One of the great surprises of the last half-dozen years has been the emergence of James Marsden as a committed, unabashed goofball.
When Hollywood gets hold of a guy like Marsden, they inevitably push him towards leading man roles. Romantic roles. Heroic roles. And while he may have been overshadowed in the "X-Men" series by virtue of Hugh Jackman's star-making performance and writing that barely knew what to do with Cyclops, that's not his fault. He just did what he could with what he was given. It was only once he wrapped that series that things started to get genuinely interesting for him. His role in the flawed "Superman Returns" was one of the best things about that film, and he took the very small role of Corny Collins in "Hairspray" and ran with it. The two films that confirmed for me that this is a guy who will not stop until he's exhausted the comic potential in a role, though, were "Enchanted" and "Sex Drive," and that's when I started to hope that more directors would pick up on this stealth-weirdo lurking beneath those movie star good looks and really give him something to do.
In "Hop," Marsden stars as Fred O'Hare, a guy who is adrift in his life, unable to find a job that satisfies him, constantly flirting with the disapproval of his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) and leaning on his sister Sam (Kaley Cuoco) for help. And while the ads all emphasize the talking CGI bunny named E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) as the star of the film, structurally, this is Fred's story. As a little boy, he saw the Easter Bunny one morning, and before he could take a picture to prove it, the Easter Bunny was gone, leaving Fred with questions for the rest of his life.
One of the great surprises of the last half-dozen years has been the emergence of James Marsden as a committed, unabashed goofball.
Quentin Dupieux is an intriguing filmmaker, and I'm very interested in tracking down his first feature film, "Steak," based on how strange and wonderful his new film "Rubber" is. I saw the film at Fantastic Fest last year, and I adored it. Why? No reason.
Sorry... the "no reason" thing is a recurring joke in the film, and it feels appropriate that the film is finally hitting theaters and VOD on April 1st. It's a big broad wink of a movie, and if you're up for a little post-modern fun in a movie about a telekinetic tire that makes people's heads explode, I recommend that you seek it out.
And if you're not? Well, you can skip the interview I did with Dupieux this week, and there will still be some great new stuff in the podcast, our second this week. Scott came over and we played a round of Movie God inspired by "Your Highness" and some of the films I feel are present in that movie's DNA. And then after that, we got into a discussion about this weekend's line-up of movies, and how it's one of the strongest weekends so far this year.
I've been enjoying this season of the podcast. I think Scott and I have settled into a rhythm as we record these, and I'm realizing that the very nature of the podcast is transitory. These are meant to feel off-the-cuff, conversational, and relaxed. I don't want to do some over-rehearsed radio show. I just want to hang out with my best friend, chat about movies and whatever else is going on, and laugh. And I like being able to invite you guys to do that with us, something that's not always possible.
It's sort of amazing to think that James Wan and Leigh Whannell are the co-creators of one of the biggest horror franchises of all time, financially speaking, and yet they only ever really participated in one film in the series.
How many filmmakers are strong enough to do that? These days, everyone wants their sure thing, their cash cow, the property they can keep milking until they've gotten every last dollar out of it. For many filmmakers, if they created something like that, there's no way they'd ever walk away from the series. Yet with Wan and Whannell, the moment it became apparent that "Saw" was going to spawn a sequel, they moved on.
And so far, they haven't repeated themselves yet. I may not love "Dead Silence," but I give them credit for trying something markedly different with their second film, and then they tried something even more different with "Death Sentence," which I liked but didn't love. Through it all, I've found myself interested in their choices and impressed at how much they've avoided doing the easy or expected thing.
Monday morning, I drove down to the Magic Castle, a beautiful Hollywood club and restaurant that is members only. Seeing it in the daytime and being able to walk around and really soak in the details without anyone else there was a treat, but sitting down to talk to Barbra Hershey, Lin Shaye, and Wan and Whannell together was the real reason to attend.
I would not say I am the biggest Joe Wright fan in the world.
When his "Pride and Prejudice" came out, there were many critics who flipped out immediately for his work, and while I think it's a very well-made version of the story, telling that particular story again didn't do much for me. I felt more strongly about "Atonement," which I like quite a bit, and that film certainly suggested someone with some very strong visual ideas and technical acumen. "The Soloist"… well, I'm curious if even Wright would defend that film. I find it intolerable, naked Oscar bait that rings false in every frame.
And to be honest, the descriptions of "Hanna" had me worried that we were going to cover some overly familiar ground in terms of story. Just last year, I thought the Hit Girl/Big Daddy story in "Kick-Ass" pretty much nailed the father-daughter dynamic in this type of story, and other elements of the story seemed to be similar to films like "Salt". Even though the script was on the Black List, I never read it, and I kind of paid little attention to the movie during production.
I'm happy to say that Wright is on his game again in this one, and he's made a really strange, lovely little arthouse action movie that delivers an emotional kick and some strong visceral thrills. It is surreal at times, surprisingly small-scale, and it works primarily because of the combination of Wright's meticulous film sense and some wonderful, nuanced work from actors playing fairly broad and thinly-written roles.
And did I mention that the score by the Chemical Brothers is sick? Because it is. Completely and utterly sick. And I love it.
Welcome to The Evening Read.
Well, Monday didn't happen, mainly because I had an early morning press event for the new James Wan/Leigh Whannell film "Insidious" at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I didn't even get back to my house until almost 2:00 in the afternoon, at which point I had other things to write and publish.
There were a number of things that broke over the weekend, but I feel like we're at a weird point in the way movie news is reported where teeny tiny non-stories turn into giant ridiculous waves of chatter, simply so people have something to talk about. The most ridiculous things get endlessly debated, and so the scale of what is or isn't news has become so skewed that it's hard for me to get excited about a lot of what's going on out there.
I find myself getting frustrated by things like the preposterous flap over Natalie Portman and "Black Swan," and I see the same groupthink answers about why it's "an outrage" over and over. I'm not sure who allegedly promised moviegoers that every frame of Natalie Portman dancing in that film was really her, but it certainly wasn't the director or the actress. When I interviewed Portman last year, she was pretty clear about the fact that a year of dance training allowed her to stand and move like a dancer, and not that she was suddenly a professional-level ballerina. Film is illusion, and it sounds like the people stoking the fires of this idiotic outrage believe they were watching a documentary instead of, you know, a movie. And don't bring up the Oscar. Unless you can show me some rule book where it says that you have perform every shot in a film to qualify for an Oscar, nothing about this affects her win one little bit.
"Cowboys and Aliens."
There is a bluntness to that title which should help it cut through the noise that surrounds the summer season, or at least that's the gamble that Universal's making. This film has been in development longer than I've been working as an online writer, but in different forms. It took a long time before they finally clicked into the creative team that finally took it from "title in search of an idea" to the film we'll finally see onscreen this year.
And this is a case of a title that existed before a story. The comic book was an attempt to develop the material in some form after Platinum Studios had optioned the title and a drawing to Hollywood in the first place. The project went through a lot of hands, and it was one of those things that seemed like it would never happen. And not because anyone got it wrong, per se, but rather because it seems like there's so few ways to get it exactly right. That's the thing about these genre mash-up movies. Once you get past the high concept notion, you still have to make a real movie that stands on its own.
Last November, a group of writers was invited to Santa Monica to sit down with Jon Favreau in the editing room for "Cowboys and Aliens," and we ended up seeing the first 40 minutes of the film before talking to the director for about an hour. I've known Favreau for a while now, and I can tell you that the enthusiasm he has for this movie is different than anything I've seen from him during production of a film, and that includes the first "Iron Man." Whatever "Cowboys and Aliens" ends up being, Favreau seems pleased with it, and I have a strong feeling audiences are going to agree.
"Source Code" is a lot of fun, and it's not just a one-note popcorn pleasure. Director Duncan Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley have built a smart satisfying science-fiction/Hitchcock movie that uses a very clever conceit to tell a very simply and lovely human story. It's just plain enjoyable, and I strongly encourage you to check it out this weekend.
Jake Gyllenhaal is very good in the lead role as the guy who finds himself being sent back into the same eight minutes, over and over, but what gives the film its heart and soul is the tension between him and the two very different women in his life. Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) each exist in different moments, different times, and they deal with Colter (Gyllenhaal) in very different ways. Christina is the girl caught in the moment on the train, the repeated eight minutes before the explosion, while Goodwin is the one speaking directly to Colter in the lab setting known as the Source Code.
There are different demands made of each of the actors, and sitting down to talk to them during the SXSW festival in Austin, we talked about those challenges. Monaghan sort of surprised me in person. She always plays such girl-next-door sort of down-to-earth types in her films, and even though it was 9:00 in the morning, she showed up looking like a rock star. And then on top of it, she's charming and cracking jokes and in a great mood? It's enough to make you sick.
Well, exactly as I expected, we're seeing stories everywhere today that are stating conclusively that there will be a "Justice League" film onscreen in 2013.
When I ran that story last night, I took the time to send messages and e-mails to a few people who were in a position to know whether or not that was really going to happen, and I went to bed comfortable that we were right in stating yesterday that there's not going to be a "Justice League" film in 2013.
So then today, The LA Times publishes part two of their Jeff Robinov piece, and again, they state that the film's going to happen in 2013. They don't leave much room for doubt, either.
Here's the thing… I still don't believe there's a "Justice League" movie coming that close on the heels of "The Dark Knight Rises" and the "Superman" reboot. I just don't. I do believe that 2013 will be an important year for the Warner Bros. superhero business, and I would not remotely be shocked to see "The Flash" come out that year.
I mentioned in my article yesterday that Warner should be a little gun-shy about getting "Justice League" onto the screen, and was surprised to realize how many people were unaware of quite what went down with "Justice League: Mortal," the movie that they almost made in 2007. On that film, they had a great director in the form of George Miller. Yes, the same George Miller behind "The Road Warrior" and "Babe." He had cast the movie completely, and he was deep into design with WETA for both costumes and digital effects, and the things I've heard about the visual plan he had for the film make it sound like it was going to be a bold interpretation of these characters that would be very different from any version we've seen before. This past year, many audiences discovered Armie Hammer for the first time in his dual role as the Winklevoss Twins in "The Social Network," but you almost saw him as Batman, who would have been the star of Miller's film.
South By Southwest was a blur for me this year.
I need to figure out some foolproof way to stay healthy on the road. I'm going to guess that packing on a trip to Area 51 right before I head to Austin for a week of sleepless nights isn't the best plan I've ever had, because holy cow did I get sick at the end of the festival.
Thankfully I was still in good shape when I joined Rainn Wilson and James Gunn onstage to moderate the panel on their new film "Super." And with those two, "moderate" really just means, "Ask a few questions that aren't totally stupid, then get out of the way." They're both very entertaining guys, and together, they've got a really fun energy. It's obvious they enjoyed working together, and that they're both proud of the film they've made.
I saw and reviewed the film out of last year's Toronto Film Festival, and the more I've thought about it, the more the things I like outweigh the things I didn't. It's so crazy, and it has such a strong sense of voice, and it features some remarkably devoted performances by Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, and more. Sitting down with them after our panel, we had a half-hour conversation that featured a great round of Movie God.
I'm pretty sure I'm not breaking embargo simply by saying that I love "Your Highness." Not in any halfway, almost, make apologies sort of way, either. It is a case of a movie that feels like it was made for me. It got me laughing about two seconds into it, and kept me laughing until the closing credits finally rolled.
I have no doubt that a big part of my reaction to "Your Highness" is based on growing up when I did and ingesting all the astoundingly awful fantasy films of the '80s. There were a few good ones, certainly. I think the original "Conan The Barbarian" by John Milius is a legitimately great film. I think "Sword and the Sorcerer" is crazy low-budget trash that delivers every pulpy thrill you'd want from the material. I think there are moments in some of them that are fun. But by and large, the genre is made up of hyper-serious movies about very silly things.
When you see "Your Highness," it's impressive how they manage to make a comedy genre film without directly referencing other movies. That seems to be a dying art, and for someone like me, who gets tired of the "nudge, nudge, hey, did you see that movie, too?" school of comedy, it's depressing to live in the era of "Family Guy". "Your Highness" will certainly make you think of those crazy '80s fantasy films, but in a broad sense. If you have a fondness for those movies, you'll be laughing at things that non-genre-savvy audiences might not pick up, but for me, it's not because I was laughing at a reference, but rather because I recognized just how sincere Danny McBride and co-writer Ben Best and director David Gordon Green really are about all of this.