"So, are they going to kill a mockingbird?"
"Dad, what did the bird do?"
This was the first response from Toshi and Allen, verbatim, when I was picking titles with them for this year's Film Nerd 2.0 line-up, and I stopped to look at the discs for "To Kill A Mockingbird," the 1962 film adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel.
Toshi takes titles literally. The idea of metaphor is beyond him. It is not something he fully gets yet, the double-meanings of things. And so when we're talking about movies, he asks for title, plot, and an explanation if necessary. I like that he thinks that way, that he knows what it takes for him to understand something, and he knows how to interrogate me to get it.
It reminds me of the bit on "The Simpsons" where it shows Bart Simpson walking out of a theater showing "Naked Lunch" and he says, "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title." I remember as a kid when I would try to see movies that were forbidden to me, and I would sometimes succeed in my quest only to be confused and irritated by the result. Nine year old kids really aren't the target audience for "An Unmarried Woman," but I was sure I wanted to see it because it was rated R. I wish I'd had Paul Mazursky there to ask questions afterwards, because I had plenty of them.
"So, are they going to kill a mockingbird?"
When word broke that Guillermo Del Toro is developing a remake of "Beauty and the Beast" to star Emma Watson, it reminded me of an April Fool's Day joke, and I couldn't pinpoint why.
It took me almost an hour to finally pull up the 1998 article that Harry Knowles ran on Ain't It Cool, in which he gloated about how many people had fallen for his April Fool's Day jokes. He printed that Luc Besson was attached to remake "Beauty and the Beast" and that Guillermo Del Toro was about to go to Cannes with a secret remake of "Curse Of The Demon." As he notes in the article, I was the one person who wrote in that year, still early days in my friendship with Harry, to call B.S. on his stories. I had that collision of pranks in my head, and this news set that off for me for fairly obvious reasons.
This seems like a very natural fit of filmmaker and material, and it certainly answers the question of whether or not other filmmakers will hire Emma Watson. I think she's earned her starring roles in films, and I'm mystified by anyone who doesn't think she's developed into an interesting and distinct young actor, maybe the strongest of the young "Harry Potter" cast. I think the only way we'll ever really see what else she's capable of is for directors to roll the dice and try. "Portrait Of A Wallflower" sounds intriguing, and I thought she was fine in a very small part in "My Week With Marilyn," but this film and her possible collaboration with David Yates on "Your Voices In My Head" both sound like they're going to test her more than anything else we've ever seen her do.
I may have been a little slow on the draw putting this one up today, but in my defense, that's because I was laughing so hard.
I have to assume that's okay with Timur Bekmembetov and Tim Burton and Seth Graeme-Smith, because no matter how straight-faced this trailer plays it, the entire notion of successfully convincing a studio to pay big money to make and release a film called "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has got to be one of the biggest "Holy crap, we were kidding BUT THEY REALLY DID IT" moments in the history of film.
The only way you make that film work once you decide to make it is to go all in. No half-measures. You can't be embarrassed to be making it. Noooo… you have to go the other direction. You have to pack more "f**k yeah" into every single minute of running time than has ever been attempted before. You have to crank it up and let it run hot. It is patently absurd, so embrace that. Be absurd. Be big and crazy and supercharged with lunacy. Don't just have Abraham Lincoln kill vampires. Have him kung-fu fight them in slow motion while dual-wielding deadly axes. Go for it.
So let's recap. We ran the first video diary, a second video diary, and I published a review of the experience Toshi and I had with our screening of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D."
That means there's only one more piece to run, and it's the loosest of the three. On the Sunday of our trip, we got up and headed over to the Presidio, where ILM has its main facility. This was by far the most theatrical part of our stay, and it's the event that Toshi has spent the most time talking about since we got back. It made a huge impression on him, and I'll be honest… it made a pretty big impression on me as well.
At Skywalker Ranch, the most film nerdy thing you'll see is the movie poster collection that George Lucas has put together, none of which are for his own films. It is, dare I say, tasteful and restrained in every way. It is not a building designed for "Star Wars" fans… although they did probably pay for it. Instead, ILM is the place where the iconography of his career is on full display.
I read a piece this week in which a writer railed on Woody Harrelson for what sounded like a fairly terrible interview.
This is right on the heels of a fairly disastrous appearance that Harrelson made at Reddit. Taken as a one-two punch, it was not the most flattering week of press for Harrelson overall, and it would be easy to assume he's a bad interview in general.
The thing is, I think it's sort of an unfair pile-on. The Reddit thing was a case of Woody simply not being ready for a truly unfiltered encounter with The Internet in all its glory, and then the VICE writer walked into a room where the interview subject had just been roughed up a bit, and then seemed to misread the entire thing. That interview is awful, but I don't think that's Harrelson's fault.
Interviews are weird anyway. Just the idea that you're going to have this forced conversation and try to create something that feels like actual intimacy in a set time period on a set subject… it's an illusion. A successful interview is like a two-person magic trick, where you make it look like you're actually having a relaxed normal conversation about something, and it takes both ends to make an interview work.
You will not be surprised by "Safe House."
It is pretty much exactly what it looks like. It's an action exercise with two fairly dynamic leads, both of them taking visible delight in putting the other through their paces. It is a solid big studio debut for Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, and whatever merit the film has is due largely to his aggressive aesthetic choices.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA operative looking to make his name inside the agency. He's pulling a first posting punishment of sorts, working in a South African safehouse, tending this anonymous space every day and waiting for action that never comes. It's been a year, and he's seen no one. He's done nothing. He is convinced that he's fallen off the edge of the earth, and any calls he makes to his one DC contact, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), seem to be getting him nowhere.
Then trouble walks in his door in the form of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former agent-gone-rogue who has been at the top of everyone's wish list for the better part of a decade. He's been picked up and he's on his way out of town for debriefing, and Weston doesn't have to do a thing to help. There's an entire team of badasses led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) tasked with getting some information out of Frost by tuning him up, and all they need from Weston is for him to get out of the way while they work.
I considered my options carefully.
My first impulse, one which I wrestled with for about a half-hour, was to use my elbow to strike you once in the throat, as hard as possible, hoping that if I were to crush your windpipe completely, it would silence you.
Obviously, there are drawbacks to that approach, not the least of which would be the assault charge. I'd hate to have to deal with bail just because I went to see a review screening of "This Means War," so I restrained myself.
But I want you to know… it was not easy.
Let's back up a bit. I'd like to try to have an actual dialogue here, and that probably isn't going to happen if I start by describing imagined violence against your person. It's not my fault, though. It really isn't. You need to take some responsibility because your conduct tonight was so above and beyond horrible that I can't believe you are allowed out in public without a leash, a handler, strong medication, or some combination of the three.
The first part of our video diary was all about the build-up to the trip out to Skywalker Ranch. Once we got there, we had time for a little breakfast and Toshi and I started to discuss what sort of questions he might ask in the interviews he'd be doing that day.
This was a different situation than when he interviewed The Muppets. On that press day, he had time to prepare questions, and he knew he'd be doing the interview. Because I treated this trip as a surprise, Toshi didn't really have that sort of prep time, and he told me he was nervous about doing these interviews.
When Fox sent out the invite for the weekend, it was apparent that their big idea for this junket was having kids handle the interviews. Anyone who came was required to bring a young reporter with them, which meant I finally got to meet the sons of guys like JoBlo's Mike Sampson and Latino Review's Kel Chavez. I told Toshi that I'd do whatever he wanted for him to be comfortable as we went through the various interviews.
Even by the standards of family adventure movies, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" feels completely slapdash and indifferent, a trailer for a franchise that just happens to run feature-length. It is scripted as if someone greenlit a first-draft treatment without bothering to flesh it out or hone any of the ideas, and the idea that we're supposed to care about seeing these characters return in future adventures would be insulting if it weren't so obvious that even the people onscreen aren't invested in that actually happening.
The general idea of building a franchise of movies out of the public domain works of Jules Verne is not automatically a bad one. Theoretically, I can see that working. In practice, though, this does not appear to be the right way to do it. The first film, "Journey To The Center Of The Earth," played more like a proof-of-concept reel for 3D event movies than as a real film. It leaned on whatever franchise weight Brendan Fraser was able to muster, with Josh Hutcherson playing his son in the film. This sequel does not bring back the original director (Eric Brevig), the original screenwriters (Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin), or Fraser. Instead, they've refitted the movies so Hutcherson is now living with his mother ("Sex and the City" star Kristin Davis) and her new husband Hank (Dwayne Johnson). There's absolutely no effort made to explain Fraser's absence or to connect this with any sort of narrative thread to the first film. Aside from the actual on-screen title, there is no evidence that this is a sequel at all. This is an odd move, but it sort of exemplifies the approach of the entire film. It's all so incredibly painless and weightless and inconsequential.
It started with an e-mail while I was at Sundance.
I was still gearing up for that festival, a massive drain of time and attention, getting settled in at the HitFix condo and figuring out my schedule for the days ahead, when I opened an e-mail from Fox.
I had to read it several times before I was convinced that they had sent it to the right person, and even then, I had to e-mail them back to make sure. After all, I had spent over a decade being told in no unclear terms that I was officially Banned From The Ranch. And yet, here was an invite for Toshi and I to fly up on a Friday night and spend a weekend participating in a press junket to celebrate the release of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" in 3D.
The first call I made was to my wife to find out how she felt about the idea. I love doing the Film Nerd 2.0 stuff with Toshi, but he's six years old, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel like he's obligated to any of this. I also don't want to just make unilateral decisions about travel when Toshi's involved, and so we talked about the pros and the cons of taking him. One immediate issue that we both recognized was that Allen would end up feeling slighted no matter what we did, because he's at that age where he is acutely aware of what Toshi gets to do that he doesn't get to do. It matters to him, and contending with that fierce sibling rivalry means sometimes making choices that head the issue off completely.