Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
Easy jokes and lazy filmmaking derail what could have been hilarious
Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry, and John Cusack star in the comedy 'Hot Tub Time Machine.'
We have reached a tipping point with high concept films, and I'm not happy about it.
There was a time when a high concept was only half the battle. You still had to execute it competently. You still had to deliver on that concept. You still needed a script that worked, and you needed to give a cast something to do. Based on the evidence of this film, that is no longer true. In today's winky-winky post-modern world, once you've got a title, you don't have to do anything else. Just slap a poster together, throw in some funny people, and it's Miller time... right?
In a way, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is critic-proof. Anything anyone says as a complaint can be dismissed by simply responding, "Yeah, but the movie is called 'Hot Tub Time Machine.'" If you complain about the script, you'll be met with a shrug and the same response. If you complain that the film is technically inept, same thing. No matter what your complaint, the movie is called "Hot Tub Time Machine," so it doesn't really matter, right? You get what you pay for. It is what it is.
Only I don't buy that.
It's the same problem I have with Kevin Smith these days. I'm not even going to get into the way he hopped a bus to crazy-town this week with his anti-critic rants in public because people (gasp!) didn't like the anemic "Cop Out." Why is he surprised? All he seems to do in the build-up to release of his films is repeat variations on "I'm not really a director. I'm not a very good filmmaker. I don't know how to use my camera. Don't be mad, because I'm telling you in advance it's not very good." It's like he feels that it excuses him. Here's an idea... get better at your job. Learn your camera. Study great movies and learn the vocabulary of cinema. Then you don't have to make excuses beforehand or cry about criticism afterwards. Revolutionary, eh?
The stylized action-comedy features a huge cast and wild comic-book action
Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera, prepares to face just one of the threats that stands between him and true love in Edgar Wright's 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World'
Credit: Universal Pictures
It was sooooooooooo worth the wait.
There have been several opportunities in the last few months for me to get a peek at "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," and as much as I am chomping at the bit to see the film, I also know that I'm only going to get one shot at seeing the film for the first time, and when that happens, I want it to be finished. I want every effect in place. I want every song to be fully mixed and laid in. I want the complete "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" experience. In the meantime, Edgar Wright's been Rick-rolling his Twitter followers for months with fake "announcements" that the trailer was online, making the anticipation even worse and making me wonder if I should just give in and take an early peek.
Looking at this trailer, just released this morning, I am more confident than ever I made the right choice.
I was not aware of the Bryan Lee O'Malley books until Edgar started talking about making this film several years ago. I went out and bought everything that was available at that point and fell in love with the books completely. They are witty and charming and loaded with heart, and the artwork is a gorgeous hybrid of 8-bit obssession and manga influence, personal and quirky and hard to categorize. The final book in the series is coming out soon, and because O'Malley is just now finishing, there are going to be some major digressions between Edgar Wright's movie and the books that come later in the series. The movie is very much its own thing.
So what exactly is it?
DreamWorks Animation comes out swinging with this fantasy adventure
Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Astrid (America Farrera) take Toothless for a ride in a magical moment from the new animated fantasy adventure, 'How To Train Your Dragon,' in theaters Friday.
Credit: DreamWorks Animation
"How To Train Your Dragon" is, like "Kung-Fu Panda," an exemplary, confident, streamlined piece of entertainment that suggests that when they get it right, Dreamworks Animation can stand toe to toe with Pixar in the realm of computer animation for family audiences. In some ways, seeing a film this good from this company is frustrating because they've made so many lazy and annoying pop-culture jukeboxes that they've devalued the brand name considerably. I am automatically wary now when I approach a new film from DreamWorks Animation, so when one works as well as this, it makes me wonder why they can't be this good every time out.
It shouldn't be a surprise that this one works so well, though, since it's directed and written by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the team who made "Lilo & Stitch" such a surprise from Walt Disney Feature Animation during one of their creative ebbs. This film shares many of the same virtues that made "Lilo & Stitch" such a breath of fresh air, not the least of which is a welcome sincerity that seems to stand apart from the typical snark that has been a trademark of the studio's work so far. When you see a cast list that includes Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Ferguson, you would be well within your rights to expect the film to be non-stop jokes and wise-ass attitude. But that's not this film at all. Instead, Cressida Cowell's book has been adapted by DeBlois, Sanders, Adam Goldberg and Peter Tolan into something very heartfelt and gentle, which might sound odd when you realize it's a movie about Vikings killing dragons and vice-versa.
Marvel has a giant game plan, and this casting choice is a major piece of that puzzle
Chris Evans, seen here as Johnny Storm, is onboard now to play "Captain America" for Marvel Studios.
Credit: 20th Century Fox
It's been fascinating to watch the process that Marvel's been going through as they've been trying to cast Captain America, and now that they've officially made the deal with Chris Evans, they finally have all of the major pieces in place for "The Avengers," which is an unprecedented film event if they pull it off.
What else is in store for the company moving forward, though? Especially with Warner Bros. announcing at ShoWest last week that they're planning to use the DC superhero properties as their new tentpole franchise to replace "Harry Potter" now that it's wrapping up. What Marvel's been doing for the last few years is something brand-new in movies, and now that they've proven it works, they're in danger of watching someone else try to beat them at that game. Warner/DC could well use "Green Lantern" and "The Flash" and Nolan's "Batman 3" and whatever Superman film finally happens to build towards "Justice League," the closest equivalent they have to "The Avengers," and it's obvious that Warner would like to make that film. They came close once before, then stepped back to try and lay the groundwork a different way.
If you grew up as a comic fan, you got used to the notion of crossovers and team-ups and storytelling that was spread over several different issues or even several different series. But in the film world, there's almost nothing like this. Much has been made of the nine-picture deal that Marvel now asks for actors to sign, but I think something like that makes sense if you're trying to build a world that spans several franchises and several sequels. If I were an actor, I'd want to be part of something like this for the challenge of it and the fun of playing opposite all these different characters.
But at this late date, does anyone really care?
Neve Campbell, seen here in 'Scream 3,' will return to the franchise along with Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, and much of the original cast.
Credit: Dimension Films
There are many, many fans of "Scream," and for them, the news that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson are officially reuniting as the director and writer of "Scream 4" must be exciting. Craven confirmed it last night on his Twitter feed, and then The Weinstein Company followed up with an official press release today.
In the current pop culture landscape, though, haven't fans been burnt enough by late-in-the-game sequels to grow wary? People wait 20 years for a new Indiana Jones film, then detest the final product. It increasingly seems that the only good thing about returning to the well is the guarantee of an opening weekend, but that there are few if any creative reasons to extend these franchises beyond what already exists.
Whenever I make this point, people love to bring up James Bond, but the difference there is that the Bond films have never traded on any serious sense of continuity. Bond is a constant. He's a spy. He chases bad guys. That's it. Something like "Scream 4" is going to have to contend not only with the original film, but with two weak sequels that considerably complicated the story and the characters, and so no matter what, a certain degree of familiarity is going to be required on the part of the audience if they're going to connect to this new film, and I'm not sure there are that many people out there who are that invested in the events of "Scream 3." Certainly not enough to be able to count on this movie being a major cultural event when it's released, and that's exactly what Dimension needs at this point.
Magnolia picks up the SXSW midnight movie, and could have a hit on their hands
Scoot McNairy considers the road home in a scene from 'Monsters,' a micro-budget film from first-time director Gareth Edwards.
Credit: Magnolia Pictures
Gareth Edwards is a very smart guy with a keen eye for composition, and I'm guessing when we look back at 2010 in film, his name will be one of the names that helps define the year.
"Monsters" played SXSW this year as part of the Fantastic Fest at midnight line-up, and with a title like that, it was easy for the festival to fill the theater every time they played the movie. Going into the film, though, I knew nothing about it aside from the title. Someone in line told me that they'd heard it was "the first mumblecore horror film," which sent a chill down my spine and not in a good way. I'm not a fan of mumblecore as a genre or even as a descriptive word. I think it's an excuse for people to make films that are damn close to anti-audience, like a dare. I love small-scale character drama, but there's a fine line between effective and personal and deadly dull whining. Having seen "Monsters," I can see why someone would describe the film that way, but I disagree. I think it sells short of what Edwards has accomplished, and I worry that it would scare off people who would end up really liking the movie.
Right now, there are a number of companies chasing the success of last year's "Paranormal Activity" and "District 9," realizing that the idea of what you can do on film and how much you can make certain films for has changed. Paramount's got a new division that wants to make ten movies for a total of a million dollars. I hope they take a look at "Monsters" and reach out to more people like Gareth Edwards, who has been working for a while in the FX community. Makes sense, because while there are some inventive and ambitious special effects in the film, there's a handmade feel to it all that is a big part of its charm. Edwards pretty much ran this all as a one-man show. He wrote and directed, he shot the film himself, and he did all of his own FX work, on a budget of $7000. This is what independent filmmaking in the 21st century is going to look like. The most impressive thing about that is how you can sit in the theater and never once question how much the film cost. It's a "real" movie. And thankfully, Edwards chose not to make a "found footage" movie, something which I'm personally very tired of, and a cheap solution to a budget issue. His film has a documentary feel to it that comes from how it was shot, but the camera isn't an actual character in the film.
Fox has reasons to play hardball with Warner Bros, but can they pull it off?
Credit: Matt Sayles/AP
HitFix has exclusively learned, from multiple sources, that Bryan Singer may not be directing "X-Men: First Class" despite recent press reports to the contrary, and that 20th Century Fox is actively searching for directors to step in and helm the film, with discussions with at least two other filmmakers as recently as last week.
The filmmakers that they're approaching now about directing "X-Men: First Class" are good names, guys who either have real experience in the comic book movie medium or who have heavy credibility with fan audiences. Names that would make fanboys happy from the first moment they're announced. I'm curious to see who else they meet with in the next few weeks now that their first few choices have passed. Those meetings, exclusively reported by HitFix, make it seem like no matter what public face they're putting on things, Fox is making plans as if Singer will not be free.
This is particularly interesting if you consider the timing of the interview with Geoff Boucher of The Los Angeles Times, who sat down with Lauren Shuler Donner and Bryan Singer for a story that's running in this weekend's Calendar section. Much has been made of the "confirmation" in the story that Singer's directing "X-Men: First Class." Here's the section of the story that is the most interesting:
Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, and Liev Schreiber have great chemistry in offbeat effort
Forest Whitaker, Jude Law, and Liev Schreiber star in the SF/thriller 'Repo Men,' opening in theaters everywhere this weekend.
Credit: Universal Pictures
The best science-fiction, like the best horror, manages to be about more than one thing, using the outrageous to illustrate the universal. "Repo Men" doesn't quite hit all of its targets, but it hits enough of them to count as a welcome and even exciting new SF vision. Jude Law and Forest Whitaker have surprisingly rich chemistry in the film, and despite one major storytelling stumble, it's soulful enough to linger.
Law stars as Remy, a repo man working for The Union, the company that makes the artificial organs that have revolutionized health care in the future. The organs are obscenely overpriced, and patients are cornered into buying, sometimes going black market. It's a genuinely interesting industry to imagine and explore, and Miguel Sapotchnik's taken as many cues from the reality of modern New York and Tokyo as from the futurescapes of "Brazil" or "Blade Runner" in bringing his vision to the screen. Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner, working from Garcia's novel, have played fast and free with structure on the film, and as a result, it feels like you end up watching two or three different movies.
The first movie's probably the most fun, with Remy and Jake (Forest Whitaker) working the job. It's matter-of-fact, observational, all character and chemistry. Law etches Remy as a charismatic cad, a guy who can't admit to himself how much he enjoys the hunt. He's good at it, and a part of him enjoys the pain he causes someone else. He's a thug, born and raised, and his job is his excuse to keep that up, to indulge it with approval. That's the bond he shares with Jake, since he's the exact same way. And as long as that's the movie, it's just plain dark bloody fun. Liev Schreiber plays Frank, their boss at The Union, and he's an absolutely ruthless salesman, well-oiled and unburdened by any vestige of humanity. He's sensational in the part. It's one of those roles that exists like a gift to an actor, a supporting role that gets a high percentage of the good lines in the movie.
Director discusses working with Hit Girl on 'Let Me In' and more
Director Matt Reeves, seen here on the set of 'Cloverfield' with Lizzy Kaplan, has just finished his new film 'Let Me In'.
Matt Reeves has an unenviable task ahead of him with the release of "Let Me In," his adaptation of John Lindqvist's novel Let The Right One In. Obviously that was filmed (well) just two years ago, and the original was embraced by critics around the world. I don't think it's fair to call what Reeves is doing a "remake," though. He appears to be treating the novel like new source material and building his own take on the story.
He was here in Austin to participate on Scott Weinberg's big giant blow-out horror panel, and as a result, a group of reporters got a little face time with him on the morning of that panel. Early. And this is the conversation Reeves and I had as a result:
Matt Reeves: How are you?
Drew McWeeny: I am good. I’m on festival time, which means three hours of sleep here, two hours of sleep there.
Matt: Are you seeing a lot of interesting things, or..?
Drew: Well, "Kick-Ass" last night.
Matt: How was that? I haven’t seen it.
Drew: We saw the rough cut in December when it was all temp-tracked and when Matthew still had the Superman theme on it and some stuff he was desperate to get. I think he lost the fight with Warner Brothers, though.
Jude Law (L) and Forest Whitaker (R) share a laugh with director Miguel Sapochnik on the set of 'Repo Men," due in theaters on Friday.
Credit: Universal Pictures
A few days ago, as I was walking from the convention center here in Austin back to my car, I ran into a friend on the street who was here with Miguel Sapochnik, director of "Repo Men." Because I had just interviewed Sapochnik, I felt comfortable insisting that he check out that night's screening of "A Serbian Film," still by far the most interesting thing I've seen at SXSW this year.
Sapochnik impresses me as a hearty movie fan, a guy with a keen taste for the outrageous, and I think his movie reflects those sensibilities quite strongly. I enjoyed our brief chat on the phone, which you can read in full below:
Drew McWeeny: I wanted to talk about where this film began for you, because I know what the novel is, but your film feels like it’s got its own voice, and I can’t help but feel that there is a touch of a Verhoven to it.
Miguel Sapochnik: That's a fair statement.
Drew: And I mean that in the best possible way. I think Verhoven is one of the few guys who really knows how to make extreme graphic material both funny and shocking at the same time. And it’s not a trick many people can pull off, and I think your film walks that line very well.
Miguel: Well, thank you. I was… listen, "Robocop" was a huge influence in my life when I was growing up watching movies, and it was a guilty pleasure in some respects. Interestingly, my upbringing was kind of Schwarzenegger and Tarkovsky. And my dad was the one who used to push Tarkovsky on me, so secretly I would watch Schwarzenegger. "Robocop" was a rare movie that he loved because it walked that line. And Monty Python was like that as well. You know... there was also Terry Gilliam and "Brazil" and "Clockwork Orange" and obviously "Blade Runner". All those are the kind of movies that influenced this film. But definitely the intent was to kind of entertain and at the same time have an underlying social comment that didn’t really hit people over the head with giving its point but was there if you choose to take a closer look.
Drew: Well, it’s an ambitious film and looking at your background, it seems like you must have had quite a pitch to get Universal to commit to you on a picture of this size. Can you talk about the process of how you chased the material and ended up in the director’s chair?