The key creative team takes questions, premieres the trailer
Tonight, just after I posted my review of "Knight and Day," I hopped in the car and sped down to Hollywood, where I joined a group of other online writers to see the trailer for "The Green Hornet" on the bigscreen, and then participate in a Q&A afterwards. That was enough for me to go. I visited the set last year, and I dug what I saw including the sizzle reel that was sort of a loosely-cut trailer.
The trailer, which is online now for you to enjoy, is not what we saw in the sizzle reel. My first impulsive reaction was that they were overexplaining things in this trailer, but in talking to the filmmakers afterwards, it's obvious that they have done the testing and they realize that they need to sell the character first with an introduction, since the general attitude seems to be that no one in the general mainstream has any idea who or what The Green Hornet is.
My reaction to the footage we see in the trailer is strong overall. The fight stuff still only hints at what Gondry has planned for the film visually, and instead, the focus in this trailer is on the premise (no-good playboy decides to follow up on his father's death by assuming the identity of a criminal, trying to get close to other criminals) and on the relationship between Brett Reid (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou). Their chemistry is the movie. Either they work together, or the film doesn't work at all.
James Mangold gives familiar script a smart sense of style
Today on my Twitter feed, screenwriter Geoff La Tulippe pointed out that in adjusted dollars, Tom Cruise's "Cocktail" earned $140 million when it was released. That's domestic box-office. For "Cocktail."
That's how big a movie star Tom Cruise used to be. The dirty secret about Cruise as a movie star, though, is that he is a solid character actor who works harder than anyone when he's onscreen. There are definitely Tom Cruise performances I don't like, Tom Cruise movies I don't like, but I would be hard-pressed to name many lazy Tom Cruise performances.
Watching "Knight And Day" a month after the release of "Killers," the first thing that struck me is that a side-by-side comparison of the first thirty minutes of each film is a perfect lesson in the difference between a movie star and a pretty face. They both start from a similar premise, although written in very different ways. In both, the lead actor is a spy/assassin who meets a totally normal girl and then drags her into his world. Ashton Kutcher seems focused on looking cool in his film, working as hard as he can to strike a pose like each scene in a still page in a fashion magazine. Kutcher's still working the same spoiled pout he picked up in the film "Spread," and it's sort of ridiculous.
Meanwhile, Cruise is well aware of the value of a precisely struck pose to sell an action scene, but he also seems dedicated in "Knight and Day" on deconstructing that pose and poking fun at it at the same time. It's a tricky thing to pull off, tone-wise, and if you do it wrong, you're making "Hudson Hawk." Or you're just making an action movie. More often than not, filmmakers trying for this sweet spot where you are gently ribbing the exact thing you're doing fail at it. They tip their hand in some way and the whole thing just falls apart, collapses under the weight of all the clever.
New footage showcases Chris Evans as a bad boy movie star
The Los Angeles Film Festival is underway right now, camped primarily in the LA Live facility in downtown Los Angeles, and the Regal Cinemas there is one of the main venues for the festival. I've never been in the theater before tonight, but it is apparently 1700 stories high and features a full 5000 movie screens showing everything ever. I may have those numbers slightly wrong, but that's how it feels when you're walking through it and gently being sent up spirals and spirals and spirals.
Tonight, I was there along with a capacity crowd for a look at a few minutes of Edgar Wright's new film "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," but more than that, to look back at how Edgar got to this point where he's making this one-of-a-kind. To moderate the event, Edgar invited JJ Abrams, and it was an interesting choice. Abrams is razor-sharp, and he asks a mix of questions you'd expect and questions that simply seem to be his real in-the-moment reactions to the conversation. There are some moderators who never accomplish that, the conversational, in front of a crowd of that size, and Abrams and Edgar relaxed into it fairly quickly. It was an event that ran over two hours long, starting a little later than the scheduled 9:30 PM time, and even given that much room, it still felt like things hustled along.
The first part of the evening, discussing Edgar's life as a young film fan and a nascent filmmaker, felt like Abrams was mining information on the memories of making super 8 films with your friends as a kid, and the joy and the freedom of that. Imagine that. I wonder why that subject would interest him right now.
A look at the rise and fall of the first 'SNL' movie star
Yes, I know that headline's probably been used a thousand times, and I expect that when Chevy Chase finally shuffles off this mortal coil, that headline or some variation on it will be used another thousand times. That line summed up an attitude that personified what made "Saturday Night Live" such an amazing immediate cultural sensation, and it is entirely appropriate that it has followed Chevy Chase as a sort of signature since then.
Chevy Chase was the first "Saturday Night Live" movie star.
Even though the entire cast made an impression that first year, "Weekend Update" gave Chase a forum to be showcased as himself, not as a character,and for whatever reason, that translated into an immediate sort of stardom. He left the show after a single season, the first person to defect, and I think that set a reputation of sort in motion, one that Chase may or may not deserve based on who you talk to.
One director I'm friends with only uses the filthiest words possible when describing Chase and his experience working with him, and he's only one of many people I've spoken with who have relayed truly awful personal and professional stories about the guy. It used to disturb me, because I consider myself an original-generation Chevy Chase fan. I still remember seeing "Foul Play" first-run in the theater and walking away from that film convinced that Chase was the funniest person of all time.
Keep in mind I was eight when "Foul Play" came out, and I was primed. I already knew Chase from "SNL," and I knew Goldie Hawn from "The Sugarland Express," which I'd seen at a drive-in as part of a double-feature with "Duchess And The Dirtwater Fox," and I was excited to be taken to see what my parents obviously thought of as a "grown-up" comedy. What made Chase different from most of the comics I was familiar with is that he obviously placed just as much emphasis on being cool as he did on being funny, and those two things don't often work well together. In Chase's case, though, what made him truly hilarious was the way he tore down his own carefully constructed facade of cool, and in doing so, seemed to be even cooler. It was an impressive juggling act of tone, and right away, I think it's what made people so crazy about his work.
This taps the reason the first film worked in a very tangible way
I'm a first-generation "Tron" fan, and saying that, I will be the first one to admit that the thing I like the least about "Tron" is the movie itself.
When it came out in 1982, I was dizzy from the amazing summer that Hollywood had accidentally unleashed on a nascent film nerd like myself. Today, I think most genre fans would agree that 1982 was a very special year full of very good movies in American theaters. "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan." "Conan The Barbarian." "E.T." "John Carpenter's The Thing." "Blade Runner." "The Road Warrior." I was starting to feel spoiled by the end of that summer, by that glut of amazing films that absolutely cemented my love of the fantastic on film.
And right in the middle of all of that, Disney promised to change the world with "Tron."
I was already such a film nerd that I had my subscriptions to Fantastic Films and Cinefantastique and Starlog, and they'd been talking about what a revolution "Tron" was because it was going to be animated... BY COMPUTERS! There was much talk of the fearsome Cray Supercomputer that was being used for the task, a beast that made HAL 9000 look like an iPod Nano. This wasn't just a revolution... it was a shock considering Walt Disney was the studio behind the film, a studio that had been built on the type of animation done by HAND. By REAL PEOPLE. Not by computers.
Weak performances and an awful script cripple this comic-book movie
How much can you really say about a film like "Jonah Hex"?
"Jonah Hex" is a total failure as a movie. It seems to have all of the ingredients that would be in a good film... things like costumes and actors and sets and color and sound and scenes and dialogue... but every single one of those things lays there separately, never coming together into a coherent whole. It is inert as a movie from the beginning to the end. It features terrible performances, a script that doesn't manage even the most basic tasks of storytelling, and it is directed with a near-complete lack of understanding for how a scene works. It is about 80 minutes long, and it feels like four hours. It's a collection of random incident, and completely tone deaf.
And beyond that... what is there to say?
I visited the set for the film. I went to the press conference with the filmmakers. I interviewed Josh Brolin. I can tell that Brolin, at the very least, was sincere in his desire to make an unconventional and entertaining film, and that he really wanted to figure out how to make Hex into an iconic Western character. For Jimmy Hayward, this was an important film because he was moving from animation into live-action, and based on the evidence of this, I'm not sure I believe he's got the skill set for live-action. It's not enough just to stage a scene on a set and capture it on camera. Hayward's movie never feels like it's alive. There's no sense from moment to moment that what you're watching is all connected. You can practically see the Teamsters standing around off-camera, waiting for the take to be over. It's perfunctory.
Our ongoing dialogue with William Goss on classic film continues
"The Motorcycle Boy Reigns."
With a few shots of a blasted urban hellscape and that graffiti on a few different walls and signs, the director immediately drops you into the world of "Rumble Fish."
There's nothing real about it. The dialogue in the first scene (between Lawrence Fishburne, Vincent Spano, Tom Waits, Nic Cage, Chris Penn, and Matt Dillon) is stylized and heightened and musical, supported by the percussive bells of Stewart Copeland's impressive score. A challenge has been thrown down. A threat has been made. Rusty James has got to go meet someone in a vacant lot that night at midnight, and his friends are going with him. And the mere mention of The Motorcycle Boy, the long-absent older brother of Rusty James, sets him off. Right away, you're awash in the way "Rumble Fish" plans to tell you its story, and either you're in or you're out, but "Rumble Fish" doesn't care. It's doing its own thing. And that is what makes it one of my favorite of Francis Ford Coppola's films.
"The Outsiders" was a big deal when it was released in March of 1983, and it was treated like a big event. The book had a reputation that earned the movie a lot of piggy-back attention. It had to live up to the love that teenagers had developed for that book by that point. And I think it did, absolutely. I love "The Outsiders." I think it's gorgeous and lush and it treats Hinton's novel like an American epic, like an essential teen story. He cast that movie with a who's-who of young hot talent at the time, and when you look at the cast now, his batting average is awe-inspiring. C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, and Diane Lane are all main characters in this sprawling character piece, and they were all still early on in their careers.
It's good to see a classic in the theater instead of a remake
Every now and then, you reach a moment where you realize you've never written a single word about a movie that is simply part of the fabric of your filmgoing life. "Grease" is a movie that's been a major part of the pop culture landscape since I was eight years old, and the release of this new sing-a-long edition of the film is a perfect opportunity to finally write about the movie and its place in the pantheon.
There are many things I love about "Grease." I love the film's energy. I love the movie-star charisma of John Travolta in the lead. I love the "am I doing this right?" hesitancy of much of Olivia Newton-John's performance. I love the fact that the film is so unapologetically filthy. I love Randall Kleiser's super widescreen pop candy composition. And, yes, like many people, I love the soundtrack. I've heard it enough times that I have the entire thing internalized. It's one of those pieces of pop culture ephemera that is simply hardwired into my brain at this point.
When I first saw the film, I was young enough that I didn't get how sexual the entire thing was. I just responded to the broad strokes of the story between Danny (Travolta) and Sandy (Newton-John). It's a simple love story, with such clear and simple obstacles set up for them to overcome, and that's what Paramount bought from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. That's what ran on Broadway. It's similar, and some of the story beats are the same, but it's raunchier, rougher, nowhere near as polished as a love story.
Plus see how you can attend a 'Scott Pilgrim' keg party tonight in LA
When I was on the set for "The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian," the producers were already talking about gearing up production on the third film in the series, and they were negotiating with filmmakers that that point to step in and direct, since Andrew Adamson had decided by that point that he wasn't going to jump into the third film on the franchise.
I loved the optimism, but as it turns out, they didn't jump right into "The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader," and for a while, it didn't look like it was going to happen at all.
Now, with Fox stepping in as the domestic distributor of the new film in the series, replacing Disney as Walden's primary partner, it appears that there will be a good deal of continuity between the films that already exist, although with a few small changes. Both Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley are back as Edmund and Lucy Pensevie, and there are other characters returning, although with revisions. In the last film, the sword-wielding mouse Reepicheep was voiced by Eddie Izzard, but this time around, Bill Nighy's bringing the little guy to life.
It's good to hear Liam Neeson as Aslan again. At this point, he's one of the signature stylistic touches in the series. This is a strange franchise, and I can't honestly say I love either of the films they're released so far, but I am intrigued at the oh-so-odd world they're building.
His new book just underlines the ongoing greatness of his site
I think there are a lot of people who have written a lot of words about movies who are good at what they do. I think many of them are working currently, and many of them have worked in the past. But as far as critics whose work I will seek out and read for the sheer pleasure of reading, no matter what they're reviewing?
Outlaw Vern is the best of the best.
I spent many years publishing his articles at Ain't It Cool, and what many people don't realize is that I was familiar with Outlaw Vern well before he started publishing articles. I have been a fan of the way he thinks about movies since 1995 or so, and I've been entertained by the way he expresses those ideas since the first time I encountered him. I take genuine pleasure from reading about the way he approaches a film. He is as good at teasing out subtext as any of the "great thinkers" on film, but he's also a man with a real appreciation for the tactile pleasures of filmmaking. He's able to surrender himself completely to movies, and I've never caught him acting like he was above watching or reviewing something. There is an open contempt for movies that many professional critics express in public, and even in private, Vern is as relentlessly in love with movies as he seems in his published work.
He finally broke through to a level of mainstream success and awareness with his first self-published book, Seagalogy: A Study Of The Ass-Kicking Films Of Steven Seagal, which was indeed a scholarly breakdown of the onscreen career of Steven Seagal. It sounds like a joke, but it's not. It's a great, entertaining, in-depth, intelligent piece of work that studies seriously the work of Steven Seagal. It is one of the best books about movies written in recent memory. It's so good because it is laser-focused. Vern becomes the expert on these movies by virtue of seeing and seriously writing about each one. In doing so, he establishes himself as the foremost published authority on the onscreen work of Steven Seagal. His book is absolutely and precisely about that. It's a great way for people to get their head around an introduction.