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Last night, up to the moment I heard about Leslie Nielsen's death, I was totally focused on the early reactions to last night's first preview performance of the long-in-development musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark." Then this morning, it was Irvin Kershner's death that rocked me, so it's a late start getting back to the business of seeing what's going on out there. I'm jealous of anyone who goes to see this production in New York. I have a feeling it's something you'll want to be able to say you saw later, when it is the stuff of legend and myth. With an original score by Bono and the Edge, directed by Julie Taymor, and produced at a rumored cost of $65 million, which would make it the most expensive stage production of all time, this is a blockbuster by design, but by no means a sure thing.
For years now, it's seemed impossible to believe it would ever actually open. Even now, based on the reports that are emerging from the preview performance, it sounds like there are a number of fundamental issues they're still working out. The New York Times is probably the most authoritative source to weigh in so far, but there's also a handful of reviews up at AICN and there are message boards and industry blogs where more reactions are appearing. You can run a Google search on "Turn Off The Dark reviews" and more and more reactions are showing up from the 1900 people who were there. By and large, it sounds like last night was a glimpse at what they hope the show will be, and not the show itself. I'm not a big Taymor fan, but I've been curious. I think this show sounds like a collection of all of her worst tendencies, wrapped in some borrowed iconography. It doesn't sound to me like she's added any real insight to the archetypes or the specific character of Peter Parker, and I'm not sure the Cirque Du Soleil spectacle of it is enough to justify all of this energy.
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"My ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes."
Irvin Kershner, director of "The Empire Strikes Back," has passed away at the age of 87.
I would be saddened to hear this at any point, but I just finished reading J.W. Rinzler's remarkable The Making Of "The Empire Strikes Back" last night, a distressing coincidence. I've always believed "Empire" to be the best film in the "Star Wars" series, and one of the finest examples of fantasy filmmaking of all time, but my regard for just what it was that Kershner brought to the table was increased exponentially by this read of the book.
Kershner had already been making films for 30 years by the time he crossed paths with Luke Skywaker, Darth Vader, and the rest, and he was a fascinating choice for Lucas. I honestly believe that if Lucas had chosen anyone else for the job, things would have turned out very differently for Lucasfilm and fandom in general. Understanding how he ended up in that director's chair in the first place goes a long way towards appreciating just how important a part of that process he really was.
“Cowboys and Aliens” was shooting a good distance away from Santa Fe. As we sat on the bus for over an hour, parked in a large field and waited for another bus to take us to the set itself, I looked up at the giant desert sky and reflected on other set visits I’d been to, and how often they were not like this one.
According to breaking reports, Leslie Nielsen has passed away in Florida, where he was hospitalized for pneumonia. The veteran character actor and funnyman was 84 years old, and his death brings to a close one of the great reinventions in modern film.
Here's a short interview with his nephew, confirming the details.
One of the reasons I'm glad I grew up in an era where the theatrical experience was still the main way to see a film is because of the memories I have of certain films when they played originally. Seeing "Airplane!" in a movie theater in 1980 was one of those great audience moments for me. People don't react to comedies like that anymore, and part of it is that Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker changed the way film comedy worked, and their style of shotgun-blast silliness has been so thoroughly absorbed by the mainstream that it doesn't have the same impact. "Airplane!" blindsided the audience, and it was amazing to sit in that theater and ride those waves of laughter. I must have seen it theatrically at least a half-dozen times while it was out.
It was a particularly brilliant move on the part of the filmmakers to cast Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack in the film. Nielsen was at that point a regular guest star on every TV show in production, and seemed to be settling into that career the way so many older actors do. He was appearing in films like "Day of the Animals" and "Viva Knievel!" and "The Poseidon Adventure," but this is a guy who had already played something like 80 speaking roles by that point, and who had been a leading man during the 50s.
At the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, I made sure I was in the audience for the secret screening that turned out to be "The Girlfriend Experience." When the 2010 festival's secret screening rolled around, I wasn't interested. I heard the description of "Exit Through The Gift Shop" from someone and I opted for something else instead.
It's taken me eleven months to make up for this mistake.
The film begins as the story of Thierry Guetta, a boutique owner who loved to record everything with video cameras as a hobby. He did that aimlessly for a while until he encountered a street artist named Invader and became interested in his work. I get it. I love Invader's work. And honestly, I think my attitude to street art comes down to execution. You get points for doing anything well, and there's a lot of street art that I think is dazzling, amazing, a transformation of a mundane space into something exceptional. I've been involved in my share of late-night adrenaline-fueled adventures, and "Exit Through The Gift Shop" does a lovely job up front of capturing that feeling, the seductive nature of being involved in something like this.
As the main character, Thierry, starts to get more involved in what Invader is doing, he meets Shepard Fairey. And here's the thing… I don't know how much of this is real and how much of this is a put-on, but the material about Fairey is all captured before his Obama image made him infamous. They deal with his Andre the Giant picture, the ubiquitous "Obey" that was everywhere in Los Angeles, and it's really interesting to see this thing that I just continued part of the texture of my city explained and humanized.
It has become almost impossible to avoid Lena Dunham at this point, and her first film "Tiny Furniture" is only hitting theaters today. How does an independent filmmaker in her mid-20s go from a micro-budget comedy that seems, on the surface, like a hundred other mumblecore movies from the last half-dozen years and end up making an HBO series produced by Judd Apatow before it's even been released?
That's not all she's done, of course. Scott Rudin also hired her to adapt Dash and Lily's Book of Dares. So that's Rudin and Apatow both obviously impressed by "Tiny Furniture." That seems like pretty strong endorsement. And when you're talking about a very tiny film, sometimes that sort of endorsement can work against the movie by the time you see it. I missed it at this year's SXSW, but the buzz has really only kicked in over the last few months. At this point, Dunham's everywhere, and now people have a chance to see her film and get their introduction to her.
And, yes, I apologize for using that dreaded "m" word in the opening paragraph, but that's certainly the label that is easiest to apply to the general school of filmmaking that Dunham belongs to. All that really means when most people use it is a certain sort of low-fi aesthetic and the basic subject matter of young people struggling to figure out their place in things. Dunham stars in her film as Aura, a girl who has just graduated and who returns home so she can figure out her next step in life.
When I was first falling in love with horror movies, my main supplier was Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG, Channel 44, in St. Petersburg. When they started rotating Hammer films into the line-up in the mid-'70s, I remember thinking how much crazier they were than the '50s films or the classic Universal monster movies. "The Gorgon.' "I, Monster." "The Curse Of Frankenstein." "Dracula, Prince Of Darkness." "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed." "Brides of Dracula." "Curse of The Werewolf." I vividly remember each of those films when they screened, and I remember the impact they had on me as I gradually pieced together Hammer as an entity.
Forry Ackerman's Famous Monsters was a great source for learning about the great British horror studios, and I was smitten with the occasional glimpses I'd get in the magazine of the wild poster art for those films. I love British quads, which we don't really have an equivalent to in our own poster system, and I love painted posters of all types. Having not grown up in England, though, my exposure to the Hammer posters has been limited, which is one of the reasons I was delighted when the new book The Art Of Hammer showed up at my house.
The other reason is because the book more than lives up to its potential, and is overstuffed with amazing images and great artwork.
Some people pick up a reputation over the years with interviewers, and Billy Bob Thornton is one of those guys who I've heard both good and bad about, certainly.
The thing is, when you look at the good interviews he's done, it seems like all he really wants is for people to have a real conversation with him instead of feeding him cues for pre-packaged sound bites like he's doing a trick.
When I sat down with him last Friday at the press day for "Faster," he was great from the moment I walked in the room. Relaxed, engaged, and when the cameras finally rolled, we were already mid-conversation.
I think Thornton is a great character actor, the kind of guy we don't have enough of these days. I cannot overstate how perfect I think his work in "A Simple Plan" is, and I think he approaches each role with a filmmaker's perspective, which makes sense.
He is, after all, a writer. He's a director. And he's been an actor long enough to be a guy who has taken jobs because he just plain needed work. And so when he has an opinion, and when he's a collaborator on a film, I think he brings something special to the mix.
Every now and then, there's a film that builds a head of critical steam, typically right after a film festival, and no matter how much people try to explain the movie to me or how hard they sell it, the thing just feels like homework. When I was at Toronto this year, there was a choice on the first morning of the festival between two press screenings. One was "Black Swan," and the other was "The King's Speech," and I chose "Black Swan." No hesitation. And as soon as the screenings were over, the buzz on both films began, and it's been building ever since. And after each earnest recommendation, I would smile and think, "I'm sure I'll get to it," but without any real passion or energy. It just felt like a chore based on the descriptions.
Now that I've caught up with the film, I feel silly for resisting it as long as I did. Tom Hooper's done some really solid work in the past. I thought "John Adams" was an impressive piece of period drama and "The Damned United" is a really solid movie that never quite tipped over into great for me. With "The King's Speech," Hooper takes a big step forward, crafting a canny tale of a friendship based on need, one that happened across class and national boundaries, and one that changed the course of England's fate in WWII. Although King George VI has been portrayed in various films and television shows over the years, this is the first time the story of his private struggle with a speech impediment has been the focus of a film, and while that doesn't immediately sound like the most compelling story to tell, the screenplay by David Seidler is very canny in terms of what details it uses to tell the story, and it gives some great material to Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who both respond with some of the best work of their careers.
The Morning Read: Mark Wahlberg confirms he'll be hunting treasure in 'Uncharted' for David O. Russell
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I am heartily looking forward to whatever David O. Russell's "Uncharted" is going to be, because I'll tell you what it absolutely won't be: any video game movie we've seen so far. I've enjoyed both of the "Uncharted" games, and I think they're ambitious in the way they use story animations to move from challenge to challenge, and they both feature strong performances and fun adventure and action set pieces. I don't think they are such brilliant narrative accomplishments that I'm going to get worked up about anything that Russell wants to change as he writes the script and directs the film. All I care about is the movie itself, and I'm guessing Russell isn't going to get hung up on trying to translate the game directly, and is instead focused on making a movie.
Now it looks like we know for sure that Mark Wahlberg, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro are part of that plan. Wahlberg just gave an interview where he makes it sound like his own participation is a done deal. When I was at the "Fighter" premiere for the AFI, I was in the row where Joe Pesci and his guests were sitting, and I wasn't sure what direct connection Pesci had to Russell or Wahlberg. Looks like this is going to be an R-rated adventure movie, because if it's not, I'm not sure why you would want to cast those two guys as the uncles of Nathan Drake.