What is a Disney movie these days?
I know what an animated Disney film was, brand-wise, when I was a kid. And when Disney reinvented themselves in the post-"Black Cauldron" world as a musical fairy tale factory, that was also a brand that was easy to identify.
But today, Walt Disney Feature Animation has perhaps the most tenuous grasp on identity that I've ever seen from them. Part of that has to do with all the competition that exists today from Blue Sky Studios and Sony Animation and DreamWorks Animation… basically a bunch of companies that have gotten very good at making movies that play to the audience that was at one point the sole domain of Disney. Then, of course, there's the in-house issue of Pixar Animation, a powerhouse team of storytellers who have arguably out-Disney'd Disney for the past fifteen years. It's hard to be the top dog when you no longer are the first pick for animators looking for work, and these days, filmmakers who want to work in animation are probably looking to Pixar the signpost for what it is they want to do.
What is a Disney movie these days?
Film companies continue to push for new ways to reach out to audiences as they figure out when it's okay to start hyping a film. Summer 2013 movies are already starting to stake their claims and premiere imagery and set visit glimpses and posters. 20th Century Fox has a pretty big stake in "The Wolverine" working, and one of the first big moments for them came last week when Empire magazine revealed some of what James Mangold told them for their upcoming story. We wrote about that piece, which included a new image of Wolverine with his bone claws extended, last week, and it seemed like one more promising detail in what is shaping up as a very promising entry in the long-running "X-Men" franchise.
Today, James Mangold and Hugh Jackman spoke directly to fans around the world who tuned in for a live online chat that YouTube streamed from Sydney. It sounds like more and more journalists are arriving in Sydney today for further press events in the days ahead, and according to Mangold and Jackman, they're only a few weeks away from wrapping the film. I'm guessing there's got to be a trailer soon at this rate. They've described the film, and now it's time to let people know what it's going to look like in motion, what that world is that they're talking about. When Mangold references both "The Bicentennial Man" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales" as thematic touchstones, it's probably safe to assume this isn't just going to be another standard-issue superhero movie.
I recently learned that I was the only person living in my house, out of six of us, who had seen "The Princess Bride."
I found this revelation to be completely inconceivable.
The only reason it came up was because I was sent the 25th anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray to prepare for a conversation with Cary Elwes. It's not like I needed the reminder of the film, since it's been one of those movies I've seen dozens of times since release, and each time, I am struck anew by just what a miracle it is. It doesn't really feel like any other movie, and while I've spoken to both screenwriter William Goldman (who adapted it from his tremendous novel) and director Rob Reiner about it in the past, I'll take any opportunity to chat about it with people who worked on it.
When I spoke to Elwes, it was by phone, and he was in an airport sitting under what sounded like the loudest speaker in human history, with a long garbled announcement blaring every three or four minutes. He seemed chagrined by the situation, but absolutely unflappable in how pleased he was to be talking about "The Princess Bride." The sheer hideousness of the situation only made Elwes seem more likable.
Denzel Washington has been working for so long now that he's sort of an institution, one of those performers who is both movie star and actor. I think there is a clear distinction between those two things, and there are movie stars who never really push themselves out of their comfort zones, just as there are great actors who don't possess whatever that particular charisma is that makes someone iconic. Washington is capable of disappearing into a character, but he's also one of those guys who financiers love because he's been such a reliable box-office sensation over the years.
"Flight," the new film by Robert Zemeckis, calls on both sides of Denzel's personality. It's the story of a guy who is capable of exceptional things who is also a high-functioning alcoholic and drug abuser, and his character is a hard person to like. Denzel's charisma helps with that, and he manages to show you how this guy is able to coast on charm even as he burns his life down. If he wasn't such a movie star, I'm not sure you'd have any sympathy for him, but if he wasn't such a good actor, I don't think that slow crumble of addiction would feel as authentic and unapologetic as it does. It's the sort of work that reminds you just how good someone can be.
"Cloud Atlas," ultimately, is a love story. Or more accurately, it's three love stories told over the span of hundreds and hundreds of years. The overarching couple whose story drives the entire film is played in various forms by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, but they certainly aren't the only thing about the film that is affecting.
Jim Sturgess is taking some serious heat right now for the prosthetic make-up he wears in one of the film's shorelines, where he appears as Chang, the agent tasked with liberating both the mind and the body of Sonmi 451, a service clone in Neo Seoul played by Doona Bae. Their story is perhaps my favorite thing about the movie, and I wanted to talk to them about creating the very delicate rapport their characters share in the film as well as her reaction to seeing him in his make-up for the first time.
It feels like things are coming up Bond right now, and the news that John Logan has signed on to write two back-to-back Bond films that tell one complete story is incredibly exciting.
When you see "Skyfall," you'll see how carefully they have set up the James Bond series moving forward and how several elements that were previously missing in the series have now been dropped in. One thing I liked a lot about "Casino Royale" and "Quantum Of Solace" as a double-feature was the idea that they were both about a shadowy enemy organization that Bond was going to start dismantling piece by piece. That story thread appears to have been dropped almost completely in "Skyfall," and that is one of the few things about the film that saddens me. With the work that "Skyfall" does to set all of Bond's support system in place, though, it makes me wonder if they're planning to get back to it.
Before you laugh, I want you to consider how long Drafthouse Films has even existed.
The company was formed to get the Chris Morris dark comedy 'Four Lions" into theaters, and since then, they've picked up less than 20 films. They're still defining their identity, but even so, last year, they were able to help steer the Belgian film "Bullhead" to a Best Foreign Language Picture nomination at the Oscars. They are a fledgling company, and it's not like "Bullhead" was an easy sell from an established artist with a big permanent fanbase. It was a debut film, and it was about the seedy underworld of steroid trading and treatment in the cattle industry. Not the sort of thing that seems at first description like an awards contender.
With "Miami Connection," Drafthouse Films is rescuing a long-lost musical action inspirational family drama with kung-fu in it, and they're preparing to unleash this forgotten masterpiece on audiences. If you're interested in demanding a local screening for yourself, you can do so through Tugg, and then you can also check to see if they've got the film scheduled to roll out in your area on the film's official website.
I want to meet Chris Morgan.
Perfect world, we could sit down over the refreshment of our choice and we could talk about Conan. Specifically, we could talk about "Conan The Barbarian," the 1982 film that Universal released, directed by John Milius and written by Milius and Oliver Stone. That film was one of the things that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a viable movie star. Before that, he was known for a few quirky appearances in film like "Stay Hungry," his charismatic appearance in "Pumping Iron," and his bodybuilding triumphs. But "Conan The Barbarian" changed things for him, and its reputation has grown over time.
I've loved the film since opening weekend, and I love running into a hardcore fan of the film. You know you've found a kindred soul when you can ask, "What is good in life?" and someone answers without hesitation, "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women." And based on the story that Deadline reported earlier this afternoon, Chris Morgan may be one of those people.
It's been a strange day in the "X-Men" movie universe.
Obviously, fandom is freaking out over Matthew Vaughn leaving "X-Men: Days Of Future Past," and I plan to take a deeper look at the post-Rothman world of Fox superhero movies in the days ahead. For now, though, I'm fascinated by a comment that Empire ran today as part of their exclusive visit to the set of "The Wolverine," James Mangold's take on the mutant that has been played since 2000 by Hugh Jackman.
At this point, I would not be shocked to learn that people are confused by the timelines and continuities of the "X-Men" series. After all, there's the trilogy of films based on the Bryan Singer take on the characters, there's the "Wolverine" solo film, and there's last year's "X-Men: First Class," which appeared to overtly contradict several things in the already established movies. I'm not sure I quite understand how they're supposed to connect on a story level if we're meant to accept that they all take place in one movie universe.
I have to say this is looking a little bit more like "Die Hard" now.
I still think it's just plain weird to have built a franchise around John McClane, but I get the reason that most fans want more of something they like. McClane's great in the first film for two totally different reasons. First, he's great because he's a normal person who has to figure out how to stay alive and save his wife against armed, organized overwhelming odds, and that resourcefulness and fortitude make him heroic. Second, he's great because he knows exactly how to mouth off in a way that makes Hans Gruber mental, and that is just plain fun to watch.
That sense of "wrong place, wrong time" is a big part of that first film, and it's one of the things that makes McClane a real hero. He's not doing a specific job he's being paid to do. He just ended up in a position to be the one person who can disrupt this thing that's happening, and so he does it. The idea of him being trapped inside the building with the thieves was definitely one of the things that was most vigorously imitated by others, enough that you could pitch a movie as "'Die Hard' in a fill-in-the-blank" game of "Mad Libs" for years afterwards, but I don't think the contained space is what people who go see "Die Hard" sequels want.