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Friday, February 22, 2008

The 7 Most Powerful Wizards (Too Lazy to Use Their Powers)


Wizards have been an essential element of fantasy movies since the dawn of the cinema. Essentially, you can't hope to have a universe of dragons, trolls and adventurous men with names like "Numedor" without including a powerful wizard who is there to lend a magical hand when the going gets tough.

Unfortunately, not every wizard in film history has stepped up, and some seem to flat-out prefer cashing in their wizard pensions and spending the rest of their 2,000-year lifespan as the door greeter at Walmart than perform their expected duties.

Albus Dumbledore (the Harry Potter series)

Dumbledore is the headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and basically the most powerful damned wizard in the Harry Potter universe. He's a kindly old man, which is a good thing because he can turn invisible, create objects out of thin air, read minds, shoot fire, whatever. He's pretty much a god.

Unfortunately, most of the time he gives kind of boring speeches and makes a teenage boy do everything that he, being nearly all-powerful, should probably be doing instead.

The case against him:
Fans of the Harry Potter series have uttered the phrase "Where the crap is Dumbledore during all of this?" more than once. He's usually away on business when Harry and his friends are in imminent danger of attack, and the three of them are usually left to either figure out difficult riddles or single-handedly fight humongous snakes, a giant troll, an army of gigantic spiders--pretty much every horror imaginable. And when he says he's away on business, you know he's probably just hanging out in his apartment in his wizard underpants watching the wizarding equivalent of Frasier reruns.

Consider Prisoner of Azkaban, where in order to save a friend he casually advises Hermione to use a "Time Turner" device, which lets you effortlessly go back in time and change any thing you want.

Wait, what? Why didn't he go back in time and deal with it? Or better yet prevent all those things from happening with his wizard powers? Why not go back and prevent the birth of the wizard Antichrist, Voldemort? And in the 6th book, he actually dies. The man can travel through time, but he couldn't prevent his own freaking death?

Skeletor (Masters of the Universe)

Skeletor is He-Man's main nemesis in the Masters of the Universe TV show, comics and films. Essentially a nude, muscular Smurf with a yellow skull for a head, Skeletor is a highly-skilled sorcerer who wields one half of the "Power Sword." He-Man has the other half, and whoever unites the two will become, dare we say, the Master of the Universe.

The case against him:
If you're into nude men who like to ride around on giant cats then your entertainment options were pretty much limited to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. As a fan you know that Skeletor was possibly the baddest guy on this or any other planet.

He was blue, wore nothing but some legwarmers, a mini-skirt and a pair of suspenders, and had an entire mysterious magical arsenal at his command. He could fire lasers out of his eyes, teleport and shoot lightning out of his hands. But most convenient of all, was that he possessed the power of 'remote viewing' which enabled him to sit around in Snake Mountain and cackle at a vision of He-Man and his fellow semi-nude male friends, remarking to henchman Beast Man how He-Man was 'about to fall into' a devious trap he'd set (devious in this case meaning "easily escapable").

Unfortunately, most of the time He-Man escapes from Skeletor's snares by either tricking him or overpowering him. Often the two would wind up dueling with their Power Swords, and He-Man would usually win by cutting a rope that would cause a chandelier to land on Skeletor, binding his arms as he hopped up and down, cursing He-Man and vowing revenge.

Why Skeletor during these encounters would not rely on his eyeball lasers or finger lightning is not known. Skeletor also demonstrated, on several occasions, an ability to teleport himself as well as other people across great distances.

The fact that He-Man does not find himself whisked away to Bismarck, North Dakota every time he engages Skeletor is a question for the ages, or at the very least the screenwriters.

Profion (Dungeons and Dragons)

In this 2000 film, good Empress Savina is deeply concerned about equal rights and democracy for all, while evil Wizard Profion (Jeremy Irons) wants to rule all the land by ... OK, who cares, really? This movie was terrible, and Profion was the bad guy.

The case against him:
As far as evil wizards go, Profion is about as evil as they come. You can tell he's evil because he laughs at his own jokes a lot and hams up every scene he's in. Since he was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons, you'd think there would be some semblance of craft going on, and you would be wrong.

Anyway, Profion seems to be the most knowledgeable wizard in all the land--the only real competition we notice in the movie is in the form of a highly inexperienced apprentice wizard named Marina, who throughout the film relies almost entirely on Marlon Wayans and some other guy to rescue her. Magically speaking, Profion could pretty much have his way with everyone in the entire D&D universe and there isn't a damn thing anyone could really do about it.

Instead, Profion spends the entire movie laughing at something he just said and looking out from his tower of doom at the destruction he has wrought while, again, cackling wildly at what a hoot the whole thing is to him. He also refuses to do any actual work and sends his lackey, Damodar, to chase the good guys, as if standing around and chewing all the scenery is a full-time job.

Merlin (Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders)

Merlin has returned after centuries of absence to open up a shop in modern day America, circa 1984. With his bulky wife, Zurella, Merlin gives away or loses a number of magical artifacts which wreak havoc ranging from summoning Satan to causing plants to die.

The case against him:
As legend has it, Merlin is one of the greatest and most powerful wizards who has ever lived. Part human, part demon, he is a being of supreme skill and wisdom. Various writings have shown Merlin to have the power of prophecy, telepathy, necromancy, the ability to conjure realistic and terrifying illusions, and even an Obi Wan Kenobi-like "force ghost" power to revisit the living after death.

For being the keeper of all magical knowledge in the world and for supposedly being all-seeing and all-knowing, the Merlin in the '90s made-for-TV Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders would seem not up to the task of working the graveyard shift at a 7-11, much less raising the dead.

Lacking a basic knowledge of economics, Merlin gives away items in his store free of charge to anyone who decides to stop in, and he relies exclusively on a puppet, uh, we mean dragon, named Gwendelin for his security system. When a street hoodlum foils Gwendelin and makes off with an evil toy monkey, Merlin recovers the item not via a location triangulation spell but by handing out 'have you seen me?' flyers bearing the monkey's picture. Why not summon the monkey back using his powers of teleportation? Why not travel back in time and beef up his store's security? Why not rain hellfire down upon the earth, destroying the monkey and most of the planet's inhabitants? Unfortunately, we may never know.

Gargamel (The Smurfs)

Gargamel is a hermit "wizard" who is the Smurfs' main antagonist. At various times he either wants to capture the Smurfs and use them as part of a potion that creates gold, or he wants to eat them. The Smurfs are a versatile resource for Gargamel.

The case against him:
If successful wizarding were baseball, Gargamel would be the White Sox. His only goal in life is to capture the Smurfs and since all Smurfs are roughly the size of squirrels and subsist almost entirely on a diet of Smurfberries, one would conclude that a basic knowledge of mousetraps would do the trick.

Instead, Gargamel, with the entire arsenal of potions from the wizarding world at his disposal, launches infuriatingly complicated Rube Goldbergian magical schemes, and completely fails every single time.

Being outsmarted by a Smurf is like being outsmarted by one of your shoes. The Smurfs each fulfill a specific function in their little communist utopia, such as being bashful, vain or gay. Take them out of that element and they have no idea how to cope outside of screaming their blue heads off to get Papa Smurf to rescue them. The fact that Papa Smurf usually does rescue them by using his own magical powers means that Papa Smurf is actually a far greater wizard than Gargamel. By extension this probably also means that one of your shoes is likely a far greater wizard than Gargamel.

Ulrich of Craggenmoor (Dragonslayer)

In this 1981 cult classic, Ulrich of Craggenmoor is the only wizard left in the world, or at least the world known as the Kingdom of Urland in which the film takes place. He is almost immediately killed while showing off for a knight named Tyrian.

The case against him:
You might think it's a little unfair to pick on a wizard who dies right at the beginning of his film, and we'd have to agree with you in most cases except this one. When Ulrich dies, no one remains to defeat the evil dragon, Valerian, except Ulrich's doofy apprentice, Galen Bradwarden. The entire movie passes by before you find out Ulrich died on purpose so Galen could bring him back to life at the end, thus saving Ulrich from an entire movie's worth of walking around.

That's right--he'd rather die than exert himself a little. Here we're not even discussing wizarding powers-Ulrich is simply an extremely lazy human being. As a wizard, you'd think there would be an easier means other than causing one's own death to span distances or time. Cryogenic freezing would be one. Carbonite would be another. As would turning one's self into some kind of winged creature and gliding to wherever it is you're going.

Any decent wizard should have any number of these options at his fingertips, and by all accounts Ulrich was a more-than-decent wizard. Then again, if part of Ulrich's decision to die was to get out of having to hang out with that dumbass Galen for the entire movie, we have an entirely new respect for him.

Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings)

Gandalf is a wizened old wizard beloved by Hobbits and various other things in part due to his curmudgeonly nature and propensity for smoking weed while lighting off trippy fireworks. In the films, he has a working knowledge of Middle Earth geography, has a number of decent contacts amongst the ruling parties of the land and is there with his glowing staff whenever anyone needs a flashlight.

The case against him:
In the books, Gandalf is a being of extraordinary magical prowess. Immortality, for starters. He also happens to be able to disappear at will, is apparently impervious to injury, can conjure and control fire, has limitless knowledge of spells, potions, and sorcery, and is all but unequaled in the wizard world.

In the films, though, we primarily see his ability to speak ominously when any Hobbit gives him any lip, and for being able to produce light from the end of his decorative stick. Without warning, he'll flash real ability, such as when he went toe-to-toe with the massive fiery Balrog (complete with a cool-ass invincibility bubble that would have come in handy on about 200 other occasions).

That he chooses to use those skills so rarely with all of Middle Earth at stake must have been incredibly frustrating for the people who had to work with him. If he can defeat a Balrog, why does he spend 12 hours sitting around trying to figure out the password to the Gates of Moria? Why not just blow them up with a silent rock-exploding spell? Why is a super-powered wizard with unlimited magical ability doing fighting orcs hand-to-hand?

This is like melting ants with a magnifying glass when you have access to an M1 Abrams tank. The same guy who can make magical force fields that will block a giant demon sword in the first film, goes charging into battle in the third by smacking people with his staff.

Gandalf's laziness as a wizard is cemented by his perpetual spankings at the hand of Saruman, who one-ups Gandalf time and again.

Gandalf shoves Saruman with his stick, Saruman then makes Gandalf spin wildly on his head and then levitates thousands of feet to the top of Isengard Tower. Gandalf speaks to butterflies, Saruman creates a new race of super-monsters. Gandalf makes fireworks, Saruman creates an avalanche from hundreds of miles away.

It kind of makes it hard to root for Gandalf to be top wizard in Middle Earth. Saruman sort of earned it.

If you'd like to read us bitch and moan about other movie conventions that probably didn't bother you until now, check out our rundown of The 6 Movie Formulas That Must be Stopped. Then, read about one movie in particular that's pissing Wayne Gladstone off (It should be noted at this point that Wayne gets pissed off about celebrity nanny hiring criteria and Spice Girls reunion tours, so he might just be an angry man)

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Diggnation St. Louis Preshow


It's Official - Live-Action Akira Confirmed Already for 2009!

Back in October last year, we reported a rumor that the Japanese anime classic Akira would eventually be getting a live-action remake. We finally have official confirmation today that says there will not only be a new adaptation, but that it is being split into two movies! Warner Brothers has re-acquired the rights and is putting the first film into production right away, aiming to release the first movie by the summer of 2009. However, the film is primarily going to be adapted from anime artist Katsuhiro Otomo's graphic novel more than the original 1988 anime movie.

Warner Brothers exec Greg Silverman, who previously brought the studio 300 and Batman Begins, brought them Akira and encouraged them to obtain the rights. Although the studio let go of the rights a few years ago, they fought to gain them back in a bidding war, ending up paying in the seven-figures. The studio is describing the film as "Blade Runner meets City of God", which is a fairly fitting description for the story. Each movie will be based on three of the six volumes from Katsuhiro Otomo's graphic novel that was first published in 1982.

The two films will be directed by Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson who is making his feature debut after directing a number of short films and commercials. You can watch his 2006 short titled The Silent City on his website here. The script for the two films is being written by first-time screenwriter Gary Whitta.

Akira is a six-volume manga that was later adapted into an anime movie in 1988. The manga takes place in a vastly larger timeframe than the film and involves a far wider array of characters and subplots. Through the breadth of the work, Otomo explicates themes of social isolation, corruption and power. The original anime and and manga was set in Tokyo, but reports are saying this version will take place in "New Manhattan", a metropolis that was rebuilt after being destroyed 31 years ago. This isn't fully confirmed and we're doing our best to see if this is actually the case.

Kaneda is a bike gang leader whose close friend Tetsuo gets involved in a government secret project known as Akira. On his way to save Tetsuo, Kaneda runs into a group of anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader. The confrontation sparks off Tetsuo's supernatural power leading to bloody death, a coup attempt and the final battle in Tokyo Olympiad where Akira's secrets were buried 30 years ago.

I said it before when talking about the rumor, but this is going to make for one awesome live-action movie. Not only am I a big fan of the anime movie, but there are so many great action scenes, like the futuristic motorcycle chases, that could be amazing in the movie. I'm only concerned that they won't give this duo of films the proper budget that they really need, especially with a first-time feature filmmaker working on them. Whatever the case is, I'll hope for the best!


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The Top 5 Goriest Movie Moments


Everybody loves a decent horror movie. Some people get off on the blood and guts and mucus spilling all over the place, while others prefer to cower uncontrollably in the arms of a loved one. Whatever the reason for watching a horror flick, there’s no question that a decent film with plenty of gore can entertain an audience like no other genre.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 Gory Movie Moments.

#5. Girl gets her eye cut off in Hostel

hostel.jpg

The plot

Three backpackers meet a Russian man in Amsterdam who tells them about a Slovakian hostel full of American-loving, promiscuous women. Like most men, the guys follow their penis to Slovakia for fun and fornication.

The scene

Do you remember how you felt when you first saw her eyeball sagging from the nerves after she’d met the unfortunate end of a blowtorch? How about when the guy doesn’t know what to do and decides to cut it off? Personally, I was shaking my head in utter disbelief and I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or turn away! The oozing puss was really just the cherry on top of the whole thing. Although I didn’t particularly rate the movie, this scene shows that a tiny bit of bodily puss can be more effective than blood and guts.

Video of the scene [not for the squeamish]

#4. Uncle Frank gets hooked in Hellraiser

hellraiser.jpg

The plot

Lunatic Frank Cotton purchases an antique puzzle box from a dealer in Morocco. When he solves the puzzle, chains fly out of the box and tear into his flesh. Then a guy with pins in his head, the aptly named Pinhead, restores the room. Hidden in the depths of the room, Franks soul is restored by a drop of his brothers blood. Frank then encourages his brothers wife Julia to bring him more bodies to restore himself.

The scene

The final scene in Hellraiser is cinematic gore at it’s very finest. Sick and twisted Uncle Frank has almost restored himself, having killed his own brother in the process, and is about to kill his brothers daughter Kirsty. Unfortunately for Frank, the demons are back and he gets ripped to pieces by dozens of hooked chains tearing into his flesh and pulling him apart. Even with hooks pulling his cheeks apart to make him look like the Michelin man, Frank still manages to lick his lips in the way only a creepy Uncle can, before uttering the immortal line, “Jesus Wept.”

Video of the scene

#3. Rhodes being torn apart in Day Of The Dead

dayofdead.jpg

The plot

The third movie in George A. Romero’s Living Dead series is a zombie assault on a military establishment. Essentially, the zombies sweep through the underground compound, killing scientists and soldiers as they go. One of the scientists had been working on a zombie named ‘Bub’ to study how much of his mind was still human. Commanding officer Captain Rhodes doesn’t like it and kills a few doctors before fleeing and leaving his own men to die.

The scene

After getting shot by Bub, Rhodes tries to escape through a door which inevitably leads to a load of zombies. You know what’s going to happen when he opens the door but poor old Rhodes hasn’t got clue. He gets tagged in the gut by Bub and the zombies grab him from behind. What’s great here is the stretching of the skin right before he literally gets ripped into two pieces! All of his blood and guts ooze out in what is a very graphic scene indeed. Another great moment is when Bub gives him the military salute before leaving him to get devoured. Classic.

Video of the scene

#2. The torture scene in The Audition

audition.jpg

The plot

A middle-aged Japanese man by the name of Aoyama who lost his wife seven years ago is urged by his 17-year old son to start dating women. The father and his friend (a film producer) hold mock auditions under the pretense of auditioning for a new film, so that they can find a suitable bride for him. As soon as he sees the beautiful Asami, with her soft voice and quiet confidence - he falls in love.

The scene

This entire scene is just a fantastic piece of torture and pain. To say that Asami is unstable would be the understatement of the century and when she finds a photo of Aoyama’s dead wife, she flips a lid and spikes his drink. Upon waking, he finds that he has been injected with a drug that disables his muscles but keeps his nerves alert. The tension in this scene is amazing as Asami sticks large pins deep into his body and eyelids. As she tortures him she tells him that he will never be completely hers and that she will kill his son. The kicker in this scene is when she pulls out the sharp wire used to cut meat and bone and wraps it around his foot. If you haven’t seen this movie, you really need to. The scene shown below is 8 minutes long but if you want to jump straight to the wire incident, skip ahead to 5.25 on the video.

Video of the scene

#1. Lionel chopping up zombies in Dead Alive/Braindead

braindead.jpg

The plot

Lionel is a young mama’s boy living in a normal neighbourhood. That is until his evil mother gets bitten by an infected rat-monkey (don’t ask). She gets sick and dies. But then she comes back to life as an undead zombie and begins killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends and neighbours - infecting residents of the town in the process. Lionel is the only one who can stop her…and them!

The scene

Holy blood-and-guts-fest Batman! This scene has it all. Lionel waltzes into a house full of zombies with a lawn mower strapped around his neck and nonchalantly proclaims, “Parties over!”. What ensues is a blood bath of arms, fingers, ears, noses, and heads as he plows through the zombies like a man possessed. Over 300 litres of blood were used for this mammoth scene of zombie slaughter. Keep a look out for the random head that gets shoved into a blender and set to juice mode. It’s sheer brilliance. I’d love to see what kind of zombie comedy type movie Peter Jackson could come up with if he were given a Lord Of The Rings sized budget.

Video of the scene

Obviously there are numerous horror movies with plenty of gore-tastic scenes to feast on so if you’ve got a list that differs to ours then leave us a comment listing your top five goriest movie moments and spread the love blood.

If you enjoyed this article, please vote for it on Digg, share it on StumbleUpon, Mixx it or bookmark it on del.icio.us. Thanks for your support!

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Examples of Cinematic Storytelling

During my two-week hiatus (and inspired by Billy’s -The Movie on the Page), I went through a few screenplays to find great examples of -writing the shots. And I have four to share.

First, the opening scene from Hampton Fancher’s Blade Runner. He never used “we see” or camera angles, but his writing clearly implies with the Secondary Heading of “THE EYE” that the scene opens with an extreme close-up of an eye, which is essential to the story. His descriptions help visualize (without taking you out of the story by using technical jargon) that the camera would pan back to reveal that the eye is just an image on a screen. As we pan, we’d learn an important detail by seeing the VOIGHT-KAMPFF words on the mechanism. The camera would keep panning back to reveal the desk and then pan around or perhaps cut to Leon. We’d first see his nametag and the folded, pudgy hands in his lap before we move up to his face. Then there’s a cut to Holden, the man facing him, which reads like a medium shot (or thereabouts). It’s not until after the cut to Holden that we’re even given a description of the room.

How many aspiring writers would start with just a general description of the room and try to use dialogue to get out the VOIGHT-KAMPFF information as well as the names of the two characters in the room? This is such a great, writing-the-shots example of cinematic storytelling. It’s the way Fancher is thinking like a filmmaker that’s impressive to me. [The result in the finished film (if you can ever call Blade Runner a “finished film”) is slightly different. The shots are all there, as described in the script, but Ridley Scott would open the film with a shot of the city and an approaching vehicle that’s flying toward the Tyrell building so that you could see Holden pacing in a window as he waits for Leon to show up. Then he cuts to the interior of the room. Leon walks in, and for some reason, Ridley uses a VOICE OVER to introduce him. A computerized female voice says something like: “Next subject: Kowalski, Leon.” Ugh, makes me cringe every time. Ridley should’ve listened to his screenwriter.]



Second, here’s a scene written by Alex Proyas (with the help of David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs) from the Dark City screenplay. This is a four-star film, one of Ebert’s Great Movies. He once went through the movie shot-by-shot with film students in Hawaii. It took him four days. He wrote, “Proyas likes deep-focus compositions. Many interior spaces are long and narrow. Exteriors look down one street to the vanishing point, and then the camera pans to look down another street, equally long. The lighting is low-key and moody. The color scheme depends on blacks, browns, shadows and the pallor of the Strangers; warmer colors exist in human faces, in neon signs and on the billboard for Shell Beach. ‘I am simply grateful for this shot,’ I said in Hawaii more than once. ‘It is as well-done as it can possibly be.’ Many other great films give you the same feeling -- that their makers were carried far beyond the actual requirements of their work into the passion of creating something wonderful.”

Alex Proyas is a writer-director so this scene has some camera angles in it, which we would not write. It’s just as easy to say “SLEEPING EYES – between waves of light…” than “ANGLE ON SLEEPING EYES.” They both mean the same thing. Also, you could just as easily say “WALKER” instead of “TIGHT ON WALKER.” Instead of “P.O.V.”, you could write “He looks” and write “AROUND THE ROOM” as a Secondary Heading to imply a pan. In any case, I love the way he’s thinking visually here and begins this scene by moving the camera around the room, first with the glass syringe on the floor, over to the clothes on a chair, to the puddles of water, and up the tub to the sleeping eyes of Jonathan Walker. You can easily visualize the editing in this scene, too - where one shot ends and the next one begins.



Here’s a sequence from Robert Towne’s Chinatown, a script that really deserves no introduction. This is my favorite sequence in this script. Reading this for the first time years ago was such a revelation to me. I love the way Towne uses Secondary Headings to cut back and forth between Gittes and Mulwray. In the hands of lesser writers, this sequence could have been a bear to read and follow. With a pro like Robert Towne, it’s simple, seamless, and visual. As far as I’m concerned, there was no other way to write this sequence.



And finally, here’s the opening scene from The Long Kiss Goodnight by Shane Black. A number of elements I love about this scene. He has the camera panning from the windowpane over to the bed and to the eyes of the sleeping little girl who wakes up. It’s dark. The mother by the bed is just a vague shape. After a little dialogue, she turns on the nightlight, which brings a surprising visual revelation. And then we’re back to the mother by the bed and then back to same windowpane where we began. My man, Shane Black - I love his work.


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