Welcome back to Film Nerd 2.0.
As we move forward with this column, one thing is important to remember. In the end, these are my kids. Not a social experiment. Not a reflection of me. Not an accessory for the column. But actual kids who only get one actual shot at childhood, and whose emotional lives are my responsibility. I consider the sharing of movies to be one of the primary things that we share as social creatures, and that's not a small thing. Movies travel across culture and geography and time to communicate essential truths and absurdities and experience and invention and hopes and fears. They are invaluable, and as media becomes more and more portable and flexible in the daily lives of people, including my kids as they get older, why not be careful about the road map you provide these people?
Many of my DVDs have been removed from their cases and placed in 300-disc books, and one of Toshi's favorite things to do is page through those books and look at the various images and titles and ask questions about them. I try to answer his questions honestly but there are a lot of films he asks about that I can't even summarize to him without it raising questions I can't answer yet. He is aware that I write about the movies we watch together, and after the reaction to his Muppets interview at the school he attends, I think he understands that it is not something everyone does, and that it's special.
Welcome back to Film Nerd 2.0.
I don't care if you judge me for it or not: I am dying to see another Riddick movie.
The original "Pitch Black" was one of those great little B-movie genre surprises, and when Harry and I first saw it, there was still some uncertainty on the part of USA Films about what to do with it. We programmed the film at the very first Butt-Numb-A-Thon as our "middle of the night wake everyone up" movie, and it was a great screening. Vin Diesel even ended up flying to Texas just to do a meet-and-greet at 3:30 in the morning.
When Universal made the much-bigger-budget sequel, it seemed to be the kickoff to a larger franchise, building out a SF world in which Riddick was more than just a scary dude, but a lynchpin for an epic adventure. I have a huge affection for the work of writer/director David Twohy anyway. I think he's a guy who speaks B-movie fluently, and while some might see that as an insult, I don't. I think there's something about the high-concept genre movie that can be especially exciting when done right, and Twohy strikes me as a guy who genuinely wants to entertain, and who doesn't have a single film snob bone in his body. While "The Chronicles Of Riddick" did not succeed wildly at the box-office, I thought it was wild, wicked fun, and had a great "what's next?" ending.
When I was much younger and starting to actively get interested in film, there were a few key books that helped ignite that interest and validate it. First, there was a copy of the Pauline Kael book "For Keeps," a sampler from her other published books of film criticism, that I must have read cover to cover a good four or five times. Her book taught me to dig deeper into a movie, and to be able to articulate why I love something even when no one else does.
The Danny Peary "Cult Movies" books also were important to me because they suggested that the world of film outside of the mainstream might actually be more interesting or rewarding. Peary's descriptions of these films have stayed with me so vividly that even this last year, when I finally checked one more title off the list, it was his book that was forefront in my mind as I sat down to watch.
There was another book that made an equally large impression on me, but for different reasons. In 1978, Harry Medved, Randy Dreyfuss, and Michael Medved wrote "The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time (And How They Got That Way)," and what I didn't know at the time was that Harry Medved was 17 when he wrote it, while Dreyfuss was 19. Makes sense, because the book is written with an insistent attitude that seemed very persuasive to nine-year-old me, but that I have found more grating each time I've gone back to it over the years.
"The Devil Inside" is an insidious kind of terrible movie, a movie that is simply low-grade bad for most of its thankfully brief running time before offering up an ending so openly contemptuous of the audience as to feel like a prank. Short version of this review: nope. Don't see it.
If you require more than that, then I'll be happy to share. I was invited to see the film at a screening tonight that Paramount held in downtown Los Angeles, and I was all set to go before I got invited to something else, something I'll write about tomorrow. Because that was at the same time, I decided to do that and then just pay for a midnight show of "The Devil inside" somewhere in Los Angeles. The other screening was on the Fox lot, so I considered staying there at the Century City AMC theater. They had an 11:45 screening of the film listed. Instead, because we got out of the other film and in our cars by 10:30, I decided to drive back to the Valley to see the movie near my house at the Woodland Hills Promenade 16. They had an 11:30 listed. I made the drive in time, and at 11:10, stepped up to buy my ticket and got told that the film was sold out.
I was so surprised that I think I stood there for a minute staring at the girl behind the window like she'd just called me a name. I still had time to try to find another screening, so I checked my phone, saw that there was a theater at Coldwater and Victory, right in the heart of the Valley, where there was a 12:01 show.
At this point, I think Warner Bros. should ask themselves if there's any figure at which they truly believe audiences are clamoring to see a mostly-white live-action version of "Akira" made for a profoundly compromised budget.
I'm not sure there's any price tag that the film works at, frankly, because I'm still not sure who they think they're making the movie for. This has been a long development process, and I've read a number of different drafts of this as it's been winding its way through the studio system. It feels like every writer who's worked on it has tried hard to craft something that honors the spirit of what "Akira" is about, but little by little, most of the world-building, most of the rich detail that would make this something unusual or special, has been squeezed out, and what's left doesn't really work as "Akira," and it doesn't feel like it works as something new, either.
Ruairi Robinson almost made the film, and Albert Hughes almost made it as well. It looked like Jaume Collet-Serra was going to be the guy to finally get it across the finish line, and the film was announcing cast members, looking like a full-speed-ahead green light…
This makes sense.
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman adapted to the particular demands of making a "Paranormal Activity" movie with real aplomb this year, working quickly on a demanding schedule and turning in a film that absolutely extended the life of what is becoming one of Paramount's favorite franchises, teeny tiny cheap little movies that earn giant bags of cash for the studio each year.
So why wouldn't Paramount want to bring them back for another one? After all, they've demonstrated that they understand the rhythms of the series, and that they have a head for the increasingly-complicated mythology that is evolving from film to film. I talked to them this year about their work on the film, and they described the process to me as something that was difficult but also really exciting and fun, and it resulted in a movie that I think works very well.
There are days when there is just a torrent of news you're interested in, and other days where there's nothing at all. It's almost funny when one news story has about a dozen names you're interested in, all working together, a collision of many different interests all at once.
We talked yesterday about the needless panic about the prospect of a sequel to "Bridesmaids" happening without Kristen Wiig, and one thing that renders that question moot at this point is her schedule. She's busy nine months of the year with "Saturday Night Live," and then she's got, evidently, 40 movies she's making in those other three months. Those better be some well-scheduled months, but I think it could be worth it.
After all, who wouldn't want to be part of the second narrative feature film from acclaimed legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris? True, his first shot at making a fiction film was the adaptation of Tony Hillerman's "The Dark Wind," a 1991 film that barely got any distribution after a troubled post-production process. Even so, this is one of those guys whose voice is so strong and who has so much to say and who has been so consistently interesting since the amazing "Gates Of Heaven" in 1978, and if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as a storyteller, it's him.
Speaking of remakes…
Even though "Carrie" is considered a classic of the genre and was both a critical and commercial hit, there seems to me to be enough flexibility to allow for a new interpretation. That story can be retold in new ways to find new resonance. That's one sturdy central metaphor they're dealing with.
I'm not sure the same is true of "Evil Dead," which isn't particularly built on theme and subtext in the first place. "Evil Dead" was a purely visceral experience, terrifying because of how stark and ugly and isolated it was. Thanks to the much-larger success and visibility of "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn," many people define the "Evil Dead" series with a sense of humor. "Army Of Darkness," the third film in the series, pushed it even further, and for many fans, that was their first "Evil Dead" in a theater, meaning there are many different groups of fans who have many different ideas of what "Evil Dead" even means.
Since it was the first major thing he published, little wonder "Carrie" has had a longer and more robust multi-media life than almost any other Stephen King novel.
It was a novel, and then obviously a very well-liked Brian De Palma film with Sissy Spacek, and then a much-much later sequel that no one remembers, a huge terrible infamous Broadway musical bomb, a TV remake, and now, if MGM and Screen Gems have their way, another remake.
And oddly, I'm not opposed to the idea.
There is a reason "Carrie" keeps coming up, a reason people keep returning to the material. There is something potent about the idea of the outsider looking for acceptance and getting snubbed, something rich in the notion of the cruelty of teenagers, and something brilliant in the concept of budding sexuality tied to the unleashing of terrifying powers. King hit the jackpot with that book, and De Palma's film benefitted greatly from the collision of a hungry young filmmaker, the right material, and a cast that was loaded with budding movie and TV stars.
Looking at the headlines today, it sounds like Universal threw a drink in Kristen Wiig's face in the middle of a restaurant.
I think the truth is probably a little more nuanced than what we're reading so far. No doubt Universal would like another helping of whatever just earned them almost $300 million worldwide. Basic studio math says "We paid $30 million, we made about $300 million. Yep. More, please." The film is not just a commercial success, but a genuine awards-season contender, a critical hit.
There's a fair degree of speculation in the Hollywood Reporter piece that kicked this off today, suggesting financial tensions between Wiig and Universal. If you read closely, Wiig did not speak to them for their story at all. I think the choices she's making indicate that she's not looking at immediate superstardom or purely financial factors in what she's signing on to do. She's been building towards this for a while, and things like "Friends With Kids" or "Clown Girl" or "The Comedian" all have personal, independent origins, and they sound like challenges, movies that won't be easily sold in 30-second spots.