Thursday, February 24, 2011

Culture Shock 02.24.11: Catching up with the in-box — Rand, X-Men, notable deaths

I'm going to catch up this week with some odds and ends from my in-box.

First, the trailer for "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," adapting the first third of Ayn Rand's best-selling novel, hit the Internet a couple of weeks ago. That was a surprise to those of us who thought the movie might never be released.

With a budget of just $5 million and a cast of TV actors — some very good, but none household names — "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" looked like a movie rushed into production just so the producer could retain the film rights, which were to expire the week cameras rolled.

Whether or not that was entirely the case, we now have a movie, and it's not going straight into a vault to gather dust.

Based on the preview trailer, "Atlas Shrugged" doesn't look as cheap as I'd feared, but it still looks more like a TV movie than a big-screen epic. And by focusing on scenes in which characters talk about steel mills and railroads, the trailer is not going to appeal to anyone who isn't familiar with Rand's story, which pits heroic entrepreneurs against big government.

You can see the trailer for yourself at www.atlasshruggedpart1 .com.

The movie is scheduled for limited release on, appropriately, April 15.

Another trailer that has defied my expectations is the one for "X-Men: First Class," the prequel to the movie series based on Marvel Comics' "Uncanny X-Men."

Marvel Studios has two movies of its own due out this summer, "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." But so far, "X-Men: First Class" — produced by 20th Century Fox under a deal that predates Marvel making its own films — looks more interesting than either of them.

Many longtime fans are not going to be happy. "X-Men: First Class" plays loose with established "X-Men" lore. And despite being a prequel to the three previous "X-Men" films, it doesn't really maintain continuity with them, either.

But I'm prepared to let "X-Men: First Class" be its own thing. And it looks like a groovy, 1960s period piece with lots of mod fashions. Now that's something you don't get out of most superhero movies.

The past two weeks have also brought three deaths of note.

Staying in the world of superheroes, writer Dwayne McDuffie died unexpectedly Monday. He was just 49.

McDuffie was the founder of Milestone Comics, an African-American-owned comic-book publisher, distributed and later absorbed by DC Comics. Later, he went to work for Cartoon Network, writing and producing shows like "Justice League Unlimited" — my pick for greatest superhero cartoon ever — and "Ben 10: Alien Force."

David F. Friedman died on Valentine's Day at age 87. A native of Birmingham who had retired to Anniston, Friedman was a groundbreaking low-budget movie producer. He is often credited with producing the first "gore" film, 1963's "Blood Feast," which earned $4 million on a budget of about $25,000.

He produced nearly 50 films, from "Two Thousand Maniacs" to "Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS" (under a pseudonym) to, finally, 2010's "2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams."

Finally, British actor Nicholas Courtney died Tuesday at 81.

In a career that included playing many authority figures, none was more authoritative than Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, commanding officer of UNIT during the original 1963-1989 run of "Doctor Who."

Although he didn't travel with The Doctor through space and time, he spent more time with The Doctor than any other of the Time Lord's many companions. Through most of the 1970s, he was as much a part of the show as The Doctor himself, and he returned to the role of the Brigadier one last time in 2008, on an episode of the "Doctor Who" spin-off "The Sarah Jane Adventures."

All three will be missed.

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