Charlie Brooker is one of those UK wonders who hasn't made the jump to American audiences yet, and that is a damn shame.
Wildly prolific, Brooker seems to produce about 600 hours of new television every year, shows like "How TV Ruined Your LIfe" and "Them From That Thing" and "10 O'Clock Live" and "Newswipe" and "Screenwipe" and the oh-so-fiendish "Dead Set," and he's the author of the blisteringly funny "Pedophilia" episode of the great "Brass Eye." Brooker is an astute media critic as well as a wicked wit, and that's a combination that I hoped would have made him much more famous on this side of the Atlantic as well.
He's got a good shot with a deal that was announced today, at least in terms of establishing a beachhead. Robert Downey Jr. has optioned one of the episodes of "Black Mirror," a show that Brooker created, and if it helps to get the original series (now in its second season) released here in the US, that would be tremendous. Each of the episodes of the anthology show deals with television as a social force, and Brooker really digs into the dark and horrible side of media consumption. The first episode, for example, "The National Anthem," looks at the moral dilemma that is created when one of the Royal Family is kidnapped and one demand is made: the Prime Minister has to pork a pig on television to get her back. No negotiations. No half-measures. No time to come up with a CGI option. Pig. Sex. TV. Go.
Charlie Brooker is one of those UK wonders who hasn't made the jump to American audiences yet, and that is a damn shame.
It's funny to see people talking now about Pixar as if they've toppled in some way over the last few years. In the lead-up to "Cars 2," they seemed invincible, the golden hit-making machine that somehow managed to pull off quality every time while also making choices that kept racking up ginormous international box-office.
"Cars 2" seemed to shake some people's faith, though, and the general reaction to this summer's "Brave" seemed to be indifference among most people I spoke to. For the first time, the big brains at Pixar seemed human-scale, and there's been a subtle but genuine shift in the tenor of how people write about them. Gone is the reverence, and maybe that is, in the end, better for everyone.
After all, being on a pedestal is hard for anyone. It almost guarantees a fall at some point. The crushing weight of expectation can get into an artist's head, even a team as confident as the storytellers at Pixar, and the yips almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy after a while. Because it is inevitable everyone eventually screws up, you end up waiting for that moment.
Is it cool for a filmmaker to fight back?
I know there are film critics who genuinely enjoy writing bad reviews. Hell, I've met film critics (and music critics and TV critics and book critics) who seem to live for that moment when they get to roll something over, find the soft spot, and tear the stomach out completely. The taste of blood is the thing that keeps them going, the thing that really turns them on as a writer.
I would not say I enjoy writing a bad review. I certainly don't walk into films looking to hate them. I will say that when a film is particularly hard to sit through, there is a satisfaction that comes from drawing a little blood in return, and some films seem to have such naked contempt for the audience that I don't mind returning some of the same to them. And while there is something about the relationship between critics and filmmakers that has to be contentious, just by its nature, should it ever reach the point where Joe Swanberg or Uwe Boll are climbing into a boxing ring eager to actually hurt a critic because of something that was written?
At the end of this year's Sundance Film Festival, I was asked (along with all the other critics who were there as part of our team this year) to contribute both my favorite and my least favorite titles from the fest for a gallery that we publish each year. At the time I submitted it, I had not written a formal review yet for Calvin Lee Reeder's "The Rambler," one of the midnight titles, but there was no doubt in my mind that it was my least favorite film from the fest this year, and I included it in the two picks that I sent. I still planned to write a review, and when it got added to the line-up for SXSW Midnighter, I made short mention of it. I certainly didn't take a big pointed shot at it. I think it's better to explain yourself fully when you really didn't like something, especially when it's something personal like the work of Reeder so far. Like it or dislike it, I can appreciate that there is something very specific he's trying to do.
If this is how Steven Soderbergh decides to go out, let it be known he was playing games right up till the bitter end.
One of the interesting things about Soderbergh's career has been how low key the marketing on many of his films has been. Considering how prominent he's been in the Hollywood landscape since "sex, lies and videotapes" first vaunted him to fame, Soderbergh's films often feel like stealth events when they arrive in theaters. Considering this is the last theatrical release he's supposedly ever directing, "Side Effects" arrives in theaters with surprisingly little fanfare, and when I walked into the theater, I hadn't seen anything. Not a photo. Not a trailer.
I've said before that there are two different versions of a film. There's the version that is seen by the audience that has seen the trailers and the clips and the commercials, who walks in with a certain degree of the movie spoiled because that's how we sell movies these days. They're the ones who walked into "Terminator 2" knowing full well that Arnold was not only back, but that he was the good guy this time. They're the ones who sit through movies that have twist endings waiting for the twist ending. Even if they don't know what it is, they know it's coming. Then there's the version of the film that someone sees nine years later when they're at home one day and they see that the next thing on cable is called "Side Effects," and they've never heard of it, but they see that it's a Soderbergh film with Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in it, and they decide to watch it, and whatever the narrative does, it hits them cold and the script works the way it's supposed to work in a vacuum. If you see "Terminator 2" and you somehow haven't been spoiled at all, the first time Arnold appears, it looks like he's the bad guy again. There's no indication that he's anything but The Terminator until he fires past John Connor and hits Robert Patrick. That's the beat where suddenly the first film implodes and we realize something else is going on this time. If it can work on you in that perfect vacuum, without being ruined at all, it's a very special narrative experience, and I value them when they occur.
This is a long episode of the podcast. It sort of had to be.
Consider this: Scott Swan and I met when we were in high school. We moved to Los Angeles in 1990. For much of the time since then, we have worked together daily, sometimes for up to ten or twelve hours. It is safe to say that there is no other person who I have had more conversations with other than, perhaps, my parents, and even then, I think Scott may still be the winner in terms of sheer hours logged.
I'd wager that about 85% of that time spent talking to Scott had something to do with "Star Wars."
Even so, because of the way things work these days, when the news that JJ Abrams is directing "Star Wars" broke, I was on my way home from Sundance. I was at the airport. I wrote about it that night. I've written about it since then. But for one reason or another, I hadn't spoken to Scott about it. Not in e-mail. Not by text. Not on the phone. Not at all. And I realized that if we were going to talk about it, we should do it for the podcast.
How funny. As I was writing my piece about "Identity Thief," looking at how a movie like that happens in the wake of a comedy breakthrough like the one Melissa McCarthy had on "Bridesmaids," machinery was in motion to set up a deal that is essential if McCarthy hopes to have any control over her fate.
"Tammy" is a film that will very much demonstrate what voice McCarthy hopes to have as a creator as well as an actor. She's set to co-direct the film with Ben Falcone, her husband and creative partner. It was a project that McCarthy helped set up with New Line last year, and she's set to star in it playing a character she created, and she and Falcone co-wrote the script. It's about a woman who is laid off from a job at Hardee's. When she learns that her husband is having an affair, she grabs her alcoholic foul-mouthed grandmother and hits the road with her for a comic road trip. Shirley MacLaine is evidently in talks to play the grandmother, and I think they can cut a pretty convincing trailer of the two of them trading full-tilt R-rated barbs. It's the sort of casting that goes a long way to getting something a greenlight.
It almost seems inevitable.
First, you've got that moment when a comic performer breaks through giving a performance in a supporting role in someone else's film, and everyone goes crazy about how good they are and then next thing you know, scripts that have been sitting around in development get hastily rewritten and that supporting part that was created for Jim Carrey is suddenly just right for this person, and this film that was just sort of stalled out is suddenly a priority because that's the reward for that breakthrough moment, even though nine times out of ten, that reward ends up being sort of terrible.
It is a perfect example of how the best intentions, and the most logical business practices, can still result in a flat-out terrible movie. Right now, we're about to see what happened because of every single review that pointed out how funny Melissa McCarthy was in "Bridesmaids." When I visited the set for that film, it was obvious immediately that whatever McCarthy was doing, she wasn't doing it halfway. She was very funny in conversation, but she was also very clear about how much work she'd done to help figure out the character she was playing. And by the time the work-in-progress screening at SXSW finished, it was obvious that she had pretty much wrestled "Bridesmaids" to the floor and beaten it senseless.
At this point, I will only be treating it as news when JJ Abrams is not attached in some way to a new film in development. It will be easier for all involved, I believe.
One of the first things I did when I got home from dropping the kids off at school this morning was hopped on Kotaku to watch them live-blog an event at the D.I.C.E. Summit where JJ Abrams was onstage with Valve's Gabe Newell, and while it seemed at first like it was an discussion of the ways that games and movies approach narrative differently, it also ended up being an announcement of a partnership that should surprise no one at this point since it is evidently impossible to get a science-fiction project made without Abrams being involved.
Valve has been a very strong company in terms of creating IP that seems like it is ripe for further exploitation. There are plenty of video game fans, myself included, who would love for Valve to make a "Half-Life 3" sometime this decade, and I'd be as excited for that as I would be for any movie that might get announced.
This is going to be a significant test of how much of a character belongs to the writing and how much is about the performance. If Disney wants to make a young Han Solo movie, I'm willing to watch that. Sure. Absolutely. Part of me hopes someone completely insane decides to spend $100 million on technology to let Harrison Ford give a motion captured performance as young Han Solo because I think that would be "Hellraiser"-level creepy, but accidentally, and I'd have to watch it every day because it would be totally deranged.
Obviously, no one is going to make that movie, and so they're going to end up casting someone to play young Han Solo, and no offense, Hypothetical Young Actor they haven't found yet, but those are some mighty big shoes to fill, and pretty much everything you do is going to get hyperscrutinized. You are always going to be compared to Harrison Ford in his prime, and even Harrison Ford can't win when that comparison is being made. It is a losing proposition because of the nature of fandom, and I contend that the moment you give the fans what you think they want, they will turn on you and tell you that they never wanted it after all.
It is the announcement of the midnight section of the SXSW festival that always gives me that final nudge to the ribs that finally signifies the end of Sundance and the start of the next phase of my year. Today, SXSW Midnighters reveals its line-up, and the festival snaps into complete focus, and unsurprisingly, it's going to be a ton of fun in Austin from March 8th to the 16th.
I think the fact that the still they chose to send out today is for "Big Ass Spider," the new film by Mike Mendez, pretty much sums up the attitude of this particular midnight selection. There is an irreverence that is part of their programming that always makes it a kick. It is worth it to stay up late at SXSW. You want to be there in that room when something like "Attack The Block" plays for the first time because you want to feel that energy from that crowd
Much of the SXSW line-up has already been announced, and you can see it at the festival's official site. Meanwhile, taco-crazed Jarod Neece fired up the e-mails this morning to send out a missive in which he details what kind of lunacy awaits festivalgoers this year. “Full of scares, sex, madness, laughs, chills and major mind f*cks, we hope there's a little something for everyone.” What's really scary is that when you're talking to Neece, you can hear the asterisks in his swearing. It's something else.