I honestly never expected to see Kenny Powers again.
The end of the third season was such a decisive conclusion, giving him the happy ending that he needed instead of the one he wanted, that I figured we were done with him as a character. After all, heading into that season, Jody Hill and Danny McBride and David Gordon Green all seemed relatively sure that they were done with him, and if they felt like they were finished, who were we to argue?
The very end of that final episode, though, threw so many big ideas at us so quickly that it went from feeling like the finish of something to feeling like a giant challenge. Once your lead character fakes his own death to walk away from his dream life in professional sports, can he really just go home and live a happy domestic life?
I honestly never expected to see Kenny Powers again.
If the first major creative choice in your latest entry in a franchise irritates and alienates every fan of that property, maybe you might want to rethink things.
Consider this a warning: if you read any further, there's a good chance you're going to have the new book about Bridget Jones totally ruined for yourself, as well as elements of "Dumb and Dumber To," last night's "Breaking Bad," and other things as well. It may be too late, since most of the headlines I've seen today have almost gleefully given it away, but I'd rather give you the choice about whether or not you want to know right now. It seems like more and more often now, the assumption is that you have no right whatsoever to expect that you will remain unspoiled after the split-second something airs, and it seems like even before that now, we're just going to have accept that we have no control over how we digest a narrative.
Considering how long they've been a studio and how strong a brand they've created in the global marketplace, Walt Disney Studios seems to constantly be reinventing themselves. Right now, they are in the middle of what seems to be a major shift in terms of identity, turning into a sort of brand-management superstore.
After all, they've got Pixar, Marvel, and "Star Wars" all under the broader Disney logo these days, and I hear there's another mega-brand that they're possibly going to purchase soon. Disney's production slate no longer offers up original material. Instead, you're going to see those brands and nothing else. Even when Pixar makes a non-sequel, it's all about the "Pixar" brand, and that's what Disney is selling over any of their individual titles.
Now it looks like we're seeing another emerging trend at the studio, live-action remakes of their fairy tale classics. "Maleficent" revealed some footage at this year's D23 Expo, and it's amazing how carefully they've worked to recreate the exact look of the "Sleeping Beauty" world and how much every member of the cast looks like the animated versions of the characters. The studio is also making "Cinderella" right now, with Kenneth Branagh directing what he promises will be a very faithful rendition of the story as Disney told it.
When I was at the Toronto Film Festival recently, I had a chance to talk to Spike Jonze about his new film "Her" and several other subjects. In particular, I told him a story about sharing "Where The Wild Things Are" with my sons and how it represented a major turning point in the emotional life of my family. He seemed struck by what I said, and I told him that I was planning to write about the experience for my ongoing Film Nerd 2.0 column.
The truth is, I've been struggling to figure out how to write this one for a while now, ever since the screening, and it's been difficult to find the right way in. Even considering how personal much of this column has been, this one has been hard for me to grapple with because, unlike many of these columns, this one isn't all warm and fuzzy. I am well aware that I spend more time talking about my kids in print than some people might like. I have gotten e-mails and comments and direct messages from many people asking me to either scale it back or stop altogether. "I just want to read movie reviews," one guy e-mailed me, "and I don't give a shit what your kids think."
LOS SANTOS - It seems strange to realize that "Grand Theft Auto V" may well be the final game I buy for the Playstation 3.
Shortly after "Grand Theft Auto III" was released, I was at the apartment shared by my friends Josh and Kevin, and they had the game on. I'd heard the title a few times, but I didn't own it, and I hadn't played it. Once I watched Kevin play for about ten minutes, I left their place, went directly to a store, and bought the game and a Playstation 2. I played it incessantly for a while, and when I finally set it aside, I felt like I'd gotten everything out of the mayhem and the free-roaming lunacy that I could get. It was depraved, it was ridiculous, it was damn near impossible to finish as a game, and I loved every bit of it. The game seemed like the sort of thing that the authorities were going to catch wind of and shut down as soon as possible, and that made it even more fun.
Morality in gaming is a funny thing. When I played "Mass Effect 2" and "Mass Effect 3," I found that I couldn't make the renegade choices, no matter what. The way the narrative worked and the way I played Shepard, I felt it necessary to try to be as moral and as compassionate as possible. It seemed like the only way to navigate the political landscape of the games and come through it with my crew intact. The same was true of "Skyrim" when I played that for a few months. I never even considered playing it as anything but a hero. Even when I digressed to finish missions involving the Thieves Guild or whatever, I found myself overcompensating to make sure I was as far on the side of right as possible.
Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" was met by a far more mixed response than his break-through film "District 9," but that doesn't change my enthusiasm for whatever he's working on. This is one of the few people working right now who has a taste for science-fiction and who is able to get original work produced. In the case of his next film, we're talking about "Chappie," which Blomkamp has described as a "comedy," about a robot policeman who is held hostage by a couple of punks.
Sharlto Copley, who is Blomkamp's go-to guy, will be playing the robot police officer, and the two things were cast a while ago, with Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er from Die Antwoord both onboard.
Ariel Folman's "Waltz With Bashir" was a strong use of animation to express something personal, a worldview that tried to paint an emotional picture of what it's like to have gone through something harrowing, tied to both your religious and national identity, something that skews your perception for the rest of your life. I was quite taken with the film when it came out, and I have seen it a few times since on Blu-ray, and find it quite beautiful and sad.
One of several films to premiere at Cannes this summer before playing Fantastic Fest in Austin this month, "The Congress" is something else entirely. Loosely working from a novel by Stanislaw Lem, whose work was also the basis of "Solaris," Folman has made the movie that Andrew Niccol was desperately straining to make with "SimOne." The result is a beautiful, eccentric science-fiction story about the liquid nature of identity in the digital age and what it is that defines performance in the first place. Robin Wright stars as a savagely fictionalized version of herself, facing the end of her career in the form of industry-wide indifference thanks to years of meltdowns, rejected offers, and questionable creative decisions. Her agent, played by Harvey Keitel, comes to her with what is described as "the last offer you'll ever get," delivered by the unflinchingly blunt Danny Huston as a studio head who remembers the promise of the young Buttercup and who is angry at the reality of who Wright has become.
Whoa. I didn't even realize Christophe Gans was working on this one.
"Beauty and the Beast" is one of those irresistible targets for filmmakers, and I would think for French filmmakers, there is a whole different level of expectation attached to anyone who tackles the material. After all, "La Belle et la Bete," the 1946 film by Jean Cocteau, is one of the classic texts of French cinema, and one of the great fantasy films of all time. Jean Marais gave one of the great film performances as the Beast, and the design of the Beast is both memorable and striking.
Over the years, we've seen many takes on the story, and in America, the one that is most defining was made by Disney in 1991. That was more than just a hit for them. If you didn't see the film during that initial theatrical run, you might not understand just what a phenomenon it was. People reacted like they were at a live performance, and it made perfect sense that the film ended up nominated for Best Picture that year. It's still one of the biggest cultural hits they've ever had, and it continues to be an enormously popular catalog title for them.
Thematically confused, but possessed of a manic comic energy that is hard to deny, "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" is a case of a sequel that will likely please many, but that falls short of the original nonetheless.
The original "Cloudy" was a bit of a miracle, a very loose adaptation of a sweet children's book that cranked up the funny and ended up working as a totally different thing than the book. The father-son story grounded the film with a nice sense of heart, but it was packed with almost non-stop jokes by Chris Miller and Phil Lord and their excellent story team. While Miller and Lord are busy finishing "The LEGO Movie" right now, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have stepped up to direct the sequel, and it maintains much of the energy that made the first film fun.
Still, it raises the question of how important it is that a film present a singular message, because it feels to me like "Cloudy 2" is deeply confused in many ways. The script by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja certainly seems unfettered in terms of invention, but they set up some things that it feels like they don't fully explore. In particular, the questions it raises about scientific curiosity versus scientific responsibility are never answered, or if they are, the answers are far from considered.
Right now, construction is underway at Shepperton Studios outside London for the film adaptation of "Into The Woods," the long-running musical hit by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, and with the film due in theaters for the holiday season in 2014, they're already starting the promotional push.
Meryl Streep is set to play The Witch in the film, one of the central roles in the piece, and Disney sent over the first photo of her in costume today. If you're not familiar with the musical, The Witch lives next door to The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), who are desperate to have a child. The Witch has cursed them, though, so they will never have a child unless they help her find the ingredients that she requires for a spell that will restore her former beauty. She sends them on a quest to find "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold."