The star and director of this weekend's trippy time-travel tale talk about how it works
Duncan Jones is a bright, unaffected guy who seems determined to make science-fiction movies he wants to see. I met him once, briefly, while he was working with the great Paul Hirsch to edit his new movie "Source Code" in Los Angeles.
Jake Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, I've been interviewing for the past decade now, ever since I talked to him for the first time at Sundance '01, where he was representing "Donnie Darko" along with his sister Maggie.
Together, the two of them seem quite proud of their twisty little thriller, a sort of sci-fi riff on the Hitchcock everyman movie, in which a regular guy finds himself in a crazy situation and has to puzzle his way out of it somehow. The movie opened the SXSW Film Festival this year, and the audience seemed to have a blast with it. Makes sense, because it's a movie that really works overtime to engage the audience and to entertain, but without empty thrills.
"Source Code" offers some significant creative challenges for the filmmakers and the performers, and I knew I wanted to talk to them about how they carefully constructed something that pays off in such rich and interesting ways, and how you build a character arc eight minutes at a time.
I think we were careful to avoid any significant spoilers in our conversation, but it's not really a film that's built around one big twist, so it's not the sort of thing that I think we could accidentally trip over in a discussion. Instead, the film relies on the way it carefully and continually tweaks your expectations and your ideas about what you're watching and who these characters are. The way the film pays off isn't one big firecracker out of nowhere, but is instead about the careful build-up to an eventual release that makes perfect emotional sense. I like that the science in the film is far less important in terms of how it works than what it does to these people. Those are the science-fiction stories I like the most, the ones that press us to examine our own humanity and the boundaries of it.
Jerry Stahl could end up being a really strong choice
Hiring Jerry Stahl to write "The Thin Man" is, frankly, one of those might-be-a-masterstroke ideas that makes me reassess my original reaction to an announcement.
I love "The Thin Man" movies. I love the Dashiell Hammett novel, which is totally different from really any of his Continental Op stories. I have always thought Nick and Nora Charles are the greatest example of movie marriage of all time, and I find myself able to rematch any of the movies any time, something that's true of very few film franchises.
If you're not familiar with "The Thin Man," it tells the story of Nick Charles, a former police detective who married Nora, a society girl whose family money allowed Nick to retire and live a debauched life. He's older than her, and one of the things that the first movie clearly demonstrates is that Nora is fascinated by Nick's former life, by the way he knows everyone from the lowest criminal to the highest elected official, and by the idea of him solving a crime. It's a turn-on for her to see him in action, and all Nick wants to do is keep drinking, keep relaxing, and keep loving Mrs. Charles up as much as possible. When a family friend disappears, his daughter draws Nick out of retirement, reluctantly, a drink in one hand the entire time, and the result is a great mystery with some of the best rapid-fire smart dialogue of its era.
Would Warner really reteam Prof. X and Magneto this soon?
I'm still unconvinced about "Akira" as a live-action property.
I'm convinced that hiring Steve Kloves to come in as a screenwriter on pretty much anything is a good idea, so the news that the studio is moving forward with casting how that he's done with his rewrite of the script suggests that he managed to crack what has been a difficult task for everyone assigned to it so far.
I've read Gary Whitta's first couple of passes at the project, and I've heard about the plans Albert Hughes has for the film, and it sounds to me like a really strange and risky project. Little surprise. The Katsuhiro Otomo manga and the 1988 film based on it are both surreal, dense, and even as a fan, I'd hardly call them ironclad examples of how to write a compelling narrative. They are dreamy, filled with big memorable images that frequently seem to work more as experience than story. I love the movie, but I am also weirded out by it each time I revisit it. Like "Godzilla," the prior incarnations of "Akira" have been built out of the mythology and psychology of a country that actually knows what it's like to have nuclear bombs dropped on it, and the scar that leaves on a national psyche comes out in these films in fascinating and organic ways. Moving the setting to "New Manhattan" does the same thing that happened when they remade the Argentinian film "Nine Queens" as "Criminal" in the US: they can tell the same surface story, but the subtext vanishes because of geography, robbing the original of much of its meaning.
Rodman Flender's documentary rocks SXSW audiences
Like many people, I dig Conan O'Brien but didn't always make time to actually watch him, either on "Late Night" or once he moved over to "The Tonight Show." In theory, I appreciated that he was the host of the most-famous franchise in late night talk show history, and I thought it was appropriate, but I don't watch much TV of any type at this point, and certainly I don't feel the need to watch something which is largely about publicity, since I get plenty of that through my job every day.
When the entire flap about Jay Leno and Conan erupted last year, it was remarkable how vocal Team Coco got, especially considering the overall lackluster ratings that his "Tonight Show" had. That's why I think many people were like me… fans in theory, if not in practice. And in the end, that cost him the show. It was ugly and awkward and public, and if he had become bitter and retreated from show business for a while, no one would have blamed him.
Instead, he turned his anger into a live tour and kept himself busy until he could go back on the air with his new show, "Conan," and thanks to director Rodman Flender, audiences will get a look at that time between the TV shows in the new documentary "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop," which had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival.
The director of cult hit 'Down Terrace' does it again
I reviewed "Down Terrace" late in the game, after it had already won some awards at Fantastic Fest, and I felt like I was the last one to realize just how impressive Ben Wheatley's film was. Of course, considering the size of the film's eventual release and how much of a blip on the radar it made, that's not true. Most people still aren't familiar with that jet-black look at the way crime can twist a family, but they should be. And this past week at SXSW, I got a chance to see Wheatley's new film as part of the amazing SXFantastic line-up, which starts out as a crime film, but which becomes something much stranger by the time it's through.
"Kill List" became one of the big acquisitions stories out of SXSW this year, and I know why. It's the sort of film that you'll have a strong reaction to one way or another, and you could cut a hell of a trailer for it. The problem is that you don't want to even hint at the way the film twists and turns, and so you've got to be very careful about it. Even writing a review of the film, I feel obligated to warn you that it's the sort of thing that plays better if you know very little about it. I will endeavor to leave you at the end of this review with very little concrete information while still imparting my reactions, which isn't easy.
The film, which he co-wrote with Amy Jump, is about Jay (Neil Maskell), a hitman who has been out of work for eight months following a major cock-up on his last job. He's trying to play it off like he just doesn't feel like going back, but the inertia is starting to really wear on his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). When Gal (Michael Smiley) brings his girlfriend to dinner with Shel and Jay, Gal's got an agenda in mind, and when he sees the toll that Jay's unemployment is taking on their marriage, he takes the opportunity to pitch Jay on a job. Jay might not be ready, but it seems like an easy assignment. Three names, and once the list is done, there's a big payday waiting.
The column returns with a quick round-up of some of the last week's high and low points
Welcome back to The Morning Read.
As if a trip to Area 51 and a film festival wasn't already disruptive enough to my regular schedule, I managed to get a sinus infection that has laid me flat for the past few days and that has been one of the most painful experiences of my adult life. Then there was a flooding incident that ruined my office in the house yesterday and most of my books, so I lost an entire day to trying to salvage what I could from all of that. Even so, I've been working through most of it, and we'll have some great video interviews for "Sucker Punch" and "Source Code" coming up this week, as well as the rest of my South By Southwest coverage.
First, though, let's jump back in and see what's going on out there on the rest of the Internet. It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks, and there's a lot of ground to cover. There has been casting news I've missed during the festival, but it all feels vaguely anti-climactic to me. It's momentarily interesting to hear what role Joseph Gordon Levitt might be playing in "The Dark Knight Rises," but how much do I really want to know about that film this far away from its production, much less its release? And I'll be writing more about "Hunger Games" later today, so I'm glad to hear Jennifer Lawrence is officially onboard as the lead, but that's hardly the entire puzzle, so I'm not feeling the breathless excitement I've seen in some of the reporting of it. And while I'm glad to hear that production has finally started on "The Hobbit," and it's nice to Peter Jackson up and around and looking healthy, it's familiar and a return to something. It doesn't electrify me the way something genuinely new does. It's just a nice confirmation of something that's been in the works forever.
So what is going on out there? What's going to shake me from my stupor so I can start this week the right way?
What new information does this trailer tell us about Captain Jack and the rest?
So I'm guessing this has to be the final trailer for "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," right? I mean, we're just around the corner from the film's release, and it seems like this is the one where they finally lay out as much of the story as they're going to before we actually see the film.
It seems to be fashionable to retroactively hate this film series at this point, or to roll your eyes at the return of Capt. Jack Sparrow, but I generally enjoyed all three of the films that Gore Verbinski made, and I like the source material they're using this time for the underlying structure of this latest chapter. Tim Powers is a hell of a writer, and his book "On Stranger Tides" offers a lot of opportunities for Elliott and Rossio to build off of as screenwriters.
For me, the biggest question mark about the entire endeavor is Rob Marshall. I'm not the biggest fan of his work as a director, and I think these films require a very particular type of energy if you're going to get them right. I'm certainly willing to give him a chance, and I hope this is the film of his I like the most.
I like the idea that Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has sold out to the crown and is now working as an official representative of the British Navy. It creates a brand new tension between him and Sparrow that can be a lot of fun depending on how they play it. And in this trailer, it seems that Blackbeard (an ideally cast Ian McShane) has taken possession of the Black Pearl, raising the stakes between him and Sparrow. Throw in the fact that it seems Sparrow put it to Blackbeard's daughter (Penelope Cruz) at some point in the past, and there's all sorts of dynamics to keep things interesting.
Bottom-heavy poster tries some new things with design
Believe it or not, the thing that I've always enjoyed the most about the "Fast and the Furious" movies is the sound. I was a student post production sound mixer back in school, and I've always had an appreciation for a good sound design and a good mix. There's something about sitting in a dark theater watching a movie with a soundtrack that mostly consists of rumbling engines and tires squealing in Dolby all around my head for an hour and a half that just brings a smile to my face.
The part of a movie that has the least to do with sound is its poster, (How's that for a clumsy segue?) and "Fast Five" just put out a new one that focuses more on the actors than the cars.
The One-sheet consists mostly of Rio's sky-blue skies with the cast posed in various states of action across the bottom, this poster invokes more of a collage feeling than anything, as the actors do not appear to be inhabiting the same space.
Duncan Jones' follow up to 'Moon' may hook you
While Drew's away at SXSW, rubbing elbows with the hip elite and eating amazing BBQ (sob!) I'm back here editing his video interviews and subsequently, in the case of "Source Code" having my movie experience pre-ruined by all the spoilers I'm hearing from the likes of Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan in their respective interviews. Ok, we'll they're not spoilers per-se, but I think I know much more than I would like to about the film.
And now the studio has released the first five minutes of the film to get you hooked.
I haven't watched this. I don't plan to either. I'm a huge fan of Duncan Jones' 'Moon' and my enthusiasm has been building to see this one. So I apologize in advance if there's any problems with the video, I haven't checked it for glitches. I'm just putting it up here for those of you who don't care, or are just too curious to wait for it the theater. We'll have some great interviews coming up next week, which you may or may not wish to watch as well. The one with Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones will be definitely spoiler-free and I highly recommend it. Watch the film embedded after the jump.
What does this mean for the Hugh Jackman movie?
And just like that, Aronofsky is off of "The Wolverine" and on to whatever is next.
My guess is he won't be franchise hunting like he was before the release of "Black Swan." I get it. When he signed on to do "The Wolverine," Aronofsky was still a filmmaker in need of a hit. No matter how good his films have been, and I've been a fan of all of them, he was not a money-maker for any of the studios yet, and that can be problematic when you have big-canvass films you want to make.
Him signing on to do "The Wolverine" looked to me like a guy following up several personal choices with a movie that looked like as safe a commercial choice as possible. I believe he would make a very good "Wolverine" film, particularly with Hugh Jackman aboard, and that he has a real affinity for the material that would result in something honestly exciting.
But since he signed on, "Black Swan" became a legitimate box-office hit. A huge one. And for the first time ever, Aronofsky finds himself in a position of strength as he starts trying to develop his next film. It's like he got all the benefits of making a "Wolverine" movie without having to actually make the film.