Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
Star of the oddly-controversial 'The Help' has her eye on personal project
Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon, seen here together outside a benefit screening of 'The Help,' will co-produce an adaptation of 'The Personal History of Rachel DuPree' for Davis to star in.
Credit: AP Photo/Rogello V. Solis
It's been interesting watching the reaction to "The Help" this week. The movie, like the best-selling novel that spawned it, is a big slick slice of cheese anchored by some very strong performances, and I liked it well enough when I reviewed it.
I've been told repeatedly, both directly and through the media, though, that it is inappropriate to like the movie, and that it is insulting to both the reality of the civil rights movement and to the performers that are asked to play the maids in the film. I've been told that these stories are only valid if told by black filmmakers. Never mind that most young black filmmakers today have as much direct experience of the South of the '60s as I do… skin color is obviously the primary qualifier for what stories we are allowed to tell, right?
I think the entire debate is wrong-headed, frankly. I think any time people start telling other people what stories they can or can't tell, it's ridiculous. Do I think there is a long history of telling significant stories about other cultures or ethnicity through a white American filter? Sure. Absolutely. I think when you make a film like "Ghost Of Mississippi" about a real-life figure as remarkable as Medgar Evers and you tell it from the POV of a white lawyer, you have made a disastrous creative choice. I think when you make a film about Stephen Biko and you spend most of the running time dealing with the struggles of a white family to escape South Africa, you have missed the point.
Is this where the business is heading, or just a bad film looking for a release?
Nic Cage and Nic Kidman in 'A Tale Of Two Nics'... er, wait... no... it's called 'Trespass'. My bad.
Credit: Millennium Films
There is little doubt that the distribution model has changed for Hollywood in the last decade, and it's going to continue to change over the next decade. And I'm not just talking about the ancillary markets, either, where physical media and digital downloads are currently battling it out for supremacy. The theatrical market, once considered chuch-and-state separate from home video dates, is starting to become a very expensive part of the marketing campaign for many movies, with producers counting on the afterlife for a film instead of thinking as the theatrical release as the film's primary moment.
Joel Schumacher had a moment when he was one of Hollywood's A-list directors, but that moment has passed, and these days, he is struggling to get attention with his new films, and he has crossed a line and become one of those guys whose films get treated like an embarrassment, snuck into release. "Blood Creek," his Nazi-themed horror film, barely even registered, and the same was true of "Twelve," his teens-on-designer-drugs movie that was laughed at heartily at Sundance. His last wide release was "The Number 23" in 2007, and that film died a horrible, bloody death at the box office.
Craig Brewer's new take on the '80s classic is looking better and better
Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald co-star in Craig Brewer's remake of 'Footloose'
When I posted my piece the other day about "Footloose," I referred to the film as a musical, and Craig Brewer actually showed up in our comments section to clarify that this is not a film where people burst into song. By that strict definition, it's not a musical, it's a dance film.
But music is obviously a huge part of the movie, both in design and in the way it'll be sold, and the new trailer that arrived online today is cut to a very spare reworking of the original Kenny Loggins theme for the first film, and it's a really effective look at what Brewer's put together.
One of the things that makes me think this is going to be more than just an empty cash grab is listening to Brewer talk about the subtext that made him want to remake the film in the first place. We live in a reactionary time, and I think it's clear to anyone who lived through 9/11 and the way things changed afterward that all it takes is a push, and America is ready to overreact, especially when it's in the name of "the children."
Looks like 'Dr. Who' has a drinking problem
Too hot for sweaters in Vegas
With "Final Destination 5" opening today and "Fright Night" next week, horror-comedy fans are really getting a double dose of a genre that's been sorely neglected of late.
Sure, we've seen it here and there when Raimi threw us a bone with "Drag Me To Hell" and of course there's "Scream 4" sequel. But in general, Wes Craven's stuff has been funny for the wrong reasons lately, so that doesn't count.
Witness these four clips from next week's 3D remake of "Fright Night." The original is a shinning example of campy 80's horror-comedy innocence. It's now been updated for our more brutal century by director Craig Gillespie.
Click through to see the how the characters have changed in the new version.
The second big King announcement this week is promising
The JFK assassination is one of the most famous moments in 20th Century American history, and the subject of Stephen King's new book which Jonathan Demme will adapt as a movie.
Credit: LIFE Images
It appears to be a big week at the Stephen King compound.
We put up the story last night about David Yates and Steve Kloves working together again on a new multi-film adaptation of "The Stand," and now it looks like another King property has been snapped up by a very promising filmmaker. This time, it's an unpublished piece of work, and it's one of the few filmmakers to ever earn the Best Picture Oscar with what can only be described as a horror film.
Jonathan Demme is set to write, direct, and produce the film adaptation of "11/22/63," which doesn't hit shelves until November 8 of this year. I'm not surprised that it sold, or that it's a boomer director who will be making the film. At this point, I've accepted the fact that there is an entire generation of filmmakers who will continue to push the cultural supremacy of the '60s on us until every last one of them has died. And with this particular project, King basically laid out the greatest bait imaginable for that generation, a high-concept exercise in wish fulfillment that sounds like it was almost scientifically targeted to get turned into a movie.
Intense and well-researched, this is one of the year's best documentaries
Ayrton Senna was one of the greats in Formula One history, and the new documentary 'Senna' looks at his life and his too-short career
Credit: Producers Distribution Agency
The ESPN series "30 For 30" has produced some remarkable films, so I know that ESPN is a force to be reckoned with in terms of documentary production. Seeing their logo on the front of this one, along with Universal and Working Title, I figured on something slick, an advertisement for Formula One racing from the perspective of one of the sport's legends. Instead, it is an acutely felt and emotional movie, an exceptional personal portrait of one of the guys who defined the sport during one of its key turning points. It is also a sad reminder of just what the stakes are for these guys each and every time they get behind the wheel.
There are different schools of documentary filmmaking, and the two docs I'm reviewing today are both examples of the type that is built from existing footage. In this case, director Asif Kapadia is working as a sort of filter, the one who went through mountains of footage from over the years, gradually picking and choosing the bits and pieces that offer up the narrative he's trying to tell. You've got to have an editor's instincts to be good at this, and Kapadia has a knack for cutting dramatic scenes out of this footage, finding the small human details that really tell the story, avoiding narration and simply letting people tell their own story. Working with writer Manish Pandey, he has managed to paint a riveting portrait of one driven man and the course of his career without simply making it a greatest hits collection.
New 3D entry is the best since the second in the series
You can bet that whatever they're running from in 'Final Destination 5,' someone's about to lose several major body parts. In 3D.
Credit: Warner Bros/New Line
Sequels are tricky business. Done correctly, they can recapture whatever it was that an audience fell in love with the first time around, and they can extend stories and themes and characters in interesting and unexpected ways. Serialized storytelling in general has always been something that audiences devour eagerly, and sequels are a producer's dream, the gift that keeps on giving. Done wrong, though, they can poison a film's reputation, ruin a name, salt the earth so that there's no going back, no growing anything new. Horror sequels and comedy sequels in particular are tough because so much of the impact of those genres depends on the unexpected, the involuntary reaction, and the more familiar you become with material, the less inherent surprise there is.
The "Final Destination" franchise is one of the unlikeliest I've ever seen, but it's turned out to be one of the most robust and versatile formulas for a mainstream bubblegum movie series in recent memory. For me, the best in the series so far was the second film, which opened with a truly spectacular freeway crash sequence. The way they took the first film's basic idea and streamlined it was inspired, and they also embraced the Rube Goldberg side of the series that makes each set piece so much fun if done correctly. The third and fourth films offered more of the same, with a few highlights in each one, but didn't manage to sustain that energy over the entire movie. There's such huge goodwill for this series, though, that it almost doesn't matter. People go to watch outrageous ridiculous deaths, and as long as they get that, it seems like it's enough.
With this team aboard, this could be one of the most exciting King adaptations ever
Everything's coming up roses for 'The Stand' these days, between the new Marvel Comics version and a possible multi-film adaptation by the team behind 'Harry Potter'
Credit: Marvel Comics
The "Harry Potter" film series was a juggernaut pretty much from start to finish, occupying ten years of pop culture real estate by sheer force of will. There was no guarantee up front that the films would work, or that fans would be happy, or that the studio would be able to get all the films made before the kids got too old to star in them. It seemed like a huge challenge up front, and the way they pulled it off has been sort of overwhelming to witness. It is a triumph of filmmaking as mountain climbing, an accomplishment that few would have been able to pull off, much less with the style and grace of this series.
How many other film franchises genuinely got better as they went? How many film franchises produced eight films in a decade? Especially films of this size and complexity? "Harry Potter" is one of those singular things, and especially over the back half of the series, David Yates and Steve Kloves did a lot of the heavy lifting as the director and screenwriter of the films, and they made a whoooooole lot of money for Warner Bros. in the process.
Little wonder, then, that Warner Bros. is in the process of finalizing the deals for David Yates and Steve Kloves to re-team for a multi-movie version of Stephen King's epic "The Stand."
Plus has the battle for 'World War Z' already been lost?
Bruce Willis has certainly played soldier before, as in 'Tears Of The Sun,' but if he ends up signed on for 'G.I. Joe 2,' that's good news for fans
Credit: Revolution Studios
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Bruce Willis in "G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation"? Well, that's one way to grab some headlines. Word is that Willis is likely to step into the role of Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe, which would mean this film's cast is pretty much a wall of macho man-meat at this point. Dwayne Johnson is bigger than ever before to play Roadblock, and Ray Stevenson's onboard as Firefly, meaning this is largely a reboot even though Paramount's treating it like a sequel. Willis and Johnson would be a big step up from Channing Tatum and one of the nine zillion Wayans, and it sounds to me like Jon M. Chu is doing everything he can to make his film rock.
Speaking of Paramount projects, some days, it's interesting just to watch something that starts small ripple its way around the Internet, picking up steam as it goes, until it finally erupts into something much larger than would have seemed possible from the way it started. I'm sure when Paramount put together their official synopsis for their upcoming "World War Z," they probably read it over a few times and felt good about how it sounded. It reads for maximum excitement, but the problem is, it doesn't really sound like it's describing "World War Z" at all. Here's what Paramount sent out:
Uplifting story of a personal turning point in race relations avoids genre traps
Viola Davis stars in 'The Help,' adapted from the best-selling novel, along with Emma Stone
Credit: Walt Disney Company
One of the most frustrating habits of well-meaning Hollywood over the years has been the tendency to create movies about how white people have heroically helped one minority after another. If you only know the history of race relations from movies, it would seem that most major changes in the condition of how we live together have resulted from noble, selfless white folks who have decided to take mercy on the "lesser" races. That disturbing cultural lie is the reason I have a problem with a number of films. like "Cry Freedom" or "Mississippi Burning," movies that contain good work on important subjects, but that are hobbled by this need to have a white face at the center of things.
For Tate Taylor, the screenwriter and director of "The Help," this history of dishonesty is working against him before the film even begins, and I'm happy to admit that I walked in, arms crossed, ready to dismiss the movie. I didn't read Kathryn Stockett's novel, but I'm aware of how big a hit it was, and I expected something that was all feel-good surfaces and white guilt. Instead, Taylor deserves real credit for what he's done, avoiding many of the easy traps of the genre, and I walked away impressed by just how solid and sincere "The Help" really is. This is a case where the dynamic between the white and black characters informs the premise of the film, and they gain strength and courage from each other. This is no one-way transaction. Instead, it's a cross-class portrait of Southern women of a certain era, and the dawning of new respect between them, and it packs a heck of a punch.