The studio offers up a look at the film that almost was
Most of the time, when a film dies during development, that's the last the public hears of it.
Pixar has never been a studio that does things like everyone else, though, and so it shouldn't be a surprise that they've decided to offer their fans a glimpse into the process through a release of a bunch of artwork that was created to help them figure out the proposed film "Newt."
If you weren't aware, "Newt" was set to mark the feature directorial debut of Gary Rydstrom, whose short film "Lifted" was the UFO-themed short in front of "Ratatouille," and Rydstrom is a sound-design genius who has won four Oscars and who was nominated for another six beyond that. I love that Pixar encourages people from every department to learn the entire process of filmmaking, and Rydstrom could be held up as an example of the best-case scenario when you do that.
Pixar released a synopsis of the film when they first announced it a few years ago, and "Newt" sounded to me like a really interesting way to get into the difficulties of relationships, even when you're sure two people are absolutely right for each other. Check this out:
"What happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species, and they can’t stand each other? Newt and Brooke embark on a perilous, unpredictable adventure and discover that finding a mate never goes as planned, even when you only have one choice. Love, it turns out, is not a science."
Robert Rodriguez and his conspirators keep the 'Grindhouse' franchise afloat
There are certain movies that should only be seen with real audiences, paying crowds, people who have showed up and put down their hard-earned money with some expectations. "Machete" is one of those movies. I went to a midnight screening of the film in Woodland Hills tonight, and the theater was about half-full of people who were there to be entertained. And I'd say based on their vocal approval, roared after most of the movie's big punchlines, they were entertained and left feeling like they got their money's worth. More than "The Expendables," and even more than "Piranha 3D," this is the 2010 summer movie that understands and emulates the charms of the classic exploitation picture. "Machete" isn't just pretending to be classic Mexploitation… it is a genuinely angry movie that has something on its mind in support of all the mayhem, and it offers up an unlikely lead role to Danny Trejo, who does as good a job of navigating the tricky shifts in tone here as Michael Jai White did in last year's "Black Dynamite."
The film is credited to Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez as co-directors, and it's a Frankenstein's monster of a screenplay, with footage shot for the original "Grindhouse" trailer that wasn't used, footage that reproduces footage from that trailer, and a whole lot of new material shot just for the movie. The script by Robert and Alvaro Rodriguez is fairly lean, hustling from set-up to kickoff to non-stop action. There's no fat on the movie, and it moves from winking sort of in-jokey humor at the beginning to some fairly righteous scathing anger by the end of the film. Although Rodriguez couldn't have guessed when he first came up with the idea, "Machete" is incredibly topical now, of the moment, and the people in the theater with me tonight were vocally reacting to the film's most political gags and lines.
Film's brash, frank voice distinguishes it from romantic comedy pack
I've railed about the state of the art of the studio romantic comedy many times here on the blog. There was a time when "romantic comedy" was a broad descriptor that could be used to define "The Philadelphia Story" or "Bringing Up Baby" or "The Lady Eve." Those are romantic films, and they are funny. I think there are many good ones in the modern age, but I think as a whole, the genre suffers from the same paucity of imagination and sad circular thinking as the horror genre. Both have enormous potential that is only occasionally tapped.
"Going The Distance" earns both halves of the description, offering up a genuine, well-observed romance that is often very funny and profane. The film is frank in tone, in language, and it's not afraid to go for a crazy broad joke (Charlie Day's "open door policy" is pretty great) to undercut a sincere moment. Nanette Burnstein's background in documentary filmmaking turns out to be a pretty strong asset in terms of creating a very loose and natural mood to her storytelling and her character work, and Geoff LaTulippe's script deftly avoids the major pitfalls of the genre by just focusing on the little things, the reality of what couples go through when they make the decision to maintain a long-distance relationship. As played by Drew Barrymore and Justin Long, Erin and Garrett are appealing and normal and decent, and you hope for them because they make the right choices, and they try to do the right thing. It's amazing how something as simple as that can distinguish a film so clearly.
Does the studio prefer James McAvoy for the part?
Guillermo Del Toro is being shrewd about his dream project "At The Mountains Of Madness," and that's clear as the first concrete casting conversations about the film have become public.
Word is that Del Toro wants Tom Cruise to star in the long-gestating adaptation of one of H.P. Lovecraft's greatest stories. In it, a team of archeologists and scientists head to Antarctica at the dawn of the 20th Century, looking for what they presume will be fossils of a long-dead culture. What they find is far more upsetting, and alive, and possibly apocalyptic. It's an epic, surreal story, and the screenplay by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins is duly thought of as one of the best unproduced scripts in town.
Now that James Cameron is onboard to produce, and the film is planned as a huge-budget 3D horror epic, something we've never really seen a studio roll the dice on. And considering the beating Universal's taken on some of their more ambitious films recently, I commend them for pushing forward with risk and innovation instead of retreating to safety. This is the sort of film that will kick off a rash of imitations if it works, and I think there's a great chance it can.
A new still released by the director is very, very cool
... that's awesome. You can find the full amazing photo at its original home at the website of one Zack Snyder.
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And why does 'Supernatural' seem like a perfect training ground for the adaptation?
Now this is finally starting to sound like something I can get behind.
I haven't been particularly vocal about my affection for the show "Supernatural" up till now, because I've never really watched the show on the right schedule to chime in. I caught up to it fairly late. I think they were probably three seasons into production before I decided to give the first few episodes a try. Enough people told me how much the show improved and how good it got that I stuck with it. And honestly, it wasn't bad to start... just familiar. A cleverly-made "monster of the week" show about a pair of brothers on the road fighting things that go bump in the night, "Supernatural" didn't seem special at first.
Eventually, though, that's the exact word I'd use for the series. Under the supervision of Eric Kripke and a truly great writing staff (yay, Ben Edlund!), the show turned into a wry, self-aware, hilarious and often actually scary show with a great mythology. The cast is a big part of the show's appeal, but it's the way the show gradually found its voice and its focus and really stuck to what they were building that won me over.
So when I read that Eric Kripke might be the guy to develop "Sandman" for television, and that part of what has to happen before it moves forward is Neil Gaiman signing off or coming onboard, then I start to think, "Maybe this time, they'll actually do it."
Pop icon Johnny Hallyday sets down the mic and picks up a gun
Johnnie To has never really gotten the same kind of hype or critical acclaim as some of his other Hong Kong counterparts, but he has developed into one of the most reliable directors of unapologetic action cinema in the world today. He is a stylist, but he never forgets about the audience and the simple act of storytelling. He knows that bravura set pieces are important, but he makes sure that each one pushes the story forward. His work is lean with the occasional operatic flourish. He is, in many ways, the model of the b-movie filmmaker in the 21st century.
And his latest, "Vengeance," is a humdinger.
There's a hit on a family in the film's opening moments, leaving the mother alive but severely injured, while her husband and children are all murdered. Her father, a French chef with a very successful restaurant, flies to Hong Kong to visit her, crushed by what's happened. He wants revenge, and quickly establishes himself as a man of means, a man with violence in his own past, a man who is ready to do anything to hurt the ones who hurt him.
There are so many revenge movies in the world that it's really difficult to imagine any new spin on things. What matters at this point is that you play your particular riff well, and Johnnie To, working from a script by Ka-Fai Wai, has a couple of things on his side with this film. First, there's his lead actor, French pop star legend Johnny Hallyday. He's not a household name in America, but he's got a lot of international weight, and for an American audience, just imagine if Elvis Presley were still alive today and decided to star in "Taken." That's pretty much what "Vengeance" is.
Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter is now a strangely familiar Vegas magician
New images from the currently filming remake of 1985's "Fright Night" depicts David Tennant in a publicity banner for his character Peter Vincent, a Chris Angel type Las Vegas Magician. The goatee'd magic man is almost unrecognizable from Tennant's hugely popular portrayal of the title character of the long running BBC television show "Dr. Who."
Peter Vincent was originally a washed up old actor who hosted a late night horror movie show called "Fright Night." Roddy McDowall played him as a sad and fearful shell of a man who finally redeems himself while helping the main character, Charley Brewster, vanquish a real life vampire (Chris Sarandon) who has moved in next door and begun killing his friends and assorted prostitutes.
The much younger Tennant playing a character with a completely different background to McDowall's Peter Vincent signals that the this remake will not be entirely faithful to the original script by Tom Holland, who also directed. The new version is penned by "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" writer and show runner Marti Noxon. The new film is being directed by Craig Gillespe (Lars and the Real Girl.) Tennant's too-serious gaze may be an indication as to the revamped film's sense of humor.
Does this documentary illuminate the publishing giant in some new way?
He is, after all, one of the great success stories in the history of publishing, and he played a key role in a permanent shift in sexual mores in America. He was a largely unrecognized force in the American Civil Rights movement, and his personal romantic life is so turbulent that it seems almost like a Greek tragic counterpoint to his tremendous success. Like it's so perfect it couldn't be written that way.
So do I think you could make a great movie about Hugh Hefner? Absolutely.
Is this that movie? Absolutely not.
I quite liked Brigitte Berman's Oscar-winning documentary about Artie Shaw, the clarinet-playing jazz musician. I thought it was atmospheric and evocative and really painted a picture of a time and place. Her latest film, "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel" is a well-meaning whiff, about as deep as an average episode of "The E! True Hollywood Story." It lays out several of the more significant landmarks for Hefner, but there not one moment in the whole film where I get any sense of Hefner as a person.
As a symbol? Sure. As an icon? Yes. But Hefner has always maintained a distance from the public by design, wearing his Halloween mask so long that it's become his face. Or in his case, his pajamas. I admire Hefner the way I admire Neo at the end of "The Matrix." He managed to bend reality to pure will and remake the world the way he wanted it.
When 'Groundhog Day' goes really, really wrong
As I gear up for Toronto, I'm really second-guessing the choices I've made about what to see, and I am keeping my ears open for any buzz about movies playing, and I'm watching trailers trying to see what really jumps out at me. I'm also seeing as many films as I can before going up there, so I can have reviews ready for things like "Fubar II," "Let Me In," "Stone," and "Easy A," freeing me up to see even more films at the actual festival.
Since this is the first year I'll have a press badge for Toronto, I plan to use it constantly, and I've already scoped out wifi spots around the theater where all the press screenings will be, hoping to find a spot I can sneak away to quickly between films.
I'll have a full preview piece of the festival and what I'm seeing later this week, but for now, I'm pleased to bring you the debut of one of the Toronto trailers, for a film called "Repeaters".
I have a feeling you'll hear "it's a really dark 'Groundhog Day'" used a lot when describing this film. I love that you can go to one festival and see things like this and "Black Swan" and "127 Hours" and "The Illusionist" and "Super," that range of stuff. Keeps every day interesting.
Here's part of the official synopsis, edited to preserve some mystery: