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Roundtable Discussion: Who's the SuperNerd Director of Tomorrow?
Occasionally, cult movie directors get the opportunity to step into a big budget Hollywood property and make it their own. Sometimes they stumble, as when Neveldine & Taylor went from the incredibly fast-and-dirty Crank (2006), to directing the disappointing Ghost Rider 2: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011). Sometimes they outright fail, like when Stephen Norrington found huge success with Blade (1998), but had his potentially brilliant career cut short by League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). It should be noted that a solidly developed property is never a guarantee of success. Even experienced directors with a long history of home runs can fall short of expectations, like when the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy) tried adapting Speed Racer to the big screen in 2008 to disastrous results. Let’s not forget that the Indiana Jones movie that everyone hates was still directed by Steven Spielberg. The worst of the Star Wars films (Phantom Menace) had George Lucas himself at the helm, while the best of them (Empire Strikes Back) had journeyman Irvin Kershner leading the production. So, the decision to give a cult director a chance instead of sticking with mainstream heavyweights may actually be a good one.
League Of Extraordinary Failure: These 3 films combined cost $262 million to make & lost $102 million at the box office!
Screen shot from Army Of Darkness (1992)
Case in point; look at the success Sam Raimi had after decades of directing gory horror-fests like the Evil Dead trilogy, gritty noirs like Darkman, or producing fantasy TV empires with Xena and Hercules. He had an opportunity to direct a Spider-Man film and managed to craft something that was true to the Hollywood blockbuster formula, true to the legacy of the comics, and still true to the monster movies that made him a cult darling. Raimi did a rare thing by bringing his own personality to a potentially generic adaptation project and in doing so, managed to make a nerdy boy with spider powers the top grossing film in the US during a year that had a Star Wars sequel, Harry Potter sequel, and Lord Of The Rings film as competition. Speaking of Lord Of The Rings, he’s not the only one to pull off that magic trick.
Peter Jackson started his directorial career similarly to Sam Raimi, making low-budget gorefests on weekends with his friends in New Zealand. Bad Taste (1987), Meet The Feebles (1989), and Dead Alive (1992) are among the most violent and inappropriate flicks I’ve ever seen. Then he was approached to adapt Lord Of The Rings from a dorky tome of elves and magic into a big budget Hollywood adventure film. Next thing you know, he’s the toast of Tinseltown and is considered a contemporary of George Lucas worthy of space upon a geeky Mount Rushmore. Joss Whedon had plenty of experience crafting interesting characters in the Buffy and Firefly TV universes but had only directed one film, a 2005 continuation of the cancelled Firefly, which earned only 60% of it’s budget back. His second feature was The Avengers (2012), earning $1.5 billion worldwide. That makes it the top comic book film and the top Disney film of all time. So, our question is... WHO'S NEXT?
Screen shot from Dead Alive a.k.a. Brain Dead (1992)
Johnny 5 didn't never have to put up with this shit.
Mickael’s Choice: Neill Blomkamp
 
Neill Blomkamp has made 3 films so far and while they’ve gotten decent marketing pushes which make them recognizable, none of them have had mainstream crossover success. District 9 (2009) made a ton of money ($210 Million) compared to it’s measley budget of $30 Million (Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back cost $22 million to make back in 2001!). So, they gave him $115 million to make Elysium (2013) only to see diminishing returns when it only made $92 million back domestically. It did have a large overseas following though, generating an additional $193 million abroad. Chappie (2015) only cost $40 million to make, so that puts Neill right back in a position to add a hugely profitable film to his resume.
 
The thing that really stands out about him, though, is his fearlessness. I don’t know much about the man behind the scenes, but what I see in his films is a punk rock ethic. He has the technical skills to create a well-crafted story that mainstream audiences will embrace, but then he chooses not to. Take Chappie for instance, a film about a rejected robot body that gets an advanced artificial intelligence installed that give it sentience, but he starts with a childlike knowledge of the world and grows up over the course of the film. That right there is a high concept that could easily be made as a Disney coming-of-age story and turn the main character into this generation’s Johnny 5, complete with toyetic marketing opportunities and an animated series that would allow Neill to spend the rest of his life filling swimming pools with cash and hookers to dive into like Scrooge McDuck. Instead, he makes it a violent and gritty Robocop-esque trip through the crime-riddled streets of Johannesburg. Chappie curses and there’s decapitations, gunfights and nudity. Chappie also learns to feel, complete with all of the cheesy melodramatic beats that you’d expect. The two main actors are actually the rap group Die Antwoord, and they’ve never acted before. It’s like John Hughes and Quentin Tarantino made a movie together.
This man is a maniac for the decisions that he makes, yet it’s that very attitude and the strength of his character that give me hope. For someone to truly be as transcendant as Raimi, Jackson and Whedon, they must first be an individual. They need to have an interesting voice that rings in the ears of the audience. In my mind, the bar for someone to achieve their level of success is this:  they have to be someone that can take a solid property to the big screen for the first time and take it from generic Hollywood adaptation, like Transformers, to the ridiculous heights that Spider-Man and LOTR reached. So, in my mind there are a few properties that we’ll probably see adapted in our lifetime that may be able to do that: Dr. Who, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and Halo. Ironically, Neill Blomkamp was hired by Peter Jackson to create a Halo movie but, lacking money, they turned it into District 9. Next time around, he’ll get the chance to make Halo into the biggest film franchise of the next decade. He’s already in pre-production on a new Alien film, which will likely catapult him to that opportunity.
Vita’s Choice: Duncan Jones
 
You’ve probably never heard of Duncan Jones, but he’s the creative force behind Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). He’s also perpetually trapped in the state of becoming a werewolf. The first movie he directed and co-wrote is called Moon (2009), a low-budget Sci-Fi film that went unnoticed initially but has since gained a cult following. The film is about Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) an astronaut working on the moon with no interaction, save for his computer aid GERTY (played admirably by President Frank Underwood) trying to fix Earth’s energy problem. In the midst of this isolated work environment, as he awaits the end of his three-year contract, he has a very personal encounter with himself (probably twice a day, if I know you men. Zing!). Duncan’s writing and directing talents are easily distinguished through the raw emotion that Rockwell delivers, while still maintaining pace and keeping the audience’s attention in what is essentially a one man stage show. Duncan found a hook that people could relate to, by making you sympathize with Sam rather than focusing on flashy made up tech.

The next Sci-Fi project Duncan directed is a flick called Source Code (2011). Starring Heath Ledger’s secretive gay lover, Jake Gyllenhaal.  That guy all of us ladies oozed over in Bubble Boy or The Day After Tomorrow. The story is about Colter Stevens, a US Army pilot who has eight minutes to help find a domestic terrorist that plans to blow up downtown Chicago. Here’s the Sci-Fi part: he’s using the "Source Code" device to relive the memories from the last eight minutes of a dude that died in an earlier explosion created by the terrorist. This movie saw great success at the box office with only a budget of 28 million, bringing in $147 million in return. The story itself is original as they come, so that helps; but fact is that once again the story’s theme is about a guy making sacrifices for the greater good. Duncan knows how to take the friggin trope-laden Sci-Fi genre and focus on the human elements, not just the over-techy worlds around the characters, thus, endearing his movies to a wider audience. Another example of this type of film-making would be The Matrix (1999). A unique talent people having been waiting to see make a comeback in action/sci-fi films. Duncan possesses, I think, the talent to make a movie people want to see on the big screen.
Speaking of which, he might be getting his Whedon/Raimi/Jackson moment in 2016 when Warcraft will make its debut. You might be thinking Warcraft? Like World Of Warcraft? Smelly people spending their lifetimes addicted to their computer screens and spending every cent for a false realm WOW? Yes. The recipe could come together, as the ingredients are all there. Duncan is unknown to big Hollywood, but he’s been slowly gaining momentum, first in the advertising world with the French Connection fashion campaign. Then, he cranked out that moon-age daydream with Sam Rockwell and showed us some heroes under pressure in Source Code. For an absolute beginner, who's name you've never heard until now, he's fully capable of creating worlds about life on mars or cat people just as well as the Paul Verhoevens and James Camerons of the world. He has creativity in his blood, after all, this is David Bowie’s son... *mic drop*
The Demon Deacon’s Choice: Timur Bekmambetov
 
Timur is the Russian genius responsible for the vampire documentaries Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006), which exposed us to the dangers of satan’s minions while instructing us in the proper ways to kill them should they ever invade our God-fearing community. He then made a classic American action film with Wanted (2008), starring Morgan Freeman as a seamstress while Angelina Jolie plays someone who is forced to keep shooting things despite clearly being in the middle of a peanut allergy attack. Then he made what I like to call a History-sploitation film called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), but for the life of me I can’t remember what it’s about...
 
His big upside is that he’s Russian, so we know he doesn’t give a fuck ten times worse than Neill Blomkamp. Also, don’t all Russians hate the gays? Man this guy has real potential.
His next stepping stone is Ben-Hur (2016), which I personally have high hopes for because the last time he made a historical epic it was awesome. I mean, to be able to go back to the time of gladiators and witness the atrocities committed upon our Christian breathren is a surreal experience for a man of God like me. It really takes me back to my days at the co-ed seminary school. It was a joint campus of a traditional seminary with a convent, and this nun I knew there had the hugest, most divine... understanding of the Biblical texts that I’d ever seen. I mean, she would keep me up all night long thinking about her... virtuous nature. This one time, I was innocently strolling past the convent windows at around the time the nuns would prepare for bed each evening, and I happened to catch a glimpse of her bending over to remove her habit and out popped the most beautiful rosary I’ve ever seen. It had this gold chain with handmade wood beads. Oh, man, when she would get down on her knees she was just the best... prayer partner I’ve ever had. Hey, I just remembered what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is about! It’s about that fat, illiterate black girl raising her mongoloid incest baby while hanging out with Lenny Kravitz. Yeah, I liked that movie.
Who do you think is the next great director? Tell us which one of us is right, or tell us which cult director that we missed is poised to make a break out. Please let us know at: cinemaniac@cinemania.co
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Who is the next super director?
Neill Blomkamp (Mickael)
Duncan Jones (Vita)
Timur Bekmambetov (The Deacon)
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