It's more "Starsky and Hutch" than "The Hangover."
That may seem like I'm bagging "Due Date" right off the bat, but it's more a case of setting expectations at the right level. There are a number of big laughs in the film, and both Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis show up ready to play. It's a film that has problems with connective tissue, though, and what you're left with is thin, a sort of rough draft of what might have been a much better movie.
One surprise up front that probably shouldn't be: don't expect the warm fuzzies to be the main goal of the movie. This is in many ways the exact model of what studios want from a comedy these days, but because of the darker notes that Todd Phillips can't help but play, the film is basically "Planes, Trains, and Sociopaths." It's strange, because Robert Downey Jr. has the ability to make you like almost any character. It's been his gift since the beginning of his career, and the reason he was the exact right person to cast for "Less Than Zero." He played a moral vacuum in that film, a piece of human garbage, and yet you can't stop watching him. Zach Galifianakis has a very different comic gift, the ability to play straight-faced eccentric with real authenticity. It's easy to be weird. It's hard to make weird feel real and also be funny. The entire point of doing this sort of a road movie is to pick two personalities that are going to clash in an interesting way, and that hopefully are compelling.
It's more "Starsky and Hutch" than "The Hangover."
One of the worst experiences I've had with a screening this year was in Toronto, and despite a bizarre series of technical and logistical screw-ups that delayed the film by nearly two hours and cost me another screening, I ended up deeply affected by "127 Hours," which is a real testament to just how effective the film is. For a movie to immediately make all of that accumulated stress and irritation drop away is a real trick, and I've certainly been guilty of letting the day leak into viewings of films. It happens to anyone who does this day in and day out.
Little wonder, though. Danny Boyle's been a favorite of mine since his first film, "Shallow Grave," and it's been great watching the way his voice has developed from picture to picture. When I really like a filmmaker's work, it's doubly upsetting when they make something I really don't like, and that's been rare in his filmography. He's tried some of everything, it seems, and he's done most of it really well. It's hard to pinpoint his signature precisely because he's so nimble, but what I think unites Boyle's films is the way he constantly strives to use film and music together to bring you past an intellectual reaction to his films. He's a smart filmmaker, but he's interested in the visceral, the pure reaction. His best moments in his best films are amazing, emotional, and immersive.
That's "127 Hours" in a nutshell. The whole point of the film is to put you in the same position that Aron Ralston was in when he got his arm pinned during a rockslide while he was free-climbing by himself in the Utah desert. Working from a lean and winning screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, Boyle has crafted an experience that's both highly stylized and deeply realistic. By pushing the style as far as he does, Boyle gets at the way something would really feel.
This week, two different series are wrapping up on theater screens in America, and they're very different movies, although both are worth examining to look at how they wrapped up the respective stories they're telling.
"Saw 3D" is a movie I resisted seeing. I don't find the "Saw" films scary, and I don't find them interesting, so I'm sort of at a loss as to what I'm supposed to be taking away from the experience at this point. I reviewed the last movie, "Saw VI," and my feelings on that one were far more positive than my feelings about what it alleged to be the last film in the series. Of course they won't leave it alone. There's no way. The "Saw" series has kept the lights on over at Lionsgate for most of the decade, and they're not going to let that property disappear at this point. If they're smart, though, they'll take a break and let the audience get hungry for the title again, because right now, they're running on empty, creatively speaking.
There was a nasty bit of behind-the-scenes business with director Kevin Greutert, who also made "Saw VI." He was originally hired to make "Paranormal Activity 2," but Lionsgate freaked out and exercised a contractual option to force him to direct "Saw 3D" instead. Call me crazy, but forcing a filmmaker to direct something they weren't interested in making seems like a recipe for disaster, and his work in this film would seem to bear out just how disinterested Greutert was. There's little energy or wit on display here, and even the traps, which have increasingly become more and more ridiculous and elaborate, are treated with a sort of perfunctory quality here. This doesn't feel like the grand finale to anything. It feels instead like a story that's over that is now just marking time, repeating itself.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Well, we're finishing out our first month of having The Morning Read back on the site, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the feedback from you guys so far has been very strong. It feels good to be back at it, and I'm surprised I let it go as long as I did.
On the one hand, I think I'm going to have to re-retire the idea of "one thing I love today" because I have no idea how my schedule will work out sometimes, and if I don't have that one finished at the end of a day, it ends up not getting written, and I'm not going to have it be this erratic thing that only occasionally hits its target. On the other hand, the podcast is back up and rolling, and I think I have a handle on how to produce it on my end so that it's simple. iTunes should have us up any day now, so that should help you guys who are hoping to use their interface to follow the show. Overall, a good October to follow up a crazy September.
When I was at the "Salt" premiere at the end of the summer, I ran into Peter Bogdanovich, and it was one of the best random encounters I've had all year. He is a true legend, a guy whose writing about film is just as crucial and significant as the actual films he's made. I just watched the new Warner Bros. Blu-ray of "What's Up, Doc?", and I was struck anew by how great Bogdanovich can be. Next month, Criterion's putting out "The Last Picture Show" on Blu-ray, another must-own. When we were talking at the party, I asked him about some of his other films and the possibility of ever seeing them on Blu-ray, like "At Long Last Love" and "Saint Jack," and he was frank about the difficulties with each of them and the roadblocks that stand in the way of any immediate release. If today's news is true, though, and he's got a few high-profile films coming soon as a director, then maybe those lesser-known and loved titles will be considered assets worth cashing in. I love the notion of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach producing "Squirrel To The Nuts," a screwball comedy written and directed by Bogdanovich. I love it because that's a great trio of comedy brains to put together, and I love it because that's a wildly unsubtle title that made me laugh when I read it. And I have no idea what he'll do with a screwball comedy about "an escort, a theater director, and a private detective," but that's a promising start. The filmmaker has also adapted Kurt Andersen's Turn Of The Century, so here's hoping we get several films from him in the near future, new and old alike.
For me, "TRON Night" took place at 11:00 in the morning in Burbank, on the Walt Disney lot.
Employees and journalists alike crowded into the theater across from the old Animation Building, and we were just one of many screenings in a row taking place in that same space today. What we saw was the same presentation that will be screening in theaters across the country and in 48 countries around the world thanks to Disney's partnership with IMAX. This is the last big gun in the belt of Disney as they prepare to release one of their biggest corporate gambles of the year, and my honest opinion as I walked out of the theater is that they have aimed high, bet big, and that it's anything but a sure thing.
That's good, though. I think if they had made the safe, simple, continuity-free reboot of "Tron" that was certainly possible, it might be more of a safe bet, but it would also be a lot less interesting to watch slowly come into focus these last few years. Since that first legendary moment at Comic-Con, when they showed Joseph Kosinski's proof-of-concept footage and the crowd went insane, "TRON: Legacy" has been a film that has felt unlikely in every way.
Even this morning, sitting in that theater on the Disney lot, I have a hard time believing that the film exists in this particular form. Joseph Kosinski alone is such an unlikely guy, this brilliant guy with a hard-science education and a meticulous, almost alien eye, that I can't imagine anyone else having the sensibility required to do something that feels so eerily tied to the original, but so resolutely cutting-edge as well. When "Tron" came out in 1982, I remember the hype about the film, and I remember all the talk about the way the computer revolution was about to begin. I remember photos in Time magazine of the Cray Supercomputer that was used to render the film's groundbreaking computer-generated imagery.
We finally get an "official" eyeful of Chris Evans in Cap's duds from "Captain America: The First Avenger" on this week's cover of Entertainment Weekly. A first look that may tell us a few things about the film itself.
The photo itself is stylized to look high contrast and grainy, adding to period feel of the costume, which seems to be made entirely of stitched leather and perhaps a super secret WWII version of kevlar. The bullet-marked shield looks to have been though a firefight, (or perhaps Dan Fienberg returned it all messed up?)
This week, I took the MCP, also known as the Motion/Captured Podcast, on the road. I drove over to Devin Faraci's palatial Silverlake estate, purchased with all the piles of money that Tim League drove up to Devin's house in a dump truck when convincing him to jump ship from CHUD so he could start his new site, Badass Digest.
After wandering around the grounds for a few hours trying to find the house, I was greeted by part of his security team in a Jeep. It only took a half-hour for them to drive me to the place where Devin wanted to record. I wanted him to be my guest this week because Chris Morris, the director of my favorite film at Sundance this year, is this week's featured interview on the show. How is Devin related to the film "Four Lions"? Well, Badass Digest is an offshoot of the Alamo Drafthouse, financially and spiritually, and the brand-new Drafthouse Films is the American distributor for the film. This is their first film as a distributor, and Devin's involved in pretty much everything over there. That means he's about to hit the road on a "Four Lions" tour to help spread the word on the movie.
I wanted to talk to him about his new site, his new role with the Drafthouse, and I wanted to play a round of Movie God with him as well. Devin turned out to be a particularly cruel Old Testament Movie God, with no mercy at all, and it's a pretty great round of the game as a result.
I like the idea of contests, but I'm terrible at administrating them.
See, I would be the first to admit that one of the benefits of being a DVD or Blu-ray reviewer is that you can end up getting some big titles for free, and that's great. I still end up spending hundreds of dollars a month on titles that aren't sent to me, and when I talk about what was sent to the house, I don't intend to make you guys, the readers, feel bad. If anything, I wish I had free copies for all of you, because I love to share film.
That's exactly why contests are great. I get to share free copies with at least a few of you, and it seems fair that if I write a review for my copy, you should write a review for yours.
When I announced a contest that would let five of you win copies of the new "Apocalypse Now" Blu-ray, I had no idea how many of you would enter, or how good most of the entries would be. You're an articulate, eclectic bunch, and there were a wide range of answers to the question I asked, which was, "What is your favorite war movie besides 'Apocalypse Now'?"
I'm going to run all five of the answers here today, and if you entered and you didn't win, it doesn't mean I didn't like your entry. There were just so many of them that I had to make a choice and whittle it down. I'll be running two more contests this evening, so if you didn't win here, please enter the other contests, and keep trying.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Man, it's been a long week. And it's only Wednesday?
I'm not even sure I can pinpoint what's responsible. Sure, there's been some big news today, like the "Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3" confirmation and the "Dark Knight Rises" news, and I've been running around doing things that you'll see soon, like TV interviews for "Tangled" and "Due Date" and "127 Hours," but that's every week. Maybe now that the sun's coming out in LA, I'll shake it off. I'd better. There's a ton of stuff waiting to get written about here on my desk and hitting the screen in the weeks ahead.
If Nicolas Cage really is playing both Johnny Blaze and the demon Zarathos in the upcoming Neveldine/Taylor "Ghost Rider 2," it is going to be a completely lunatic experience. The directors have been posting cryptic hints in their Twitter feed today, promising a "nic cage classic" from the dual performances. I'd be willing to believe them. When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg told me about what Nic Cage had planned when he was going to be the villain in "The Green Hornet," including playing the entire film with a broad Jamaican accent, I was almost sad that it didn't happen. There's nothing more interesting than the moments where directors let Cage off the leash and he is free to play. He remains one of the most inventive, eccentric performers we've got, and it's genuine. He makes big, wild choices, and that's the reason he's remained worth watching for nearly 30 years now.
If you've spent any time in the last few months reading articles about Christopher Nolan's planned third Batman film, you probably felt confident that the villain in the new film would be the Riddler.
After all, site after site after site reported breathlessly that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had been offered the role of the Riddler on the "Inception" set. And then when word came down recently that Tom Hardy was cast in the film, people began reporting how Hardy had beaten Levitt out for the role. It was reported so confidently and so often that it would seem to be accepted fact... right?
Thing is, no one ever verified that notion, and one of the reasons I try not to run links to every little bit of info during the early days on some of these high-profile sequels is because so much speculation gets mixed into what little original reporting is out there, and eventually, you're playing an Internet-wide game of telephone, and the loser is accuracy.
This morning, Christopher Nolan had a short talk with Geoff Boucher at the LA Times, and two concrete facts were reported as a result of that conversation. First, the film's got a title: "The Dark Knight Rises." Since that came from Nolan, I'd take that as official.