Tuesday, February 26, 2013

the lost jack ryan film.

everyone remembers the five jack ryan films.

what's that? you say there's only four jack ryan films? john mctiernan's the hunt for red october (1990), starring alec baldwin; phillip noyce's patriot games (1992) and clear and present danger (1994), both starring harrison ford; and phil alden robinson's the sum of all fears (2002), starring ben affleck? and that the fifth film, kenneth branagh's jack ryan (2013), starring chris pine, comes out this christmas? well, yes, that's true. and i'd expect you'd think that's all the jack ryan films that were ever made.

this is because the real fifth jack ryan film was never released to the public.

in 2008, paramount pictures shot a jack ryan film entitled by any means necessary. it was not based on any tom clancy book, but was rather an original story adapted from an unrelated spec script. the film was directed by sam raimi and starred ryan gosling as jack ryan. the script was a little unconventional for a franchise of political thrillers, but it had been previously greenlit during the wga writers' strike of 2007-2008, when the studios were moving forward with just about anything that resembled a complete story, and they were banking on raimi's recent mainstream success with the spider-man franchise to shepherd the questionable material into a crowd-pleaser.

but everything changed at a fateful private screening of the film that took place in early 2009. in attendance were raimi and a handful of paramount executives. what they saw was a rough assembly of undoctored film with temp sound, missing only bits and pieces of incidental second-unit photography and effects shots. and they knew going in that this would not exactly be traditional popcorn summer fare. but skimming script pages and poster mockups over lunch at jerry's is one thing, and seeing an idea birthed as reality through the magic portal of cinema is quite another. by the time the temp credits rolled on that screening, in one of those haunted rooms on the paramount lot on a dark monday morning, the only emotion gripping those men was panic.

in the room, the decision was made to immediately halt production and kill the project, regardless of how close it was to completion. the cast and crew would receive payment in full for services rendered and be made to sign non-disclosure agreements prohibiting any discussion of the film. exact details are difficult to pin down, but it can be confirmed that chairman and ceo of paramount brad grey was heard to remark "this fucking shit can never see the light of day."

so what was wrong with this movie? what could those executives have possibly seen at that screening that would justify a nearly $60 million loss?

apparently, the film's content was so offensive, paramount feared that it would be banned from entire theatre chains, that tom clancy would straight up sue them into oblivion, and that audiences would demand no less than the resignation of every paper pusher involved, starting with grey himself. it was also a foregone conclusion that the careers of raimi, gosling, et al. would be crippled forever. the objectionable material was so ingrained in the film that no amount of reshoots could save it. grey refused to let anyone out of the screening room unless they looked him in the eye and vowed never to speak of the film again.

in the film, the character of jack ryan is a young ex-marine, collecting disability checks from the government after a botched back surgery left him with chronic pain following a helicopter crash. he's working as a stockbroker with merrill lynch in new york when he learns that a local mobster may have inside information about a pending terrorist attack.

without the involvement of a single government or lawkeeping entity, ryan privately decides to befriend the mobster in an effort to acquire intel that may prevent the attack. the mobster turns out to be a collector of nazi antiques, and in an effort to gain his trust, ryan submits himself to the world of underground nazi culture. he starts out small, building a private collection of nazi paraphernalia that he can use as a way of bonding with the socialist mob figurehead. but as he becomes addicted to his back pain medication, the parameters of his reality start to blur and he begins to question his own beliefs in the teachings of adolf hitler.

by the third act, ryan has grown a hitler mustache, tattooed himself with nazi symbology, and is just working out all the time, practically doubling in size. he finally snaps and tortures the possible terrorist info out of the neo-nazi mobster, whom he then executes for being "unworthy of the cause." what follows is a corpse desecration sequence that horrified all in attendance and defied all basic narrative justification.

this undercover nazi plotline engulfs the film, and stopping the terrorist attack is almost an afterthought, filling 15 minutes of screentime max.

the borderline nazi propaganda of the film's main character arc was hardly its only problem, as certain plot points also made it impossible for the film to serve as the franchise reboot paramount wanted, such as ryan's violent breakup with future wife caroline muller, and the child he sires with the mobster's teenage daughter nikki, whom he simultaneously corrupts with drugs and hate rhetoric. to say nothing of the fact that the film downright challenges non-racist audiences to find a single redeeming quality in jack ryan, now basically a drug-addicted nazi-sympathizing bisexual necrophiliac statutory rapist psychotic vigilante murderer.

raimi was understandably disappointed in the film's annulment. in his private moments, he would lament that audiences would never see his sincere effort to explore the psychological strain of a man living a double life, but that perhaps he should not have explored such weighty issues in the sandbox of a prominent studio's beloved blockbuster franchise. if the character's name had not been jack ryan, he might have been putting his autograph on movie posters instead of legal documents.

all that exists of the film today is that rough assembly and an aborted press package, deep within a vault at paramount pictures where they keep all their other unseen skeletons, such as the lost bing crosby/bob hope road comedy about the trail of tears, the unauthorized shot-for-shot remake of warner bros.'s casablanca, and the fleischer studios cartoon where betty boop sleeps with popeye.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

valentine's day exchange rate.

on valentine's day, you are allowed to exchange gifts with someone, but it has to be a romantic interest. the exchange rate is as follows:

two viewings of romantic videos = half a dozen of roses = one greeting card with gift card inside = two boxes of chocolate = one quarter of a jewelry = one thing of sensual massage or sex.

Friday, February 8, 2013


the following story is true.

when martin scorsese's the aviator was released on christmas day of 2004, to say that it was well received would be a gross understatement. hailed as one of the best films of the year, it received many accolades, including four baftas, three golden globes, and five oscars. two trophies out of that dozen were awarded to cate blanchett, whose performance as katharine hepburn stole a pretty theft-proof show. her turn as the beloved american legend of stage and screen captured the hearts of film lovers everywhere. it was almost like having the old independent female icon herself back in the flesh.

and her audience didn't want to let her go.

a spinoff film was quickly greenlit. cate blanchett would reprise her role for what a press release described as a "cradle to grave" biopic of the legendary star. scorsese remained on the project as a producer, and directing duties were handed off to david fincher, who at the time was in preproduction for zodiac. immediately, all the biggest stars in hollywood wanted in.  first to sign on was george clooney as cary grant.

warner bros. commissioned a script from aviator screenwriter john logan, but in the meantime, they didn't want to lose what pop culture analysts at the time called "katharine fever." they wanted the character to maintain visible momentum, so that she would still be "in the public conversation" by the film's projected 2008 release date. so they put blanchett to work.

in the spring of 2005, katharine hepburn became the unofficial mascot for the wb network. select shows on the channel's primetime schedule were "hosted" by blanchett, in character as hepburn, in a series of interstitial skits that threw audiences into and out of commercial breaks. she introduced new episodes of network favorites 7th heaven, gilmore girls, and smallville, as well as troubled freshman drama jack & bobby. she would also present the wb's thursday night movie and friday night blue collar sitcom block, an enterprise which generally involved playfully derisive commentary on what she considered "lowbrow frivolity" in her distinctive patrician manner. a typical intro might go something like this: "tonight, reba enters a pageant for grandmothers... rehhhhhlly."

for warner bros., the next step was clear-- integrate the character into the shows themselves. unfortunately, cate blanchett's busy film schedule precluded her from participating, although she did film a special guest appearance on charmed, as the halliwell sisters' visiting aunt pamela on the show's final season, a role blanchett played in character as katharine hepburn.

development began on a pilot for a wb sitcom built around the character of katharine hepburn. cate blanchett declined any involvement and the role was handed off to judy greer. the show, entitled the katharine project, featured a stylized version of katharine hepburn, as portrayed by greer, living with a modern day nuclear family in san diego. the cast also included garrett dillahunt, tiffani thiessen, and brie larson. after a troubled early screening, the show retooled in anticipation of its midseason premiere.

while this was happening, a script was submitted for hepburn, the aviator spinoff katharine hepburn biopic. by this time, blanchett and fincher had both left the project to work instead on the curious case of benjamin button, at the suggestion of blanchett's babel co-star brad pitt. other actors also walked, although anne hathaway remained attached as audrey hepburn, and even expressed interest in moving forward with an audrey hepburn biopic spinoff of the unfilmed katharine hepburn biopic spinoff of the aviator.

in early spring 2006, the katharine project premiered to lackluster reviews. critics panned it for its stale gags and characterization of katharine hepburn as a "foul-mouthed granny," despite judy greer being only 30 at the time. people were also confused as to why katharine hepburn was arbitrarily living with a fictional sitcom family, a premise the show never bothered to address. instead of portraying events from hepburn's real life, the show focused on plotlines like katharine hepburn helping adoptive family patriarch dillahunt get a promotion from his boss, or coaching moody teen larson on her student council campaign speech. the show was pulled and cancelled after only eight episodes. the series was subsequently released on dvd, with five bonus episodes from the single season's unaired back half.

at this point, warner bros. was forced to rethink their plans. the katharine project had left a bad taste in people's mouths. many felt the show had tainted a once-beloved character that had, to be honest, already started to feel a little overexposed. warner bros. quietly removed hepburn from their upcoming film slate and the script was put into turnaround.

it seemed that the project would very likely never find new life, until marvel's the avengers shattered box office records in 2012. warner bros. took notice, and is said to be considering a similar team-up approach to some of their properties. in addition to a justice league movie that would team up superman, batman, wonder woman, green lantern, and the flash, there is word that warner bros. may be interested in bringing back cate blanchett katharine hepburn in a team-up movie with tom hanks walt disney, anthony hopkins alfred hitchcock, michelle williams marilyn monroe, and frank langella richard nixon. no word on how they might attract the interest of all the other studios that own the rights to those characters, or what the story might be that would unite them in a common adventure, but sources within warner bros. say they're not too worried about it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

man of steal?

the ads for zack snyder's upcoming "man of steel" depict superman in handcuffs, suggesting there comes a point in the story where superman lets the united states government arrest him, presumably to show respect for humans as the rightful authorities of their own planet. it's a good idea that well represents superman's unparalleled virtue and strength of character. and it was already done beautifully in a 1996 episode of "gargoyles: the goliath chronicles."

the ep, entitled "and justice for all," features goliath being arrested after foiling a robbery. this was shortly after the gargoyles' existence was revealed to the public, and people didn't know what to think about these apparent monsters. and although goliath is strong enough to easily break handcuffs and smash prison walls, he allows himself to be incarcerated and tried in a court of law, where he is defended by a human lawyer, to show the people of manhattan that gargoyles respect their world and wish only to co-exist and help protect their new home.

i loved the nolan batman films, but i was always conflicted by their tendency to blatantly cherry-pick elements from past batman stories, rather than commit to a more original vision. this incarcerated superhero thing is a little different because "gargoyles" was in no way affiliated with superman, but it's symptomatic of this typical method of storytelling by frankensteining old ideas into a new product. is there virtue in recycling stories? and what if the original was in a saturday morning cartoon that no one remembers?

i think it's execution-dependent. the worst sin a piece of art can commit is retreading without purpose. will this $225 million feature film execute an idea any better than the children's cartoon that so enchanted me when i was 14? i guess we'll find out come june.