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.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
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.
The Internet has changed the way movie information is shared with fans, and in ways that personalize the process in ways I'm guessing no one could have ever predicted.
Earlier tonight, Todd Phillips, the director of "The Hangover" and "Old School," posted a new picture to his Facebook account. It's a shot of the returning cast from the original "Hangover," along with a monkey in a Rolling Stones jacket.
It's not a groundbreaking earth-shattering moment in movie publicity, sure, but the casual way Phillips tossed it up on the Facebook account and then started conversing with people as they posted reactions to it is sort of amazing. When I was a kid, growing up a million miles away from any sort of movie production, I would have loved to have had a way to talk directly to filmmakers, especially while they were in the middle of making a film. Now, that's possible.
My favorite touch about the photo is the tattoo on Ed Helms's face, which seems to be the exact same tattoo that Mike Tyson has on his face. I'm really weirded out by the bald Zack Galifianakis, and I'm guessing there's a backstory on why he has no hair this time.
Well, this seems fitting. Evolution finds a way, I suppose.
For the last couple of years, there has been constant talk about Ridley Scott finally returning to the world of "Alien" with a prequel, or perhaps a pair of prequels, that were allegedly to explore the world of the Space Jockey, the dead alien glimpsed in the original 1979 film.
During this process, I've been covering it as politely as possible, determined to wait and see what Sir Ridley was cooking up. I'm not a fan of prequels in general, and I think they represent a truly destructive drive to over-explain things in movies, robbing fantasy and science-fiction of some of its magic. Nothing killed The Force more completely than the drive to tie it to space DNA, and my feeling during this entire time we've been reporting on this story is that telling the story of the Space Jockey sounds like the single least interesting story in the history of backstories.
When Scott was working with Jon Spaihts on the prequel, the word was that they had so much material that they were considering making it two films. Spaihts is a really good writer, and his script "Passengers" convinced me that he's got the right sensibility for hard SF. He's got a great sense of how to handle tech and still focus on the human stories in the foreground. Even so, Damon Lindelof was brought in as "Lost" wrapped up, and whatever it was that he pitched to Ridley Scott radically reshaped the material. How radically, though, we didn't realize until today, when 20th Century Fox finally announced what they've been up to.
When I visited the set for "The Green Hornet," Christoph Waltz was already definitely in the race for the Oscar he eventually won for Best Supporting Actor, and talking to him about his decision to follow that film up with a superhero movie, he seemed like he was still sussing out the whole Hollywood game.
Sitting down with him last weekend, with that Oscar now residing at his house permanently and with a few more films under his belt, Waltz has obviously relaxed into his place in the system now. He had a shorter press day than the rest of the cast because he had to make a flight out to Europe, where he was set to start rehearsals for Roman Polanski's film version of "God Of Carnage."
Waltz is interesting because he's had a full career already before anyone in Hollywood ever saw him in "Inglorious Basterds," so I get the distinct feeling that while he's enjoying this new part of his career, he's also self-aware enough to know that it is a wonderful, happy accident that it happened. He seems to be enjoying himself enormously, and my favorite part of the conversation we had was the visible enthusiasm he shows when I mention Polanski.
The first sign that "The Dilemma" wasn't meant to be just another on the stack of terrible bland romantic comedies that Hollywood releases each year is that Allan Loeb is the only credited writer on the film. Ron Howard's so firmly entrenched in the mainstream at this point that anyone looking for the mainstream could use him as their true north for a compass reading, but Loeb is a real-deal writer who blew up a few years ago with a handful of scripts on The Black List that pretty much everyone read. He got handed a bunch of studio assignments right away, and now we're starting to see those assignments bear fruit as actual movies. How's Loeb fared as a studio-go-to-dude? Well, based on the evidence of "The Dilemma," it's an uneasy fit so far.
Ronny (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Kevin James) are college friends who have spent their entire adult lives working together and sharing all their personal time as well. Nick married his college girlfriend, Geneva (Winona Ryder), while Ronny took the more free-wheeling path. He's in a serious relationship with Beth (Jennifer Connelly), but he's still gun-shy about the idea of proposing marriage, even at the age of 40. Nick and Ronny run a design firm for car parts, and they manage to land a big bid with one of the Detroit majors. Ronny's the mouth, the sales guy, the face of the company, and Nick's the genius, the guy who actually designs the things that they sell. Once Ronny lands them the bid, it's up to Nick to deliver, which is why Ronny has no idea what to do when he spots Geneva making out with Zip (Channing Tatum) one afternoon in a public place.
So evidently I committed the cardinal sin yesterday of being interested in something that was not brand spanking new.
I've seen the "Green Lantern" trailer twice. Once in a theater. Once at home. Both times, my impression was "Wow, that moved fast." Lots of images. Not much time to look at them. When I saw the Sinestro image pop up yesterday, I hadn't seen a still of him yet. I did not realize that the still was, in fact, a screen shot of his split-second appearance in the trailer.
I was informed of this by a flurry of e-mails, most of which started, "Hey, stupid," or some variation thereof.
I apologize for the life choices that I've made which have led to me not memorizing the trailer and being interested by a still that was not, in fact, released in the last 24 hours.
To make up for this, I bring you Entertainment Weekly's latest photo from "Captain America: The First Avenger," starring Chris Evans as the title character, as scanned by the folks at Coming Soon. Not only is it new, but it's the best complete look we've gotten at the costume so far. And check out those HYDRA soldiers behind him, eh?
And, I have to say, I like it. It's a nice solution to one of the most difficult-to-translate costumes in all of superhero comics. There are so many remarkable ways Captain America could look like an idiot, so many easy ways, and I'm guessing this was a looooooooooooooooong process before they settled on the costume we see here. I like the way it looks practical, like a suit that would both protect and allow for motion. I like the details of design, the way the American theme has been incorporated into the aesthetics. That, more than anything, is what had me nervous.
I love SXSW.
I was just talking about this festival the other day with a couple of other critics, talking about how long they were planning to stay, and a few of them were talking about how desperate they are to get out of Austin by the time the music part of SXSW begins. I'll admit, there are radically different vibes to the city during the film and the music parts of the festival, but even so, I love the eclectic programming of South By. It's definitely not Sundance, and it's definitely not Toronto. It's looser, more of a movie party, and now that they've added Fantastic Fest programming to SXSW, this is one of the spring things I look forward to most.
Now they've announced a new wave of titles, and it's already looking like an amazing line-up. I'm very curious about Jodie Foster's "The Beaver," starring Mel Gibson, and would have been even if the film didn't have a shadow hanging over it. And "Paul" is a great fit for the fest. It's going to be a blast seeing the new Simon Pegg/Nick Frost SF comedy with that crowd, just like they'll be the right people to see the new Ti West horror film "The Innkeepers" with them. This is his first film since "House Of The Devil," and expectations are high for this one.
Well, we made it through our first calendar year of podcasting, and now we're kicking off what we're going to call Season Two, and we'll be making some minor format adjustments as we go.
Nothing radical, mind you. I'm hearing a lot of feedback about the podcast these days and it really doesn't seem to me like anything's "broken." That's not to say I'm satisfied with the podcast, because I'm not. It's just that we're doing it at a certain level of "well" right now, and I want to turn that up.
It helps having Scott Swan here with me most weeks. When I'm on the road at Sundance, I'll be recording a special podcast up there for you, and I'll also be expanding the roster of guests here. This week, for example, we did a special interview with Michel Gondry exclusively for the podcast. This is the only place you're going to hear this on the entire site.
We've put a new piece of music on the front of the show, too. Curious if anyone can tell me what it is. I'll run a quick breakdown of what appears at what point on the show, and I hope you'll listen and send in your letters for us to read on the next show, something we explain late in the episode.
The rehabilitation of David O. Russell has got to be one of the most impressive rebounds in recent Hollywood history.
It was not that long ago that "Nailed" finally sputtered to a halt, unfinished, unreleasable, an albatross around the neck of its filmmaker. That was on top of the sort of low-grade non-stop barrage of "David O. Russell is an asshole" press that came out of his Clooney-spats on "Three Kings" and his YouTube moments from the set of "I Heart Huckabee's."
"Nailed" was a script by Kristin Gore that Russell signed on to rewrite and direct. He started shooting with a pretty great cast including James Marsden, Jessica Biel, Paul Reubens, Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart, James Brolin and more, all telling the story of a waitress with a nail lodged in her head whose personality changes send shock waves all the way into Washington, D.C. And it's a romantic comedy.
So when that ran out of money and the film was shut down… TWICE… it would have been acceptable for anyone to assume that Russell was in movie jail. After all, isn't that the unforgivable sin in Hollywood, to make something that you can't do anything with? At least if you can release a movie, you can hope that maybe you can cut the right trailer or put together the right poster or somehow get your weekend out of the film at the box-office, and home video has a way of putting money in the hands of even the incompetent. But if you direct a film that can't even complete principal photography, that's a pretty solid black mark, especially when people are already calling you "difficult"