The term "gentle giant" is a cliche, but in the case of Michael Clarke Duncan, it was completely appropriate.
I find it difficult to believe that Duncan is gone. I find it hard to write about his passing, because it doesn't seem real. Duncan was one of the most genuine wide-open souls I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, and my many encounters with him over the years all left me convinced he was someone who would work for the rest of his life, always in demand, always good when he's hired.
I remember hearing about him first. Harry Knowles came back from his visit to the set of "Armageddon" completely and utterly in love with him. No other way to put it. Harry was convinced that of the entire sprawling ensemble, positively dripping with testosterone, Michael Clarke Duncan was the biggest personality, the guy he couldn't stop watching. He was doing other films, busy with TV work, but "Armageddon" was a major jump into the foreground for him. You can see him in "Bulworth" and "A Night At The Roxbury," and he's good considering what he's given to play, but he had to find the right thing, something that really showcased him.
Then came "The Green Mile."
The term "gentle giant" is a cliche, but in the case of Michael Clarke Duncan, it was completely appropriate.
It is fitting that Bradley Cooper plays a writer in his new film "The Words."
To be more specific, he plays a frustrated writer, a man whose attempts to break into the world of publishing are met with indifference until he stumbles across a long-lost manuscript, known to nobody, and decides to claim it as his own. He ends up winning acclaim for the piece and falling into a life that he doesn't earn, even as the real author of the piece stumbles across his own words, finally in print after having disappeared for almost a half-century.
It's a really nice performance by Cooper, but these days, he's not pretending to be a writer. He's doing it. He's working on adapting the Dan Simmons novel "Hyperion" into a film, something that's been frustrating filmmakers for a while now.
When I sat down with Cooper and Brian Klugman, one of the writer/directors of the movie, I didn't intend to bring up the project, but it seemed like a natural progression in the conversation, and I was curious to see what he had to say about the state of the script right now.
Pretty much the moment Richard Linklater cut to the extreme close-up of Michelle, the character played by Milla Jovovich in the wonderful "Dazed & Confused," as she rolled a joint, I was smitten. Smote. However you want to say it. Same thing happened when she held up that ID to the security guard and insisted that her name was "LeeeeelooDallasMoooolteeeepass." It's absurd how adorable she is as the divine being in Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element," and she gives one of those performances that is so dedicated that even if you don't like it, you have to marvel at it. Throw in the album she recorded in her teens full of personal, lyrical doodles, and I never really stood a chance.
I am fascinated by the way Screen Gems has essentially been handed over to two married couples at this point. I recently chatted with Kate Beckinsale about working with her husband, Len Wiseman, in the "Total Recall" remake, and Jovovich has a similar set-up with her husband, Paul W.S. Anderson. They seem like a pretty self-contained unit, happy to keep cranking out these increasingly strange and oddball zombie epics, and she seems like she loves the fans whenever I see her talking about these movies or showing up on a Comic-Con panel. I may not like these films very much (and I'll have a review of the new one for you on Friday), but I like her enthusiasm, and I like that she's found a niche where she seems really happy.
I think I'm over the whole "so ridiculous it's fun" thing.
Either that, or I'm waiting until someone actually creates something that genuinely looks like fun before I say that again. Today, the trailer for "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" finally arrives online and I can't help but feel like I'm looking at a parody of a "cool" movie trailer.
Jeremy Renner is so decidedly modern and he and Gemma Arterton appear to have so little chemistry that I'm feeling like even before you get to the film's ridiculous premise, the movie is already hobbled. Sure, it's hard to judge the end result from a trailer, but part of me feels like I'm looking at the new version of "The Brothers Grimm," and if Terry Gilliam failed to make that premise work, I'm not sure Tommy Wirkola (whose "Dead Snow" was fun) is the man for the job.
One of the things I'll be doing at the Toronto Film Festival this year is catching up with "Looper," the Rian Johnson film I first saw last year in a rough state. I'm excited to see the finished movie and to sit down with the cast for some interviews.
Today, though, came a firm reminder that my vacation is over. As much as I've loved having time off with my kids as I recharged the battery for what is going to be a very busy month ahead, I was aware that the flurry of work was going to begin the moment I returned. Sure enough, there was a knock on the door this morning and a guy who looked suspiciously like a young Bruce Willis was standing there. He handed me an envelope and said, "You've got a mission. Get to it."
Oddly, he hopped on what looked like a NY bike messenger's bike and took off down my driveway, leaving me to head back inside and look to see what it was he'd brought me and what explanation there was for his actions.
Wow… has it been a week already? I'm probably curled into a fetal position right now, weeping about the fact that I'm already done with my vacation. A week sounds like it's going to be a long time, but then when it actually happens, it's over as soon as it starts.
Today, I want to wrap up this week of conversations by talking about anticipation. I think modern movie marketing is so pumped up and aggressive that much of the joy of waiting for a film to be released has been diminished. For me, unfortunately, the process has been completely distorted because of the way we cover trailers and set visits and editing room visits and early cuts and more. By the time a film comes out these days, I feel like I've already had the experience, and it's harder and harder for me to have anything approaching a "normal" experience.
I grew up loving the anticipation. The wait between the release of "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" may have only been three years, but it felt like forever, and every single day of those three years, I was manic for information about what was coming. I spent that time in a constant fog of daydreaming about what might happen, what could happen, what should happen. I loved it.
At the start of this week, I mentioned the "Robocop" remake in passing as a way to get to a larger conversation about spoilers for things that are in production or in development.
One of the reasons I feel so protective of "Robocop" is because the original is one of the great movie memories of my life. When the film came out in 1987, I was working at a theater, and the poster for the film was a source of constant amusement for us. The tag line was "Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop," and that plus the title was a recipe for cheese. Or so it seemed.
A few days before the film was released, they screened it at midnight for the employees of the theater, and I was a believer by the time the closing credits rolled. I was won over completely by the film, and I still think it's a sort of a miracle. The script, the cast, and Paul Verhoeven's work as director… all of them came together in a way that was magic. I look at it now, and I still can't believe it exists. It doesn't feel like other films from the '80s, it doesn't really feel like anything else Verhoeven ever made, and looking at the sequels and the TV series that spun off from the film, it's obvious that even the people who made it weren't able to reproduce the film's appeal. Even if I didn't hate the script for the new movie, I would still be skeptical just because I know how amazing it is that the film worked in the first place.
Have you ever spoken to a filmmaker via Twitter?
When I was a kid, it was unthinkable to have unfettered access to someone who made a movie I loved. If there had been a Twitter account for George Lucas, I shudder to think what kind of lunacy I'd have indulged. These days, you see all sorts of filmmakers signing up for social media outlets that allow the public to speak directly to them in a way that is truly unprecedented. There was one evening in particular recently where we all sort of simultaneously realized Billy Friedkin had signed up for Twitter, and it turned into a three or four hour free-for-all with people bombarding him with questions about everything from "Cruising" to "The Guardian" to "The Exorcist" to "Jade," and he answered everything with grace and charm. It was amazing.
It also may have been contractually obligated.
Until I interviewed Derick Martini recently about his film "Hick" as part of the Motion/Captured Podcast, I had no idea companies were now including a social media clause as part of the standard filmmaker's contract. When he told me, it blew my mind. It seems counter-intuitive to me, since forcing someone to interact with the public rarely ends well. Still, we are in a new age of how media works and how audiences interact with the media they consume, and so I guess things are going to evolve no matter what.
I hope you guys are having fun with this week's posts. I'm probably at a museum with the boys this morning, and I always enjoy those moments when I help broaden their horizons in ways that aren't about movies. Sure, I consider Film Nerd 2.0 a major part of what I do here at HitFix, but if I've ever given you the impression that all I talk to them about is movies, that would be wrong.
Sports, for example, are a big part of Toshi's world right now, and we're just gearing up for the fall baseball season. Both of the kids also really love anything that has to do with science, and I love watching them attack a new topic, desperate to learn. That appetite for education is something that life tends to beat out of people at some point, but in kids, it is undimmed, vibrant, essential.
One of the things that Toshi is most curious about as we watch movies these days is the music that is created for films. I went to a scoring session last week, and I wish I'd been able to bring him along. He's fascinated by the scores that he owns, and he plays them every time we're in the car. The "Star Wars" scores are big ones, of course, and he's almost completely worn his "Empire Strikes Back" CD smooth from replaying "The Imperial March." As I've mentioned here before, he also loves "Grease" and "Singin' In The Rain" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and he has no trouble buying into the reality of a movie musical. I love that he and his little brother walk around the house singing the "Godzilla" theme, happy as can be. Movie music means something to them. It resonates with them.
But I know people who barely even hear movie music. My own parents often tell me that they can't "hear" a score. They're aware there is music in a film, but they don't hear it as a discrete part of the process. It's background. It's just wallpaper to them. And while I can't imagine that, I can't fault them for it, either. To them, discussion of movie music is like having a conversation about the color in a movie.
Here's my question for you today: how aware are you of movie music, and what movie music would you describe as important or essential to you? If you have specific memories of the music in films, I'd love to hear those memories. If you work in film composition, I'd love to know what inspired you and got you to pursue that as a craft. And if you're one of those people who barely register a film's score, can you explain to me what you hear when you're watching a film?
I look forward to reading your responses to this and all the other topics this week, and I'm thanking you in advance for participating, even if you don't normally participate. If you guys don't respond, this is going to be a very slow week here on the blog. I'm counting on you, and I hope that by the time I return next Monday, I'll know a lot more about you, and that I can use your answers to help make Motion/Captured even better.
I guess technically speaking the Motion/Captured Podcast didn't die. But we are restarting it today with a whole new attitude and focus, and I'm hoping that as we settle into the new format, we're going to end up with something that features the best elements of the old podcast but plenty of things that are brand new to this format.
This is the ongoing series that takes the place of "The Essentials" or "The Basics" or "The Motion/Captured Must-See" or any other ongoing list. This is the collection of conversations about the rest of the great films out there. This is the ongoing curation of films I feel should be part of any film fan's life.
Earlier this year, I picked number one through number twenty as a response to the Sight & Sound poll that was ongoing at the time. I wrote about those, and I'm really pleased with the shape of that list. Those are all films that mean something special to me. Those are the films that I've watched to the point of absorption. But I wasn't kidding when I said that after those 20, there's a tie between about 2500 films that I consider my "essentials." Leave it to Scott Swan to ask me as soon as I was done with the list, "Well, what's number 21?"