It appears to be a big week at the Stephen King compound.
We put up the story last night about David Yates and Steve Kloves working together again on a new multi-film adaptation of "The Stand," and now it looks like another King property has been snapped up by a very promising filmmaker. This time, it's an unpublished piece of work, and it's one of the few filmmakers to ever earn the Best Picture Oscar with what can only be described as a horror film.
Jonathan Demme is set to write, direct, and produce the film adaptation of "11/22/63," which doesn't hit shelves until November 8 of this year. I'm not surprised that it sold, or that it's a boomer director who will be making the film. At this point, I've accepted the fact that there is an entire generation of filmmakers who will continue to push the cultural supremacy of the '60s on us until every last one of them has died. And with this particular project, King basically laid out the greatest bait imaginable for that generation, a high-concept exercise in wish fulfillment that sounds like it was almost scientifically targeted to get turned into a movie.
It appears to be a big week at the Stephen King compound.
The ESPN series "30 For 30" has produced some remarkable films, so I know that ESPN is a force to be reckoned with in terms of documentary production. Seeing their logo on the front of this one, along with Universal and Working Title, I figured on something slick, an advertisement for Formula One racing from the perspective of one of the sport's legends. Instead, it is an acutely felt and emotional movie, an exceptional personal portrait of one of the guys who defined the sport during one of its key turning points. It is also a sad reminder of just what the stakes are for these guys each and every time they get behind the wheel.
There are different schools of documentary filmmaking, and the two docs I'm reviewing today are both examples of the type that is built from existing footage. In this case, director Asif Kapadia is working as a sort of filter, the one who went through mountains of footage from over the years, gradually picking and choosing the bits and pieces that offer up the narrative he's trying to tell. You've got to have an editor's instincts to be good at this, and Kapadia has a knack for cutting dramatic scenes out of this footage, finding the small human details that really tell the story, avoiding narration and simply letting people tell their own story. Working with writer Manish Pandey, he has managed to paint a riveting portrait of one driven man and the course of his career without simply making it a greatest hits collection.
Sequels are tricky business. Done correctly, they can recapture whatever it was that an audience fell in love with the first time around, and they can extend stories and themes and characters in interesting and unexpected ways. Serialized storytelling in general has always been something that audiences devour eagerly, and sequels are a producer's dream, the gift that keeps on giving. Done wrong, though, they can poison a film's reputation, ruin a name, salt the earth so that there's no going back, no growing anything new. Horror sequels and comedy sequels in particular are tough because so much of the impact of those genres depends on the unexpected, the involuntary reaction, and the more familiar you become with material, the less inherent surprise there is.
The "Final Destination" franchise is one of the unlikeliest I've ever seen, but it's turned out to be one of the most robust and versatile formulas for a mainstream bubblegum movie series in recent memory. For me, the best in the series so far was the second film, which opened with a truly spectacular freeway crash sequence. The way they took the first film's basic idea and streamlined it was inspired, and they also embraced the Rube Goldberg side of the series that makes each set piece so much fun if done correctly. The third and fourth films offered more of the same, with a few highlights in each one, but didn't manage to sustain that energy over the entire movie. There's such huge goodwill for this series, though, that it almost doesn't matter. People go to watch outrageous ridiculous deaths, and as long as they get that, it seems like it's enough.
The "Harry Potter" film series was a juggernaut pretty much from start to finish, occupying ten years of pop culture real estate by sheer force of will. There was no guarantee up front that the films would work, or that fans would be happy, or that the studio would be able to get all the films made before the kids got too old to star in them. It seemed like a huge challenge up front, and the way they pulled it off has been sort of overwhelming to witness. It is a triumph of filmmaking as mountain climbing, an accomplishment that few would have been able to pull off, much less with the style and grace of this series.
How many other film franchises genuinely got better as they went? How many film franchises produced eight films in a decade? Especially films of this size and complexity? "Harry Potter" is one of those singular things, and especially over the back half of the series, David Yates and Steve Kloves did a lot of the heavy lifting as the director and screenwriter of the films, and they made a whoooooole lot of money for Warner Bros. in the process.
Little wonder, then, that Warner Bros. is in the process of finalizing the deals for David Yates and Steve Kloves to re-team for a multi-movie version of Stephen King's epic "The Stand."
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Bruce Willis in "G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation"? Well, that's one way to grab some headlines. Word is that Willis is likely to step into the role of Joe Colton, the original G.I. Joe, which would mean this film's cast is pretty much a wall of macho man-meat at this point. Dwayne Johnson is bigger than ever before to play Roadblock, and Ray Stevenson's onboard as Firefly, meaning this is largely a reboot even though Paramount's treating it like a sequel. Willis and Johnson would be a big step up from Channing Tatum and one of the nine zillion Wayans, and it sounds to me like Jon M. Chu is doing everything he can to make his film rock.
Speaking of Paramount projects, some days, it's interesting just to watch something that starts small ripple its way around the Internet, picking up steam as it goes, until it finally erupts into something much larger than would have seemed possible from the way it started. I'm sure when Paramount put together their official synopsis for their upcoming "World War Z," they probably read it over a few times and felt good about how it sounded. It reads for maximum excitement, but the problem is, it doesn't really sound like it's describing "World War Z" at all. Here's what Paramount sent out:
One of the most frustrating habits of well-meaning Hollywood over the years has been the tendency to create movies about how white people have heroically helped one minority after another. If you only know the history of race relations from movies, it would seem that most major changes in the condition of how we live together have resulted from noble, selfless white folks who have decided to take mercy on the "lesser" races. That disturbing cultural lie is the reason I have a problem with a number of films. like "Cry Freedom" or "Mississippi Burning," movies that contain good work on important subjects, but that are hobbled by this need to have a white face at the center of things.
For Tate Taylor, the screenwriter and director of "The Help," this history of dishonesty is working against him before the film even begins, and I'm happy to admit that I walked in, arms crossed, ready to dismiss the movie. I didn't read Kathryn Stockett's novel, but I'm aware of how big a hit it was, and I expected something that was all feel-good surfaces and white guilt. Instead, Taylor deserves real credit for what he's done, avoiding many of the easy traps of the genre, and I walked away impressed by just how solid and sincere "The Help" really is. This is a case where the dynamic between the white and black characters informs the premise of the film, and they gain strength and courage from each other. This is no one-way transaction. Instead, it's a cross-class portrait of Southern women of a certain era, and the dawning of new respect between them, and it packs a heck of a punch.
Nicolas Lopez first got attention on the US festival circuit with his heartfelt and profane teenage comedy "Promedio Rojo," then promptly vanished down a several-year hole called "Santos," his follow-up film that accurately summed up many of Lopez's geek fetishes but that also wore him out as a filmmaker.
He wisely took a step back and rebooted himself as a filmmaker, and in the process, he had one of the biggest hits in Chilean history with the bluntly-titled "F**k My Life." The film is a wry and acutely-observed look at the way social media has changed the landscape of modern relationships, and the particular case of Javier and Sophia, a young couple whose break-up resonates through the lives of their friends and family.
If you weren't able to catch "F**k My Life" at its various US festival appearances, it's already been sold to HBO. In addition, Lionsgate is working with Pantelion to remake the movie for the US, and I'm curious to see how they handle the title of the remake. There's no way they'll release it here with that name, although it would certainly get people's attention if they did.
Here's a strange one.
Earlier today, Disney released the first poster for "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green," a film I knew nothing about until they released that poster. Never heard of it.
A little reading reveals that it's the new film from Peter Hedges, which is a good sign. Hedges was the writer of "About A Boy" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," and the writer/director of both "Pieces Of April" and "Dan In Real Life." I spent an afternoon with him talking about his work during the release of "Dan In Real Life," and I thought he was a really smart, down-to-earth guy who wants to make smaller personal films inside the studio system.
But I still wasn't sure what this new film was about. I thought it was intriguing that it's one of the films written by Ahmet Zappa, who's been setting up a ton of stuff lately. And now, thanks to Zappa's Twitter feed, I was directed to a Vimeo page where the trailer just went up.
This morning, I put up a piece in which I discussed the upcoming remake of "Footloose" with the film's director, Craig Brewer. In that, we talked about what it was that he brought to the table when he approached the movie, and what the original meant to him. Whenever you're making a remake of a film, I'm always curious what the hook is that gets a director interested in spending several years of their life working on something that's already been made once before.
That's an easy question to answer when it comes to "Dirty Dancing" and Kenny Ortega, though. It's no surprise that they're remaking the film. It's one of those things that seemed inevitable just because of the nostalgic weight of the first film's title. People love "Dirty Dancing," and it continues to resonate in pop culture. If you've seen "Crazy Stupid Love," one of that film's big laughs is built on a signature moment from the 1987 romantic drama.
The gamesmanship involved in picking release dates a year or more out has been a tradition for some time now in Hollywood, but things seem to be escalating to an almost absurd level at this point, especially with Marvel Studios claiming two dates in 2014 for films that they aren't even willing to name yet.
It's one thing when Lionsgate announces a date for the sequel to "The Hunger Games" before the first one is in theaters. That's a move that is designed to impart a certain degree of confidence in the first film that they're shooting now. After all, if they're already planning for when they're going to release the second film, then things must be going incredibly well on the first film, right? There's no way this is going to turn out to be another "Golden Compass" or "Eragon," right?