Peter Falk was a giant.
Not in stature, of course. One of the things that made him interesting on film was his perpetually rumpled appearance, the way he looked like life had put its thumb on him at some point and pressed down hard. But in terms of the mark he left on television and film, he was a giant, and one clear sign of that is the way different age groups will mourn him for different films, and the way his career managed to change and mutate over the years, always for the best.
I am absolutely a fan of "Columbo," his best-known role. I own every single episode on DVD, and I watched them all again as Universal was putting them out. It's a formula show, no doubt, but I love the way the series would play with that formula, and I loved Falk. Watching him verbally spar with the smug bad guy each week, watching him lay out his nice, neat little verbal traps, that's one of the textbook definitions of comfort viewing. Sure, I knew where the show was going every week. Every single viewer did. But the pleasure came from watching Falk get there. It was about the details, the way he sketched in his home life through descriptions of Mrs. Columbo and the way he would always seem a little more scattered and frazzled than he really was. It was a charming show, and Falk was the reason it worked.
Peter Falk was a giant.
I met Chris Weitz briefly over a decade ago when, after the "Detroit Rock City" premiere, he and his brother Paul gave Harry Knowles and I a ride to our hotel through Westwood. At that point, they were the "American Pie" guys and little else, and the years since have seen both of the Weitz brothers try many different things without really ever creating a singular identity for themselves as filmmakers.
For Chris, the high watermark so far has been "About A Boy," the 2002 film he made starring Hugh Grant and a young Nicolas Hoult. I love that film. I love the performances, and I especially love the way it seems to take its time and leave a lot of room for raw humanity, in no hurry to get to the clever concept or the big twist. It's a simple film, direct and real. Since then, "The Golden Compass" and "Twilight: New Moon" both felt like detours that did nothing for Weitz as a filmmaker, but I understand the freedom that a hit like "New Moon" buys for you as a director, and it looks to me like Weitz cashed that freedom in on his new film, and it may be the best choice he's ever made.
John Lasseter has always been the face of Pixar for me.
I love that he's been so front-and-center since the early days of the company, and as we discuss in this interview, it's led to some interesting responses from children who now recognize Lasseter completely and immediately.
He's a busy man by any standards, and it felt to me like it was important to him to actually be hands-on and directing again, even if it's just one movie every decade or so. The world of "Cars" is probably the most personal of all the Pixar worlds, and so I set aside my skeptical adult screenwriter hat for a while and, instead of trying to put Lasseter on the defensive about the internal logic of the world, I decided just to try to understand his enthusiasm for the world and the characters.
When I wrote my piece last week about how mystifyingly bad the teaser poster for "John Carter" is, for some reason, it seemed to particularly upset George "Formerly Of Latino Review" Roush. He called me out about it on Twitter, and then wrote his own piece in which he savagely mocked me while completely missing the point of what I wrote.
I hadn't seen the new "Brave" poster when he brought it to my attention last night on Twitter, once again bringing up my reaction to "John Carter," and the fact that he would even compare the two points out just how much he missed the boat on what I said last week. The problem with the "John Carter" poster is that it says nothing about the film. At all. And even a teaser poster has an obligation to tease. Give me something. Mood. Setting. A look or a feel that suggests what I might be getting from your film. You have to assume with every single piece of marketing released for a film that someone who will see that trailer or poster or TV spot has no idea what your movie is, and that might be your only opportunity to make an impression on them. By that standard, "John Carter" is as complete a failure as I've seen from a teaser poster.
But "Brave"? Well, this is how you do it.
The idea that Warren Beatty is writing, producing, starring in, and directing a film again makes me very happy.
And the idea that it's finally going to be his Howard Hughes movie? Well, color me ecstatic, because this one's been simmering for a while.
I'm not sure what place Warren Beatty holds in our pop culture at this point, if any. I think his place in film history is secure, no doubt about it. He's proven himself to be a gifted and smart collaborator many times over, and as we get closer to the release of his Howard Hughes film, we'll probably do a special series here at the blog to look back at Beatty's career and make the case for why he is one of the greats of his generation.
But in terms of modern current pop culture? If you were to ask 100 people under the age of 30 about Warren Beatty, what comes to mind for them? How well do they know his work, if at all? "Dick Tracy" was his last hit of any significance, and that was 21 years ago. His last film, "Town and Country," was an epic bomb, one of the most expensive money-losers ever made when you consider budget to return, and even that was a decade ago. How many teenagers today even remember that "Love Affair" or "Bulworth" or "Bugsy" came out? That's all that they could even have been aware of in their lifetime.
Just before we started rolling on this interview, I asked Eddie Izzard how things were going, and how he and Owen Wilson were enjoying their press day for "Cars 2."
He fixed me with a bleary gaze and, with surprising bluntness, replied, "We are both dead behind the eyes today."
Now, I certainly don't think things were as bad as that, but it's good to remember that there is a toll that these things can take on you when you're grinding out about 100 interviews a day for three days in a row sitting outside in the beginning heat of an LA summer. No matter how pampered you are by the studio that's hosting the event, when those interview lights are all directed at you all day long and you're doing your best to not look like they're sucking your very essence out of you, it can be real work.
Jake Kasdan's "Bad Teacher" does not always connect with every joke, and there's one character in particular that seems to have been abandoned by the screenwriters midstream, but when the film works, it contains some wicked belly laughs, and I'll give Cameron Diaz credit for this: she seems delighted to play a total asshole.
And why not? There's something liberating about playing someone who is absolutely unrepentantly awful. Elizabeth Halsey is not a reluctant educator who wakes up to her gifts over the course of the film. She's not someone who loves kids but is afraid to show it. She's not a good person who is misunderstood. She's selfish and a little bit stupid and completely superficial, and she sees her teaching job as, at best, an inconvenience, and at worst, a form of torture. She does not love her students… in fact, she can barely stomach them. She has one goal in life after being dumped by the man of her financial dreams: get a tit job so she can hook a big fish. She figures that's all she's missing, and she's willing to do a year of penance in public high school to get there.
Who would have guessed that the most fun I'd have at the "Cars 2" press day would be with Larry The Cable Guy?
I'm no snob. I don't spend my time sneering at Larry or at his audience. I am perfectly happy accepting that not all entertainment is manufactured for me, and that not every audience is going to want the same things I want. I think some critics find it necessary to dismiss anything they don't personally enjoy, but that's silly. Nobody is the ideal audience for everything.
When I was getting settled in, just before the cameras rolled, I asked Larry if he would ever make the same sort of professional switch that Dwayne Johnson did when he stopped going by "The Rock" and just became "Dwayne Johnson" on a full-time basis, and Larry responded with a quick and confident, "Nope."
John Lasseter's name has been synonymous with "Pixar" since it's inception. Although he directed the first three Pixar films "Toy Story," "A bugs life" and "Toy Story 2," "Cars 2" marks his return to directing a feature at Pixar since the original "Cars" released in 2006.
Lasseter sat down with us during a press day the company held in March after we had screened about half an hour of footage of the film and seen a presentation on the set design and lighting. The man loves to talk about his work and his company and his characters. I found it comical that he uses the term "I" and "we" somewhat interchangeably when talking about Pixar, given who he is this is completely understandable and expected. It was obvious that he holds the "Cars" characters very dear to his heart. The man is enthusiastic. Did I mention he likes to talk?
Read the interview after the jump
In a recent interview with HitFix for "Bad Teacher" Jason Segel refused to reveal his "marketing strategy to to take over the world with Muppets." But the release of the first official, non-parody trailer for "The Muppets" shows that there is some kind of master plan for the marketing of the everyone's favorite Marionette/Puppets.
The funny thing is, after the sharp, surprising, and hilarious parody trailers, this first official one is a little bit of a letdown. It's just a trailer. Some funny jokes in it, but pretty light on story, so it really doesn't give us any more information than: It's a movie, and all the Muppets are in it.
Starting with the romantic comedy parody "Green With Envy" and Ending with the Ryan Reynolds' voiced Green Lantern spoof, the sting or parody Muppet trailers have been great. To a certain degree I wish they'd kept making those with their own jokes so that I don't get any more spoilers, but I nitpick.
Watch the trailer after the jump