Unsurprisingly, I think it's promising news that JJ Abrams is going to direct "Star Wars: Episode VII."
Since there's no officially confirmation yet and I haven't personally confirmed things with any of the involved parties, I'm taking on faith that Lucas Shaw broke the biggest film news of the very young year. If his story is accurate, then Abrams has the job. Done deal. Signed. That's the specific language of his story, and the five billion sites that have also "confirmed" the story (ie posted The Wrap's story) are reporting this as done. Closed. This is happening.
Okay, so let's take it as 100% accurate right now. Somewhere in LA, Abrams is wrapping up post-production on "Star Trek Into Darkness," approving FX shots and listening to tweaks on the sound mix and making sure it's as tight as it's going to get, and at the same time, he's got Michael Arndt's treatment (or script pages at this point for all I know) bouncing around in his head, and he's already dreaming about what he's going to do with "Star Wars."
Unsurprisingly, I think it's promising news that JJ Abrams is going to direct "Star Wars: Episode VII."
Thomas Lennon and I have several things in common. We were both born in 1970. We are both huge fans of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." We both look spectacular in tiny shorts. And I'm pretty sure we both think "Hell Baby" is very funny.
"Hell Baby" is, of course, the film that Lennon co-directed with his long-time co-writer Robert Ben Garant, and I reviewed the movie after its first midnight screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. A few days later, I sat down with Lennon at the Yarrow Hotel for a conversation that covered a number of topics.
For example, you'll hear a lot about Michael Ian Black and his penis and a pair of disturbingly tight bike shorts.
You'll also hear about Riki Lindhome's startling nude scene in the film. Like, it's the most naked I've ever seen someone appear in a film. It's the sort of nudity that makes screen caps redundant, because by the time it's over, there is no way you will ever forget it.
PARK CITY - Look, if I ran a film festival, I'd take every opportunity that arose to invite Roger Corman to attend, too. He's Roger Corman. That's awesome.
But when I think of the midnight movie selections at Sundance, I think of genuinely edgy or interesting or ambitious movies. Every festival that does midnight movies does it differently. Sundance's midnights are not the same as Toronto's midnights. At all. I expect a certain something from the midnights here, and I'm not sure I get what the programmers saw in "Virtually Heroes," a video game/action movie mash-up that features Mark Hamill in a supporting role and that has Corman's name on it to boot.
There's a big difference between making a movie that is about gaming and making a movie that is an adaptation of a game. Matt Yamashita's screenplay does seem to have a real understanding of the mechanics of video games, the places where the artificial nature of the world of the game simply gives out. It's not a bad script, but it does lay out its biggest jokes early and then it sort of hammers those points over and over. If this had been a short, I think it might have been sort of great. There are just enough good ideas here for about 20 minutes of run time, but in a 90 minute film. Even then, I have some issues with the filmmaking itself. While I think Yamashita's script demonstrates some first-hand experience with gaming, the direction by G.J. Echternkamp is tin-eared almost from start to finish.
The teasing has begun.
There are not nearly enough Brad Bird films in the world. I just went and counted, and it's still way less than 1000, a situation I find completely unacceptable. As long as I've been writing about movies online, I've been writing about Brad Bird movies. I would still call the coverage I did on "The Iron Giant" some of the best stuff I've ever published, and it's been a real pleasure catching up with him on "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." In addition to have a remarkable story sense and a great knack for comic timing, Bird just plain loves movies, and that love informs pretty much every scene of everything he's ever made as a director.
Knowing there is a new Brad Bird film in development has me anxious enough. I want to know everything, but I don't want to know anything. I would love to see the whole thing right this second, but I'm terrified that I'll ruin it for myself as I cover it between now and whenever it finally comes out. For the most part, Bird's been playing mum, and even as people have been clamoring for him as one of the best possible director choices Disney could make regarding the new "Star Wars" movies, he's been hard at work on "1952," a film that Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen are currently writing for Bird to direct.
When I was at the "Star Trek Into Darkness" press day at the end of last year, I noticed something that I mentioned in the article, a passing reference to "April" on some of the production design artwork.
Keep in mind this was the same day we first learned the official name of Benedict Cumberbatch's character in the film, "John Harrison." This seemed to confuse people who have been reading every single word about the sequel that has been printed online. After all, Bob Orci said at one point that the villain in the new movie is a character who appears in canon, which is one reason why many people made the jump to assuming that it was Khan or maybe Gary Mitchell.
Mitchell had to be ruled out early, though, because he made an appearance in the IDW comic tie-in to the Abrams film, and Orci and Kurtman have both said that the comic series is meant to be taken as part of the continuity of the film series. If that's true, then maybe the half-baked theory I posted after seeing that mention of April isn't that half-baked after all.
PARK CITY - As we were waiting for a press and industry screening of "Toy's House" to start today, I said to a few friends I was sitting with, "This Sundance is distressingly light on Nick Offerman sightings so far." When they informed me that he was part of the cast of "Toy's House," I took that to be a very good sign indeed, since I had no idea that was the case. I knew nothing about the film when walking in today except that my friend Erik Davis saw it at an earlier screening and really enjoyed it.
As you can see from the photo at the top of this review, Nick Offerman and Allison Brie are both in the film, and they're certainly good in it. It would be deceptive to say they are the stars of the film, though, because the real center of this picture, written by Chris Galletta and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is the unlikely summer friendship between Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso), and the official winner of the "Oh my god have you seen this guy?" award for this year's Sundance Film Festival, Moises Arias, who plays Biaggio. These three guys have just finished their freshman year of high school, and while it wasn't exactly a living hell, they don't seem to have made any real shift in their spot in the social pecking order. Joe and Patrick are old friends, while Biaggio just sort of starts hanging around. He decides these are his friends and he just joins them. Constantly. Whether he's been invited or not.
PARK CITY - I think it's safe to say that at this point, I have no idea what constitutes a David Gordon Green movie. Is he the filmmaker who directed "Snow Angels" and "All The Real Girls" and "George Washington"? Is he the comedy fan who made "Pineapple Express" and directed episodes of "Eastbound and Down" and who made "Your Highness"? He's one of these guys who seem to have slipped loose from any sort of box that Hollywood tried to put him in, and so walking in to see something he's made these days, I've learned to leave expectations at the door and to meet the films on their own terms.
Set in the aftermath of some brutal Texas wildfires, "Prince Avalanche" is a small character driven film about two guys working a road repair crew through a seldom-used rural area. Alvin is the older guy, the one who got the job in the first place, the one who knows how to live out in the Texas woods. He's got a girlfriend back home, he's sending her money, he's using his time to read and paint and better himself. Lance (Emile Hirsch) is the younger brother of Madison, the girl Alvin loves. Lance doesn't know the first thing about camping or working or much of anything. He's all impulse, a jittery little goofball. Alvin finds himself frustrated with the kid most of the time, but he's making the effort because he loves Lance's sister and he wants to help her.
PARK CITY - I called my wife tonight when I got out of the theater where I saw "Before Midnight," the new film by Richard Linklater that follows up his first two movies about Jesse and Celine, because that seemed like the most urgent thing in the world at that particular moment.
I was 25 years old when "Before Sunrise" came out. I was living with a woman, on my way to married, working as a screenwriter and making a living with my writing for the first time ever, and when I saw the film, it hit me dead center. I was blown away by the gentle, clever, romantic voice of the movie. Ethan Hawke is practically the default avatar for white dudes my age, an '80s survivor that has grown up interesting and seemingly intact, and Julie Delpy… well, come on. I grew up in love with European cinema. I certainly had my "OMG French girls" phase, and Delpy looks like the walking embodiment of it.
What really seemed dazzling to me was the way the script by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan did one of the things I find most difficult in writing: they carefully crafted something that felt utterly spontaneous. At the end of that film, I don't remember thinking, "Okay, now I want a sequel." I just loved it as a standalone thing, and it went into my regular rotation of films I adored.
PARK CITY - Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant addressed the fact that they seem to have two very distinct careers that they are enjoying simultaneously when they stood in front of the packed Library on Sunday night a few minutes before midnight to introduce their directorial debut, "Hell Baby."
Lennon and Garant are incredibly talented, incredibly funny guys. The work they do that is pure comedy, like "Reno 911" or "The State," tends to be very funny, and Lennon is one of those comedy character actors who works pretty much non-stop, and he's able to weave minor miracles out of weak material at times. I say all this so that when I say that the films that have most defined them and their success are largely terrible, you'll understand that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition with me. I really don't like the "Night At The Museum" films or "The Pacifier" or "Herbie Fully Loaded," but that's pretty unimportant. Those are big broad mainstream movies, and writing two "Night At The Museum" films is what gives Lennon and Garant the freedom to do things that they want to do. So be it. Especially if the end result is something as non-stop filthy, crass, and funny as "Hell Baby."
PARK CITY - Seeing the insane line outside the Eccles Theater today, I couldn't help but wonder how many of those people knew what sort of movie they were getting into when they sat down for Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" this morning. Based on the conversations I overheard on the bus afterwards, I'd wager the film caught a lot of those people by surprise, and little wonder. Dense, beautiful, hypnotic, and almost willfully opaque, "Upstream Color" is a great movie, but it is not an inviting one. Carruth expects you to do a certain amount of the work for yourself, and for some viewers, there is no more frustrating kind of film than that.
Personally, I see plenty of movies every year where every little detail is spelled out in such an obvious manner that I don't mind when I see someone change it up. Carruth's movie starts strange, gets very dark, then takes a left-turn into one of the most damaged movie romances I can remember before finally lifting off into about a half-hour long finale with no dialogue whatsoever. It is completely different in aesthetics and narrative approach than Carruth's previous film, "Primer," but like that film, it seems to have no real interest in conventional narrative.