On a breezy afternoon in Santa Monica last June Universal pictures invited HitFix and handful of journalists to visit the edit bay of next summer's tent pole movie "Battleship" to see the films' progress and talk to director Peter Berg.
If you're a fan of spy fiction, you're pretty much covered this Christmas no matter which flavor you like. For people who like the big and improbable and outrageous, with action to spare, there's Brad Bird's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," and if you prefer the more thoughtful, quiet, real-world approach, prepare to bask in the glory of Tomas Alfredson's new film version of the John le Carre classic, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."
I've been addicted to spy stories, both fiction and non-fiction, since I was very young, and one of the things I remember as a formative event for that interest of mine was the broadcast of the TV version of "Tinker Tailor" that starred Alec Guinness. I tuned in because of Alec Guinness, who I already knew and adored from "Star Wars" and "Bridge Over The River Kwai," and at first, I was disappointed because I thought all spy movies were supposed to be just like James Bond films. As the series progressed, though, I got drawn into this world of quiet power plays, a world where the most dangerous men weren't the ones who looked dangerous, but the ones you barely noticed. I read the le Carre novel, and then read the rest of the books featuring the same character, George Smiley, and that led me to read non-fiction about the history of MI6, and then that led me to reading about the American intelligence community, and a lifelong obsession took hold.
I've got some great coverage of "The Five-Year Engagement" coming for you in early 2012, and I am really looking forward to the film. Now, thanks to what I feel is a strong first trailer, you can get a look at what I've been waiting to talk about for a while now.
Jason Segel's got to be feeling good these days about the reception to "The Muppets," which he co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller. This, though, is much closer to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," their first film together, and it's a film that was Stoller's passion project just as much as the Muppets represented a personal passion for Segel. I spent a day in San Francisco watching them work, right at the end of the shoot, and you'll see a glimpse of the scene I was there for, the actual proposal that kicks off the movie. I saw a ton of footage from the film as well, and even in rough form, there were some great moments I saw.
Here, though, we've finally got our first polished look at material from the film, and I think this trailer does a lovely job of selling both the underlying idea about a young couple who experience a string of delays that prevent them from actually having their wedding, and I think it sells the tone as well as some of the more outrageous humor that punctuates their journey.
"Cowboys and Aliens comes out on disc this week, so I thought I'd dig out a previously unpublished video interview I did with director Jon Favreau.
The movie didn't do as well as he and the rest of the cast would have liked, but still, it was an interesting experiment in genre mixing, and an all out love letter to westerns on Favreau's part.
Although I wouldn't consider myself a rabid fan of all his movies, I have come to appreciate the man for the obvious passion and love for his craft. He shows an obvious interest in every part of the filmmaking process, and can get into the nitty gritty of all the little technicalities of a production. Sadly, this is a rare trait among the directors that I've met.
I really enjoyed talking to him over the course of the "Cowboys and Aliens" production, and I think you can tell from this interview.
The "Mission: Impossible" franchise is a strange one.
For one thing, I think people often misuse the word "franchise." Just because they make a few sequels to a movie, that doesn't automatically qualify that thing as a franchise. I think of that more as a description of a film property (or book property or game property… whatever sort of IP you want to substitute) that features a basic idea or premise that can be endlessly refigured to fit new casts, new creative teams, and new storytelling styles, with little real regard for continuity. "Mission: Impossible," from the moment it first aired as a television show, has offered up a near-perfect franchise engine, a premise so simple, so feather-light, that you can do anything with it, and as long as you strike those same few notes, it's recognizably "Mission: Impossible."
Over the weekend, I rewatched the first three "Mission: Impossible" films on Blu-ray. I've always been fond of the first one, and looking at it now, it's one of those early CGI-era movies that reaches for some groundbreaking stuff in how action is staged and shot that doesn't totally work on a technical level, but that deserves respect for pushing the envelope as much as it did. More than that, though, it's a fun piece of pop culture subversion that was designed to acknowledge the old school, then annihilate the old school, then introduce Tom Cruise as the new school. Brian De Palma made each set piece feel like he was having fun, and it was big and complex and sleek and absolutely proved that it would work on the big screen.
The second film is so bad that it feels like someone who was very angry at John Woo decided to make a MAD-magazine-style parody of John Woo films and then release it with his name attached as director. Awful.
When my wife told me we were expecting our first son, my first response seemed entirely rational to me. I went to a bookstore, and I bought a giant collection of Dr. Seuss stories.
Why not? When I think about the things I want helping shape the world view of my kids, the work of Theodor Geisel is high on that list. Like Jim Henson, there is a decency and an expansive kindness that is central to his work, and if filmmakers hope to capture what works in the stories he created, they have to aim high.
When I went to the offices of Illumination Entertainment recently to check in on what they were doing with "The Lorax," I was very curious. One of the most overt of Seuss's books, "The Lorax" comes with a built-in environmental message that was upsetting 50 years ago but which is positively terrifying now considering how little we seem to have learned in that time.
My favorite thing about that photo of Yates, taken as the sun was going down in Orlando at the end of a long day spent at The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, is the way the silhouette behind him isn't a backdrop. Those are the actual spires of Hogwarts, part of the incredibly effective illusion created when you're actually there in person.
When you visit Islands of Adventure, the park is divided into different "worlds," and it's designed so that when you stand in each one, it's all you can see, and you're meant to be immersed in those worlds. The theme park aspects of the Los Angeles Universal park have always felt like an afterthought to me, wedged into the corners of a working studio property, but the Orlando park is a proper theme park, and you can tell it has been carefully designed and executed to give guests a very particular experience.
With The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, they've built it so that when you walk into Hogsmeade, it immediately feels like you've stepped into the world of the movies, and the effect is very impressive. There are familiar shops and restaurants all around you, and you can eat at The Leaky Cauldron or go shopping at Mr. Olivander's Wand Shop as you work your way past the stands selling Butterbeer or the twin dragon roller coasters, Hogwarts stands above all of it, a fantastic example of real-life forced perspective in environmental design.
A few weeks ago, I flew to Orlando to visit Harry Potter.
To be fair, I went to visit The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, part of the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure park, and to participate in the press day for the release of the "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" Blu-ray release. When I was invited, I had no idea who would be there, but I wanted to go and participate in what may well be the last major press event for the Potter series.
Oddly, I've never interviewed anyone associated with the Potter series during the entire run of the thing. Since 2001, I've been an observer, and that's been fine. At Ain't It Cool, Quint was the Potter superfreak, and I didn't feel like there was any reason to fight him on it. And here at HitFix, it's been a matter of timing that's led to other people going to London for various Potter set visits and press days.
It's been okay, though, because it's one of those things that was fun to watch as a finished product all the way through. I saw the Potter series the same way the public did, and because I never walked through the sets, never sat down with the cast, never really peeked behind the curtain. Hogwarts is just as substantial to me as it was to any other viewer.
Ahhh, the fine art of rumormongering.
Over the weekend, we got involved in a bit of a friendly back and forth with Latino Review over "Star Trek 2," or whatever the film's finally going to be called. They published the news that Benicio Del Toro was playing Khan Noonien Singh in the new sequel that is set to start shooting just after the start of the year, and we contacted JJ Abrams directly to ask him to comment. "Not true," he said.
Now it seems that Del Toro dropped out of negotiations to star in the film last Wednesday, and according to Vulture, Abrams is now looking to cast someone else as Khan. They claim they have a very highly-placed source and that, like Latino Review, they're hearing Khan is indeed the bad guy.
Technically, if negotiations broke down on Wednesday, then when I asked Abrams if Del Toro was playing the part on Friday, his "not true" is accurate no matter what the part is. After all, he didn't send a giant response detailing who is or isn't the bad guy he's using in the film, so he could very well have been playing by the rules, answering the question he was asked while volunteering nothing else.
I always loved the way an actor could show up in more than one role in the "Star Trek" universe, and it looks like Peter Weller is going to pull the same trick now as he steps up to play a major role in the new "Star Trek" sequel.
He previously showed up in a two-episode guest role for "Star Trek: Enterprise," which of course is just part of his science-fiction resume. He is most famous for being the original (and in my world, only) Robocop, but he's also appeared on shows like "Odyssey 5" and in films like "Leviathan" or "Screamers" or, most wonderfully, "Buckaroo Banzai."
Little by little, we're starting to see the shape of this new cast, and I like it. I'm excited to see Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto pick up the characters again, surrounded by that cast including Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho, and I think it's obviously very important who you play them off of now that they're a crew.