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.
It started with an e-mail while I was at Sundance.
Harry Potter may be well and truly over, and I get the feeling that Jo Rowling is not kidding when she says she told the story and she's done and that's that. But Daniel Handler left plenty of room for revisiting the strange and somber world of his Lemony Snicket novels, and now they've made the official announcements that confirm what Handler's been hinting at for a while.
On October 23, Little, Brown Books will release "Who Could That Be At This Hour?", which will kick off a new series called "All The Wrong Questions." And while the previous series of novels was concerned with the fate of the Beaudelaire Orphans and their ongoing rivalry with Count Olaf, a degenerate weirdo who was chasing their inheritance, it seems that they will play no significant role in this new series. Over the course of "A Series Of Unfortunate Events," all of which were narrated by Lemony Snicket, there were clues dropped about a much larger storyline, clues which were left up in the air at the end of the series. It looks like that material is exactly what they'll be tackling in this new series, and for fans of the books, this is very good news indeed.
Last week, we featured the announcement of much of SXSW's feature programming, but noted that they still hadn't announced the Midnights section.
Now that they have, I think it's safe to say that SXSW plans to blow your ass off this year. And I mean surgically and precisely. They are programming an aggressively wild line-up, some of which I've seen, some of which I haven't. They've also announced shorts in a wide array of categories, filling out what are frequently some of the most exciting parts of a festival in terms of finding new voices. You add this batch of titles to what we'd already heard, and it's looking like a great year for one of my favorite fests, starting on March 9 with "The Cabin In The Woods."
There are eleven Midnighters this year. I've linked back to my reviews of a few of them, but I'm curious to see all eleven as they work together on audiences. "REC 3" is a pretty big get for SXSW, but honestly, the title that excites me most is "Iron Sky." This is a great example of a crowd-sourced piece of art that has been nurtured along from initial joke to trailer to feature film, and if it works, it's going to be something a lot of people have helped happen. Great to see that "John Dies At The End" and "V/H/S" are going to screen for Austin crowds. Both films almost feel custom-designed for these audiences.
Well, it's still "The Phantom Menace."
That's pretty much all the review that matters. Either you're okay going to see the first chapter of the "Star Wars" prequels, released to such heated response in 1999, or you're not. The only new thing I can discuss is the 3D post-conversion, and that's another topic where it feels like everyone already knows their opinion about it before I say a word.
We're going to have some more content related to this re-release of the 1999 film this week, and all of it is going to be related to our Film Nerd 2.0 column. After all, if we hadn't watched the movies for the column last year, and if Toshi hadn't started doing interviews for the column, there's a chance none of what happened last week would have happened.
Remember… I spent over a decade officially Banned From The Ranch. While it upset me at first, it eventually just became a funny story, a battle scar from my long time writing about films online. The short version of the story is that I learned about the banning in early 2000, when Harry and I were in San Francisco for a screening event, and we got invited out to Skywalker Ranch for a tour. When we submitted names, everyone was cleared except me, and they explained that it was because I had reviewed the script for "The Phantom Menace" a year earlier. Once that was established, I had to accept it, and I just resigned myself to never visiting the property or even being allowed to visit ILM's facility at the Presidio.
I'll be curious to see what happens with "John Dies At The End" as the year progresses.
It's got to find a distributor… it's just too singular an audience experience. I understand that the William S. Burroughs version of "Ghostbusters" is a hard audience sell, but I also think there's real value in it for the right distributor. Someone's going to have to give it some TLC if they plan to open it, but with the right campaign, the film's weirdness could be an asset, not something to run from.
While we were at Sundance, I published a conversation I had with Don Coscarelli, the director of the iconic "Phantasm" films, about adapting and directing the book by David Wong as a film. He was joined by his co-producer Paul Giamatti, who helped produce the film. I had a blast with those two, and of all the formal interviews we did at Sundance, that's the one that I could have sat there continuing all day. Their enthusiasm for the film they made was infectious.
Early Monday morning, audiences got a chance to see the new trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man" at a special Sony event that was held in 13 cities around the world, and I was there. I shared my impressions from that event with you in an earlier piece.
Now it's your turn to get a look at Sony's latest attempt to explain the difference between this new version of "Spider-Man" and what we grew used to in the Sam Raimi films.
There's quite a bit to look for in the trailer. You'll see Peter Parker, wiseass. You'll get a glimpse of The Lizard in all his greenness. You'll see some of the scale that they're going for this time, as well as the sense of humor that seems like such a fresh addition to the series.
If Sony had any doubt about the public curiosity about their upcoming "The Amazing Spider-Man," my guess is that the the massive lines outside the AMC Century City theater where the Los Angeles portion of today's big multi-media sneak peek event took place must have gone a long way toward putting them at ease.
They had events happening at the same time today in Rio, London, New York, and Los Angeles, with different people representing the film at each event. Here in LA, director Marc Webb showed up to introduce the presentation and to kick things off. In Rio, Emma Stone was joined by producers Avi Arad and Matt Holcum. In London, Rhys Ifans was on hand, and in New York, Andrew Garfield showed up to once again prove himself the most breathless advocate the new film could ever hope to have.
At heart, today was a big media event to premiere a new trailer, and I'm glad I knew that going in. I was prepared to drive an hour in early morning LA traffic to watch ten or twelve new minutes of footage, and all told, I probably got a little less than that. You'll see the new trailer later tonight as part of a big online premiere, but there was also an extended sizzle reel that featured a fair degree of unfinished effects work. The guys seated behind me were convinced they were going to see the whole movie this morning, and I wonder how many of the hundreds of fans who I saw queued up outside the venue thought the same thing. It's a film that comes with a fair degree of hype and expectation, and for many people, the question has been the same since it was first announced: why, exactly, are we already getting a reboot of this franchise?
I'll have a review of "Rampart" for you this week, but in addition, we've got a few interviews to support the film that I want to share as well.
I like that the movie surprised me. I thought I had it figured out walking in, and on some level, it is what you think you'd get from a movie about police corruption from the writer/director of "The Messenger" and in collaboration with author James Ellroy. But thanks to a crafty lead performance by Woody Harrelson and a focus that includes a good deal about the women in the life of Officer David Brown (Harrelson), the film is richer than I expected.
Normally, I wouldn't want to just lump all the women from a film together in one interview, but in this case, it felt thematically appropriate since so much of the film deals with how Brown deals with these very strong women and how they put up with him and influence him. Robin Wright Penn, Anne Heche, and Brie Larson made for a nice intimidating line-up on the morning we sat down to discuss their work, and we ended up having a series of very warm and interesting chats.
Illumination Studios stands in an unassuming building on an industrial street in Santa Monica. The only indication from outside as to the building's identity comes from an occasional glimpse of a Minion from "Despicable Me" through one of the windows. One would never guess just driving by that this building is where they're currently working to build a new animation legacy.
And, by all accounts, succeeding.
I first visited the studio as they were working on "Despicable Me," and my first impression of Chris Meledandri was that he definitely knew how to talk a good game. He was an important part of Fox's animation relationship with Blue Sky Studios, and when he left Fox, he decided that he wanted to focus all of his energies on creating animated movies. If you're going to get into that business, you can't dabble. You have to go all in. You have to believe in animation 100%, and you have to focus on making each film great. I've seen studios make the mistake of thinking they can crank out kid movies and they don't have to respect the audience or the process, but in those cases, they almost always fail.
Meledandri's first picture for Illumination, "Despicable Me," did a very nice job of establishing a style and a sensibility that was their own. They also ended up with their very own mascots, the Minions, who they are going to be dropping into films for some time to come, I suspect. The film did well for Universal, but more than that, it gave Illumination credibility.
The most specifically excited I remember ever being for a Super Bowl Sunday movie spot was in the spring of '97, and Sony was the studio that bought the spot I cared most about. It was a three-movie mega-ad they used to roadblock an entire ad break. They sold "Air Force One," "Men In Black," and "The Fifth Element," and since we hadn't seen any footage yet for "The Fifth Element," that was our first look.
My friends and I must have played the tape back 20 times just to study the barrage of images from the film, including some of those amazing Digital Domain cityscapes with car-packed skies as well the blue diva, Gary Oldman, explosions, and LeeeloooDallasMooolteeePass in all her glory. I didn't care about "Air Force One" at all, and the "Men In Black" footage was fine, but I loved that they used the Super Bowl to finally drop the intense veil of secrecy around Besson's movie.
These days, there is very little surprise or genuine wow to the things that happen during the Super Bowl. We know ahead of time what the commercials will be, and this year, we actually saw studios releasing ten-second previews of the sixty-second spots, so we were getting ads for ads. It's sort of terrifying to see how mechanical it is, and these days, it seems that more studios opt out than ever before.