It's the most wonderful tiiiiiime of the year.
Sure, most people sing that phrase as part of a Christmas carol, but for me, September is the month when I get all my presents, and once again, it's looking like it's going to be a month overstuffed with pleasure.
Last week, we heard the first batch of titles that were announced for the Toronto International Film Festival, an amazing overabundance of movies I am absolutely dying to see. That's what Toronto normally is for me, a collection of things I've already heard about that I'm eager to finally lay eyes on, while Fantastic Fest tends to be the opposite. That's more about me discovering films I've never heard of and would otherwise never see, and I simply trust that the programming team, which has done an amazing job each and every year so far, is going to once again lay out a buffet of amazing treats that I'm going to savor.
This morning, we've got the official announcement of the first wave of titles, and while I don't recognize many of them, it sounds like a really weird batch of titles. Sure, they announced that "Frankenweenie" would open the fest recently, but there's a lot of truly low-budget and obscure titles mixed into some amazing revival titles in this announcement. In other words, it sounds like Fantastic Fest.
Have I mentioned that I can't wait?
It's the most wonderful tiiiiiime of the year.
For the last few years, we've been hearing about "Doctor Sleep," a sequel to "The Shining" that Stephen King has been working on, with a January 2013 release date still rumored for it. The idea that Dan Torrence is now middle-aged sort of makes me want to jump off a building, but it makes perfect story sense that King would want to return to the character and check in on him. After all, he had to have been marked by the extraordinary events of "The Shining," and he wasn't exactly a normal kid to begin with.
What I'm not as sold on upon first hearing about it is a potential sequel to "The Shining." I guess the Overlook Hotel has been around for a long time, and terrible things have certainly happened there over the years, but I'm wondering why "prequel" continues to be the go-to default position for studios looking to squeeze a little extra life out of something. By now, I think even the most accepting audiences have realized that most prequels are creative dead-ends where there's very little chance for dramatic engagement precisely because we already know what comes afterwards.
At some point, someone will write the history of this modern "comedy of the uncomfortable," and when they do, I hope they devote an entire chapter to "Klown."
It's been strange watching Drafthouse Films come into focus as a distributor simply because of how long I've known Tim League, and how clearly we're seeing his tastes reflected in the film that they're picking up for release. The reason I'm enjoying their work as distributors is the same reason I enjoy their work as exhibitors. They have a fearlessness that I admire, and any company that would put films like "Four Lions," "Bullhead," and "Klown" is a company that I'm willing to trust implicitly.
"Klown" is a feature film version of a Danish comedy series by Mikkel Norgaard, Casper Christensen, and Frank Hvam, and while I've never seen the series, that didn't affect my ability to enjoy the film completely. It's self-contained and works as a stand-alone story. I'm curious to see the show now, especially since it looks like Drafthouse Films is going to be distributing the series on DVD in the US. The film tells the story of Casper and Frank, friends who have a canoe trip planned, and Casper views the trip as an excuse to get laid, with a stop along the way planned for a one-in-a-lifetime brothel that is run by a friend of theirs.
William Friedkin's career is marked by some all-time highs and some bewildering lows, and in recent years, he seems to have swung back to some sort of new fertility as a storyteller, energized perhaps by his collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts. Their first collision on film was "Bug," a deranged little character drama featuring Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd, both chewing the edges of the frame with abandon as they slid into madness together. Now they've cooked up the very dark, often funny, ultimately very upsetting film "Killer Joe," which begins a limited release roll-out this weekend with dates in New York.
Like "Bug," this started life as a theater piece, and I can see how easily it could be staged in a small theater. "Killer Joe" stretches its legs more than "Bug" ever did, with most of that film set in or around the same tiny claustrophobic motel room. Here, we've got Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, and Thomas Haden Church as brother, sister, and father respectively. Chris (Hirsch) is in trouble, in very serious debt to the very serious Digger Soames (Marc Macaulay), and he needs to come up with $6000. He decides to kill his mother since she's got a life insurance policy that will pay $50,000 to Dottie (Temple) when she dies. Their father Ansel (Church), long since divorced from their mother, puts up a brief verbal struggle before pitching in to help plan things so he can get a cut, and his new wife Sharla (Gina Gershon) also wants a cut, but none of them actually want to do the act. Instead, Chris decides to hire a hit man to make sure it gets done right. He heard the name of one, a cop who does jobs on the side, and he arranges for him and his father to meet with this mysterious assassin, this Killer Joe.
There is a particular type of comedy film that seems to be best represented by "Ghostbusters," the special-effect high-concept comedy. And aside from "Ghostbusters," there are very few of these films which manage to find the perfect balance between the various elements at work in them. Even Ivan Reitman tried to do it again with "Evolution" and fell short, so it seems like a tough challenge to take on for any filmmaker.
Even so, Akiva Schaffer's new movie "The Watch" makes a valiant run at it, and for a little while, the film coasts on the charms of the central quartet of actors who come together around Evan (Ben Stiller), a Costco manager who has an unnerving amount of community spirit. When he founds a neighborhood watch group to help solve the murder of a security guard at his store, he ends up with three eccentric new friends. Bob is a perfect Vince Vaughn role, a sweetheart of a guy who has a strained relationship with his teenage daughter because of his overprotective nature. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a way-too-intense twenty-something who tried to become a cop but was rejected. Finally, there's Jamarcus, played by Richard Ayoade, best known to American audiences from his role in "The IT Crowd." Together, they spend a fair amount of the film screwing around and bonding over nonsense. They are a joke to everyone else in the neighborhood, and for a while, the film just sort of ambles along, shaggy and silly and fun.
This year, while I was at the Cannes Film Festival, there was one movie that I was in an absolute frenzy to see, even though it wasn't actually playing as part of the festival. I kept hearing mention of marketplace screenings that were held for international distributors, and I did everything I could to sneak into one of them.
And why wouldn't I be interested? After all, it's based on a great novel by David Mitchell, it's directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and it's got a big sprawling cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, and Ben Whishaw. There are very few big studio movies I'm more interested in or excited about than "Cloud Atlas," so it was crushing to have to leave Cannes admitting defeat, the film still resolutely unseen by me.
Interviewing a group of people is difficult under any circumstances. Interviewing four very funny, very sharp comedians together is like trying to juggle water. And when you factor in a time limit of less than five minutes, it's almost an exercise in futility.
Thankfully, I've got some sort of rapport built up with Jonah Hill and with Vince Vaughn from various encounters over the years. I met Jonah for the first time on the set of "Superbad," and it's been a real pleasure running into him on various sets and at film festivals and at screenings and even on a Comic-Con panel over the last few years. Vaughn has always struck me as a huge personality, and the first time we formally met was after the taping of the Ain't It Cool pilot for Comedy Central. Jon Favreau was a guest on the show, and at our after party, Vaughn joined us, and being at a club for a wrap party with Vince Vaughn is exactly how you'd imagine being at a club for a wrap party with Vince Vaughn would be.
When I sat down with the cast of "The Watch," they were all together as a group, which made it hard to ask people about their individual projects.
Even so, I was curious to see if Ben Stiller is any closer to kicking off production on "Zoolander 2," which he's been aggressively talking about on and off for the last few years. The first film was a casualty of its post-9/11 release date, only finding an audience gradually once it came home. That's not uncommon for comedies, especially comedies that are centered around big character choices. Look at the way the "Austin Powers" films built in popularity, or the way "Macgruber" continues to gain in popularity over time.
"Zoolander" is one of the strangest characters that Stiller ever played, and it will be interesting to see if a second film can take all the things people liked about that first film and expand on them in smart and surprising ways. He's been working with Justin Theroux on a script for a while now, and we've heard occasional updates from him about the progress.
"Ruby Sparks" does not exist in some vacuum of wholesale originality. You could argue that the "Pygmalion" myth is just one of the many stories that have covered similar ground in the past, both narratively and thematically. But the film takes a very grounded approach to its one big leap of fantasy, and the result is a film that offers up a warm and wise fable about the way we romanticize people at the start of a relationship, only to be disappointed as ugly, messy reality assures itself.
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris managed to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination for their first film, but that was 2006, and this is their first film since then. It's hard not to draw some parallel between them and Calvin Weir-Fields, played by Paul Dano, who was a successful novelist with an acclaimed first novel that was released before he was eighteen but who now finds himself crippled by writer's block. He's been seeing Dr. Rosenthal (Elliott Gould) to try to figure out what's causing his block, but making no real progress. Rosenthal asks him to try a writing exercise one day based on Calvin's confession that the main reason he got a dog was so that people would stop to play with the dog and give him a perfect excuse for conversation. Rosenthal asks him to imagine someone stopping to play with the dog and write down the conversation, and when Calvin tries that, he imagines a girl. No, he imagines "the" girl. And once he starts, he suddenly can't stop. He cranks out page after page, describing this girl in such detail that she starts to feel real to him.
And then, one morning, he wakes up and she's actually in his house.
Peter Jackson may have seemed slightly reluctant to return to Middle-Earth before he began production on "The Hobbit," but now that he's actually in the process, it looks like he's having a harder time letting go.
When our own Katie Hasty talked to Jackson during Comic-Con, I didn't really take the idea of a third "Hobbit" film seriously, even when he discussed how it might work and how he was starting to think about it. Richard Armitage also broached the subject with us, but It seemed like one of those idle thoughts that wouldn't really pan out into something real. Now it appears that talks are becoming more serious about the possibility of expanding this into a trilogy, and that's sure to spark debate, with both pro and con making equal sense to me.
On the one hand, "The Hobbit" has always struck me as a totally different beast than "Lord Of The Rings." Yes, they take place in the same world, and yes, they share characters and there is some narrative connection between them, but they seem to work in entirely different ways. "Lord Of The Rings" always struck me as the biggest of big meals, an amazing trip through one of the pivotal moments in an imagined history. "The Hobbit" struck me more as an adventure story, contained and personal, and while the stakes obviously matter to everyone in the story, Bilbo included, they are not apocalyptic, with the entire fate of Middle-Earth at risk.