Sorry if you don't live in the US, because this one's region-gated, I believe.
I'm not a big fan of the "TRON" mythology. I tried. I like the original film for what it represents, an adventurous move on the part of Disney, and I like the ambition of the sequel. I like the effort. I like the attempt. I just don't think either film is very good, ultimately. They look cool. They seem to offer up a pretty amazing potential. But so far, dramatically, I'm not feeling it. I don't connect to the goofy earnest nature of the original, and I really don't understand the second one's choices.
Having said that, I think that fandom is all about opening yourself up to something, and the only way to really fully enjoy something is to embrace the story being told or the world. Because I can't really get my head around the reality "TRON" tries to create, I can't go where they want to go story-wise. There are plenty of you out there who do like it and buy into it and dig what they've set up that I'm curious if you enjoy new versions or expansions of that.
Sorry if you don't live in the US, because this one's region-gated, I believe.
Sacha Baron Cohen has spent the last few weeks in constant salesman mode, appearing on talk shows and in public as Admiral General Aladeen, the main character in his new film "The Dictator," and while this is standard operating procedure for Cohen when he's got a film coming out, it may be a miscalculation this time. I think "The Dictator" is funny, frequently very funny, but it's a very different film than "Borat" or "Bruno," and this whole living-in-character thing may be sending the wrong message to audiences.
As I observed in my early report on the film from CinemaCon in Las Vegas, it's important to note that this is a scripted comedy where everyone in the film is in on the joke. This is a far more standard comedy than Cohen's earlier films, and it's an important jump for Cohen to make as a performer. I'm on the record as a fan of both "Borat" and "Bruno," and I think they're remarkable as examples of performance art. Those movies have victims, though, and that's something you just have to accept if you're going to watch them. Cohen created these characters that he would then drop into reality to see what happened when people bounced off of them, and much of the point was to draw people out, to expose their feelings about foreigners or gays or to explore racial tensions. They are impressive and even dangerous at times, and they felt necessary when they were made.
You've got a lot of options for what to watch and how, and we want to help you plan your weekend with a new column where we'll highlight three things you can see in theaters, three things you'll find streaming, and three titles new to home video. Appropriately enough, we call this The Weekend Watch.
"The Avengers" continues to suck all of the oxygen out of the room this weekend, even with "Dark Shadows" entering the marketplace. I'm curious to see if they can get a $100 million second weekend out of the film, which would be a 50% drop, and I'm curious to see if the Depp/Burton pairing is enough to overcome decidedly negative reviews and an ad campaign that never really kicked into high gear.
With films that big and high profile, though, you know they're out there. I doubt anyone's going to startled to hear that "Dark Shadows" is opening, and I'd be amazed if there's anyone on the planet who isn't aware of "The Avengers" by now. So instead, let's point out some alternatives that are out there this weekend that might not be getting the same level of attention, but that are absolutely worth your time as well.
Any time I want to feel really old, all I need to do is spend some time with Chloe Grace Moretz.
Watching her prowl through "Dark Shadows" playing a character who is just on the verge of adulthood, it struck me how far she's come in what seems like just a few short years since I first met her. The first time we spoke, she had on a purple wig and was doing backflips out of a window as she was shot repeatedly in the chest for about 20 takes in a row. It was on the set of "Kick-Ass," and as I spent the next few days watching her work with Nicholas Cage, I was struck by how incredibly focused and self-aware she was, and how important her on-set support system of her mother and her brother were to keeping her protected. After all, "Kick-Ass" was fairly rowdy material, and even actors older than her might balk at some of what she was asked to do in the film.
Not Chloe, though. She has this ability to throw herself into the work she's doing completely, and a truly adult understanding of the things she's being asked to do. When I saw her the next time, it was for the Comic-Con panel on "Let Me In," and it was interesting to see her spend time with Kodi Smit-McPhee, her co-star in the film. He struck me as much younger than her, emotionally, and when they were together, she suddenly seemed much more like a kid. In those moments she was away from him and talking, that adult sensibility would drop back into place, and that contradiction seems to sum up what it is that makes Chloe so interesting on film.
Here's what I wrote when I saw the film "American Animal" at SXSW about a year ago:
Take "American Animal," for example, a film by Matt D'Elia. I am shocked that the film is not the culmination of a long-running stage production that someone decided to adapt for film, because that's what it feels like. It is a relatively intimate affair, with only four actors and one main set, and it has that sort of ebb and flow rhythm that is common to stage productions. Jimmy (D'Elia) and James (Brendan Fletcher) live together, and their primary activity seems to be avoiding any and all productive actions. They invite over a couple of girls, Blonde Angela (Mircea Monroe) and Not Blonde Angela (Angela Sarafyan), and at first, it's like we're watching this weird hybrid of a drugged-up party and a performance art piece. But there are secrets simmering just below the surface for both of the guys, and over the course of a very, very long evening, we get a glimpse at the harsh realities that they're both hiding from.
D'Elia is an intense screen presence, and serving triple-duty as writer, director, and lead actor is one of those things that can easily overwhelm a young filmmaker. Not a problem here. Jimmy is always on, larger than life, slipping from one persona to another, and it's all an act designed to hide a fear of impending mortality, and there is a point to the outrageous behavior. There is a sadness beneath the mania, and D'Elia never crosses the line into making the character impossible to like. He just skates on that line really carefully. Fletcher makes a perfect fencing partner for D'Elia, as does the strikingly lovely Sarafyan, who seems unimpressed by Jimmy's aggressive eccentricity. What I love is how the film doesn't excuse Jimmy's actions, but it does explain them, and we're allowed to have our own reactions, good or bad. D'Elia goes through a radical physical transformation in the film, and it's just one expression of how committed the entire thing feels. This is what I want from indie filmmakers… personal visions that are uncompromising, films where you can feel the passion, movies that had to be made. "American Animal" deserves to be seen, but more than that, it deserves to launch D'Elia as a filmmaker of note, and I'm curious to see where he goes from here.
A year has passed since I wrote that, and the film is about to finally get a release to theaters. You'll get a chance to see it. And I'm curious to see what people make of it. To help give the film some attention as it attempts to compete in a marketplace where "The Avengers" is apparently grossing $100 million every six hours or some such madness, I thought it would be nice to have D'Elia out to the house to talk about the film he made, the films he draws inspiration from, and the films he hopes to make in the future.
What else is there to say about Tim Burton?
At this point, he's been working the same sort of thematic and visual material for thirty years now. And how old am I? Old enough to think of Burton as "relatively recent" in terms of working directors.
It's easy to reduce Burton's work to his stylistic signatures and his incredibly familiar color palette. When you see a Tim Burton movie, you know you're watching a Tim Burton film. You may hate the film you're watching, and I've certainly felt that way several times in his career, but you still have to acknowledge that he's found a way to indulge his interests and cast his favorite people and just plain make his stamp, no matter how impersonal or corporate the movie is.
I wonder sometimes what would have happened if he hadn't made "Batman" in 1989. He was shooting the film through much of my freshman year of college, and I was following the film's progress from a distance. I was convinced he was going to turn out to be an inspired choice, a choice that would update "Batman" for a whole generation of viewers.
When you release the first trailer for a film, it says a lot about what that movie's meant to be, and sometimes, it's not really what you expect.
From the moment Warner Bros. started putting together "Gangster Squad," which was still called "Tales From The Gangster Squad" at that point, it seemed like it would fit neatly into a tradition of "LA Confidential" and "Mulholland Falls," movies about the history of the police in Los Angeles using real life as a jumping-off point.
And while today's trailer does indeed seem to confirm that, what I found surprising was the tone of the trailer. I guess I should have put it together when they hired Ruben Fleischer to direct the film. So far, he's had a sense of fun to what he does, a down-the-middle popcorn sensibility. That's not an insult, either, just an observation. He makes movies for the audience, and it looks like "Gangster Squad" is going to be far more focused on the fun than on the hunt for awards.
Fine by me.
We finally know what Edgar Wright's "The World's End" is about.
It's funny, because even knowing Edgar casually and having spoken with him any number of times since the first mention of what will now be the conclusion of 'the Cornetto trilogy," I've never had any desire to push him for information on the film.
After all, I figure we're not going to get endless collaborations between Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, so I look at it as a very special thing when they do get together to work. "Shaun Of The Dead" was this great out-of-left-field lightning bolt moment, "Hot Fuzz" was all anticipation, and so for "The World's End," I've done my best to just sit back and relax and wait to see what it is when the time is finally right.
Evidently, that's today.
The first time I ever saw Michelle Pfeiffer on a film set, it was when she was shooting "Batman Returns." It's fitting that we'd finally sit down for a formal interview for her first work with Tim Burton since then, as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the head of the Collins family, desperately clinging to whatever faded glory and dignity they once had.
I was running late to the press day thanks to traffic, and I was getting phone calls from Anne, the Warner publicist, letting me know that I was going to be the last person sitting down with Pfeiffer for the day. When I finally got to the SLS, I jumped out of the car, ran outside, and within 30 seconds of arriving, I was sitting across from Pfeiffer, which is enough to fluster even someone who had time to prepare.
Pfeiffer has managed to stake out her own place in Hollywood for thirty years or so now, and I admire the way she makes choices and the way she's established room for her role as a mother and a wife as well. It's so easy to get pulled into the idea that you have to keep working, that you have to treat every film as part of a career, but when I got to spend some time on the set of "Stardust," she ended up being remarkably approachable and easy to talk to. It was clear that she works when she's interested in something, and not just to work.
I have a weird relationship with Tim Burton's movies.
Fitting, I guess, since he's such a particular filmmaker. And this is going to be one of those reviews where you read it and you look at the letter grade and you say, "Are you sure those match?"
When "Alice In Wonderland" came out a few years ago, I found myself getting actively angry at almost everything about the film. I hated the script. I hated the way they bent Lewis Carroll's work. I hated the performance choices. Nothing about it worked for me, and beyond that, it irritated me. That film, of course, made well over a billion dollars around the world.
When "Mars Attacks!" came out, I thought it was wildly flawed, but also entertaining and ridiculous and packed with details that made me sort of fall for it, flaws and all. If I had to give "Mars Attacks!" a letter grade, it might not be a good one, but I own the film and I've seen it many times since that initial screening.
Often, I've noticed that when I really enjoy something that Tim Burton does, it makes other people mental and vice versa. Knowing this, I am probably not the best barometer for most people on Burton's work. All I can do is be honest and admit that, yes, "Dark Shadows" is one of those films where I see a lot of problems with it, and they pretty much don't matter to me because of what I enjoyed about it. I think the overall effort is endearingly ridiculous, and here's a way to gauge your own expectations for the film: how do you feel about "Death Becomes Her"?