Welcome to The Morning Read.
So did the blog seem a little light on content to you last week? Well, I apologize. I got sidelined by some health issues, and while I'm still working through them, I'm well enough to at least get back to work here. There's nothing quite like a doctor reacting like Sydney Pollack in "Death Becomes Her" to get my attention, and I'm going to be focused on doing some things differently to prevent this sort of thing instead of just reacting when my health does let me down.
In the meantime, I've got a big crazy trip planned for the 21st of this month, and I sort of can't believe where I'm heading. It's one of those moments where I am fascinated at the way writing about movies can open up the world for me. I look forward to sharing that one with you, in all its lunatic glory, once I've actually left for the trip. In the meantime, let's jump back into the Morning Read fray, because there's an amazing line-up of stuff out there today.
First, have you seen the reaction to "Human Centipede II" by the BBFC? Be warned… if you read their decision, it's loaded with "spoilers" for the sequel, but in order to understand their decision to ban the film completely, you need to read the details. The film cannot be legally supplied anywhere in the UK now. I'm not a fan of the first film, and I think the second one sounds silly, but banning it? That gives the film an instant power that it would probably not have otherwise, and it also sends the message that the contents of the film are genuinely dangerous. I'd say that is pure win for Tom Six and whoever releases "Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)" around the world.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Toshi still hasn't seen the film "Edward Scissorhands," but after a recent weekend outing, I have a feeling that's going to change sooner rather than later.
I've taken some heat for things I've written about Tim Burton's recent work here and on Ain't It Cool, and I think the idea has settled in that I don't like Burton. That's not true at all. I think he's a significant film artist. I think that even when I don't like his films, his ability to bring his vision to life with such precision onscreen is impressive, and he has more than staked out a place in film history, no matter what I think of individual films he's made along the way. When I was in Toronto last year for the film festival, I saw dozens of ads for the Tim Burton exhibit at the TIFF Lightbox. I was sorry to leave town before the exhibit showed up, and I regretted not getting a chance to see it.
As a result, when it was announced that the Burton exhibit would be making its way to LACMA, I knew I'd be attending, but I wasn't sure if I'd take the boys or not. Then, as the Memorial Day weekend rolled around, I found myself planning a Monday out with the boys so their mom could have the day off. I called my friend Craig, since his daughter Frannie is one of Toshi's best friends, the two of them having been born a month apart when we were still living in the apartment next to Craig and his wife. We decided to spend the day at a park and then at the Burton exhibit, and Monday, just before noon, I stopped by his house so we could load both of my boys as well as him and his little girl into my car.
Last week's return of "Saturday Night At The Movies" looked at the pressure on every single SNL cast member to somehow become a movie star, something that is statistically unlikely. Instead, when they make the jump to movies, most SNL cast members do it as supporting players, and in many ways, that's the career to chase, the goal you want to attain.
When Randy Quaid joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1985, he already had a long and impressive resume as one of the most interesting young character actors in his age range. It was somewhat surprising that he would join the show, based on how long he'd already been working and, yes, because not a lot of Oscar nominees decide that a few seasons on SNL is exactly what they should do to follow up on that sort of momentum.
Look at this list of films he appeared in before SNL:
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the trailers for the new JJ Abrams film "Super 8" that there is a heavy sense of nostalgia at the heart of the movie, but that's not all there is to it. While I may not be on the "loves it unreservedly" end of things, I think "Super 8" has much to recommend it, and it is a lovely next step for Abrams as a filmmaker.
"Super 8" tells the story of a group of young friends who are making a zombie film together in the late '70s when they accidentally capture a terrifying train accident on film. During the accident, something escapes from the train and begins to wreak havoc on their small town, and the kids find themselves at ground zero for an incident that changes their perception of the world around them. That's the plot, and it's fairly straightforward. There's no big giant twist that is being protected by the ad campaign, but that's not the sort of film it is. I think people get wound up by how close Abrams plays his cards, and they build a film like this or "Cloverfield" up to be something it's not before they ever see it.
This is how things work on the Internet these days.
Rumor travels at light speed, and assumption becomes fact before anyone stops to consider what they're printing. I've certainly made my share of mistakes, but I've only really done so when I took a short-cut or when I took someone else's word for something without doing my own legwork. I don't count moments where I've reported on a story in progress only to see things change later, because that's one of the things you have to accept doing this job. I'm talking about moments where I printed a rumor that simply wasn't founded in fact, and I think I've gotten much, much better about that over time.
The more anticipation there is for a film, the faster a rumor will travel, and by that standard, people must really be looking forward to Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," because two distinct rumors, both fueled by Twitter, have lit up the Internet over the last few days. In both cases, I find the suggestions provocative and exciting, but anyone reporting either of these as fact right now is reaching.
Because I've already offered up my first impressions of "X-Men: First Class," the only way to write a proper review of it is to actually dig into the text of the film. That could mean spoilers. If you want the short version of my thoughts on the film, you can read that here, and you can walk into the movie fairly fresh. If you're reading this review, you want a real discussion about this smart and stylish redefinition of the franchise that kicked off the modern superhero movie.
Happy to oblige.
"X-Men" in 2000 was a very important moment for the genre. It introduced some characters and imagery that were stranger and more outrageous than anything in "Superman" or "Batman" or any earlier comic-to-movie transition. Cyclops. Storm. Wolverine. Jean Grey. Cerebro. Magneto. Mystique. And while the film gets some things right and some things wrong, it's got a great energy to it. And Bryan Singer in '99 was just the right choice. A strange choice at first. But he made an authentic movie about being an outsider, told through a genre prism. It felt like, underneath all the swagger and special effects, something real was happening. Something that mattered. "X-Men" worked just well enough. They short-changed that first film out of fear. The studio really struggled with the producers on that first film, the sort of tension on a movie that, in this case, paid off with something that did not feel cookie-cutter, something that didn't feel like a safe bet. They got outrageously lucky with the casting of Hugh Jackman, and vice-versa. He made the character click with audiences, and once they loved Wolverine, they were onboard for the rest of the ride.
Last year, we ran a series here on HitFix for the summer months, during the time when "Saturday Night Live" was off the air and on hiatus, and the response was strong enough that we decided to bring it back this summer.
I like looking backwards at the show's history and its influence on big-screen comedy, and I'm equally interested in the ongoing story being written as new cast members test their box-office worth. But it occurred to me, amidst the sighs of relief that "Bridesmaids" found its footing with audiences, that it no longer seems like it's enough to simply be a great cast member on the show. Until you've proven that you are also a movie star, it seems like funny doesn't matter.
So let me ask you: is becoming a movie star the sole reason that "Saturday Night Live" still exists? Or is there merit in simply being a strong performer who fits well into the show? Seems like a topic we should discuss since this entire column is about the relationship Hollywood has had with the show since the day it began.
Yep. Looks like "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
I'm not the biggest fan of the Stieg Larsson trilogy of books, or the original Swedish trilogy of films, but in both cases, I think the strongest entry is the first one. Even so, when I reviewed the original film, I talked about how I think it's fairly pedestrian filmmaking that is carried largely by the character of Lisbeth Salander. I'm not even especially taken with the performance of Noomi Rapace. I think it's more a case of a wardrobe doing the work for an actor than anything else.
In short, there has always been room for improvement here, and now that the red-band version of the trailer has leaked online (and, no, I'm not comfortable embedding it or linking to it, but you are an adult who can presumably find YouTube), it's worth having the conversation about what we might be unwrapping come Christmas-time this year. If you want to see the best possible version of the trailer, you'll need to head to the theater, where it's playing in front of, among other things, "The Hangover Part II" this weekend.
Okay, let's try this again.
I honestly don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that Disney has kicked off their campaign for "The Muppets" with a couple of different trailers now, and so far, they've made some big strange choices regarding the tone they're taking with the ads.
The "Green With Envy" trailer that was in theaters last weekend is a bait-and-switch bit that would probably work better if they weren't cutting around the joke so hard for the first minute-plus. Obviously, "The Muppets" is not a conventional romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, so trying to find enough footage to make the film look like something it isn't could not have been easy. The tone of that trailer is tough, too, because I don't think that's the tone of the movie.
Now, there's a second trailer, and the first part of it is obviously trying to evoke the mood of the teaser for "The Hangover Part II." In doing so, they may be showing us spoiler material out of context, and it's worth looking at closely. All of the decayed, dusty locations they're showing in the start of the trailer appear to be inside the iconic Muppet Theater, which has been closed for a while when this new film begins. At some point in the movie, Walter, the new Muppet who you'll glimpse a few times in this trailer, must succeed in getting the Muppets back to that theater. To what end, though, and what happens inside? That's still the big question.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
That's so weird. I was going to celebrate my birthday yesterday with a few posts about various things, and I took a break for a quiet lunch with my two boys, Allen and Toshi. We all had juice boxes, and then I woke up and it was hours later and we were in Thailand and we all had Yo Gabba Gabba tattoos on our faces. I got Brobie.
Whatever the case, it's going to be a busy weekend. "Saturday Night At The Movies" will return this week, now that "Saturday Night Live" is on hiatus again. You can look for that around 8:30 PM PST on Saturday nights. I've also got a few pieces about things we're going to do here on the blog for the summer, during the big popcorn movie season, and ways you guys can be more active, because I do value your voices in the mix as well. It's summer. We should be having fun. That's what summer and movies are about as a combination, right?
Our review of 'Super 8" won't be up until next week, on June 1st, but this weekend, our full review of "X-Men: First Class" will be up, and we're going to dig into one of the most interesting Marvel movies made by any studio so far. In addition, we'll have reviews of films like "Submarine" and "Bad Teacher" and "Green Lantern" and even "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer." In each case, we'll try to have the earliest possible reaction for you. It's a busy crowded summer, and you deserve to know what to expect from "Mr. Popper's Penguins" or "Cars 2." As July rolls in, look for word on "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," including reviews of both 2D and the 3D IMAX versions of the experience. We'll be sure to review the new Tom Hanks film "Larry Crowne" and the raunchy comedy "Horrible Bosses" and, yes, even films like "Monte Carlo" and "The Zookeeper," because you seriously never know.
You can count on Motion/Captured for a breakdown on everything that's in the theaters this summer, whether it's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" or "Another Earth," whether it's "Winnie The Pooh" or "Captain America," or "Friends With Benefits" or "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." The reason you can rely on us isn't because we believe our opinion is better than anyone else's, but because we opine on so many movies that the cumulative weight of all of that, all of those reviews and interviews and analysis pieces, removes the individual significance from any one review. You're not coming here just for my "Cowboys and Aliens" review. In a vacuum, what is any one review worth? But when you read that and my "Crazy Stupid Love" piece and even my review of "The Smurfs," then you'll get a sense of my consistent voice and likes and dislikes from film to film, genre to genre, as open and fair as I can be. And all of that is just what's coming out between now and Comic-Con. And that's just a look at the new films we'll be covering. We'll obviously also be covering books and DVDs and Blu-rays and older films and whatever else interests us in that same time period. Which mean, yes, we'll stay plenty busy this summer, and we want you to share it all with us.
Enough about the future, though. Let's see what's going on right now all over the Internet. Over at Latino Review, the one and only El Mayimbe broke the story that there will be an unexpected second big-name villain in "The Avengers." Or maybe even third, based on how you're counting. It's a pretty big piece of information if true, and so I'll just link you to their site without hinting about who it is or how they might fit into the movie, and if you don't want to know, don't click that link. Sounds interesting, though, and more than ever, I'm just curious to see how Joss Whedon brings all of these elements together in a film that is less than seven hours long. Normally I'd say it sounds too busy, having all these villains, but if you're going to put Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk together, they'd better have a credibly-scaled threat to face.