Plus Nic Cage freaks out and Pixar says 'It gets better'
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I'm off to a late start today. There was that breaking "Buffy" news, the "Tangled" interview, and some running around to get ready for the rest of the week. But now I'm ready to sit down and see what's been going on while I've been busy.
It appears a whooooole lot of people went to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" this weekend, and if you did, there's a good chance one of the things you remember most about the film is that animated sequence they used to tell the story of The Three Brothers, the exposition necessary to make sense of the Deathly Hallows. Ben Hibon directed that sequence, it turns out, and now he may be signed on to direct the Ben Magid script "Pan." That's intriguing news. I remember reading "Pan" back when it was first set up with Guillermo Del Toro attached as director. It's a refiguring of the Peter Pan archetypes that plays as a dark murder-mystery with Hook as a police detective tracking a killer. It's about as far from the original J. M. Barrie story as possible, and I'm a firm believer that Barrie's work is already jet-black to begin with, filled with rich subtextual material for new writers to explore in a million different ways. If the new "Potter" is what it took to kickstart Hibon as a filmmaker, it sounds like a real win all the way around, because he ended up contributing one of the best moments in the series, a pivotal piece of Potter folklore.
What's it like working at the modern Walt Disney?
When I sat down with the directors of "Tangled," Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, I had an agenda.
After all, Howard is also credited as a director on "Bolt," so these guys have been there for the entire reorganization of Walt Disney Feature Animation under John Lasseter, and if anyone's qualified to discuss how things have changed, they are.
It's something I've been thinking about since I saw "Tangled." I'm still not sure how I feel about Lasseter being in charge of WDFA. I know he's an incredibly bright and talented guy, and obviously his track record at Pixar is amazing, but Pixar has a very particular identity, and I'm not sure that I want WDFA to simply become an extension of that brand, any more than I would want WDFA to try to remake Pixar in its image.
I also wanted to talk to them about the conception of one of the most visually ravishing scenes of the year, and about bringing the look of classic Walt Disney films into the CG age. It's a big jump for the company, and again, I'm left with mixed emotions about the results. It really does look like a classic Disney film, but with all of the technical sophistication of modern cutting-edge computer animation.
But without Whedon involved, is this the 'Buffy' fans are waiting for?
Ironically, I think that the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" that many of us love dearly is, technically speaking, a reboot.
The thing is, the first exposure we had to "Buffy" was the film released by 20th Century Fox, and although Joss Whedon was the screenwriter of that film, he was deeply unhappy with the fillm itself, and given the chance to refigure the property as a television show, he took a shot at it.
The result remains one of my favorite TV shows. Sure, there were bum episodes and even a few rough seasons, but throughout its entire run, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" was a model for what TV could be, and when you look at the landscape of great television today, I would argue that much of what is being done right now is built on the work that Whedon was doing. He took genre seriously, and instead of just dealing with a monster a week, he realized early on that he could use the horror to amplify the drama already inherent to high school and college, a period of constant turbulence for many young people. The show dealt in big bold metaphor, and it did it well. There was a great sense of humor to it all, and yet the show was able to push into some jet-black areas when it wanted to, a heady combination.
One character too many can't sink a solid action-thriller
"Faster" is a lean, mean revenge thriller that works because of the charisma of its two key players, Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton, and because of the no-jokes brutal attitude the film takes. There's an entire subplot that feels like a miscalculation, but what's good about the film is so good that I would recommend it to action fans without hesitation, and it's one of those better-than-it-needs-to-be examples of a genre that could easily cross over to a larger audience as well.
George Tillman makes both good and bad choices as director here, and there are times when his style feels too much like he's making sure that his film looks the way action films are "supposed to" instead of just telling his story. But for the most part, his work here is really solid, and he certainly knows how to pace a film like this. One of the things that works best about it is the way he opens the film. Dwayne Johnson plays Driver, a man we find in a jail cell, pacing, already in motion. He's taken to see the Warden, played by Tom Berenger, and then shown the door, a free man. As soon as he's clear of the fence, he starts running. Driver can't wait to get moving, can't wait to get to his business. He finds a scrap yard, makes his way to a specific corner of it and finds what he came for. A car. His car. And inside, a name and an address. And a gun. Everything he needs to get started paying back the rotten sonsofbitches who killed his brother and put him behind bars.
Could you picture Dwayne Johnson playing Lee Child's best-selling hero?
I didn't mean to do it.
Earlier today, I found myself sitting across from Dwayne Johnson so we could discuss his new film "Faster," and in the midst of talking about the current landscape of action heroes, I asked him if he's familiar with the Lee Child novels about Jack Reacher.
Let me back up. If you're not familiar with Jack Reacher, he's the hero of fifteen best-selling novels, the most recent of which was published in September. He's an ex-Military Investigator, a guy who has made a decision to own nothing and live nowhere, a drifter who finds himself embroiled in crazy, difficult situations where his military training, his investigator's mind, and his ability and willingness to kill entire towns full of bad guys if he has to is what makes Reacher such a compulsively interesting pulp character. Child created a perfect hero for an ongoing series. He's able to bounce from situation to situation in a way that never limits the type or the scope of the trouble he can get into.
I am no expert on the series. I only recently started reading them. Basically, I finished finally re-reading every one of the John D. McDonald Travis McGee novels recently, and I wanted to find a new series to try. I had heard enough good things about the Reacher books that I picked one up as I was leaving on a set visit. I read "One Shot," which is the book that Paramount is working to develop as the first Reacher movie.
Looks like the our anti-hero gets to keep his helmet
@jock4twenty tweeted this photo of Karl Urban as Judge Dredd from the set today. We admit he looks pretty badass. Not sure if this is a leak or a "leak." Mr. 4twenty is a brit penciller with an impressive website here. I wonder if he'll get to keep his job?
The official synopsis for the new film reads as follows:
"DREDD takes us to the wild streets of Mega City One, the lone oasis of quasi-civilization on Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared of elite Street Judges, with the power to enforce the law, sentence offenders and execute them on the spot - if necessary. The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and the frenetic vision of director Pete Travis bring DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's revered comic strip."
Plus Eli Roth's doing right by horror and talking 'Star Wars' with kids
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Let's kick off today's column with a bit of a public service announcement. Have you read about the Amazon Studios announcement? Basically, Amazon decided to get involved in the production of content, and they've created a brand-new program that is part contest, part development fund, and all garbage.
I've gotten several e-mails from people asking me my take on this, several of which were from very excited writers looking at this as a way to finally get around the "no manager or agent" conundrum. And I empathize with any writer out there with a script who can't get people to read it. I get what is attractive about the idea of a brand-new way of getting around the system, but this is not it. Have you read the Development Agreement or the Contest Terms and Procedures? They are fascinating and revealing and completely insane.
I'll put it this way: if you upload your script or your movie to their contest, you are essentially kissing it goodbye forever. Line after line of the legalese on these pages just confounds me. "You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced." And considering one of the rules of this contest grants Amazon Studios a free 18-month option on your work the moment you upload it, the idea that they can enter you in a contest later and tell you the rules after they do so seems positively batty. The "development agreement" is a contract you're signing, not an entry form for a contest, and in it, you grant them a free option on your work for a year and a half, and if they do end up producing your work, there's a set fee. Period. That's all it is. A set rate. The same no matter what the project is, and no matter what happens with it. That is, simply put, immoral.
Suspense film offers some thrills, but uneven storytelling
I have within me a tremendous drive to preserve my family, to make things safe and secure for my wife and my sons. There is nothing I wouldn't do for my family, and one of the things that I've been surprised by is the intensity of my paternal drive. It's something you can't predict about yourself. You can't imagine it until you've actually held one of your kids for the first time. I had a moment of total lightning-bolt transformation, an internal thing that I find hard to even quantify. There have been several moments in the five years since my first son was born where I have felt powerful reminders of just how far I'd go for my children, for the family I've built.
I like stories in which a genuinely common person is tested by extraordinary circumstances. I think we've gotten to an age in film where everyone's basically a superhero when you're watching a thriller. There are no "common people" in films anymore, it seems. What I like most about the new Paul Haggis film "The Next Three Days" is the way Russell Crowe plays John Brennan as a completely average guy. He's a little fat, he's not particularly powerful or brilliant, and he doesn't really have any special resources to draw on. So when he is forced to find a way to save his family, rallying what little strength he has, it is a genuine test. And when he faces certain moral choices, he fails. That seems compelling to me, precisely because of what I explained, that drive that kicks in to protect your family at all costs. This movie asks exactly how far it is that John is willing to go, and then tries to push him just that little bit further, taking him to some harrowing places even before the film works its way around to the escape that is its whole purpose.
Review: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1' begins the grand wrap-up for the series in style
Does the choice to break the last film in half hurt the storytelling?
This is a tricky one to review, because I am of split mind on the way it works as a movie.
The title should be the tip-off right away that this is not meant to stand on its own. Each of the previous films in the series has been a stand-alone, with nary a number in sight. True, if you buy the giant special collector's edition Blu-ray editions of the films that are being released by Warner Bros., there are big numbers on the side of each one, but that's not part of the title. Never has been. Now, for the last two films, we get "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." It's a choice based purely on function, inelegant, and the one genuine criticism that anyone could level at the movie opening in theaters everywhere on Friday is that its ending is based purely on function, although elegant in its way.
If my biggest complaint about a film is that I would have happily sat through the next two-and-a-half hours of story immediately, I'd say that's a good complaint, one that director David Yates should take as high praise. There is little doubt that this series belongs to Yates at this point. I've enjoyed the round robin of directors as the series progressed, and rewatching the films in the last few weeks, I am struck anew by just how lucky they got. Chris Columbus set the tone and found the kids, and he had to do all the heavy lifting in setting up a visual palette for Hogwarts and the world of Harry Potter, and in his two films, I think he defined things so well that when Alfonso Cuaron came on for "Azkaban," he was able to play. The only reason Cuaron's film is able to experiment is because Columbus had already so clearly established everything, so experimenting with those boundaries felt thrilling. Mike Newell, who almost broke his film into two parts a la "Deathly Hallows," had perhaps the biggest job in any of the individual films, and his movie kicked off the narrative arc that really brings the second half of the series together. Until "Goblet," the films are exciting, but the stakes aren't as brutal as they could be. "Goblet" features the first key death in the war that has been building in each film since then, and "Deathly Hallows" brings that all from a simmer to a boil.
Sword and sandals epic based on 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth"
Witness the trailer of 'The Eagle,' a sword and sandals epic about a young roman soldier (Channing Tatum) who goes on a quest to find his father's eagle standard (A bronze figure carried on a post by a roman battalion) that was lost 20 years before when his Ninth battalion was slaughtered by the natives.
His journey takes him deep into ancient Britain, beyond Hadrian's wall. He travels in disguise with only one slave (Jamie Bell) to accompany him. The script is based on a 1954 novel by Rosemary Sutcliff, "The Eagle of the Ninth" and was remade once before by the BBC. The story could be considered a sequel of sorts to Neil Marshall's "Centurion," released earlier this year, which documents the famed disappearance of the Ninth Legion.