"I'm talking to Harrison Ford."
It is impossible for someone raised when I was as a movie fan to sit across from the man who played Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Rick Deckard in the span of three years and not spend most of that conversation screaming that one thing inside my head, over and over and over.
"I'm talking to Harrison Ford."
For me, it was the one-two punch of "Witness" and "The Mosquito Coast" that finally made me feel that there was no more essential or interesting American movie star. Those two collaborations with Peter Weir tapped into what it is that makes his earlier iconic hero roles so compelling. There is an anger, an intelligence that regards others with a healthy suspicion, an emotional distance… all of that is layered in there under his comic timing and his exceptional sense of physical comedy. He makes attitude look easy when he plays a big swaggering lead, but when he plays human beings with weaknesses, Ford started to look like a guy who would go raw and real and make choices that no one else made. That's what I look for most in any actor. I want to see them making choices that surprise and illuminate and that make me respond on an involuntary level, and watching him navigate the tricky moral waters of "Witness" or give voice to the cracked paternal logic of "The Mosquito Coast," he felt to me like a guy who dug deep.
"I'm talking to Harrison Ford."
My first reaction when I saw "Evil Dead" at SXSW was surprise that the MPAA had allowed the film to go out with an R-rating. I have no problem with extreme gore in a film, particularly if I'm going to see a movie called "Evil Dead," and I enjoyed the fact that Fede Alvarez goes berserk with the blood in the last third of the movie. I admire a filmmaker who goes for a lot of practical effects work and who is willing to ladle on the gruesome.
Having said that, I don't understand the rating. Not at all.
And more than that, I'm not alone in thinking that the ratings board made the wrong call on this one. It's not even just about "Evil Dead," either. There was a time when each film was rated in a vacuum, and just because one film got an R, it didn't mean anything regarding any other film. That all changed a few years ago when the CARA, the actual ratings board, decided to allow filmmakers to argue precedent in an appeals process. Now you can take clips from other films into the room, show those clips, and you can push for a sort of ratings parity.
I've had three conversations this week with filmmakers who saw "Evil Dead" this weekend, and all of them had the same question for me. These are all filmmakers who have been working on genre films, and all of them have been struggling with imagery that they were afraid might skirt the NC-17. They've second-guessed themselves on the set, they've been struggling in the editing room, and they've been worried about it. And now that they've seen "Evil Dead," they all have the same question: why are they worried at all?
At the end of the day, as I turned out the lights in the bedroom shared by Toshi, age seven, and Allen, age five, when I asked them to vote for which of the four films they saw during the day was their favorite, they answered quickly, not even hesitating.
"'Beetlejuice,'" said Allen.
"'Harvey,'" said Toshi.
And keep in mind, this was the day they saw their first ever Indiana Jones movie. I'm as surprised as you are.
The first full day of the Film Nerd 2.0 Spring Break Film Festival started with a 10:00 AM screening of "Beetlejuice." The boys have seen the work of Tim Burton in no particular order. At this point, they've seen "Frankenweenie" (both versions), "Edward Scissorhands," "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," and Toshi has seen "Mars Attacks!" They know Tim Burton as a brand name, and they went with me to the LACMA exhibit on Burton's work. "Beetlejuice" has been a film they've been asking about for a while, and I figured they were ready to appreciate the mix of humor and horror that the film navigates.
The most frequent question I heard from those of you who stopped me at WonderCon or who sent me e-mails in the days after the event was "Why didn't Warner Bros. show new 'Man Of Steel' footage during the panel?"
Obviously, Warner Bros. marketing doesn't run their decision-making by me for approval, so I can't answer that question conclusively. I can, however, guess based on the reactions I've heard from people who have seen Zack Snyder's Superman movie, and it seems to me that Warner Bros. didn't bring new footage to screen because, frankly, they don't have to.
The most dangerous thing to do with a giant blockbuster in today's media landscape is to jam it down the throat of the audience to the point where they learn to hate the film before they ever lay eyes on it. Sometimes, it's the only option that the studio has, and when they know a movie doesn't work, that's when they kick into overdrive. When a movie has a pre-release awareness as automatic as a new Superman movie and they feel like the film completely works, that's when they get to lay back a bit and let the actual anticipation of the audience do the work for them.
Sony Pictures held an event today in Hollywood to introduce new footage from Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," the first film from the acclaimed science-fiction director since his breakthrough debut, "District 9." Ralph Garman moderated the event, which featured in-theater appearances by Blomkamp, actor Sharlto Copley, and producer Simon Kinberg. The star of the film, Matt Damon, is in Germany right now shooting the movie "Monuments Men," and so he was patched in via satellite from a theater in Berlin. The new trailer, which arrives online tomorrow, was the first thing shown, and then there was a ten-minute reel prepared specifically for the event. At the end of the footage, Garman asked Damon what he thought of what he saw. Damon waited for the satellite delay, then answered, "Well, we're in Berlin watching it, so I have to say that I'm impressed. My German was flawless."
It's fitting that the event was staged on an international scale, since the movie was an international affair. The film is a very immediate science-fiction metaphor that deals with the real-world divisions between the haves and the have-nots right now, and in order to create a stark difference between the perfect world of the Elysium space station and the left-behind slum that is the Earth, Blomkamp shot the Earth footage in Mexico City, and everything on Elysium in Vancouver. He did his best two treat the two parts of the production as totally independent units, and it pays off in the visual contrast we saw even in the ten minutes of footage they showed us.
The Universal Monsters have loomed large in the imaginations of my kids even before they saw a single film about them. There are Frankenstein and Dracula and Creature From The Black Lagoon toys in the house, and there was a series of monster books that were given to Toshi by his godfather when he was born that were some of his earliest bedtime fascinations.
It's been a slow process of actually introducing the films to them, though, and one of the ones that I've been holding off on was "The Invisible Man." Then one recent afternoon, we were looking at Reelizer, an amazing website featuring alternative poster art, and they saw a killer "Invisible Man" piece of art, and that's all she wrote. They both became determined to see the movie as soon as possible.
Once I decided to do this festival, I started figuring out when I could show them things, and I didn't take into account the baseball practice and the two games that are also happening on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So the only way it makes sense for them to be able to see everything and still go to bed by 8:00 on Sunday night so they're ready for school the next morning is if we cheat and show the first movie on Thursday.
I am wildly fond of Danny Boyle, but I am not always crazy about Danny Boyle's films.
I think ultimately, I like the energy and the wit with which he approaches the puzzle that is filmmaking. He understands that a film is, first and foremost, a theatrical experience. Watching "Trance," I felt the same cool sense of self-assured style that made "Trainspotting" such an electrifying experience the first time. There are points in "Trance" where the soundtrack and the visual palette are like an assault of sorts. It is a powerful visceral experience.
As a script? If you'd asked me 2/3 of the way through the film, I would have told you that I thought it was a stylish but slight riff on the heist thriller. Boyle and his screenwriters Joe Ahearne and John Hodge are ultimately up to something more than that, but it's stealthy and sly and very, very sneaky, and I like that. It helps that Boyle has been playing these kinds of games for 20 years now with audiences, and he's gotten extraordinarily good at the technical craft of what it is that he does. He knows that by the time you sit down in the theater, more likely than not you've seen a trailer that suggests this is going to be a weird mind trip of a movie, and so he lets you know right up front that this is going to be that, but he also drops just enough hints to let you know that he wants it to count.
When I first heard about the casting for Kimberly Pierce's "Carrie," I thought she was making a mistake.
Don't get me wrong. I think Chloe Grace Moretz is very talented. The problem seemed to me to be that Moretz is someone who projects a self-confidence and a natural strength that makes her a tough fit for Carrie White, who is so insecure she's practically transparent. In the movie "Let Me In," it is young Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays the weak one, and Moretz is the stronger friend who teaches him how to take some control over his life. As Hit Girl, Moretz is a deadly little whirling dervish, afraid of nothing.
When I was on the set of "Kick-Ass 2" in November of last year, Moretz had just come off of this experience, and she was still mulling over the experience. She is almost always accompanied by her brother Trevor, her acting coach, and her mother, and the two of them talked candidly with me about how hard a project "Carrie" turned out to be and what an emotional experience it was. They seemed to feel that it was a very difficult thing to get right, and that Kimberly Pierce had, at the very least, a clear idea of why she wanted to tell the story again and how that story might be relevant to kids dealing with a modern type of bullying.
Whether or not I believe Lorraine Warren is not the point.
This past weekend, I moderated a panel at WonderCon that previewed both "Pacific Rim" and "The Conjuring," and when I first spoke to Warner Bros. about doing that, they mention that there was a chance Lorraine Warren would be part of the panel. Growing up in the '70s, I was aware of her name because of her involvement with the investigation around "The Amityville Horror," and I remember hearing her name-checked as a partial inspiration for the Beatrice Straight character in "Poltergeist" as well.
Last year, I saw a documentary called "My Amityville Horror" that looks at the adult life of Daniel Lutz, the youngest kid from the family that was the focus of the famous story. He's grown up with people always knowing that about him, and it's obviously left a very deep mark on who he is as a man. Lutz struck me as a clenched fist, a guy who is angry and sad and frustrated and unable to fix himself, and part of the issues that define his life deal with the way people perceive him.
Was it really eleven years ago?
I don't spend much time on jealousy when it comes to the world of film-related events because I am aware that I have been blessed with dozens of amazing experiences that other people would want to have. There's one particular experience that I have kept as a personal memory until now, and I feel like if there's ever going to be a "right" moment to share it, this is it.
I'm sure you'll read many pieces today about Roger Ebert and what he meant to film criticism. I know that he was one of the first two people who helped me understand that films were more than just stories but actual art worth engaging on a deeper level. I first saw "Sneak Previews," his old-school PBS show, when I was seven, and I remember watching clips from John Carpenter's "Halloween" as Gene and Roger discussed the film and being positively terrified just at that glimpse of Michael Myers. While Roger and Gene remained part of my critical diet as I grew more and more interested in film, they were not the only critics I listened to or liked, and as time passed and their show continued to change, it became less essential to me as a viewer. Part of that was because I started to realize how often I disagreed with the two of them, and at a certain point in my younger life, I thought you were supposed to read critics you agreed with, a belief I thankfully no longer hold.