Dropping out of big-budget film projects seems to be the flavor of the year. Following Darren Aronofsky’s departure from Fox’s The Wolverine, two acclaimed directors left two anticipated movies yesterday, leaving their respective fates in limbo. David O. Russell (who ironically collaborated with Aronofsky on last winter’s The Fighter) exited Sony’s video game adaptation of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, while Albert Hughes walked out on Warner Bros. Akira. If you’re a fan of either property and are upset because you think these films are doomed, fear not. Hollywood always has a plan B, C and D. Another filmmaker will surely be hired for both and you’ll end up seeing them on the big screen one way or another. If I had my choice, however, I’d let one of these guys take on the responsibilities.
I’ve long been a fan of Natali’s work, which has largely been in the realm of sci-fi. Most recently, he got icky with the psycho-sexual creature feature Splice, but he’s also done great things in the genre with Nothing, a comedic take on the exploration of a complex existential situation, and Cypher, in which he made a thrilling action-adventure on a shoestring budget. Warner Bros. came on board Splice at the last minute to distribute the film to a wider audience, so the studio must have confidence in his unique vision. That’s why I think he deserves a shot at Akira, a project that would benefit from having a not-so-expensive director at the helm (gotta save for those special effects, you know).
Jones has become a bit of a savior for studio sci-fi in the last two years. He burst onto the scene with his trippy mind-game Moon, which rewarded him with the chance to helm a bigger project in Summit’s Source Code. The latter is actually one of the best-reviewed mainstream releases of the year and an all-around cool flick. It’s clear that this guy knows what works and what doesn’t within the genre, and he’s proven that he’s capable of handling a mid-range budget. The fact that Fox was considering using him to replace Aronofsky on Wolverine means that his stock is rising, so Warner Bros. should get on the DJ train quick.
My first thought was to go with Tony, because he’s not currently committed to a film like his older brother Ridley is. The veteran filmmaker has no problem managing hundred-million-dollar movies and even makes a good one every once in a while. The only reason I’m not totally gung-ho about having him direct Akira is because he’s rarely venture into the realm of science fiction (the one exception was Disney’s Déjà Vu, a convoluted but underrated adventure), but that’s where Ridley comes in. He’s responsible for some of the genre’s very best, including Alien and Blade Runner (and he’s currently working on what could be another milestone, Prometheus). The blockbuster brothers have never co-directed a picture in their long careers, so why not try it with Akira?
If there’s one thing that an Uncharted movie should be, it’s raw and intense. As writer of urban action hits like The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T. and Training Day and director of Harsh Times and Street Kings, I think that Ayer can bring a lot of adrenaline to the international adventures of Nathan Drake. Without question, he’d make the hand-to-hand combat as painfully authentic as it could be and would give the story a real sense of danger. He’s currently filming a new police thriller called End of Watch, but should be done in time to helm Uncharted for its planned 2013 release.
This is one guy who knows a thing or two about started a franchise out on the right foot. From James Bond to Zorro to Green Lantern, he’s taken these characters from page (or radio) to screen with style and high energy. He rarely returns to a series once he gets it out of the gate, so I wouldn’t expect him to stick around for the long haul, but he’d definitely deliver an engrossing picture with well-developed characters and a kick-ass pace.
Sure, he’s plenty busy with Cowboys and Aliens and Magic Kingdom, but I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to think that Favreau would give this Indiana Jones-inspired character a great origin story. His films are very well balanced, focusing equally on story, character and spectacle. They combine in the form of highly watchable, exciting movies that are perfect for all audiences. If he could find the time, I think Favreau would nail Uncharted.
In March 1991 TV stations repeatedly broadcast an amateur videotape of LAPD officers kicking and clubbing Rodney King an unarmed black man. A year later an all-white jury acquitted three officers involved in the beating inciting a riot that killed 54 people and destroyed much of South Central Los Angeles. Dark Blue is a gritty police drama that unfolds in the four days leading up to the verdict. The story revolves around veteran cop Eldon Perry Jr. (Kurt Russell) who does what he needs to do to bring someone to justice even if it means planting a gun--or drugs--on a suspect. But police intimidation and corruption doesn't sit right with his rookie partner Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman). Their ideologies clash when the two are assigned to a high-profile quadruple homicide and receive orders from a high-ranking member of the LAPD to pin the crime on innocent suspects in order to appease the public. Keough contemplates going to Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) the only black man in the department about unfair police practices but is worried about going up against such a tight brotherhood. This cop flick is disturbingly realistic--which unfortunately is also its weakness. It tells us what we already know: that the history of the LAPD is meshed tightly with racism and corruption.
Dark Blue's Perry is a vulgar hard-drinking and unscrupulous cop--and Russell (3 000 Miles to Graceland) does a great job embodying the character. He swears knocks back drinks and smokes cigarettes like he's been doing this since birth. In fact Russell creates such a despicable character that I hoped he would get his ass kicked by rioters. As his naïve partner Keough Speedman (Duets) is a little bland. Keough redeems himself by rising above the police department's practices but Speedman's character is almost too nice and fresh-faced to be a cop in a city like L.A. As Deputy Chief Holland Rhames (Undisputed) is well cast but unfortunately the character is so one-dimensional that he doesn't make for a very passionate hero. The problem here is not the acting but the film's characters which are too simply drawn. Keough for example is not only unprejudiced he's politically correct--he has a black girlfriend and gets offended when his big bad partner uses the "n" word. And Holland is not only honorable he's a churchgoing community leader. It's not that these characteristics are bad but they are certainly tautological and stereotypical by movie standards.
If this movie sounds a lot like Training Day it's because scribe David Ayer wrote both of them. Unfortunately Dark Blue's characters are drawn with such a heavy hand they reek of clichés and are a far cry from Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke's complicated and well-developed characters in Training Day. Director Ron Shelton found success with the 1988 hit Bull Durham and--with the 1994 sports drama Cobb--proved that he could deliver character-driven movies that were well worth watching. Despite the rigid characters he manages to deliver a straight-up dirty-cop movie that effectively mirrors the LAPD. (Is Holland for example the film's take on former LAPD Chief of Police Bernard Parks?) Shelton achieves the film's true-to-life feel by leaving out slick car chases explosions and shootouts and paying closer attention to sets such as Perry's unadorned house and the clunker he drives. There are some great scenes towards the end of the film when Perry is driving through South Central as the riots--which caused an estimated $900 million in damages--break out. What's even more chilling however is the lack of LAPD presence at the riot epicenter.
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) has one day and one day only to prove himself to his new partner Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) a 13-year vet of the LAPD narcotics division. Harris' years of hardcore experience on Los Angeles' meanest streets though have turned him into the same sort of criminal he's supposed to be putting away. At first it seems Harris intends to teach Hoyt his own brand of justice: that in order to catch the big fish sometimes officers must throw the smaller ones back. But as the hours slip away Hoyt learns just how bad his badass partner really is--Harris starts out as a taunting joker who just wants to give Hoyt a hard time but by nightfall he's turned into a full-blown monster bent on saving his own skin no matter what.
This two-man show is really a one-man show. It's Washington's game all the way as he bursts the almost priestly bubble of do-goodness that has surrounded him like a halo for most of his career with a sudden murderous burst of gunfire. In Day he is larger than life; clad in black leather and huge jewelry he towers both physically and psychologically over a scrawny goateed Hawke (looking like he just walked off the Reality Bites set) who tries valiantly to keep up with his Oscar-winning co-star. It's not that a perfectly wet-behind-the-ears Hawke doesn't adequately carry off the acting required for the situation he's in but really we're supposed to believe he hold his own in a fistfight-turned-deathmatch against guys more than twice his size? For his part Washington chews the scenery like it was his last meal as Alonzo goes from bad to worse but he sure makes it look fun.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Bait) used to direct music videos for artists like Coolio and it shows. Love the cool camera angles the warped POV shots the primary colors and raw soundtrack. And Fuqua's not afraid to show the L.A. streets at their worst. The first two-thirds are masterful work in character study as the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred. But by the final third the plot disintegrates getting hacky and waaayy contrived especially the "Hey! It just so happens..." coinky-dinks and a laughable ending that falls flat as a pancake and panders to an urban audience almost to the point of patronization. Most of this movie is so over-the-top it would be unwatchable were it not for its charismatic lead.