Welcome to The Morning Read.
Not really sure how long this morning's column will end up being. I'm supposed to be asleep right now, since it's 4:00 in the morning and I'm in a hotel room in Atlanta, where I'm getting up to go on a set visit tomorrow that will occupy my whole day. Insomnia's got me worried that the set visit is going to be a nightmare, and so I figure if I'm awake, I might as well use this time in the wee small hours to put together a Morning Read, and we'll see how much stuff I end up getting to.
I'm excited by Michael Mann's return to television, particularly since it's for HBO, and David Milch is the writer of the project, called "Luck." Geoff Boucher did a really nice piece on the show, and on Mann's involvement in particular. If you're already a Mann fan, it's a nice reminder of why, and if you're not, this may make you reconsider your position.
I give up. I've had my heart broken by George Miller and "Fury Road" so many times that another delay of at least a year before they even start filming pretty much feels to me like an admission that they're never making the damn thing. It's not the promise of a new "Mad Max" film that's got me all worked up, although I'm certainly up for some car-fu any day of the week. No, it's the idea that George Miller can't get a giant action movie up and running that leaves me depressed.
Plus Quint chats up Ernest Borgnine and the ethics of set visits are explored
Welcome to The Morning Read.
A frank conversation with the quirky star
Jason Schwartzman is one of those actors who arrived in his first film, his persona apparently fully-formed, and since that appearance, he's just continued to refine this great, quirky identity of his, working with great filmmakers, working with great actors, and making the sorts of choices and enjoying the sorts of opportunities that would make any other actor jealous.
Right now, HBO is airing the second season of "Bored To Death," the eccentric comedy-noir created by Jonathan Ames. The series details the adventures of Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman), an author living in New York who likes to moonlight as an unlicensed private detective. He ends up dragging in magazine publisher George Christopher (Ted Danson) and best buddy/cartoonist Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis) most of the time, and the show also details the complicated love lives of these characters with painfully wry observational wit. It's a hard show to describe, genre-wise, and it's only getting more eccentric and enjoyable as it unfolds.
This week, Schwartzman called me bright and early one morning, and we ended up talking for a little over a half-hour about his show, his work, and my favorite overlooked film of the year.
Yes… we're going to discuss "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" again. Brace yourself.
Three films in limited release right now are reviewed for you
I saw one of these films at Sundance, one at Toronto, and one was downloaded as a rental to my PS3. They're all open in theaters this weekend, although none of them are what I would call a wide release. I can only really recommend one of them with any real enthusiasm, but I'm guessing they'll all have their audience. It's just a matter of
"Freakonomics" is an all-star line-up of documentary filmmakers, all of them working on separate segments of a film that attempts to illustrate the different principles explained in the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki, and Morgan Spurlock all worked on the film, and it's expertly made, engaging from moment to moment, and about as unfocused as you'd expect a film made that that many people to be. While I think each of the individual sequences, including "Pure Corruption," "Can A Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed," and "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life," works as an individual idea, I still don't get the overall throughline that makes "Freakonomics" work as a whole. It all plays like an elaborate commercial for the book, all tease and no meat.
Plus the single best animation you'll see all year
Welcome to The Morning Read.
What a morning. Although I haven't seen it yet, "My Soul To Take" is getting some blisteringly bad reviews from even the most forgiving horror fans, and one of the things I keep reading is that the 3D conversion was a particularly wretched example of the process. I have to give real credit to Warner Bros. for issuing the following statements about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I" just a little while ago:
"Warner Bros. Pictures has made the decision to release 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1' in 2D, in both conventional and IMAX theaters, as we will not have a completed 3D version of the film within our release date window. Despite everyone's best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality. We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey, and to that end, we are releasing our film day-and-date on November 19, 2010 as planned. WE, in alignment with our filmmakers, believe this is the best course to take in order to ensure that our audiences enjoy the consummate 'Harry Potter' experience."
They say they're still releasing the final film in 3D in July of 2011, which now just feels strange, but the idea of a studio saying that they are intentionally backing off a 3D conversion for technical reasons is impressive. I wish more studios would take a hard look at what they're releasing and ask if it really works and if it offers anything to the audience.
King calls it the 'best American horror film in the last 20 years'
Novelists who have their works made into films often have contentious relationships with the resulting Hollywood products. Anne Rice called the casting of Tom Cruise as her Vampire Lestat "bizarre" and that he was "no more my Vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler." She made an about face, however, after seeing the film, praising Cruise to the point of saying "Tom's Lestat will be remembered the way Olivier's Hamlet is remembered."
Stephen King was so unhappy with Stanley Kubrick's version of "The Shining" that he produced his own made for TV version with Steven Webber… we'll just leave that at that. The point is that novelists have a very personal relationship with their novels. They are the sole creators of a universe on paper. Films, on the other hand, are a collaboration of hundreds of people, each one with their own internal vision contributing to the final work on celluloid. This often renders that novelists universe unrecognizable to its creator. It is very rare that a writer wholeheartedly embraces a film version of his or her book, and even more unusual for them to embrace two.
Plus Reynolds talks about that amazing Comic-Con 'Green Lantern' moment
I may not have been the biggest fan of "Buried" when I saw it at Sundance in January, but there's no denying how effective the work of Ryan Reynolds is, or how inventive the work of Rodrigo Cortes is. For Reynolds to agree to this film meant knowing that there was no fallback, no parachute, no support system. It's him onscreen from beginning to end, and no one else. And for Cortes, he knew that he was really going to have to do it, shoot an entire movie inside a box, never cheating, never cutting to another location. They had to have total faith in each other.
So it makes sense when I walk into a room at the Four Seasons in Austin, TX and find the two of them sitting together, waiting to discuss their film with me. This was just a few weeks ago during Fantastic Fest, and I wanted to talk to Reynolds a little bit about his appearance in July at Comic-Con as well. I'm still learning how to record audio on my Macbook Pro, which I've only had for a month, and it took me a minute to get the thing rolling. Finally, I managed to hit record and take my seat.
Obviously, this has been the year of the closed-space movies. I just saw "127 Hours" at Toronto, and we've already seen "Devil" and "Frozen". Of them all, "Buried" is the only one that never cheats, that never leaves the claustrophobic space or the hopeless situation. The technical challenge of that is daunting, to say the least, and I asked Garcia if he ever hesitated after reading the script.
Greg Berlanti's parenthood comedy rings false from start to finish
"Life As We Know It" is Studio Filmmaking As We Fear It.
Mechanical, unpleasant, oblivious to the way actual people live, bright and slick and hollow, this is a by-the-numbers affair that manages to make two unlikeable phony genre devices into one unlikeable whole. Josh Duhamel slouches his way though like he's embarrassed by everything going on around him, while Katherine Heigl once again embodies a particularly off-putting kind of modern shrew. The two of them together don't add up to the wattage of one movie star, and they aren't able to transcend the material to make the film work simply as a pleasant sit.
The longer you read my work, the more you're realize that the thing that is most important to me in any film, no matter how outrageous the premise or how mainstream the supposed audience, the one thing that really matters to me is honesty. I just want to see something that I recognize as real, whether it's the way characters relate to each other or the way someone responds to a situation or some bit of behavior or observation. I don't need every film to be a documentary. I love pure entertainment as much as the next person. But when I see something that is just fake and dishonest and mechanical, it really does sit wrong with me.
Eric Messer (Duhamel) and Holly Berenson (Heigl) are best friends to Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and Alison (Christina Hendricks), and the first third of the film is a romantic comedy about two people, thrown together by common friends, who seem to hate each other at first but who are actually drawn to one another to such an obvious degree that you know the film will be about getting them together in the last ten minutes, with nothing but obstacles in the meantime.
3-disc set will include a new extended version of the film, hours of extras
The official trailer for the 3 disc Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition DVD (and blu-ray, of course) has been released and it will leave many an Avatar fan gagging with excitement, and I'm sure it's detractors simply gagging. I count myself as a fan and the new video has me stoked.
It has glimpses of the extra footage, yet unseen, from the "Collectors Extended Edition" of the film. This is not the extended edition which came out in theaters, but a home-version-only cut that includes what appears to be an Earth-based 'civilian Jake' alternate opening.
The trailer also previews the extra features which will include a feature length documentary and 45 minutes of deleted scenes. Usually finding myself a defender of movies that are actually shot in 3D, it will be interesting to see how this animated film was made. Nothing against motion capture (of course) or even acting-capture, but the film is still a mostly animated which folks seem to forget, which is in a sense, a tribute to the filmmakers.
As a new owner of a Blu-Ray player (which admittedly plays video games too) I'm looking forward to this set, as it appears to contain lots more than the standard DVD, (menu's below) but I have to admit to a craving, very controllable at this point, for one of those ludicrously expensive 3D TV's…
Santa... I see you.
Another family-oriented live-action/CG movie, but with a disturbing twist
It's come to this?
Look, I can accept that the wholesale strip-mining of the Looney Tunes characters is an inevitable thing. They are owned by Warner Bros., a gigantic corporation with stockholders to appease and profits to earn, and these characters are part of an enduring legacy created by dozens and dozens of hard-working artists and filmmakers over the years. They can be exploited and re-exploited forever, and will be. I get that.
When I was in Toronto for the film festival this year, I spent a good deal of time in line for the various press screenings, usually in the lobby of the Scotiabank Theater. It's one of these hyper-modern lobbies with eight different concession booths and video games and monitors everywhere and neon purple accents and color and sound and light and it is a damn nightmare if you're trapped in it for longer than fifteen miinutes.
One of the particular forms of torture that the lobby is designed to visit upon you with the focused sadism of a trap in a "Saw" movie is that they only showed two trailers the entire time we were there, on a loop. Over. And over. And over. And over. Two trailers. I don't care if those trailers are for "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "Brazil," if you watch them hundreds of times in the course of a week, you will learn to cringe as if from physical blows each time each beat of those trailers plays out. And what were they? "You Again," which I will never ever see, and which appears to be about six minutes long, detailing each beat of the film. And the other?
Plus check out the cover Edgar Wright says you'll wish was real
I've been doing this a long time, and I can honestly say I've rarely seen a studio work harder to get a film in front of an audience than Universal did with "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World."
I've also rarely seen a film land with the sort of box-office indifference in the face of generally glowing reactions that "Scott Pilgrim" did, and no matter how many conversations I've had with people about what happened, I haven't heard one good theory on why it failed to connect. The film's tests all went well, people who saw it seemed to enjoy it, word of mouth was strong, reviews were great... and no one went.
I have a strong suspicion that "Pilgrim" is the sort of film that is going to build an audience slowly and surely on home video, and in a few years, people are going to wish they'd seen the film in the theater in the first place. This is the best film to tank this hard since "The Iron Giant," and I knew in '99 that one would find its audience, too.
Part of the push on home video evidently involves a redesigned bit of key art, and today when Team HitFix got together for lunch, we were talking about whether or not this might work to encourage people to give the film a chance. I'll say this... at least the new piece of key art puts the cast front and center. I hate photoshop movie posters, and I miss the heyday of paintings as one-sheets, but this cover has more to do with the movie than the original poster image did... don't you think?