This is not a review.
After all, for this to be a review, I would have had to have seen "Looper," which isn't set for release until about a year from now, and how would I have done that?
Let's say I was a time traveler, though, and let's say I did use my awesome power to simply see a film a little bit early. That sounds like a totally rational use of the technology, right? After all, this is the new movie by the writer/director of "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom," and it stars "Inception" and "Dark Knight Rises" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Motherfudging Willis, and Emily Blunt, and it's been described as a science-fiction film. What part of that doesn't sound like something I'd want to see?
At this point, of course, "Looper" is still fairly unfinished, so trying to review it as a finished film right now would be an exercise in futility. Let me offer up thoughts on a test screening of the movie that took place in Burbank Tuesday night, while trying to be delicate about spoilers while still somewhat specific in my reaction.
This is not a review.
I think it's safe to say that Clint Eastwood has secured his legacy as a filmmaker.
Even if he'd quit directing after he totally crushed it with "Unforgiven," he would have made the case for himself as a world-class director. But at this point, the only filmmaker who works faster or more frequently appears to be Woody Allen, and like Allen, he works often enough that for every great movie he makes, at least two or three of his movies are nearly impossible to sit through. I'm amazed at how bulletproof he is these days, critically speaking, but I think the real respect you can pay an artist is to react honestly to their work and not just give them a pass based on who they are.
I can't in good conscience recommend that you see "J. Edgar," which of course isn't going to stop anyone from actually seeing it. After all, it is Eastwood directing with a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "Milk," and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and a typically dense Eastwood cast. Sounds great, right?
The music of "The Muppets" is a major part of the film's appeal, and so far, it's the soundtrack that has spent the most time in the various CD players around the house. The boys and I listen to it each day on the way to and from school, and they've already started to learn all the words to the songs.
Yesterday, Katie Hasty ran the song that opens the film, and today, we've got the actual video from that number. This is basically the opening of the film, and it introduces Gary (Jason Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and the brand-new Muppet, Walter as they prepare for their big trip to Hollywood.
Music and dance have always been important parts of the world of the Muppets, and I'm really impressed by the way the songs in this film fit into the Muppet pantheon so effortlessly. "I've Got Everything That I Need," the song featured here, is one of the songs written by Bret McKenzie, who you may know as one of the members of Flight Of The Conchords. McKenzie's voice is crystal clear in the film, and if you like the music he performs as part of FOTC, then you'll probably have a great time with these songs.
During my vacation, I was poking around Twitter late one night and talking to Sasha Stone, owner and operator of Awards Daily. We were talking about Fox Searchlight's upcoming release of "Shame" and the NC-17 that the film was awarded.
She mentioned the full-frontal nudity by Carey Mulligan in an early scene in the film and how she was convinced that was one of the reasons for the most restrictive rating, and I told her I was fairly sure that was not the case. Our conversation was blunt, with frank terminology used as a sort of shorthand, and one of my Twitter followers told me that a woman next to him on the train was actively offended by the terminology we were using. That made me laugh because (A) the woman was reading his Twitter feed and (B) adults who get worked up over words they don't like are funny.
While it's easy to let a conversation about the functional insanity that defines what is or isn't appropriate for a sixteen-year-old versus a seventeen-year-old lapse into open silliness, it's a real conversation that is worth having. During my vacation, the ratings system that is regulated by the MPAA had its 43rd anniversary, and it seems to me this is a good moment to reflect on whether or not it's doing the job it was created to do, what alternatives exist, and what the Internet means to ratings in general.
I have a feeling the video game industry is about to post some of their biggest success stories yet, with "Modern Warfare" and "Skyrim" launching this week and with a new "Assassin's Creed" just around the corner, hot on the heels of the launch of "Arkham City." The money being made by some of these A-list titles is incredible, and in some cases, Hollywood's got to feel a little jealous of the action.
As these experiences get slicker, it's apparent that they're not competing directly with Hollywood as narratives, but instead are offering something much more visceral in the idea of the interactive experience. When I think back on my favorite gaming memories from the last decade or so, it's no longer like the game memories I have from when I was a kid. Today, there's an eerie virtual reality quality to high end videogames that I think starts to get a little scary in terms of the kinds of release people are being offered. I remember great gaming moments as actual experiences, with a tactile quality that is very different than the passive act of watching a movie.
On Friday, Ubisoft made an unusual move this week out of fear of piracy. They were told that they could expect a leak of a certain sizzle reel, and they decided to take the initiative to release the footage instead, as well as a major press release announcing "Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Patriots," in which your military team is pitted against American fundamentalist terrorists.
There was no event that took place during my vacation that equaled the impact of the screening I held for my sons Toshi and Allen of the final film in the "Star Wars" series, "Return of the Jedi."
And really, how could there be?
When we started this, I admit that I wasn't really thinking about it as a pivotal moment in their filmgoing lives. I had no idea what sort of impact the films would have on them, even though I knew what kind of impact the films had on me. One of the things I've tried to do as I've been sharing movies with my boys is be careful not to try to force them into liking the things I like. I've been very careful about the way the iconography of "Star Wars" was introduced into their lives, never placing it on a pedestal above everything else. There are certain little things around the house that have been there as long as they've been alive. A Yoda figure in one room. A Battle Droid on another shelf. An old toy lightsaber in their toy box. Toshi started asking me about seeing the "Star Wars" films about a year ago, and when the Blu-ray box set showed up, I finally decided to give it a try. Part of me thought I was doing it too soon, but I couldn't deny the interest was there, and that's been the big guiding light so far with this series. I make things available on an age-appropriate basis, and then they tell me what interests them.
Wow. Talk about mixing it up.
I think "Juno" gets a bum rap, which is a funny thing to say about a film that was both financially successful and critically awarded. It's true, though. People beat up on the film in a reductive way, as if the only thing of note about it is the pop culture that seems to be the primary vocabulary of today's youth and that was so much of a part of the way the characters in that film defined themselves when speaking.
I've always thought the second half of "Juno" is the better half, the stuff that deals with the way reality can often be at odds with the image we have of someone, and I think the best parts of "Jennifer's Body" are the parts that get at some difficult, hard-to-discuss truths about the way women are pitted against each other in our culture and the way it can distort their notions of friendship, even amidst the blood and guts.
I can't claim to be a particularly impassioned fan of the "Harold & Kumar" series so far. I think it is a very unlikely franchise, and just seeing them make it to a third film is sort of admirable. I was actually surprised by just how hard this film seems to be trying, and ultimately, that's what won me over. You will definitely see better movies this year, but I doubt you'll see any that are as actively determined to entertain you as "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas," and for that alone, I'd say check it out.
One thing I admire about the film is the way it doesn't even try for reality. This is a silly, surreal movie universe where anything can happen, and as a result, it's hard to get offended by any of it, and it's equally hard to invest in any sense of stakes for the characters. You know things are going to get insanely bad for Harold & Kumar over the course of a long frantic evening full of pot smoke and terrible luck, but you also know it'll all work out and their friendship will endure. That's what the series is, and that's the formula screenwriters Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg follow once again.
The heist movie is a very particular type of cinematic pleasure.
If you want to see an example of the very best that the genre can produce, check out the 1966 film "Gambit," which just got added to Netflix Instant. I can't emphasize enough just how beautifully built that movie is, and it's kind of a model for how you need to approach a heist if you really want to pay things off for an audience. In a great heist movie, you need to make a choice early on and then do one of two things. You either (A) set up an elaborate plan and then delight the audience by paying off on that plan or (B) set up an elaborate plan and then delight the audience by showing them every little step of things going wrong. In either case, the pleasure is largely based on either fulfilling or confounding expectations over the course of the movie.
It helps, of course, if you give your heroes a great target to rip off, and "Tower Heist" is in an interesting position in that regard. Right now, as we watch the Occupy movement spread across the country, it is apparent that people feel a disconnect in our society, and setting a heist movie against the backdrop of the recent economic collapse with a Bernie Madoff-style con artist as the bad guy is a really smart move.
Welcome to The Vacation Read.
I deserved a few days off.
Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself. I'm not really wired for vacation. I don't have an off switch. It's a point of contention with the lovely Mrs. McWeeny, and so when I take a vacation, I do my best to genuinely turn off the computer and just relax and recharge. I don't always quite pull it off, but I figure the trying is the important part.
For me, a week of no writing for HitFix is hard to imagine. I can't remember the last time I did this. It's been a big year of travel, with Sundance, SXSW, Cannes, Comic-Con, Toronto, and Fantastic Fest as some of the bigger destinations I've visited, and any number of set visits including the one I just returned from last week. And that's in addition to the daily demands of being the dad of two crazy little boys who have much more energy than I ever did. I'm weary all the time, but in a good way. I feel like each and every day, each and every festival, each and every event, we keep getting better at what we do, and I see it in the feedback you've been giving us in e-mail, in our comments, on Twitter, and elsewhere.