When someone asks you if you want to ride a tank while Arnold Schwarzenegger drives it, you say yes.
I don't have many hard and fast rules in life, but that's one of them. It's not a rule that I've had to put to the test many times, but last week, the moment of truth finally arrived, and so I drove down to the Lionsgate offices in Santa Monica to meet a group of fellow journalists. We all boarded a bus and then headed up to the Melody Ranch Studio in Santa Clarita.
You've seen it in a million different movies, most recently in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," where it was used as the first town that Schultz and Django ride into, where Schultz asks for the sheriff to be brought to see them in the saloon. We ended up eating lunch in that saloon later in the day, and I intentionally sat at the same table where Django and Schultz sat while drinking their beers.
The way the day started, though, was with Arnold Schwarzenegger introducing us to his tank. He bought this particular tank in the early '90s for one of the Planet Hollywood locations, but they never ended up using it there. Instead, he kept it, and one of his main purposes for it over the years has been as part of an incentives program for a foundation he runs for inner-city kids. When the kids do well during the week, one of the rewards they can enjoy is a trip to the Melody Ranch so they can ride in the tank while Arnold drives.
When someone asks you if you want to ride a tank while Arnold Schwarzenegger drives it, you say yes.
So why haven't they done this for their DC films yet?
I've read the same reports you have today about how Warner Bros. is hoping to jumpstart their animation division by putting together a "brain trust" of people to help make decisions and steer development, and that's a great idea. I'm a firm believer that the development process does not have to stink, but it does most of the time because you have people who are exceptional at the money side of the business insisting on giving creative notes. This baffles me because it seems so plainly contradictory as a business model. We need both disciplines in the film business, obviously. When you're dealing with an art form that costs millions and millions of dollars, you need people who know how to keep that money coming in, but most of those people have no idea how to actually write a great movie, so getting notes from them on the process can be an exercise in frustration and madness.
No, I like the idea of the creative round-table. TV shows use that model, and some of the best shows are the result of all those minds focused on one creative task. Pixar's story department is one of the very best in the business because they take full advantage of having all those voices in the mix. Marvel Studios has done a good job following the same basic game plan. Comedy filmmakers often bring in groups of writers to take one last group pass at a script before they go into production.
It's safe to say you're going to see a little flurry of Arnold Schwarzenegger related activity here in the next week or so.
Makes sense. He's got his first starring role in a while coming out on the 18th, and Lionsgate is doing everything they can to create some attention for the movie. Since this is his return to leading roles, there is a fair amount of natural excitement out there among movie fans. I watched first-hand as Arnold turned a group of journalists who are used to meeting movie stars the vapors at an event on Friday, and I'll have more on that for you later tonight.
First, though, I wanted to share a brief clip from the interview I did with Arnold yesterday. He was paired with Johnny Knoxville, and yes, that's just as strange in the room as it is on a poster. We talked about "The Last Stand" for most of the conversation, but I couldn't help but make one quick digression right at the end of things.
It looks like Godzilla's path of destruction en route to a start date for the Legendary Pictures update of the classic Toho monster has claimed two new victims, as producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee depart the project this week.
Both Lin and Lee are major production partners for Warner Bros, and I'm sure they're both plenty busy with other upcoming films. Lin, for example, is a producer on the "Lego" movie that is in production now, he's part of the ongoing "Sherlock Holmes" series, and he's attached to remakes of Stephen King's "It" and the anime series "Death Note," both in development. Most importantly, he's part of the team working to figure out "Justice League." Lee is partnered with Lin on "Death Note" and "It," and he's currently busy with plenty other projects like the "Oldboy" remake, the "Poltergeist" update, a sequel to "The Woman In Black," and a brand new "Battle Royale."
Recently, there was an event on the studio lot where director Gareth Edwards put together a show-and-tell in one of the stages on the Warner lot to walk the studio through his vision of the film, and it went well enough that the studio now seems committed to a March start date for the film.
I am a big fan of today's news that Kevin Hart's new stand-up concert film "Let Me Explain" will be getting a theatrical release date, and especially the idea that Summit is aiming for a major summer weekend slot for the film.
It's not even because of Kevin Hart. As a stand-up, I think he's been very good at cultivating a certain voice and a certain character, and I think when he's on a roll, he is very good at riding a laugh and really milking the audience. He is a comedian who has paid his dues on the road, building a fanbase, and who has also been very smart about how he has handled the release of each of his stand-up specials and CDs so far.
What excites me most is the mere idea that any stand-up concert film in the year 2013 could go head to head with things like "Man Of Steel" and "Pacific Rim" and "Iron Man 3" for box-office real estate. A few years ago, I saw Louis CK's "Hilarious" at Sundance and pretty much tore something inside myself laughing at it. It remains one of the best theatrical stand-up experiences I've had, and I'm a fiend for this stuff.
I am an original recipe first-generation fan of "Evil Dead." I liked the first film before there was a sequel, and by the time "Army Of Darkness" opened, I was already starting to struggle with the difference between the thing that first won me over and the thing that was now being made. In the end, each of the movies is so different that I view them almost like different riffs on the same theme and not direct sequels to one another.
The one thing that is consistent about all of the Raimi "Evil Dead" films is the presence of Bruce Campbell as Ash, and this is one of those cases where I would argue that the actor and the part are completely inseparable. The reason I think of Bruce Campbell as iconic is because of his work as Ash, and the reason Ash is so fascinating is because of what Bruce Campbell did while playing him. The way Raimi and Campbell tweaked the tone of the movies from "Evil Dead" to "Evil Dead 2" to "Army Of Darkness" is fascinating, and basically, the more mainstream the series became, the more they tipped the balance from horror to humor.
It's always an interesting moment for a filmmaker where they go from making their films in relative obscurity and then trying to get an audience to pay attention to having the audience's attention already and then trying to deal with scrutiny during production. It's the difference between being a huckster and managing hype. Some people manage it quite well, and others get positively freight-trained by the experience.
Which kind of person is Gareth Evans?
We'll find out this year. After all, when "The Raid" made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, I'd wager less than half of the audience in the room had seen his first film, "Merantau." I was on a jury that gave "Merantau" an award at ActionFest, and when I wrote about that film, I remarked that what set Evans apart at first was his obvious attention to every aspect of the film and not just the action. He's not just a guy who can shoot a great stunt, although he certainly has an eye for that. He's also a guy who understands that the more connected we are to the characters onscreen, the more involved we'll be in any action scene that unfolds. It helps that he has found a group of action stars who also have real screen charisma, and in Iko Uwais, he may have found his very own movie star that he can work with over and over again.
What surprises me most about the latest trailer for "A Good Day To Die Hard" is that it actually looks like director John Moore has finally grown a sense of visual style.
Moore has been an in-house favorite for Fox for a while, but I don't get it. "Behind Enemy Lines," "Flight of the Phoenix," "The Omen," and especially "Max Payne" are all borderline unwatchable, and he seems positively ham-handed when it comes to performance and text. It's not enough to occasionally nail a pretty picture, and I'd argue that even in that department, he's seemed deficient so far.
This new trailer for the fifth "Die Hard" film is probably the longest coherent piece of film to ever have Moore's name attached to it, which is incredibly encouraging. I think this is actually a pretty tremendous trailer overall. Jai Courtney handled himself well in "Jack Reacher," and I like the chemistry between him and Bruce Willis in the quick glimpses we see here. By the time most series reach a fifth film in a series, the juice is long since gone, but "Fast Five" absolutely revitalized that series, so it is possible.
So 2012 is over. Done. Gone for good.
All that's left now is to put one final list together, and I love this time of year because it allows us to look back at the whole year and celebrate all the things that made the year special. Often we just look at our top picks, though, and the truth is that there were way more than ten films that made my time in the theater worthwhile. Now that I've published my list of my ten favorite films this year, it's time to dig deeper and look at all the other moments I'll remember when I think back on 2012.
This year, I've done something a little different. First, I'll list my ten runners-up, which I always view as the alternate top ten list. I would have been happy with any or all of these in the top ten, which is why I consider these the runners-up. They were all in play while I was trying to sort out the list. After that, we're going to look at the other films that made this year worthwhile, a much longer list, and point out what made each of them special.
This may take a while, so get comfortable.
11. "The Avengers"
Joy, pure and simple. In an age where even our blockbusters seem to focus on the dark and dour, "The Avengers" was a celebration of the pop iconography of the Marvel universe, a movie where Joss Whedon's strengths finally found their perfect expression. So far, television seemed like his perfect storytelling forum, but the truth is that Joss Whedon is the grown-up version of The Kid Who Is Most Fun To Play Action Figures With, a pop culture Dungeon Master, and Marvel should thank their lucky stars that he was the guy to carry the football across the finish line. As much as I've enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel universe, this is the moment where every character finally came into perfect focus, where the humor was right, where the action was right… and the best part of all? He made it look easy.
One of the most surprising things about the evidently heated battle to see who is going to end up starring in Marvel's upcoming "Guardians Of The Galaxy" film is that there is a heated battle to see who is going to star in "Guardians Of The Galaxy."
James Gunn is directing the film, which is perhaps the riskiest of all the Marvel movies coming in the near future. At this point, I trust Marvel's development process, and I suspect this will fit neatly into the cinematic universe they've been building since 2008. When they were getting ready to launch "Iron Man," I remember seeing many outlets write about how it was unlikely Marvel was going to be able to sell a second-tier lesser-known hero like Iron Man to the general public, and I heard the same hesitations before the release of "Thor." Didn't really seem to pan out that way, though, and at this point, I think Marvel's name is enough of a stamp of quality for movie audiences that they can launch pretty much anything.