Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
The duo talk about acting and singing in the fairy tale comedy
On this film, it makes a lot of sense to interview Mandy Moore and Zach Levi together. After all, the film ultimately boils down to the chemistry between the two of them.
So of course you're dealing with a process that never really puts actors in the same place at the same time.
I'm not a rabid fan of "Chuck," but I've seen enough of it to know it's a solid show and has a fun cast, and in my house, Zach Levi is a superstar because both the five-year-old and the two-year-old love "The Squeakquel". He's playing a Han Solo variation on a Disney prince here, and he does it very well. You can tell he's having fun in pretty much every moment of the film, too.
Mandy Moore is someone I never gave a fair shot at first because of her pop princess origins, but over time, I've become convinced that she is an untapped resource, a natural and charming actress who just hasn't had that great role yet.
It's not easy bringing something new to the Disney hero and heroine, but I'd say both Levi and Moore manage the trick in the film. And in addition, the film's a legitimate musical, and both of them have some fairly hefty vocal work required of them at various points.
Will this be Duncan Jones' "Southland Tales?"
The trailer for "Source Code" hit the web this week and it looks like a doozy of a movie. It seems that Jake Gyllenhaal plays a kind of time astronaut who is repeatedly quantum-leaped into the body of a passenger aboard a doomed train in order to find out who bombed the thing. To put it simply: "The source code enables you to cross over into another man's identity for the last eight minutes of his life." Oh boy.
Of course the doomed man he possesses happens to have a doomed beautiful girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) on that doomed train and, well it seems things get complicated. The trailer moves quickly and seems to get all the important concepts across quickly and easily. Even the conceptual environment of Jake being "inside a computer program" looks pretty matter of fact. This is slightly worrisome.
Mandy Moore, Zach Levi, Donna Murphy all excel in animated roles
It is appropriate that "Tangled" is the 50th feature-length animated film from the Walt Disney Company, as it manages to look both back and forward at the same time, embodying where the studio has been and where it's headed in the future. It is a lovely, funny movie, surprisingly modest in scale and ambition, and better for it. The focus is split between truly innovative animation that blends several different schools of thought and a screenplay that doesn't innovate in the slightest, but that plays things at just the right pitch.
Put simply, "Tangled" is exactly what it should be.
It is an important time for Walt Disney Feature Animation. The studio as a whole is a robust, well-oiled machine that manages to course correct no matter what stumbles they make. They make a lot of money from their singles, their doubles, and their triples, and then every now and then, they make an "Alice In Wonderland" that makes a billion dollars, and then they all get naked and roll around in dollar bills inside that freaky building with the dwarves on it on the Burbank lot. Or at least, that's what I heard.
Point is, the studio will be fine, but that's not enough. All that other stuff, that's what came after Walt Disney built the foundation for the studio on animation, and while they could just coast on the work that Pixar is doing, that's not enough either. It's a point of pride. Walt Disney Feature Animation needs to be doing good work. They need to be making movies that add to the tradition, that honor the name. It's important.
Plus Nic Cage freaks out and Pixar says 'It gets better'
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I'm off to a late start today. There was that breaking "Buffy" news, the "Tangled" interview, and some running around to get ready for the rest of the week. But now I'm ready to sit down and see what's been going on while I've been busy.
It appears a whooooole lot of people went to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" this weekend, and if you did, there's a good chance one of the things you remember most about the film is that animated sequence they used to tell the story of The Three Brothers, the exposition necessary to make sense of the Deathly Hallows. Ben Hibon directed that sequence, it turns out, and now he may be signed on to direct the Ben Magid script "Pan." That's intriguing news. I remember reading "Pan" back when it was first set up with Guillermo Del Toro attached as director. It's a refiguring of the Peter Pan archetypes that plays as a dark murder-mystery with Hook as a police detective tracking a killer. It's about as far from the original J. M. Barrie story as possible, and I'm a firm believer that Barrie's work is already jet-black to begin with, filled with rich subtextual material for new writers to explore in a million different ways. If the new "Potter" is what it took to kickstart Hibon as a filmmaker, it sounds like a real win all the way around, because he ended up contributing one of the best moments in the series, a pivotal piece of Potter folklore.
What's it like working at the modern Walt Disney?
When I sat down with the directors of "Tangled," Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, I had an agenda.
After all, Howard is also credited as a director on "Bolt," so these guys have been there for the entire reorganization of Walt Disney Feature Animation under John Lasseter, and if anyone's qualified to discuss how things have changed, they are.
It's something I've been thinking about since I saw "Tangled." I'm still not sure how I feel about Lasseter being in charge of WDFA. I know he's an incredibly bright and talented guy, and obviously his track record at Pixar is amazing, but Pixar has a very particular identity, and I'm not sure that I want WDFA to simply become an extension of that brand, any more than I would want WDFA to try to remake Pixar in its image.
I also wanted to talk to them about the conception of one of the most visually ravishing scenes of the year, and about bringing the look of classic Walt Disney films into the CG age. It's a big jump for the company, and again, I'm left with mixed emotions about the results. It really does look like a classic Disney film, but with all of the technical sophistication of modern cutting-edge computer animation.
But without Whedon involved, is this the 'Buffy' fans are waiting for?
Ironically, I think that the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" that many of us love dearly is, technically speaking, a reboot.
The thing is, the first exposure we had to "Buffy" was the film released by 20th Century Fox, and although Joss Whedon was the screenwriter of that film, he was deeply unhappy with the fillm itself, and given the chance to refigure the property as a television show, he took a shot at it.
The result remains one of my favorite TV shows. Sure, there were bum episodes and even a few rough seasons, but throughout its entire run, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" was a model for what TV could be, and when you look at the landscape of great television today, I would argue that much of what is being done right now is built on the work that Whedon was doing. He took genre seriously, and instead of just dealing with a monster a week, he realized early on that he could use the horror to amplify the drama already inherent to high school and college, a period of constant turbulence for many young people. The show dealt in big bold metaphor, and it did it well. There was a great sense of humor to it all, and yet the show was able to push into some jet-black areas when it wanted to, a heady combination.
One character too many can't sink a solid action-thriller
"Faster" is a lean, mean revenge thriller that works because of the charisma of its two key players, Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton, and because of the no-jokes brutal attitude the film takes. There's an entire subplot that feels like a miscalculation, but what's good about the film is so good that I would recommend it to action fans without hesitation, and it's one of those better-than-it-needs-to-be examples of a genre that could easily cross over to a larger audience as well.
George Tillman makes both good and bad choices as director here, and there are times when his style feels too much like he's making sure that his film looks the way action films are "supposed to" instead of just telling his story. But for the most part, his work here is really solid, and he certainly knows how to pace a film like this. One of the things that works best about it is the way he opens the film. Dwayne Johnson plays Driver, a man we find in a jail cell, pacing, already in motion. He's taken to see the Warden, played by Tom Berenger, and then shown the door, a free man. As soon as he's clear of the fence, he starts running. Driver can't wait to get moving, can't wait to get to his business. He finds a scrap yard, makes his way to a specific corner of it and finds what he came for. A car. His car. And inside, a name and an address. And a gun. Everything he needs to get started paying back the rotten sonsofbitches who killed his brother and put him behind bars.
Could you picture Dwayne Johnson playing Lee Child's best-selling hero?
I didn't mean to do it.
Earlier today, I found myself sitting across from Dwayne Johnson so we could discuss his new film "Faster," and in the midst of talking about the current landscape of action heroes, I asked him if he's familiar with the Lee Child novels about Jack Reacher.
Let me back up. If you're not familiar with Jack Reacher, he's the hero of fifteen best-selling novels, the most recent of which was published in September. He's an ex-Military Investigator, a guy who has made a decision to own nothing and live nowhere, a drifter who finds himself embroiled in crazy, difficult situations where his military training, his investigator's mind, and his ability and willingness to kill entire towns full of bad guys if he has to is what makes Reacher such a compulsively interesting pulp character. Child created a perfect hero for an ongoing series. He's able to bounce from situation to situation in a way that never limits the type or the scope of the trouble he can get into.
I am no expert on the series. I only recently started reading them. Basically, I finished finally re-reading every one of the John D. McDonald Travis McGee novels recently, and I wanted to find a new series to try. I had heard enough good things about the Reacher books that I picked one up as I was leaving on a set visit. I read "One Shot," which is the book that Paramount is working to develop as the first Reacher movie.
Looks like the our anti-hero gets to keep his helmet
@jock4twenty tweeted this photo of Karl Urban as Judge Dredd from the set today. We admit he looks pretty badass. Not sure if this is a leak or a "leak." Mr. 4twenty is a brit penciller with an impressive website here. I wonder if he'll get to keep his job?
The official synopsis for the new film reads as follows:
"DREDD takes us to the wild streets of Mega City One, the lone oasis of quasi-civilization on Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared of elite Street Judges, with the power to enforce the law, sentence offenders and execute them on the spot - if necessary. The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and the frenetic vision of director Pete Travis bring DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's revered comic strip."
Plus Eli Roth's doing right by horror and talking 'Star Wars' with kids
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Let's kick off today's column with a bit of a public service announcement. Have you read about the Amazon Studios announcement? Basically, Amazon decided to get involved in the production of content, and they've created a brand-new program that is part contest, part development fund, and all garbage.
I've gotten several e-mails from people asking me my take on this, several of which were from very excited writers looking at this as a way to finally get around the "no manager or agent" conundrum. And I empathize with any writer out there with a script who can't get people to read it. I get what is attractive about the idea of a brand-new way of getting around the system, but this is not it. Have you read the Development Agreement or the Contest Terms and Procedures? They are fascinating and revealing and completely insane.
I'll put it this way: if you upload your script or your movie to their contest, you are essentially kissing it goodbye forever. Line after line of the legalese on these pages just confounds me. "You agree to be automatically entered into any future contests for which your work is eligible. The specific contest rules for future contests will be posted on this page when they are announced." And considering one of the rules of this contest grants Amazon Studios a free 18-month option on your work the moment you upload it, the idea that they can enter you in a contest later and tell you the rules after they do so seems positively batty. The "development agreement" is a contract you're signing, not an entry form for a contest, and in it, you grant them a free option on your work for a year and a half, and if they do end up producing your work, there's a set fee. Period. That's all it is. A set rate. The same no matter what the project is, and no matter what happens with it. That is, simply put, immoral.