Ken Russell is dead.
And while I consider Ken Russell a giant, a genuine force to be reckoned with, a man who left a giant shit-smeared mark across the face of cinema like a moustache added to the Mona Lisa, I confess I haven't seen one thing he made in the 20 years since his film "Whore" was released.
That's crazy. According to the IMDb, he's directed 19 things since then. I knew he contributed to "Trapped Ashes," an anthology film that I still haven't seen, but I didn't see it. And I've never heard of the other 18 projects. He was just off my radar.
Again… that's crazy. But if you're looking to sum up the cinematic output of one Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell, the word "crazy" is probably a great place to start. His was a long sustained and beautiful madness that played out in a wildly uneven filmography, where his highs were as high as anyone's who worked in the British pop '60s and the international art house '70s, and where his lows were as low as anyone working in the Golan/Globus exploitation mills of the '80s. He clashed famously with actors, directors, censors, rock stars and most other life forms at one point or another.
Ken Russell is dead.
I am a weepy old man.
I've always had one of those filters where I am wide open to movies, and if one of them finds my spot, and I get emotionally played for two hours, I'm not going to walk out afterwards angry because I got played. That's why I bought the ticket. And ever since I had kids, I find that my antenna are even more attuned to it, and I am easier than ever to set off. I could pretend to be above it, or I could strike a much more cynical and calculated pose in my writing, but if I'm being honest with you, I'm a sap. I cop to it completely.
As a result, I did my best to run out a side door so I didn't have to make eye contact with anyone after "We Bought A Zoo" tonight at the Pacific Winnetka, just one of the thousands of theaters where 20th Century Fox held a nationwide sneak tonight. I didn't want to see anyone because I know I was a mess. It got so bad at one point that I started laughing at just how expertly director Cameron Crowe was punching my button. This movie is a big fat right down the middle mainstream family movie, and I'm guessing that word of mouth is going to be very strong.
As the new James Bond 007 film, "Skyfall," starts to come into focus, we're getting some idea about what to expect just based on the casting in the film. And by far, one of the most exciting details to emerge for old-school Bond fans is the idea that we're finally going to see the return of Q branch in this new film in the form of Ben Whishaw.
I really dug Whishaw in "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer," and he's been interesting in things like the TV series "Nathan Barley" and the film "Stoned," where he played Keith Richards. I'm curious to see what role or roles he has in "Cloud Atlas" next year, which sounds ambitious and bizarre, but in the meantime, just knowing that he's playing Q means we're going to see the return of what used to be one of the highlights of the entire series.
I love that they shook up the formula when Daniel Craig was hired to play the character, and I think it's important that the series took a break from having every single film with an identical structure. They'd gotten to a point where it was sort of deadly dull to sit through the films, no matter who was playing the part of Bond, and I felt bad as a fan of the character to start actually dreading the new movies.
At this point, I'm amazed by Michelle Williams so regularly that I'm used to it.
After all, she's been crushing it in film after film. "Blue Valentine." "Wendy and Lucy." "Meek's Cutoff." "Take This Waltz." She has slowly but surely asserted herself as one of the most impressive young actors working, able to tap into a wellspring of pain that makes her work almost impossible to take at times while being hard to turn off. I love it when an actor starts to really play these raw nerve types of roles, and if it is her real-life personal pain that drives her, then I am truly sorry on her behalf, but I am thankful we at least have the work to enjoy.
Playing Marilyn Monroe seems like the sort of thing that is almost too big a challenge, and one of the reasons I've never been a huge fan of biopics in general. I think they often try to distill an entire life into two hours and often fail miserably at the task. Human lives are complicated, and any person over the course of a life lived richly will probably be several different distinct people over the course of many decades. We change. We evolve. We are rarely just one thing, but biopics are by their very nature reductive, designed to sum someone up with a few signature moments or ideas. I hope I'm not defined that easily, and I don't believe most people are.
Everybody loves Amy Adams.
That's a universal truth, right? She's one of those performers I can't imagine disliking. Even if you don't love the movies she makes, I can't fathom how anyone would have a problem with her. There's a reason her performance in "Junebug" got her that Oscar nomination, and it was more a case of "Oh my gosh, who is this person?" than the film itself. She just popped off the screen in that film, and I felt the same was true of her work in Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can."
On the day we did this interview, I had both of my sons with me, and it was a big day of meeting people for them. They got to meet Spider-Man's girlfriend, they met Walter, and Toshi interviewed Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog. But maybe the biggest event for them, based on how much they talked about it afterwards, was meeting The Princess from "The Princess Movie."
At least, that's the title it's known by in our house. Both of the boys are big fans of "Enchanted," and they knew Adams as Giselle from that film before they knew her as anything else. And while they also love her in "A Night At The Museum 2," even in that film, they just refer to her as "The Princess."
"The Artist" is, as you may have heard by now, a black-and-white movie that is, for the most part, silent. It is set during the era when the silent films were replaced by talking pictures. It is a crowd-pleaser, and since its premiere at Cannes this summer, it's been getting warm and enthusiastic reviews.
I was onboard since before the film started screening based purely on the creative team involved. Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin collaborated on both "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies" and "OSS 117 - Lost In Rio," which are these lovely silly French riffs on spy movies from the '60s, with Dujardin looking like someone put Bond-era Connery and Patrick Warburton in the Brundlechamber. Those films both delight me, start to finish, and the idea of those two guys paying tribute to silent cinema sounded like pure win as far as I was concerned.
Now, a day later, I'm trying to figure out why I don't love the movie the way so many others seem to. People are ecstatic over it, swoony in love with it, and I thought it was, at best, a nice diversion, a sweet but overly simple piece that won't have nearly the rematch value for me as their earlier films together. I think Dujardin is very charming in it, I think Berenice Bejo is a pleasure to watch in the film, and I like the work Hazanavicius does as a director. It's very skilled in a lot of ways. But the storyline here is threadbare, a few sketched ideas instead of a finished work, and I can't help but feel that they never really figured out why to make this movie aside from the obvious exercise in homage.
There was a time when I believed I would never meet a bigger Muppet fan than Jason Segel.
Then I met James Bobin.
I really liked his work on "Flight Of The Conchords," and I was just excited to have him working in features in general. I didn't realize how big an influence the Muppets were on him until talking to Jason Segel about it on the set of "Five Year Engagement" this summer. He told me that meeting Bobin was sort of like looking in a mirror that turned you British, and that he felt like "The Muppets" was in the perfect hands.
Having seen the finished film, I concur. Bobin was programmed to make this film from a very early age, and all you have to do is look at the way he stages his version of the iconic opening sequence to the original "Muppet Show" to see how OCD can, indeed, prepare you for a life in the arts. It is perfect, down to the smallest detail. That seems to be something that can elude filmmakers, no matter how much they try to reproduce things. Look at the "Halloween" series, for example, where they never seem to be able to get the Michael Myers mask to look the same way twice. Bobin does such a good job making his film fit into a visual world that has already been established that he makes it look easy, and people may not realize just how deft his sleight of hand really is.
As always, Martin Scorsese says it better than I ever could.
Little by little, I've started to feel like Film Nerd 2.0 is one of the most significant things I've done since I've started writing about film online in 1995, and it's part of a bigger plan I have. I eventually plan to get involved in creating and implementing some very real educational reform involving media education that runs K-12, so that kids are given a media literacy on par with any print literacy that is taught. I think we have a responsibility, given the omnipresence of media in the lives of modern children, to not only encourage them with choices about what to watch, but also to teach them how to watch. Without context, how do you expect them to navigate the ocean of choice available to them at all times these days?
Martin Scorsese has spoken at length in the press about wanting to make a movie that his 12-year-old daughter could see, and how much he loved 3D in the '50s, and how this movie serves as, in some ways, autobiography because of his own childhood spent trapped by asthma in a private world, cut off from other kids. All of that is true, but the moment you start putting labels like "kid's film" on a movie like "Hugo," you are being reductive in your thinking, and that's missing the point entirely. In its own way, this is "Film Nerd 2.0: The Movie," and perhaps the most head-over-heels-in-love movie about movies since "Cinema Paradiso."
On Toshi's third birthday, I took him to a very unusual puppet show, unusual because it wasn't being staged for a real audience. It was on one of the soundstages at Paramount in Hollywood, and it was a musical called "A Taste Of Love," with all the puppets by the Henson Studios. The only people witnessing take after take of the big finale of this show were extras, hired for the day, and the crew of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." If you've seen the film, you remember the moment, the big wrap-up for the character played by Jason Segel. This is his life's ambition realized, and watching Segel and his co-star Bill Hader actually operate their custom-created Muppets for a full day of shooting was one of those great random glad-I-was-there moments.
Toshi had no idea what was going on, but he enjoyed the noise and the energy and the puppets, and at one point, I had a conversation with Segel about his training with the Henson performers, and how that was the fulfillment of his own life-long dream. He confessed his Muppet love to me at that point, and talked a bit about how he'd very much like to one day figure out a way to make a movie with the Muppets. It was the first time he'd mentioned anything like that, but seeing him work with his Dracula puppet all day, I could see how firmly the idea had hold of him.
One thing that makes the long tradition of movies about Santa Claus so interesting is that there is no one accepted story that defines Claus around the world. Different countries can't even agree on what the tradition is, so there's certainly no consensus on who Santa is or what he means. This means that anyone who wants to can play mix-and-match with various Santa stories from different cultures, or they can just ignore them all and create their own, which makes Santa a particularly fertile icon in terms of storytelling.
”Arthur Christmas” is the newest film from the Aardman studios, and as such it comes with lofty expectations attached. After all, these are the people who created Wallace and Gromit, two of the most durable characters in modern UK cinema, animated or live-action. To me, this is a group of artists that I respect as much as Pixar, and when I see something new from them, I hope it's going to be something that adds to their reputation. They've had a rougher time in features than they did in shorts, but overall, they've still got a great track record.