The writer/director considers a turning point in his career
I first met Richard Kelly standing outside the Eccles Theater in Park City in January of 2001.
Our fates were entangled much further back than that. Years ago, when Harry wrote that now-infamous article on Ain't It Cool where he talked about a screenplay I wrote called "Amusements," he mentioned my project as well as a film by Mike Prosser, another film by Mike Williamson, and a script called "Donnie Darko" by a dude named Richard Kelly. I know people love to theorize that this was all part of a big elaborate shell game on the part of Harry and me, but it's just not the case. Harry had gotten hold of my script from other sources, and when he put that article up, it was a surprise to me just like it was for everyone else mentioned in that piece. Hard to believe that was ten years ago.
Because of that article, by the time I met Richard at Sundance, I felt some kinship to him. The difference, of course, was that "Darko" had gotten picked up and produced, and it was set to premiere at the Eccles that year. I didn't have tickets, but Harry put me in touch with Richard, and we picked them up from him personally. He seemed so young, and he had visible pre-screening nerves. He didn't need to worry, though, because that screening went well, and the film has obviously gone on to pick up an active and engaged audience that is still talking about it now.
Will Alfonso Cuaron join them on vacation?
It's always interesting watching a film struggle through a whole series of different configurations of star and director and even studio before finally coming together, and there are movies where you could write an entire book about all the versions of something that did NOT get made.
In the case of "The Tourist," it really looks like the more things get shuffled around, the sharper the final film threatens to be.
When the film was first announced, Tom Cruise and Charlize Theron were attached as the stars. I think both of them can be effective in the right films, but I can't imagine they'd have much chemistry together. She's got such a strong alpha personality that I think she and Cruise would spend the whole movie wrasslin' to see who's on top, and that friction would be the whole show, instead of the film itself. Sam Worthington was the first replacement for Cruise, and Florian von Donnersmarck was brought on to replace Bharat Nalluri as the director. I quite liked "The Lives Of Others," and was curious to see what von Donnersmarck was going to bring to the movie.
Didn't happen, though. It looks like it's fallen apart again.
Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnny Depp may sign on to star opposite Angelina Jolie, which would be reason enough for the film to jump to the top of my "now I'm curious" list, but in the same piece, they suggest that Alfonso Cuaron may be signing on to direct.
Wait a minute... this is now an Alfonso Cuaron movie with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie?
Forget curious. Now I'm hooked. Yes, please.
What is "The Tourist," anyway, that it keeps trading up like this?
Two new animated trailers highlight dragons and supervillains
Being a lifelong animation fan is interesting, because you find yourself either eternally optimistic that each new animated project could be great or eternally depressed at how many of them are wretched craven hollow propositions. It sort of blows me away how hard it is to make an animated movie, and how many of the studio animated films of the last 20 years are awful, and how I can't even imagine who in the process believes that the project is a good idea.
That's why I celebrate when I see something that really works. That's why Pixar seems like a non-stop miracle. That's why I cherish "The Iron Giant." That's why so many animation fans turn to overseas film culture to find animation that they can enjoy. And those moments of greatness are enough to keep me looking whenever anyone's opening something new.
Having two kids under five, I'm also pretty much guaranteed to see every animated film that's PG or G for the next decade, so I've made my peace with that, and I'm just in the mode where I root for people to make these films better than they have to be.
So of course, I'm curious when two major new animated films for 2010 release both release trailers in the same week, and both of them look like interesting attempts at playing new twists on old conventions.
First, there's the Dreamworks film, "How To Train Your Dragon," which features the voice of Jay Baruchel as a young man who comes from a town where dragons are a constant threat, and it's understood that they are to be destroyed on sight. When he ends up with a dragon of his own, he starts to suspect that all of his perceptions of what a dragon is might be wrong.
Robert Zemeckis retells a story retold a thousand times, and to what end?
I think it's a valid question.
At this point, with the almost impossible to measure impact that the Charles Dickens story "A Christmas Carol" has had on Western culture, can you review the material anymore? Is it beyond review? After all, the story and the characters have been told, retold, parodied, absorbed, reconfigured, post-modernized, and retold again pretty much continuously since the story was first published. Is there a single long-running sitcom that didn't eventually get around to doing its own version of the story?
For example, there's an amazing retelling of the story that Eric Powell did for The Goon, one of the best comics currently being published, and even as I marveled over every detail of Powell's work, I couldn't help but wish that he hadn't taken up an entire issue doing it. It's omnipresent. The word "Scrooge" is no longer a name. It's a description. "That guy is a total Scrooge" works for everybody. You say that, anyone will get it. That's how much "A Christmas Carol" is part of the fabric of pop culture.
So how do you review it? When someone sets out to do a new version, what critical standards do you bring to bear? Do you just compare it to what others have done, like a laundry list of what works or doesn't, relatively speaking? I can tell you which prior versions I like. The Alastair Sim version is a favorite because I think it's very austere, very English, proper in period and style, and the emotional transformation is so well played by Sim that it works no matter how many times I see it. I am moved anew each time. I'm also partial to Richard Donner's "Scrooged," which is both very funny as a riff on the basic material and also deeply affecting. Bill Murray's transformation from jerk to joyous is one of the most convincing I've ever seen in any version of the story, and by the time he ends up in tears, Karen Allen in his arms, I always find myself a little misty as well.
That's the rumor, and it would certainly make sense
Genius choice. Seriously.
Last week, while writing about the reasons that Kenny Ortega left the upcoming remake of "Footloose" for Paramount, The Hollywood Reporter sort of buried the lede, casually dropping in a reference to the possibility that Craig Brewer would be taking over as director on the project.
Like I said... genius choice.
Brewer took some lumps over "Black Snake Moan," but I'm not really sure why. Sure, it was a box-office bust, but if you're a fan of his breakthrough film "Hustle & Flow," then there was a lot of the same style and wit on display in the trickier "Black Snake Moan." And even if the gender and race politics of the thing bothered you, it was obvious once again that Brewer understands the use of music in film innately. This is a guy who absolutely can be trusted to make the music and the drama equally important.
The thing about "Footloose" is that it's not a typical musical. This isn't a film where people burst into song, but rather a film where people play music and then dance as an expression of freedom. The music in the original film was all "source" music, or laid in over montages. None of it was supposed to represent a break from reality as it does in most movie musicals.
Plus the first season of 'Clone Wars,' Disney treasures 'Zorro,' and Criterion takes 'Wings'
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for November 3, 2009.
There are some great titles coming out this week, both new and catalog, and it's beginning to look like the holiday deluge. The next few weeks are going to be sort of non-stop huge, and I'm doing my best to sort through everything showing up here at the house, while also dealing with the fact that certain companies have just plain dried up on titles, and there's almost nothing to be done about it.
It's painful having to pick and choose with this much good stuff flying onto the shelves, but that's exactly why this column exists, so we can discuss what is or isn't worth laying out the cash.
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
By now, if you're a "Watchmen" fan, you most likely have at least one copy of the film in your house. And if you're like me, you probably have both of the earlier releases, the theatrical cut and then Zack Snyder's longer version. This week, however, we're going to finally get the BluRay that was the impossible dream when they first announced that they were going to turn the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons book into a movie... a version of the film that fully incorporates all the "Tales Of The Black Freighter" stuff right into the running time, as part of the narrative. This is it, the final bells-and-whistles release, and it caps off not just a long year of "Watchmen," but a development process that has taken longer than I've lived in Los Angeles, and I've been here since summer of 1990.
Looking back, I'm sure Lucasfilm would have handled the launch of this film a little different than they did, and instead of putting the theatrical film out, they would have just focused on getting the series up and running. The film contained one character who almost single-handedly poisoned people on this all-CGI animated series, and that would have been a shame, because the show has turned out to be pure "Star Wars," straight from the tap, and it just keeps getting better as it goes.
Will other equally absurd offers roll in as the auction unfolds?
It does not instill me with great confidence regarding the future of the "Terminator" franchise, knowing that any installments yet to come will be based on who the highest bidder is rather than who has the best idea or the most compelling story idea.
My opinion on the "Terminator" series hasn't endeared me to fandom to a large degree, but I don't care. My loyalty is to the two James Cameron films, and nothing else. Those films work together elegantly, and they tell a complete story. At the end of "Terminator 2," there wasn't anything I felt had to be explained or followed up. The story was done. The future had been reclaimed. The human experience of the "Terminator" films was the story of Sarah Connor trying to secure a real future for her son, and thanks to "Terminator 2," she did.
I don't hate "Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" or "Terminator: Salvation," but I don't really think of them as essential, either. Same with "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." There's good work being done in them, but it all turns into a rehash, a wheel-spin, a pointless exercise in franchise extension.
And, yes, I've heard the notion that we needed more movies because we "needed" to see the future war. I disagree. I think that's what fanboys think they wanted, but just like The Clone Wars, seeing it is pure anti-climax. What was handled just right, due in no small part to budget in the first film, has instead become a narrative dead-end that Hollywood is determined to explore no matter what. Or at least, that seemed like the plan when The Halcyon Company was producing the films with McG onboard as the architect of the Future War. Sam Worthington was being groomed as the new lead of the franchise, hoping to usher in a new era in the series. On TV, "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" was an almost-complete reworking of continuity, and if nothing else, it gave us Summer Glau as a Terminator, which was enjoyable on a purely aesthetic level.
Now the man who originally brought us Summer Glau is hoping to bring us his own take on the iconic characters, and he's decided to put in his bid on the franchise in the most logical place: on Nikki Finke's website.
The Sundance favorite arrives annointed, but is it worth a year of hype?
Tonight's gala screening of "Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" as part of the AFI Fest was a major Hollywood event, marked by some of the worst traffic I've ever seen in that neighborhood (and I lived in that neighborhood for over a decade) as well as a serious display of star power and class in giving a much-loved festival favorite its victory lap. After Friday, the public gets a say in whether or not "Precious" is a hit, well before awards season gets warmed up, and I suspect the film's going to get a fairly hefty launch.
Lee Daniels is Having The Moment this week. No question. This is where all the energy, all the attention, all the expectation is being focused right this moment. And there's something sort of wickedly ironic about sitting at a gala event thrown for a film by Lee Daniels, because I think I've figured out his overriding interest as a filmmaker, as a director and a producer and a collaborative partner. He's got a signature, an aesthetic tell, and I think it's really come into focus in this movie.
He's only directed once before, the truly terrible "Shadowboxer" in 2005. An assassin is diagnosed with cancer and takes on one last job. Already, that's a rough one to pull off, tired. But then it's stunt cast with Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Stephen Dorff and Mo'Nique (playing, oddly, a character named Precious) and Macy Gray and Joey Gordon-Levitt, and of course that's how you fund a film like that. You just keep adding bankable elements until they all add enough demographic bang for the buck.
Yet even though I really completely dislike "Shadowboxer," I can recognize that Daniels does have certain things going on in that film that are at play again in "Precious." He does, like I said, this one thing in each movie, even as a producer, that makes his work stand out: he deglams everything and everyone.
Lee Daniels loves to shoot the world in no-make-up-graphic-close-up, and he loves to shoot it like the horror film it is.
I'm totally game for a sequel, but I have one thought
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is magic.
It's a film that really shouldn't work. Almost every attempt by everyone else, no matter how dedicated or respectful or talented they are, fails at trying to take classic pop culture characters and play mainstream mash-up with them, a la "Space Jam" or "Looney Tunes Back In Action." Joe Dante made a Sisyphean effort at pulling off one of these movies, and left to his own device with an animation department given support and creative freedom, maybe he could have done it. But he didn't have that.
Robert Zemeckis, on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," had a wonderful sort of bullet-proof quality. It was a moment. It was a particularly loose and silly pop culture moment, and he was coming off two hits in a row. "Romancing The Stone" was reeeeeeally well-liked in Hollywood, and "Back To The Future" was reeeeeeally well-liked by every person on the planet. So he was pretty much King Giant Stud Of Stud Mountain.
And he chose to make a movie about a woman married to a rabbit.
And he totally pulled it off, too. The mix of the Disney and MGM and Warner Bros. characters, all living together in a cartoon universe that bumps right up against old Hollywood, is something that had never happened before, and may never happen again. Obviously we don't know what Zemeckis will use if he makes a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", which libraries he'll have access to.
Plus zombies, Altman, and a very slow killer
Welcome to The Halloween Weekend Read.
My body chemistry confuses me. Despite my height and weight, I am affected deeply by over-the-counter medications to an unpleasant degree. For example, when I fly, I get crazy ear-pressure headaches, and the only way I can can stop them from happening is to take two Benadryl before the plane takes off. Those two Benadryl normally knock me out like a tranqued rhino for about five or six hours. With NyQuil, it's even worse. One shot of NyQuil makes me feel like a balloon-headed acid freak for a full day or longer, and last night, I had an awful runny nose and couldn't stop sneezing, so I bought some NyQuil for the first time in a while.
On the first night, after a ten-and-a-half hour blackout, I woke up still super groggy and barely able to focus. The second night, I dealt with a long and frustrating night of tech issues, followed by last-minute emergency Halloween costume crises for Toshi, and by the time I got to bed and got up for an early-Friday screening across town, I was a wreck. Both eyes feel like I've been thumb-punched by Moe Howard, I'm hearing like I'm underwater, and as soon as the cold medicine wears off, I start up a hurricane of sneezing.
And that's with AFI Fest starting today and Halloween with the family and friends on Saturday. Good lord. It's gonna be some kinda weekend, eh?