AUSTIN - When I saw "Moon" at the Sundance Film Festival, at the very first screening of the film, I thought it was okay. Not great. Okay.
I've come to like it more upon revisiting it, but I think of it as a very good first film, someone's announcement more than a totally successful film. I like Rockwell in it, and that's enough to recommend the film. And it absolutely made me curious to see what Duncan Jones might do next. Even if I didn't love the film, I really admired the filmmaking and the ambition.
"Source Code," his second film, deserves to launch him into the ranks of filmmakers who are trusted with big idea popcorn material, smarter than average and populist in its appeal. It is a slick movie, a "Twilight Zone" style high concept with an ethical question built into it. Several of them, actually. And the cast absolutely nails the tone of the material, seeming to confirm that Jones has good taste in actors and he knows how to create a space for them to do great work. It helps, of course, if you've got actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan, both appealing and demonstrating a real, easy chemistry, essential when you're trying to take this kind of material and invest it with big heart.
AUSTIN - When I saw "Moon" at the Sundance Film Festival, at the very first screening of the film, I thought it was okay. Not great. Okay.
I've been on the road since early on Wednesday, and I apologize for how light the blog's been on content during that time. I spent most of Wednesday and much of Thursday in a place without any internet or phone, which made it impossible to write anything up or post anything.
And then tonight, as I landed in Austin, a real-life disaster movie began to unfold on the opposite side of the world, and like many of you, I've been watching this horrifying footage from Japan unfold, and I'm once again reminded just how powerful nature really is. When I hear people talk about how mankind is going to destroy the earth, I just shrug it off because when the earth really does decide to get rid of us, it will be effortless. Nature is still so incredibly powerful, and we are still able to do so little in the face of a natural disaster, and all we can do right now is hope that the people in the path of these quakes and these waves and all the other things resulting from this are as okay as possible.
It almost feels wrong to have post movie news right now, but then again, movies are often our escape when the real world is too tough for us, and so I'll do this anyway. Especially since what I'm posting is kind of awesome, and highly anticipated by many of you.
Paramount has just released the full-length trailer for "Super 8," the new film from director JJ Abrams, and it is a stunner. You get a good sense of general plot from this film, and it looks like there's a little bit of "Close Encounters" in there, some "Jaws," and a whole lot of small-town Spielberg as well. It's the story of a group of young friends who get together to make monster movies on super-8 film back tine '70s, when a train derails in their town, releasing something dangerous into their community.
Alien invasion movies have been done many ways, by many filmmakers, and there's very little you can do that is genuinely innovative. In the case of "Battle: Los Angeles," the solution appears to be strip it down, soup it up, and let it rip, and in the film's best moments, the approach works for them very well.
Aaron Eckhart stars as Staff Sgt. Nantz, a career military man who is assigned to a unit of marines when a meteor shower turns out to be something far more intentional and malicious. The film actually opens with the Marines in a helicopter, en route to their landing zone, explosions all around them, the invasion of Earth already at full tilt. I wish the film didn't back up after that opening to give us 20 minutes of exposition we don't need, and you can almost hear the studio notes during those sequences.
"Well, we need to give Nantz some personal stakes. Let's explain who he is and establish why this mission is important to him, and let's meet some of those Marines and show who they are and make sure our audience knows them all before the heavy action kicks in." The thing is, all of that is covered on the fly during the action, so the early explanatory stuff feels redundant, and the film would seem much more unconventional and bold if they just dropped us into the situation, sink or swim, fight or flight, and let us figure it all out as things unfold.
Last year, one of the highlights of the ten days or so I spent at Fantastic Fest was the evening of the Fantastic Feuds. If you haven't read about them, it's a series of debates/boxing matches, and the main event this year was between Michelle Rodriguez, the scrappy star of "Girl Fight" and "Avatar," and Tim League, the founder/owner of the Alamo Drafthouse. Tim spent months smack-talking "Avatar," and Michelle showed up to make him eat his words.
You see that look on Michelle's face in the photo that we ran with the story? That's the look she got on her face the moment I walked into the room for our interview and told her that Tim was ready for a rematch. He's not. He's never indicated to me that he wants to get back in the ring with her. But I'm not above stirring the pot a little to get an interview off on the right foot, and in this case, as soon as I got her laughing, Michelle was a delight.
I find it funny that she's always cast as such a flinty-eyed hardass in movies, because she comes across completely different in person. She's warm, she's funny, she seems predisposed to laughter. One day, some filmmaker's going to capture that side of her on film and we're going to see a whole new career open up for her. I can't wait to see that happen, and while our chat was typically short, it was a pure pleasure.
Last year, I attended the first-ever ActionFest in Asheville, NC. It was one of those things that just sort of fell together perfectly. A long-time friend of mine was the festival director and wanted to put together a jury he felt comfortable with, and when he called to invite me, it was about three weeks after my parents retired to Asheville after living most of my adult life in Tampa, FL. Complete coincidence that it all worked out that way, but when someone asks if you want to go sit on a film jury with Chuck Norris and visit your parents at the same time, you say yes.
And while any festival in its first year is going to suffer from certain birth pangs, there was a lot to like about the event. The films shown were good, and the people present were great, and overall, it was a heck of a good four days. And Asheville is a beautiful city, especially in April as the spring kicks in.
So, yes, I'll be returning to Asheville in April this year for the second edition of ActionFest, and I'm excited. It sounds to me like the plans are coming together well, and I'm pleased to be involved with several of the events over the course of the weekend. I love the idea of a festival that celebrates action movies and the stuntmen and filmmakers who make that action happen onscreen. It's unusual for stuntmen to ever get their chance to stand in the spotlight, and we're going to be celebrating them in a major way this year.
Don't take my word for it, though. Instead, you should check out this press release that went out today, which outlines the first wave of announced titles, and then let me know how it sounds to you:
Have I mentioned yet that I love "Bellflower"?
Just describing the film to someone makes me happy. I've been doing my best to make sure other critics show up for the movie when it plays SXSW next week, and I know I'll be seeing it again at least once during the festival.
I'm excited to hear that that Evan Glodell is going to be bringing Medusa with him to the festival. And who or what is Medusa, you may ask? Well, I'll let the press release from the filmmakers explain that for you:
"Visionary filmmaker Evan Glodell will be celebrating his SXSW 2011 premiere of Oscilloscope Laboratories’ BELLFLOWER this weekend by unveiling his hand-crafted, road ready and apocalypse-equipped car - Medusa. This unforgettable machine creates some of the film’s most high-octane moments amidst the romance cum revenge-fantasy tale of Woodrow’s journey of love, betrayal and vengeance.
Glodell, a former engineering student, constructed Medusa to be a real-life road monster. Unlike the Batmobile, Glodell’s Medusa is the real deal - no CGI or special camera tricks needed…the extraordinary features you see in the film are the same features you will see when you meet Medusa in person!
I just got off the phone with Harry Knowles a little while ago, and the good part of our conversation was hearing how spirited he seems on the eve of his release from the hospital after an extended stay as part of his recovery from major, potentially life-changing back surgery.
We had a major disagreement as we were talking, though, over something he just published in which he called out Universal as being "chickenshit" because they aren't going to make "At The Mountains Of Madness." That disagreement spilled over onto Twitter, and I think the easiest thing to do is explain myself clearly here because the situation Universal is in serves as a microcosm of where the entire industry is right now, and I can understand why it freaks Harry out and upsets him. It should. Things have probably never been worse, and to some extent, it's our fault.
Believe me... I ache to see that film. When you describe that movie to me, it sounds like something that someone put together especially to appeal to me. A $150 million horror film adapted from the work of H.P. Lovecraft without any compromise, produced by James Cameron, starring Ron Perlman and Tom Cruise, directed by Guillermo Del Toro? And I've read drafts of the script over time by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo, and they're awesome. If you don't know the book or if you're not familiar with Lovecraft, it's a sprawling tale of an expedition to the Arctic in search of signs of a lost civilization that predates man, and what happens when the people searching find something alive, something not remotely dead, something that is ready to reclaim the Earth as its own.
Shane Black. "Iron Man 3." Since the first moment those two names were connected, the question has been, "Will he write the film?"
And now, according to Ain't It Cool, we have an answer.
Shane Black appeared this weekend at the Omaha Film Festival, along with some other guests like Tom Elkins, Mauro Fiore, and Ted Griffin, and one of the people who was in the audience wrote in to AICN to talk about what Black revealed regarding "Iron Man 3."
Here's the paraphrased version of what they ran:
Shane Black is about to meet with Robert Downey Jr. this week in Los Angeles. They'll be discussing the story and Black will, indeed, be writing the film.
Marvel Studios wants to make sure this third film isn't just a retread of the first two. They want to make sure this next film doesn't just end up as another film about "two men in iron suits fighting each other," and I agree. I think that's a great impulse. Tony Stark's had a long history in print, and for the first two films to be so similar in shape is probably a mistake. If they're serious about taking the film in a Tom Clancy-like direction, with Iron Man fighting real-world villains, it's a cool direction to take the series. It sounds like after "The Avengers," Marvel's focusing on making movies that stand alone again, which is also a very strong impulse.
Evidently, fairy tales are what you want right now, even if you don't know it yet.
Hollywood has decided, and you have no choice in the matter. You are going to be into fairy tales in the next few years, and you'd better love it, because there's more coming. However much you think there is, there's actually more.
I'm curious to see if there is really an appetite for this stuff, or if Hollywood's going to get halfway into this avalanche of titles and realize they dove off a cliff with no parachute. I get one part of the motivation here… you're dealing with stories that are public domain, so you get name recognition without having to pay anyone for the underlying rights. But this material is fairly unproven as a big-screen lure, and it seems risky to me to just go all in the way the studios are at the moment.
This past weekend, "Beastly" finally opened, a "Twilight"-inspired riff on the "Beauty and the Beast" story with Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, and this coming weekend, "Red Riding Hood" starring Amanda Seyfried will open, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who, of course, directed the first "Twilight" movie.
The battle of the "Snow White" movies is, frankly, ridiculous. Relativity is making a Tarsem Singh version called "The Brothers Grimm: Snow White," with Julia Roberts playing the evil Queen, while Charlize Theron will play the role for "Snow White and the Huntsmen," with Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Viggo Mortensen as, presumably, the Huntsman, with Rupert Sanders directing for Universal. Disney's had a long in-development version called "Snow and the Seven" about Shaolin kung-fu monks, but that does not appear to be any closer to actually shooting at this point, even with Michael Arndt onboard as a screenwriter. Francis Lawrence and Natalie Portman have been attached at various points, but I'm not sure I see this one getting made after two other versions of the same basic material.
I've seen a number of sites run the story today that started at i09 that says "At The Mountains Of Madness" has an official start date of June, and that Tom Cruise is finally confirmed for the film.
The i09 story quotes Don Murphy, although in a sort of indirect way, only quoting part of a sentence from him. So imagine my surprise when I e-mailed both Murphy and Del Toro this morning to congratulate them, only to hear back that they do not, in fact, have a start date.
Murphy's official statement to HitFix is as follows: "We are all trying to get Mountains up and running with Tom and Jim and everybody but no start date has been set AT ALL."
They've both responded to me at this point, and it's clear that this is not a news story yet. They are still working very hard on the film, and I'm itching to see what they've been up to in the development phase of things. Guillermo's been cooking this one for a long time now, and having James Cameron involved, a guy who is as dedicated to the art of world-building as any filmmaker I can think of, seems really exciting, especially in a post-"Avatar" world where he's once again proven just how reliable his commercial instincts are.
I wish this were happening in June. And who knows? That's still several months away, and maybe things come together soon and dates start to fall into place. But for now, both producer and director have emphatically and clearly explained that they do not have that start date. This is a development project, and one that I certainly pray gets the go-ahead.