Yes, that's right… I'm on vacation.
Right now, my family and I are on a private jet traveling the globe and having amazing adventures. Or we're at my house and laying around in the pool. Whichever version makes you happy, feel free to picture that. The point is, I'm taking a week away from writing here at HitFix to relax before we start the insane crush of work that kicks off with our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6.
In the meantime, I'm going to be publishing a topic for conversation every day between now and when I come back, and I am going to ask you guys to carry the weight here. I've said in many place, during podcasts and in articles and even in person, that I consider all of this a conversation. It doesn't work in a vacuum. It doesn't work if it's just me talking at you. You are an essential part of the equation, and that's why I want this week to work a little different.
Yes, that's right… I'm on vacation.
Yes, that took longer than I promised.
Yes, I should stop mentioning a deadline if there's any chance at all I'm going to miss it.
On that note, let's dig back in. The first piece I published covered only one third of the characters I wanted to discuss. I broke them all down according to the broad archetypes of "The Good," "The Bad," and "The Ugly." Based on the comments section, I think some of you missed the point I was making. This isn't a re-review where I'm using "The Bad" and "The Ugly" to point out flaws in the film. Instead, I'm looking at "The Bad" as people who are motivated only by their own desires, who are willing to hurt others to get what they want. And with "The Ugly," I'm talking about people who fall into some grey middle zone between good and bad, people who can occasionally do the right thing but who are often driven to do the wrong things. I think those characters are the most fun to write and to watch because they get to have all the shameless fun of being a bad guy and all the cathartic release of being a good guy.
Hopefully after you read today's conclusion, you'll see what I meant, and I want to thank you guys for both being patient and for being such an active part of the conversation once I finally posted the first piece. I want to challenge you to participate even more next week while I'm on vacation, but more on that later this morning.
"Premium Rush" is a very silly, very slight film that is invigorated by David Koepp's obvious fascination with how to capture the visceral thrill of being a bike messenger in modern Manhattan. It barely holds together as a narrative while you're watching, but there are some basic pleasures to be had.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has, fate willing, a long and exciting career ahead of him. He's comfortable with comedy, drama, romance, action, dancing, singing, and who knows what else. He seems unafraid of any subject matter, and his work with HitRECord, his art collective movement, reveals him as someone with a hunger for the pure thrill of invention. So when he says in the press notes for the film that one of the things that helped him decide to do "Premium Rush" was the thought of riding bikes in New York in the summer, I buy it. I can see how he'd want to mix it up, and there is a physical challenge inherent to a film like this that would be appealing to an actor who is as keenly aware of his body as Gordon-Levitt seems to be. Koepp has staged some remarkable bike action in and around Manhattan, and I'm not sure how much is real, how much involves stunt performers, and how much had to be created in a computer or massaged in some way digitally. I sort of don't want to know, either, because the trick of the film is that Koepp makes it all look like he just got a camera next to Gordon-Levitt or Dania Ramirez or Wole Parks when they were hauling ass through the terrifying daytime traffic of New York City. It's a seamless trick, and that's a big part of what Koepp's job was in making the movie.
It is increasingly uncommon to have a day on a set alone, with no other press, but with Judd Apatow's films, there is a long precedent that is on my side. After all, I've visited him on all of his films, as well as many of the movies he's produced, and I've built a rapport with Judd and with many of the people who work on his films that makes it very easy to hit the ground running when it comes time to write about what he's working on.
When I got the call to drive down to the set of "This Is 40," I was told that they'd picked the day specifically so I would have a chance to talk to Albert Brooks. That was a priority for me because of how much I adore his work. I'd talked to Paul Rudd a few weeks earlier about how excited he was to have Brooks playing his father in the film. Considering he had just finished a film where Jack Nicholson played his father, I told Rudd he was rapidly defining a very strange niche for himself as an actor, but one that seemed like it would be a lot of fun.
Mike Birbiglia has gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of telling the story of his early days in stand-up comedy and the sleep disorder that forced him to take stock of his life. First, it was material for his act. Then he did an episode of NPR's "This American Life" based on that material. Then he developed it into a book. Now, based on that book and all the other previous versions, he's finally turned it into a movie. He stars in the film, he wrote the script with his brother Joe, "This American Life" producer Ira Glass, and his co-director Seth Barrish, and the result is intensely personal, a laser-accurate look at the self-imposed pressures of a life in show business.
When I first heard Birbiglia was making a film version of the story, I assumed it was going to be a documentary of sorts. It isn't, though. Instead, it's a slightly fictionalized version of the events he lived through, and while much of it is funny, I think it's ultimately a small-scale character drama, well-observed, and Birbiglia reveals himself as more than "just" a comic presence.
I do not envy Adam Berg.
Many first-time feature directors are cutting their teeth on found footage films or remakes these days, simply because that's so much of what is being produced. It's a tough spot to be in.
On the one hand, you get a guaranteed greenlight, and you know the studio is going to promote the movie because it's an investment for them. These remakes are about extending the copyright on something. They're about keeping intellectual property in circulation. They are expensive marketing campaigns to sell the original in a super-deluxe home video edition. They are business, pure and simple, and as such, you know the studio is going to put a certain amount of muscle into making sure people see the movie.
But on the other hand, you are competing with another film before you ever roll a frame of film. You've got this original film out there, and audiences have whatever relationship they have with that film. If they love it, they might hold that against you. If they hate it, they might never give your film a chance. The percentage of great remakes to uninspired remakes is daunting, to say the least, and I think when you tackle a title that has a devoted fanbase, you're really daring fate.
You had me at "Kat Dennings."
The absurdly plush actress was one of the comic highlights of the first "Thor," so it was great news to hear that she's coming back for the sequel. I know there were many people who thought for sure that the sequel would lose some of the key cast of the original just because they had trouble imagining Natalie Portman doing a comic book movie sequel.
Sounds like everyone's onboard for "Thor: The Dark World," a title I like a lot. In general, I love how the Marvel sequels seem to be using subtitles instead of numbers. It also sounds like they're taking existing storylines from the comics and tweaking or expanding them so they fit into the continuity established by the movies. Great idea. It gets fans excited because they know generally where things are headed, but there's enough invention going on that everyone's got surprises in store for them.
It looks like a happy ending is in the cards for Don Coscarelli's adaptation of "John Dies At The End," which is great news for fans of the director or the book or just plain weird movies.
"John Dies At The End," or "JDATE" for short, has been on my mind the last few days as I've been reading "This Book Is Full Of Spiders," the sequel to the novel by David Wong that inspired Coscarelli's film in the first place. Having seen the movie, it's hard not to picture the cast of that film going through the rather insane paces of the sequel, and I'd love for this film to eventually do well enough that Coscarelli gets the chance to do the follow-up.
Since its premiere at Sundance this year, Coscarelli's been fine-tuning the film, and it's gone through some fine edits as well as some work on the effects to bring the last act of the film to life. Now Magnolia/Magnet has stepped up to distribute the film, which is great news because one way or another, you'll have access to the film.
"Side By Side" is interesting because it is a snapshot of a moment, an attempt to capture an argument mid-stream, one that will be resolved at some point soon but which is, right now, one of the primary conversations happening about the state of our industry.
Virtually all of the student filmmaking work I did was on video. We were lucky enough at my high school to have a non-linear editing suite, but these were the days of VHS to VHS, and it was still crude compared to the editing firepower available to anyone with a laptop these days. At that point, video was not in competition with film for the business of movie making. It just wasn't an option. The best-looking film shot on video was still shot on video. It was something even the least sophisticated viewer could see right away.
These days, digital projection and digital filmmaking are so technically sophisticated that the entire conversation has had to change. The question is no longer "does video look as good as film?" because we've realized that isn't the point. Video still has a number of signatures that make it different from film, but instead of being limitations now, they are just differences, and the best artists working in movies today are hotly divided over which tools to use, what to use them for, and what it means for the art as a whole.
The Toronto International Film Festival finished announcing the full line-up for the 2012 festival, starting September 6, and what they've put together is an almost decadent amount of exciting cinema, featuring highlights from earlier 2012 festivals as well as a number of major premieres. Their Midnight Madness section is amazing, as we discussed earlier, and it feels like every single section of the fest has been programmed with several major events.
The last batch of titles arrived today as a series of press releases. The Masters programme was the first one I read, and there are several films here that I've already seen, including a few of the Cannes titles I never got around to writing about. Michael Haneke's "Amour" is playing, and I think it's a lovely, gentle, broken-hearted look at what happens when the people we love start to disintegrate. I wasn't as fond of Christian Mungiu's "Beyond The Hills," but I think it's the sort of film that any serious film fan should see to at least form their own opinion. I'll be writing reviews before the festival for both "Like Someone In Love," the latest from Abbas Kiarostami, and Bernardo Bertolucci's "Me and You," a tiny little story about a boy and his half-sister and a very unusual "trip" they take, and I'm glad both of these will be in the conversation in Toronto.