Dark horse entry into this year's Animated Feature Oscar race is a treat
Cowboy and Indian and Horse share a house. When Cowboy and Indian realize they've forgotten Horse's birthday, they decide to order bricks off the internet so they can build him an outdoor barbecue. They make a small mistake during the ordering process, though, which results in 50 million bricks being delivered to their house.
So begins one of the most effortlessly likable films of the year, "A Town Called Panic," which played both Fantastic Fest and AFI Fest in the last few weeks, and which is now in the mix as a possible candidate for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. I hope it ends up as one of the five nominees. It won't win, but that nomination could get a whole lot of people to take a chance on the film when Zeitgeist Films releases it for a limited theatrical run, and that would be a very good thing indeed.
The film by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, based on a charming series of shorts they created for TV, is pretty much a delight from end to end, whimsical and silly and delightfully strange. It's stop-motion animation, but very limited. It looks like a bunch of toys by different manufacturers and of different sizes, all dumped together at random. You remember the moment in "Where The Wild Things Are" where Max is telling his mother the story about the vampire whose teeth fell out? And the way his story lurches from event to event without anything like a conventional narrative to hold it all together? That was one of the best examples I've ever seen of the way children invent stories as they play, and "A Town Called Panic" is the same sort of thing, a film that feels like it unfolds with the purity of a child playing, and the effect is intoxicating. So often, filmmakers are locked into certain narrative shapes, so even the most skilled of filmmakers can fall into the trap of predictability. Here, anything can and does happen, and it's incredibly winning as a result.
Plus what exactly constitutes a spoiler when discussing a film?
Welcome to The Morning Read.
We'll get to the new "Avatar" featurette. Trust me. And "South Park". But let's work up to it, okay? After all, we've got a lot of ground to cover today, and about a thousand links for you, and the only way it's all getting done is if I just dive right in. I'm trying to clean out the "Favorites" column on my Twitter feed, where I earmark things to discuss with you, then promptly forget I earmarked them. I had to delete about 150 saved Tweets before I even began today because they were so far out of date, and I want to post the rest of these instead of just letting them slip away as well.
Let's start by picking up a conversation I was having the other night with several different guys who also write about movies. It was ostensibly a conversation about spoilers, and that's a thorny subject, one that I suspect has no correct answer. When I'm writing about a film, particularly one that the audience hasn't really had a chance to see yet, I always work to suggest things rather than spell them out. I think there is a way to write about a film without giving away major plot points, and there's a certain degree of courtesy involved in doing so. However, as a critic, sometimes you need to dig into the film in an explicit way if you want to make certain points, and I don't think there's anything wrong with doing so as long as you respect the reader in the way you handle it. There are people who think that anything you say about a film is a spoiler, which raises the question of why they're reading film criticism in the first place, but I don't want to be dismissive of the conversation as a whole.
But in the case of "The Fourth Kind," the good Dr. Cole Abaius over at Film School Rejects feels that even discussing the nature of the film is a spoiler, and here's where I'm afraid I have to disagree, and that's because of personal experience. I sort of intensely dislike the whole "based on a true story" game that movies play in general, but when you extend that further and actually tell your audience that something they're looking at is real, when it's clearly not, you're playing a dangerous game.
There are people in the movie, too, like John Cusack, but will anybody care?
Let's be very clear about something up front: "2012" is flat-out, jaw-droppingly ridiculous.
It is one of the most outrageous, egregious, over-the-top, go-for-broke lunatic things I've ever seen on a movie screen. I would be hard-pressed to call it a "good" film, but it is stuffed with things I will never forget.
As the movie ended, one very smart critic friend of mine was in visible pain, annoyed to the point of anger by the entire thing, while another very smart critic friend of mine was elated by the scale of the movie's madness. My wife, who I always view as the general movie-going public, loved it and couldn't wait to tell people to go see it. I was amused by just how all-over-the-map reactions were, and by the passion of them.
Amused, but not surprised. Roland Emmerich has been one of the experts in empty calorie filmmaking on a certain scale since "Independence Day" was released in 1995. I wasn't a fan of that film, but there's no denying that it hit some sort of nerve with the general movie-going public. Emmerich was making films before that, of course, but even "Stargate" was just a warm-up. "ID4" was a triumph of marketing over movie, and it established Emmerich as a certain sort of brand-name.
There are a number of blockbuster directors who get critically beat up and they are frequently lumped together, guys who are more about empty sensation than storytelling, guys who deal in cliché, who go for the big image at the expense of everything else. After the aliens were defeated with an Apple computer virus in "ID4," Emmerich earned some of the lumps he took, but in his defense, I'll say this much: in an age of shakey-cam and epileptic editing rhythms, I'm glad there's still a guy like Emmerich who seems devoted to the idea of conventional coverage, coherent editing, and cinematography that allows you to actually see what you're looking at. All of those seem like fairly obvious skills for a filmmaker, but today's stylistic conventions allow a lot of filmmakers to ignore these things.
An event in Hollywood makes the case for convergence
It's fitting that I would discuss the ways narrative and gaming are starting to really collide and create new emotional reactions in games, reactions I've never had to a book or a film, just as Ubisoft starts to get serious about becoming an entertainment company that produces films, books, games, and anything else they want.
Last night, I was invited to an event in Hollywood that illustrated just how fuzzy lines are getting these days. Ubisoft, the same company behind "Prince Of Persia" and the upcoming tie-in game for James Cameron's "Avatar", scored a sizeable hit two years ago with "Assassin's Creed," a game set in two different time periods.
In one, you're in the near-future, as a guy who is kidnapped and forced into an experiment involving a machine that uses your DNA to tap into ancestral memories. The other time period involves your actual ancestor, a member of a cult of assassins, as he carries out missions in the ancient Holy Land. It was a beautifully designed game, with some breathtaking ideas in it, and although it got very redundant by the end, I still viewed it as a fairly amazing overall experience. The worst part was the ending, a cliffhanger so abrupt that it practically left a scar.
Much of the original creative team returned for the new game, which hits shelves on Tuesday, November 17th, and to help launch the game, Ubisoft decided they wanted to test something that is one of the company's larger, long-term goals. They don't see themselves as just a game studio. Eventually, they want to produce films and TV shows that work in tandem with their games to tell large-canvass stories. I'm not just talking about adapting games to films, either... and that's the reason I think their idea is both exciting and inevitable.
Lionsgate continues the blitz with an introduction to Kick-Ass himself
Have you noticed that "Kick-Ass" decided to jump in this week with their campaign at full volume?
First we got the four teaser posters of the characters all standing above the city with their backs to us.
Good stuff. I like the fact that they are playing coy a bit with the audience right now. There's so much in "Kick-Ass" that it's hard to know where to start when you're describing it, and so just introducing characters is a smart way to begin.
Then yesterday, the trailer for the film showed up, and reaction was a little mixed.
Keep in mind, this is a film that covers a lot of ground in terms of tone. What you're seeing in a teaser like this is just one of the many colors that the film utilizes.
Knowing that, I think the new poster they released today is even better than the first ones, and I hope we get more character posters done in this style. These are genuine poster art, and although the character campaign isn't the most innovative idea in the world, executed right, it's one of my favorites ways to sell a movie.
Here's Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass:
The latest Tim Schafer game looks and sounds great, but how does it play?
One of the best movies I've seen all year is a game I just finished playing.
And, yes, I know how that sounds. But it's true. Tim Schafer's "Brütal Legend," released on both XBox 360 and PS3, is one of the best narratives I've enjoyed all year. It just happens to be contained in a video game that is an absurd, outrageous homage to the excesses of heavy metal.
I don't listen to much of it these days, but there was a time where I would have described myself as a big metal fan. Even saying that, though, it's not terribly descriptive, since there are so many eras of heavy metal, and so many sub-genres, and the amazing thing is that Tim Schafer has paid tribute to all the different ideas of what metal "really" is, all while telling a fantasy story that is both ridiculous and emotionally engaging. I know this isn't a video game blog, per se, but one of the reasons I push for us to do more coverage of games in general is because I think the lines are getting increasingly blurry about how stories are told and what constitutes a game, and how these things are produced.
In this case, Schafer is a game designer who is well-known for the story-based games he's created in the past. He's got a silly sense of humor, and games like "The Secret Of Monkey Island," "Grim Fandango," "Full Throttle" and "Psychonauts". He's been carrying around the idea of a game set in a heavy metal universe for years now, and I can see the appeal. If you've ever been a metal fan, you know how the album covers and much of the iconography of metal marketing has little to do with the records themselves. Schafer made the obvious jump, designing a world where all of the creepy demon nuns and the battle axes and the crazy monsters and the ruined fantasy landscapes are all real. For his lead character, he created Eddie Riggs, and then hired Jack Black to voice him. It's a logical fit, and Black seems really engaged by the character and the world. So much of the humor of Tenacious D was based on taking the ideas of rock hyperseriously, so this just feels like a logical extension of Black's sense of humor.
Plus 'Modern Warfare 2' blasts its way into stores
Welcome to Motion/Captured's DVD & Games Forecast for November 10, 2009.
I normally love to wax on about the week's releases, but (A) a ridiculous schedule for me yesterday and (B) a fairly thin week of releases and (C) me already being a day late means that this is going to be lean and mean today. Besides, it's video game day here on Motion/Captured, which I'll explain at the end of the column.
First, let's see what the big tickets are this week, including one that was supposed to be on shelves last week originally...
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
Is there any question who owns today in terms of BluRay releases? Pixar has always gone above and beyond in the presentation of their films on home video, and they have embraced BluRay in a way that is positively gorgeous. Not only are their digital-source transfers pretty much the standard for sound and picture in high definition, but they also still work harder than anyone to provide genuine value in the extra features, with both of today's new releases showing just how far they'll go to make sure these discs are worth purchase.
On "Monsters Inc," they acknowledge that it's a double-dip from the very beginning, explaining all the new things that they put on the discs and then talking about what they've brought over from the DVD that most families have probably watched 10,000 times by this point. Well-played, gentlemen. Talk about basic respect for the consumer... they go above and beyond in making sure people won't feel burned. The textures in the film have never looked more amazing, and I am reminded just how lovely a left turn this was when it first hit theaters. The new packaging for "Cars" comes with two toys, new designs of Lightning McQueen and Mater, and trust me... if you have a "Cars" fan in the house, and you haven't made the upgrade from DVD yet, this is the excuse. Toshi and Allen both freaked out when they saw it, and because there were two cars, bloodshed was avoided. Barely.
But you won't hear one mention of Nic Cage from Mr. Voice-Over
Great timing. I was just talking to Matthew Vaughn about the inherent difficulty of cutting a trailer for "Kick-Ass" earlier today. He was bemoaning the fact that most of the money shots in the film are impossible to put in a trailer, either because of spoilers or because the MPAA would blow a gasket if you tried to show certain things.
That certainly ties your hands a bit when advertising a film, doesn't it?
Still, I think Vaughn knows exactly what he wants to do in terms of introducing the world of his film and the characters, and just like the teaser posters we ran the other day, the trailer takes the somewhat bold tact of introducing these characters without giving the names of the actors playing them. So often, international financing these days, particularly on the indie level, is done based on "who can we put on the poster?", so hiring a Nicolas Cage and then specifically NOT saying his name? Perverse and creative. It may give the money guys fits, but I think it helps sell the reality of "Kick-Ass" from the get-go.
There were two things that Vaughn said he wanted to do with the marketing for this film as far back as a conversation I had with him before production started. First, he always said he wanted the teaser trailer to use the opening moments of the film, involving the kid standing on the edge of the building with his superhero-suit with the wings. Exactly like the trailer opens now. That was important to him as a way of first establishing expectations, then demolishing them.
Second, he's always said that he wants to use the tag line, "No power, no responsibility," and I think that reflects just how askew the sensibility is of this film from what we're used to in the genre. Smart choice, and I'm willing to bet that ends up a key piece of the campaign at some point.
Ahhh, Hit Girl. Just a hint, but enough that America should sit up and take notice of a superstar about to happen.
This is a far more comic and light trailer than I expect the final one will be. Right now, this all looks like fun and games, and there's no hint of just how high the stakes are in the actual story. Once people realize this isn't a joke, I think interest will go up even more.
Me? I can't wait for April.
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First trailer for the action fantasy remake arrives online
Well, if you're going to remake things, this looks like the way you should do it.
I know the original "Clash Of The Titans" is much loved, so I'll tread lightly here. I like the film, but I can also recognize that it's got some big huge flaws. It's one of those films I enjoy watching, particularly if I stumble across it on cable, but that I find myself tuning out of at times, depending on what part is on. Between Bubo the R2-D2 owl and Harry Hamlin, it's sort of a miracle the film is enjoyable at all.
But, yes, Ray Harryhausen's work makes up for all of that, and then some. Pegasus, Medusa, the Kraken, the Harpies... it's overloaded with great creature moments, and for a Harryhausen fan, that more than makes up for any narrative weakness.
This remake's been in the works for a while, since well before "300" became a break-out hit for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, and they've had writers like Lawrence Kasdan and Travis Beachum take a shot at it over the years. Now, under the guidance of director Louis Leterrier, they've finally pulled it off, and Yahoo! Movies has the exclusive premiere of the trailer this afternoon.
My first impression?
This is gonna be fun.
Long in-development comic book adaptation takes odd new turn
I can honestly say I was not expecting that.
"Sgt. Rock" has been in development since the actual end of World War II. I'm almost sure that's a fact. In all that time, the film has always been a WWII action movie, although the style and the mission and the combination of characters has varied wildly over the years as filmmakers have come and gone. When I was on the set of "Sherlock Holmes," Guy Ritchie talked to me about his plans for the project. He wanted to make a straight-up "Dirty Dozen," and I could tell he was curious to see if "Inglourious Basterds" was going to be a threat to their plans. Since then, Ritchie's moved on to "Lobo," and it looks like "Sgt. Rock" has entered a brand-new chapter in its development history.
A very, very strange chapter.
Sgt. Rock and Easy Company have been part of comics since 1959, and they've had their own book on and off since the late '70s. And in all that time, in every incarnation, with every various creative team who have worked on the character over the years... it has always been about WWII.
So now Francis Lawrence, director of "Constantine" and "I Am Legend," is interested in doing "Sgt. Rock" as a war movie set in the future.