There is no need for a "21 Jump Street" movie.
You could say that about much of what Hollywood makes these days, but I remember when the original TV show was on the air, and "21 Jump Street" was, at best, a sort of goofy early attempt by Fox to define itself as a network. It was most notable for being a launch pad for Johnny Depp, and I would argue that no one has spent the time since it went off the air mourning and praying for a resurrection.
What makes the new feature film version of the show, written by Michael Bacall and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, such a wonderful surprise is that it both overtly acknowledges how frequently awful it is for Hollywood to trade on shameless pre-packaged nostalgia while turning the original into something new with a voice all its own. The story was co-written by Bacall and Jonah Hill, and it acknowledges the absurdity of its own premise even as it leans full-tilt into that absurdity, making it work.
A film that shouldn't work at all turns out to be a great spring surprise
There is no need for a "21 Jump Street" movie.
Full details on the event I'll be moderating next Sunday and where you'll see it
South by Southwest Film Festival is not afraid to put me to work.
And, frankly, there are few festivals I would bend over backwards more aggressively to help. I have come to really love SXSW over the last five years or so, and I think the work that Janet Pierson and her amazing team of programmers and publicists have done to really focus and emphasize the identity of the fest has paid off handsomely.
This year, you'll probably see my face if you're attending lots of midnight screenings, and as I announced a week or two ago, I'll be moderating a panel on the bizarre new sitcom "Holliston" that will be appearing on FEARNet. We've held off on the last big announcement until now, though, and honestly, if there's any one thing I'm most excited about doing at the fest this year, this is it.
On Sunday, March 11, I'm going to moderating a live-chat with Joss Whedon and Drew Godard, the big-brained lunatics behind "Cabin In The Woods." I can't publish my review of this one until it premieres at the fest, but suffice it to say, I am a fan. I think it's smart and fun and, more than anything, makes a great case for why we all need a little red meat in our cinematic diet. I am excited for people to get a look at the film, but more than that, I'm thrilled that I'm going to get to serve as the moderator for what I hope should be a freewheeling dialogue between these guys and the audience.
We look back at one of the industry's greatest illustrators
Ralph McQuarrie is probably more directly responsible for the texture of my dream life between the ages of 7 and 13 than any other visual artist. Simply put, the choices he made regarding the design of the world of "Star Wars" were one of the main reasons that film resonated not just with me, but with generations of viewers now.
There was a time when people ended up in the film industry after living other lives, after learning other skills, after working at a trade. Ralph McQuarrie was a technical illustrator working for Boeing, and that led him to working on animated coverage of NASA's Apollo missions for CBS News. He sort of backed into the film industry through that work, which caught the attention of Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, who were part of the same circle of friends that included other young filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, and George Lucas.
It was 1975 when McQuarrie was first hired by Lucas to create some paintings that would help people make sense of the script he was writing at the time. Those paintings, many of which are now iconic, not only helped pin down the designs of characters like Chewbacca and Darth Vader, but also were a big part of what convinced 20th Century Fox to make the movie.
Find out which screening we're hosting and what you'll see
In many ways, the Summer of 1982 is the reason I am a film critic today.
After all, that was the summer I learned conclusively that I do not always agree with the herd, either critically or commercially, and there were films that were important to me that year, films I believed with my whole heart were great films, that came out and tanked completely. At the time, I felt like I was out there on my own regarding these movies, and it was only later, after time had passed, that people came around and the films began to grow in reputation. I believe that time has ultimately sided with me on these films, and now "Blade Runner" and "The Thing" are considered classics of their genre, but at the time of release, these were not movies that garnered any easy acclaim.
Five years ago, I was still working for Ain't It Cool News, and I decided I wanted to run a series of articles on the site celebrating the 25th anniversary of what I consider the greatest single genre year of my life. I recruited some of the other writers from the site and asked them to write about the movies that mattered to them that year. Nordling's piece about "E.T" won him a piece of handwritten fan mail from none other than Steven Spielberg. Harry wrote up "Tron," one of his favorite movies. My writing partner Scott Swan put together a look back at "Creepshow." We covered "Poltergeist," "Porky's," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "The Last American Virgin," "The Secret Of Nimh," "The Dark Crystal" and more. It was one of those series that made me enormously proud, and I still think of it as a high watermark for the site.
How did they get so much so right their second time out?
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
File #2: "From Russia With Love"
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
This edition of this column is dedicated to my father, who took me to see "The Spy Who Loved Me" in 1977, igniting my own lifelong relationship with the character. He was an old-school fan, a Fleming fan, a Connery fan, and if I got any particular part of my fanboy DNA from him, it's Eastwood and it's Bond. Bond has been shared language for most of my life, and the same is true of my friendship with Scott Swan, who has been my Bond buddy since "The Living Daylights."
When you've had those Bond-nerd conversations, when you've talked about theme songs and title sequences and Bond girls and which bad guys are the best and all the things you talk about as Bond fans… that's a very specific thing that's shared. And like Batman, I notice that all Bond fans have their own Bond that they like, and I don't just mean the actors that played the character. Each fan has what they consider "the" version in their head, the perfect definition of who Bond is, of what elements they want and like, and how the films should play.
Andrew Stanton's live-action debut is giddy epic fun
It still seems surreal to me that there really is a mega-budget bigscreen live-action film based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories about Barsoom and John Carter, since as long as I've been paying attention to Hollywood, and even well before that, there has always been a John Carter movie in some stage of development.
The good news is that Andrew Stanton, one of the cornerstones of Pixar and the director of both "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," has made a nimble jump to live-action, and much of his movie is imbued with a wild, thrilling pulp energy and a genuine sense of wonder. It is a charming science-fiction adventure that makes no apologies for what it is. This is the sort of film where there is talk of Jeddaks and Tharks and Barsoom and you're supposed to just pick it up and understand, and where we accept that Mars doesn't look a thing like modern science tells us it does because that's the conceit. It will be interesting to see who gets hung up on the difference between reality and this film's conception of Mars, because there's nothing about this that plays as "real," but there is such a strong sense of voice that I think Stanton sells the reality beautifully.
A look into the past through an amazing cache of film art
"The Berwick Discovery" sounds like the Dan Brown book, but it's actually a very cool new find that would make me even happier if I had stupid amounts of money laying around waiting for me to spend it on pre-Code movie posters.
On March 23, Heritage Vintage Movie Poster Auctions will evidently be putting around 30 very rare movie posters on the block, all part of the same incredible find last fall. I didn't hear about it then, but reading the details now, I'm blown away and, more than anything, it reminds me how much I love the evolution of the movie poster and how random and strange and occasionally wonderful the world of the hardcore collector can be.
When I was writing "Cigarette Burns" with Scott Swan, we talked to print collectors and memorabilia collectors and we collected way more stories than we could use. One of the things that seemed to run in common between all of them though is that the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of the accidental discovery is a big part of what compels them. If you could just go to the store and buy a pristine 35MM print of "Suspiria," it wouldn't be special, but when Quentin Tarantino tracked down a gorgeous IB Technicolor and screened it at the original Drafthouse and Tim League cranked the soundtrack so loud it made my fillings shake, part of what was magical about that night was knowing how rare that experience is.
Why doesn't that worry me?
I'm not sure I'd make too much of the news that Disney has signed a deal with James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller to start development on a sequel to "The Muppets" without Jason Segel attached to co-write.
First, even last year, when I visited them on the set of "The Five-Year Engagement" (and we'll have more on that this weekend), Stoller and Segel said they'd already brainstormed ideas for a sequel. Those guys make great collaborators, and I have no doubt that at this point, Stoller would be able to take those ideas that they'e discussed and execute them quite ably.
The big news here is that Disney feels good enough about the performance of "The Muppets" to officially start development on a sequel. I think it's amazing that the characters have finally made their pop culture comeback in a way that stuck, and I hope this is the beginning of a real return to the sort of omnipresence they had when I was a kid in the '70s.
Illumination Entertainment makes some interesting missteps in their new film
It is an unenviable task to adapt the work of Dr. Seuss from page to screen, and for the most part, I think his work has resisted full-length feature adaptation with a vengeance.
I mean, when you look at a film like "Cat In The Hat," it's hard to imagine that the source material is any good at all. It's a coarse, gross, vulgar fart joke of a movie, and it should have, by any conventional wisdom, killed the idea of making Dr. Seuss movies. But "Horton Hears A Who" seemed to be a major course correction, and their expansion of the world that Seuss created felt like a fairly organic way to approach his work.
With "The Lorax," Illumination Entertainment has done a solid job of trying to preserve the most important parts of the book and its themes, and there is a lot of it that honors Seuss. I think kids will enjoy this film, and my own kids, who have been raised as Seuss-faithful as possible, liked the way the story expanded to fill out a feature running time. I had more issues with the new material, and I think adults will be less likely to just accept the film as a whole.
Paul Weitz adapts an acclaimed memoir to fascinating effect
You know, you should never count the Weitz brothers out.
Both Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz made their names early. "American Pie" put Paul on the map as a director, and they seemed to indicate that their careers were headed to a more personal and heartfelt place with 2002's lovely "About A Boy," which they co-directed. Since then, they've both had some pretty big creative misfires, although no one could accuse them of being anything less than ambitious. I may not like "The Golden Compass" as a movie, but I can see what drew Chris Weitz to it, and I respect the effort. For Paul, the nadir of his film work so far would have to be the one-two punch of "Cirque du Freak" and "Little Fockers," both movies that felt corporate and calculated.
Last year, Chris made the piercing "A Better Life," featuring an amazing performance by Demian Bichir, and it felt to me like he had roared back to life as a filmmaker, besting whatever his own high-water mark was so far. While I don't think Paul's new film, "Being Flynn," reaches the same beautiful heights as "A Better Life," it strikes me as authentically observed and deeply felt, and a huge step in the right direction for him as a filmmaker.