Scott Swan is in rare form this week, folks.
The more I hear feedback on the podcast, the more I want to push these to be casual conversations between two lifelong film nerd friends, with just the slightest hint of professional format. That seems to be what you like, if you like anything at all about the show. Scott and I could seriously just sit and gab about nothing at all for hours, so if I give us a few topics and a little bit of direction, it magically turns from "two guys sitting in my office" to "podcast," and this week was a really nice example of how much we can get out of just a bare bones outline.
For example, this week's round of Movie God is a big one, but that's because the game itself is designed to encourage digression. If you play it and you don't end up having a sprawling aimless conversation about movies and filmmakers, you might be doing it wrong. Scott makes some big choices this week, and I will happily forward all hate mail to him when you guys finish listening.
We cover a pretty wide range of topics this week, and we brought back the DVD reviews this week, but we're doing them differently. Instead of just running down a list of what's coming out, which you can find in about a hundred different places online, we're going to go through a stack each time, and I'll publish a picture of the stack here so that you can easily see if you're interested in the DVD reviews or not.
Scott Swan is in rare form this week, folks.
THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN UPDATED
Sports movies are hard to make fresh in any significant way, due in large part to the simple formula that most of them follow. You ultimately come down to one of two endings for your protagonist or protagonists. Either they win and it's a great victory, or they lose, and it's bittersweet. Both endings have been played out numerous times, and in almost any sport you can name. So why do filmmakers continue to return to this genre?
The answer, I believe, is the same reason people watch real sports knowing there are only a few possible outcomes. There is something within us, some key piece of what makes us social animals, that makes it important to us to invest in this sort of event. We want to see someone win. We want to see someone lose. We want to root for our favorites and hiss at our opponents. We love the narrative, the combat, the emotional rush that comes when we hand ourselves over to the contest. And in good sports films, the contest is really just a metaphor for some grander struggle in the lives of the characters we watch. And in the case of Gavin O'Connor's film "Warrior," he's attempted something I can't honestly remember seeing before in a sports film, and he's pulled it off in spectacular fashion, creating one of the year's most rousing pieces of emotional entertainment as a result.
Okay… here's a clear sign that I've reached a point of pure overload: I have no recollection of doing these interviews.
At first, I thought our editor was crazy when he sent me an e-mail today asking me if I was ready to publish the interviews I did for "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," and I wrote him back to say that I wasn't the one who did them. He insisted that I was and sent me the videos and, sure enough, even though these appear to have been one-camera interviews, it's definitely me asking the questions.
I clearly remember seeing the film at the Los Angeles Film Festival this summer, and I liked it quite a bit. Watching the interviews now, I am struck by a few things. First, Bailee Madison can't possibly the age they claim she is. I'm going to guess she's 38 years old and just a bit on the short side. Don't believe me? Check out how incredibly self-possessed she is in the interview that's embedded below:
"Hoop Dreams" is one of the great populist documentaries of all time, a movie that worked as absorbing narrative and important social commentary, and while I like the subsequent films that Steve James has made, "Stevie" and "Reel Paradise" are much more genial, low-key, personable films.
The thing that made "Hoop Dreams" so hard to shake was the way it refused to play out according to the narrative rules that are ingrained in each and every one of us by the time we're adult moviegoers. Real life, captured with all of its difficult contradictions intact, is a shock to the system when we recognize it on a movie screen. We're used to the various filters of bullshit that are part of film storytelling, and one of the hardest things for any filmmaker to do, even when they're shooting a documentary, is to set all of those filters aside and find something honest and real and somehow capture it without killing it. If "Hoop Dreams" remained the high watermark for Steve James, that would be a tremendous legacy all by itself. Thankfully, "The Interrupters" is solid proof that James really is a gifted documentarian who can hit hard when he's got the right story to tell, and it's an important look at people doing selfless, challenging work that puts them in harm's way every single day.
"Our Idiot Brother" is a film that wrestles with tone, sometimes unsuccessfully, and it often goes broad at moments that might work better if played more honestly, but it has a great cast that seems willing to play ugly. That may surprise audiences who are there to see a more overt comedy, but it also makes "Our Idiot Brother" something more than has been advertised, something with more ambition, and it is obvious that director Jesse Peretz is interested in more than cheap laughs.
Expectation can be a difficult thing to manage with a movie, especially when advertising promises you something other than the film you end up seeing in a theater. In a post-Apatow world, you sell "Our Idiot Brother" as a wacky film about Paul Rudd driving his sisters crazy, and on a very surface level, that is what this film is. But the script by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz is aiming at something more difficult than that, and there are some very tough observations about the way we deal with our families as both children and adults here, and it feels like the cast is struggling at times to figure out exactly how real they're supposed to play this.
Paul Rudd is a hardcore comedy nerd. When you talk film with him, it's obvious that he's got a huge hunger for new comedy, and a huge respect for classic comedy. I've known him long enough now that it's become obvious that Rudd is one of those people you reach out to when you want to know what's going on in comedy around the world.
When Judd Apatow cast Albert Brooks as Rudd's dad for the currently-shooting "This Is Forty," I e-mailed Rudd just to freak out a little bit. If you're a comedy fan, there are few people held in esteem as high as Brooks, both as a filmmaker and a performer. I love that Rudd name-checks "Lost In America" in our interview, and I look forward to finding a time when I can ask him for tons of Brooks stories above and beyond the great one he told during this interview.
Spending a Saturday afternoon with Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks is hardly coal mining. There are indeed days where I find it hard to believe that what I do is defined as a "job." A few weeks ago, they had junkets for both "Conan The Barbarian" and "Our Idiot Brother" on the same day, which made for a very interesting series of conversations on two radically different movies.
Elizabeth Banks, for example, is someone who has been carving out a very strange and unorthodox career for herself, avoiding the sorts of easy crappy romantic comedies that so many actresses end up trapped in. She's been working for the past decade without interruption, and it was in "Wet Hot American Summer" that she made her first strong impression. It's fitting that her co-star in that film was Paul Rudd, because both of them got a huge bounce from that movie, proving that they had strong comic chops. For Banks, there were a number of small roles in big movies like Raimi's "Spider-Man" series and "Catch Me If You Can" while also playing big roles in small movies like "The Baxter."
My first D23 Expo piece looked at the animation presentation that opened the three-hour event on Saturday morning, and I wrapped it up at the moment that John Lasseter left the stage to an explosion of confetti and the distribution of cupcakes.
As people started opening their cupcakes and eating them, Sean Bailey took the stage. Bailey is the president of production for Walt Disney these days, and he opened by acknowledging what had just happened. "I have no baked goods. Sorry. I have no pastries. I hope good movies will do." Just like Lasseter and Ross, he started by talking about how much Disney means to him, and he quoted a famous Walt Disney statement. "I do not make films primarily for children. I make them for the child in all of us, whether we be six or sixty." That statement, when it works, is the appeal of the Disney brand, and it's incredibly important to their identity as a studio. These days, I'd say Pixar is the best example of that philosophy, but it's also a real motivator for the people running the live-action side of things, and looking at the slate of films they brought to promote, I'm curious to see which of these hit that sweet spot most accurately.
D23 Expo made for a very early Saturday morning. I needed to be in Anaheim by 9:30 AM to check in, and that meant leaving my house in Northridge by about 7:45 in the morning. Hats off to the Disney folks for the way this morning's event was handled. It was incredibly easy to park, walk inside, and get seated in the main arena. All told, I made it from my car to my seat in about fifteen minutes with no hassle at all.
That left me with about an hour to sit and wait for the presentation to start, and the first thing I noticed was the way the big giant screens above the stage were constantly showing Disney "facts" that seemed to be designed to reinforce several different ideas. First, did you know that four out of the eight films that have earned a billion dollars worldwide were released by Disney? Because they made sure to emphasize that at least three different times in three different questions. And do you know the story of why "A113" shows up in various Pixar movies? Because they made sure to include at least five different slides to reinforce that idea. There was a big emphasis on Walt Disney as an icon, and a real effort to push the characters Mike Wazowski and Sully back to center stage. It was very canny, very hardcore mythmaking and marketing, and I could almost hear the meetings that went into picking each and every slide that played.
It's been a long time coming, but this week feels like a sort of a miracle to anyone who's been following the story of the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. are free men today, albeit with some rather large caveats attached. Still, considering Echols woke up on Death Row, I'd say it's been a massive improvement for all of them, and they had some big help to get there.
The full story of the involvement of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will, I'm sure, be published at some point, but it's not because they want a film out of it. They've been doing this quietly behind-the-scenes for a while now, and they've been a big part of today's decision. I love that Berlinger and Sinofksy were there for it, and I can't wait to see "Paradise Lost 3" at Toronto next month.
I'm not sure any one film can tell the whole infuriating, insane story of what these guys have been through, or what the families of the victims are still going through, but if anyone's going to take a shot at pulling it off, I must admit Atom Egoyan is a better than average choice.