I am 100% convinced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to be one of the biggest working movie stars of his generation.
He may not be there quite yet, but he's been acting since a very young age, and by now, it's clear that he's got charisma in spades and that he makes really great choices as an actor. That's both onscreen and offscreen, as it doesn't matter if you're giving the best performance in the world if it's in a movie that no one ends up seeing. He's certainly bet on some very small films like "Hesher" and "Mysterious Skin" and, of course, "Brick," but he's also been able to work in films that made much larger commercial splashes like "Inception" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra" and, of course, "The Dark Knight Rises."
It feels to me like "Looper" lands right in the middle between those two extremes. It's a studio release, but it's a film that feels intensely personal. It's a science-fiction film with some really remarkable moments of effects flourishes, but only in very specific moments and in service to the stories. It's a huge film in terms of ideas, but it's also very small-scale in terms of how many characters are involved. Much of the success (or failure, I suppose, depending on how you react to it) of the film is due to the confident and controlled lead performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
I am 100% convinced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to be one of the biggest working movie stars of his generation.
I have no doubt that when Dimension kicks into overdrive to sell you "Aftershock" sometime in 2013, you're going to see Eli Roth's name used a whole lot. I understand it, too. Roth has been enormously good at turning his name into a brand, something that a certain group of young filmmakers have developed as an important skill set in the 21st century. After all, he's served as "Eli Roth presents" on several films, and he's part of the new Vegas venture, The Goretorium, which is a year-round horror-themed experience. The last feature film that Eli directed was in 2004, though, so when you see critics and marketing that will fall over themselves to heap both the flaws and the merits of "Aftershock" at his feet, that's because the branding worked, not because he's genuinely the key architect of this particular movie.
This is very much a collaboration, though, between Eli and Nicolas Lopez, a Chilean filmmaker who has had a fascinating career of ups and downs so far. His first film in 2004, "Promedio Rojo," is a rowdy teenage sex comedy, brash and funny and raw, and it got him some international attention. That led to the production of "Santos," his second film, which is a big sprawling glorious mess of a film, a narrative that ran away from him, filled with all sorts of big imagination. It was much too expensive for the sort of specialty niche film that it was, and it set him back a bit. It consumed four full years of his life, and I think it's not the film he set out to make.
Ben Wheatley has quietly turned into one of the most interesting voices in English film right now, a guy who seems fairly adept at bending his personal storytelling style to the material he's shooting instead of imposing one voice on everything he does. He is sly, with a jet black sense of humor, and he seems to take great pleasure from pushing his audiences to deeply uncomfortable places.
His breakthrough film was "Down Terrace," and I remember how excited Tim League was about that film. It's a very small-scale, well-observed film about a family scratching out a low-level criminal existence, and I liked it a lot. His next film, the genre-bending "Kill List," absolutely flattened me when I saw it at SXSW, and I felt like it marked a real step forward by him. With his third film, "Sightseers," he's made what could be his first cross-over hit, a film that still plays dark and that surrenders none of his personal voice, but that is universal in a way that "Kill List" was never going to be. It is little wonder it found a place in the Fantastic Fest 2012 line-up as Tuesday night's first secret screening.
Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) have fallen in love, and they've decided to take a trip together. Chris has a caravan that he's decked out for the trip, and Tina's as excited as she could possibly be. She's been living with her demanding, angry mother her whole life and she's reached a point where she can't imagine doing it any longer. Chris isn't just a possible romance, he's an escape from a life that has become insufferable to her. She's got the trip idealized in her head before she even leaves the house, and if Wheatley just wanted to tell a story about how real life rarely meets our expectations, that could be potent material. He's got something much more sinister in mind, though, and we get hints of it from the early part of the film when we see hints of Chris's temper, particularly in response to what he sees as the coarse and the rude.
The last time I saw Johnny Simmons and Mae Whitman in the same place at the same time, it was on the Toronto set of "Scott Pilgrim Versus The World." I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to see members of that cast colliding over and over in the future, and that it's going to remain a very dear memory for them.
This time, we were in Toronto to discuss the new movie "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," and they had three of the young actors who make up the ensemble grouped together for the chat, including Whitman and Simmons. I didn't meet Ezra Miller in Cannes when "We Need To Talk About Kevin" was playing there, and I'll admit that after I saw that film, I thought Hollywood was going to typecast him because of how completely effective he was in the part.
Instead, I think this film will introduce him to a much broader audience, and I think it's going to have a long shelf life. While I may not have known the book, I've come to realize that there's a big audience out there who read and really enjoyed the book, and it's important to them. This isn't just another teen movie to them. The book's characters are significant because they recognize themselves in them.
Pierce Gagnon is not a name most people know at this point, but after they see "Looper," it is a name they'll want to learn. Gagnon positively steals the film out from under the already-outstanding adult cast that includes Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Garret Dillahunt, and Emily Blunt, who plays Sara, mother to Gagnon's character, Cid.
Gagnon was five years old when they shot his part in the film, and it's an amazing performance for an actor of any age. I think Rian Johnson and his cast did something very special in capturing his work, and that was one of the things I really wanted to discuss with her when we sat down during Toronto.
It feels like I interview Blunt about four times a year now, which is a perfectly lovely arrangement as far as I'm concerned. She's a smart performer, and she's been making great choices for the last few years, starring in a number of films that I've enjoyed, racking up one strong performance after another.
Universal is, in many ways, the house that horror built, so it is little wonder they view their various famous monster properties as some of the key assets for them as a studio. I am not remotely shocked to learn that they are interested in rebooting "The Mummy." After all, the most recent incarnation has already spawned two sequels and at least two spinoff films, and at this point, it would be preposterously expensive for them to try to get Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz back to play their characters again.
Instead, it looks like they're headed in a very different direction with the film, and if they want to freak out film fans, they've certainly made the right choice. Len Wiseman is reportedly the choice the studio has made, and while I understand the reasoning on the level of "he's made films of a certain budget in the past and is capable of managing a big-budget movie," I would be hard-pressed to believe that there are any hardcore Wiseman fans. The "Underworld" series is profitable enough to support however many movies they've made so far, but I don't get the feeling they're particularly well-liked. A quick survey of audiences after the release of "Total Recall" this summer probably wouldn't yield many people able to mount more than a passing defense, and while I was kinder than most, I would also say that Wiseman has yet to really prove that he can develop a script to the point where it really lives and breathes. His movies feel like the description of a movie I should like, but there's something missing. He makes Real Doll movies. They're synthetic, and while they look like movies, they don't satisfy in the way a real film does. I'd love for him to prove me wrong, too.
At this point, Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine longer than any motion picture actor has continuously played any superhero character. So far, at least as far as the big screen is concerned, Jackman is Wolverine. Period.
He's currently hard at work shooting "The Wolverine," the sixth film in which he'll play the character, and Fox finally released an official still of him on-set in the movie, which James Mangold is directing. I'm at Fantastic Fest in Austin this week, so of course in a setting where I'm surrounded by film geeks of all stripes, I asked around to see what people thought of the image.
Even now, this many years after he first played the character, I'm amazed how some people still get worked up about how different Jackman is from the typical renderings of the character in the comics. He's taller, he's leaner, and honestly, he doesn't really look like him. But Jackman's made the character his with the choices he's made, and he's absolutely willing to transform himself each time he returns to play the part, getting crazy ripped each time.
It wasn't really possible to predict while the "Harry Potter" film series was in full swing, but now that I've seen "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower," I'm prepared to call it. Emma Watson is going to have a long and successful career as an actor if that's what she chooses to pursue. She may not be the star of this film, but when she's onscreen, she's incandescent, and she does such delicate character work in scene after scene that I think it's apparent she has more than just Hermione to offer audiences.
Adapting a novel to the screen can be very tricky, especially when it's something very personal. Stephen Chbosky may have written the much-loved novel, but that doesn't automatically mean he's the right guy to direct the movie. Thankfully, he turns out to be quite a director, and the result is a movie that I think people are going to fall madly in love with. It's much smarter than the average teen film, and it does a remarkable job of evoking a specific time and place.
One of Chbosky's biggest weapons in terms of making the film is his casting. Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, Nicholas Braun, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd… all of them do really strong and memorable work. It's a testament to Chbosky's touch as a filmmaker, too. Many of these characters are outside the comfort zone of the actors, and they all rise to the challenge.
Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon.
I kid. I am thrilled to be heading into my second full film festival this month, something I'm not always going to be able to say. These are work, and I have suffered a bit of a physical ding on my way out the door to this one. I'm hobbled, as it were, with a torn Achilles tendon, which makes walking and sitting equally painful, but it very different ways. A real pleasure, that. So I did wake up this morning feeling a little bit like Martin Sheen in that Saigon hotel room, groggy and unsure about much.
And even so, I'm looking forward to eight full days of mayhem here, starting with last night's screening of "Frankenweenie 3D," which I just reviewed for you. I also managed to catch a midnight show, because just like in Toronto, many of Fantastic Fest's most potent pleasures will be hidden at that late hour, and "Here Comes The Devil" was certainly a dark ride to take at the witching hour.
Sometimes, decoding a director's work comes down to one movie in their career, and the case could be made that with "Frankenweenie," Tim Burton has finally created the Rosetta Stone that perfectly encapsulates his preoccupations, his inspirations, and his own peculiar world view. There is biography contained in many of his films, bits and details and a perspective on certain things like suburbia and childhood, and "Frankenweenie" could well turn out to be one of his most essential films in any discussion of who he is as an artist.
John August wrote the script for this new version of the film, but this project sprang from Burton's head and heart. The original version, the live-action short film he made during his first tenure at Disney in the early '80s, was released briefly to theaters attached to the front of "The Black Cauldron," the studio's flawed-but-fascinating foray into fantasy. Along with his other short film, "Vincent," they felt less like auditions for commercial filmmaking and more like art therapy on Disney's dime. The feature version seems to merely expand on the ideas that were already present in the short, but in ways that flesh things out nicely.