I am almost embarrassed about how excited I am for this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
Then again, when you look at the list of movies playing this year, announced this morning by the fest, it is overstuffed with potentially excellent films, and the one problem I have right now is figuring out how I'm going to see everything I want to see. Sometimes, festivals can kick the crap out of you no matter how well you plan, and I've certainly had festivals where I felt like the schedule beat me. I think I had a pretty great Toronto last year, and I think it may be one of the best examples of what I want to do at a festival, and part of that is just because I've gotten comfortable in the city finally and I feel at ease when I'm there and working. In addition, the people who actually put on the festival have always made me feel, as both journalist and audience member, like I was welcome, like they can't wait to share the films they've programmed.
This year, it looks like they have every reason to be proud of the festival they're putting together, with a huge buffet of films that represent a pretty spectacular who's who in filmmaking around the world right now.
How many great films can one festival fit into ten days of programming?
I am almost embarrassed about how excited I am for this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
The two stars of the film discuss their approach to this charming love story
I've seen Zoe Kazan work in a few films and I've enjoyed work she's done before, but until I saw "Ruby Sparks" last week, I didn't really "get" Zoe Kazan.
Consider me fully onboard at this point, though. Not only does she give a fetching, smart, complex performance that fully refutes the entire notion of the "manic pixie dream girl," but she's also the screenwriter for the movie that opens in some markets on Wednesday.
Her co-star in the film and, according to the interviews I did with them last week, also her co-star in real life is Paul Dano, known by many for his work in "Little Miss Sunshine" and "There Will Be Blood" and "Cowboys and Aliens." In the film, he plays Calvin, an author whose first book was published when he was a teenager, making him a media sensation. Now stuck with a massive case of writer's block, he tries an writing exercise that leads to him turning out page after page describing his perfect woman, only to find her actually in his house one morning. Kazan plays Ruby, the girl he creates, and as Calvin experiments, he learns that he can indeed make her into anything or make her do anything simply by adding to his manuscript.
While that's an odd fit, at least he's not planning to play Hicks anymore
Biopics in general seem to be incredibly difficult to make work. The biggest problem is that anyone who lived a life interesting enough to be turned into a film probably also lived a life that is too dense to be boiled down to two hours in a way that is both dramatically satisfying and narratively engaging.
When Bill Hicks was still alive and working, I thought he was one of the few of his contemporaries who was willing to use stand-up comedy as more than just a short-cut to a network sitcom. Since his death, though, Hicks has become a somewhat messianic figure to his fans, and they've managed to package, repackage, and re-re-re-release every single second of his recorded comedy. They have strip-mined everything he left behind, with "American: The Bill Hicks Story" representing the most complete and insightful look at him and his work so far.
It makes sense that this news would break first in the UK, since Hicks had more commercial success there during his life than he did in America, and the UK has been a big part of keeping his legend alive in the years since. The Telegraph ran a few quotes today from Mark Staufer, who is credited as the screenwriter for the proposed project, and it sounds like they're close to wrapping up development and moving into actual production near the start of 2013.
Will this new take on the cult British science-fiction show make it to American screens?
When I was young, British television was not always easy to see in America, and as a result, there are many things I know by reputation and not because I've actually seen them. I've attempted to fill in the gaps in my knowledge over the years whenever possible, but one show that I've never managed to catch up with is "Blake's 7," the Terry Nation space-opera that ran from 1978 to 1981 on BBC 1.
I've heard the show cited as a precursor to all sorts of things, most notably Joss Whedon's "Firefly," but I'm not sure how accurate that is. My one friend who is a big fan of the show always called it "Bastards In Space," which made me laugh every time.
The series told the story of Roj Blake, a political prisoner who escapes from a prison planet with a crew of criminals and and aliens, and using a special spaceship called The Vindicator, they begin to wage a guerilla war against the Terran Foundation.
While he may be gone, the films he wrote were built to last
Frank Pierson was the model of what I think of as the serious professional screenwriter.
In addition to crafting work that will remain fresh and relevant as long as we are watching movies, he was also heavily involved in the industry as the President of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for many years and President of the Writers Guild Of America for many years as well. His career as a writer began on TV in the '60s and ended on TV with his work on "Mad Men," an experience that no doubt drew on his work as an advertising copywriter during the '50s. In between, he wrote some indelible, amazing movies, and he leaves behind a filmography that any writer would be proud to claim.
I never got a chance to meet Pierson, and it's a shame. I would have loved to have spent an afternoon discussing "Cat Ballou," "Cool Hand Luke," "The Anderson Tapes," "Dog Day Afternoon," the nightmare of working with Streisand on "A Star Is Born," or his last produced screenplay, the adaptation of "Presumed Innocent." Pierson had a sober, adult approach to character and narrative, and one of the things that distinguishes his work is that it all seems to have a respect for the audience, treating them as if they can handle complex ideas and difficult emotions.
The studio makes a big choice in the wake of last week's events
Warner Bros. is in a no-win situation on this one.
Almost as soon as executives awoke on Friday morning, Warner began asking theaters to remove all of the current trailers for "Gangster Squad" from theaters since one of the key images from those trailers is a shootout inside a movie theater. Warner Bros. felt that it would be insensitive to leave the ads in general circulation right now, and the decision seems like the right one to make the morning after something as horrible and senseless as the Aurora, CO shootings.
Now comes word that Warner Bros. plans to remove the sequence from the movie completely. Looking at the original trailers, the scene appeared to take place in the Chinese Theater, where armed men standing behind the screen open fire with machine guns, marching through the ragged holes in the screen while firing into the audience. It's a stylish image, and looked like it was executed well.
The studio had just started early screenings of the movie, and they seemed happy with it. The movie is still planned for a September 7th release, which means they'll have to scramble to get the reshoots finished, especially since it's supposed to be a fairly major sequence that comes near the end of the movie.
A classic makes a huge impression on first viewing and not necessarily a good one
There is no bigger question for kids as they watch a film, particularly one that exposes them to an adult world they have no personal experience of so far. And once they start asking "Why?", it opens up a potential snowstorm of follow-ups. One of the most important things in any screening I have for the kids is the conversations that show me what they've taken from what they've just watched.
My oldest son, Toshiro, just recently turned seven. I know that when I think back to childhood, everything before seven is fuzzy, select images or impressions, but starting at the age of seven, I have a distinct recollection of things. I can tell you details about things that happened to me that year, places where I saw certain films, events that happened to me or to my friends. It feels in hindsight like seven was the age where everything clicked and turned on and I became a "real" person.
And in the summer of 1977, I was all about "Star Wars."
You'll believe a very, very tiny man can fly
I'll say this much for the initial teaser trailer for Zack Snyder's upcoming "Man Of Steel"… they made a big choice, and they went with it. I'm just not sure that choice was the right one in terms of reintroducing this iconic character to mainstream audiences.
One thing this campaign appears to be selling is reverence, and while I certainly appreciate that Zack Snyder is careful to play into the classic notions of what a character looks like and does when he adapts something, I think reverence is exactly what did not work about "Superman Returns." That movie was so busy tiptoeing around the fondness people have for Richard Donner's original film that it felt like it had no pulse at all. If this movie's going to work, it's going to have to have a life of its own.
It's also a dangerous first trailer because it is distinctly possible audiences won't know what they're looking at. The distinctive "S" logo shows up at the end of the trailer, sure, but to tease your giant-budget reboot of the single most important superhero character you own with a trailer that spends most of its time showing a bearded dude working on a fishing boat and a little boy running around the yard of his house seems a little odd.
Giant robots and giant monsters pretty much sell themselves
SAN DIEGO - The first sign attendees had that Warner Bros. had something special planned for their Comic-Con 2012 panel came at the start of the event when the curtains at the front of the room rolled back, wider than normal, revealing two extra screens that extended out from the front screen, creating a sort of Cinerama effect, with both side panels featuring graphics designed to evoke the world of "Pacific Rim."
Of course, that wouldn't have been the first thought for many people in the room, since "Pacific Rim" is still a year away and before Saturday's presentation, very little was known about the film. Last year, Guillermo Del Toro came to tell fans that they could expect a movie about "giant f**king monsters against giant f**king robots," but since then, there's been almost nothing revealed in public.
I visited the set for the film, and at that point, I realized just what sort of scale Guillermo's trying for with the movie, and I was curious to see what sort of showing they'd make with 7000 people who walked in cold.
It's safe to say the response was enthusiastic.
Is this really a retreat?
No matter how good the eventual film is, people are going to categorize the notion of Andrew Stanton returning to Pixar to direct a sequel to "Finding Nemo" as a retreat of sorts on the heels of the commercial drubbing of "John Carter."
It's a tough move for Stanton no matter what he does. I have no doubt at all that the reports are correct in saying that Stanton brought Disney a pitch that they loved. I think of about 870 million reasons Disney would be pre-disposed to loving any story idea they heard for a "Finding Nemo 2." But beyond that, Stanton is indeed one of Pixar's strongest story guys, and if he's got something he's excited by, then I'm absolutely willing to see it.