PARK CITY - Considering how rough much of the festival has been, and how much controversy I've found myself in, today was a lovely antidote.
Why? Well, because of a unique opportunity that came together after several days worth of negotiation, I had two very sweet and sort of moving interviews in a row. The first, which you'll see later this week, was with Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who is being honored in the new documentary "Being Elmo," and I think he's kind of wonderful. We had time to chat informally about Jim Henson and Frank Oz and we got to make "All About Eve" and Grover jokes, and immediately, I recognized in him the core values that I respond to in other guys who grew up on Henson's work. It's a philosophy, something that you just react to, and it was immediately relaxed.
At the end of that conversation, which also included Constance Marks, who directed the documentary, suddenly someone else was in the room, as if by magic, and Kevin Clash disappeared. Alex Dorn, who's been shooting all of the interviews we've done up here this week, just turned the camera on, and… well… I had a chat with Elmo.
PARK CITY - Considering how rough much of the festival has been, and how much controversy I've found myself in, today was a lovely antidote.
The funny thing about "The Mechanic," starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster, is that it's a movie with a hit man and a wanna-be hitman as the main characters. These are people who murder other people for a living, and yet we find ourselves completely on their side, rooting for their success. Every once in a while you question this, but for the most part you just sit back and root for them and enjoy the ride.
When I sat down with the two actors last week, I asked them about just this disconnect. "He's killing bad guys, his moral compass is 'these are bad people'" said Statham, "it allows him to erase some of the 'dirt' with the people he's killing."
Based on a 1972 film starring Charles Bronson, I asked Statham he felt a responsibility in taking on the role. "I could never be Charles Bronson, and I'm certainly not going to try."
Ben foster was put through the ringer in this film, getting beat up repeatedly and actually repelling off a skyscraper on a single wire without any safety wires. "Some people like to bunjee jumping, but that's not my bag… it was psychotic."
Watch the full interview embedded above.
"The Mechanic" opens this Friday, January 28th in theaters everywhere.
If this happens, I think it might be one of the coolest franchise casting choices in recent memory, and I applaud Universal and Ron Howard for thinking outside the box like this.
Word is that Ron Howard has officially offered the lead role to Javier Bardem, whose surprise nomination for "Biutiful" this week must make them feel even better about the choice. Evidently, he has not said yes yet, but the conversation is happening. There were rumors in a few other places that had Christian Bale at the front of the list, but right now, it seems like Bardem's got the role in the bag.
What I find intriguing is that he's not just signing on for one movie, but for three movies as well as at least one season of television episodes. I've written before about how unusual the release plan is, but there's no other way to approach Stephen King's sprawling series. You have to think big, and this is a truly novel solution to a very real creative problem.
Bardem is an interesting choice precisely because he's not a giant box-office name. For Imagine and Universal to decide that they are placing the full weight of this franchise on an actor as well-liked as Bardem without some guarantee of box-office… that's the sort of risk I like seeing someone take.
And I think Bardem has the chops to really personify the loneliness and the sacrifice that are such a major part of Roland. Of course, casting the people around him, including the three companions who accompany him on the trip, is just as important, but I'd say Bardem is a hell of a place to start.
In addition to Bale, Viggo Mortensen was reportedly one of the top picks for the role, but it looks like he's going to end up doing "Snow White and the Huntsman" instead. At this point, Universal may end up working with both of their top Roland choices, which puts them in a very good position indeed.
We'll have more as "The Dark Tower" draws closer.
Just looking at next year's release schedule and the passionate battles being fought over release date real estate is already giving me a headache.
I get it. 2012 is going to be a huge year, especially if you're a mainstream genre nerd. Each and every weekend will be carefully scrutinized, and there are some giant gambles the studios are making, and they want to make sure that they've got room for their films to find their audiences.
When the story broke recently that Ridley Scott will be making "Prometheus," the film that evolved out of what was once a prequel to "Alien," 20th Century Fox also announced a release date of March 9, 2012. That part of the year has become a fairly important date for the studios, and once Fox had claimed the date, suddenly Disney announced that they'll be releasing "John Carter Of Mars" on the exact same day.
So it shouldn't be a huge surprise to see that "Prometheus" has now moved, and it's sort of funny that they'd be heading to June 8, 2012 instead, since that is the date "John Carter" used to have.
It looks like Fox is getting into the Michael Fassbender business in a big way, betting on him as the young Magneto in 'X-Men First Class' and now also casting him as an android for "Prometheus."
There is something about Anthony Hopkins that puts you at ease the moment he enters the room. The man has had long and very distinguished career and if he wanted to put on airs, not a soul in the world would begrudge him. When he sat down with us at a large banquet table at the press event for 'The Rite' he smiled and got to work. How many films has this man promoted in his lifetime? How many interviews?
In the film Mr. Hopkins plays Father Lucas Trevant, a practicing exorcist who takes a skeptical young seminary student, played by Colin O'Donoghue, under his wing. The film uses the titillating subject of exorcism to look at more somber issues of faith, psychology and mental illness. Hopkins and O'Donoghue play two sides of the same coin: both have the indescribable traits that make for good priests, yet both wrestle with their faith and tend to fight their fates. Director Mikael Hafstrom gingerly treats the subject with a mostly objective eye, he presents us with dream and hallucinatory scenes which let us doubt our own eyes when we see the more involved demonic possessions. Deeper questions of faith can be boiled down to the final question of "what is real?"
PARK CITY - Before I came up here, I made my schedule based on the films I wanted to see and the handful of interviews I wanted to do. I have a psychological spasm whenever I'm sitting in an interview during a festival because I know I'm missing a movie in order to do that interview. Even if I'm interested, it still makes me twitch a bit.
But on rare occasion, I'll get to a festival, see a film, and then realize that I need to speak with the filmmakers or the cast before I leave town. That's exactly what happened when I saw "Bellflower" and fell in love with it early in the festival. I knew I needed to talk to these kids and let them tell their story.
And when I say "kids," I mean that with affection. I love meeting filmmakers and performers younger than me who are already working at such a great, sophisticated level, and being able to get them on tape and presenting that to you makes me feel like my trip to Sundance is entirely justified now. No matter what else happens.
PARK CITY - So, anyway, that happened.
I wish even a fifth of the press who fought to get those tickets for "Red State" Sunday night had fought just as hard to get into the midnight Library screening of Lucky McKee's "The Woman." Then again, the very nature of Lucky's work has somewhat marginalized him in the first place, so I guess it was fitting that people are ranting out there about having seen a "subversive and dark horror movie" tonight at this festival, while the truly piercing piece of horror filmmaking that screened was nearly ignored.
Lucky McKee is, without question, a radical feminist horror filmmaker. All you need to do is go back to his first feature "May" and then work your way forward. His sensitivity towards his actresses, and the perspective each of his films takes, is practically political. He returns to themes of power inequality and gender struggle, and he externalizes his subtext. He has been consistent in his interests, and as a result, he hasn't been making $50 million studio films. He doesn't seem terribly interested in remaking something or doing the easy jump-scare thing, and that can lead to some very difficult years for any horror filmmaker.
"The Woman," written by Jack Ketchum and McKee, is a fable about the smiling psychopath that our society is built to support, and the women he keeps under his thumb in his home. The entire film's tone is somewhat heightened, the color palette jacked up, and the entire thing playing out more like a remembered dream than a literal story. It is harrowing in a way that few horror films are for me these days, emotionally demanding. It is extreme, but more in terms of the psychology and the toll on the personalities of the characters than in terms of overt onscreen violence.
PARK CITY - We're going to be bringing you a sit-down interview I did with three of the actors from "Cedar Rapids" closer to the release of the film, but I can share with you the conversation I had with Ed Helms before we started.
It wasn't planned, so I didn't grab the audio of it, but the way the interview was set up, i was the first one seated so they could mic me. Helms came in next and sat down, and as they were putting his mic on, I mentioned that first "Hangover Part II" photo that appeared last week, and how much his new facial tattoo made me laugh.
As soon as I mentioned the image, Helms leaned forward, excited to talk about the movie. "You know there are a few other photos out there now, too, right?" I told him I had seen those as well, but the monkey one was the clearest indication of some of the differences we could expect this time around. He smiled when I said that. "Oh, no. This one's nothing like the first one." His smile got even bigger, and he repeated, "Nothing."
I asked him how it changed the dynamic shooting in Bangkok, and he said there was absolutely no comparison. In Vegas, you're a few hours from Los Angeles. You're staying in luxury hotels. Even the craziest places they shot in Vegas were still places in Vegas. By contrast, Helms admitted that the Bangkok shoot, which was four full months, was basically the comedy version of "Apocalypse Now," always on the edge of total chaos, shooting in places Helms said felt genuinely "unsafe."
PARK CITY - When Fox Searchlight arrives at Sundance or Toronto, it always feels to me like the world's most elaborate test screening process. These are films, after all, that already have trailers in theaters, that already have release dates, and that arrive with the full support of a studio arm firmly in place.
That's not a slam on these films. One of the things that it gives the studio is a chance to have all the press in one place at one time, and "Cedar Rapids" is a film that is made by people who have come up through the indie system. Screenwriter Phil Johnston made short films originally as a writer and producer, and is the writer of Alexander Payne's next film, "Nebraska," and director Miguel Arteta is responsible for films like "Chuck and Buck" and "Star Maps." This may be a studio-scale film, but its heart is in the right place.
Ultimately, your feelings on "Cedar Rapids" will depend on how much heart matters to you, because as a film, it's a little soft, but it means well, and there is a genuine charm to it. Ed Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a stunted guy who basically grew up as part of the insurance company he works for, and who seems perfectly fine living his life in a small town with no ambition at all. When the guy who normally goes to the big annual insurance industry convention in Cedar Rapids dies of auto-erotic asphyxiation, Bill Krogstad (Stephen Root), Tim's boss, decides to send Tim instead. After all, the "coveted Two Diamonds award" is on the line, and Lemke, who won the award year after year for the company, has now hurt their chances with the nature of his death, since part of what it's given for is moral decency. Krogstad figures there is no one as essentially, effortlessly moral as Tim.
PARK CITY - If nothing else, it was worth attending tonight's 6:30 premiere of "Red State" at Sundance so that when I speak of tonight in the future, which will only be under duress, I can do so with authority.
Let me quote a tweet from earlier today, when @ThatKevinSmith was talking about tonight's screening. For months now, he's been calling his shot a la Babe Ruth, talking about how he would auction off the rights to distribute "Red State" from the stage of the Eccles auditorium. And let's be clear… this is not a case of me distorting his words or misrepresenting him, as he is so fond of claiming people do with him. Here's what he said today, less than 12 hours ago:
"We've heard a few sight-unseen pre-emptive bids. THIS MOVIE HAS NOT ALREADY BEEN SOLD. After the screening, THEN we'll pick the distributor."
Kevin Smith… you are a liar.
We'll get into that after I review the film, which is actually not that difficult, since the film is almost unbelievably straightforward. I think he's mistaken about the genre, since I wouldn't call what he made "a horror film," but let's grant him that much. It's a horror movie. Fine. The set-up of the film seems to follow a familiar model, and at the same time, allows Smith to lampoon one of his favorite recent targets, the Phelps family.