If you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm a little bit excited about "Skyfall."
It's a year where there are some big and significant franchise films coming out, including "The Avengers" and "The Hobbit" and "The Dark Knight Rises," and of all of them, the one that I have to admit has me most worked up and flustered and desperate for information about is "Skyfall."
I like what the Daniel Craig years have brought to the James Bond series, and I think they can do anything right now. They're not painted into any corners. They haven't done anything in "Casino Royale" and "Quantum Of Solace" that prevents them from going pretty much anywhere with the storytelling at this point. There's a lot of groundwork laid in those two films, but to what end?
I think the key here in terms of my excitement is Sam Mendes, who I think is a talented guy whose films don't necessarily fully reflect his skills. The attitude he's been expressing since coming on-board here, combined with what I've heard about him as a Bond fan in general, has me thinking that the producers picked the right guy to handle the 50th anniversary James Bond movie, and that there's something special in the works for us this year.
If you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm a little bit excited about "Skyfall."
I don't do a REMAKE THIS! column every week, although with the rate at which Hollywood churns through old material right now, I'm sure I could.
Instead, I try to reserve them for moments where they either stumble across the exact right piece of material or those moments where they make a decision that is so baffling it's worth closer examination.
For example, the other night, I was working in my office and I decided to put on the Burt Reynolds movie "Heat." I did this for a few reasons. First, it's been in my Netflix Instant queue for about three months, one of many movies I added in one of those late-night moments of "Hey, I recognize that and remember absolutely nothing about it even though I'm sure I've seen it." That probably accounts for about 1/3 of what's in that queue at the moment. But "Heat" in particular was on my mind because of the recent news that Brian DePalma is planning to remake it with Jason Statham playing the lead and William Goldman once again adapting his own novel.
I got a truly lovely e-mail from a reader recently, in response to the "To Kill A Mockingbird" piece I posted last week, and one thing it did was remind me that one of the best columns I ever started only to tank later was "One Thing I Love Today," a minimalist's version of The Morning Read. And, yes, as someone pointed out on my James Bond article this morning, I have a terrific track record of starting things I never finish. My problem isn't that I'm lazy… it's the opposite. I try to do too many things, and that ends up biting me in the ass more often than not. So I've been thinking about how to handle The Morning Read, which many of you have requested, and which won't be coming back.
I've got to confess that as much as I liked The Morning Read, it wasn't a traffic generator, and to do it well, it takes more time than the readership ever justified. It sent a lot of traffic out, but it didn't always result in a lot of traffic for us. And while it may sound craven to talk about traffic and page views and the like, I work in a digital media where readership is quantified, absolutely.
JAMES BOND 007 DECLASSIFIED
File #1: "Dr. No"
This series will trace the cinema history of James Bond, while also examining Ian Fleming's original novels as source material and examining how faithful (or not) the films have been to his work.
Directed by Terence Young
Screenplay by Richard Maibaum & Johanna Harwood & Berkley Mather
James Bond / Sean Connery
Honeychile Ryder / Ursula Andress
Dr. Julius No / Joseph Wiseman
Felix Leiter / Jack Lord
M / Bernard Lee
Professor RJ Dent / Anthony Dawson
Miss Taro / Zena Marshall
Quarrel / John Kitzmuller
Sylvia Trench / Eunice Gayson
Miss Moneypenny / Lois Maxwell
Major Boothroyd / Peter Burton
Sister Lily / Yvonne Shima
Sister Rose / Michel Mok
Annabelle Chung / Marguerite LeWars
Superintendent Duff / William Foster-Davis
Mary Trueblood / Dolores Keator
Jones / Reggie Carter
Pleydell-Smith / Louis Blaazer
General Potter / Colonel Burton
There's no pre-credits sequence sting on this one, so they hadn't had that particular a-ha moment yet. Just titles, right away. The "Three Blind Mice" segment of the credits, leading into the Three Blind Mice on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, footage obviously shot on location, is one of the strangest transitions into a Bond film ever, but you can hardly blame them. They didn't know what they were doing completely in the first film. They were working hard to define the films right away, and the big booming theme music that starts the film is one of the signatures that was in place from the very beginning. As adaptations go, it starts off fairly close to the book, and this works to start telling the story even before Terence Young gets his credit.
When I was on the set of "Kick-Ass," I spent a fair amount of time in casual conversation with Nicolas Cage. Because I was there for a while, Cage relaxed enough around me to discuss a wide range of topics, and at one point, we were talking about "Ghost Rider" and his general affinity for the character. He had issues with the first film, but was pleased to have played Johnny Blaze, and he was determined to take another shot at it at some point.
He told me a story about an afternoon while he was on the press tour for the first film, and they were in Rome to promote it. He had the afternoon off and was walking around, looking at old churches, wearing his Johnny Blaze costume. He happened to walk into a church where there was a conference of cardinals underway, and they recognized him. They called him down to the front of the church and asked him to sit in the front with the main cardinals. As he was sitting there, listening to the conversations, dressed as Johnny Blaze, he got the idea that in the second film, Blaze should be employed by the Vatican as a special weapon against the forces of darkness.
I'm not sure how that idea led to the film that opened yesterday, "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance," but I am sure that Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are a creative cancer, perhaps the most aggressively unpleasant mainstream filmmakers working. Their work seems to be devolving from film to film, and as much as I disliked "Gamer," their last movie, it's safe to say it would be hard for me to imagine hating another film this year on the same level as "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance." Visually repulsive, morally empty, and intellectually bankrupt, this is the film that people are thinking about when they moan about Comic-Con culture and fanboy cinema. This is devoid of invention or ideas, joyless filmmaking without any investment from the filmmakers. It actively scares me that these guys have fans, and that people are willing to defend their filmmaking, because what I see onscreen in their work is nothing less than the deadest of dead ends, the worst of modern action cinema taken to its logical conclusion.
Kenny Powers is perhaps the single most perfect distillation of what it is that Danny McBride does best as a comic performer, and when "Eastbound and Down" finishes the eight-episode season that it is about to start airing on HBO, I have a feeling we're going to be looking at one long uniquely American comedy epic that stands alone as a singular accomplishment in television.
That's not to say that I think this is the single funniest show ever made, or that I think it innovates in a way no other show does. It's just that I can't think of any other character who is as morally and intellectually repellant as Kenny Powers who I can't keep my eyes off of. The first season of "Eastbound and Down" suggested a certain sort of sitcom shape in telling the story of a washed-up major league pitcher who is forced to return to his home town to become a gym teacher. If this were a standard sitcom, even a very good one, the show would have established that world, a stock set of characters, and then started wringing comedy out of slight variations in storytelling every week.
"Eastbound" is about something larger, though, the overall spiritual journey of a man who shows no outward signs of self-awareness or soul. Kenny Powers is every terrible part of the American identity turned up and turned loose, and for that reason, his struggle towards self-definition is compelling. He is a fairly terrible person in the way he treats others and in his sense of entitlement, but he's recognizable. Kenny is all bluster, a facade he puts on to try to cover for the yawning existential fear that is part of his daily life. He is what we are most afraid of being, someone who is finished before they even really begin, a waste of the talent he's been given. He is the curdled American dream, and he knows it deep down inside, which is why he spends every waking second overcompensating like mad.
I wonder what would happen if they showed this movie to critics without McG's name on it.
Certain directors become punching bags over the course of their careers, and it's not always just because of their filmmaking. In the case of McG, his name does not help him at all, no matter how many times he explains it was a childhood nickname. It also doesn't help that he's incredibly earnest when he talks about his work, and that there's a hard-earned defensiveness as well. He came to make a presentation at BNAT the year before his "Terminator: Salvation" came out, and by the end of his appearance, he'd turned a fair percentage of the audience against him. As he left, someone in my row commented, "McG was going to stay longer to talk to us, but he had to get back to The Learning Annex to teach his 'How To Be A Douchebag' class." He talked an entire room full of people out of being excited about his movie through sheer force of personality.
The thing is, nothing he's made really deserves that level of animosity. He's not technically incompetent. He has a music video pop sensibility that isn't especially deep, but he knows how to stage action and he's got a big broad sense of humor. When I hear people refer to someone like McG as the worst of modern filmmaking, it makes me think that they don't see many films, or that they've got him prejudged to such a degree that they don't really see his films when they watch them.
This is the last round of announcements for this year's SXSW festival, and they've managed to pack at least one great surprise into every single press release they've sent out this year.
The main part of today's announcement deals with the panels that they're running as part of the Film Conference this year. There's a "Conversation with Seth McFarlane" which sounds like it's going to include some talk about his upcoming film "Ted," a dark comedy about Mark Wahlberg having a relationship with a CGI teddy bear with a foul mouth. There's also a major "Funny or Die" panel, and a piece about Universal's 100 Years celebration restorations, which both could be very informative.
And on Sunday the 11th, you might take special note of this one:
Screaming with Laughter: FEARnet TV's Holliston
FEARnet debuts its first original series "Holliston," a new type of horror sitcom. The panel will explore the path taken to make a show about two friends chasing the dream of becoming successful horror movie filmmakers.
Why? Because Joe Lynch and Adam Green are wildly entertaining, because "Holliston" is going to be bizarre and worth your time, and because the moderator for the panel is some dude named Drew McWeeny.
Todd Rohal, whose last film was the aggressively strange "The Catechism Cataclysm," snuck in under the wire with "Nature Calls," a new film starring Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt, which sounds like a must-see. I'll also be able to catch up with a few titles I missed at Sundance like Mike Birbiglia's "Sleepwalk With Me" and "Searching For Sugarman."
"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.
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.