In the cinematic desert that is the January-February movie-release schedule one gains a greater appreciation for mere competence. And that’s precisely what you’ll get with Man on a Ledge a mid-budget thriller with modest aspirations and genuine popcorn appeal. Sam Worthington (Avatar Clash of the Titans) stars as Nick Cassidy a former New York City cop wrongly convicted for the theft of a prized diamond. After exhausting all judicial avenues for exoneration he takes the unusual and seemingly desperate next step of planting himself on a ledge outside the penthouse of midtown’s Roosevelt Hotel and threatening to jump. An NYPD psychologist (Elizabeth Banks) is summoned to talk him down unaware that Nick harbors an ulterior motive. From his perch above midtown he is secretly orchestrating a scheme to take revenge against the corrupt corporate chieftain (Ed Harris) who engineered his demise and prove his innocence once and for all.
Director Asger Leth making his U.S. feature-film debut with Man on a Ledge keeps the pace brisk and never allows the tone to stray into self-seriousness which is crucial for a movie whose premise is so devoutly ridiculous. The script from Pablo F. Fenjves provides enough feints and twists to keep us engaged. Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez aren’t the most believable of couples but there’s a screwball charm to their comic routine as amateur thieves charged with aiding Nick’s scheme. (Leth can’t resist inserting an entirely superfluous – but nonetheless greatly appreciated – scene of the criminally gorgeous Rodriguez stripping down to a thong in the middle of a heist.) Worthington makes for a likable populist protagonist even if his Australian accent betrays him on copious occasions and Harris’ disturbingly emaciated frame lends an added menace to his devious plutocrat villain.
The world was a very different place 20 000 years ago. Humans and animals survived off each other and the land in a fend-for-themselves world; the chances of two species coming together for any purpose other than the hunt was unlikely. Thus the camaraderie between Manfred the Mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano) Sid the Sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo) and Diego the Saber-Tooth Tiger (voiced by Denis Leary) sounds odd but it proves it's possible to stumble upon future lifelong friends in the most improbable ways. In this case it's the caretaking of a human baby. When the baby washes up on the shore of a riverbank the three strangers become begrudging partners as they try to return the babe to its human family for their own reasons: Manny because he lacks a family of his own Sid out of the kindness of his heart and Diego to avenge his pride. The trek isn't easy of course; there are ice caves to navigate lava pits to jump over and secrets to unearth about each of them.
It doesn't take long to recognize comedian Ray Romano's voice as Manny. Although the screenplay credits belong to Michael Berg Michael J. Wilson and Peter Ackerman Romano really adopts the subtle jokes as his own. Admittedly it took a while to forget about Romano and realize there was a woolly mammoth on the screen. John Leguizamo's Sid though is by far the star of the show. His lisp and "slothful" way of speaking captures the kind of goofy talk kids love. Denis Leary gives Diego a strong and soothing voice one caught between loyalty to tradition and newfound friendship. Director Chris Wedge puts his voice to work too through the no-so-dialogue-intensive squirrel Scrat (and a few other minor characters) the acorn-chasing entrée act. His voice perfectly matches the squirrel's quick and erratic behavior.
Director Chris Wedge equally distributes the time spent on character development and the setting-up of family unit boundaries within a pack. Manny's naturally monstrous proportions make him the ultimate father figure and protector while his slow yet constant demeanor also makes him the decision maker and mediator. Also a parental figure Diego's inborn reflexes and hunting senses help him to be the better tracker of the group navigating the threesome and their tiny charge along the humans' path. Sid's long hook-like claws help him adapt to the ice-laden landscape skating across frozen lakes with ease but his small size and lack of maturity make him more an older brother to the baby than a parent. The major drawback to this familial cycle of life however is that it's unusually male dominated. Only four females appear in the entire script and each very briefly: one is the baby's mother one is the last known female dodo bird and the other two are skanky sloths whom Sid tries to scam in a mud bath.
Our friends over at Eon Magazine (www.mothership.com) scored a major scoop this week, publishing the first-ever interview with director Sam Raimi on the subject of the wall-crawling, web-shooting "Spider-Man" movie. Of course, Raimi wouldn't talk about plot details, but he waxed about his love of Marvel Comics' marquee character, a pulp teen icon of the post-atomic age. "What I hope to put into the movie is what I found so attractive about the comic books," Raimi said in the interview. "[Peter Parker, Spidey's true identity] is not pretending to be somebody, like Superman pretends to be Clark Kent. Superman is really cool and unstoppable and he winks at us with the glasses and says, 'I'm just pretending to be a nerd.' But Peter really is. He never loses sight of who he is and that's what's great about him. He's still us in that costume."
The other, equally interesting "Spider-Man" news this week is selection of John Dykstra as the film's visual-effects supervisor. Dykstra's illustrious career includes old-school masterpieces like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and new-school, digital-minded stuff like "Batman Forever" and "Stuart Little," so we can (hopefully) expect a pastiche of digital cityscapes and traditional effects. "It certainly won't be in any way pedestrian," Dykstra promised.
George Lucas LUCAS LAMPOONED: Go figure. The famed underground parody short, "George Lucas in Love," just went on sale at Amazon.com, and it's out selling copies of the real Lucas' own "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace."
The flick, directed by Joe Nussbaum, depicts a nerdy young Lucas (circa 1967) suffering from writer's block during his film school days at USC. As of this afternoon, "George Lucas in Love" was Amazon's third-best video seller; "Phantom Menace," it's number-four best performer.
Famous Monsters of Filmland DR. ACULA LIVES! Horror-movie guru Forrest J. Ackerman has won his battle to defend his good name. Not his real name, but his pen name, "Dr. Acula," which Ackerman claimed that his ex-business partner, Ray Ferry, had surreptitiously stolen from him.
Ackerman, founder and former publisher of the iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, was awarded $724,000 by a jury this week, ending a lawsuit in which horror and sci-fi notables like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and John Landis testified. The defendants, of course, say they will appeal.
(SCI-FI GEEK is a roundup of genre movie news, appearing weekly on Hollywood.com.)
It's shaping up as one of the greatest battles in the history of monster movies, right up there with "Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man," "King Kong vs. Godzilla" and even the yet-unfilmed "Freddy vs. Jason." Coming soon to a courtroom near you (via Court TV, natch): "Forry vs. Ferry," with cameos by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Hugh Hefner and others.
The "Forry" in question is Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a guru to sci-fi and horror movie geeks all over the world (including Hollywood directors Joe Dante, Sam Raimi and Frank Darabont). "Ferry" is one Ray Ferry, the magazine's current publisher, and the target of a $1 million lawsuit in which Ackerman seeks to regain control of his creature-feature legacy.
"I hope future generations of fans will remember me as the preserver and promoter of the imagi-movie genre, and the original Famous Monsters of Filmland as the bible according to Saint Forry," the 83-year-old Ackerman tells Hollywood.com.
Famous Monsters of Filmland Ackerman produced Famous Monsters (or "FM" as readers know it) from 1958 to 1982. FM was the first magazine of its kind, a ritual read for lovers of horror galore -- from the good stuff (Karloff, Lugosi, Christopher Lee) to the bad (like "Reptilicus" and "The Hideous Sun Demon"). Every issue overflowed with huge photographs, and there was lots of cool stuff to buy (like monster masks and model kits) via old-school mail order. But what made it unique was Ackerman's inimitable, pun-prone prose. ("Hello boils and ghouls! I'm looking forryward to Mummorial Day! Hope your horrordays are everything you scream of!" Etc.)
Ferry, a filmmaker, photographer and Forry fan, revived the mag in 1993 and retained Ackerman as editor. The two men parted ways around 1995, with Ackerman exiting the magazine and Ferry continuing to publish it.
Now Ackerman says Ferry drove a Dracula-sized stake through his heart. Not only does Ackerman's suit say that he wasn't paid for work he did on the mag, it alleges that Ferry stole the monstermeister's vernacular, downplayed his role in producing the magazine and publicly demeaned his abilities as a writer and editor.
Forrest J. Ackerman (right) with Vincent Price To help defend his rightful place in horrordom, Ackerman plans to summon a few friends to the witness stand when the case goes to trial April 11 in a San Fernando Valley, Calif., court. Among them are authors King and Bradbury (both former clients from Ackerman's days as a literary agent), director John Landis ("Twilight Zone: The Movie"), Playboy mogul Hefner, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris) and Gene Simmons, the blood-spitting, fire-breathing rocker from KISS.
A point of contention for the Ackerman camp is that, after all these years, FM still looks and reads pretty much the same as it did 30 years ago. The horror mogul says that his pen name ("Dr. Acula") and all the catchphrases he created -- like "Fang Mail," "You Axed For It!" and "Beast Witches" -- belong to him. But Ferry and his lawyer say it's a matter of intellectual property rights; since Ackerman created his "Forryisms" for FM, they remain property of the magazine and, therefore, they have the right to them -- and Ackerman doesn't.
"We think the complaint is preposterous," says Ferry's attorney, Thomas Brackey. "We try a lot of cases, and this one is really from left field."
As in any decent monster vs. monster movie, it's not always easy to tell the "good" creature from the "evil" one.
Brackey says his client never ripped off Ackerman, and there are canceled checks to prove it. Moreover, Ferry has filed a $25 million countersuit, alleging that Ackerman issued death threats, harassed him by posting a stir-up-the-fans message on the Internet and sent him hundreds of faxes at all hours. Ferry also says the windows of his home have been shot out.
"I don't think we're worried so much about Mr. Ackerman coming out and doing something [to Ferry], but he has a lot of supporters who are dedicated to his cause, and some of these guys are going around shooting out windows," Brackey says. "There's a little bit of a mob mentality out there in monster fandom."
Ackerman retorts: "I have never threatened Ferry over the Internet or anywhere, even verbally or mentally."
At the trial, Ferry plans to summon iconic science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison as his star witness. Ellison went to court last year seeking a restraining order against Ackerman, saying he was similarly harassed with faxes.
Ackerman, who coined the term "sci-fi" in the 1950s, is also one of the world's biggest collectors of sci-fi books, movie props and other memorabilia. He has an estimated 300,000 items (such as Lon Chaney's teeth and hat from 1927's "London After Midnight" and a vampire cape worn by Bela Lugosi), all housed at his creepy home, "The Ackermansion," in the Hollywood Hills.
The collection is also at issue in the lawsuit. Ackerman once gave Ferry the right to purchase part of it for a mere $2,500 after his own death, but now Ackerman wants to rescind that agreement so he'll be free to sell or donate his memorabilia.
Ackerman, who gives his version of events on his Web site (http://www.best.com/~4forry/), has solicited contributions from friends to help pay his legal bills, and some high-profile sci-fi aficionados have reportedly answered the call.
As John Landis once said: "It's amazing how many lives [Ackerman has] touched in his weird, bizarre way. He's a touchstone for all those crazy people out there."