trend I feel has to be that of Will Forte. Everyone probably remembers him as an SNL regular for a decade, but his recent work in last year’s Alexander Payne directed film Nebraska earned him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nebraska is a fantastic drama made all the better by Forte’s performance as a son trying to reconnect with his ailing father played by the incomparable Bruce Dern.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Bruce Dern looks absolutely fantastic for 78.

Perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of these actors come cheaper, but possess their own fan base from their respective comedic roles. I don’t think there is much argument that TV is in a sort of Golden Age. Many popular shows command the same amount of production value as some Hollywood pictures nowadays.  As a result, more people are becoming TVaphiles and many of the shows we see on the small screen have huge followings. You may remember that while back in the day popular comedians from SNL would immediately move into long-lasting film careers, shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99 have shown us that many are now flocking to TV to further their careers. The combination of these two points could certainly account for the demand to fill independent movies with these types of actors. Not only are you getting actors equipped with an already large fan base, but also as many of these indie films have shown us, these comedians have the chops to take on more dramatic roles.

Personally as a fan of sketch comedy shows like SNL and standup comedy in general, I hope to see this trend continue. Nothing entertains me more than seeing an actor or comedian play against type and surprise me with hidden talent that they may otherwise not get to showcase in their respective fortes.

Comics and Film

So in the never-ending battle to clear up space on my DVR, I began watching The Director’s Chair on the El Rey network. For those of you not familiar, The Director’s Chair is a sort of interview/master class program where Robert Rodriguez sits down with an established director and the two talk shop (sort of what I plan to do with this blog).

In one episode, Rodriguez was talking to Guillermo Del Toro about actor choices and how they both have that go-to actor that has come to represent their work.   Rodriguez mentioned how he keeps using Danny Trejo just like Del Toro uses Ron Perlman. He likened it to Scorsese’s early work with Robert Deniro. The two directors agreed the reason they keep going back to Trejo and Perlman is because the two actors have such a unique look and that it’s impossible to interchange them with any other actor. I couldn’t help but agree. Their are no Danny Trejo types you can use if you can’t get that trademarked grizzled look that Trejo is so known for. The same goes for Perlman. I mean seriously, can you imagine anyone else playing a live action, sewer dwelling version of The Beast?

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80's.

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80’s.

This got me started on my own little theory (really just a hypothesis).

Both Rodriguez and Del Toro have both said in the past that they’re highly influenced by comic books. Both draw and Del Toro has even published his own series. As the two of them discussed the type of presence Trejo and Perlman brought to the screen due to their unique looks, I couldn’t help but wonder if comics played a large role in their casting choices.

I have always respected the amount of detail that comic book artists put into their characters, specifically facial features. They say all you need to play Batman is a good chin, but this is only the case because comic book artists over the years have correlated square jaws with strength. One could also look at the casting of Schwarzenegger in Conan and how it relates to the artistry of Frank Frazetta as an example. Arnold was probably the only one Hollywood could think of that could capture the look Frazetta had attributed to Ron E Howard’s literary series. Frazetta’s scant usage of clothing combined with rippling, inhuman muscles and dark features gave Conan an almost primal look.

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

As the two directors went into detail about Trejo and Perlman, I realized how the attention to detail found in comics could truly enrich a film production. Del Toro noted that the studio didn’t want to make Hellboy unless he cast a bigger name than Ron Perlman. Del Toro refused to cast anyone else, demanding that only Perlman had the look to pull off the role and it’s a good thing he did. Really, is there any another actor alive that could play that character?

I’ve always kind of looked at comics as a good starting point for anyone interested in making film. By analyzing comics, you can get a good feel for things such as camera angles and what to capture within a frame. Attention to details, specifically when talking about facial features seem to me to be yet another example of how comics can further enrich a film.