Aside from the "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" footage we reported on yesterday, Optimum also showed several scenes from "Kill List," the darker-than-dark British horror flick that you'll already know from our SXSW review is pretty much a must-see. All four clips were terrific, displaying the film's dark sense of humor and deeply unnerving mood. We managed to speak to the film's director, Ben Wheatley, afterwards, so we'll have more on the film in the next few days.
Sony brought perhaps the most extensive slate of any studio, kicking things off with a pair of films from "Wallace & Gromit" creator Aardman that look like they could be real animation stand-outs in a year that has brought little joy so far. "Borat" screenwriter Peter Baynham introduced footage from his film "Arthur Christmas," which looks Iike lots of fun, giving a pedantic, "Mission: Impossible"-style answer to the question of how Santa delivers all his presents in one night.
The stop-motion tale "The Pirates" looks good too -- director Peter Lord introduced a succession of early footage from a film that he described as "Not very much like 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' " Instead, it's a deeply silly, gag-packed film that seems to have more in common with Monty Python than anything else. Whether either prove more successful in the States than their predecessors (the company's last film "Flushed Away" tanked hard in the U.S.) is yet to be seen, but the footage we saw suggest that both have a fighting chance.
We also got a glimpse at the 5-minute Comic-Con scene from the "Total Recall" remake that's due a year from now. It features Quaid (Colin Farrell) going into the Recall company, run by a bleach-blonde John Cho, which promises to let him live out his wildest fantasy, with the caveat that he can't draw on anything from his real life. Once he's plugged into the machine, alarms sound, and Cho accuses him of bring a spy before being cut down by a hail of fire by white-suited stormtroopers.
Bourne-style, Farrell dispatches them in one CGI-aided shot, surprised by his ass-kicking instincts. Outside, more troops fire an eyeball in: a cluster-bomb of cameras allowing them to view a 3D map of the room before they storm in. Farrell blows a hole in the wall and escapes, leading to a brief montage of other clips (including animatics) introducing Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston's villain, who tells Farrell, "You don't have the most reliable memory, do you?"
It all looks reasonably slick, and we begrudgingly admit that some of the "Minority Report"-style gadgetry seems fairly cool, but otherwise this looks, as expected, like Verhoeven's film with all the interesting bits filed off, and it's got an uphill battle to fight before most movie geeks will embrace it.
Less nerd-friendly is Roland Emmerich's period-thriller "Anonymous," which showed off a full 10 minutes of footage ahead of its Toronto bow next month. It started with the premiere performance of "Henry V," as its real writer, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), looks on. He's asked Ben Jonson to find someone to take credit for the play -- a huge success, inspiring the audience to join the actors on stage to fight off the French troops -- but Jonson has picked a vain, arrogant actor by the name of William Shakespeare.
The next day, Jonson meets Shakespeare, giving him a new play, "Romeo & Juliet," while Oxford is reprimanded by his wife (Helen Baxendale) for writing plays, even as he's unable to provide a proper dowry for his daughter. Later, a performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is given as a gift to Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave), observed from afar by Oxford; leading to a flashback of a younger Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) watching the premiere of the play, written by Oxford when he was only a child.
That's the kind of film we're dealing with here: one where someone other than William Shakespeare wrote "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and they wrote it as an 11-year-old. Even acknowledging that we don't buy into Emmerich's premise (although he certainly does), the film still looks deeply questionable, with the script seemingly laying largely at fault -- there are some ludicrous lines being laid out, and it seems to be the worst kind of biopic of an artist, one that mystifies and beatifies the art of creation without giving much insight into the work, or indeed the man. Still, maybe it'll work in context, and there do seem to be some good performances at hand -- Ifans looks promising when not handed the most unsayable lines, while Rafe Spall seems to be typically strong as Shakespeare.
More happily, we were also shown the Comic-Con footage for "The Amazing Spider-Man," and to reiterate what many said in San Diego, those who dismissed it based on that underwhelming teaser trailer may want to think again. For all the strengths of the Sam Raimi series, there were certain aspects of the character that the director never quite got right, and Marc Webb's reboot seems to be shaping up nicely. The footage shied away from the origin, and even much action, to mostly focus on character beats, with a relationship with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) that seems far more three-dimensional and developed than that in the first picture, while Andrew Garfield's chemistry with Emma Stone is palpable.
Jokes about the film being "(500) Days of Spider-Man" don't seem to be entirely misplaced either -- there's already a Coldplay song on the soundtrack, for instance, and it seems a little bit more emotionally in tune than the endless will-they-won't-they of the Raimi pictures. Best of all, it's genuinely funny, one confrontation with a mugger displaying the kind of wisecracking Spidey that Tobey Maguire never got to play. We're not quite convinced yet of the big money shot of what we were seen: the realization of The Lizard, the big villain of the piece. Maybe it's because Rhys Ifans' arc seems to be the same hubris-of-the-scientist we've seen before, maybe it's that Webb seems to over-egg the one-limbed aspect of the character, or maybe it's that the CGI version of the character that debuted at the end was a bit "Green Lantern," but it's certainly our principle doubt regarding the film.
Still, things are much improved from the teaser trailer. "The Amazing Spider-Man" hits theaters on July 3rd, 2012, while "Anonymous" comes much earlier on October 28th, "Arthur Christmas" hits on November 23rd, "The Pirates: Band of Misfits" on March 30th, and "Total Recall" on August 3rd. "Kill List" meanwhile, doesn't have a U.S. date yet, but it'll be released in the U.K. on September 2nd.