The 3 Maxes


It was in the summer of 1981 that I first started reading about genres and filmmakers outside kids films and scifi/fantasy movies, even though it would be some years before I actually watched some of these pictures. Now in 2012, I have found an interesting (though rather thin and far-fetched) thread that links together 3 of the most talked about film personalities of 1981.

One of the films making a buzz that summer was The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Besides getting Meryl Streep her 3rd Oscar nomination, it was the first major starring role for 32-year-old British actor Jeremy Irons. A few months later, he hit TV screens playing Charles Ryder in the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. He was nominated for a BAFTA for both performances and thus, a major character actor was born, whose gravelly voice and precisely accented delivery I have never tired of listening to.

Around the same time, audiences’ jaws were dropping while watching the special effects in An American Werewolf in London directed by John Landis. Mr. Landis was already famous for directing the quintessential American frat boy comedy Animal House in 1978 followed by the musical-comedy The Blues Brothers in 1980. But this foray into horror-comedy broke new ground in the field of horror make-up and eventually got John Landis the job of directing the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller two years later. I remember seeing pictures in magazines and wondering if I would ever have the courage to watch this movie; in fact, I have yet to watch the movie though of course, I have seen numerous clips of the legendary werewolf transformation scenes.

Also in the summer of 1981, a veteran director/ comedian/ actor/ producer was releasing what would be among the last of his successful movies – History of the World, Part I. Through the late ‘60s and ‘70s Mel Brooks had audiences in splits with the TV series Get Smart and comedy classics like The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein which were both critical and commercial successes. When adjusted for inflation, the US grosses for Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein would be $502 million and $362 million respectively, putting them in the same league as the Harry Potter and superhero films of today. Young Frankenstein remains one of my favourite comedy films to this day.

What does all this have to do with the title of this post, “The 3 Maxes”? Well, by sheer coincidence, these three gentlemen all have sons named Max and all 3 ‘boys’ have started making quite a name for themselves in the entertainment business today.

The least established of the trio is Maximilian Paul Diarmuid Irons (27) who has overcome childhood dyslexia and associated difficulties in reading scripts to become one of the buzzed about new faces in Hollywood. He landed a lead role in 2011’s horror film Red Riding Hood and has a potential breakthrough role playing Jared Howe in next summer’s scifi-romance The Host. This adaptation of Twilight writer Stephanie Meyers’ 2008 novel will have her fans out in droves and is a guaranteed hit. Young Max follows this up playing Antonio Vivaldi in the biopic of the Italian composer-violinist.

Max Landis (27) started writing stories as a 16-year-old and sold his first script by the age of 18. In 2011, he got a lot of fanboy buzz for directing the 17-minute ‘commentary/parody’ short film The Death and Return of Superman. A year later, everyone in Hollywood was paying attention to his story and screenplay credits on the found-footage scifi film Chronicle. He is now officially on Hollywood’s screenwriter buzz list and like his father, is likely to have a successful career writing and directing films across multiple genres.

The oldest Max is Maximilian Michael Brooks (40), who rose to fame in 2003 with the release of The Zombie Survival Guide, a supposedly non-fiction publication describing zombie outbreaks dating back through history, along with detailed tips and techniques on how to survive a zombie attack. Then in 2006, he released the highly acclaimed World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which is being released as a Brad Pitt summer tentpole film next year. He has also co-written a story called The Great Wall which puts a zombie spin on the construction of one section of the Great Wall of China. The story is going into film production next year and will be Henry Cavill’s next movie after playing Superman in Man of Steel. Although he started his career as a writer for Saturday Night Live, clearly Max Brooks has chosen to make a niche for himself in the world of zombies and it will be interesting to see if he ever branches out into any other genre.

Clearly, something about the name Max is clicking in Hollywood right now, so I guess I should be keeping my eyes open for emerging stars named Max!

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And one more Apocalypse


In relation to my earlier post about the different types of apocalypses popping up in comics, novels, TV shows and movies these days, I just thought of one more. This one is an apocalypse caused by the disappearance of all electrical power and the resultant collapse of society.

I first came across this concept when reading reviews of S.M. Stirling’s 2005 alternate history novel Dies The Fire. In this book, a mysterious event – referred to as “The Change” – occurs which alters the laws of physics in such a way that electricity and gunpowder no longer work. Naturally, civilization collapses and much of the global population is wiped out. The book chronicles the lives of the survivors, some of whom revert to farming, while others become militaristic. As you can see, it starts to look very much like the Middle Ages. The book was so successful, that it has spawned 2 sequels and another 6 spin-off novels.

Then some months ago, J.J. Abrams announced a new TV show with an almost identical premise (without even having the good grace to acknowledge S.M. Stirling’s existing concept), although in this case, only electricity has stopped, but gunpowder still works. The series Revolution, premiered on NBC in September with the pilot episode directed by none other than Iron Man‘s Jon Favreau. It was among the best reviewed and most watched shows premiering in the Fall season.

The only worry with this one is that J.J. Abrams is good at setting up intriguing concepts, but tends to allow the plots and sub-plots to get too complex as the series progresses…and doesn’t always know how to bring it all to close at the end of the show’s run.

The 2012 tennis season…something for everyone


Well, Novak Djokovic capped off yet another great season by winning the year-ending ATP Tour Finals in London, beating Roger Federer 7-6, 7-5 and reaffirming the World No.1 ranking which he took back from Federer last week.

But it wasn’t a Novak show all the way this year…quite the opposite in fact. For the first time since 2003, the 4 Grand Slams were won by 4 different players with Djokovic taking the Australian Open, Nadal winning his 7th French Open, Federer picking up his 7th Wimbledon and good old Andy Murray winning his first Slam at the US Open.

Ultimately, Djokovic deservedly ended the year as No.1 for his consistency, having reached the finals of 3 Grand Slams and also winning 3 ‘Masters 1000’ titles at Miami, Toronto and Shanghai. Djokovic will have to keep his eyes open in 2013, as challenges to his reign will come from all quarters – Federer continues to be dangerous even at the age of 31, Murray will be looking to win more Slams, Nadal will want to reassert himself and del Potro is close to re-discovering his 2009 form.

For Federer, it was a year to remember. He ended his Grand Slam title drought with the Wimbledon title, reached the finals of the Olympics singles tournament for the first time in his career, won 3 ‘Masters 1000’ titles (Indian Wells, Madrid and Cincinnati) and took back the World No.1 ranking to edge past Pete Sampras’ record of 286 cumulative weeks at No.1. In fact, Federer’s final tally of 302 weeks will be very tough to beat. Frankly, it will be tough for Federer to keep his motivation up in 2013, because he now owns or co-owns practically every record in the book.

Nadal incredibly finished 2012 in the Top 5 despite not playing for half the year, a testament to his performance in the first half, having won the French Open and 2 ‘Masters 1000’ titles. He now co-owns the record for most titles with Federer, both having 21. All eyes will be on Nadal when he returns to action at the Australian Open…in the past, when he has taken an injury break, he has always returned as strong and as motivated as before.

Andy Murray finally broke the Grand Slam jinx and won the Olympic Gold to boot, but his performance in the past couple of months has been worrying as he has lost a few matches after holding match points. When under pressure, he tends to stay back and go into defensive mode, rather than taking charge of the point. Interestingly, he failed to win any Masters 1000 titles this year. I am really curious to see if he can capitalize on his 2012 breakthrough next year.

David Ferrer had the best season of his career, winning 7 tournaments including his first ever ‘Masters 1000’ title in Paris last week. To achieve this at the age of 30 is incredible, but also adds weight to the argument that tennis is becoming an older man’s game. We no longer see teenagers winning Slams and major titles as we did with Becker, Agassi and Michael Chang in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Ferrer’s season has yet to finish, as he will play in the Davis Cup finals next week.

I feel that Juan Martin del Potro will get back to his 2009 playing level by next week. His results of the last few months have been very impressive, particularly with 2 wins over Federer and 1 win over Djokovic at the Olympics. I feel that he has a good shot at winning either the hard court Slams or even the French Open, where he has twice been 2 sets up against Federer, only to lose in 5.

Among the next lot, I don’t really see any names ready to break through and win a Slam or a Masters title. Both Tsonga and Berdych have reached Grand Slam finals and have the ability to beat the big names once in a while, but they can only win the Slams by fluke, rather than be consistent contenders.

The players of the future who can make the breakthrough are the four 21 year olds ranked inside the Top 50 – Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jerzy Janowicz (okay Janowicz turns 22 today!). There are other talented young players like Kei Nishikori (aged 22, ranked 19), Bernard Tomic (aged 20, ranked 51) and Ryan Harrison (aged 20, ranked 68), but their games are not powerful enough to win at the highest level. Two other names in the Top 100 worth keeping track off are 21 year old Russian Andrey Kuznetsov who won the Wimbledon junior title in 2009 and 22 year old Guillaume Rufin of France.

But the Top 4 + del Potro are so strong, that I would be very surprised if there was to be a first-time Grand Slam winner in 2013.

Apocalypse How?


a·poc·a·lypse

noun

1. any of a class of Jewish or Christian writings that appeared from about 200 b.c. to a.d. 350 and were assumed to make revelations  of the ultimate divine purpose.
2. a prophetic revelation,  especially concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil.
3. any revelation  or prophecy.
4. any universal or widespread destruction or disaster.

The concept of the apocalypse has always fascinated us. It expresses our primal fear that humanity is ultimately powerless against the forces of nature or that of a higher power. Writers of modern fiction have used the concept of an apocalypse as a plot device to create a sub-genre of science fiction called post-apocalyptic fiction. Apparently, the first such novel is The Last Man by Mary Shelley, written 8 years after Frankenstein. Since then, celebrated writers like H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London have tried their hand at this genre. In 1954, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend which set the template for a worldwide apocalypse created by a plague and in 1978, horror novelist Stephen King portrayed a very similar apocalypse in The Stand.

In the past few years, there has been a particular deluge of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in the form of novels, graphic novels, TV series and movies. Here are the ones that I have particularly enjoyed:-

  1. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend had been brought to the big screen twice already in 1964 and 1971 before it become the breakout hit of 2007’s Christmas season for Will Smith and director Francis Lawrence. While the CGI vampires looked rather fake, it was Will Smith who connected with audiences by portraying the loneliness and almost-hopeless situation of a person who is unsure if he is the last man left alive on earth, after everyone else has either been infected or killed by a vampire plague.
  2. Over several months in 2009, I read through the 60 issues of the graphic novel series Y: The Last Man (published from 2002-08). The story deals with a mysterious event which simultaneously kills every male mammal on earth…except a young American man named Yorick Brown and his pet male monkey. Yorick sets out to find his girlfriend (who was trekking in Australia when the event occurred) and during the course of his adventures through a dystopian world, he also succeeds in unraveling the reason for the apocalypse. Truly, one of the best scifi stories I have ever come across, with a strong thread of socio-politics mixed in with the action.
  3. In late 2010, I chanced upon the first episode of the series The Walking Dead on TV. Based on the on-going monthly comic book series, which has been in publication since 2003, the series portrays the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse and the fortunes of a small group of survivors, led by a sherrif’s deputy Rick Grimes. This is probably the most popular show on US cable today and although I missed all of season 2, I ended up watching the latest episode of season 3, which features one of the series’ chief villains, The Governor.
  4. In early 2011, I read Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which tells the epic story of a vampire apocalypse. I consider this novel to be thematically similar to both Stephen King’s The Stand as well as I Am Legend. I have just finished reading the sequel The Twelve.
  5. Also in 2011, I started watching Falling Skies, the drama series produced by Steven Spielberg and created by Robert Rodat (who wrote the script for Saving Private Ryan). In this case, the apocalypse is created by an alien attack, which pretty much destroys governments and infrastructure throughout the world. This remains one of my favourite TV shows till date and I continue to keenly follow the fortunes of Tom Mason (played by Noah Wyle), Capt. Dan Weaver (Will Patton) and Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood). Fantastic script makes for great characters and a riveting drama series.
  6. Earlier this year, author Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel The Hunger Games hit the big screen to great critical and commercial success. The trilogy of novels focuses on a post-apocalyptic America shattered by nuclear war and ruled by a demagogic upper class. The film adaptation of the second novel Catching Fire will be directed by Francis Lawrence (of I Am Legend fame).
  7. A few months ago, I read Max Brooks’ (son of comedian Mel Brooks) celebrated novel of a zombie apocalypse, World War Z, which is soon going to arrive on the big screen (although with a completely altered storyline, as I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago).
  8. So, after we are done with apocalypses caused by vampires, zombies, gendercide and alien invasions, you would think there is not much left to cover. Not true. In the summer of 2011, Daniel H. Wilson – a robotics PhD turned author – published Robopocalypse, a novel in which humanity is nearly wiped out in an apocalyptic war with a rogue artificial intelligence. The book was on the New York Times best seller list and is going to be Steven Spielberg’s next directorial effort. What makes the story chilling is the fact that much of the rogue behaviour depicted in the novel is based on intelligent technology currently being built into everyday products and utilities.

In fact, this is the common thread running through all the works of fiction mentioned above – the writers have done an incredible amount of research before crafting the stories and all of them are based to a large extent on scientific fact and/or existing technologies. In fact, Both Max Brooks and Daniel Wilson magot into their respective genres by writing non-fictional ‘survival guides’ to zombie plagues and robot uprisings, before hitting the best-seller lists with their respective novels. Just goes to show you how seriously authors are dealing with the sub-genre today.

And the most successful Bond movie ever is…


I woke up this morning to the news that Skyfall had broken the US record for the best opening weekend for a Bond film, with an estimated 3-day gross of $ 87.5 million. There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about how Daniel Craig is the most ‘bankable’ Bond ever, with his 3 films together heading for a global gross of $2 billion and a combined US gross exceeding $500 million, thereby exceeding the US earnings of Pierce Brosnan’s 4 films.

But of course, we all know that ticket prices have experienced significant inflation over the years. And therefore, shouldn’t the term ‘bankable’ or ‘successful’ refer to the Bond actor who has sold the most tickets?

So, I went to my trusty resource, boxofficemojo.com and checked their database for the number of tickets sold by each of the Bond movies…the caveat is that for old movies, they have this information only for the US, not the international box office.

I decided to look at both opening weekend tickets as well as total tickets sold during the entire theatrical run.

The site has been tracking opening weekends since the late ’70s, so I could look at information from Moonraker (1979) till Skyfall. And indeed, Skyfall is the opening weekend champ in terms of tickets sold, with 11.2 million tickets. The runners-up have been the last 3-4 Bond films with 7-9 million tickets sold on opening weekend. This is not very surprising, as the obsession to maximize opening weekend grosses by releasing movies ultra-wide is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the last 10-15 years. In the earlier days, studios were content to allow a film to ‘find its audience’ through word of mouth, frequently opening it in limited number of theaters in the big cities and then slowly expanding it out through the country. It was not uncommon for a successful film to be in theaters for close to a year, whereas these days most films open very big and then burn out relatively quickly in a matter of weeks.

So, rather than opening weekend data, I was much more interested in checking the total tickets sold through the entire theatrical run. And, going by that metric, the most successful Bond film in US box office history is Thunderball, with an estimated 74.8 million tickets sold through its run back from Christmas of 1965 through 1966. Its predecessor Goldfinger gets the silver medal with 66.3 million tickets sold from its Christmas launch in 1964. Of course, those were the heydays of movie going in the US, with very limited forms of alternate entertainment and also the height of the Cold War, making the Bond films extremely topical. The 3rd most successful Bond film is the follow-up to Thunderball, which is You Only Live Twice with 36 million tickets sold in 1967. Never again did Bond movies ever reach these heights; all the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig films so far have sold about 25 million tickets during their theatrical runs and perhaps Skyfall may get close to 30 million.

So, while I am a big fan of Daniel Craig, I would hesitate before naming him the most bankable Bond. I feel that statistically, the crown still belongs to good old Sean Connery.

World War Z trailer…forget about the book!


This morning, I watched the trailer for World War Z, the troubled movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ 2006 horror novel, starring (and co-produced by) Brad Pitt.

I read the novel a few months ago in preparation for the release of the film, which was originally slated for December of this year. The novel is structured as a series of interviews with survivors of a worldwide zombie epidemic, written by an agent of the United Nations and published 10 years after the end of the war. It is famous for weaving socio-political, cultural, religious and economic commentary into the narrative; the concomitant realism makes the story all the more chilling and believable.

If the book had to be filmed ‘as is’, then it would have featured a bunch of people talking into a camera, with perhaps some intercut footage of the events being described. This would have made it an interesting entry into the genre of ‘found footage’ films, could have been produced for as little as $10-15 mn and would have made a tidy profit at the box office.

Instead, the film makers have decided to convert it into a tentpole action film, looking like a mash-up of a Roland Emmerich disaster film and Will Smith’s I am Legend. Nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but I can’t understand why the producers bother calling the movie an adaptation of World War Z. They could have just gone out and made an original zombie apocalypse picture, because by the looks of the trailer, this film has very little to do with the book.

For starters, the zombies in the book follow the traditional behavioral traits of their ilk as popularized by George A. Romero in his seminal zombie films, i.e. they are slow moving, have no intelligence and reveal their presence by moaning. In the just released trailer on the other hand, one can see hordes of fast-moving zombies literally sweeping through the streets like a tsunami and attacking a fortified enclosure in an apparently coordinated attack. Besides that, the story is not about the lead character viewing the events of the apocalypse in retrospect through the memories of others, but instead has him smack in the middle of these events, as they unfold; and appears to have him play an active role in the government response to the pandemic.

No doubt, the trailer looks pretty impressive, featuring an audio signature very similar to that of the Prometheus trailer from earlier this year. I don’t think any of the social and political insights from the book would have survived, given the blockbuster ambitions of the filmmakers. Having said that, the trailer does look pretty impressive. The only bit of concern is that the director is Marc Forster, who made such a hash of the last Bond outing Quantum of Solace and given the delay of the film’s release from December this year, plus the rumors of logistical issues and cost over-runs, one wonders what the end product will look like.

All will be revealed in June 2013.