Well, it's still "The Phantom Menace."
That's pretty much all the review that matters. Either you're okay going to see the first chapter of the "Star Wars" prequels, released to such heated response in 1999, or you're not. The only new thing I can discuss is the 3D post-conversion, and that's another topic where it feels like everyone already knows their opinion about it before I say a word.
We're going to have some more content related to this re-release of the 1999 film this week, and all of it is going to be related to our Film Nerd 2.0 column. After all, if we hadn't watched the movies for the column last year, and if Toshi hadn't started doing interviews for the column, there's a chance none of what happened last week would have happened.
Remember… I spent over a decade officially Banned From The Ranch. While it upset me at first, it eventually just became a funny story, a battle scar from my long time writing about films online. The short version of the story is that I learned about the banning in early 2000, when Harry and I were in San Francisco for a screening event, and we got invited out to Skywalker Ranch for a tour. When we submitted names, everyone was cleared except me, and they explained that it was because I had reviewed the script for "The Phantom Menace" a year earlier. Once that was established, I had to accept it, and I just resigned myself to never visiting the property or even being allowed to visit ILM's facility at the Presidio.
Well, it's still "The Phantom Menace."
I'll be curious to see what happens with "John Dies At The End" as the year progresses.
It's got to find a distributor… it's just too singular an audience experience. I understand that the William S. Burroughs version of "Ghostbusters" is a hard audience sell, but I also think there's real value in it for the right distributor. Someone's going to have to give it some TLC if they plan to open it, but with the right campaign, the film's weirdness could be an asset, not something to run from.
While we were at Sundance, I published a conversation I had with Don Coscarelli, the director of the iconic "Phantasm" films, about adapting and directing the book by David Wong as a film. He was joined by his co-producer Paul Giamatti, who helped produce the film. I had a blast with those two, and of all the formal interviews we did at Sundance, that's the one that I could have sat there continuing all day. Their enthusiasm for the film they made was infectious.
Early Monday morning, audiences got a chance to see the new trailer for "The Amazing Spider-Man" at a special Sony event that was held in 13 cities around the world, and I was there. I shared my impressions from that event with you in an earlier piece.
Now it's your turn to get a look at Sony's latest attempt to explain the difference between this new version of "Spider-Man" and what we grew used to in the Sam Raimi films.
There's quite a bit to look for in the trailer. You'll see Peter Parker, wiseass. You'll get a glimpse of The Lizard in all his greenness. You'll see some of the scale that they're going for this time, as well as the sense of humor that seems like such a fresh addition to the series.
If Sony had any doubt about the public curiosity about their upcoming "The Amazing Spider-Man," my guess is that the the massive lines outside the AMC Century City theater where the Los Angeles portion of today's big multi-media sneak peek event took place must have gone a long way toward putting them at ease.
They had events happening at the same time today in Rio, London, New York, and Los Angeles, with different people representing the film at each event. Here in LA, director Marc Webb showed up to introduce the presentation and to kick things off. In Rio, Emma Stone was joined by producers Avi Arad and Matt Holcum. In London, Rhys Ifans was on hand, and in New York, Andrew Garfield showed up to once again prove himself the most breathless advocate the new film could ever hope to have.
At heart, today was a big media event to premiere a new trailer, and I'm glad I knew that going in. I was prepared to drive an hour in early morning LA traffic to watch ten or twelve new minutes of footage, and all told, I probably got a little less than that. You'll see the new trailer later tonight as part of a big online premiere, but there was also an extended sizzle reel that featured a fair degree of unfinished effects work. The guys seated behind me were convinced they were going to see the whole movie this morning, and I wonder how many of the hundreds of fans who I saw queued up outside the venue thought the same thing. It's a film that comes with a fair degree of hype and expectation, and for many people, the question has been the same since it was first announced: why, exactly, are we already getting a reboot of this franchise?
I'll have a review of "Rampart" for you this week, but in addition, we've got a few interviews to support the film that I want to share as well.
I like that the movie surprised me. I thought I had it figured out walking in, and on some level, it is what you think you'd get from a movie about police corruption from the writer/director of "The Messenger" and in collaboration with author James Ellroy. But thanks to a crafty lead performance by Woody Harrelson and a focus that includes a good deal about the women in the life of Officer David Brown (Harrelson), the film is richer than I expected.
Normally, I wouldn't want to just lump all the women from a film together in one interview, but in this case, it felt thematically appropriate since so much of the film deals with how Brown deals with these very strong women and how they put up with him and influence him. Robin Wright Penn, Anne Heche, and Brie Larson made for a nice intimidating line-up on the morning we sat down to discuss their work, and we ended up having a series of very warm and interesting chats.
Illumination Studios stands in an unassuming building on an industrial street in Santa Monica. The only indication from outside as to the building's identity comes from an occasional glimpse of a Minion from "Despicable Me" through one of the windows. One would never guess just driving by that this building is where they're currently working to build a new animation legacy.
And, by all accounts, succeeding.
I first visited the studio as they were working on "Despicable Me," and my first impression of Chris Meledandri was that he definitely knew how to talk a good game. He was an important part of Fox's animation relationship with Blue Sky Studios, and when he left Fox, he decided that he wanted to focus all of his energies on creating animated movies. If you're going to get into that business, you can't dabble. You have to go all in. You have to believe in animation 100%, and you have to focus on making each film great. I've seen studios make the mistake of thinking they can crank out kid movies and they don't have to respect the audience or the process, but in those cases, they almost always fail.
Meledandri's first picture for Illumination, "Despicable Me," did a very nice job of establishing a style and a sensibility that was their own. They also ended up with their very own mascots, the Minions, who they are going to be dropping into films for some time to come, I suspect. The film did well for Universal, but more than that, it gave Illumination credibility.
The most specifically excited I remember ever being for a Super Bowl Sunday movie spot was in the spring of '97, and Sony was the studio that bought the spot I cared most about. It was a three-movie mega-ad they used to roadblock an entire ad break. They sold "Air Force One," "Men In Black," and "The Fifth Element," and since we hadn't seen any footage yet for "The Fifth Element," that was our first look.
My friends and I must have played the tape back 20 times just to study the barrage of images from the film, including some of those amazing Digital Domain cityscapes with car-packed skies as well the blue diva, Gary Oldman, explosions, and LeeeloooDallasMooolteeePass in all her glory. I didn't care about "Air Force One" at all, and the "Men In Black" footage was fine, but I loved that they used the Super Bowl to finally drop the intense veil of secrecy around Besson's movie.
These days, there is very little surprise or genuine wow to the things that happen during the Super Bowl. We know ahead of time what the commercials will be, and this year, we actually saw studios releasing ten-second previews of the sixty-second spots, so we were getting ads for ads. It's sort of terrifying to see how mechanical it is, and these days, it seems that more studios opt out than ever before.
Ben Gazzara was never the top box-office draw of the year. He was never the guy every studio was dying to be in business with so he would headline blockbuster after blockbuster. He was never the guy directors cast if they wanted the ladies to line up out the door. But for filmmakers who wanted an actor with a quiet magnetism and an emotional weight that could not be faked, Gazzara was a treasure, and he made everything he touched more honest simply by virtue of who he was.
81 years old is hardly young, but even so, it seems unfair to lose a guy who was still working consistently and who still had that same fire that made him such a gift in so many of his roles. It's hard for actors of a certain age to find quality material, but a guy like Gazzara had a way of taking a fairly thin role and making it count simply because he counted. He was real in a way that many Hollywood types never are, no matter how many roles they play. It is little wonder that as many of his films were European as American, because he was drawn to small stories, human stories, films where he was allowed to show some nuance and some soul.
My first reaction to "Chronicle" would be to wildly overreact simply because it does so much so well and with such confidence.
It is, at heart, though, a modest accomplishment, and that's entirely by design. This is not a franchise kickstarter, a giant broad-appeal down-the-middle genre movie that was designed to sell lunchboxes and Happy Meals. Whatever this film is, whatever its pleasures or achievements, it feels personal and intentionally scaled, and it absolutely hits the target for which it aims. A male "Carrie" for the 21st century, a skeptical, heartbroken reaction to the nonstop horseshit of the "chosen one" myth that has been force fed a generation ad nauseam, "Chronicle" is lean and scary and sad, and director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis have ample reason to be proud of what they've done.
Hollywood's nonstop attempt to wring cash from superhero tropes was on full display in the trailers I saw in front of the movie tonight. "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" look to be sure-fire monster hits this summer, and both will cost an arm and a leg getting there. There was lots of CG firepower on display in trailers for "Battleship" and "John Carter" and "Men In Black 3." All of it looked and felt familiar, and no doubt will look and feel familiar when I see the finished films as well. That's what Hollywood does best right now… familiar.
That's not the most spoiler-oriented photo of all time, but just seeing Vin Diesel looking like he's back in full Riddick mode makes me happy.
When I saw "Pitch Black" for the first time, USA Films wasn't sure what to do with it. They were trying to position themselves as a serious studio, making Oscar-worthy films, big and important, and a movie like "Pitch Black" seemed to confuse them a bit in terms of marketing and positioning. Harry Knowles and I were shown the film in the company's Beverly Hills screening room, with no one else in the theater, and by the end of it, we were both ecstatic. That first movie is just good old fashioned pulp science fiction without a pretentious bone in its body, a modestly-scaled monster movie that set up a really interesting anti-hero in the form of the big broody Vin Diesel, who was really only known to us at that point as the dude Spielberg ordered written into "Saving Private Ryan" and the voice of "The Iron Giant."