Katherine Heigl: the new Barbarella?

June 12, 2007

With the heated debate over the moral repercussions of Eli Roth’s latest blood fest currently dominating the blogosphere, it’s high time to switch over to a lighter and altogether more pleasant subject…

You’ve probably heard by now that they’re planning a Barbarella remake. Some are screaming blasphemy already, but I’m all for it. Apart from the shagadelic art direction and Jane Fonda’s impossibly sexy leading role, the original has lots to improve on.

Robert Rodriguez will be helming the project. Sounds like a groovy choice to me. The guy has a natural flair for superficial, glossy trash and Barbarella’s universe should be right up his alley. What’s more: this is the man who gave us Desperado’s Carolina and Sin City’s Gail, so I trust him to push the costume designs in the appropriate, sleazy direction.

There’s just one big question: How on Earth are they going to find an actress as INSANELY HOT as Jane Fonda in her prime? It’s impossible, right?

Well… almost impossible.

I present you: Katherine Heigl.

A spectacular blonde with dark brown Bambi eyes, a killer body and genuine acting chops. If this isn’t tomorrow’s It-Girl, I’ll eat my shoe before a rolling camera. Honestly, you don’t actually believe it’s the dorky Seth Rogen that’s responsible for drawing massive crowds to Judd Apatow’s sleeper hit comedy Knocked Up, do you? Of course not, it’s Izzie Stevens from Grey’s Anatomy!

Just watch this clip and nod in approval:

No need for a screentest: Katherine Heigl is the 5-star double-rated astro-navigatrix of the future!

Sure, I’ve heard the other names that have been tossed around. I love Salma Hayek and Scarlett Johansson, but they’re too short for the role. Uma Thurman or Cameron Diaz? Old hat. Drew Barrymore? Sorry, not up to standard. Angelina Jolie or Rose McGowan? Way too dominant. (Barbarella is submissive at heart, not a sexual predator!) Jessica Alba? Small potatoes. Kate Beckinsale? Hold on–that’s actually a pretty decent second choice, but surely no match for Heigl…

Just picture this girl in a transparent perpex top and plastic thigh-high boots… Mr. Rodriguez, are you paying attention? (And now we’re at it: for God’s sake, keep the title sequence, will ya?)

Is anyone with me on this? Am I leaving out any promising contenders? Let me know! Meanwhile, here’s one more pic:

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Harryhausen meets Caravaggio: Tarzan in 3D

March 30, 2007

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OK, you’ll have to allow me this little detour into teenage obsession. When I was about ten, my parents bought me a View-Master with a 3-reel set of Tarzan of the Apes. Being the dreamer that I was – and still am, I suppose – I just loved to get lost inside those stereoscopic images, and I’ve looked at them so often that they must have left a questionable imprint on my young brain. The lush, nightmarish tableaux struck a nerve in me. All that muscle, the big hairy apes, plus a Jane outfit so tight that I kept expecting it to burst open… Let’s be honest: This was nothing less than a sexual awakening.

Unfortunately, I lended my View-Master reels out to a friend, who lost them when he moved to another house. Since then, all I had left was my memory of them. Enter the Internet… More than twenty years later, I googled the words “Tarzan view master” and guess what? There they were: All 21 images collected on a single webpage, captions included! As soon as I discovered this link, a wide grin appeared on my face. Too bad the pictures looked a tad fuzzy, I thought. Then it occurred to me that they were perhaps fuzzy for a reason. I grabbed the red-and-green glasses that came with my son’s Spy Kids 3D DVD (no recommendation), and yes sir: Glorious 3D! A lot of detail, sense of depth and color information got lost in the translation to cyberspace, but this 36-year-old kid is grateful nonetheless.

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There’s something about this artwork (a combination of miniatures, clay models and matte paintings?) that I still find incredibly appealing. It’s the sensuous mixture of realism and artifice, kitsch and craft, romance and savagery; the melodramatic poses; the chiaroscuro (some of the lighting is pure Caravaggio); the meticulous staging. This is what Ray Harryhausen‘s wet dreams should look like.

Go get your 3D glasses (I know you saved them in a drawer somewhere) and have a look yourself. Do any of you recognize this View-Master set? Is there someone who can tell me more about who made it, and how? Which animation studio will have the guts to produce a CGI-feature that looks as awesome as this?


So what’s with all the evil bunny suits?

October 12, 2006

The phenomenon can no longer stay unnoticed: What is it with the recent prevalence of sinister-looking bunny suits in indie films? I see evil man-rodents everywhere! Don’t you?

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Spot the difference: Donnie Darko & Starfish Hotel

The movie that unofficially kicked off this subliminal trend may have been Gummo (1997), which featured a creepy kid with large bunny ears. Three years later, audiences were haunted by Gal Dove’s long-eared ghost from the past in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000). Next up was spirit animal Frank in the cult-favorite Donnie Darko (2001), and then “The Mysterious Bunny Man” in Cabin Fever (2002) reared its ugly head. Meanwhile, David Lynch – never one to waste a good surreal image – treated the visitors of his website to a stage with a family in rabbit costumes in his curious sitcom Rabbits (2002). Much to the confusion of Geoffrey Macnab, Lynch appears to have incorporated similar sequences in his latest feature film Inland Empire (2006), offering no explanation whatsoever. And if the aforementioned titles convinced you that we’re dealing with a typical Anglo-Saxon phenomenon, the recent release of the Japanese supernatural detective thriller Starfish Hotel (2006) and this South-Korean poster for Chan-Wook Park’s upcoming film I’m A Cyborg will no doubt change your mind.

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Left: Gummo, right: Sexy Beast

But that’s not all. Something similar seems to be going on in the realm of music videos. Just watch Pink’s Just Like A Pill, Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty, or Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips. Distressingly enough, the evil-bunny-suit fever is currently spreading out over the Internet, infecting esoteric cinephiles in the blogosphere (source: Greencine Daily‘s David Hudson).

How are we to take this odd phenomenon? Is it a metoo effect? Plain old ripping off? In an interview held by fellow-blogger Ross Ruediger at The Rued Morgue, Firecracker director Steve Balderson discourages the plagiarism accusation:

Say I’m inspired by a surrealist piece of art where there’s a man wearing a giant stuffed-animal costume. Let’s say I wanted to incorporate that idea into my movie. Well, some might say I stole the idea from Donnie Darko, which features a person dressed in a stuffed-animal costume. Or, others might suggest I’m trying to be David Lynch because he did the same thing with Naomi Watts dressed in a bunny outfit.

By focusing on things like that, people will fail to recognize what it is that I’ve done. Never mind I’ve never seen the David Lynch scene with Naomi Watts. Never mind that my inspiration had nothing to do with Donnie Darko. What I think would be more interesting is if one would ask the question: What drives an artist to arrive at a similar conclusion? Where did the choice originate to put someone in a stuffed-animal costume? By answering that question, and appreciating what is on screen all in and of itself, the viewer will get more out of it.

Amen to that. So, leaving aside Balderson’s fictional example of that “surrealist piece of art,” what is the real origin of cinema’s ongoing fascination for people in stuffed-animal costumes? Are we facing the painful aftereffects of a generation of filmmakers traumatized over Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Probably not… Although some people have pointed out eerie similarities between Donnie Darko and the film Harvey (1950), in which James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd has an imaginary six foot rabbit friend, much like Donnie has Frank. Writer-director Richard Kelly, however, claims he has never seen the Jimmy Stewart film (nevermind the Bruce Willis remake) and that his Frank was inspired by the novel Watership Down.

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Harvey: Early blueprint for
the current man-rodent craze?

Eli Roth – who insists that his screenplay for Cabin Fever was written in 1995, long before Donnie Darko came out – names a completely different source of inspiration in an interview with Rebecca Murray:

ROTH: The Bunny Man was very influenced by The Shining. There’s a scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall’s running around the hotel and she sees these creepy things. There’s a guy in a bear suit who is just really, really, really weird. It always stuck with me as a kid so it’s kind of my little nod to The Shining.
MURRAY: But that was a bear, and this is a bunny. Why the change to a bunny?
ROTH: We just couldn’t find a bear suit. I think that there’s something very evil about a bunny suit.

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Cabin Fever

The quote above tells me that, as far as this little investigation is concerned, a focus on direct influences will lead us nowhere. Maybe we should be digging deeper. Perhaps there is something about the image of a person in a rabbit outfit that resonates for these filmmakers on a level even they cannot quite fathom. As unlikely as it may seem, maybe we just need to accept the possibility that evil man-rodents are… in the air.

What’s that, am I being too vague? Well, prepare for a dip into Donnie Darko territory as I indulge myself in a little game of pseudo-scientific free-association.

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David Lynch’s Rabbits

With his innovating theory of morphic resonance, the controversial British biologist Rupert Sheldrake proposes that self-organizing systems of all levels of complexity – atoms, molecules, crystals, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems, planetary systems, solar systems, galaxies – are shaped by morphic fields that contain an inherent memory. In the human realm, Jung referred to this as the collective unconscious. The process of morphic resonance takes place when phenomena – particularly biological ones – become more probable the more often they occur, so that growth and behaviour are guided into patterns laid down by previous similar organisms. In other words: much of what we are, think and do is inherited without us realizing it. A constantly updated pool of collective memory binds us even when we’re oceans apart. Seen from this angle, even mental activity and perception can be viewed as habits, and habits are subject to natural selection.

It begs the question: Can a successful creative idea cause a certain thinking pattern to spread and evolve into a habit? When one filmmaker has contemplated the use of a bunny suit for sinister effect, does it become easier for others to arrive at the same cinematic solution by simply tuning into the same wavelength? Call it “creative instinct,” “tapping into the Zeitgeist,” or “divine inspiration,” if you like. Wouldn’t such a theory (Gelderblom’s Hypothesis of Collective Inspiration–bring on the Nobel Prize, baby!) explain the contemporary wave of CGI-animated movies featuring domesticated furry animals heading back to the wild?

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Or am I simply behaving like the pattern-seeking animal that I am (to borrow Jim Emerson‘s favorite phrase) and is our unhealthy obsession with evil bunny suits, of all things, God’s idea of a practical joke on humanity? I’ll leave the final words to Richard Kelly’s Donnie and Frank:

DONNIE: Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?
FRANK: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?


Help, I’m turning into a Whovian!

September 7, 2006

The far future. Humanity faces the dawn of an intergalactic war as Earth is invaded by a giant fleet of evil mutants. A Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey plans a pulse of energy that will decimate the invaders, but may kill off the human race along with it. His trusted companion, possibly the only person who could put an end to the unfolding cosmic tragedy, is stranded oceans of time away. Twenty minutes to Armageddon… and the fucking screen goes to black.

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I have a problem. A big one. Last weekend, the last episode of the new Doctor Who series (starring Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor) was aired on Dutch television. I made sure to program my DVD-recorder in order not to miss it, and now it turns out that only half of the episode has been recorded. Apparently, the hard drive was full! My eight-year-old son Rasmus, who’s become a die-hard Whovian over the course of a single season, is not amused. I don’t blame him–I nearly can’t get over it myself.

I’ve never been a Trekkie, I’ve just about lost all interest in that famous galaxy far, far away, but there’s no way I can resist the Whoniverse! Doctor Who is swiftly becoming a new obsession of mine. It’s gotten to the point that I ordered a pack of Doctor Who Top Trump cards over the Internet, along with two fully illustrated guides documenting every foe, robot, alien and monster the Doctor has ever encountered. How did it come to this?

As a young kid, the classic BBC series with Tom Baker freaked me out. The electronic theme music was enough to chill me to the bone (I still think it outdoes Mission: Impossible in terms of contagiousness), let alone the eerie planetary landscapes and baddies made out of egg cartons. Back then, I was unaware of the Doctor’s rich history in television and I soon lost track of the British sci-fi phenomenon altogether (mind you, we’re talking about the longest running sci-fi series ever, with 23 seasons shown from 1963 all the way through to 2006). But the new series, produced by Russel T Davies, has finally shown me the Righteous Path…

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So what hooked me? In spite of some pretty cool creature designs and CGI-effects, the production value of the new Doctor Who is still nothing to write home about, and the quality of the individual episodes is far from consistent. What really got me excited, though, is the the unexpected depths of its profound silliness, the amazing flexibility of the Doctor’s quirky universe and the speculative audacity of his mind-bending escapades. This series, much like its protagonist, doesn’t avoid uncharted territories. It embraces change and finds shades of grey in the most black-and-white of concepts.

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Take the Doctor’s most notorious nemesis: the Dalek. Simply put, the Daleks are the most ruthless race in all creation. Indeed, you can’t get any more black-and-white than that, but here it comes: While they appear to be armoured robots, their casing is in fact the survival chamber for a hideously mutated alien life form. Mutated how? By one thousand years of exposure to chemical and biological warfare, for starters… Followed by a little tweaking courtesy of the crippled alien scientist Davros, who morphed what was left of his species into lethal creatures in travel machines, devoid of any emotion save hate–without pity, compassion or remorse. The implanted Dalek survival tactic is simple yet effective: Exterminate all life forms other than your own.

Watching the episode Dalek, I started out chuckling over the title character’s ridiculously impractical pepper pot design, before being completely caught up in the suspense of the story. By the end, the poor lonely creature trapped inside its tank-like mechanical cage, lost in its own destructive thinking pattern, had almost driven me to tears. Quite a feat! This is the kind of nuanced imaginative fiction that you’d love to see handled on a Hollywood budget, but seldom will.

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For an impression of the first new series, check out the YouTube clip below. (In the UK, David Tennant as the 10th Doctor has already picked up where Eccleston left off.) To see two ultraviolent reenactments by my two boys and me, click here and here. I know: I’m beyond redemption…


Faces I love

August 8, 2006

While Dennis Cozzalio is taking a much deserved break from the blogosphere (eventhough the time stamps below his most recent posts remind us we should take such a statement with a grain of salt), I thought I’d steal his idea and show you some faces I love.

Johanna ter Steege
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She would have played the lead character in Stanley Kubrick’s Holocaust drama The Aryan Papers, if that project hadn’t been abandoned just weeks before production. Ter Steege’s fragile Dutch beauty last graced the screen in Nanouk Leopold’s mesmerizing Guernsey (2005). Which A-list director will give this actress the role of her lifetime?

Ian Holm
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He gave life to a Hobbit, but something tells me Ian Holm may not be the nicest guy in the world. And yet, there’s a beautiful sadness to his gentle face that makes me want to hug him and tell him everything’s going to be all right.

Elena Anaya
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I was struck by lightning when I first layed eyes on this Spanish knockout in Julio Medem’s Lucía y el Sexo / Sex and Lucia (2001). Point out any man at all and this baby will seduce the poor schmuck within a second. There’s only so much us guys can take.

John Lithgow
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Although his theatrical brand of acting is hardly naturalistic, this face nails every humanly conceivable emotional nuance to perfection. Lithgow reflects the child in all of us: looney, jealous, innocent, overjoyed, clueless, whiney or just plain mean.

Jennifer Connelly
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Hers must be the most beautiful eyes in the world. Hold me, I’m drowning in them right now…

Luis Guzmán
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Pretty he ain’t. And why would he be? Big grins appear whenever this guy turns up in a supporting role. Admit it: everybody loves Luis!

David Lynch
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He’s got a face much like his movies: uncanny, uneven (in a good way), mysterious and oddly amusing.


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