Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
New film from acclaimed documentarian is one of year's strongest
"Hoop Dreams" is one of the great populist documentaries of all time, a movie that worked as absorbing narrative and important social commentary, and while I like the subsequent films that Steve James has made, "Stevie" and "Reel Paradise" are much more genial, low-key, personable films.
The thing that made "Hoop Dreams" so hard to shake was the way it refused to play out according to the narrative rules that are ingrained in each and every one of us by the time we're adult moviegoers. Real life, captured with all of its difficult contradictions intact, is a shock to the system when we recognize it on a movie screen. We're used to the various filters of bullshit that are part of film storytelling, and one of the hardest things for any filmmaker to do, even when they're shooting a documentary, is to set all of those filters aside and find something honest and real and somehow capture it without killing it. If "Hoop Dreams" remained the high watermark for Steve James, that would be a tremendous legacy all by itself. Thankfully, "The Interrupters" is solid proof that James really is a gifted documentarian who can hit hard when he's got the right story to tell, and it's an important look at people doing selfless, challenging work that puts them in harm's way every single day.
Strong cast makes the most of a difficult script
"Our Idiot Brother" is a film that wrestles with tone, sometimes unsuccessfully, and it often goes broad at moments that might work better if played more honestly, but it has a great cast that seems willing to play ugly. That may surprise audiences who are there to see a more overt comedy, but it also makes "Our Idiot Brother" something more than has been advertised, something with more ambition, and it is obvious that director Jesse Peretz is interested in more than cheap laughs.
Expectation can be a difficult thing to manage with a movie, especially when advertising promises you something other than the film you end up seeing in a theater. In a post-Apatow world, you sell "Our Idiot Brother" as a wacky film about Paul Rudd driving his sisters crazy, and on a very surface level, that is what this film is. But the script by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz is aiming at something more difficult than that, and there are some very tough observations about the way we deal with our families as both children and adults here, and it feels like the cast is struggling at times to figure out exactly how real they're supposed to play this.
An interview with the star gets seriously silly
Paul Rudd is a hardcore comedy nerd. When you talk film with him, it's obvious that he's got a huge hunger for new comedy, and a huge respect for classic comedy. I've known him long enough now that it's become obvious that Rudd is one of those people you reach out to when you want to know what's going on in comedy around the world.
When Judd Apatow cast Albert Brooks as Rudd's dad for the currently-shooting "This Is Forty," I e-mailed Rudd just to freak out a little bit. If you're a comedy fan, there are few people held in esteem as high as Brooks, both as a filmmaker and a performer. I love that Rudd name-checks "Lost In America" in our interview, and I look forward to finding a time when I can ask him for tons of Brooks stories above and beyond the great one he told during this interview.
Two lovely ladies discuss one funny movie in these video interviews
Spending a Saturday afternoon with Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks is hardly coal mining. There are indeed days where I find it hard to believe that what I do is defined as a "job." A few weeks ago, they had junkets for both "Conan The Barbarian" and "Our Idiot Brother" on the same day, which made for a very interesting series of conversations on two radically different movies.
Elizabeth Banks, for example, is someone who has been carving out a very strange and unorthodox career for herself, avoiding the sorts of easy crappy romantic comedies that so many actresses end up trapped in. She's been working for the past decade without interruption, and it was in "Wet Hot American Summer" that she made her first strong impression. It's fitting that her co-star in that film was Paul Rudd, because both of them got a huge bounce from that movie, proving that they had strong comic chops. For Banks, there were a number of small roles in big movies like Raimi's "Spider-Man" series and "Catch Me If You Can" while also playing big roles in small movies like "The Baxter."
First extended footage scene still raises big questions about the event film
My first D23 Expo piece looked at the animation presentation that opened the three-hour event on Saturday morning, and I wrapped it up at the moment that John Lasseter left the stage to an explosion of confetti and the distribution of cupcakes.
As people started opening their cupcakes and eating them, Sean Bailey took the stage. Bailey is the president of production for Walt Disney these days, and he opened by acknowledging what had just happened. "I have no baked goods. Sorry. I have no pastries. I hope good movies will do." Just like Lasseter and Ross, he started by talking about how much Disney means to him, and he quoted a famous Walt Disney statement. "I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty." That statement, when it works, is the appeal of the Disney brand, and it's incredibly important to their identity as a studio. These days, I'd say Pixar is the best example of that philosophy, but it's also a real motivator for the people running the live-action side of things, and looking at the slate of films they brought to promote, I'm curious to see which of these hit that sweet spot most accurately.
John Lasseter hosted a look at where Disney animation is right now
D23 Expo made for a very early Saturday morning. I needed to be in Anaheim by 9:30 AM to check in, and that meant leaving my house in Northridge by about 7:45 in the morning. Hats off to the Disney folks for the way this morning's event was handled. It was incredibly easy to park, walk inside, and get seated in the main arena. All told, I made it from my car to my seat in about fifteen minutes with no hassle at all.
That left me with about an hour to sit and wait for the presentation to start, and the first thing I noticed was the way the big giant screens above the stage were constantly showing Disney "facts" that seemed to be designed to reinforce several different ideas. First, did you know that four out of the eight films that have earned a billion dollars worldwide were released by Disney? Because they made sure to emphasize that at least three different times in three different questions. And do you know the story of why "A113" shows up in various Pixar movies? Because they made sure to include at least five different slides to reinforce that idea. There was a big emphasis on Walt Disney as an icon, and a real effort to push the characters Mike Wazowski and Sully back to center stage. It was very canny, very hardcore mythmaking and marketing, and I could almost hear the meetings that went into picking each and every slide that played.
No word yet on casting, but it sounds like a strong take on the story
It's been a long time coming, but this week feels like a sort of a miracle to anyone who's been following the story of the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. are free men today, albeit with some rather large caveats attached. Still, considering Echols woke up on Death Row, I'd say it's been a massive improvement for all of them, and they had some big help to get there.
The full story of the involvement of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will, I'm sure, be published at some point, but it's not because they want a film out of it. They've been doing this quietly behind-the-scenes for a while now, and they've been a big part of today's decision. I love that Berlinger and Sinofksy were there for it, and I can't wait to see "Paradise Lost 3" at Toronto next month.
I'm not sure any one film can tell the whole infuriating, insane story of what these guys have been through, or what the families of the victims are still going through, but if anyone's going to take a shot at pulling it off, I must admit Atom Egoyan is a better than average choice.
Vampires were always a box that the actor "wanted to tick"
Director Craig Gillespie and star Colin Farrell were kind enough to sit down with me and discuss their new film "Fright Night." It was a treat for me, as doing these interviews is a lot more fun when you've enjoyed the film you have to talk about.
Colin Farrell chews up the scenery in his darker, more aggressive version of Jerry the Vampire. The original incarnation, played by Chris Sarandon, played the piano and had a penchant for sweaters. Farrell's version is a more dangerous and brooding type more befitting of a predator. The new Jerry trades in the sweaters for a dirty wife-beater tank top and keeps a super creepy secret rooms in his house to jail his victims and drink their blood over time, like a walk in fridge.
It is apparent that the actor is a vampire fan. When I asked him about his influences he rattled off a string of movies including "Near Dark" and Coppola's "Dracula." He had definitely been looking to play a bloodsucker at some point in his career, saying "I'm just a big kid, it was definitely one of those boxes I wanted to tick."
You will believe a supernatural demon biker with a flaming skull can pee fire
One of the things I'm interested in seeing in "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" is how the shooting style of Neveldine/Taylor, the directors of the film, adapts to something involving a character that is largely CGI-assisted.
After all, these are the guys who famously shoot their action sequences on roller skates, whose films have actually been diagnosed with ADD by a physician, and who love to throw as much random nasty nonsense as possible at the audience. When you've got a character that depends on a visual effect as much as Ghost Rider does, you need to shoot a certain way… or do you? You add 3D into the mix, and it sounds to me like a recipe for a class action lawsuit concerning motion sickness.
I'll say this about the film. It looks like they're serious about taking this in a very different direction than the first one, and knowing that Cage actually got to play the freaky flaming skeleton head version of the character this time is important. He really is Ghost Rider now, and not just Johnny Cage. In the first film, the Ghost Rider didn't really have a strong sense of character. He felt like an effect. But in this one, Cage is the character the whole time. That helps.
His 'Hell's Angels' project sounds much more promising
Ah. I see Tony Scott wasn't content to let his brother ruin my day.
The notion of remaking "The Wild Bunch" is not a new one. There's been an ongoing conversation about it for a while now. In January, Borys Kit did a nice rundown of the internal remake conversations going on at Warner Bros., and I lost my damn fool mind about the notion of this particular title going in front of the camera again. It's asinine for all the reasons I explained before. Even with Brian Helgeland, a very smart guy, writing the remake, I just can't see it.
I'm having a hard enough time making peace with the notion of a "Straw Dogs" remake, but at least that's based on a book. With "The Wild Bunch," I just can't imagine someone else doing it in a way that improves upon what Peckinpah had to say with that movie. That was as personal a statement as any artist slipped by a major studio in that era. It's like "remaking" a Picasso. You can paint the same thing he painted. You can even paint it in his style. You might even make aesthetic choices that I like more. But the truth remains… he painted it first, and it was his statement. Yours is just an echo.