PARK CITY - One of the movies I'm looking forward to here at Sundance this week is "Vampire," and right now, that's all I know about the movie.
I love that. I love being at a festival and looking at titles and just taking a chance on something. It's exciting because I've had some of my very favorite experiences that way, like when I sat through "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" simply because I wanted to see the movie playing after it, and I've had some of the worst experiences ever the same way. I'll spare the filmmakers another kick in the teeth, but there have been movies I've bailed out on twenty minutes in because I've been so horrified by what I'm looking at.
With "Vampire," I'll admit it: I'm curious to see a movie that's got balls big enough to use that title in the year 2011, in an age where there are roughly nine billion movies that have been made about vampires, and they have pretty much been run through every variation, every possible permutation. I certainly think you can still make a vampire film that is interesting and provocative. "Let The Right One In" and its American counterpart "Let Me In" both prove that, as did the recent Korean film "Thirst," but to just call your film "Vampire" implies a sort of ownership of the genre, like you're making a big statement about these movies or this particular monster archetype.
PARK CITY - One of the movies I'm looking forward to here at Sundance this week is "Vampire," and right now, that's all I know about the movie.
Well, that didn't take long.
I included a link yesterday in The Morning Read to a story that indicated Neill Blomkamp was just starting his studio rounds with his new project "Elysium," which was already fully funded by MRC. They were looking for a distributor, and it looks like Sony stepped up with a bid of $120 million, which locked the film up for them. The cast is great already, with Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley aboard, but what really gets me crazy is the idea that Blomkamp managed to pin down the elusive Syd Mead, whose work on films like the original "TRON," "Blade Runner," and "Conan The Barbarian" made him one of the most important concept artists in film in the '80s. He does not work frequently, but his love of "District 9" is what evidently got him to say yes to Blomkamp where he's said no so many other times.
Now it looks like that quick turnaround on the "Elysium" deal has given MRC the confidence to greenlight another film immediately, which it appears that Blomkamp will shoot right after he's done with "Elysium." The title, according to the report at Deadline, is "Chappie," and once again, it's an original SF film.
Now that 'Faster' has come and gone we have only one muscle-car revenge movie to look forward to, but what a doozy it is. For the uninitiated, "Drive Angry" is the story of a Milton (Nic Cage) who escapes from hell to save his baby granddaughter from a satanic cult and avenge the death of his daughter. He is pursued by the devil's right hand man (Bill Fichtner) who is tasked with dragging him back. Cage is assisted on his quest by the beautiful Piper (Amber Heard) and a very special deadly shotgun.
Two clips were released today as well as two TV spots (you can find in the video section) that may do more than ever to get genre fiends like myself to the theaters to see this. What? It looks trashy, you say? Well, yes it does. That's why we go.
Okay, Hollywood, are you seriously going to make me reactivate my "Remake This!" column?
I'm sitting in the living room of my condo at Park City right now, enjoying the view of the snow that blankets Main Street, preparing a review for the micro-budget "Septien," and as I check out the news today, all I see is remake after remake after remake, and honestly? Makes me wanna holla.
First of all, if I hear one more person invoke the name "True Grit" as a way of defending the idea of remaking "The Wild Bunch," I'm going to lose my mind. "True Grit," let's remember, was a novel before it was a film, and one of the reasons the Coens wanted to adapt that book was because they felt like the original film had missed much of what made the text special. Sure, it was a sacred cow because it won John Wayne an Oscar, and there are many things to like about Henry Hathaway's original film, but there was also room for a different version that embraced the language and the tougher nature of Mattie Ross. I think the Coens did a wonderful job, and they deserve all the praise they've gotten for their work on the script.
"The Wild Bunch" is totally different.
Oh, Miss Portman... there is nothing more charming than someone in the midst of one of the best years of their lives who can still laugh about themselves and their work.
When I sat down with Portman a few months ago to talk about "Black Swan," it was a far more sober conversation about her work in that film, which was appropriate to that piece of work. But when you sit down to talk about a film like "No Strings Attached," you aren't obligated to take things as seriously, especially when someone's been on the awards circuit since September.
She's looking positively radiant these days as she carries a little extra baby weight, and I have to believe that the acclaim she's enjoyed professionally and the personal highs she's been experiencing all combine to make her happier than she's ever been. What's interesting is that the Natalie Portman we've seen in things like the Lonely Island rap video she did has never really shown up in one of her films before, but it's there in this film. It seems to me like she's aware of the comic value of someone as petite and adorable as her busting loose with some raunch, and she's embraced it.
I had one question I absolutely had to ask her regarding "That '70s Show," and it led to a shocking confession on her part. I didn't mean to blow the lid off her obsession with the show or her plans for the other cast members like Danny Masterson, Topher Grace, or Debra Jo Rupp, but you'll see... I caught her off-guard and she had no choice but to reveal the truth finally.
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Well, here we go.â€¨â€¨
As we already reported this morning, Warner Bros. has just issued a press release that pretty much blows months of speculation out of the water on the villains and the cast of "The Dark Knight Rises," and in the process, we've gotten our first real glimpse at what Christopher Nolan has in mind for the wrap-up to his trilogy of Batman movies. According to the press release, Anne Hathaway will play Selina Kyle in the film, and Tom Hardy is signed on to play Bane, and not Hugo Strange as many sites have been reporting.
This is one of those reasons I always, on every Batman film, tune out rumors during the early days of development. So much of what you hear is fanboys wishing with all their might, determined to make their favorite rumor fact, that it's not worth investing in any of what you hear. Think of how confident so many outlets have been in printing the Hugo Strange story. Think of how long they've been treating that like confirmed fact.
â€¨â€¨I'm surprised by the choices of both of these villains, and not just because both of them have appeared in Batman movies before. Catwoman is an enduring Batman villain because she represents what Bruce Wayne could become with just the slightest push in the wrong direction. One of the things I loved about "Batman Returns" was the way each of the villains in that movie reflected back some part of Bruce Wayne's fractured personality, and Catwoman always seems to me to be the part of Bruce that actually loves wearing the costume and beating holy hell out of people. That catharsis, several times a night, has got to be one of the reasons he keeps doing what he does, and I think adding her to the film finally gives Nolan's series the strong female presence to bounce off of his version of Batman. Of course, the press release only refers to her as Selina Kyle and never mentions Catwoman, but surely Nolan wouldn't play that sort of bait and switch… right? I mean, he wouldn't do something crazy like have Selina serve as a new Dark Knight when Batman ends up broken beyond repair… would he?
I've taken significant heat over the years for reviews I've written about romantic comedies from people who assume that I dismiss the genre as a whole. You should see some of the angry letters I've gotten from people I can only assume were shaking with rage as they tried to mount a coherent defense of garbage like "How To Lose A Man In 10 Days." I've been called a misogynist by people who were defending material that was so blatant in its hatred of women that I felt drunk when I read their comments. The simple truth is that I hold these films up to the same standards of coherence that I would hold any film, and many of these movies simply fail that test.
As with any genre, there are certain devices and plot elements and story shapes that people lean on too much, and that grinding sameness is what wears me down with many of these films. Someone lies to someone else, then has to go through preposterous acrobatics to keep that lie alive. Someone runs through an airport to stop someone from leaving with a declaration of love. There's always some reason a couple is driven apart in act three, only to reunite at the last romantic second. And it all… just… wears… me… down.
Ivan Reitman's "No Strings Attached" could also, and perhaps more accurately, be called Liz Meriwether's "No Strings Attached," because unlike many of these films that are obviously written by a hateful piece of artificial intelligence, there is a voice to this film. And while the film certainly plays by many of the established and exhausted rules of the genre, there is enough of a voice to it that I find myself willing to forgive those conventions. "No Strings Attached" is not a great film, but it's painless and even, thanks to the largely likable cast, occasionally pretty good. And in this genre, that's enough of an edge to stand out.
When we were putting together our lists of the films we are most anticipating in 2011 here at HitFix, I didn't have to think twice about adding "Extraterrestre" on my personal list. That's the new film by Nacho Vigalondo, and that's all I need to know to be interested. Why? Because I've seen "Los Cronocrimenes," released here as "Timecrimes," and that convinced me that Vigalondo is a man worth paying attention to whenever he's got new work coming.
Over the last few years, Nacho has become a fixture at Fantastic Fest, and he's a genuine lunatic. I think one of the most stressful moments of 2010 for me was watching Nacho body-slam Elijah Wood onto a floor covered with broken bottles and spilled beer at the end of the Fantastic Feud. There was also an alarming moment when Nacho tried to run into a Tesla coil. That was either the world's most high-spirited suicide attempt, or Nacho was trying to travel back in time.
That would make sense. Nacho's movie is one of my favorite time travel movies because it full embraces the madness inherent to the genre, and it's a really fun, smart, ultimately sad take on time travel. There's been talk of a remake of "Timecrimes" for a while now, and for a time, there was talk of David Cronenberg directing it, which I'm sure even Nacho would be excited about. The real key to making it work, though, is getting a script right first.
My entire life, I've grown up positively soaked in the pop culture of the 1960s. After all, when I was born, the decade was just coming to a close, and the pop culture was still fresh. By the time I was in high school, the music was showing up on oldies stations, but because so many of the people making films and television shows were children of the '60s, it was still omnipresent. I'm so familiar with the music of the era that even the stuff I've never actually sought out is still wedged firmly in my consciousness simply because it was ubiquitous.
This year, we're officially a half-century out from 1960, and yet we continue to mine this decade, and it's fair to start asking if there's anything left to say. The new documentary "Troubadours," one of this year's Sundance premieres, looks at the music scene that evolved around the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and in particular, at the work of Carole King and James Taylor, who re-united in 2007 at the club for a series of shows. These two are front and center in the film, and the interviews with them form the spine that the rest of the movie hangs on, but by focusing on the Troubadour, it allows filmmaker Morgan Neville room to look at the folk movement, the rise of the singer/songwriter, Steve Martin, "hoot nights," Troubadour founder Doug Weston, and many more subjects, and the film manages to feel energetic and fresh no matter how well some of this ground has been covered before.
For example, I had no idea freight trains used to run down the middle of Santa Monica Blvd. and Beverly Hills, and that one little digression is an example of how rich and diverse the story is, even if it does keep coming back to the music. Elton John, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Kris Kristofferson, and others show up for interviews, as well as many faces that are less famous but just as significant to the way the "California Music" scene developed. Anyone looking for any dirt on these people or that period will likely be disappointed, as "Troubadours" is obviously a film born of great affection.
Sundance hasn't even begun, and the acquisitions are coming fast and furious. By the time we actually reach Park City, the only thing still for sale is going to be Kevin Smith's "Red State" at the rate things are going right now.
I'm looking forward to the Roger Corman documentary "Corman's World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel," and I'm curious to see how good a job it does of covering new ground on this heavily covered career. The film premieres at Park City this coming Friday, and A&E already purchased the TV rights. There's no word on when they'll air the film, but I'm sure they're hoping to get a theatrical run with it first.
Meanwhile, in a very unusual move, Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Marc Singer's film "Dark Days," which I loved when it played Sundance… back in 2000. It won some major awards that year, and Palm Pictures ended up releasing it theatrically and on DVD. It's currently out of print, though, which is why Oscilloscope stepped up.
Here's what the director and Oscilloscope founder Adam Yauch had to say about this unusual deal: