Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
How much subtext is too much?
When I was a kid and Saturday morning was still appointment viewing for me with hours and hours of cartoons on all three networks, I would frequently get up before the sun was even up. I'd get myself a giant bowl of whatever sugary cereal was my poison of choice at the time and plant myself in front of the set so that I had control over whatever was going to be watched well before my sister woke up. There were many weeks where I was up and ready to go before the networks even began their programming, and by default, I would put on the only cartoons playing at that hour, a giant re-run block of "Rocky & Bullwinkle."
At the time, I didn't fully appreciate the lunacy of the Jay Ward productions, and it was only as I got older that I began to understand the silly word play and the gleeful demolition of storytelling cliche that were the cornerstones of all of the different cartoons that existed under that broader umbrella. I grew to particularly enjoy the absurdist take on history that was represented by the "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" cartoons, and when DreamWorks Animation announced a feature film version a few years ago, I hoped they would honor the spirit of the original.
She seems well aware of what she's done
On the day I was scheduled to talk to both Lena Headey and Eva Green about their work in "300: Rise Of An Empire," there was also a morning screening of "Mr. Peabody & Sherman." Both of my sons were eager to see that, and that meant they would need to come to the interviews with me as well. As a result, they got a chance to meet Green, and by the time we walked out of that room, both of them had grown full beards and their voices had dropped an octave.
Green gives off a powerful feminine vibe in person, and seems well aware of the effect she has on people. It's interesting how similar the roles are that she played in "Dark Shadows" and in "300," right down to a scene that happens in both films. It wouldn't surprise me if she got cast in "300" specifically because of "Dark Shadows." In both cases, she seems to be having the most fun of anyone in the films, taking full advantage of the opportunities presented on the page, and it's exciting because it suggests that we may start seeing more of her in films now that directors have these great examples of what she's capable of doing.
We've got the details on where and when for you
If you're going to be in Austin this coming weekend, what do you have planned for Saturday night?
Keep in mind that the city is going to positively brimming over with options, since it'll be smack dab in the middle of the opening weekend mayhem for SXSW, and as always, it's also spring break for UT and it's a party city to begin with.
I'd like to invite you to take a chance and try to win VIP passes to a party that HitFix is happy to be co-presenting this year. We're taking over Red 7 in downtown and transforming it into the Titty Twister to help celebrate the launch of both the El Rey Network and their first original series, "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series."
Week by week, this show is getting weirder, and that makes us happy
That "previously on" montage did a nice job of reminding us exactly which of the story threads are going to be important tonight, the most immediate being Skye's gunshot injury in the final moments of the last episode we saw before they took the long mid-season break.
May's not much for Miranda rights, is she?
When they made the "big reveal" several episodes back about what had happened to Coulson in Tahiti, it felt anti-climactic. Basically, it seemed like the explanation was "When they needed to save Coulson, they just operated on him even more. They used more surgery." It was a nonsensical image. But as soon as Coulson started to mention the idea of taking Skye to see the same medical team that worked on him, it became clear that they aren't done giving us the details of Tahiti, and I realized I was genuinely curious to see how they would fill in more information, and whether it would help me accept the explanation more.
Oh, yeah, she plays good guys, too
Lena Headey has had a very fruitful run as a horrible, horrible person for the last few years. Images of Queen Cersei and Ma-Ma from "Game Of Thrones" and "Dredd" had all but crowded out the impression she made in the original "300" as Queen Gorgo.
Sitting down with her at the recent press day for "300: Rise Of An Empire," I was struck by how easily she's built a reputation for herself as a powerful on-screen figure. My oldest son is currently obsessed with all things related to "The Terminator," despite the fact that he hasn't seen any of the films yet. He listens to the scores for the first two films, he's read every word of a Cinefex issue released when "Terminator 2" came out, and he has several Terminator toys that he considers prized possessions. When he realized that Headey was one of the actors who has played Sarah Connor, he just about lost his mind.
And in the end, which cut works better?
The term "director's cut" has been abused to the point of meaninglessness in the age of special edition DVDs, and it is easy for the consumer to eventually tune out any mention of a "new" version of a film, sure they're only going to see a few small differences after sitting through something they have, for the most part, already seen and fully digested.
That is not the case with the R-rated cut of "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" that is in theaters at the moment. This may well set the new standard for just how different an alternative cut of a film can be, and it's a fascinating exercise in how just a few choices can make the difference between two different ratings and, in a world where studios are spending tens of millions of dollars to market a film, the economic success or failure of a movie.
Ralph Fiennes has never been better
Wes Anderson has settled into his identity as a filmmaker, and by now, you probably have a pretty fair idea what you think of his voice and his general storytelling style. That's true of a lot of filmmakers, and even within that basic identity they create, there tend to be films that are more or less successful overall, films that feel like they represent the very best of what someone does. It is safe to say that "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is one of those breakthrough moments, a movie that is so beautifully realized from start to finish that I almost doubted myself on the way home. Could I really have enjoyed that film that much?
A Russian nesting-doll of a movie, this is a story within a story within a story within a story for much of its running time, with additional layers either peeled back or laid on top at various points, and there's a real beauty to the way Anderson structures everything. Without giving away all the wonderful layers to the game he's playing, it's safe to say that "The Grand Budapest Hotel" tells the story of how Gustave H., the concierge of the Grand Budapest, ends up mentoring Zero Moustafa, a lobby boy who is there when war finally ruins the world in which the Grand Budapest exists. It is a love story, a heist movie, a farce, a prison break mission movie, and a sort of beautiful ode to a time that has passed, and it juggles all these disparate threads in a way that is breathtaking and elegant.
Fans of the first film should expect more of the same here
The first question that would seem to apply when regarding any sequel is "Does this feel like it is of a piece with the first film?" It doesn't have to be the same movie to be a successful sequel, but it should do something interesting. It should either be a response to the first film or a deliberately different type of film or it should build on some interesting story thread or it should enhance our understanding of the world or the characters. By that standard, "300: Rise Of An Empire" is a worthy sequel to "300," stylistically consistent and equally loony, featuring what may well be the first truly can't-miss performance in a film this year.
It would not shock me if, twenty years from now, people talk about this film the way they talk about "Poltergeist" now, simply accepting it as common knowledge that Zack Snyder "really" directed the film. It is so precise in the way it builds off the first film's visual style and so carefully built to wrap around the events of the first film narratively that it feels more like deleted scenes from the first film instead of something that stands alone. That may sound like an insult, but it's not. I would assume Snyder, who co-wrote the script with Kurt Johnstad, probably signed off on every single storyboard, and I am sure Noam Murro was given full access to all the resources that Snyder had at his disposal. It's remarkable how much this feels like it is simply more of the same story, told the same way.
It's the ultimate Teflon treatment of the Greatest Story Ever Told
As the news broke this week that Paul Greengrass is interested in finding a way to bring "Zealot" the bigscreen, it made me sad that we still haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's proposed movie about the historical Jesus Christ. It's a subject Verhoeven's been studying for decades now, and I have to imagine he would bring a real breadth of knowledge to his approach. Like Verhoeven, I would assume Greengrass is going to try to dig deep to show us something we haven't already seen from this story.
Any time a filmmaker tries to tackle a subject as big and vague as "Jesus" for a movie, you're going to learn a lot about the filmmaker from the final product. However, Christopher Spencer has put that theory of mine to the test by turning in a genuinely bland and forgettable picture here, about as middle-of-the-road as a movie can be.
I have no doubt the film will do big business this weekend. It's a perfect film for the faith-based audience to get behind, because there is no chance this movie will rile or upset anyone from that audience. Diogo Morgado stars as Smilin' Jesus, and the emphasis seems to be on how Jesus built his following, with a fair amount of energy spent on the early miracles he performed, none of which come across as particularly miraculous or convincing.
So far, Colin Trevorrow's put together a great cast for this one
When I recently published a piece about "Fantastic Four," a commenter asked why everyone seems determined to cut slack to Josh Trank as director of that film. While I enjoyed "Chronicle," it's not just a blank check. For my own part, I can only say that I want to see Trank pull it off. I don't know if he will or won't, and it's true… we have only one film to judge. But that does't change the idea that I'd much rather get a great "Fantastic Four" than a bad one, and I'm willing to wait to see if the big choices he's making pay off instead of just pulling that automatic fanboy dismissal of things.
I feel the same way about Colin Trevorrow. "Safety Not Guaranteed" is enjoyable, but didn't exactly blow my mind. I am still not sure what it is about that small romantic drama that made the producers of "Jurassic World" decide he was the guy, but like Trank, I think he genuinely loves the property he's working on and I hope he pulls it off.