Population 436

tn_pop436Yesterday it was officially announced that director Michelle MacLaren will be directing a Wonder Woman movie. She’d been Blogger’s Choice since it got around that Warner Brothers was hoping to get a woman for the job.

It’s a good idea to get some female perspective in some of these super hero pictures, and an interesting challenge. There unfortunately isn’t a very big pool of established female directors to choose from, and zero who’ve been allowed experience in big budget effects or super hero movies. One who came close was Patty Jenkins (MONSTER), who was supposed to do THOR 2, but was fired before filming allegedly for “a lack of overall clarity in her choices.” Women who’ve done medium-sized or small studio genre movies include Karyn Kusama, who did ÆON FLUX; Catherine Hardwicke, who did the first TWILIGHT (then got dumped); Kimberly Peirce, who did the CARRIE remake; and Lexi Alexander, who did the b-movie THE PUNISHER’S WAR ZONE.

To date the biggest budget live action movie directed by a woman is Kathryn Bigelow’s K19 THE WIDOWMAKER. She also happens to be a great action director, but after THE HURT LOCKER and ZERO DARK THIRTY it’s hard to picture her going super hero. I assume they offered to greenlight six serious contemporary issue dramas if she’d do this, but if so she must not’ve been interested.

So they’re digging into the TV directors. MacLaren got the internet’s eye by directing episodes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Obviously they’ve talked to her about what she wants to do, so they have more to go on than the we do. Personally I’m skeptical of counting on the cinematic vision of TV directors. From what I understand TV is usually a totally different gig than movies. They come in and try to follow an established approach, directing a cast and crew already working together as a team who know how it’s supposed to go. It’s the producers and show runners who have the vision. That’s why it’s rare to see one episode of a TV show that stands out filmatistically.

Of course, there have been some great transitions from TV to movies, including two of the best of the modern super hero movies, THE AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA’S WINTER SOLDIER. But Joss Whedon started as a movie screenwriter, then as TV show creator and writer who branched out into directing, and the Russos started as feature writer/directors before they found more success in TV. J.J. Abrams is a similar story to Whedon. These are all people who started as storytellers, not directors for hire, so we already knew they had a vision.

Hopefully MacLaren will get added to the list of success stories, but I don’t think there’s any way for us to guess based on her TV work. However, despite what I’ve seen reported elsewhere, WONDER WOMAN will not be her feature directing debut. We actually have one movie to judge her on, a 2006 DTV thriller called POPULATION 436. And you know me and DTV. I’m on the case.

mp_pop436Jeremy Sisto plays Steve Kady, a census taker visiting the small town of Rockwell Falls for counting purposes. You know, the ol’ census-taker hero archetype. The people of the town treat him as an honored guest and are impressed when he pretentiously quotes Pythagoras. Somehow he doesn’t notice that this is weird. But he does figure out that some weird shit is going on because the population has stuck at exactly 436 for decades. (At least it’s not 666 I guess. That would make for an even stupider cover.)

It’s alot like THE WICKER MAN, either version. Actually, closer to the remake, but minus the thrilling injection of mega-acting and bear suit freakiness. You got old timey town festivals, off-putting seemingly brainwashed residents and semi-secret occultish ritual. A council entirely made up of friendly grey-haired men discuss town business and then recite an inspirational chant. There’s something going on with a hospital and a little girl undergoing shock treatments. Kady hears her screaming for his help and tries to rescue her but then she gets cold feet and disavows him.

It turns out everybody’s concerend about “The Fever,” a highly contagious disease with the main symptom being that you want to get the fuck out of this podunk town. So as you can imagine it’s real easy to catch. The cure turns people into good ol’ unquestioning small town folk. Kind of a STEPFORD WIVES type deal except it comes from their experience that anyone who leaves town is immediately struck down by God. So I guess getting brainwashed to stay in town and not die is actually for their own good. It’s like somebody’s pills that dampen their energy and personality but keep them from killing themselves. A necessary evil.

While in town Kady makes friends with a sheriff’s deputy played by – would you believe this? – Fred Durst. You know, the director of THE LONGSHOTS. I’ve always disliked his music with Limp Bizkit and his stupid face, but he’s not bad in this. In fact he works really well for a guy that we don’t know if he’s sinister or just a doofus. He also looks a little less douchey with no soul patch, no backwards baseball cap, skinny face, balding. He’s actually the most likable character. I liked him.

I can’t really say the same for the protagonist. Sisto is generally pretty good, but his character takes a drastic turn for the dickish when he starts making moves on the deputy’s fiancee. This guy has taken him to the bar to introduce everybody, stopped a local from shooting him in the face, taught him how to shoot guns and hung out and talked relationships with him, and how does Kady repay him? By trying to take his woman behind his back, not even talking to him about it. I’m not talking about some bro code, I’m talking about common decency. That is obviously not cool. Guys like this, they think they’re the fuckin king of the world, just because they’re good at counting.

These types of small towns in movies always ring false to me. Of course there really are communities where everyone knows each other, where they pride themselves on being old fashioned, where they don’t see hardly any crime. And it’s true that they may be protective of their way of life and suspicious of outsiders and big cities. But also every one of the motherfuckers has a satellite dish on the outside of their house or trailer. They are connected to the outside world. They’re not Amish. They’re not historical re-enacters. They probly don’t offer a bed and home made peach pie to everybody that drives through and invite him to their annual festival. But every small town in movies does all that shit. This is the same exact scary small town you’ve seen in every other movie about this same thing.

It’s a decidedly mediocre movie. If we’re hoping MacLaren is the one to find a really good way to tell the story of Wonder Woman this is not very persuasive supporting evidence, though it doesn’t damn her either. The filmatism is fine, completely competent DTV work. Fast editing is used effectively, not confusingly, and avid farts are limited to dream sequences. There is very little that could be considered action, and nothing that hints at how she might handle bullet-deflecting bracelets or invisible jets. And no lassos.

But if Fred Durst gets cast as Wonder Man or whatever don’t fret, she does know what she’s doing in that department.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 at 12:30 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “Population 436”

  1. So she directed THAT movie? Damn, I remember seeing the cover every time in the video store.

  2. I actually love the idea of taking a promising TV director – her BREAKING BAD eps are seriously well directed – and seeing if they can bring something to the table on a big scale production. It’s like calling up a hot prospect from AAA to see if they can hit big league pitching. Wish Marvel or someone would try graduating some of our favorite DTV directors too…

  3. Also I just realized that I totally forgot that Limp Bizkiz existed. Just like all the other NuMetal bands, they were kinda fun to listen to when I was 17-19 years old, but at the moment I try really hard to remember any of their songs. All I can come up with are some snippets of their music videos (The one with Ben Stiller, the one on the World Trade Center, the one where someone’s head falls off, the one with Pauly Short and that dude from KoRn, the one where he Kung Fus it out with Method Man) but no melodies or even song titles! Weird.

  4. Why wouldn’t studios try to recruit TV directors? No different than drawing from indies/genre films or music videos or whatever. In theory they’re already towing to the house style already established by others/producers while working under a certain budget and time schedule.

    And lets be honest: for the most part, WB/DC (like Marvel) will be recruiting directors who will be eager to get a career-advancing chance to shoot a blockbuster while being paid pennies and understand they won’t have final cut. (Didn’t Ayer sign onto Suicide Squad before FURY came out? Sounds reasonable to try to get your next job just in case your newest film flops.)

    Never saw this movie, it looked….skippable…but hey look at the movie the Russos directed before TWS. I’ll cut her a break here.

    But whether fair or not, MacLaren will be under absurd intense pressure on WW. (I think Lexi “I did PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, which was awesome!” Alexander commented recently about that.) People have something up their ass about that character. I hope they can pull it off. (That reported gender-bending rehash on HIGHLANDER pitch actually sounded promising.) Personally I would laugh if they promise to be “faithful” to the comics…and then around and produce a film off the 1970s run where she lost her powers, wore a white jumpsuit, and was a martial arts master.

    BTW, isn’t it weird how the Internet (like Bleeding Cool) haggered on WB to hire a woman to direct WW, but you don’t see any pressure on Marvel to hire a black director* for Black Panther or a woman for Captain Marvel? A little unfair.

    *=Scott Sanders would be my pick, honestly. He could totally pull that shit off.

  5. It’s easy to see why studios would be attracted to TV directors for their big properties. A TV director’s job is to come in, get the job done on time and on budget, get along with everybody because they work here full time and you’re just a temp, and not make any waves so they’ll hire you back for another episode. The characters are already established, you have no input on the script, and even the visual style is usually set in stone by the time you show up (unless you’re directing the pilot, in which case you’re helping to establish the house look future directors will emulate). It’s way different than hiring an indie film director, who might be used to a lot more creative autonomy. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of great movies have been made by journeymen/women. The second THOR movie was way better than the first one, for instance. I just think it’s cool that they’re finally making the movie at all.

  6. It’s a WONDER WOMAN movie. That character has some of the most passionate* fans in comics, to the extent that changing the character’s origin so she actually has a father is considered a massive slap in the face to the pro-feminist message she represents and even the way Gal Gadot is STANDING in that one picture we’ve seen of the character has upset some people because it shows some aggression.

    So…expect bitching, no matter how good the movie is.


  7. “So…expect bitching, no matter how good the movie is.”

    Stu – Disagree. Well some complaining because that’s inevitable, but generally fanbases can be won over. Look at Batman fans (who could be one of the more fanbases in all of geekdom), they’ve been won by the movies before.

    I think there is a myriad of reasons. One, she’s a loaded character because of the “feminist icon” luggage attached to her. Two, (to paraphrase Broddie, if I remember right) she’s had a ping pong creative history that there is no definitive version/interpretation like with say Batman. Third, general Internet bitchyness at WB/DC because they’re not the flavor of the Nerd Month like Marvel. Fourth, paranoia considering considering who’s producing* WW and his track record with some female characters. Fifth, people still not sure about Gadot. Oddly enough for all my bitching at MOS, the casting wasn’t a problem. I’m sure she’ll be fine.

    Its much easier to adapt a C-list character/property. Not as big of a fanbase (and likewise not as big of a “passionate” fanbase), you get away with more changes. (I think of BIG HERO 6 recently, based off a Marvel comic that probably only 2 people heard of and they were the guys who wrote/drew it.) Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in the late 60s and in all of their versions, they only finally recently crossed 100 issues as a title. Dr. Strange’s longest consecutive title run was 90 issues. Black Panther and Carol Danvers each at best had runs that lasted up to 50**, I believe. Friggin Ant-Man was a founding member of the Avengers, but his photo is the dictionary under “C-list.”

    Yet here’s an off-topic musing that I find strange about WW considering what Stu brought up: She’s C-list. Yes she’s been propped up by DC as one of the “Trinity” w/ Supes and Bats, but the sales over the decades hasn’t really backed that up. Reminds me of Fantastic Four over at Marvel. The original Lee/Kirby sensation that launched the “House of Ideas”, but its not been a top seller the last few decades save for brief moments. Which is why Marvel can cancel that title in a (useless) tactic to not give the upcoming reboot movie free advertizing. They would never do that to Spider-Man or X-Men***.

    *=As I explained yesterday in another thread, this won’t be 300 or SUCKER PUNCH or whatever. This is a movie that’ll sell toys and lunchboxes. There’ll be no “rapey” (to quote the Internet). Nevermind there was none of that shit in MOS.

    **=What’s crazy is that the new Ms. Marvel, one of Marvel’s top titles currently, could last much longer

    ***=Chris Claremont sometime back did say that Marvel won’t allow X-Men writers to create new characters, i.e. that Fox could then put in their films.

  8. Off-topic but the lighten things up, here is Darth Vader fighting Dr. Doom.


  9. “Yet here’s an off-topic musing that I find strange about WW considering what Stu brought up: She’s C-list. Yes she’s been propped up by DC as one of the “Trinity” w/ Supes and Bats, but the sales over the decades hasn’t really backed that up.”

    I don’t think her popularity has to do with the comics. I consider myself a Wonder Woman fan and I don’t read comics. I’m basing this fandom solely on my exposure to her during my childhood in the 70s and 80s from the TV show and the SUPER FRIENDS cartoon. Girls didn’t have that many female heroes to latch onto at that time, so those of us from that generation have quite a deep appreciation of her.

  10. MaggieMayPie: I don’t want to make you a spokesperson for a gender/generation or anything, but what would you say is the core appeal of Wonder Woman? What are her defining characteristics? Does the whole Greek myth/Xena Warrior Princess take on the character do anything for you at all? The reason I ask is that as an on/off comics reader I’ve seen Wonder Woman get continually rebooted and retooled to the point where I don’t really know who she is. The characterization of big hitters like Batman and Superman may have evolved over time and each author has a different take on it, but there’s some core principles to those characters that remain constant. I don’t really get that from WW.

  11. You know, I’m not really sure why I like her so much. I do like the Greek myth, island of strong women part, but I wouldn’t hate it if they gave her a different back story. I just like that she’s a badass superhero that is a woman. Like I said, I don’t read comics, so I don’t know any of the other badass women superheroes, like Captain Marvel or She Hulk. Maybe if I knew them I’d like them more than Wonder Woman. All I know is that I had Wonder Woman underoos and pretended to have bullet proof bracelets with my brother’s archery wrist guards and things like that stay with you.

  12. People forget that many “canon” stuff that didn’t originate from the comics sometimes. Famous example: It was a radio show that invented Kryptonite. Then obviously the Superman comics thought oh jeez that’s a good idea and adopted it.

    Or Batman: The Animated Series, which gave us Harley Quinn (who’ll be in the Suicide Squad movie) and Montoya (who’s now on GOTHAM.)

    I do understand where MMP is coming from. A character I adored as a kid was Luke Cage, if only because of one back issue from the 1970s I read where he (as part of “Heroes for Hire” he’s a mercenary) he did a job for Dr. Doom, who then stiffed him on the pay. Cage then traveled to Latveria and pounded the shit out of him until DD relented and gave up the promised pay: $200.

    Cage never was A-list, though he is getting a Netflix TV show. But that moment really made me a fan for life.

    On that note, I remember when alot of folks online were pissed when Ryan Reynolds was casted for Green Lantern because they didn’t understand why a white guy was playing a black man’s part. For a whole generation, their knowledge of GL came from the Justice League cartoon series which had Jon Stewart playing that part, no idea what so ever about

    “I just like that she’s a badass superhero that is a woman. Like I said, I don’t read comics, so I don’t know any of the other badass women superheroes, like Captain Marvel or She Hulk. Maybe if I knew them I’d like them more than Wonder Woman. ”

    She-Hulk really became interesting when John Byrne had that 1980s run where he made her an attorney for superheroes, with alot of meta-humor. (One issue, she represented Spider-Man suing the Daily Bugle for defamation.) I really would love it if Marvel did make that TV show as a PERRY MASON-ish legal procedural…just with spandex, She-Hulk of course green while wearing her dress and high heels at work. This week, She-Hulk has to defend Howard the Duck on charges of indecent exposure!

    When I was growing up, Captain Marvel was Ms. Marvel. (Honestly when I think Carol Danvers, I still associate her more with “Ms. Marvel.” Call it old timer’s bias.) A couple years back Marvel “promoted” her, probably because they didn’t want to make their first superchick movie to be called Ms. Marvel. She’s had her origin story changed up over the years, but basically (the official synopsis now anyway) she was an Air Force pilot who comes into contact with a Kree* scout named Mar Vell (wink wink!), getting his powers which included flight, super strength, shooting lasers out of her hands, etc.

    The interesting thing though was that when Danvers was “promoted,” a teenage Muslim girl in New Jersey in Kamela Kahn took the discarded Ms. Marvel alias for herself and that new MS. MARVEL title has been one of Marvel’s top selling books while (from my understanding) the Captain Marvel title is one of their lesser selling titles. I’ve not read MS. MARVEL, but I’ve read alot of reviews glowlingly compared it to the original Lee/Ditko Spider-Man comics from the 1960s (Nerd translation: Damn high praise.) I did read the Captain Marvel title, and…not bad, just generic.

    Still I did see some touches I’m sure will be in that film. That bit where she’s traveling in her spaceship with her pet cat as her sidekick, reminds one of Sigourney Weaver with Jonesy in ALIEN.

    Also she punches a dinosaur.

    *=Kree who of course were represented recently in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY with Ronan the Accuser. They’re behind the Inhumans as well, who of course are also getting their own movie. Yeah the Kree are just total dicks in the Marvel universe.

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