Dreamworks Animation finishes off a best-ever creative year with another winner
There are very few riffs on the big superhero icons that have yet to be played. Within the officially licensed playgrounds of characters like Superman and Batman and Spider-Man and the Hulk and Wonder Woman and the like, they've played every variation on the theme imaginable, and that doesn't count all the unofficial ways people have digested and re-digested this material and these archetypes. Post-modernism has given rise to a rich tradition of taking these characters and intentionally inverting the basic ingredients to see what will happen.
Which is a long way of saying "Megamind" isn't particularly cutting-edge in terms of the way it plays with the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor, but it is smart about it. Director Tom McGrath and screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft & Brent Simons start with some very familiar origins, and from those very first moments, they're playing with expectation. Megamind is launched as a baby from a dying planet, his spaceship programmed to take him to Earth. On the way through space, though, he encounters another spaceship with another baby, and that's the spaceship that lands in the perfect place, with the perfect parents, with the perfect baby inside eventually growing into the beloved hero Metro Man. Megamind's spaceship lands inside the walls of a prison, where he is raised to be a criminal. He embraces his identity early on, hating Metro Man for all of his advantages and for the way he's beloved. Their lifelong rivalry falls into a pattern that should be familiar to anyone who ever read a comic book. Megamind kidnaps Metro Man's girlfriend Roxanne Ritchi, Megamind threatens the city, and Metro Man saves the day. Over and over and over.
Plus John Carpenter's directing 'Darkchylde'
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Wow. So that's what Tintin looks like.
Empire's been teasing this for the last week, revealing these individual panels, never saying exactly what it was they were teasing. Their readers had it figured quickly, though, and over on Bleeding Cool, they've been trying to sort out the panels as they've been revealed, confident that the eventual reveal would be one of the great iconic Tintin images, he and his dog Snowy running along a wall while a spotlight shines on them. Sure enough, that's the cover of the next issue of the magazine, and my first reaction is that Tintin is incredibly realistic and that the world looks incredibly beautiful and the whole thing is… strange.
That's a natural first reaction, though. The other day, I had lunch with Alex Dorn, who posts articles here on the blog now, and we were talking about how he and I both great up with Tintin, which isn't a common American thing. In my case, I had a next-door neighbor and best friend whose parents were from Germany, and they had all the Tintin books in the house. In his case, he grew up overseas, where Tintin is a much bigger deal. And as we discussed the upcoming Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson collaboration on bringing Tintin to the bigscreen, the big question was still "What will it look like?" I told him what I'd heard from the WETA Digital people, and now that I've seen the three stills that Empire is running, I'm not sure it looks at all like I thought it would.
One lucky winner gets a little something extra, too
Okay… now that we've given away the "Apocalypse Now" Blu-rays, it's time for another Blu-ray contest, and this time, we're giving away one of my favorite films of this year.
One of you is going to win the grand prize, which is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," as well as a signed copy of the CD soundtrack for the film (Young Neil himself, Johnny Simmons, signed it) and a special collectible Backstage Pass.
Four more of you will win special Backstage Passes and copies of the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
All of this is courtesy Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and ABKCO Records, and all you have to do if you want to win is send me your very best fake band name. Scott Pilgrim may have been part of Sex Bob-omb, but I want to know what bands you guys would christen given the chance.
Me? I've always been partial to Paulie's Robot.
If you want that Grand Prize, though, you should also include the name of your first album. The best band name/album title combination takes the big one, so do your best. Make me laugh.
Familiar material played darker than you'd think makes for uneven comedy
It's more "Starsky and Hutch" than "The Hangover."
That may seem like I'm bagging "Due Date" right off the bat, but it's more a case of setting expectations at the right level. There are a number of big laughs in the film, and both Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis show up ready to play. It's a film that has problems with connective tissue, though, and what you're left with is thin, a sort of rough draft of what might have been a much better movie.
One surprise up front that probably shouldn't be: don't expect the warm fuzzies to be the main goal of the movie. This is in many ways the exact model of what studios want from a comedy these days, but because of the darker notes that Todd Phillips can't help but play, the film is basically "Planes, Trains, and Sociopaths." It's strange, because Robert Downey Jr. has the ability to make you like almost any character. It's been his gift since the beginning of his career, and the reason he was the exact right person to cast for "Less Than Zero." He played a moral vacuum in that film, a piece of human garbage, and yet you can't stop watching him. Zach Galifianakis has a very different comic gift, the ability to play straight-faced eccentric with real authenticity. It's easy to be weird. It's hard to make weird feel real and also be funny. The entire point of doing this sort of a road movie is to pick two personalities that are going to clash in an interesting way, and that hopefully are compelling.
Meet the two charming men behind one of the year's most intense films
One of the worst experiences I've had with a screening this year was in Toronto, and despite a bizarre series of technical and logistical screw-ups that delayed the film by nearly two hours and cost me another screening, I ended up deeply affected by "127 Hours," which is a real testament to just how effective the film is. For a movie to immediately make all of that accumulated stress and irritation drop away is a real trick, and I've certainly been guilty of letting the day leak into viewings of films. It happens to anyone who does this day in and day out.
Little wonder, though. Danny Boyle's been a favorite of mine since his first film, "Shallow Grave," and it's been great watching the way his voice has developed from picture to picture. When I really like a filmmaker's work, it's doubly upsetting when they make something I really don't like, and that's been rare in his filmography. He's tried some of everything, it seems, and he's done most of it really well. It's hard to pinpoint his signature precisely because he's so nimble, but what I think unites Boyle's films is the way he constantly strives to use film and music together to bring you past an intellectual reaction to his films. He's a smart filmmaker, but he's interested in the visceral, the pure reaction. His best moments in his best films are amazing, emotional, and immersive.
That's "127 Hours" in a nutshell. The whole point of the film is to put you in the same position that Aron Ralston was in when he got his arm pinned during a rockslide while he was free-climbing by himself in the Utah desert. Working from a lean and winning screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, Boyle has crafted an experience that's both highly stylized and deeply realistic. By pushing the style as far as he does, Boyle gets at the way something would really feel.
Plus how you can win your own Millennium Trilogy prize pack
This week, two different series are wrapping up on theater screens in America, and they're very different movies, although both are worth examining to look at how they wrapped up the respective stories they're telling.
"Saw 3D" is a movie I resisted seeing. I don't find the "Saw" films scary, and I don't find them interesting, so I'm sort of at a loss as to what I'm supposed to be taking away from the experience at this point. I reviewed the last movie, "Saw VI," and my feelings on that one were far more positive than my feelings about what it alleged to be the last film in the series. Of course they won't leave it alone. There's no way. The "Saw" series has kept the lights on over at Lionsgate for most of the decade, and they're not going to let that property disappear at this point. If they're smart, though, they'll take a break and let the audience get hungry for the title again, because right now, they're running on empty, creatively speaking.
There was a nasty bit of behind-the-scenes business with director Kevin Greutert, who also made "Saw VI." He was originally hired to make "Paranormal Activity 2," but Lionsgate freaked out and exercised a contractual option to force him to direct "Saw 3D" instead. Call me crazy, but forcing a filmmaker to direct something they weren't interested in making seems like a recipe for disaster, and his work in this film would seem to bear out just how disinterested Greutert was. There's little energy or wit on display here, and even the traps, which have increasingly become more and more ridiculous and elaborate, are treated with a sort of perfunctory quality here. This doesn't feel like the grand finale to anything. It feels instead like a story that's over that is now just marking time, repeating itself.
Plus Halloween silliness from around the Internet
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Well, we're finishing out our first month of having The Morning Read back on the site, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the feedback from you guys so far has been very strong. It feels good to be back at it, and I'm surprised I let it go as long as I did.
On the one hand, I think I'm going to have to re-retire the idea of "one thing I love today" because I have no idea how my schedule will work out sometimes, and if I don't have that one finished at the end of a day, it ends up not getting written, and I'm not going to have it be this erratic thing that only occasionally hits its target. On the other hand, the podcast is back up and rolling, and I think I have a handle on how to produce it on my end so that it's simple. iTunes should have us up any day now, so that should help you guys who are hoping to use their interface to follow the show. Overall, a good October to follow up a crazy September.
When I was at the "Salt" premiere at the end of the summer, I ran into Peter Bogdanovich, and it was one of the best random encounters I've had all year. He is a true legend, a guy whose writing about film is just as crucial and significant as the actual films he's made. I just watched the new Warner Bros. Blu-ray of "What's Up, Doc?", and I was struck anew by how great Bogdanovich can be. Next month, Criterion's putting out "The Last Picture Show" on Blu-ray, another must-own. When we were talking at the party, I asked him about some of his other films and the possibility of ever seeing them on Blu-ray, like "At Long Last Love" and "Saint Jack," and he was frank about the difficulties with each of them and the roadblocks that stand in the way of any immediate release. If today's news is true, though, and he's got a few high-profile films coming soon as a director, then maybe those lesser-known and loved titles will be considered assets worth cashing in. I love the notion of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach producing "Squirrel To The Nuts," a screwball comedy written and directed by Bogdanovich. I love it because that's a great trio of comedy brains to put together, and I love it because that's a wildly unsubtle title that made me laugh when I read it. And I have no idea what he'll do with a screwball comedy about "an escort, a theater director, and a private detective," but that's a promising start. The filmmaker has also adapted Kurt Andersen's Turn Of The Century, so here's hoping we get several films from him in the near future, new and old alike.
Can Disney turn this cult film into an international blockbuster?
For me, "TRON Night" took place at 11:00 in the morning in Burbank, on the Walt Disney lot.
Employees and journalists alike crowded into the theater across from the old Animation Building, and we were just one of many screenings in a row taking place in that same space today. What we saw was the same presentation that will be screening in theaters across the country and in 48 countries around the world thanks to Disney's partnership with IMAX. This is the last big gun in the belt of Disney as they prepare to release one of their biggest corporate gambles of the year, and my honest opinion as I walked out of the theater is that they have aimed high, bet big, and that it's anything but a sure thing.
That's good, though. I think if they had made the safe, simple, continuity-free reboot of "Tron" that was certainly possible, it might be more of a safe bet, but it would also be a lot less interesting to watch slowly come into focus these last few years. Since that first legendary moment at Comic-Con, when they showed Joseph Kosinski's proof-of-concept footage and the crowd went insane, "TRON: Legacy" has been a film that has felt unlikely in every way.
Even this morning, sitting in that theater on the Disney lot, I have a hard time believing that the film exists in this particular form. Joseph Kosinski alone is such an unlikely guy, this brilliant guy with a hard-science education and a meticulous, almost alien eye, that I can't imagine anyone else having the sensibility required to do something that feels so eerily tied to the original, but so resolutely cutting-edge as well. When "Tron" came out in 1982, I remember the hype about the film, and I remember all the talk about the way the computer revolution was about to begin. I remember photos in Time magazine of the Cray Supercomputer that was used to render the film's groundbreaking computer-generated imagery.
EW's cover sports the WW2 era hero looking battle ready
We finally get an "official" eyeful of Chris Evans in Cap's duds from "Captain America: The First Avenger" on this week's cover of Entertainment Weekly. A first look that may tell us a few things about the film itself.
The photo itself is stylized to look high contrast and grainy, adding to period feel of the costume, which seems to be made entirely of stitched leather and perhaps a super secret WWII version of kevlar. The bullet-marked shield looks to have been though a firefight, (or perhaps Dan Fienberg returned it all messed up?)
Plus special guest Devin Faraci talks about being a badass and plays some Movie God
This week, I took the MCP, also known as the Motion/Captured Podcast, on the road. I drove over to Devin Faraci's palatial Silverlake estate, purchased with all the piles of money that Tim League drove up to Devin's house in a dump truck when convincing him to jump ship from CHUD so he could start his new site, Badass Digest.
After wandering around the grounds for a few hours trying to find the house, I was greeted by part of his security team in a Jeep. It only took a half-hour for them to drive me to the place where Devin wanted to record. I wanted him to be my guest this week because Chris Morris, the director of my favorite film at Sundance this year, is this week's featured interview on the show. How is Devin related to the film "Four Lions"? Well, Badass Digest is an offshoot of the Alamo Drafthouse, financially and spiritually, and the brand-new Drafthouse Films is the American distributor for the film. This is their first film as a distributor, and Devin's involved in pretty much everything over there. That means he's about to hit the road on a "Four Lions" tour to help spread the word on the movie.
I wanted to talk to him about his new site, his new role with the Drafthouse, and I wanted to play a round of Movie God with him as well. Devin turned out to be a particularly cruel Old Testament Movie God, with no mercy at all, and it's a pretty great round of the game as a result.