Any announcement that involves Neil Marshall getting more work is a good thing.
It's exciting to hear that he's back on "Game Of Thrones" for next season. His work on "Blackwater" was epic, even by the amazing weekly standards of that show. I think he's been completely undervalued as a feature director, and a big part of it is simply because not enough people have seen his movies. "Centurion" happened at the exact wrong moment in the career arc of Michael Fassbender, and it would have been a much easier sell a year later. It's worth catching up with if you haven't seen it, and it's just one more example of how good Marshall is at staging large action sequences.
Marshall has a classic sense of action geography. He's smart about how he lays out his big set pieces, and he is excellent at conveying what's important in a scene and how everything connects. These days, that seems to be a more and more precious skill, especially when the aesthetic pushes more and more towards total incoherence and visual chaos. When you look at "Doomsday" or "The Descent" or "Dog Soldiers," you clearly see a guy who has action chops to spare, and yet it seems like he doesn't work nearly enough.
Any announcement that involves Neil Marshall getting more work is a good thing.
Mark Hartley has made two exceptional documentaries about the history of exploitation films, one called "Not Quite Hollywood" and the other called "Machete Maidens Unleashed!" The first examined the evolution of Australia's homegrown genre movies, and it was more than just a scholarly look at a list of movies. Hartley understood exactly why those films were so exciting, and he made a documentary that had the same sort of breathless energy that the films did, and he made a hell of a case for the significance of those films and those directors.
While I'm excited to see his next documentary, which will deal with the history of Canon Films, I'm equally excited about the notion that he took one of the films that he covered in "Not Quite Hollywood" and remade it. "Patrick" is one of those films that I knew by reputation more than anything, and after "Not Quite Hollywood" came out, it was one of the movies that got a US release to capitalize on its new notoriety. The original was directed by one of my favorite of the Aussies, Richard Franklin, and it's an effective movie with some smart script choices, solid performances across the board, and Franklin really knows how to screw with an audience. Released in 1978, it feels like a reaction to films like "Carrie" and "The Fury" with a comatose patient who wages a telekinetic battle against a nurse. Like "Road Games," the film seems to lean on Hitchcock at times, and that's just Franklin. There's a reason he was hired for "Psycho II," and he obviously has an enormous respect for the kind of classically built scares from a different age.
The first real film festival I ever attended was Sundance in 2001. I remember one of the mornings we were there, we had to get up earlier than normal to drive the hour to Park City so we could then stand in line for over an hour just on the off chance that maybe we could make it in to see a screening at 8:30 in the morning. It turned out to be well worth it, though, when we got to see the first screening of Jonathan Glazer's "Sexy Beast," which seemed to make good on the promise Glazer had shown as a filmmaker when making amazing music videos.
That was twelve years ago, and we're just now seeing Glazer's third film as a director. He seems to be one of those guys who would rather focus on something he loves than just make as many films as possible, and as a result, when he does release a new film, you can count on it being something that he sincerely means as an artist. He doesn't seem remotely interested in courting commercial favor, which must drive the money guys crazy, but as long as he can find people who are willing to pay for his dark and haunting visions, I'll happily line up to see them.
I'm not entirely sure how I managed to broach the subject of porn during a conversation with Scarlett Johansson without the authorities becoming involved, but it all seems to have worked out in the end.
I hate the term "romantic comedy," because nine times out of ten, the films described with that term are neither romantic nor particularly funny. I have written before about how I feel like most studio "romantic" films sell a disturbing idea of adult relationships, and many of the characters in these films seem to have been dropped onto the Earth from somewhere else, completely untaught in the ways normal human beings behave.
"Don Jon," which was both written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, seems inordinately wise about human behavior, and in particular, I was struck by the way the film draws a direct parallel between the porn that Jon (Gordon-Levitt) watches non-stop and the romantic comedies that Barbara (Johansson) invests in so fully. In both cases, the film argues, the person who watches is giving themselves unrealistic expectations, and they use the entertainment in place of real life instead of working to find something genuine that will fulfill them.
The last film I saw at this year's Toronto Film Festival is also set to play Fantastic Fest in Austin, with the first screening set for this coming Sunday night. While a festival like Toronto is packed with so many giant titles that are given full publicity pushes by the studios releasing them, frequently drowning out anything anyone might write about smaller films, Fantastic Fest seems devoted to finding and showcasing the small gems. I expect "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" will do very well there, and I hope a canny distributor picks up this smart, brutal neo-noir, because it deserves an audience.
Written by Dutch Southern and directed by Simon and Zeke Hawkins, "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" tells a very familiar story in terms of the broad strokes. Sue (Mackenzie Davis) and B.J. (Logan Huffman) are a couple, which puts Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) in a tough spot. He's best friends with B.J., but he is madly in love with Sue. They all live in a very small Texas town, which means there's not a lot they can do to entertain themselves, leaving plenty of time for bad ideas. Both Bobby and Sue plan to leave for college just as soon as they can, and B.J. is starting to realize he's going to get left behind. One weekend, just for kicks, B.J. steals a fat stack of cash from the safe of Giff (Mark Pellegrino), the guy he and Bobby work for, and that sets off a chain of events that could destroy the fragile peace that they've all been working so hard to maintain.
Los Angeles has a shockingly bad track record when it comes to protecting its own history, especially when it comes to the grand movie palaces that were built to worship the movies that drive everything else in the city. You would think that if there is anyplace on Earth where theaters would be treated as important historical landmarks, it would be LA, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Even since I moved here in 1990, I've seen major changes, and few of them have been for the better. The Avco Theater in Westwood was used for years as a proof-of-concept house for pretty much every major breakthrough that Dolby made, so it was the first house anywhere with Dolby Stereo, the first house anywhere with Dolby surround, the first house anywhere to use Dolby Digital. Seeing "Jurassic Park" there in 1993, it was definitely the best sound out of any of the big LA engagements, and for some reason, not long after that, Avco cut the giant historic downstairs auditorium in half, creating two smaller theaters that both tilt towards what used to be the center of a giant curved screens. It was so wrong headed that it didn't surprise me when the theater finally closed completely. The National is gone now, despite that being a great house that could have used some renovation instead of just shuttering the place completely.
So far, Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios have been running things separately, and there's been almost no synchronicity between their storytelling. That's great because it means the writers and artists working on the comics aren't being forced to build the work they're doing around someone else's storyline, and it means that movie fans don't have to feel driven to read comics between the movies just to figure out what's going on.
That may be changing, though, and some recent rumors about the plans they have for Phase Three as well as some behind-the-scenes battles that have plagued the studio for the last few years raise some fascinating questions about the future of the studio.
As strange as it sounds, I'm not sure I'd put Stan Lee on the short list of credible sources when it comes to Marvel's upcoming plans. Sure, he has a cameo in everything they make, but I don't think he's consulted on anything they're doing. Still, he made a recent mention of several movies that he says are being developed right now by the studio, including the long-rumored "Black Panther," Kevin Feige's pet project "Doctor Strange," and, to the surprise of many, "Inhumans."
Twenty-four solid months without a single Pixar film in theaters seems almost unthinkable.
At D23 Expo recently, Disney seemed like everything was full speed ahead on the Pixar slate, and they announced that "The Good Dinosaur" was set for release on May 30, 2014, with the highly-anticipated sequel "Finding Dory" set for November 25, 2015.
They still have a film set for November 25, 2015, but now it's "The Good Dinosaur," and unless something radical happens, that means "Inside Out" is the next movie the studio is releasing, and that comes a full two years after the release of "Monsters University." While Disney has plenty of major content brands under the larger umbrella of Disney these days, and they seem to be gearing up for something like nine Marvel movies a year, two years without a Pixar film sounds like a genuine crisis for the studio.
There are certain faces that seemed to be ubiquitous at film festivals this year, and when one of those belongs to Scarlett Johansson, you will not catch me complaining about the situation.
I saw "Don Jon" at SXSW this year, and it is an uncommonly perceptive directorial debut by Joseph Gordon Levitt. He stars in the film which he also wrote, but it is the way he nails certain observations about the way everyone has their own fantasy they depend on to get them through that impressed me most. It is a very observant point that I would expect from an older writer.
In addition to making a number of smaller films this year that feed certain artistic needs for each of them, JGL and ScarJo both have experience now being part of these giant megafranchise superhero films that are the bread and butter of the Hollywood system at the moment. While Christopher Nolan's final Batman film was more divisive than the first two, I think one of the things that seemed to really speak to people was the work that Joseph Gordon Levitt did as a Gotham City police officer who didn't need a mask and a cave and a limitless arsenal to stand up and do what he believed was right. He was a moral compass in the film in a way I found really surprising, and I think he helped ground that last film.
If we need a reminder about the place that video games hold in pop culture right now, just look at last night's midnight launch of "Grand Theft Auto V," which was just as big a moment as any of this summer's movie launches. The big titles remain big, and there is a fierce brand loyalty among gamers that has yet to be truly tested by Hollywood. They keep trying, but they keep getting it wrong, and I suspect there's plenty more of that in the future.
A perfect example would be the news today that Fede Alvarez, who directed this spring's "Evil Dead," is in talks now to sign on as the director of "Dante's Inferno." The game, released by Electronic Arts, is a shameless mash-up of "Devil May Cry" and "God Of War," and executed with all the subtlety of a fart in a microphone. Trust me… no one aside from the people who stand to make money off of it is asking for a movie version of "Dante's Inferno." The idea that there was a bidding war for the film rights, and the idea that Universal considers themselves the winners of that bidding war… baffling.