You will not be surprised by "Safe House."
It is pretty much exactly what it looks like. It's an action exercise with two fairly dynamic leads, both of them taking visible delight in putting the other through their paces. It is a solid big studio debut for Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, and whatever merit the film has is due largely to his aggressive aesthetic choices.
Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA operative looking to make his name inside the agency. He's pulling a first posting punishment of sorts, working in a South African safehouse, tending this anonymous space every day and waiting for action that never comes. It's been a year, and he's seen no one. He's done nothing. He is convinced that he's fallen off the edge of the earth, and any calls he makes to his one DC contact, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), seem to be getting him nowhere.
Then trouble walks in his door in the form of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former agent-gone-rogue who has been at the top of everyone's wish list for the better part of a decade. He's been picked up and he's on his way out of town for debriefing, and Weston doesn't have to do a thing to help. There's an entire team of badasses led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) tasked with getting some information out of Frost by tuning him up, and all they need from Weston is for him to get out of the way while they work.
You will not be surprised by "Safe House."
I considered my options carefully.
My first impulse, one which I wrestled with for about a half-hour, was to use my elbow to strike you once in the throat, as hard as possible, hoping that if I were to crush your windpipe completely, it would silence you.
Obviously, there are drawbacks to that approach, not the least of which would be the assault charge. I'd hate to have to deal with bail just because I went to see a review screening of "This Means War," so I restrained myself.
But I want you to know… it was not easy.
Let's back up a bit. I'd like to try to have an actual dialogue here, and that probably isn't going to happen if I start by describing imagined violence against your person. It's not my fault, though. It really isn't. You need to take some responsibility because your conduct tonight was so above and beyond horrible that I can't believe you are allowed out in public without a leash, a handler, strong medication, or some combination of the three.
The first part of our video diary was all about the build-up to the trip out to Skywalker Ranch. Once we got there, we had time for a little breakfast and Toshi and I started to discuss what sort of questions he might ask in the interviews he'd be doing that day.
This was a different situation than when he interviewed The Muppets. On that press day, he had time to prepare questions, and he knew he'd be doing the interview. Because I treated this trip as a surprise, Toshi didn't really have that sort of prep time, and he told me he was nervous about doing these interviews.
When Fox sent out the invite for the weekend, it was apparent that their big idea for this junket was having kids handle the interviews. Anyone who came was required to bring a young reporter with them, which meant I finally got to meet the sons of guys like JoBlo's Mike Sampson and Latino Review's Kel Chavez. I told Toshi that I'd do whatever he wanted for him to be comfortable as we went through the various interviews.
Even by the standards of family adventure movies, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" feels completely slapdash and indifferent, a trailer for a franchise that just happens to run feature-length. It is scripted as if someone greenlit a first-draft treatment without bothering to flesh it out or hone any of the ideas, and the idea that we're supposed to care about seeing these characters return in future adventures would be insulting if it weren't so obvious that even the people onscreen aren't invested in that actually happening.
The general idea of building a franchise of movies out of the public domain works of Jules Verne is not automatically a bad one. Theoretically, I can see that working. In practice, though, this does not appear to be the right way to do it. The first film, "Journey To The Center Of The Earth," played more like a proof-of-concept reel for 3D event movies than as a real film. It leaned on whatever franchise weight Brendan Fraser was able to muster, with Josh Hutcherson playing his son in the film. This sequel does not bring back the original director (Eric Brevig), the original screenwriters (Michael D. Weiss, Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin), or Fraser. Instead, they've refitted the movies so Hutcherson is now living with his mother ("Sex and the City" star Kristin Davis) and her new husband Hank (Dwayne Johnson). There's absolutely no effort made to explain Fraser's absence or to connect this with any sort of narrative thread to the first film. Aside from the actual on-screen title, there is no evidence that this is a sequel at all. This is an odd move, but it sort of exemplifies the approach of the entire film. It's all so incredibly painless and weightless and inconsequential.
It started with an e-mail while I was at Sundance.
I was still gearing up for that festival, a massive drain of time and attention, getting settled in at the HitFix condo and figuring out my schedule for the days ahead, when I opened an e-mail from Fox.
I had to read it several times before I was convinced that they had sent it to the right person, and even then, I had to e-mail them back to make sure. After all, I had spent over a decade being told in no unclear terms that I was officially Banned From The Ranch. And yet, here was an invite for Toshi and I to fly up on a Friday night and spend a weekend participating in a press junket to celebrate the release of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" in 3D.
The first call I made was to my wife to find out how she felt about the idea. I love doing the Film Nerd 2.0 stuff with Toshi, but he's six years old, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel like he's obligated to any of this. I also don't want to just make unilateral decisions about travel when Toshi's involved, and so we talked about the pros and the cons of taking him. One immediate issue that we both recognized was that Allen would end up feeling slighted no matter what we did, because he's at that age where he is acutely aware of what Toshi gets to do that he doesn't get to do. It matters to him, and contending with that fierce sibling rivalry means sometimes making choices that head the issue off completely.
Harry Potter may be well and truly over, and I get the feeling that Jo Rowling is not kidding when she says she told the story and she's done and that's that. But Daniel Handler left plenty of room for revisiting the strange and somber world of his Lemony Snicket novels, and now they've made the official announcements that confirm what Handler's been hinting at for a while.
On October 23, Little, Brown Books will release "Who Could That Be At This Hour?", which will kick off a new series called "All The Wrong Questions." And while the previous series of novels was concerned with the fate of the Beaudelaire Orphans and their ongoing rivalry with Count Olaf, a degenerate weirdo who was chasing their inheritance, it seems that they will play no significant role in this new series. Over the course of "A Series Of Unfortunate Events," all of which were narrated by Lemony Snicket, there were clues dropped about a much larger storyline, clues which were left up in the air at the end of the series. It looks like that material is exactly what they'll be tackling in this new series, and for fans of the books, this is very good news indeed.
Last week, we featured the announcement of much of SXSW's feature programming, but noted that they still hadn't announced the Midnights section.
Now that they have, I think it's safe to say that SXSW plans to blow your ass off this year. And I mean surgically and precisely. They are programming an aggressively wild line-up, some of which I've seen, some of which I haven't. They've also announced shorts in a wide array of categories, filling out what are frequently some of the most exciting parts of a festival in terms of finding new voices. You add this batch of titles to what we'd already heard, and it's looking like a great year for one of my favorite fests, starting on March 9 with "The Cabin In The Woods."
There are eleven Midnighters this year. I've linked back to my reviews of a few of them, but I'm curious to see all eleven as they work together on audiences. "REC 3" is a pretty big get for SXSW, but honestly, the title that excites me most is "Iron Sky." This is a great example of a crowd-sourced piece of art that has been nurtured along from initial joke to trailer to feature film, and if it works, it's going to be something a lot of people have helped happen. Great to see that "John Dies At The End" and "V/H/S" are going to screen for Austin crowds. Both films almost feel custom-designed for these audiences.
Well, it's still "The Phantom Menace."
That's pretty much all the review that matters. Either you're okay going to see the first chapter of the "Star Wars" prequels, released to such heated response in 1999, or you're not. The only new thing I can discuss is the 3D post-conversion, and that's another topic where it feels like everyone already knows their opinion about it before I say a word.
We're going to have some more content related to this re-release of the 1999 film this week, and all of it is going to be related to our Film Nerd 2.0 column. After all, if we hadn't watched the movies for the column last year, and if Toshi hadn't started doing interviews for the column, there's a chance none of what happened last week would have happened.
Remember… I spent over a decade officially Banned From The Ranch. While it upset me at first, it eventually just became a funny story, a battle scar from my long time writing about films online. The short version of the story is that I learned about the banning in early 2000, when Harry and I were in San Francisco for a screening event, and we got invited out to Skywalker Ranch for a tour. When we submitted names, everyone was cleared except me, and they explained that it was because I had reviewed the script for "The Phantom Menace" a year earlier. Once that was established, I had to accept it, and I just resigned myself to never visiting the property or even being allowed to visit ILM's facility at the Presidio.
I'll be curious to see what happens with "John Dies At The End" as the year progresses.
It's got to find a distributor… it's just too singular an audience experience. I understand that the William S. Burroughs version of "Ghostbusters" is a hard audience sell, but I also think there's real value in it for the right distributor. Someone's going to have to give it some TLC if they plan to open it, but with the right campaign, the film's weirdness could be an asset, not something to run from.
While we were at Sundance, I published a conversation I had with Don Coscarelli, the director of the iconic "Phantasm" films, about adapting and directing the book by David Wong as a film. He was joined by his co-producer Paul Giamatti, who helped produce the film. I had a blast with those two, and of all the formal interviews we did at Sundance, that's the one that I could have sat there continuing all day. Their enthusiasm for the film they made was infectious.
Early Monday morning, audiences got a chance to see the new trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man" at a special Sony event that was held in 13 cities around the world, and I was there. I shared my impressions from that event with you in an earlier piece.
Now it's your turn to get a look at Sony's latest attempt to explain the difference between this new version of "Spider-Man" and what we grew used to in the Sam Raimi films.
There's quite a bit to look for in the trailer. You'll see Peter Parker, wiseass. You'll get a glimpse of The Lizard in all his greenness. You'll see some of the scale that they're going for this time, as well as the sense of humor that seems like such a fresh addition to the series.