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Casting Announcements and First Image from Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Aardman Animations has released the first significant information about its next claymation feature film, now titled The Pirates! Band of Misfits. The movie is based on The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists, the novel by Gideon Defoe. Aardman co-founder Peter Lord (Chicken Run) serves as the director while Jeff Newitt is the co-director. Defoe adapted his own work for the screenplay. The voice cast includes: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Russell Tovey, Ashley Jensen, Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant and Brian Blessed.

Hugh Grant, starring in his first animated role, is the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain – a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side (Freeman, Gleeson, Tovey, and Jensen), and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy (Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Hayek) to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. It’s a quest that takes our heroes from the shores of exotic Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London. Along the way they battle a diabolical queen (Staunton) and team up with a haplessly smitten young scientist (Tennant), but never lose sight of what a pirate loves best: adventure!

Based on what I’ve read about the novel, I think this is right up Aardman’s alley. The material seems silly and funny, but also depends strongly on playing with irony and genre conventions. Effectively, kids can enjoy the content on one level while adults can enjoy that and a higher level, much like most of Aardman’s productions, like all the Wallace and Gromit films.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits will arrive in theaters courtesy of Sony on March 20th, 2012. Aardman also has its second CGI film Arthur Christmas, which is being produced with Sony Pictures Imageworks for a release date of November 23rd, 2011. You can read more about that one over here. That’ll be a nice couple months for animation fans.

The Office: Why Pam Didn’t Deserve a Sweet Goodbye with Michael Scott

I had a number of problems with Steve Carell’s final episode on The Office, “Goodbye, Michael”. There was the comedy void that is Will Ferrell’s guest starring role and everything revolving around that character. There’s also the lesser problem of the logistics behind Pam getting through security to say goodbye to Michael in the airport. That was a bit too much artistic license for me to embrace in 2011, but that’s minor. Still, I found myself more deeply troubled by that scene and I believe I’ve pinned it down to the characterization of Pam over the last couple seasons.

There was a time on The Office when Pam had some ambition. Initially this was in the form of her artistic pursuits, and Michael Scott was one of her big supporters here. When Pam had her first art show, Michael was the one to genuinely praise her work and give her a boost. Jim would of course also support her dreams, but Michael’s was more pure without the romantic angle coming into play. Pam’s artistic talents would pop up here and there, and overall she seemed to actually want to better herself. Eventually she would give art school a valiant shot only to come up short. No matter, she’ll soon be given the opportunity to try new things as a founding member of the Michael Scott Paper Company, where she found some small success in sales. After that short-lived side adventure, Michael would go to bat in order to bring Pam back to Dunder Mifflin as a full-fledged salesperson. This lasted for about a season until the writers figured out that having so many main characters have the same job didn’t lend itself to much story variety, so Pam determines that she’s largely failed at sales. She had apparently been making minimal commissions during this time and wanted more money. Side question: are we to assume she was a worse salesperson than Andy, who is consistently written as the most incompetent of the bunch?

Anyway, Pam needed a new job that keeps her in the office but she was all out of genuine ambition. She fabricated a bullshit job as the office administrator, which the office had gotten by without for years, and conned Gabe and other department heads into signing off on it, even to the point of giving her unearned wages. With that, she effectively returned to doing what she did as a secretary, minus answering the phone. She plans office games, procures odd pieces of equipment for the office, and negotiates new lease terms with the office park. But mostly, she finagled herself a job that the office never required before, all during a financial crisis to boot. Somehow she maintains a job that pays more and contributes less to the company. “Goodbye, Michael” features Pam supposedly going on a run to price out paper shredders, and perhaps she did indeed do that although I’m not sure why anyone has to leave their computer and phone to do that in this day and age. But the only thing the audience sees her do is skip work and go see The King’s Speech. Side note: at least she turns her phone off while in a movie theater. Seriously however, this might just be the last straw I have with her character. She’s not only settled into a farce of a job and zero interest in bettering her life in any way, but she’s also actively not contributing to her company. Granted, the employees of Dunder Mifflin waste a lot of time while on the clock, but it’s usually standard office environment distractions or under Michael’s misguided direction. Pam checking out and seeing a movie while claiming to be working is way too egregious for me. This is far, far from the Pam we fell in love with during the early seasons.

All this brings me back to the end of Steve Carell’s exit from the show. I wish Pam didn’t get to say goodbye to Michael. I don’t think she deserved it. Her con over her colleagues would finally not work out for her. She wouldn’t get to express her gratitude for a boss who gave her so many breaks and so much support that she ultimately squandered. What if she had missed this opportunity to say goodbye? It could serve as a wakeup call for how she’s wasting her life, wallowing in a meaningless and entirely expendable job without dreams of any kind. It might even motivate an actual story arc for the character. It can’t be worse than having her do the next-to-nothing that has occupied her time for the last year or so. Not having that goodbye would be sad from Michael’s perspective, and perhaps that’s not at all what this show – now or even in its early years – would do, but I think it would have been significantly more interesting. I just think the Pam and Michael relationship has lost its meaning in recent seasons and that wasn’t reflected here. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I buy that the current version of Pam truly appreciates who Michael Scott was to her. She’s affectionately supported him in his troubles with Holly, but I’m not sure that’s enough. I think Pam deserved to miss out on that sweet goodbye. She was asking for it with her downward spiral of indifference and apathy. Maybe that’s what she needed in order to remember his unconditional belief in her talent and potential. Maybe that would have lit something within herself, because the desires she once had have long since burned out.

Adult Swim Orders 5th and 6th Seasons of The Venture Bros, and That’s Not All!

Now this is spectacular news. Creator Jackson Publick has revealed the news that Adult Swim has ordered up a ton more of The Venture Bros. There’s seasons five and six coming up, a 60-90 minute special at some point and a special little 11 minute special scheduled to air this summer. That’s a whole lot of awesome!

Publick and Doc Hammer, the creative duo who have written some 98% of the series, officially returned to writing this week although Publick says they had a head start after coming up with a lot of great ideas back when they were wrapping up season four. They’re hoping to be in pre-production in June. Based on past schedules, we’re probably looking at a summer 2012 premiere for season five.

The short special due out this summer is said to be on the lighter side and something of a one-off, so I’d expect it to be similar to “A Very Venture Christmas”. It’s being produced and animated entirely in the US, between Astro Base Go! and Titmouse Studios (G.I. Joe: Resolute, among other things), unlike the regular series which is animated overseas. And since we know there are often writing and production delays with this show, Publick is upfront about having absolutely no idea when the long-form special might arrive or whether it’ll be a TV or direct-to-video project.

The news comes just as season four hits Blu-ray and the second half of the season reaches DVD.

Neill Blomkamp Finds Distribution for Elysium and a Production Deal for His Third Movie

Sony, which distributed District 9, is putting up a reported – but unconfirmed – $120 million to also distribute writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore film Elysium. That’s pretty cool since Sony did a swell job selling District 9 and were successful with it, plus it’s just a damned big vote of confidence. Media Rights Capital is the group providing the direct financing for the project.

I haven’t written about this one yet, because I’m lazy, but it’s been quickly gearing up for production to begin this summer in Vancouver and then in Mexico in the fall. The cast so far includes District 9 lead Sharlto Copley plus the star power of Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Syd Mead, the man famously credited as a visual futurist on Blade Runner, has signed on to do set design work. He’s a really picky man when it comes to film projects, so this is a big coup for Blomkamp. Mead has also done noteworthy design work on the likes of Tron, Aliens, Strange Days and Mission to Mars. There’s virtually nothing none about the movie’s story except that it takes place approximately 100 years in the future and will include some form of social commentary in the same vein, if not subject, as District 9. It’s also apparently going to be R-rated, again like District 9.

Bonus news: As part of an overall deal with Blomkamp, MRC has also given the go-ahead for his third film, titled Chappie. That’s another original film that he’ll tackle as soon as he’s finished Elysium. No other details were revealed but given Blomkamp’s interests, I’d hazard a guess that it’s another science fiction project of some sort. Chappie is not included in Sony’s distribution deal for Elysium and will be offered to buyers at a later date.

To sum up, this is all fantastic news. I loved District 9 and Neill Blomkamp’s style and approach to story, so I’m thrilled to see him successfully find funding for not only Elysium but also Chappie. He’s my favorite, and I’d argue best, of a new crop of sci-fi storytellers that have been hopping into the Hollywood talent pool, alongside the likes of Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, potentially forthcoming projects Oblivion, The Black Hole). I’m very excited to see what he delivers next.

Elysium is currently expected to be released during the 2012 holiday season.

The Dark Knight Rises Casting: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Hardy as Bane

Warner Bros. must be tired of various Marvel movies getting all the attention over the last couple weeks, so they’ve announced two bits of meaningful casting for The Dark Knight Rises. Firstly, Anne Hathaway will be playing Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. Secondly, we now know that Tom Hardy’s role will be the villain once responsible for breaking Batman’s back, Bane. The press release makes sure to quote returning director Christopher Nolan as saying there’s a “new interpretation” of the Bane character. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what that means. It seems like all those Hugo Strange rumors were indeed based on the Batman: Arkham City video game’s story rather than this movie. I have no immediate problem with either bit of casting, I’m just really curious to see how these characters fit into the story. Will Catwoman have a villainous side? What is Nolan’s interpretation of Bane? Is he working on his own or has he been hired by mobsters or perhaps even the Gotham Police Department? It’ll be very interesting to see how this Batman trilogy is wrapped up. Like half the world, I can’t wait.

The script was written by Jonathan Nolan from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Look for the return of all the regulars (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman) and lots more smaller roles that we’ll surely be hearing about over the next few months.

The Dark Knight Rises is set to begin filming this May with a release on July 20th, 2012.

Sony Unveils the First Look at Andrew Garfield in the New Spider-Man Costume

Here’s the new costume for the rebooted Spider-Man franchise, minus the mask which will surely be saved for a later grab for attention. But hey, so far so good. I’m liking pretty much everything about this fresh start, especially since I kind of hate Raimi’s trilogy (though I only even saw the first two). I’m digging Garfield’s better physique and the costume’s lack of padding and fake muscles, both big improvements over Tobey Maguire and the costume had had to wear. Perhaps most exciting, those just might be artificial web shooters that can be glimpsed on his wrists. In my mind, it’s just not Peter Parker without the science genius aspect, so here’s hoping that’s what those are.

The new film is being directed by Marc Webb, previously of (500) Days of Summer, a movie I didn’t love but for reasons that had to do entirely on the script and Zooey Deschanel, not Webb’s direction. Script is by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, yes!) and Alvin Sargent (the last two Spider-Man movies, meh). Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go) stars as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, with Emma Stone (Easy A) as the female lead Gwen Stacy. Rhys Ifans is playing Dr. Curt Connors aka The Lizard. Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire) plays Van Adder, another villainous role, who in the comics is a test subject of Norman Osborn’s and becomes Proto-Goblin but that may not be . Sally Fields is Aunt May while Martin Sheen will be Uncle Ben. Denis Leary plays police captain George Stacy, Gwen’s father. Annie Parisse plays Van Adder’s wife. Chris Zylka has the role of Flash Thompson. Campbell Scott and Julianne Nicholson will appear as Peter’s parents, presumably in flashback.

I was reluctant about getting excited for this new run of movies since the last one disappointed me so much, but here I go again. The simply titled Spider-Man is set for release on July 3, 2012.

The Venture Bros: Season 4 Blu-ray and Vol. 2 DVD Releases Arrive on March 22, 2011

Adult Swim has confirmed previously stated plans that had The Venture Bros: Season 4 Blu-ray and Vol. 2 DVDs hitting in March, now with a set date of the 22nd. All sixteen episodes of the fourth season will be accompanied by commentary tracks and deleted scenes, along with other unspecified bonus features which presumably includes the others included on the Vol. 1 DVDs. There’s no indication that the Blu-ray will include any extras that DVD buyers won’t get, like how the season three one had JG Thirlwell’s score on CD, so DVD people won’t miss out.

There you have it. Come March 22nd everyone can find the complete fourth season of The Venture Bros on home video. That should help the time go by until the eventual fifth season, which to my knowledge hasn’t been confirmed but is basically certain. Of course, it probably won’t appear until 2012, but that’s how it is.

Jack Huston Promoted to Series Regular for Boardwalk Empire: Season 2

This isn’t particularly unexpected news, but it’s very pleasant nonetheless. Deadline reports that Jack Huston will be a season regular on Boardwalk Empire when it returns for its second season, presumably next fall. Huston plays Richard Harrow, a veteran marksman of the first World War with severe injuries that force him to wear a mask that covers half his face. The character appeared in five of the last six episodes of the show’s first season and quickly became a favorite, thanks in part to his striking visual element. Fortunately, the character’s not just a gimmicky killer, as the series got to do a little bit of exploration into his struggles to reorient himself into society after returning from war, especially with injuries that even he finds frightening. I’ll be looking forward to seeing where Terence Winter and crew take him in the next season now that he’s been established in Atlantic City with the main action.

Teaser Trailer for Aardman Animation’s Arthur Christmas

Sony has released a teaser trailer for its first release from Aardman Animations, the renowned British studio behind Wallace and Gromit. Arthur Christmas marks Aardman’s second CGI feature film after Flushed Away with DreamWorks Animation in 2006. This one’s being made in collaboration with Sony’s animation division, which last produced Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Sarah Smith (producer on The League of Gentlemen) is the film’s director with Barry Cook (Mulan) on as co-director. Smith co-wrote the script with Peter Baynham. Michael Giacchino and Adam Cohen are collaborating on the score.

James McAvoy will voice the lead character, Arthur, who is Santa’s youngest son. He’s good-natured and clumsy, and the one member of the family still truly excited by the magic of Christmas. Hugh Laurie plays Steve, the elder son, who has made the holiday a high-tech and military-esque operation. Jim Broadbent will voice Santa Claus. Bill Nighy plays Santa’s father, Grandsanta, who longs for the days of his own reign over the holiday, and when things were simpler. Imelda Staunton voices Mrs. Claus and Ashley Jensen plays an elf in the Giftwrap Battalion named Bryony.

I’m not terribly impressed with this teaser, but it’s just that, a teaser. I can’t imagine this footage having a part in the movie, it’s just designed to get some attention and quickly lay out some of the premise, so I’m not too concerned. It is somewhat disappointing that Aardman’s trademark style doesn’t seem present. Even Flushed Away worked that in, going so far as adding fake fingerprint marks to mimic those occurrences in claymation. I still think one of the bigger questions about this movie is whether it can sufficiently differentiate itself from Disney’s Prep & Landing TV special from last year, which is getting follow-up shorts, since both involve really high-tech Christmas operations.

Arthur Christmas will be released by Sony on November 23rd, 2011.

Wachowskis Planning Urban Take on Robin Hood

Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix, Speed Racer) are sticking with Warner Bros. for their next film, which THR reports is a modern and urban take on the Robin Hood tale, simply titled Hood. The Wachowskis wrote the script and will direct the project, which doesn’t have any cast attached or a production timetable. Supposedly Will Smith has been approached about a role, which would presumably be the lead.

Considering the other film the Wachowskis have in the works as directors, Cobalt Neural 9, involves a future archaeological or historical project that reconstructs the Iraq war and occupation, a gay romance between soldiers and a plan to assassinate George W. Bush, I wonder if Hood won’t also reflect their views on current domestic politics. With the economic collapse, the bailouts and the ensuing record-breaking profits by the very banks that spearheaded the collapse, an urban Robin Hood would fit right in. Tackling the increasingly large divide between the rich and poor along with the erosion of the American middle class could certainly strike a populist chord with audiences.

That’s all there is, but for now I’m intrigued.

Paul Giamatti in Talks for David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis

Word comes in via The Playlist that Paul Giamatti is in talks to join the cast of David Cronenberg’s next project, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis. If a deal is reached, he would join Colin Farrell and Marion Cotillard. It’s not clear what part Giamatti is up for, but possibly one of two people stalking Farrell’s character. Notably, the script for this movie is the first Cronenberg’s handled himself since 1999’s eXistenZ.

Cosmopolis follows a single day for a young billionaire (the novel places him at 28 years old) as he crosses New York City in his limo to get a haircut. Along the way he encounters numerous major traffic delays (from a riot to a presidential motorcade), several chance encounters with his new wife and two stalkers. He additionally loses incredible amounts of money over the course of the day by betting against the yen. In fact, he may actually be embracing his downfall. Colin Farrell would play the billionaire while Marion Cotillard takes the role of the wife. Most of the novel takes place in the confines of the limo, so it should be interesting to see how this translates to the screen.

It’s unclear when Cosmopolis might shoot since Colin Farrell recently committed to the Total Recall remake which is slated to begin filming around March. As of last May, Cosmopolis was going to shoot in New York City and Toronto from March to May. Chances are Total Recall would take priority, or maybe we’re in for a casting change.

Cronenberg is currently in post production on A Dangerous Method, which doesn’t currently have a US distributor. He also tentatively has an adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table and a sequel to Eastern Promises in the works.

Scarlett Johansson Joins Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

After being announced about 18 months ago, there’s movement on Jonathan Glazer’s return to cinema with Under the Skin, his adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel. Glazer previously directed Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004). Glazer co-wrote Under the Skin with Walter Campbell.

Under the Skin features an alien disguised as a gorgeous human woman, to be played by Johansson, who seduces men in order to lure them back to a processing plant where they’re turned into gourmet food for aliens. Her dedication to that mission wavers as she sees more of humanity and its complexities. It’s pretty easy to see where some commentary on carnivorous eating habits might come into play.

Glazer’s interesting previous features and music videos have me intrigued for whatever he does in the future, so I’m looking forward to see where this goes.

Parks and Recreation Returns on January 20th!

This just needs to be shouted from the rooftops. Parks and Recreation returns with its third season on January 20th, now Thursdays at 9:30pm where it finally gets The Office as a lead-in. This show was rocky in its abbreviated first season but really found its characters season two and was always such a treat every week. I’d probably say it was my favorite of NBC’s shows last year. At the end of last season the show added Adam Scott (Party Down) and Rob Lowe to the cast while Paul Schneider’s Mark Brendanowicz left, who was probably the weak link in terms of the characters. He was stuck being too much of the straight man and love interest without much to do on his own. Adam Scott’s character comes in to sort of replace that position as a foil and potential romantic partner for Leslie while having a good reason to be part of the main stories. Plus, Adam Scott is hilarious, so I think the show is in good hands for another season.

Another aspect I particularly love about Parks and Recreation is that its created a real feel for the city of Pawnee and a sense that the main characters actually inhabit a place where things happen even when they’re not around. The writers have created a nice stable of secondary characters like the public access talk show host, the journalist, various other government officials, etc. that is really nice.

Parks and Recreation stars Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir and Retta, and again returns to television on January 20th. Watch it.

Info on Summer Wars’ Domestic Theatrical Release

Summer Wars is getting some attention after news that it’s being submitted for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, which meant it was being planned for a US release. Today FUNimation announced that the movie won’t just be doing a short qualifying run in Los Angeles but will be traveling the country.

Summer Wars is the new film from Madhouse  Mamoru Hosoda, who previously directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which I quite liked. It didn’t have grand ambitions or anything, but everything it did was very well done and showed real potential, particularly in exploring the life of a teenage girl.

Here’s the plot synopsis:

Kenji is your typical teenage misfit. He’s good at math, bad with girls, and spends most of his time hanging out in the all-powerful, online community known as OZ. His second life is the only life he has — until the girl of his dreams, Natsuki, hijacks him for a starring role as a fake fiancé at her family reunion. Things only get stranger from there. A late-night email containing a cryptic mathematic riddle leads to the unleashing of a rogue AI intent on using the virtual word of OZ to destroy the real world, literally. As Armageddon looms on the horizon, Kenji and his new “family” set aside their differences and band together to save the worlds they inhabit

The domestic trailer (below) has dubs, which while still unconfirmed to my knowledge, leads me to believe that’s how it’ll be seen on the big screen.

Here’s the current theatrical schedule:

Dec 3-8: Chicago, IL –  Siskel Film Center
Dec 10-16: Los Angeles, CA – AMC Covina 30
Dec 24-30: San Francisco, CA – Landmark Bridge Theater
Dec 29-Jan 4: New York, NY- IFC Center
Jan 5-12: Boston, MA – Museum of Fine Arts
Jan 7-13: Denver, CO – Starz Film Center
Jan 7-13: Santa Fe, NM – CCA Cinematheque
Jan 14-20: Los Angeles, CA – Laemmle Sunset
Jan 21-27: Philadelphia, PA – Landmark Ritz at the Bourse
Jan 23-Feb 3: Honolulu, HI – Academy of Arts,
Jan 28-Feb 3 Seattle, WA- Landmark Varsity

And if your city isn’t included on that list, FUNimation is saying the movie will hit DVD and Blu-ray in the spring, specifically on February 15th if Right Stuf is correct. That’s good for me because I don’t watch dubs, so I might not have to wait too long to see it in my preferred manner.

Madhouse Resumes Production on The Dreaming Machine, the Final Film from Satoshi Kon

The great anime writer/director Satoshi Kon passed away from pancreatic cancer back in August while in the midst of directing his fifth feature film, The Dreaming Machine. At the time we learned through Kon’s final posting to his site that Madhouse founder Masao Maruyama promised Kon that they would “do whatever it takes” to finish the movie without him. Via ANN, news came on Friday that Madhouse is ready to fulfill that promise and has resumed production on the film. Character designer and chief animation director Yoshimi Itazu has been promoted to acting director for the rest of production while Toshiyuki Inoue will be the joint animation director. Susumu Hirasawa (Millennium Actress, Paprika) is confirmed to be composing the movie’s score. There remains no word on when The Dreaming Machine might be finished and ready for release, but at this point I’d hope they take their time and do it right. Unfortunately, this will be the last work we see with Satoshi Kon’s touch and the world will be lesser for it.

Back in August 2008, Kon described the film with the following:

On the surface, it’s going to be a fantasy-adventure targeted at younger audiences. However, it will also be a film that people who have seen our films up to this point will be able to enjoy. So it will be an adventure that even older audiences can appreciate. There will be no human characters in the film; only robots. It’ll be like a “road movie” for robots.

Satoshi Kon directed (and wrote the latter three) the brilliant feature films Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika. He was also the creator of the anime series Paranoia Agent and the writer of the Magnetic Rose short included in the anthology film Memories.