Is this the future of live music on the big screen?
Last year, one of my favorite films was the amazing visual experience that was "U2-3D," and not because I'm a fan of the band. I mean, I am, but that's not what made me love the film. Instead, I flipped for it because I feel like it is a signpost on the road to the future of live performance.
I live in Los Angeles, and any time I want a ticket to see anything live that is even remotely possible, I log onto the Ticketmaster website, enter my credit card information, and then weep bitter tears of failure. No matter if I'm able to sign in ten seconds after a sale starts or not. It is impossible to get good seats for anything here unless you're willing to go through one of those legal scalpers and pay two years worth of your child's future college tuition to get the seats. I hate it, and it's essentially turned me off from being a fan of live music altogether.
But if there was a way for me to go to a theater and pay $25 for a reserved seat and watch a live 3D simulcast of, say, Radiohead live at Wembley Stadium... well, I'd do that for every single artist I'm interested in. I'd do that a few times a month if the programming was available. For bands I love, I wouldn't have to think twice about it. Watching "U2-3D" wasn't the same thing as being at a live show... in many ways, it was better. I've never had a seat as good as the one offered up by "U2-3D," especially on an IMAX screen, because there is no such seat. The feeling of being at the live event was overwhelming, but it was like being on a God's-eye harness, hanging right over the crowd, moving up to the performers at times, then out over the huge Argentinian stadium at other times. A remarkable sensation, and an overwhelming visual experience. Some of that is because Mark Pellington is a very skilled filmmaker with a history of shooting live performance, but the format itself contributed to the feeling.
You just need to find your own Watson or Holmes to play with for the game
Gotta say... I love this idea.
By now, you've probably seen something from the new "Sherlock Holmes," and it seems like people are reacting in one of two ways: either they think it looks like fun, a logical reinterpretation of the Holmes characters and stories in a post-"Pirates Of The Caribbean" world, or they're freaked out and outraged about all the action in what is supposed to be a largely cerebral affair.
After all, Sherlock Holmes is the greatest detective in the world, right? This is a man whose keen powers of observation make him appear almost superhuman to the people around him, and who uses his friend Dr. John Watson as a sounding board, to help him work out his elaborate solutions to some of the most elaborate mysteries of his age. That friendship is one of the most important things about the Holmes stories, and it's one of the main things that the new film focuses on, starting at the point where Watson is considering marriage, which would leave Holmes flying solo. The awkward space this creates between them is as much of a problem to be solved in the movie as any mystery, and the interplay between them is one of those things that has to work if the film has any hope of success.
Now Warner Bros. has launched a really smart introduction to the world of this new "Sherlock Holmes," which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as the famous friends. "221B," named for the street location of their home, is a two-person role-playing game that uses Facebook and other internet resources to set up clues to mysteries that you need to work together to solve.
Early buzz is building, including comparisons to 'The Dark Knight'
Lionsgate is about to look very, very smart.
Earlier this year, when "Kick-Ass" was being shopped to American distributors, several people I know saw a rough cut of the film. One of them works for a studio who did not end up with the rights to the movie, and even so, when I saw this person at a film festival months afterwards, all he could talk about was "Kick-Ass." He was positively evangelical about it. This is a film that they lost out on, keep in a mind, a film he had no stake in and that was now going to be the competition, and still... all he could do was rave.
Last week, there were a few screenings in the UK, and this week, there have been several screenings in the US, including one last night at the Arclight in Hollywood. And again... everyone who I'm talking to after they see the film seems to be reading from a script. "Amazing. Hilarious. Hit Girl is the greatest thing I've ever seen. What an amazing superhero movie."
I had long talks with two people in particular last night who saw it, and both of them reported the same insane crowd reactions at the screening, and the thing I find interesting is how little most people know ahead of time, and how much that seems to be a factor in them flipping out for the film. They walk in cold, not sure what to expect , and they practically stagger out. At last night's screening, several people reportedly turned to each other after the film ended and said, "Is it just me, or was that better than 'The Dark Knight'?" High praise, indeed, but certainly not impossible.
I know that Nolan's Batman sequel is thought of by many as the greatest superhero film so far, and I love the film, but I don't think that's the best the genre will ever produce. It's easy to forget because of the ubiquity of the superhero right now, but it's really only been about 12 years that the modern superhero film has been around, since "Blade" and "X-Men" helped kick things off. 12 years is nothing, relatively speaking, and the way we keep seeing minor variations on the same basic structure is a sign that the genre is still fairly nascent, with plenty of room to grow.
Can you make a good movie about the worst movie of all time?
One of the strangest things about film fans is the way we are all, on occasion, gluttons for punishment.
I'm not sure what it is about truly wretched films that draws film fans to watch and rewatch them for pleasure, but it's a near-universal truth that every now and then, it's an almost chemical pleasure to put on something physically painful just so you can gasp at the ineptitude and laugh yourself silly. There's a reason "Mystery Science Theater 3000" hit a nerve with all sorts of movie geeks when it premiered... it felt like someone took the private parties that so many of us had already thrown and turned it into a weekly TV show. I still remember the headaches I would get from watching films like "Flight To Mars" with my buddy Jake back in high school, and just howling the entire time as we would riff on the movies.
For many people, the pinnacle of bad movies is "Troll 2," a mind-bogglingly inept exercise in confusion that has actually built a cult over the last decade or so, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that someone decided to make a documentary about the movie and its growing audience. What does surprise me is that "Best Worst Movie" manages to be more than just a record of a bunch of snickering hipsters beating up on an easy target, and it actually serves as a reminder that many bad movies started as someone's attempt to make something great, and that behind every phenomenon, there are real people who had no idea what impact their movie would have when unleashed on the world. And what surprises me most of all is that the person who made the documentary, which seems remarkably clear-eyed, turns out to be the young actor who played the little boy in "Troll 2" all those years ago, Michael Stephenson.
This is another of those movies that has been playing at festivals all year long. I saw it at South By Southwest in the spring, it was playing at Toronto when I was there, and then it just played the AFI Fest in Los Angeles on Saturday night. It's a great movie to see with a festival crowd, since that is (presumably) a very film literate crowd in the first place, and "Best Worst Movie" is as much about our reasons for loving movies as "Cinema Paradiso" was.
Will it be enough for the mainstream to embrace this trippy sci-fi fable?
In the interview with Richard Kelly I published last night, I told him that I feel like "The Box" is the best film he's made so far. Of course, he's only made three movies, so it's not a wide-ranging comparison. Still, considering how wobbly "Southland Tales" was overall, it's important for Kelly as a filmmaker to see him bring his not-inconsiderable visual command to bear on a story that works on its own terms, start to finish.
"The Box" is adapted from a short story by Richard Matheson, one of the greatest of the "Twilight Zone" era short story writers. He was an amazing concept man, and "Button, Button" is a very smart short story, suggesting a moral dilemma and setting some intriguing ideas in motion, but never overstaying its welcome. The story has been adapted before, as an episode from one of the revivals of "TZ," and it's really no surprise that someone would eventually get back around to turning it into a film. It's such a simple, smart hook, and it offers fairly unlimited potential for invention since Matheson suggests rather than spells out.
At its heart, "The Box" is a story about morality. I think most people like to think of themselves as good people. Moral people. People who make choices that other people would also consider decent and good. It's rare that I meet someone who takes pleasure in being amoral, or who can't defend their world view as a matter of perspective. I've always believed that the only way you can write a truly great and memorable villain in a film is by writing them as if they believe themselves to be the hero of the story. It's easy to be moral when you're talking about hypothetical situations or word games, removed from any real-world consequence, but it's a lot more telling when people are placed in situations where their actions have effects, and those effects carry real moral heft.
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.