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Thomas Jane talks about dialogue--and its absence
Appellate Judge James A. Stewart -- October 31st, 2012 8:52PM

For the last couple of Halloween seasons, I've been checking out horror movies and other frightening media as October rolls around. I'd literally just finished watching Eyes Without a Face on Hulu when a PR rep sent a digital copy of Dark Country, Thomas Ott's graphic novel tied to the movie and short story of the same name.

The first thing you notice is what you don't see: words. It was a bit of a surprise to realize it when I was done reading, but it works well that way. The short story is included with the graphic novel; reading it reminds you that telling stories just in images can be really creepy.

Thomas Jane, who directed the movie and, with Raw Comics partner Tim Bradstreet, oversaw the graphic novel, said he "stole a lot of his images" for the movie version of Dark Country from Ott. "He was a big inspiration for the look of the film."

Jane wanted to repay the favor with the artist, and Ott, taking a look at the original short story on which the movie is based, decided it was right up his alley. Jane headed off to Europe to work with Ott on the project.

"Ott's got a sort of signature style. First he does his scratchboard style, scratching a black board to scratch away the black," Jane said. The other part of Ott's style is the absence of dialogue. "It's kind of like a silent movie, very very creative. He's got quite a lot of fans over in Europe."

"Thomas' take on the graphic novel is pretty much his own personal style. It's a really creative way he can tell a whole story using just visuals," Jane said.

The movie, of course, wasn't silent, although Jane did concentrate on visuals.

"I think movies today rely too heavily on dialogue. When movies were silent, people had to be a lot more creative," Jane said.

Jane said he'd like to one day direct a silent movie himself, noting that Chad St. John, the writer of his The Punisher: Dirty Laundry short, has a no-dialogue script. "Not silent--no one talks. It's a brilliantly executed way of telling a story. Captivating.

"It really just depends on what the story is, if you find the right story."

The movie Dark Country was Jane's first feature as a director. "It was a great sort of student film to cut my teeth on. I bit off a bit more than I could chew." Dark Country was the first all-digital 3D movie, which required a lot of invention on the technical side. Jane acknowledged "a lot of mistakes in it" and noted that the studio asked for 10 minutes' more footage, which means it drags in places. However, he's been encouraged by the response at screenings at horror and comic conventions around the country.

Dark Country is the first graphic novel/movie combo Jane's been involved with, although Alien Pig Farm 3000, a previous Raw Comics title, was considered for filming.

Jane's second feature, The Magnificent Death, starts shooting in spring 2013. "A lot of people told me I should do a Western," he said.

As he preps, Jane--who is collaborating with Bradstreet on the movie--has been immersing himself in the old West, both on film and in books, to capture the feel of his 1879 setting. "It's the history of Westerns at my house every night," he said. Just recently, he's been watching Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dynamite, John Ford's Two Rode Together, Richard Brooks' The Professionals with Lee Marvin, and George Stevens' Shane. He's also been looking at the Western photography of Ansel Adams and Timothy O'Sullivan. He's also been going East--looking at the samurai movies which were influenced by Westerns.

For more on the movie Dark Country, check out Clark Douglas' DVD Verdict review here. Ott's Dark Country graphic novel was published by Raw Comics; other Ott works are Fantagraphics Books releases.




Director gives "Silent Hill" the power of reality
Appellate Judge James A. Stewart -- October 22nd, 2012 9:52PM

"Imagine Alice in Wonderland filmed through the eyes of David Cronenberg."

That's how British director Michael J. Bassett (Deathwatch) describes his new movie, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, due in theaters on Friday, October 26, just in time for Halloween frights. The movie returns to the strange world under a West Virginia town, seen in the movie Silent Hill and the video game series that inspired it.

He compared it to classic 3D movies like House of Wax in that "I'm trying to do the same thing. I want the 3D to be entertaining." At the same time, he notes the technology has gotten much better, allowing him to do more. "I want to immerse the audience in detail, make them feel they're looking in a window."

He says Revelation 3D is done "a little less exploitatively, a little more artistically."

That includes the influence of surreal artists such as Hieronymous Bosch. "It's essential to have an artistic eye, to draw on many influences, even multiple medias and disciplines."

Bennett put his eye to work in set design, costuming, and other production detail. "I'm an old-school filmmaker. I want to use virtually no CGI."

Bassett relied heavily on "prosthetics, makeup, and men in suits," along with locations that included a Toronto-area power station and real sets, because he wanted the movie "to feel like a real world." He did use some digital effects to create "things that couldn't be achieved," like the video game's fog world and one character who couldn't be done with prosthetics.

"I can't stand just standing in front of a big green screen."

With younger actors, "I want them to really feel it." Carrie-Ann Moss (The Matrix) and Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) have worked with green screens a lot, but star Adelaide Clemens (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), who plays young Heather Mason, hasn't. "I gave her the opportunity to have real responses." Veterans and newcomers alike seemed to appreciate the old-fashioned filmmaking experience, he said, even if the power station--"a carcass of industrial complexity"--at times proved to be "a horrendous location."

Moss, he said, particularly liked not having eyebrows, matching character Claudia Wolf's appearance in the Silent Hill video games. "I want to have the unusual look," she told him.

Bennett, a fan of the Silent Hill video games, wanted to make the strange look of the video games real, with lots of detail that gamers will pick up on.

"There's a difference between a movie and a video game that's quite profound," he said. "You want to make that stuff come alive."

The result, Bassett hopes, will be "frightening and hugely entertaining."




Looper's Summer Qing has roles in past, present, future
Appellate Judge James A. Stewart -- October 6th, 2012 12:51PM

Summer Qing hopes American audiences will soon recognize her after appearing as Bruce Willis' wife in the new movie Looper. She's already a familiar face in China. Looper gives a nod to that with a hammock scene in which the book Laughing in the Wind, which was the basis for one of her Chinese TV series, is seen.

Qing spoke to Cinema Verdict through a translator just after the time-travel movie--also starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt--was released in both the United States and China.

According to the British Guardian newspaper, Looper topped Chinese releases, with a gross estimated at $23 million-$25 million. With a $21 million opening in the States, that makes it the "first blockbuster to boast a bigger opening weekend figure in China than for its US debut," the Guardian said. Qing said she was pleased with Looper's strength in China.

Director Rian Johnson was looking for a Chinese actress for the U.S.-China co-production, and liked Qing's work in the historical epic The Founding of a Republic and the Hong Kong action picture Flash Point, in which she played a "good bad girl." Qing didn't get to do action scenes in Looper, although she has done some in Hong Kong and China.

Her Chinese career leans toward historical epics like Farewell my Concubine and The Emperor's Shadow. Qing says she enjoys both styles of movies, although they give her a "different feeling."

For Looper, Qing traveled between Louisiana and China, filming scenes with Willis around New Orleans and a beach scene with Gordon-Leavitt in Shanghai.

Qing finds the differences between working in China, Hong Kong, and the United States small. "What does matter is to have a good team," she said, noting that she's been fortunate in that regard, working with actors who are "professional and passionate about what they do."

Qing hopes she'll get to show her skills in a stateside action movie soon. In the meantime, she's got three projects--an action movie and two biopics, all optioned from books--in the works through her own production company and destined for international release. Qing's company has already released two films, and she enjoys the variety that having her own company brings.




Seeing the light
Appellate Judge James A. Stewart -- July 26th, 2012 5:19PM

I just saw The Dark Knight Rises and noticed an irony, given the horrible opening-day drama in Colorado. There's a message in there somewhere. The movie is about standing up to fear and terrorism, both in Bruce Wayne's personal confrontation with Bane and in the city-held-hostage plot. Thus, it already speaks quite well against the sort of nightmare that it opened to.




A Comic-Con Noob Shares Her Experiences -- Sunday
Judge Dawn Hunt -- July 21st, 2012 3:52AM

Sunday saw me in line by 3 AM. No that's not a typo…I was lying down on the sidewalk with hundreds of my fellow attendees awaiting the opening of Hall H. Once the doors opened I was thrilled to get in and find a seat as it meant I was going to get to see the Fringe panel but more importantly I had a guaranteed seat for Supernatural which followed. The Fringe panel was unexpectedly emotional as Jasika Nicole, Anna Torv and Lance Reddick all broke down in tears at one point. The panel attendees all received high quality Fringe fedoras featuring a ribbon imprinted with the logo as well as an announcement of the final season. It was by far the coolest swag I got for going to a panel.

And then it was time for Supernatural featuring stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as well as Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard, Jim Beaver, executive producer Jeremy Carver and producer Ben Edlund who was seriously on some kind of mood altering substance. Was it simply too much caffeine? Maybe. Did he come across as being on speed? Definitely. The panel shared a sneak peak of the gag reel which will be included on the upcoming season seven Blu-ray and DVD release coming out in September as well as a clip package created especially for the panel.

Once I was done swooning over Mr. Ackles and company it was time to hit another comic panel, this time DC Nation. (Yes, I left the Doctor Who panel so someone who was a true fan could take my seat. Karma at work, I hope.) Moderated by surprise guest Kevin Smith, the panel focused mainly on upcoming offerings Young Justice, Beware the Batman, and Teen Titans Go! Proving what a true fan he is normally verbose Smith merely nodded at any comment directed his way and pointed to the panelists, indicating where he thought our attention should be directed. Although fans of the original Teen Titans may have left disappointed with the direction their favorite characters were headed it was a worthwhile panel nonetheless.

I couldn't think of a better way to end my panel experience than with Buffy turns 20, a panel featuring someone from every incarnation of Buffy, starting with the motion picture and ending with the current graphic novels. Clare Kramer, who was the “Big Bad” Glorificus of season five, moderated the panel which featured Nicholas Brendon, (Xander from the series) James Marsters, (Spike from the series) Jane Espenson, (writer/producer) Georges Jentry, (graphic novel illustrator) Scott Allie (Dark Horse publishing editor) and Randall Batinkoff (Jeffrey from the feature film). The highlight was Nicholas Brendan doing the Snoopy dance. It was the perfect ending to our last day at Comic-Con.




A Comic-Con Noob Shares Her Experiences -- Saturday
Judge Dawn Hunt -- July 21st, 2012 3:49AM

Saturday morning dawned bright and early and we made our way back to the Indigo Ballroom in plenty of time to catch a solid four hours of panels starting with Attack of the Show. The running joke of the panel was the lack of a host for the show and thus three people from the audience were called upon to audition for the role which led to laughs aplenty, mostly courtesy of Matt Mira who hosts Gadget Pr0n.

Geek & Sundry was the next panel and featured sci-fi favorites Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day among others. They did a really good job of getting the audience hyped up about what was gonna be coming in the next six months to a year, plus they handed out free buttons which was cool. They were followed by the Nerdist Channel whose Chris Hardwick pleaded with those present to become subscribers, saying it would change his life. He showed previews of upcoming videos, all of which seemed completely awesome.

Then came the panel we were actually there to see, the TV Guide Magazine: Fan Favorites, featuring Nathan Fillion whom we'd missed seeing at the Firefly panel. He and fellow panelist Joel McHale stole the show, leaving the audience breathless with laughter. A highlight was Fillion recasting Firefly on the spot using his fellow panelists.

We had decided that we owed it to ourselves to go to at least one panel that dealt with actual comics, seeing as we were at Comic-Con and all so we left and made our way back to the convention center in order to catch the Marvel: Avengers vs. X-Men panel. Who knew there were so many people invested in whether or not Cyclops dies? Well aside from debating that hot topic we were also treated to concept art and covers of upcoming issues as well as an outlining of where the Marvel universe was planning to go. And as was expected during the Q&A portion someone asked about the possibility of an Avengers vs. X-Men movie and we were assured there was no such thing in the pipeline. But personally I will be getting the AvX babies limited-edition comic coming out in October. It looks hilarious.

After the Marvel panel was the screening and Q&A of the Kevin Bacon-helmed series The Following, a show about a former FBI agent who gets caught up in a serial killer’s game. It's exactly the kind of show my mom really likes so I'm looking forward to recommending it to her. That panel was followed by Person of Interest, and all of the principal cast were there to answer questions. As you would expect no spoilers were given but the cast seemed genuinely interested and grateful to be there, making it a good experience.

Their departure signaled the beginning of the Revolution panel, the Billy Burke project featuring a screening of the pilot as well as a Q&A afterwards. The premise of the show deals with the sudden and unexplained loss of power planet wide. 15 years later and no one seems to know why it happened or how it can ever be undone, if it's even possible. Creator Eric Kripke was one of the panelists and after seeing the pilot I couldn't help but draw comparisons to his former series “Supernatural.” Both series deal with missing family members, a road trip, and an unusual familial pairing. Many people were as excited as we were for the panel which followed, the MythBusters panel. All five of our favorite daredevils/scientists were there to share stories and answer audience questions. It was moderated by director John Landis, a longtime friend of MythBuster Adam Savage and was a great way to finish our Saturday at the Con.




A Comic-Con Noob Shares Her Experiences -- Friday
Judge Dawn Hunt -- July 21st, 2012 3:45AM

Friday morning found us repeating our timeline from Thursday but with one significant difference…We didn't make it into the Firefly panel, our one and only reason for being in line. We prepared ourselves before we even flew out for the possibility that we were going to end up missing something we really wanted to see and it turned out Firefly was that disappointment. It was especially heartbreaking because we were within 50 people.

At that point we been in line for over six hours so we decided to go ahead and see if we could get into the Bones panel which was scheduled to take place after Firefly. We were surprised to see that only stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz were in attendance as far as the actors were concerned. Boreanaz was inundated with questions about another character he played…“Angel” on both the series of the same name as well as its predecessor Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and he barely reigned in his frustration at those questions.

There was also more time than you would've expected devoted to the justification of the show's direction for the shortened seventh season. The show's long time ‘shippers of the Booth and Bones romantic pairing were somewhat dismayed to see so much of what they had expected in the culmination of that relationship intentionally left out and that meant the panelists were forced to offer apologies and vague promises of future fulfillment.

Once that panel ended we decided to stay for the Arrow screening and Q&A with stars Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy, along with some of the show’s creative force. The pilot felt a lot like “Batman Begins,” a fact the panelists readily copped to, adding that there were definitely things the Green Arrow does which Batman does not. When asked why Justin Hartley, who had been playing the role of the Green Arrow on the long-running series Smallville, wasn't tapped for this show the explanation was that his version of the Green Arrow had never been intended to be the subject of his own series but rather someone who served the Superman story laid out in Smallville.

Once we were done there it was time to head up to one of the smaller rooms in order to catch Buck Rogers: Past, Present and Future. I watched the 1980s series religiously with my father and so once I learned that Erin Gray, Col. Wilma Deering herself was going to be there? It was a no-brainer that making this panel was a priority. I got to sit in the front row and actually ask Ms. Gray a question. I wondered if the abrupt cancellation of the series had meant there was a story line she never got to film but would've liked to and I was very surprised to learn that she was a contract player for Universal and had zero input into anything. It was even more shocking to hear her confess that she was the lowest paid person on the entire show bar none. Thus after my encounter with one of my childhood icons it was time to go back to the hotel for food and sleep.




A Comic-Con Noob Shares Her Experiences -- Thursday
Judge Dawn Hunt -- July 21st, 2012 3:42AM

Thursday morning and the official start of Comic-Con. As it turned out it was fortuitous that we woke up before 6 AM, as that meant we were able to eat a quick breakfast, catch the shuttle and arrive in time to stand in line for the Psych panel which didn't start until 2:15. There were people who passed us around one o'clock who were shocked and dismayed to see how many of us were in line already. Lesson one of Comic-Con for newbies is to take the amount of time you assume you will be waiting and double it to assure yourself a seat. I'll take a moment to direct you to fellow judge Jim Stewart’s entry about the panel as he summarized it very well.

I stayed after Psych in order to watch the screening of the pilot of Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagining of the 1980 series that starred Linda Hamilton. After the pilot we were treated to a brief Q&A with series stars Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan. The idea of the beast as a former medical student turned military test subject is an interesting one and the pilot definitely left viewers with the feeling that there were many places the show could go.

It was then time to leave ballroom 20 and instead make the short track over to the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront next door to the convention center, where we were lucky enough to arrive in time to not only get in line but also make it into the room to see RiffTrax live with stars Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. I have been a MSTie since the early days and thus the chance to see three of the stars who've made me laugh for years was a dream come true. The short they riffed was Safety: Harm Hides at Home, a hilarious offering which called to mind a bad 80s after-school special. It was the perfect way to end Friday.




A Comic-Con Noob Shares Her Experiences -- Preview Night
Judge Dawn Hunt -- July 21st, 2012 3:39AM

Hello and welcome to the first of my blog entries. What better topic to tackle than San Diego's most famous convention, Comic-Con? We were lucky enough to get badges for all four nights plus preview night so Wednesday, July 11 found us awake at dark o'clock and on our way to the airport. By the time we'd flown across the country, checked in to our hotel and boarded the complimentary shuttle it was past the time the convention center had opened to allow preview night attendees to converge. We didn't realize at the time what this was going to mean but now I can tell you it meant having to switch modes of public transportation and arriving in time to join what felt like 75,000 other people. Of course that number doesn't take into account the thousands of people who were already in line for Thursday's "Twilight" panel.

If you have any kind of claustrophobia preview night will send you into a full-blown panic attack. We were jostled about relentlessly as we moved at a speed of negative warp infinity. We ended up missing the almost four-hour block of pilot screenings which was supposed to be the big draw of the night but by the time we managed to make our way down one side of the exhibit hall it seemed like a fruitless endeavor for us to backtrack and then find the end of the line. I'm not sure what we're going to try to do preview night next year…It seemed like its benefit was perhaps a slightly easier time of buying the official T-shirt but that's about it. Once the exhibit hall closed we decided to catch the bus, find some food, and catch some zzz’s.




'Strange things are happening'...
Appellate Judge James A. Stewart -- July 20th, 2012 12:14AM

Starting out San Diego Comic-Con week on Thursday, I stopped by the booth of A.J. Scudiere for a brief chat as she pitched her books, God's Eye and Phoenix, to the crowds. Both are available in print and in "audio movies," full-cast audio productions with sound effects.

God's Eye seeks out frightening territory. " It's about a woman choosing between an angel and a demon. All she knows is that strange things are happening, there are new people in her life. She has to make decisions about what is evil," she said.

The upcoming Phoenix concerns a firefighter who lost his family to a blaze in childhood who finds himself seeking a missing brother, Scudiere said."It's much more complicated and deeper than he thought." How so? There's a likelihood of arson.

What you might have noticed is that God's Eye has some mythological elements while Phoenix is a straightforward thriller. That's by design, Scudiere says.

"I didn't want to get pigeonholed," she said. "I had a few writers I used to like--until I found out they were telling the same stories over and over again."

All of Scudiere's novels have surprises and twists, she said. "It's the same writing style. The genre varies every time."

She's now at work on her fifth novel.



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