Okay, now everything's starting to come into focus.
The new Dreamworks animated film "Rise Of The Guardians" is on the radar for the kids in my house in a big way. We've been enjoying the William Joyce books that are already out there that introduce the world and the characters, and the first teaser trailer was enough to convince the kids that they were interested in a film with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. You don't really have to sell the story at first because you've got such a big high concept idea to play with.
What the first trailer didn't show at all was the main character in the film, Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine. In fact, that trailer actually removed Jack Frost from several key shots, which I found very odd. My guess is that they didn't want to confuse people until they'd had a chance to explain the big idea. Now that that's had time to settle in, they've released a second trailer for the film, and this time, it's all about Jack Frost.
In a way, his story arc in the film reminds me of Jason Bourne in the first "Bourne Identity," since Jack Frost has no real recollection of a life before he was Jack Frost. The movie begins with him waking up in a frozen pond, under the ice, not sure how he got there, and much of his journey in the film involves figuring out who he is.
Okay, now everything's starting to come into focus.
The last film I screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year was "Seven Days In Havana," an anthology film about life in Cuba. One of the segments was directed by Benicio Del Toro, and he was there on stage along with Gaspar Noe, Laurent Cantet, Julio Medem, and the others. Del Toro seemed like he was humbled to be standing onstage among the other filmmakers, and it was interesting to see this wildly charismatic guy at his most human and nervous.
That charisma is on full display in "Savages," where he plays Lado, a disgusting enforcer for the Baja Cartel. It's one of those performances where every little detail, every choice that Del Toro made, plays into the character and the story. Lado is like a shark, and in those moments where the protective membrane rolls up over his eyes, metaphorically speaking, just before he tears into some poor bastard, Del Toro is terrifying. It's great work, and he seems to relish every moment he has in the film.
Sitting down to talk to him, I was surprised to see him paired with Demián Bichir, who was so tremendously good in "A Better Life" last year. Bichir has an interesting role in "Savages," a sort of middle-management cartel figure, and in one of the most memorable scenes in the film, Bichir and Del Toro end up on opposite sides of an interrogation. It's brutal and awful and something we had to discuss with the both of them.
There was a moment in the mid-'90s when Oliver Stone could get anything funded, and he was making giant studio movies that were unlike anything anyone else was doing. It felt like he was pulling something over on the studios on a regular basis. He was larger-than-life, and it was amazing to watch happen from the sidelines.
During that time period, there was one project I partnered on with a number of people, including my co-writer Scott Swan. It was an animated R-rated horror film, mega-graphic and super creepy. And at that moment, Ixtlan Pictures, Stone's production company, was looking to get into the animation business, specifically looking for material suited to adult audiences. When we met with the executives there, we were told that Stone got bit by the bug when he was working on "Natural Born Killers" and supervised the animation for that film. He thought there was a chance to do something no one had really done in the mainstream yet.
And for about two months, it seemed like it was a "maybe," like they were thinking about whether or not they could put an animation pipeline together, trying to wrap their heads around the real costs of the idea. In the end, they decided not to move ahead with anything in the animation realm, and we moved on to try to find someone else to partner with us on it.
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
FILE #8: "Live And Let Die"
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.
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz
Produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli
CHARACTERS / CAST
James Bond / Roger Moore
Dr. Kananga aka Mr. Big / Yaphet Kotto
Solitaire / Jane Seymour
Tee Hee Johnson / Julius Harris
Felix Leiter / David Hedison
Rosie Carver / Gloria Hendry
Baron Samedi / Geoffrey Holder
Quarrel Jr. / Roy Stewart
Whisper / Earl Jolly Brown
Adam / Tommy Lane
Miss Caruso / Madeline Smith
Sheriff J.W. Pepper / Clifton James
M / Bernard Lee
Moneypenny / Lois Maxwell
It's not insignificant that this is also the first James Bond film that Michael G. Wilson, step-son to Cubby Broccoli, worked on as part of the production office. This is a clean break in eras. There is everything before "Live And Let Die," and there is everything after.
That said, it has been a while since I've last seen "Live and Let Die."
The main thing that's happened since the last time I saw the movie and now is that I've really gone back and read Fleming's book. It was a book I never read during my first round of Bond titles. My dad's library was incomplete, but there were enough that I felt like I got the point. Re-reading some of the books starting from about the age of 20 to now, I've grown to have a very different understanding of Fleming's strengths and weaknesses. I've also become a much more ardent fan of blaxploitation cinema and the era in which this film was made.
I would be the first to admit that this job comes with some pretty great built-in perks.
For the most part, those perks mean nothing to me. When it comes to meeting people, there's a momentary pleasure if their work is important to me, but I've met so many people at this point that I can't really claim that it's a thrill. But for my sons, there is still something magical about getting to meet the people they watch on a movie screen, especially if it's a movie that means something special to them.
I've written at length in my Film Nerd 2.0 series about the movies that have become signposts in the relationship I'm building with my sons and in the relationship that they're building with the outside world. These movies we screen are more than just a way to pass a few hours at a time. These movies are their cultural education, and the movies they really love end up getting spun over and over.
I'm not the only one who can pass along a movie to the boys, of course. Their mother has her own list of significant films that she wants to share with them. In one case, there's a film that she has probably seen a hundred times that she has very successfully passed along, and I think it is safe to say that Toshi is a full-blown fan of the movie "Grease." When he had just learned to walk and he was still months away from anything resembling real conversational speech, his mom would turn on "Grease," and Toshi would spend the entire movie up in front of the TV, dancing along to every musical number.
I am never playing poker with Danny McBride.
I was just in New Orleans for a quick visit to the set of "End Of The World," a truly deranged comedy written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and while I was there, I saw Danny, and we talked for a moment about the final season of "Eastbound and Down." At that point, nothing he said or did indicated that he was considering returning for another season, and I walked away secure in the knowledge that I had said goodbye to Kenny Powers.
But that just plain isn't true, is it?
This morning, because of yesterday's announcement that there will be another season of the show, I got on the phone to talk to Danny again and to ask him what motivated the decision. Also, I just plain wanted to yell at him for playing coy less than 15 days ago, which made him laugh and laugh.
"Yeah, it looks like the fans are going to get a bonus round with Kenny Powers," he said, entertained at my obvious exasperation.
I told him that when I was being sent episodes of season three by HBO and I put up reviews of what I kept calling "the final season," HBO repeatedly asked me to de-emphasize that idea, that they were keeping all options open, and that they wanted more from the guys.
One of things I was sorry to have missed at CinemaCon this spring was the Paramount presentation for "Jack Reacher," if only because I wanted to see for myself what's being done with one of my favorite ongoing characters in current fiction.
After all, I've written several times already about my hesitations involving Tom Cruise playing the role of Jack Reacher. First and foremost, he's just plain physically wrong for the character as he exists in the books. Reacher is an ape, a huge guy, well over six feet tall, and in almost every book that Lee Child has written about him, there's at least one moment where Reacher's size plays a part in the handling of a situation. I spent at least a year stumping for Dwayne Johnson to play the part, and I think Joseph Manganiello would also have made a logical and interesting choice.
But let's set aside questions of scale. Can Tom Cruise step in and play the character anyway? Based on the trailer that Paramount released today, I think that question no longer matters, because whatever the movie is… and it could end up being a lot of fun… it's not the Jack Reacher that exists on the page. Two minutes of footage proved conclusively that they've refigured the character so much that it's just not the same thing anymore. This is "Tom Cruise, moral crusader with a hot car," and I have ever confidence the film will be entertaining.
If physical media is dead, why does this fall look so good on Blu-ray?
I hate the way the industry is rushing to try to convince people that they don't need physical media anymore because of the magic of streaming video, especially since they just finished trying to convince everyone that they needed to upgrade to Blu-ray. The reason the market is weaker than it was at the height of the DVD craze is because the studios are confusing consumers with mixed messages, and they still haven't managed to convince the general consumer that they need to upgrade simply for sound and picture reasons.
Even so, I think the rush to pronounce the format obsolete is premature. I remember Hercules The Strong getting angry at me for calling HD-DVD and Blu-ray "Laserdisc 2000," basically accusing it of being little more than a niche market. Don't get me wrong… I loved laserdisc, and I didn't mind that it was aimed more at the film freak than the casual viewer, but now it feels like it's not enough for the format to cater directly to the dedicated collector. Either it becomes the cash cow that DVD was for a few years, or the industry is going to get impatient and kill it.
A few weeks ago, I published a piece about the book "Savages" by Don Winslow, the inspiration for Oliver Stone's new film that arrives in theaters next week, and I said in that piece that I hoped his sensibilities would mesh with the material in a way that provoked great work from this long-dormant giant.
While I don't think "Savages" represents the very best that Stone has ever committed to film, I also think he's a different guy, looking at something that he would have shot one way in 1995, and he's reacting to it in a different way. Stone reveals himself in the one major choice where the film is different than the book, and in what has to be the most shocking thing Stone could add to his repertoire, he's gone every so slightly gooey. He loves these dumb, lucky, beautiful kids, and he's rooting for them every step of the way.
Stone hasn't always loved the losers he has immortalized, but he has been fascinated by them. When you look at "Salvador" or "Platoon" or "Born On The Fourth Of July" or "JFK," these lead characters are men who are pushed to some moral breaking point, some character defining extreme, and they all crumble before they rebound, if they rebound at all. Jim Garrison is the "hero" of Stone's "JFK," which is sort of radical in the very notion because Garrison's legacy is a whole lot of failure and conjecture, a rabbit hole of crazy that may well obfuscate some genuine truth that he helped uncover as well. Who knows? Who can know at this point? Stone loves Garrison and sees him as a hero not because he accomplished anything but because, no matter what anyone else or common sense said, he tried. And that, more than anything, is what Stone respects and idealizes. That determination in the face of everything.
Is it okay if I just pretend Comic-Con is already over and start focusing on Fantastic Fest instead?
With the announcement today that Fantastic Fest 2012 will kick off with their opening night premiere of Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie," I think it's time to officially start getting excited. I've heard some of the other titles that are confirmed or rumored for this year's line-up, and it's looking like Fantastic Fest is packed this year. There will be both big and small premieres, and the line-up could end up being one of the strongest since the festival began.
I'm amazed at the way Tim League and his programming team have turned Fantastic Fest into a major part of the film year. League takes chances, and more often than not, they pay off. At a time when the home video market is supposedly retracting, getting even smaller, League is just starting to build out a library of his own curated titles with the Drafthouse Films Blu-rays and DVDs. He started a distribution company when no one else would step up and release "Four Lions," and he's already managed to help one foreign title, "Bullhead," get an Oscar nomination while also helping coordinate the first title that Drafthouse Films has been involved in from start to finish. During SXSW this year, we figured out that he was also opening four new businesses, and of course, he's also juggling the pressures of new fatherhood.