Hughes Leaves 'Akira' reports that Albert Hughes (THE BOOK OF ELI) is stepping down as director of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures live action adaptation of the popular Manga/Anime series AKIRA.
Based on the sci-fi ‘cyber-punk’ comic book  by  Katsuhiro Otomo,  Warner Brothers Pictures vision of and approach to AKIRA has apparently wavered somewhat over the past year. 
A 2010 script by Steve Kloves (HARRY POTTER series, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) changed the setting of the film from the post-apocalyptic ‘New Tokyo’ to ‘New Manhattan’, and more or less ‘Americanized’ the young characters, members of futuristic gangs and subjects of experiments into psychic powers.  
The studio has been unsure about the production’s budget and cast, vacillating between a more modest film with up-and coming actors, and a big budget epic with major stars.
Keanu Reeves (THE MATRIX) had been briefly connected with the project, but left recently, which hints that the film has been scaled back down. 
Whether this has a bearing on Hughes leaving the film is unclear, though the site notes that the parting seems to be amicable, with Warner Brothers offering the director a selection of other projects.
It also looks as though the studio remains eager to make the movie, and is actively looking to attract a new director to take over the reins.

Book of Eli on DVD: The Use and Abuse of Religion

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The recent release of THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) on DVD provides an opportunity for a reassessment of important elements within its story. Viewers with religious convictions have interpreted the film in strongly positive and negative terms; however, another reading is plausible that avoids these extremes. Taking into account its late-modern-Western and post-9/11 context, THE BOOK OF ELI may be interpreted as a film that urges caution in the use of religion by both its practitioners and the irreligious – who variously objectify religion and justify violence in fundamentalist fashion while failing to heed the message of religion or recognize its power as a form of social control and a tool for oppression. This review will address these elements, which appear to be overlooked in many reviews of the movie.
THE BOOK OF ELI is the latest example of Hollywood (and popular culture’s) continued fascination with and exploration of the post-apocalypse. Blending genre elements from the Western and action films, the story follows a man (Denzel Washington), who lives in a near-future world ravaged by nuclear war. He is on a personal mission to carry a book, which he holds sacred, to the West Coast. Along the way, he stops for water in a town under the leadership of Carnegie (Gary Oldman), an oppressive and violent man who rules with an iron fist. Carnegie is looking for a book with the power to control people and expand his power; his search dovetails with Eli’s mission to protect the same book in his westward journey. The resulting conflict sets the stage for the rest of the film, with post-apocalyptic elements providing the backdrop and context for the exploration of religious themes.
As the narrative unfolds, we learn that after the war Washington’s character (who only at the end of the film do we learn is named Eli) responded to an internal voice that told him where to dig in the rubble for an important item. There he found the book, more specifically a Bible, around which the story circulates. The voice also told Eli that it was his mission to carry the book West and that he would be given divine protection in his travels. THE BOOK OF ELI provides a number of examples of Eli’s devotion to his faith and his calling, such as prayer over his food, daily Bible reading, and the quotation of biblical verses, even in connection with the slaying of his enemies.
Before considering an alternative reading to the pro- and anti-Christian readings of the film prevalent in many commentaries, a few words are in order about the possibilities related to someone actually thinking they could be the recipients of divine revelation in a period of great social upheaval, such as the post-apocalyptic scenario of this film. While skeptics will be doubtful of any such possibilities in the assumption of the absence of the supernatural or the transcendent, even so, sociological evidence exists that can account for such beliefs. Noted sociologist of religion Rodney Stark, in his discussion of revelators in new religious movements and major world religions, notes that “all successful religious movements arise in response to crises.” He goes further and develops a proposition from this idea, stating that, “During periods of social crisis, the number of persons who receive novel revelations and the number willing to accept such revelations are maximized.”
In THE BOOK OF ELI, we are led to believe that religion has largely disappeared since most of the previous generations of religious people have died, and at some point at least the Bible if not all religious Scriptures have been destroyed; however, the post-apocalyptic scenario certainly provides the social context of extreme crisis wherein people would be receptive to the possibility of personal revelation. As this plays out in the film, it is not so much the surviving humans who are looking to hear the divine, but rather Eli himself who hears the inner voice which for him provides a strong sense of divine vocation. Understood as developing in a context of social crisis, it is not so much Eli’s understanding of divine vocation that is problematic, but his actions that come as a result. Eli’s actions as a man of religious devotion, often violent ones, have resulted in different interpretations of the film, and in light of this they deserve further exploration.
A sampling of the reviews and commentary on THE BOOK OF ELI by those with religious convictions, particularly those with a Judeo-Christian orientation, reveals diverse interpretations of the film in regards to its relationship to Christianity. On the one hand, there are those who take exception to the film, seeing it as incorporating a strongly anti-Christian caricature; on the other hand there are those who see the film as sympathetic to Christianity (one website even going so far as to describe it as “positively Christian”).
In my view both of these readings are problematic. For starters, THE BOOK OF ELI is not presenting Eli as a Christian. Although he reads from the Bible, and gives thanks for his meals, the name of Christ is never once invoked in the film. Instead, Eli prays to “the Lord” and closes his prayers with a simple “Amen.” In this way his brand of religious devotion may be understood as a generic brand of Judeo-Christian theism rather than a specific expression of Christianity. If the film does not present the Christian faith and the actions of a devoted Christian, then it is difficult to see how the film could be construed as either pro- or anti-Christian.
If these popular readings may be inaccurate, then what reading might better account for various elements of the film? I suggest that, instead, THE BOOK OF ELI should be understood as a critique of the misuse of religion by skeptics and religious devotees alike. First, consider the late-modern and post-9/11 context of the film. Late modernity, or postmodernity, often includes critique of dominant cultural narratives, including religious ones. In addition, we live in a post-9/11 world, where religious tensions and violence around the world exert a constant influence in our lives. When these two considerations come together, it is plausible that the cultural context out of which THE BOOK OF ELI has arisen is one that attempts to critique prominent religious narratives, particularly those that have led to violence.
This leads to my second consideration, and that is the ways in which religion is used by the two principle characters in THE BOOK OF ELI. On the one hand, we have Carnegie, a violent man who seems to have no religious convictions of his own but who seeks a Bible because he recognizes its potential for expanding his power over others. In one scene he shouts to his cronies that “It’s not a book, it’s a weapon!” Here we have a character who seeks to use an important aspect of a religious tradition in order to gain control over “the weak and desperate,” but not as an important part of his heartfelt religious pathway. As the villain of the film it is clear that viewers are to recognize the illegitimacy of Carnegie’s (mis)use of religion.
However, there is a second major character for whom religion is significant: Eli. While his use of religion is presented more positively, it is not without its difficulties. Eli is a lone hero with a divine mission who must do everything he can to protect the holy book as he carries it West. In a post-apocalyptic world where people are fighting for their lives, Eli’s mission results in mayhem and violence for those who try to kill him and steal his belongings, including the Bible. Not only is Eli prone to violence in his mission, perhaps understandable in the survivalist context, but his violence is selective.
In one scene Eli sees a man and a woman traveling who are accosted by a roving gang affiliated with Carnegie. The man is killed and the woman is violently raped. Eli is moved by this viciousness, but he tells himself that he has his mission and that the violence taking place around him is not his concern. So in the case of Eli we have a man of religious devotion who is driven to great violence to protect a religious object, but who is not driven to “love his neighbor as himself” to the extent that his faith compels him to assist those suffering around him. Thus, while Carnegie’s use of religion is clearly problematic, Eli’s is as well, perhaps more so in light of his religious devotion.
For those who may dispute this interpretation of Eli’s actions, Eli himself seems to come to understand that his own faith missed the mark. Near the conclusion of THE BOOK OF ELI, after Eli has lost the book to Carnegie, he is rescued by his traveling companion Solara, to whom he acknowledges that he was so caught up in protecting the Bible that he failed to live its message. Eli’s religious faith was focused on the externals, that of protecting a sacred item of Scripture, often leading to grotesque violence, perhaps necessary at times; in the process, he failed to internalize the essence of his religion and, in so doing, turned a blind eye to the suffering around him that he might have been able to alleviate.
Viewed from this perspective, THE BOOK OF ELI may be read as not so much articulating a pro-Christian or anti-Christian message. Rrather, arising out of a critique of religious narratives of our time that often incorporate violence and neglect marginalized, this film may be read as one that cautions against the abuse of religion by believers and non-believers alike. For those willing to stretch themselves in their consideration of religion, from whatever their personal frameworks, THE BOOK OF ELI provides some interesting aspects for personal reflection.
The DVD and Blu-ray discs of  THE BOOK OF ELI include a handful of special features. The standard version of the DVD is disappointing in that its bonus material is limited to some additional scenes and an animated tale that develops the storyline further. The Blu-ray Combo Pack includes more – not only the additional scenes and animated story, but also explorations of other aspects of the story related to Eli’s journey and post-apocalyptic, as well as a soundtrack for the film.



Laserblast, June 15: Book of Eli, Supernatural, Sanctuary, The Stepfather

Tuesday June 15 sees the home video release of the box office hit THE BOOK OF ELI, along with season collections of the TV series SUPERNATURAL and SANCTUARY, plus a new Blu-ray release of THE STEPFATHER (1987). BOOK OF ELI – the post-apocalyptic adventure, starring Denzel Washington and directed by the Hughes Brothers – earned over $150-million world wide when it was released in theatres this January; it now arrives on DVD and in a combo pack containing Blu-ray, DVD and a Digital Copy. The Blu-ray is loaded with bonus features: a bonus view track providing an in-depth examination of the production; 35 minutes of focus points; an animated short; three featurettes looking at the film and its soundtrack; 3 deleted/alternate scenes; the disc is alos BD-Live enabled.
If you’re more a television fan, you can pick up SUPERNATURAL: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON on Blu-ray; it was previously released on DVD back in 2006. Also arriving SANCTUARY: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, on DVD and Blu-ray. For more details on the later, click here.

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THE STEPFATHER was the subject of an unnecessary remake last year. Now the original, starring Terry O’Quinn (LOST) makes a reappearance courtesy of a new Blu-ray release. There was a DVD release last October, timed to the remake; the Blu-ray ports over those bonus features: audio commentary with director Joseph Ruben; The Stepfather Chronicles (an all-new retrospective featuring interviews with cast and crew); trailers; stills gallery. Although not a huge hit when released in the ’80s, THE STEPFATHER is a classic thriller that deserves to be seen.
As for the rest, budget-minded buyers can take advantage of discount double bills of DRILLER with DRILLER KILLER and SNAKES ON A TRAIN” with KING OF THE LOST WORLD. Really budget-minded buyers can obtain four titles from low-budget filmmaker Brett piper in the SHOCK-O-RAMA HORROR COLLECTION. And horror host Mr. Lobo strikes again with a Cinema Insomnia Slime Edition of GAMERA SUPER MONSTERS (1980), the final entry in the original series about the giant flying turtle, which relies heavily on stock footage from its predecessors.

The Book of Eli (2010)

Book of Eli-Movie (2010)

“In the time before…”

Back in January of 2010, a movie hit theaters and began with those rather clichéd words.  And it feels to us as if we’re talking about an ancient allegory, too.  We missed THE BOOK OF ELI when it initially hit theaters, but we’re catching up with it now.  Well, at least we’re getting to it before it journeys all the way to DVD.
The tale is a post-apocalyptic one in which our intrepid hero (Denzel Washington) feels called upon by a higher power (you know Who) to make a years-long journey to get a very important book (you know what) to a specific destination for a very important purpose.  You see, in this squalid future, there is perhaps only one of these books left (not too many other books either), and it must be protected and preserved at all costs.  So then it follows, of course, that there is a bad guy (Oldman) who wants to get his hands on the book for his own nefarious purposes.
As for the cause of mankind’s state in the film, who really knows?  We just screwed up big time, blew everything to hell, and really damaged our ozone layer, radiating ourselves and scorching the Earth in the process.  Yep, things they be a mess…in more than one aspect.
This reviewer can remember the good ol’ days when he was a young’un and rode bikes about 8 miles into town with his best bud one summer day to catch the a nifty little sleeper called THE ROAD WARIOR (1982).  Didn’t know much about it, other than the fact that it was a low-budget Aussie film with some no-name, hungry actors, and it promised some hip action for those with the thirst.  Well, it turned out to be an extra fun surprise, not to mention a star-making little jaunt for some actor named Mel Gibson and a director named George Miller.
Twenty-nine years and countless post-apocalyptic films later, it would be nice to be able to say the same for THE BOOK OF ELI; but alas, such just ain’t the case.  With a couple of A-list actors in the leads, there be no hungry no-namers to jump onto the scene.  With a budget of at least $80-million, the low-budget, devil-may-care spirit is out, too.  And with the post-apocalyptic genre having been beat to death with both good and bad whips, this somewhat plodding effort doesn’t bring much to viewers that’s different or entertaining.  However, with a ‘B’ or ‘C’ cast and some shakier production values on the technical side, it might make for good (translated schlocky & entertaining) midnight TV fodder on the likes of CREATURE FEATURES – another neat little blast from the past where just those kinds of movies ended up, to the joy of puberty-stricken teens all around.
Now, this is not to say that THE BOOK OF ELI boasts no positives.  When you’ve got a charismatic lead with the talent and gravitas of Denzel Washington, you bring instant strength to just about any film.  And Washington delivers here as well.  In fact, he’s the main reason for watching a stale piece like ELI.  It sure isn’t for Gary Oldman, who hams it up pretty good, even in the quiet moments.  And it isn’t for screenwriter Gary Whitta’s script, which does nothing to enlarge the genre or give us interesting – or at least fun – characters to hiss or cheer.  Mr. Whitta comes from the world of video gaming and video game journalism.  It shows in THE BOOK OF ELI, which feels rather like a game concept transposed to the big screen.
In addition to the positive contributions from Washington, there are a couple of other factors at work: one is the technical flair brought to bear by cinematographer Don Burgess.  It may not be ground-breaking, but the gritty, monochromatic imagery is an effective and appropriate approach to the film.  Another is the stylish direction of the Hughes brothers (except for some silly slow-mo’s).  They have a sense for tone and action, but they lack the ability to guide a writer who needs guidance and tell a compelling story.  In the end, it’s too bad that the pieces don’t come together to form a cohesive whole.  One senses missed opportunity and potential.
But back to Denzel Washington for a moment.  He brings a laudable reverence to his character’s spiritual beliefs without being preachy (more on that in a minute); it’s just too bad the rest of the film is too muddy in its development and too dopey to match such heart-felt care.  Through it all, fortunately, it remains clear that Washington cares, and admittedly, that alone is kind of refreshing.
As pointed out, there is a religious element to THE BOOK OF ELI, but it exists primarily as an element of the story, not to proselytize.  Regardless of the fact that a few have labeled the film as preachy (e.g., Kim Newman from Empire Magazine), it is not.  The titular book and the main character’s faith in the words contained therein are the MacGuffin used for the story’s progression, but the journey hardly equates to preachiness.  If such is what a viewer feels, I would submit that it comes from his or her own baggage, not from anything intrinsic to the film.
After all, in one of the movie’s more lunkheaded but predictable machismo moments, our heroine (Mila Kunis) passes on a logical life-choice and the message contained in the book, in order to go back to what she just spent most of the movie trying to get away from (presumably to go get her mother?) .  And Oldman’s character is interested in the book as a means to manipulate and control the masses – not for any truth in it that he believes should be adhered to.
In the end, there is a nice little twist – if you accept that divine intervention is involved; however, we’re left thinking that, although elements are intriguing or entertaining on one level or another, this post-apocalyptic world wasn’t mapped out thoroughly enough before committing it to celluloid.  As for this reviewer, give him book worm Henry Bemis in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Time Enough at Last,” based on Lynn Venable’s short story of the same name.; now there be some slick, ironic and entertaining end-of-civilization storytelling.  And there’s certainly the other post-apocalyptic tale released not too long before THE BOOK OF ELI.  You know the one I mean?  It involves a bleak, thoughtful trek down THE ROAD.

THE BOOK OF ELI (Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros. 2010; 118 min.) Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes.  Screenplay by Gary Whitta.  Produced by Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Joel Silver, and David Valdes.  Executive produced by Susan Downey, Erik Olsen, Steve Richards, and Richard D. Zanuck.  Cinematography by Don Burgess.  Production Design by Gae S. Buckley.  Art Direction by Christopher Burian-Mohr.  Costumes by Sharen Davis.  Special Effects Supervision by Yves De Bono.  Visual Effects Supervision by Jon  Farhat, Justin Jones, Allan Magled, Chris Wells, and Edson Williams.  Music Composed by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, and Claudia Sarne.  Edited By Cindy Mollo.  Cast: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon, Tom Waits.  MPAA Rating: R – for some brutal violence and strong language.