Whether or not I believe Lorraine Warren is not the point.
This past weekend, I moderated a panel at WonderCon that previewed both "Pacific Rim" and "The Conjuring," and when I first spoke to Warner Bros. about doing that, they mention that there was a chance Lorraine Warren would be part of the panel. Growing up in the '70s, I was aware of her name because of her involvement with the investigation around "The Amityville Horror," and I remember hearing her name-checked as a partial inspiration for the Beatrice Straight character in "Poltergeist" as well.
Last year, I saw a documentary called "My Amityville Horror" that looks at the adult life of Daniel Lutz, the youngest kid from the family that was the focus of the famous story. He's grown up with people always knowing that about him, and it's obviously left a very deep mark on who he is as a man. Lutz struck me as a clenched fist, a guy who is angry and sad and frustrated and unable to fix himself, and part of the issues that define his life deal with the way people perceive him.
Whether or not I believe Lorraine Warren is not the point.
Was it really eleven years ago?
I don't spend much time on jealousy when it comes to the world of film-related events because I am aware that I have been blessed with dozens of amazing experiences that other people would want to have. There's one particular experience that I have kept as a personal memory until now, and I feel like if there's ever going to be a "right" moment to share it, this is it.
I'm sure you'll read many pieces today about Roger Ebert and what he meant to film criticism. I know that he was one of the first two people who helped me understand that films were more than just stories but actual art worth engaging on a deeper level. I first saw "Sneak Previews," his old-school PBS show, when I was seven, and I remember watching clips from John Carpenter's "Halloween" as Gene and Roger discussed the film and being positively terrified just at that glimpse of Michael Myers. While Roger and Gene remained part of my critical diet as I grew more and more interested in film, they were not the only critics I listened to or liked, and as time passed and their show continued to change, it became less essential to me as a viewer. Part of that was because I started to realize how often I disagreed with the two of them, and at a certain point in my younger life, I thought you were supposed to read critics you agreed with, a belief I thankfully no longer hold.
The boys have been asking me lately when they are going to be able to go to a film festival with me. They have this image in their heads of what a festival is like, and I asked them to describe to me what they thought I was doing when I was gone.
More than anything, what our conversations illustrated clearly is that the boys want to participate more in the things that they believe are important to me, and I want them to feel like they have some sense of what it is that I do. We're reaching the end of their two weeks of spring break, and I realized that we could do something special for them here at the house, and that with just a little bit of effort, it could be the sort of thing that they never forget.
To that end, I've decided that this weekend is the First Annual Film Nerd 2.0 Spring Break Mini Film Festival. I'm making badges for them so they feel like they're at a festival, and I'll make them line up outside the office between movies while I change discs so they won't know what's coming next. I plan to keep the line-up a surprise from them until each film begins. In some cases, these are films they've been asking for, and in some cases, they're films I was planning to share, and in every case, they are films that I think will spark some sort of big reaction.
I'm curious to see what the long-term arc of Danny McBride's career looks like.
Right now, I still feel like Hollywood's trying to figure him out, and vice versa. He's had his shot in a few films, and he's played a lot of supporting parts, and overall, I think we've seen some of what he's capable of, but not anywhere near all of it.
McBride's a better actor than he seems to be given credit for, and I guess part of that is that the comedy persona he's created seems larger than life in some ways, full of swagger, and I think people honestly believe that's who he really is. If he was really just Kenny Powers, and there was no difference between the two of them, I can't imagine anyone wanting to work with him twice. The real McBride strikes me as a smart guy who knows what his own comfort zone is, and he's been able so far to craft comedy material that fits him easily.
There are very few pieces of art that I consider flawless. If anything, flaws are part of what makes art fascinating. Once in a long while, though, I see something or read something that I consider a perfect execution of an idea, and one of the examples I'd give would be "The Remains Of The Day," the 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Adapted from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel, the film is exquisitely crafted, and that script is remarkable for the way it communicates volumes of material with a single gesture. Anthony Hopkins is one of those guys who can ham it up when you ask him to, but the challenge of this script was to keep almost everything internal, and Hopkins rose to the challenge with what I would argue is one of the finest examples of film acting I've ever seen. Yes, it helps when you have Hopkins and Thompson at the top of their game, but that script is something else. You could teach an entire class on adaptation just by taking that film and comparing it to the source material.
Oddly, that's the one time she was nominated for an Oscar without winning. She took home the award for both "A Room With A View" and "Howard's End," although she didn't show up to accept either award. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen her interviewed or really learned much of anything about her. She was simply a constant presence in the world of highbrown period films for adults, a name you would see on a poster that automatically suggested a certain kind of polished, contemplative drama.
One thing's certain: it's hard to forget James Wan after you meet him.
For example, I've never heard anyone who worked with him have a bad word to say about the guy. That's genuinely unusual in this business, and you can't overrate the impression it makes on people. For another thing, you almost can't believe how wildly "Crocodile Dundee" he gets when he speaks. I think that's what I love about Australian accents in general... you can't go too big when imitating them, because they are big accents to begin with.
The last time I spoke to him, he was joined by his writing partner Leigh Wannell at the Magic Castle, part of the press day for "Insidious," and he seemed happy with the reactions he was getting for that one. One of the things we discussed in this new interview is how he's finally become more than just "the director of 'Saw,'" and how hard it is to be defined by the success of your first film no matter what else you do.
I think Wan won't have to worry about that after "The Conjuring" is released in July. It feels like he figured something out a few years ago and refocused himself, and the result has been a new energy to his filmmaking. During the WonderCon panel, as the clips were playing, I watched him watching the crowd, and every time they jumped or reacted or anytime someone tried to break the nervous tension in the room, Wan looked delighted. He genuinely loves the emotional experience of scaring the holy hell out of people, and he's more in touch with that skill set now than ever before.
When I wrote about my always-evolving feelings towards spoilers last week, I got several e-mails from people asking if that means I'll never write about a movie during production again.
Of course not.
It just means that I am trying to be more conscious of what I say about something while it's being made, and I want to try to safeguard your experience with a film. I don't want to be the reason someone has to scrap an idea again, and I've put my foot in it enough times that I'm trying to figure out how to do my job better.
Now, when a studio decides to release a big sneak peek like Marvel did with the Phase One box set they put out, I consider that fair game. I would still warn that if you don't want to know anything, don't look at the gallery we've attached below, but if you don't mind being teased a bit, I think this is a great job of showing us enough to get fans talking but not enough to ruin anything they've got coming between now and "The Avengers 2."
Jane Henson may not have been the same sort of household name that her husband, the late Jim Henson, was, but her contributions to the work that Henson did were essential, and without her, who knows if we would have ever enjoyed the genius and the humanity of Henson's various creations?
She met Jim in the early days, when they were both still students, and when he worked on his first major television project, a show called "Sam and Friends," she was one of the Muppet performers, right there alongside her husband. It has been said that she was the one who first proposed the system that allowed them to see monitors as they performed, so they had some sense of how their work was playing.
It wasn't until the late '50s that the two of them began a personal relationship away from work, and they had a total of five children together, including Brian and Lisa, who both followed their parents into the family business. When Jane stopped performing, it was Frank Oz who was hired to take her place, and she's the one who trained him and got him ready to perform. Even once she was not officially a Muppet performer, she would frequently jump in for big scenes where there needed to be a lot of Muppets at the same time.
You want to see what I look like when my brain shuts down for no good reason right in the middle of an interview? Well, today's your lucky day.
I've spoken with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg dozens of times over the years, and I always enjoy seeing them and talking about what they're doing. Yet for some reason, as I'm making the introduction in this piece, you'll see me completely blank on Evan's name. It's just a few seconds, but internally, it was a full-system reboot, one of those "what did I just do?!" moments.
Thankfully, Evan and Seth laughed it off and we had a great chat about their first film as co-directors, "This Is The End," which arrives in theaters later this year. On the 16th of this month, I'll be publishing some observations and interviews from my time on the set of the film in Louisiana last year, and we'll have longer interviews with both Craig Robinson and Danny McBride this week that we did at WonderCon. That's the long way of saying, "We've got a lot to share with you."
I hope this is the last trailer that Warner Bros. cuts for "The Conjuring," and I hope the TV spots don't reveal anything more than this.
James Wan made his name with the first "Saw," and in many ways, he's spent the rest of his career since then trying to establish that he is more than just that one movie. I am quite fond of "Insidious," his haunted house movie from a few years ago, and that film helped him finally shake the idea that "Saw" was all he had to offer. I think once "The Conjuring" hits theaters this summer, he will finally put that behind him completely, and this will be the film that everyone knows now.
One of the highlights of this past weekend for me was spending some time with Lorraine Warren, who appeared on the Warner Bros. panel that I moderated for "The Conjuring," along with James Wan and Andrea and Cindy Perron, two of the girls who lived through the events that inspired this film. Lorraine is definitely old now, and there's a fragility to her that is a little deceptive. When we spoke, I got the sense that she's still all there, still sharp, and that the events we see in this film remain fresh to her.