Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent target for people who want to hate him.
When I spoke to Anthony Hopkins, he talked a bit about the way Branagh has always been a target, in no small part because of the way he appeared on the scene with so much hype behind him. In the world of theater, and particularly among Shakesperean experts, Branagh was seen as an upstart, and people were gunning for him. When he moved into film, his "Henry V" was heavily praised, the sort of praise that almost guarantees people are going to want to go after something. And throughout his career, he tends to make big choices like a four-hour-long "Hamlet" in 70MM, that make him seem like he's positively dripping with hubris.
But if you can deliver the goods, is it really hubris?
That word is the main focus of "Thor," thematically speaking, and moving from something as small as "Sleuth" to a giant mainstream Marvel superhero film with action sequences that are unlike anything he's staged before, seems like another of those Branagh moves designed to put him in the crosshairs, and sure enough, people have been gunning for "Thor" ever since it was announced.
Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent target for people who want to hate him.
Will Smith and Quentin Tarantino? Sounds like someone got their chocolate in my peanut butter and I am DIGGING it.
This is not, evidently, a done deal, and I would imagine Will Smith is not cheap, even if he really wants to be in a movie. He is one of the few truly reliable movie stars left in the world, able to open almost any movie. He has had a charmed career, with very few major missteps. Unfortunately, one of the biggest of those happened to be his last film, "Seven Pounds," and I am not sure that retreating to the safety of a "Men In Black" sequel is the best choice. Seems too calculated to me, and with the way that process has been playing out so far, it may not have been the safe bet that he was counting on.
Reports have been surfacing this afternoon that Tarantino crafted the lead role in "Django Unchained" expressly for Will Smith, and that they've already had some informal talks about Smith playing the role. In order for Brad Pitt to make financial sense on "Inglorious Basterds," he had to cut his asking price, and I'm sure Smith will have to do the same. This is a guy who can demand between $20 and $30 million per role, after all, and if Tarantino is really going to pull off this insane task he's set himself with his new script, he's going to need to spend every penny of what will do doubt be a sizable budget onscreen.
Two lovely ladies. Two very different actors. Two absolutely different Realms.
Kat Dennings plays Darcy in "Thor," a political science major who ends up helping out Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, in her research into some strange energy storms in the desert. Jamie Alexander, on the other hand, plays Sif, an Asgardian warrior who grew up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and who is one of his very best friends.
The two really couldn't be less alike. Alexander is a strikingly pretty woman up close, but there's something substantial about her, something that suggests she could easily kick your ass up between your ears if she decided to do so. Dennings, on the other hand, has this wonderful eccentric energy about her. I don't find her threatening in the least, but she is a wonderful comic presence. Each of them adds something invaluable to "Thor," and we sat down with both of them to discuss their work in the big Marvel movie.
Dennings is as funny in person as she is onscreen, and she actually taught me a word as we were preparing to talk. She complimented me on my "aubergine" tie, and while I've seen the word, I didn't know what color it referred to. We chatted for a moment before the cameras rolled about her film "Daydream Nation," which is getting a split-second theatrical release but which has already been sent to reviewers on Blu-ray.
Jodie Foster is one of those people who has been part of mainstream entertainment as long as I've been paying attention to it, and who always seemed close enough to me in age that I could use her as a sort of milestone for my own life.
As an actor, I think she can be undervalued, despite the Oscars, and I miss her when she doesn't work for a while. As a filmmaker, she has a remarkably small resume, but I think she's proven that she likes unconventional material, and that she brings a considerable intelligence to the choices she makes.
Thankfully, "The Beaver" offers up Foster as both actor and director, scratching both itches at once, and I think it represents a real triumph for her. Of course, thanks to our tabloid society, most of the conversations about the film seem to focus on Mel Gibson, his public meltdown, and his possible career rehab that the film might represent. But for me, what made "The Beaver" compelling from the moment it came together was the notion of Foster behind the camera again.
Sure enough, the film is a quiet marvel of tasteful choices. Just consider the way Foster shoots both Gibson and the puppet as characters instead of treating one as a prop. And also consider the careful handling of depression in the movie. Where one director could easily take this same script and play it as farce, Foster keeps it firmly grounded in real human pain.
Isn't this the way it's supposed to work?
I think these days, people have this expectation that the moment a studio starts marketing a movie, they're going to throw all the best stuff at the audience right away in a take-no-prisoners approach to getting butts in theater seats.
Personally, I've always been a fan of the slow burn, the gradual reveal as we get closer to a movie, while still trying to hold things back, and so far, I'd say "X-Men: First Class" has been doing everything right in terms of the trailers they've cut.
Now, over at MTV.com, there are three new character trailers that do a nice job of re-introducing us to characters we've met in other films as well as characters that have never appeared in an "X-Men" movie before.
My first reaction is that the film looks better with each new clip, and part of that is because we're getting a look at the way Matthew Vaughn approaches shooting this world and these people, and there's a keen intelligence to his take on things.
I think Chris Hemsworth has already been embraced by Hollywood as a rising star, so the reviews he's getting for "Thor" won't do much except confirm what people already believed.
If anyone's going to get a real bounce out of "Thor" and suddenly get tons of work thrown their way, it's Tom Hiddleston. His Loki is an immediately satisfying addition to the Marvel universe, sly and sullen and emotionally bruised, a villain we can understand. Hiddleston is exceptional at playing the things we're seeing and also playing the things that are simmering just under the surface. He demonstrates a preposterous amount of charisma here, and considering he has to stand equal to Hemsworth, I'd say Marvel lucked out not once but twice on this film.
We chatted with him on the set of the movie a bit, and he struck me there as a guy who was still very much in the middle of a process, not really sure what to think yet. He was enjoying himself, but he was also aware of the scrutiny and the expectation, and I think he was just happy to rely on Kenneth Branagh, who he had just worked with on "Wallender," to guide him through it intact.
This will be an excellent opportunity for me to test just how open I can keep my mind when approaching a new movie.
I hold the work of author Robert E. Howard very dear. And I am a near-rabid advocate for 1982's "Conan The Barbarian," directed by John Milius. I think the film is a weird mess as strict adaptations go, but it doesn't matter. It gets the spirit of Howard's work exactly right, and taken strictly as a movie, I think it is tremendous myth-making.
One of the things that always bothered me a little bit about the Milius version of Conan is the way it lathered the image people have in their heads of the character, forever cementing the character as a gigantic muscleman. While Howard wrote him as a powerful fighter, I've always thought that the character he described was a bit more like the way Mark Decascos looks in the last forty minutes or so of "Brotherhood Of The Wolf," lean and ripped and more like a panther than a giant silverback gorilla.
Still, I like everything else about the Milius film, so I've always been willing to accept Schwarzenegger as a particular take on the character. Now, with Lionsgate getting ready to release their new take on the material, it's time for a new Conan, and more importantly, a new interpretation of the Howard stories, and because of my deep love for the source material, I am willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt.
I swear to god, if they call it "3-Glee," I will strangle a kitten.
I'm not a big fan of "Glee." I watched the first season on DVD when it was released, curious to see what all the hype was about, and also because I like Ryan Murphy as a TV producer and writer. I think he does strong work. Even though the show fizzled by the time it wrapped up, there was a lot of juicy loony pulp fun to be had in the first few seasons of "Nip/Tuck."
It does not surprise me that "Glee" is a phenomenon right now. The show is absolutely of the moment, both in style and sensibility, and it punches buttons with the topical writing just as adeptly as it repurposes pop songs into emotional revelations. I think it is significant to have teen characters like these on TV, and I think Kurt is an important character for people to see on TV each week.
Having said that, the show just irks me. I can only stomach small doses of it at a time. I think the difference between season one and season two is a nice illustration of what success does to a TV show. Sincerity curdles into something more akin to suffocating smugness, and there is a self-awareness that hobbles the show's better instincts.
So far, the Film Nerd 2.0 column has dealt primarily with older titles. I can't really speak to how other people share films with their kids, but this column has been driven so far by my desire to help my kids navigate the ocean of media choices available to them.
For the most part, I believe my kids should have a media diet made up of older titles, for the simple inarguable reason that there are far more good films that already exist than you'll find in any multiplex on a given weekend. Yes, there are good films being made all the time, but if you're going to give your kids a healthy diet of film, you have to be willing to dig deep. You have to do more than just slavishly march to the theater and show them whatever blockbuster Hollywood tells you is "for the family" at this particular moment. Over the course of this column so far, we've dealt with films from the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, and even '90s. And by keeping their intake so diverse, I've seen that my kids aren't just sensation junkies, demanding only big and loud and now.
Having said that, this column came to life one afternoon in a theater for a new release, when I took Toshi to the theater to see the JJ Abrams "Star Trek" reboot. The movie electrified him. It's hard to fully explain the reaction he had if you weren't there to see it, to see his body language. He stood for almost the entire running time, every muscle in his body clenched, and if I tried to touch him at all, he would brush me off, so engrossed in the film that he wanted no other stimulus, nothing to break that connection he was feeling. He was lost in the movie, and that ability to get lost, to get completely absorbed by what you're seeing, that feeling when something goes from being passive entertainment to something immersive, an experience remembered instead of something just watched… well, that's the hit that I've been chasing my whole life, since the first moment I got bit by that exact same bug.
It is one seriously superhero summer, and it's still just warming up.
I'll have a piece up in a little while about my experience watching "Thor" with the boys, and as soon as they were available, I bought them each a toy Mjolnir. They make thunder sounds when you press a button, and they're soft enough that you can hit something without hurting it. Or at least, that was my thought. Within three days, the boys had pushed their mother to the breaking point. I guess she didn't think it was as funny as I did to hear WHACK! THUNDER! "Don't hit me!" over and over from the playroom.
As excited as they were for "Thor," and as much as they've enjoyed watching the "Captain America" trailer over and over, the film that seems to have already won their hearts and minds for this summer is "Green Lantern," and I understand. Ever since they saw that Wonder-Con piece that Warner Bros. put online, they have been absolutely manic about the mythology of the world of Hal Jordan.
I'm going to guess this will not be an uncommon response.
One thing I've realized as a parent is that kids love to learn a new vocabulary for a movie. They love films where there are a million little characters to memorize and play with. The variety on display in the Green Lantern Corps is one of the many things that appeals to them right away. The film's big crazy cosmic scale excites them because it combines so many things they like… monsters and outer space and superheroes and jet planes and creepy-looking things.