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.
Okay, Hollywood, are you seriously going to make me reactivate my "Remake This!" column?
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.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
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:
The first image of Gregg Araki's latest film, "Kaboom," announces itself as a Gregg Araki movie instantly. A naked Thomas Dekker walks down a hallway blown out and overlit, locked in a dream about something ominous. Considering the way Araki seemed to grow away from some of his stylistic signatures with his last couple of films, "Mysterious Skin" and "Smiley Face," this almost feels like a retreat of sorts.
Almost. The thing is, as much as the film is visually a Gregg Araki film of the old school, there is a near-optimism that has started to creep in at the edges of his work, and that clearly distinguishes this from earlier works like "The Doom Generation" and "Totally F***ed Up," movies that defined Araki as one of the most willfully provocative voices in indie queer cinema. His signature sexual omnivorousness is on full display here in the form of Dekker's character, Smith, who considers himself "undeclared," and at first, this appears to be a film about a young man following his dick from partner to partner, unsure about what or who he wants, and the young cast is more than game for whatever Araki throws at them. Dekker is joined by Juno Temple, Haley Bennett, Brennan Mejia, and Chris Zylka, among others, all of them happy to get naked at the drop of a hat. And if this was just a 21st-century round-robin of evolving sexual politics, that would be enough to justify Araki's return to his earlier thematic concerns.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I am a different man than I was when I last spoke to you guys before the weekend. My boys are home after a long trip away, and it's been a wonderful weekend of catching up with them and with my wife. I didn't realize quite what an introverted jerk I've been for the past few months until I felt it all drop away while watching my boys run towards me at LAX. I've got a few days with them before I leave for Sundance, and when I get back, I plan to take a few days off just to enjoy them being home.
I may also be planning the first-ever Film Nerd 2.0 set visit, and if it comes together, I promise it will be one of the most special things I've ever done for the site. Fingers crossed.
Let's take care of a little housekeeping first up today and congratulate Ty Osterman, Thomas de Groot, and Kerry Early, our three winners in the awesome "True Grit" poster contest. The correct answer to the question of how many actors have played Rooster Cogburn is three. Most people know Jeff Bridges and John Wayne played him, but the legendary Warren Oates also played the role in a TV take on the material. Congrats to all of those who won, and thanks to all of those who played.
WHAM! BIFF! BOP! That's the sound of Marvel Studios raining haymakers on anyone else releasing a superhero film this year (I'm looking at you, "Green Lantern") as they continue to release new stills from their double-header this summer, each one further cementing just how different their two offerings this year really are.
For example, check out Thor in the image at the head of this article. My favorite thing about the "Thor" story is the idea that he is a God who must be humbled. That's really not your standard superhero story. Here, his arrogance in the film's first act leads to the destruction of an entire planet and ignites a war with the Frost Giants, and that hubris of his is what draws Odin's wrath down on him, particularly when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) refuses to apologize to his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). That image of Hemsworth in full rant is the angry Thor I was hoping for in the film, and it looks like they're going to treat the character right. I'm mystified by the people who are beating this one up, sight unseen. Maybe it helps that I've seen more than has been released so far, so that context allows me to see how some of these images fit together.
Or maybe I'm just a "Make Mine Marvel" kind of guy.
I'll admit it... for me, DC has always been "that company that owns Batman," whereas I love the Marvel Universe in general. It's an attitude that the comics had when I was growing up that just appealed to me in a very direct way. There's a more human, street-level sensibility to Marvel, and even when they get fantastic and cosmic, they are always grounded in very compelling and recognizable human emotion.