How did you spend your Sunday?
Me, I got up late, had lunch with my family, worked on some writing, finished playing "Call Of Duty: Black Ops," and then sat down to watch the same thing every other movie fan watched this Sunday evening.
My new Blu-ray of "Vampire Circus."
Wait… what? As I was Tweeting some thoughts on the film, I was getting bombarded by people asking me why I wasn't weighing in on the Oscars, and I realized that in all the time I've been here at HitFix, I've never formally explained my anti-Oscar stance, and since it seems like covering the Oscars is automatically expected of anyone and everyone who writes about films, maybe an explanation is due.
So why don't I watch the Oscars?
After all, HitFix has a blog dedicated entirely to awards season and coverage of all the stops on the way to the Oscars, and we've certainly benefited from some ad revenue this Oscar season. And I've done interviews with many of the nominated actors and directors and writers this year. Why wouldn't I take part in what many people consider to be the pinnacle of the year in movies?
How did you spend your Sunday?
Hollywood is not kind to Phillip K. Dick.
The strange part is that I think Hollywood would claim otherwise. "Look at how many times we've turned his work into movies," they would say, and they might even think they've "improved" his work. But the typical tact in bringing a PKD story to the screen is to take his big idea, his hook, and build a rigidly formulaic action movie around it. I know people love "Total Recall," but I think it's a lot less subversive than it wants to be, and a lot more like most of the carbon copy Ahnold films of that era. And it is an unfortunate template for adapting his work, because it shortchanges much of what makes his literature so compelling and dense and worth revisiting.
George Nolfi's "The Adjustment Bureau" has its own issues in terms of structure, but it works well in many ways, and overall, I thought it was surprising and even sort of touching. It is a sweet film, a love story first and a game about the notion of fate and how we make it second, and much of what I would consider good about the film comes down to the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.
David Norris, played by Damon, is a rising star in New York politics, and he is at a turning point early in the film when he meets Elise, played by Blunt, in a bathroom. And this awkward random moment turns into an instant spark of something, and Nolfi has done a great job of setting things in motion. There's a playful quality to the film that I think is very strong, and there's no real mystery to things. He reveals early on what the "big idea" is, and for once, we're not dealing with what I would call science-fiction.
It's strange that the Farrelly Brothers have become known for and identified by the most outrageous moments in their comedies.
Sure, they love to push buttons, and in "Hall Pass," their latest film, there are at least two scenes that are designed to provoke an involuntary response from the audience, big giant cold-bucket-of-water shocks that got huge responses when I saw the film.
But if you really want to try to sum up their work, you can't just look at those moments and use them as the totality of what they do. You have to look at the unconventional casting that they've always made part of their movies. You have to look at the way they try to find the sweet center of even the most extreme characters in their films. You have to look at the regional focus of their work, the way they've made their corner of Rhode Island into something as particular to them as certain haunted corners of Maine are to Stephen King.
It's tough for comic filmmakers as they get older because comedy depends in no small part on surprise and the ability to catch an audience off-guard. It's the same problem that horror filmmakers face. The more films you make, the more an audience gets a bead on you. They start to predict your rhythms. And the moment an audience gets ahead of you, the moment they know when you'll zig and when you'll zag, you find yourself in a tough spot. The Farrelly Brothers felt like preposterous anarchists when we first saw "Dumb and Dumber" or "Kingpin," and right around the time "There's Something About Mary" came out, they became a name brand. Audiences got a handle on what it was that the guys did as filmmakers, and almost immediately, it was like the air went out of things for them.
It's the damnedest thing. Amber Heard is, by any standards, ridiculously beautiful. And Nicolas Cage can be a somewhat imposing interview subject, at least when you're first getting to know him. By all rights, I should have been the one person in this room feeling nervous or flustered.
Yet when you watch the interview, it's Amber who seems like the entire notion of sitting and talking about the new film "Drive Angry" has got her sort of flushed and rattled, and it's endearing to realize that this girl, who can no doubt fell whole rooms full of men with just the right look, can actually get all twitterpated. Makes her seem human-scale again.
It's an interesting moment for Heard, since she's got a role in "Drive Angry" that allows her to do more than just be "the girlfriend" for once, even if she does rock a pair of Daisy Dukes that are downright indecent. She gets to be every bit as rough and gruff in this one as Nicolas Cage or Billie Burke or William Fichtner, and she also is responsible for the heart of the film. Not an easy role, but she makes it look easy.
I've spoken to Nicolas Cage enough times over the past few years that I've noticed something: he is one of the most protective co-stars a young actor could ever hope to have. When I was on the set of "Kick-Ass," I saw it in the way he dealt with Chloe Moretz, and I assumed that was part of the father-daughter dynamic they were playing in the film.
Billy Burke seems relieved that "Twilight" is almost over.
He also seems duly grateful for the attention the franchise has placed on him, but like any actor who is part of a gigantically successful film series, it's a double-edged sword. Actors, by their very nature, like the challenge of slipping into different roles and playing different types of people is hard-wired into them. When the public becomes used to an actor in just one role, it can be stifling, no matter how passionate and enjoyable the fanbase is.
By the time I sat down with Burke, he was already well into his day of interviews, and he was starting to get a little silly about the entire process. He was fooling around with his hair, making jokes about getting his toupee straight, and just blowing off steam. But I sense that he's really pleased with his role in "Drive Angry" because of how different it is from the role he's best known for, and because he got to play with co-stars like Nicolas Cage and William Fichtner this time out.
I think the addition of Bill Condon to the "Twilight" series is surprising, and it could be exactly what that series needs if it wants to end on a high note. Condon's got a great sense for tone in his films, and that's where I feel like those movies have their biggest problems. Towards the end of this interview, we talk about Condon, and we talk about Burke's feelings as they reach the home stretch.
This is a great case study in the way intellectual property rights can be incredibly complicated in this modern financing age.
We reported last week that The Sean Daniel Company had closed a deal to turn the upcoming video game "Dead Island" into a movie. I had my sources on the story, and we had our end of the story mostly right. As a few other outlets reported, Union Entertainment was partnered with Daniel on the deal, and it looked like it was set in stone and good to go.
Then Deep Silver popped up saying "Whoa whoa whoa… who bought what?" A subsidiary of German media giant Koch, Deep Silver is indeed the sole rights holder to the "Dead Island" IP, and they had not made a deal to sell those rights.
That doesn't mean our reporting was wrong, or that the other outlets independently reporting the same thing were wrong. It took me a few days to piece together what happened, but it's not the first time I've seen this situation. The rights were represented to The Sean Daniel Company and Union Entertainment a certain way, and they honestly thought they had them pinned down. They were moving forward in good faith, and it seems like the reason Deep Silver went so public with their statement about who owned the rights was to make sure nothing else happens where things are confused or obscured.
Setting aside the issue of whether you liked the first "Hangover" or not, this is pretty much the most in-your-face confident trailer for anything I've seen so far this year.
And why wouldn't it be? When Warner Bros. was gearing up for the release of "The Hangover" in 2009, they screened the film about 11,000 times, wanting to make sure they did everything they could to kickstart word of mouth on a film that they felt deserved to be a hit, but that didn't have a giant A-list cast to help sell it. They worked their asses off selling it, and watching them work was a real education in just how hard a studio can work, and just how much of a reward you can reap when word of mouth kicks in.
There's been some cultural backlash in the wake of the juggernaut success of the first film, and there are certainly people who didn't like the first one, but when you're making a sequel to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, you have permission to swagger a bit.
I'm seeing people compare this to things like the "Bad Teacher" review that came out this week, and there's no comparison in the type of campaign they're running. "Bad Teacher" is starting from scratch, and they have to sell their premise, their cast, their tone, and just how raunchy it is, all in two minutes. With "The Hangover Part II," you've got massive audience awareness already, and the teaser is more about telling you "This is a new location, and a darker ride, but it's the same cast, and here we go."
I'm not allowed to review "Battle: LA" yet.
Instead, let me ask a question that I asked myself as I drove home from the theater last night, through the landscape that I had just spent a couple of hours watching Hollywood destroy with gleeful abandon: why do we enjoy watching the end of the world?
Not every disaster film works, of course. I've seen plenty of terrible ones, and there's little to enjoy when they don't work because they're rarely "good" films. At their best, they are effective movies, movies that convey a visceral group experience to an audience. And when you do it to an audience just right, they will not only tell friends to go see the movie, they'll go back to see it again in the theater with them. That's when you know you've done something that is effective. People respond almost compulsively, and they end up buying the film when it shows up on home video. I am certainly not above my own OCD response to movies that cause me to have a visceral experience in theaters. It's one of the things I hope for when I sit down to certain films, and when I am met even halfway, I tend to enjoy the effort.
I'm not alone, certainly. And it does seem to be a strange thing for us to reward in our entertainment, this wholesale carnage. Just this week, Louis Leterrier announced he's making a film for Universal called "G," and /Film connected the dots to a project Pajiba wrote about last year called "Gravity," in which the world slows down, causing gravity to go haywire, and against this backdrop, a father goes in search of his missing child. "The Day After Tomorrow" meets "Taken," as it was described originally by Borys Kit when he broke the story.
My experience with the Farrelly Brothers goes back to ShoWest 1999. That was one of the first press events I attended as Moriarty, and it was hard to get stars and filmmakers to agree to talk to someone who arrived at the event with a pseudonym.
On one press line in particular, I watched a handful of people walk right by me, and a few people even got irritated when they realized I was there representing Ain't It Cool News. Not the Farrelly Brothers, though. As soon as they saw my badge, they both walked over and said, "We love what you do," and they ended up giving me more time than anyone else there that evening.
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to go through the test-screening process with the Brothers, watching several cuts of the same film as they fine-tuned it, and I've sat in on some of their round-table rewrites of their scripts, watching they way they manage a room full of writers. And through it all, what has struck me is that there is no pretense about them at all. They do not believe themselves to be infallible, and I would imagine if you used the word "genius" in a conversation with them, they would laugh harder than anyone. But they work at what they do, and they are tireless when they are in pursuit of a laugh. They believe that the audience is the only arbiter of taste that really matters, and they do whatever they can to make sure that the audience walks out of their films happy.
One of the hardest things in playing best friends in a movie is finding a way to create the shorthand that exists between people who have genuinely known each other for years or even decades And as an actor, you're required to create that sort of chemistry out of thin air sometimes, during the time when you're just getting to know this other person.
In the case of "Hall Pass," much of the film hinges on the friendship between Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), and I thought they did a great job of playing off each other. Wilson always seems like he shows up ready to play, but with Sudeikis, this could be a calling card for him as a leading man in movies.
I've always had a hard time trying to figure out what the niche would be for Sudeikis in film, since he's a sort of average guy type, not as outrageous as someone like Will Forte or Bill Hader, his peers on SNL. Seeing him in this film, I get a real Phil Hartman quality, and like Phil, I think Sudeikis could really play to his average-guy looks and be charmingly subversive with the right material. He and Wilson together strike me as very real suburban dads, normal and average, with all their inner weirdo lurking just below the surface.