How LA's comedy scene affected the NY institution
It's a good day for screenings of classic comedies here in LA, and the framing of the day gave me a perfect excuse to talk about one of my favorite things in today's column, the work of Phil Hartman.
Hartman was the co-creator of the Pee Wee Herman character during his days at the Groundlings with Paul Reubens, and he co-wrote the script for "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," which screened this morning as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Tonight, I'm heading into Hollywood for a triple feature of the first three films starring Cheech & Chong, the second of which, "Next Movie," features an onscreen appearance by Hartman in a small role playing another Groundlings character, Chick Hazard, Private Eye.
When "Saturday Night Live" went on the air, most of the talent that ended up in the cast was from the Chicago Second City scene or from Toronto, or from New York. There wasn't really the same sort of LA comedy scene at that time. It wasn't until later that the west coast talent pool started turning out performers who would graduate from the Groundlings into the world of "SNL," and quite possibly the greatest of the Groundlings was Phil Hartman. Lorne Michaels nicknamed Hartman "The Glue" because of the way he managed to play utility, able to turn any sketch funny. He was the consummate character guy, and they worked him mercilessly during his time on the show. What amazed me most about Hartman is how comedy wasn't his first calling, and how even though he came to it later in life, he left a huge mark on the comedy scene.
When you look at those first few Cheech & Chong movies, you get a cross-section of what was going on in LA comedy at the time. You'll see cast members like Edie McClurg and John Paragon and Cassandra Petersen and Paul Reubens and a very young Rita Wilson (grrrrrrrowr, Mrs. Hanks) all show up, and you'll be able to see the early seeds of some characters they've played elsewhere In "Next Movie," for example, Reubens plays a hotel desk clerk who tussles with Cheech & Chong and Cheech's cousin Red (also played by Marin), only to show up at the end of the film at the Battle Of The Bands in character as Pee Wee Herman, his first film appearance. He's also in "Nice Dreams," and that's the first time I really noticed Reubens as "The Hamburger Man," a crazy drug dealer who only says a few things, over and over. "I'm sorry" and "Hamburger" are the big two, and until you see how much comic mileage Reubens can get out of those two words, you don't really get how funny he is.
Have we been thinking about this film all wrong?
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back on May 10, when I ran the story that Jane Goldman was writing "X-Men: First Class" for Fox and director Matthew Vaughn, I finished the article with a very pointed comment:
You can thank me now.
Actually, you can thank Vaughn and the studio. I was just spitballing back then, since I'd just seen "Centurion," and I was newly convinced of Fassbender's movie star potential. Vaughn's got a good ear for casting, and my guess is, Fassbender's a big deal right now, a guy on the rise. It was inevitable he'd meet on this film for some role.
Now, word is Fassbender has officially accepted the offer to star opposite James McAvoy, the Magneto to McAvoy's Xavier, and so we're able now to make a guess as to what we might expect from the film, due next summer.
And suddenly, I'm excited for it.
Why are we not surprised?
It's not official, no, but even when the news first broke about Guillermo Del Toro leaving the project so he could return to the States and get back to work on his own films, my first thought was that Peter would probably end up making the films.
I've been a fan of Jackson's work since the days of "Dead Alive," and when I say that he sort of needs to make "The Hobbit," I'm not running him down. It's just that he came off of "Return Of The King" one of the most powerful filmmakers in town. The perception was that he was invulnerable, the new King of the Geeks. He went directly into his dream project, "King Kong," and while I still think Kong is one of the few truly great digital characters ever created, and there is a lot of good in that film, it was messy. Messy enough that it started to dent his reputation. And again... I liked "The Lovely Bones," but there's no denying that the film hurt Peter. Critically dented, commercially dented, the Peter Jackson of right this minute is not the Peter Jackson from Oscar Night 2004, arms full of acclaim, that you see in the photo attached to this story. At that point, moving on from Middle Earth seemed as natural a decision as he could possibly make.
A desperate plea to development people to think about what they're doing
Part of me hopes that the next big gold rush for development people in Hollywood involves the thousands of amazing SF novels and short stories out there that have never been optioned or filmed before.
Another part of me realizes that I might regret that wish if it actually comes true. I'm not sure I want Brett Ratner's "The Stainless Steel Rat" starring Zak Efron, and that's exactly the sort of worst-case-scenario that could happen.
There are two stories breaking today that started me thinking about all of this. The first is a rumor from Pajiba that Wolfgang Petersen is attached to develop a bigscreen version of "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots." This is the director of "Das Boot." This is a guy who started his American career with acclaim and respect, and who is now the director of "Poseidon." Petersen confuses me. Did the studio system really treat him so badly that the only option left for him now is "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots"? Or does he think if he makes that, it will allow him to finally get "Ender's Game" made as a film or some other personal pet project?
Because I think that's a dangerous gamble, and Petersen may be fooling himself, the same way I suspect Ridley Scott is fooling himself if he thinks making two 3D "Alien" prequels is going to get Fox to pull the trigger on the much-more-difficult "The Forever War," based on Joe Haldeman's brilliant book and theater piece. The only way these smart and challenging books are going to end up handled right onscreen is if they're not treated like they're vegetables or medicine, something for the studios to endure between making big dumb movies that will actually sell tickets.
Casey Affleck offers up another great performance in difficult leading role
It was the American Psycho of its day.
There should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the book that Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me" is rough stuff, because Jim Thompson's novel certainly was. It dared you to identify with the dangerous and unhinged Lou Ford as he tumbled down a self-made rabbit hole of murder and sexual compulsion. It was a breathless exercise in voice from one of the most blistering of the pulp writers, and no less a filmmaker than Stanley Kubrick was determined to make it at one point before finally giving up in the face of what a studio would realistically release at the time.
Michael Winterbottom has proven himself to be one of the most versatile filmmakers working today, his style from film to film mandated by the material instead of the other way around. He has tried his hand at science-fiction ("Code 46") and arthouse porn ("9 Songs") and wicked dry comedy ("Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story") and music biopic ("24 Hour Party People"), and yet none of those films can be summed up that easily. "In This World," "A Mighty Heart," "The Claim," "Jude," "Butterfly Kiss"... that's a deep filmography, rich and varied and adult. That's the thing about Winterbottom... when you watch his films, you're being treated like an adult, no punches pulled, nothing coy or pandering about them. And his no-nonsense attitude as a filmmaker seems to have paid off in him finally making a film that has been attempted dozens of times over the years, always with disastrous results.
Adrien Brody and Predator Dogs? Sold.
Fox hasn't screened "Predators" for anyone yet, which is a little scary since we're pretty close to release.
Still, they've been focused on "Knight and Day," and now they can turn their attention to selling this latest installment in the franchise that is responsible or one of the last of the great old-school movie monsters. I'm sure they'll screen it soon, and once they do, I'm dying to hear how people react.
You know what I want from "Predators"?
I want them to deliver on the premise they've established. I want them to make a great ride about a bunch of dangerous crazy Earth killers who realize they're being hunted for sport by Predators. I want it bloody. I want it rough. I want a monster movie. And I want to have some fun.
And I'll be damned if that's not what it looks like we're about to get.
I hope so, anyway. This new international trailer seems to get everything right. It's loaded with memorable images and it's got a good cast, and more than anything, it really feels like a "Predator" movie in all of this footage.
This is an international trailer, and it is unrated, so it might not be appropriate for every workplace, especially if they have a policy specifically against images of alien creatures ripping out human spines. Please keep that in mind before you press play.
But for anyone whose boss doesn't mind if you have some awesome with your coffee this morning, new "Predators" trailer it is:
This one looks like fun
Genuinely, this is one of those out-of-left-field surprises for me based on on the earlier work by director Robert Schwentke. His first big studio movie, "Flightplan," was a slick-but-undistinguished riff on "Bunny Lake Is Missing" that was notable mainly for having Jodie Foster in it. More recently, he made the unintentionally creepy and unlikeable "The Time Traveler's Wife." Neither film inspired much passion in me, and if you'd asked me what sort of film he was most suited for, I wouldn't have had an answer. I certainly wouldn't have guessed "action/comedy."
And yet, this trailer for "Red" looks like fun to me.
No... more than that. It looks sort of great. And it seems that people really like the source material, a Warren Ellis comic. I do not know the book at all, which is actually refreshing. When I look at the just-released trailer for the film, what I'm reacting to is how this looks as a movie, not as an adaptation.
And, like I said, the trailer for "Red" looks like a whole lot of fun to me.
I had to miss an opportunity earlier today to sit down with Helen Mirren to chat, and that really pained me. I've interviewed her before, and she is one of those people who can't help but give you something good and real. She's got a great ribald sense of humor, and seeing her play comedy is a welcome thing when the material is up to her abilities. And it always helps to have a fencing partner worth the effort, which appears to be the case with Bruce Willis. The introduction of Ol' Dirty Morgan Freeman in the trailer was great, and the energy of the action is promising. The explanation of the title... great. The cast looks big, and there's a number of people we barely see in this first trailer. Richard Dreyfuss? Karl Urban? Brian Cox?
The studio's search continues
I have a feeling we're in for a lot of this.
One school of thought has Peter Jackson eventually giving in to pressure and making the films himself. I can understand why Jackson wouldn't want to direct "The Hobbit," but I can also understand why anyone involved in financing two "Hobbit" movies would want the guy who directed "The Lord Of The Rings" to be the one calling the shots.
Based on everything I've heard the last few weeks, I don't believe Peter will end up making the movie. I think they will find someone else, and I think they'll find that someone else sooner rather than later. I'm still not sure who's actually planning to pay for the film, what with MGM's financial issues and the whole complicated rights issue in the first place. Still, there seems to be some confidence that they'll get things worked out in time to let someone roll film in January of next year.
This week, TheOneRing.net reported that Neill Blomkamp's name had started showing up on production breakdowns as the director of the film. And almost as soon as that story exploded everywhere, The Vulture contacted the people who actually, you know, represent Blomkamp, and they firmly denied the story.
My guess is that Blomkamp wouldn't be interested. I've heard that he has made it fairly clear to everyone on his team that he doesn't want to make giant studio franchise films. I think almost-but-not-quite making "Halo" had a profound and positive effect on Blomkamp. He was forced to make "District 9" outside the system, and he ended up making it his way without compromise, and he got a Best Picture nomination and an unlikely box-office hit as a result.
It's getting closer, and Warner Bros. keeps showing more and more
Ah, Christopher Nolan.
For a lot of years, I did not have any sort of relationship with Warner Bros. publicity, and when I did finally start talking to them, one of the first guys I dealt with was Don Buckley, a legendary publicity guy who was with the studio back in the days when Warner Bros. was the home of Stanley Kubrick.
What was most amazing to me about the Kubrick years at Warner Bros. was the way they just left him alone to cook up his masterpieces, and when he was ready, he made them the way he wanted, and they sold them the way he wanted, and they were happy to do it. They had a pure unrelenting faith that Kubrick would give them something to be proud of each and every time, something that would be part of the cultural conversation. And when they sold those movies, they sold them on the cultivated mystique of Kubrick's name, and on the films he'd made before that.
I'm not saying I think Christopher Nolan is Stanley Kubrick. Because only Stanley Kubrick will ever be Stanley Kubrick.
But I think Nolan is in that rare sweet spot for a filmmaker with as strong and personal a voice as he has, where he has had tremendous commercial success for the studio, enough that they're willing to not only support a strange and risky personal vision, but they'll also sell it on his name and they'll let him play with the audience and keep his secrets instead of ruining the whole thing six months early like so often happens with big movies. And since Warner's biggest financial co-partner right now, Legendary Pictures, is also onboard the Nolan train, he's pretty much found a home for the foreseeable future.
The Marvel Universe looks like it's getting even bigger
Based on my enthusiasm for the Marvel game plan as of late, one might think I am incapable of being critical of the studio or their efforts.
I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities for me to dislike Marvel movies in the future. I've certainly had issues with many of the films they've made already. It's just that they've started making choices in the last few years that might or might not pay off creatively in the end, but they are cool gambles in the meantime. They make interesting choices. They make big choices. And it sounds like they're going to be following up on an idea they were discussing not long ago in an unexpected way.
George Roush over at Latino Review caught a great scoop this week, reporting that Marvel Studios is considering a series of short films that will introduce some of their classic new characters in the future. It's a great move because it has both business and creative potential. Marvel Studios has the opportunity, and one might argue the obligation, with these short films to not only test out potential characters on the mainstream, but also filmmakers with the passion to bring some of these lesser-known characters to the screen.
I've heard many reactions over the year to the idea of Edgar Wright making an "Ant-Man" movie, and I understand... it's "Ant-Man." There's nothing about that when you hear the title that demands that the movie exist. But several years ago, Edgar explained his initial idea for the movie with me, and it really was this crazy groovy weird sideways way into the Marvel Universe that suggested a much bigger world just outside the frame of the story he wanted to tell. I have no idea how much of that early premise will or won't end up in the film if he ever decides to make it, but I can tell you... it wouldn't just be a phoned-in cookie-cutter movie. There's too much genuine passion behind it, and if that's not there anymore, I guarantee Edgar wouldn't end up making it.