As long as I've been aware of Walt Disney as a company, nature films have been part of that identity.
I'd even argue that the first documentaries of any type that I saw as a kid were the "True Life-Adventures," a series of short films that ran from the late '40s until 1960, and which were packaged and repackaged as part of the various Disney anthology shows on TV. As an adult, I'm aware of the awful reputation the "True-Life Adventure" films have in terms of inaccuracies and animal cruelty, but I'm also aware that at the time they were made, many of them won Academy Awards. I loved the films when they would show up on TV, and when they were released on DVD a few years back, I was thrilled.
In the wake of the almost unbelievable box-office performance of "March Of The Penguins," every studio started thinking about how to get in on that type of business, and Disney remembered that they already had a history in that market, one they could easily build on now with the marketing muscle they have at their disposal. DisneyNature was born as a distribution label within the larger Disney family, and kicked off with "Earth" in 2009, which was basically just a stripped down feature-length greatest hits version of "Planet Earth," the acclaimed BBC documentary series. They followed that up last year with "Oceans," a very pretty film that felt fairly innocuous overall. This year, they're offering up "African Cats," co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and I think it works much better as a piece of narrative than "Oceans" did. To me, this feels like the 21st century version of the "True-Life Adventures" in a way that absolutely deserves the Disney name on it.
As long as I've been aware of Walt Disney as a company, nature films have been part of that identity.
I've been holding off announcing this, and I've been crossing my fingers like crazy, but it appears that the process has been completed and I am indeed heading to this year's Cannes Film Festival, the first time I've ever attended, and it feels like if I had to pick a year to go, this is the right one.
Yes, I'm excited about "The Tree Of Life." After all, it's Terrence Malick, and by my personal estimation, he has yet to make a bad film. I revere "Days Of Heaven" and "Badlands," and I think "The Thin Red Line" is remarkable. I have my problems with "The New World," but there's still a lot about that film I find hypnotic and beautiful. For me to get a chance to see the new Malick film in an environment like Cannes? That's very exciting. That sounds like exactly the sort of film I hope to see at a festival like this one.
Now, there are some very big commercial movies playing there this year, as seems to be the standard now. For example, the photo you see illustrating this story is Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena the Mermaid, one of the two young leads in the sequel "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," and there's quite a bit riding on just how much an audience ends up liking her. They're also showing "The Beaver," which I saw at SXSW. Woody Allen's going to kick the festival off with "Midnight In Paris," his latest, and I'm looking forward to it. With Allen, it's hit or miss, and I'm always willing to at least give his films a try, because the ones I love, I love dearly. I'd say the last one that I have huge affection for is "Vicki Christina Barcelona," and I'm always hoping the next one will hit me that same way.
We have reached a very strange moment for our industry, and moving forward, we have some very important decisions to make.
DirecTV, working with Sony, Universal, Warner Bros, and Fox, is getting ready to launch their new premium video-on-demand service this Thursday, and at first glance, it looks fairly awful to me. The fact that they're launching it with Adam Sandler's miserable "Just Go With It" seems appropriate. You'll be able to download a different film every two weeks for $29.99, and for that price, you can watch the film for 48 hours. It'll be in 1080p HD, and available only to customers who have an HD DVR. The films are going to be movies that are available before the home video window, but after the theatrical, collapsing the release schedule even further than it was already collapsed.
I don't really get this one. I understand the debate that pops up from time to time regarding a day-and-date pay-per-view window, offering a premium price for a movie that's opening in theaters, and I can honestly say that there are films I'd consider doing that for. If they offered a chance to see "Pirates Of The Caribbean 4" at home opening weekend for $50, it would make sense for my family to do that. Two months after release for an Adam Sandler film I hated? I can't image that.
But when I say I would pay for a day and date release, that's not the same as me saying that I think the industry should move in that direction. And today, an open letter was published that focuses this debate a bit more. Here's the full text of it, including the signatures, which I think you'll recognize:
If you're still upset that you did not make it to the Fan Appreciation Screening of "Attack The Block" that we helped promote a few weeks ago, you're in luck.
At that point, there was no distributor for the US yet, but since then, we've gotten the good news that Sony/Screen Gems will be handling the film here in the United States, and so there's going to be another Fan Appreciation Screening, and another opportunity for you to attend.
Here's the basic details:
Back By Popular Demand! Sony/Screen Gems wants to give the fans another post SXSW chance the Audience Award winner!
Tuesday – April 26th
7:30pm – Landmark Theatre @ Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles
RSVP: email@example.com (Spell you and your guest’s name - First and Last)
After that last screening, I got dozens of e-mails and tweets and messages from people who went, flipping out about how much they enjoyed the film. So far, I've spoken to a grand total of one person who dismissed the movie, and considering how cynical people are about genre fare, that's impressive.
It's been a long and frustrating day of dealing with my son's educational future, so it seems appropriate for me to wrap it up with the latest column in the Film Nerd 2.0 series that outlines my efforts to help my kids make sense of the preposterous number of media options available to them.
I love seeing things with fresh eyes, and there is no easier way to do that than having kids and really engaging when you share something with them. One thing I've learned is that kids make their decisions about what they want to see very quickly, based on the most basic information or impressions, and that it is hard to predict what will affect them and what won't.
Both of my sons were out of town for a stretch of nearly six months at the end of last year, and as a result, when "TRON: Legacy" was released, they weren't here. Toshi, my five-year-old, had seen the trailers and was interested in the lead-up to release, but by the time they got back, the film was out of theaters. And knowing there was a Blu-ray release of the original film in the works, I never broke out my old DVD of the film for him.
The entire time they were gone, I stockpiled movies for them, and we've been chipping away at them as we've been catching up. Finally, as we were putting together our plan for a recent weekend, Toshi decided that it was finally time for the big "TRON" double-feature, while Allen decided he wanted to see "Babe," or, as he referred to it, "PIGGY!"
I would suspect that many of the tributes cast in "The Hunger Games" are going to be fresh faces, and while that may be a budgetary decision in large part, it's also a choice that could work in the film's favor.
Rue is one of the characters most beloved by readers of "The Hunger Games," and for good reason. Casting Rue is critically important because the character has to make a major impression on audiences without a ton of screen time, and so first reactions are going to be important with her.
Looking at Amandla Stenberg, my first reaction is that she's too young… and that's exactly right. She looks like she's half the age of Jennifer Lawrence, who will star in the film as Katniss Everdeen, and watching these characters face each other down in a battle of life and death should be upsetting. Director Gary Ross has spoken already about how important it is for him to get a PG-13 for his movie, and he can't have it be overtly violent or bloody. He can, however, play with the empathy of the audience, and casting Rue to be this young… that's a smart decision. It even pays off the fact that Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson look a little older than some people expected.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Jason Statham as Donald Westlake's Parker, huh? If you're not familiar with the author or the character, you still might have seen at least one of the previous films based on the material. Mel Gibson adapted it with "Payback," John Boorman's "Point Blank" featured Lee Marvin in the role, and the craziest version of the book is Ringo Lam's "Full Contact." There are a total of 24 books in the Parker series, but for some reason, we keep getting loose adaptations of The Hunter, the first book in the series. And now, according to Variety, we're getting another one, with Taylor Hackford set to direct, and with Jason Statham set to play the role. That's pretty good casting, but they're going to have to work hard to wring something new out of this particular piece of material. In addition to all of the previous film versions, there's also an outstanding comic adaptation by Darwyn Cooke that was published not long ago, so it's definitely a book that has been interpreted and reinterpreted already. Even so, this looks like the first adaptation that's actually using the character's name, and it makes me wonder… if this first one works, will they move forward with Statham in more films based on other books in the series?
And in the meantime, how about a long-lost Donald Westlake book to tide you over?
I am of mixed mind about the glut of superhero cinema right now, and this summer is going to test the patience of the audience with the genre.
In the comments section for my "Transformers" piece yesterday, Vern posted a few times, invoking the image of Pauline Kael trying to write about the current landscape of movies. And it's both very funny and a nice humbling reminder that critics are defined by their overall diet of movies. We are only ever as good as the movies we are given to write about, and when I'm done with all of this in the future, will the sum total of my work be varying opinions about how well people crafted movies that primarily deal with dudes in funny costumes beating the hell out of each other?
The thing is, part of me has been waiting my whole life to see the Marvel characters in particular brought to life on the bigscreen. Now that they're actually doing it, there is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing how they approach each of the characters, and even if I haven't loved all of the films, it's been exciting to watch these things come to fruition. And I am happy to admit that I'm an easy mark for this sort of thing. I have a voracious appetite for pulp, and I'm not sold on the idea that these movies need to be "important". On the other hand, if they're not fun, they don't really have any reason to exist. These films cost a small fortune, especially if you want to make the outrageous seem possible, and that sets up the expectation that they must be bigger and more significant than the average issue of a comic book… even if that's all these films really are.
I think it's safe to say that there are many people who openly dislike "Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen." And, after sitting with him for a half-hour yesterday to talk about the third chapter in the giant robots franchise, I'd say Michael Bay is one of those people.
And just wait till you see his apology.
There will be a new trailer for "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" that appears in front of "Fast Five" next weekend, and Thursday morning, a small group of us met at Paramount to see the trailer, a chunk of scenes from the movie, and a 3D sizzle reel. And the trailer is, in a word, outrageous. The scale of this film is so different than what I thought it was that I'm almost at a loss to describe it. It's not even the same genre as the first two "Transformers" films. This time out, Bay is making a full-blown alien invasion movie that just happens to use Autobots and Decepticons, and the result looks like the craziest action movie ride this summer.
And, yes, I'm prepared to say that after just one presentation. I've certainly had my problem with some of Bay's films over the years, but he is as in love with pure action for the sake of action as any filmmaker working right now, and it looks to me like he's gone out of his way here to build scenes that no one's ever done before. It also looks like he's embraced the idea of 3D as a tool to enhance those action scenes, and like he's having fun with the pure little-boy-game of imagining giant robot mayhem this time.
I am not a collector.
Not really. I certainly have my share of items here in the house that celebrate or commemorate my lifelong passion for film, but I don't spend much money on shirts or toys or posters right now, because if I did, my wife would kill me with a rock while I was sleeping. We've got school to pay for, a new car to buy, and a million other obligations, not even taking our mortgage into account. Yet if I had spare cash just laying around, I guarantee a good percentage of it would end up in the pockets of Justin Ishmael and the rest of the guys behind Mondo.
I remember the Mondo Tees that was part of the original Drafthouse, and it's hard to believe that the business it is today grew out of those humble beginnings, but I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Mondo is another of the charmed businesses in the orbit of Tim League, and a big part of why he's been so successful is because he goes above and beyond to make each exhibition experience special. That philosophy seems to be a big part of the creation process behind the posters that are now the main cultural output of Mondo, posters created by artists like Tyler Stout and Oly Moss. Now that Mondo is licensing titles, they're able to create amazing art for these films we collectively love, posters that should have been used in theaters, but that would have never been approved by studios.
What I love most is that these posters manage to sum up why we love a film in very simple fashion, and tonight, there's an event going on where they'll premiere an incredibly limited-run poster. It was announced as a secret screening, and it's only once the lights go down that the audience will discover they're seeing the anime classic "Akira."