A sly supporting cast takes a slight joke and gives it real depth
Woody Allen was one of the first people who taught me about screenwriting.
Not directly, of course. These days, young writers are positively spoiled with the number of scripts they can read, and not just ones that have been officially published. Almost anything you're curious about is floating around out there online, easy to get hold of, often before the film is even released. As a result, the basic language of screenplay is far more accessible to young writers now than it ever has been before.
When I was first interested in film, though, it was not a commonplace thing to publish every screenplay, and if you were interested in learning about the craft, you either had to go to a film school's library or, every now and then, you'd be lucky enough to see a script in book form. One of the guys who made the effort to collect his scripts and publish them was Woody Allen, and reading his scripts led me to read his prose and his plays, and taken as a whole, his printed body of work informed the way I felt about him as a filmmaker, and some of my ideas about film in general.
In Allen's world, the word is primary. His films are these rich cascades of language, and sometimes it all adds up and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes, it all snaps into focus and you get a genuine emotional and intellectual rush from what he does, and sometimes, it just lays there, intelligent but without a pulse. And it's often a matter of degrees between the two. Some of what he did in his short fiction wouldn't really work on film, and sometimes, his films feel like rough drafts, the result of his unrelenting schedule of a film a year.
Old friends playing old friends? That's crazy!
"Bridesmaids" is a huge pleasure on a lot of levels.
As a fan of Kristen Wiig's work in smaller supporting roles, it is a thrill to see what happens when she moves center-stage and actually writes her own lead role.
And as a fan of strong comedians, it is a real joy to see a film that's designed as a sort of showcase for a number of strong players who don't always get the proper material.
One of the things I liked most in the film is the onscreen friendship between Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, no doubt fueled in part by the offscreen friendship between the two of them. In a world where so many films aimed at women seem to focus on the most toxic and vile versions of "friendship" imaginable, it is impressive to see a nuanced, complicated relationship that goes through some very real and recognizable highs and lows in the course of a mere two hour film.
And, yes, it helps that it is often hysterically funny at the same time.
Plus we talk to his producing partner Gary Goetzman
I love Tom Hanks as a director. L O V E, love. I have mad affection for "That Thing You Do," and I have been eager to see him get back in the director's chair for a while now.
In June of 2010, I got the call to a join a group of other writers on the set of "Larry Crowne," his newest film as a director, on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills. It's not often I can drive myself to a set visit, and it's always a relief. I enjoy spending time with filmmakers working at their craft, particularly if there's time to chat with them during the day, but I'm increasingly less interested in having to stay somewhere overnight to do so. I spend enough time away from my kids thanks to film festivals, and at least there, the pace of the event justifies it. Most of the time on a film set, you spend the majority of your visit waiting for things.
We ended up speaking with Hanks, with his producer Gary Goetzman, with "That '70s Show" star Wilmer Valderrama, and with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who went on to star in the spy show "Undercovers" afterwards. We were there for most of an afternoon, and it was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, as laid back as you would expect a Tom Hanks set to be.
I've had many opportunities to meet Hanks and speak with him over the years, probably the longest-lasting of which was on "The Green Mile" set, where I spent many, many, many afternoons observing. That was a real opportunity for me to watch a great ensemble of actors at work, with one of the biggest movie stars in the business right at the center of things. Even then, though, I never saw Hanks act like he thought he was a "movie star." There was no ego to his behavior on-set or on-camera. He was the same person he projects as his public persona, warm and funny and uncommonly sharp.
Anyone who loves Vic Armstrong as much as he does is okay in my book
Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent target for people who want to hate him.
When I spoke to Anthony Hopkins, he talked a bit about the way Branagh has always been a target, in no small part because of the way he appeared on the scene with so much hype behind him. In the world of theater, and particularly among Shakesperean experts, Branagh was seen as an upstart, and people were gunning for him. When he moved into film, his "Henry V" was heavily praised, the sort of praise that almost guarantees people are going to want to go after something. And throughout his career, he tends to make big choices like a four-hour-long "Hamlet" in 70MM, that make him seem like he's positively dripping with hubris.
But if you can deliver the goods, is it really hubris?
That word is the main focus of "Thor," thematically speaking, and moving from something as small as "Sleuth" to a giant mainstream Marvel superhero film with action sequences that are unlike anything he's staged before, seems like another of those Branagh moves designed to put him in the crosshairs, and sure enough, people have been gunning for "Thor" ever since it was announced.
No deal's been made yet, but it looks promising
Will Smith and Quentin Tarantino? Sounds like someone got their chocolate in my peanut butter and I am DIGGING it.
This is not, evidently, a done deal, and I would imagine Will Smith is not cheap, even if he really wants to be in a movie. He is one of the few truly reliable movie stars left in the world, able to open almost any movie. He has had a charmed career, with very few major missteps. Unfortunately, one of the biggest of those happened to be his last film, "Seven Pounds," and I am not sure that retreating to the safety of a "Men In Black" sequel is the best choice. Seems too calculated to me, and with the way that process has been playing out so far, it may not have been the safe bet that he was counting on.
Reports have been surfacing this afternoon that Tarantino crafted the lead role in "Django Unchained" expressly for Will Smith, and that they've already had some informal talks about Smith playing the role. In order for Brad Pitt to make financial sense on "Inglorious Basterds," he had to cut his asking price, and I'm sure Smith will have to do the same. This is a guy who can demand between $20 and $30 million per role, after all, and if Tarantino is really going to pull off this insane task he's set himself with his new script, he's going to need to spend every penny of what will do doubt be a sizable budget onscreen.
Two very different actresses both shine in the new Marvel movie
Two lovely ladies. Two very different actors. Two absolutely different Realms.
Kat Dennings plays Darcy in "Thor," a political science major who ends up helping out Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, in her research into some strange energy storms in the desert. Jamie Alexander, on the other hand, plays Sif, an Asgardian warrior who grew up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and who is one of his very best friends.
The two really couldn't be less alike. Alexander is a strikingly pretty woman up close, but there's something substantial about her, something that suggests she could easily kick your ass up between your ears if she decided to do so. Dennings, on the other hand, has this wonderful eccentric energy about her. I don't find her threatening in the least, but she is a wonderful comic presence. Each of them adds something invaluable to "Thor," and we sat down with both of them to discuss their work in the big Marvel movie.
Dennings is as funny in person as she is onscreen, and she actually taught me a word as we were preparing to talk. She complimented me on my "aubergine" tie, and while I've seen the word, I didn't know what color it referred to. We chatted for a moment before the cameras rolled about her film "Daydream Nation," which is getting a split-second theatrical release but which has already been sent to reviewers on Blu-ray.
The great actor-director talks about both sides of her craft
Jodie Foster is one of those people who has been part of mainstream entertainment as long as I've been paying attention to it, and who always seemed close enough to me in age that I could use her as a sort of milestone for my own life.
As an actor, I think she can be undervalued, despite the Oscars, and I miss her when she doesn't work for a while. As a filmmaker, she has a remarkably small resume, but I think she's proven that she likes unconventional material, and that she brings a considerable intelligence to the choices she makes.
Thankfully, "The Beaver" offers up Foster as both actor and director, scratching both itches at once, and I think it represents a real triumph for her. Of course, thanks to our tabloid society, most of the conversations about the film seem to focus on Mel Gibson, his public meltdown, and his possible career rehab that the film might represent. But for me, what made "The Beaver" compelling from the moment it came together was the notion of Foster behind the camera again.
Sure enough, the film is a quiet marvel of tasteful choices. Just consider the way Foster shoots both Gibson and the puppet as characters instead of treating one as a prop. And also consider the careful handling of depression in the movie. Where one director could easily take this same script and play it as farce, Foster keeps it firmly grounded in real human pain.
Beast, Mystique, Havok, and Banshee all get a moment in the sun
Isn't this the way it's supposed to work?
I think these days, people have this expectation that the moment a studio starts marketing a movie, they're going to throw all the best stuff at the audience right away in a take-no-prisoners approach to getting butts in theater seats.
Personally, I've always been a fan of the slow burn, the gradual reveal as we get closer to a movie, while still trying to hold things back, and so far, I'd say "X-Men: First Class" has been doing everything right in terms of the trailers they've cut.
Now, over at MTV.com, there are three new character trailers that do a nice job of re-introducing us to characters we've met in other films as well as characters that have never appeared in an "X-Men" movie before.
My first reaction is that the film looks better with each new clip, and part of that is because we're getting a look at the way Matthew Vaughn approaches shooting this world and these people, and there's a keen intelligence to his take on things.
He discusses his striking physical transformation and his 'Gene Wilder' hair
I think Chris Hemsworth has already been embraced by Hollywood as a rising star, so the reviews he's getting for "Thor" won't do much except confirm what people already believed.
If anyone's going to get a real bounce out of "Thor" and suddenly get tons of work thrown their way, it's Tom Hiddleston. His Loki is an immediately satisfying addition to the Marvel universe, sly and sullen and emotionally bruised, a villain we can understand. Hiddleston is exceptional at playing the things we're seeing and also playing the things that are simmering just under the surface. He demonstrates a preposterous amount of charisma here, and considering he has to stand equal to Hemsworth, I'd say Marvel lucked out not once but twice on this film.
We chatted with him on the set of the movie a bit, and he struck me there as a guy who was still very much in the middle of a process, not really sure what to think yet. He was enjoying himself, but he was also aware of the scrutiny and the expectation, and I think he was just happy to rely on Kenneth Branagh, who he had just worked with on "Wallender," to guide him through it intact.
How close will this one be to the work of Robert E. Howard?
This will be an excellent opportunity for me to test just how open I can keep my mind when approaching a new movie.
I hold the work of author Robert E. Howard very dear. And I am a near-rabid advocate for 1982's "Conan The Barbarian," directed by John Milius. I think the film is a weird mess as strict adaptations go, but it doesn't matter. It gets the spirit of Howard's work exactly right, and taken strictly as a movie, I think it is tremendous myth-making.
One of the things that always bothered me a little bit about the Milius version of Conan is the way it lathered the image people have in their heads of the character, forever cementing the character as a gigantic muscleman. While Howard wrote him as a powerful fighter, I've always thought that the character he described was a bit more like the way Mark Decascos looks in the last forty minutes or so of "Brotherhood Of The Wolf," lean and ripped and more like a panther than a giant silverback gorilla.
Still, I like everything else about the Milius film, so I've always been willing to accept Schwarzenegger as a particular take on the character. Now, with Lionsgate getting ready to release their new take on the material, it's time for a new Conan, and more importantly, a new interpretation of the Howard stories, and because of my deep love for the source material, I am willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt.