This was a tough one for me.
When I don't like a film, I don't blame the actors. I think actors have a tough gig, and when you're making a name for yourself, you take the work that's offered to you, and you try to do it well. Most actors have little or no control over the material that they're given to perform, and all they can do is try to find some truth in every scene and do their work as well as possible.
Walking into the press day for the new prequel to John Carpenter's "The Thing," I found myself in the awkward position of really liking the cast and really disliking the movie, and I didn't want to make that the focus of these conversations. I view it like this… in an interview, I'm giving the filmmakers or the cast a chance to make their case for the work they've done. In my review, I can respond to that case they've made. My job is not to make these people uncomfortable or to walk in and attack them over their work.
This was a tough one for me.
At Fantastic Fest, one of the just plain fun highlights for me that had nothing to do with immediate coverage was attending a midnight screening of Lucio Fulci's "Zombie." I was especially pleased because Eric D. Snider, Portland's greatest bearded hilarious film critic, had never seen the film and agreed to join me for the screening.
I'm not an across-the-board fan of Fulci's. I think he's got his moments, and any short list of the things he got right has to include "Zombie," if only for one of the greatest things ever captured by a motion picture camera.
Yes, I'm talking about zombie versus shark.
"Allen, you've seen three 'Star Wars' movies now."
Allen is three, keep in mind. "Yes."
"Can you tell me what they are?"
"I seen the one with Darth Vader, where they're on the spaceship, and they blow it up, and I seen the one where Darth Vader cuts off Lukeskywalker's arm, and I seen the one where he cut off Darth Maul's body."
"What's your favorite one?"
"'The Phantom Menace.'"
Damn. I was afraid of this.
In the world of big-budget franchise management, the stakes are very high.
When your job is managing an intellectual property, you aren't just telling a story or making a movie… you're creating something that is meant to service something larger. In the case of the "Judge Dredd" property, this is the second time filmmakers are taking a shot at bringing the character to the screen, and they've got the advantage of having seen it done absolutely wrong by Hollywood the first time.
Based on reports that have started to trickle out over the last week, it sounds like they're making all new mistakes this time, and I'm curious to see what happens with the film now that Pete Travis, the director on the film, has been shut out of the process.
I think my dad would have made a badass cowboy.
You know who the toughest men in the West were? Old men. You know why? BECAUSE THEY MANAGED TO GET OLD. No easy trick back then, no matter how you made your living. It was a frontier, and they had to carve a living out of that land. I think my dad would have done that very well, and I think he would have enjoyed it on an existential level. He would have been in his element in every way.
After watching "Blackthorn," the new western starring Sam Shepard, I feel like I've got a much more specific idea of what kind of old cowboy my dad would have been. If I didn't know better, I'd say Shepard spent time with him at some point and studied him a bit. He is a weathered, wise, but still vital man in this film, a guy who has found his place in the world, his role in things, and who is mostly at peace with it.
"Mostly" is the key word, since Shepard's James Blackthorn is a man haunted by something or someone that he ran from at some point, and in flashbacks, we are given pieces of his past that eventually add up to a pretty spectacular reimagining of a real-life Western legend.
When you say "Johnny Depp as Dr. Seuss," the first image that flashes at this point is one of his patented weird-voiced eccentric larger-than-life performances.
That's not who Theodor Geisel was, though, and if Universal and Illumination Entertainment are serious about making a biopic that honors the remarkable life and creative output of this man who has helped shape the early imaginary lives of 50 years worth of kids, then I'm genuinely excited. This could be one of the coolest things Depp is currently attached to, and the hiring of Keith Bunin as a writer indicates that they're treating this as a serious drama, not a wacky kid's film.
I find it interesting that people right away assume that this is going to be another performance like The Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka or Captain Jack Sparrow. Why? Dr. Seuss was not one of his own characters. He was a guy who lived from one end of the 20th Century to the other, working in advertising, publishing political cartoons and propaganda work during WWII, and finally helping to redefine children's literature with his classic works that are still read around the world.
Earlier this week, talking about the casting of Werner Herzog as the bad guy in the first Reacher film, "One Shot," I mentioned how nervous I am about that film.
There is one other film in development that makes me more nervous, though, and it's because someone's adapting one of my very favorite things, and I'm still not sold on the creative team that's attached. I want to believe, though. The last thing I want is to be negative about a new "Thin Man" movie.
In general, "The Thin Man" is important to me. I love Dashiell Hammett's novel. I love the film series starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. But more than anything, I just plain love Nick and Nora Charles. They may be my favorite fictional married couple of all time. There's just something delicious about their chemistry, and part of it is the way Nora seems to indulge and support all of Nick's worst habits. There is an understanding and an acceptance that is part of their relationship that I love dearly, and it's always been the thing I've sought in my own relationships. I don't think all of the "Thin Man" movies are as good as that first one, but their chemistry stayed crisp and compelling in every scene in every movie they made together.
Sounds like a kinder gentler Mark Millar/Matthew Vaughn film to me.
One of the things that has defined the modern era of comic book writing is the way writers these days take familiar tropes or character types and bend them in all sorts of interesting ways. Frank Miller and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman were in the first wave of guys doing this, and in some cases, they were able to work with the actual characters and the results were something like Miller's landmark "The Dark Knight Returns" or Moore's "Watchmen" or Gaiman's "Miracleman" or Morrison's "Animal Man." In other cases, they invented characters that were similar to things we knew, and then dirtied up the icons in very subversive ways.
Mark Millar has had great success working in that vein, and in particular, he and Matthew Vaughn found it to be very fertile ground when they collaborated on the film version of "Kick-Ass." Now it looks like the two of them will be working together again, although not on the sequel that many people expected.
Instead, they're going to be bringing Millar's new series "Superior" to the bigscreen, and based on the description of it, it sounds like "Shazam with MS." I don't mean to be reductive, but the key to what makes "Shazam!" so potent is the idea of a young boy finding himself in the body of a super-powerful being. It's like seeing a 10-year-old behind the wheel of a Ferrari. There's so much potent drama in that archetype that adding a crippling illness to the equation is a very interesting complication. Our own Greg Ellwood tells me he's hooked on this book, and I'm sure I'll be checking it out now, if only to see what it is that Millar and Vaughn are cooking up.
What are you doing next Thursday night?
That's a week from now. I can tell you what I'll be doing. I'll be at the Arclight in Hollywood, where I'll be moderating a special Q&A after a glorious bigscreen viewing of John Carpenter's "The Thing."
And I hope you'll be there with me.
Right now, the roster of guests we're going to have there is growing every day, and I hope to have some great surprises for you after the film. There's going to be a giant display of props and other memorabilia downstairs at the Arclight, a special commemorative program book that's being produced for the event, a special poster… it's crazy how much effort's gone into this, but that's because Taylor White, the man behind Creature Features, has geek in his DNA, and when he sets out to put one of these events together, he pulls out all the stops.
While I was away at Fantastic Fest, I got so crazy busy that I was unable to interview Pam Grier and Robert Forster about "Jackie Brown," which is one of two Quentin Tarantino films arriving on Blu-ray this week.
I mean that sincerely, too. I love "Jackie Brown." I think if you counted how many times I've seen each of Tarantino's films, "Jackie" would be the clear winner. It's the emotional journey the film takes me on that I keep going back for. Everytime I reach the reprise of "Across 110th Street," I feel the same surge of adrenaline and emotion, the same sensation of running towards the future, free and finally realizing what that means. I love the performances, the cinematography, the dialogue, the relationships, the soundtrack. It didn't feel like a 1997 film when it came out, and it still feels timeless. The Blu-ray transfer is superlative, rich and film-like, and it sounds amazing.