I have a feeling "The Dictator" is going to be an important movie for Sacha Baron Cohen.
"Borat" was lightning in a bottle. He'd been building up to that moment for a while, and 20th Century Fox did everything right in releasing the film. They turned it into a moment where you had to see what it was, even if you didn't want to, just so you could be part of the conversation.
With "Bruno," there was an entirely different set of expectations placed on the film and its performance, and it was harder for Cohen to shoot because people were aware of him and aware of his techniques. And while I think it's a very funny film, I also think there's only so far you can go in ambush comedy. What makes me respect Cohen's work isn't the "gotcha" element of springing something on an unsuspecting person, but rather the depth of character work he does in creating these comic personas.
Lately, he's been taking roles in other people's movies, and he's doing very good work. I liked him a lot in "Hugo," and I'm excited to see what he does with the character of Scotty in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." The things I've heard about the work he's been doing on the Freddie Mercury film he's been trying to get made gives me real hope that it's going to be something special.
I have a feeling "The Dictator" is going to be an important movie for Sacha Baron Cohen.
There are few filmmakers whose work speaks more directly to me on an aesthetic level than David Fincher.
Even so, my first exposure to his work as a feature film director left me convinced that he was not worth paying attention to at all. Considering how little he has to say about "Alien 3" at this point, it seems he agrees that it was not the best foot forward, and all accounts of the experience make it sound like it was a nightmare for all involved.
As a result, when I walked into his next film, I had no expectations at all, and I think I even had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the movie. A few hours later, I sat there, totally flattened by "Se7en," amazed at what the film accomplished and just how rough it played. It seemed like a film made by someone who had decided to never compromise again, and there was something genuinely dangerous about it. Immediately, my opinion of Fincher shifted, and in the years since, he's proven himself to be an immaculate visual artist, capable of creating some of the most arresting, electrifying images of the last fifteen years.
I know this is confusing, but this podcast was recorded between the Bret McKenzie and the Edgar Wright one. I just wanted to get the Edgar one up before tonight's programming began at the New Beverly.
The first time I met Guy Ritchie, Harry and I were trying to get him to bring "Snatch" to Butt-Numb-A-Thon. We had lunch with him and with Matthew Vaughn, who was still Guy's producer at the time, and by the end of the lunch, we had the film, and I'd really come to like the two of them just as film fans and guys.
The next time I saw him was on the set of "Sherlock Holmes," and he'd covered quite a bit of ground as a person and as a filmmaker in the years between those encounters. What struck me about that encounter was that he seemed to have made a choice about what he wanted, and that choice involved giant-budget tentpole movies. I certainly don't think that big-budget films are "better" than independent movies, or vice-versa, but I do think that the best way to get some creative freedom is by making a studio some serious money. Ritchie was coming off a series of misfires like "Swept Away" and "Revolver," and it seemed fitting that he had Robert Downey Jr. starring in his film, as Downey had also made that jump into franchise filmmaking with a real passion.
Now, as Ritchie prepares to release his first sequel, we sat down to talk about how he approached his interpretation of Professor Moriarty, the most famous villain ever faced by Sherlock Holmes, and how he felt about stepping back into the world. It's a pretty loose conversation, one of two I had with Ritchie last week. You'll see the other one as a video interview sometime this week.
That's right… the second podcast of the day, and this one is hot off the presses. Or the microphone. Or whatever a podcast is hot off of.
This morning, I talked to Edgar Wright about his New Beverly programming series, The Wright Stuff III, and we also talked about the idea that 35MM film is on its way out. This is something that is upsetting even if you understand the forces at play that are making it happen. I know how important the theatrical experience is to Edgar, and I wanted to ask him about how the festival's going so far.
For those of you who aren't aware of it, he's running a series of well-known films that he hasn't seen before, all picked by friends and fans and fellow film freaks, and he's finally seeing them on the bigscreen where they belong. They had a silent movie night with "The Gold Rush" and "Steamboat Bill Jr." the other night, and they had a great crazy night of surrealism last night with the Japanese ghost story "Kwaidan" and the Dr. Seuss film "The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T," and he's had guests to introduce the films like John Landis and Joe Dante and Alan Arkush and Patton Oswalt. Basically, this is film nerd central in Los Angeles all week long.
What else is playing? Well, here's the rundown of the rest of the programming, along with some special guests who will be there to introduce the films:
Wow. I really screwed this up.
Until someone asked me about it on Twitter last night, I was under the impression that I had published both the pre-Thanksgiving and post-Thanksgiving podcasts, and I even distinctly remember putting together the article for the first one. But when I went back to look, I realized that I seem to be going soft in my old age.
It's a shame, too, so I'm going to publish not one… not two… but three podcasts in the next 9 hours. It's going to veritably rain podcasts down on you people. And all three of them are overloaded with goodness, so hopefully that will make up for my apparent brain damage.
This first podcast features an interview with Flight of the Conchords member Bret McKenzie, and it's a real treat to talk to him about his work on "The Muppets." He's at an interesting point in his career right now, and they don't really make a ton of movie musicals. Still, I'd say he more than proved he's up for the task, and I hope more filmmakers reach out to him and build some projects around the work he does.
Okay… I'll admit it. This entire trailer is worth it for the punchline.
Before we discuss the first theatrical trailer for "Men In Black 3," let me ask you a completely snark-free question. How many of you are actually excited for a third film in the "Men In Black" franchise?
See, I think this is an example of a genuine franchise, a premise so flexible that you can drop different actors and actresses in as time wears in and salaries rise. I don't necessarily think that "Men In Black" has to star Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Then again, I'm not really even sure how people feel about the first one and the second one, a full decade after the second film and a mind-boggling fifteen years after the first one. Was it really 1997? The same summer as "The Fifth Element"? Because that seems like forever and a half ago, and I can't imagine the cast of "The Fifth Element" continuing that now.
Wait… Milla as Leeloo Dallas Moooteepass again and 2012-era Bruce Willis in another giant-budget Luc Besson SF film? I take it back. I can TOOOOOTALLY imagine that now, and in fact, I'm irate we're not getting it.
The year is over. For me, anyway.
On Tuesday, I'm recording the voice-over for my Top Ten Films Of The Year video, which Alex Dorn is already working to coordinate, part of the massive year-end onslaught of stuff you're about to get from the rest of Team HitFix. It's an exciting time of year for us because we're sort of mainlining films in one last crazy buffet of a self-programmed film festival for about ten or twelve straight days.
And so as I sit down to write the list this weekend, I'm looking at the list of qualifying films, also known as "All the new films I saw in 2011." Which is, according to my final count, 211 films. Not the most I've ever seen in a year, and not the least either. It's a good solid average number.
I'm always amused by how seriously people take "the rules" when people are making lists at the end of the year. All I can tell you is that my film year is not the same as Greg Ellwood's film year which is not the same as Kris Tapley's film year or Guy Lodge's or Dan Fienberg's or Alan Sepinwall's, just as my TV year is probably radically different than theirs, or my gaming year, or my year in books. Media becomes more and more of a personalized diet for people each year, because there's so much of it, and because the ways we ingest it are so different. Even if you attend the same film festival as someone else, there's no guarantee you'll end up seeing the same things.
I was very careful when I wrote about the "Dark Knight Rises" footage we saw the other day not to give away certain images or beats from the seven-minute prologue that will be available on a limited number of IMAX screens when "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opens on December 16.
But I feel like with the release of the new teaser poster for "The Dark Knight Rises," I don't have to be quite as careful, because the goosebumps-inducing ending of the preview reel is the same basic idea as the remarkable new teaser poster for the film that Warner Bros. just released.
Of all things, they used Twitter to debut this power, sending out a link mid-afternoon on Saturday, and right away, I expect that this poster is going to spark a spirited round of fan debates and speculation about what we're going to see when this final film in Nolan's trilogy arrives in theaters this summer.
Bane, played in the new film by Tom Hardy, is notable in his original comics incarnation as the man who quite literally broke Batman. I'm starting to get the idea that Nolan and his collaborators like the idea of giving Batman a physical challenge in this film that he's not ready to handle, and I'm starting to wonder if Nolan is indeed perverse enough to kill Batman in this film. After all, he's done. It's time to wrap things up, and there are very few ways that are more final to end a series than killing your main character.
One of my favorite books this year was a piece of fiction written by UK film critic Kim Newman, a collection of stories called "Moriarty - Hound Of The D'Urbervilles". It is a series of tales narrated by Col. "Basher" Moran, second-in-command to the insidious Professor Moriarty. The stories boast about successful wrongdoing and brag about various schemes gone right, and in all of them, Moriarty is presented as a barely-human monster with a bland face. It is a wonderful way to revisit the world of Sherlock Holmes from a new perspective, and it is pretty much pure fun.
One thing that is clear when you look at the entire body of work that exists out there about Sherlock Holmes and the various characters he's collided with over the years is that he remains one of the most elastic, archetypical pulp characters ever created. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle probably didn't even fully understand the allure of the character, which is true most of the time when someone has that moment of pure inspiration. In the stories he wrote, Doyle was careful to drop plenty of bread crumbs that other writers and readers have picked up over the years, clues to ways you could reinterpret or reimagine or even just reexamine the characters. If you don't like one interpretation, there's always another just around the corner, and there's probably some version out there that will exactly scratch whatever itch you have concerning the ongoing adventures of the world's crankiest genius and his stalwart if unspectacular companion.
Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram make sense as a creative partnership.
When I spent time in London for the first "Sherlock Holmes," I had the opportunity to take a long walk with Wigram over to the cathedral they were using for the opening of the movie, and as we walked, we talked about Holmes, Doyle, London, its history, and more. He was also one of the people who was involved deeply in the "Harry Potter" series, and so you could say he's trusted by Warner Bros in a very big way.
Although it's only been recently that "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." has been in the news in a regular way, Warner's been working to figure out a way to bring this one back to life for a long time now. Back in '99, they were reaching out to George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and others, and they never really figured out how to do it. It seems like Clooney must have been a fan of the original series just based on how many times he's circled back around to the property over the years. I'm sorry his back is forcing him to curtail the more physical roles because I think he'd be pretty great in a big Bond-like spy movie.