"Life As We Know It" is Studio Filmmaking As We Fear It.
Mechanical, unpleasant, oblivious to the way actual people live, bright and slick and hollow, this is a by-the-numbers affair that manages to make two unlikeable phony genre devices into one unlikeable whole. Josh Duhamel slouches his way though like he's embarrassed by everything going on around him, while Katherine Heigl once again embodies a particularly off-putting kind of modern shrew. The two of them together don't add up to the wattage of one movie star, and they aren't able to transcend the material to make the film work simply as a pleasant sit.
The longer you read my work, the more you're realize that the thing that is most important to me in any film, no matter how outrageous the premise or how mainstream the supposed audience, the one thing that really matters to me is honesty. I just want to see something that I recognize as real, whether it's the way characters relate to each other or the way someone responds to a situation or some bit of behavior or observation. I don't need every film to be a documentary. I love pure entertainment as much as the next person. But when I see something that is just fake and dishonest and mechanical, it really does sit wrong with me.
Eric Messer (Duhamel) and Holly Berenson (Heigl) are best friends to Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and Alison (Christina Hendricks), and the first third of the film is a romantic comedy about two people, thrown together by common friends, who seem to hate each other at first but who are actually drawn to one another to such an obvious degree that you know the film will be about getting them together in the last ten minutes, with nothing but obstacles in the meantime.
"Life As We Know It" is Studio Filmmaking As We Fear It.
The official trailer for the 3 disc Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition DVD (and blu-ray, of course) has been released and it will leave many an Avatar fan gagging with excitement, and I'm sure it's detractors simply gagging. I count myself as a fan and the new video has me stoked.
It has glimpses of the extra footage, yet unseen, from the "Collectors Extended Edition" of the film. This is not the extended edition which came out in theaters, but a home-version-only cut that includes what appears to be an Earth-based 'civilian Jake' alternate opening.
The trailer also previews the extra features which will include a feature length documentary and 45 minutes of deleted scenes. Usually finding myself a defender of movies that are actually shot in 3D, it will be interesting to see how this animated film was made. Nothing against motion capture (of course) or even acting-capture, but the film is still a mostly animated which folks seem to forget, which is in a sense, a tribute to the filmmakers.
As a new owner of a Blu-Ray player (which admittedly plays video games too) I'm looking forward to this set, as it appears to contain lots more than the standard DVD, (menu's below) but I have to admit to a craving, very controllable at this point, for one of those ludicrously expensive 3D TV's…
Santa... I see you.
It's come to this?
Look, I can accept that the wholesale strip-mining of the Looney Tunes characters is an inevitable thing. They are owned by Warner Bros., a gigantic corporation with stockholders to appease and profits to earn, and these characters are part of an enduring legacy created by dozens and dozens of hard-working artists and filmmakers over the years. They can be exploited and re-exploited forever, and will be. I get that.
When I was in Toronto for the film festival this year, I spent a good deal of time in line for the various press screenings, usually in the lobby of the Scotiabank Theater. It's one of these hyper-modern lobbies with eight different concession booths and video games and monitors everywhere and neon purple accents and color and sound and light and it is a damn nightmare if you're trapped in it for longer than fifteen miinutes.
One of the particular forms of torture that the lobby is designed to visit upon you with the focused sadism of a trap in a "Saw" movie is that they only showed two trailers the entire time we were there, on a loop. Over. And over. And over. And over. Two trailers. I don't care if those trailers are for "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "Brazil," if you watch them hundreds of times in the course of a week, you will learn to cringe as if from physical blows each time each beat of those trailers plays out. And what were they? "You Again," which I will never ever see, and which appears to be about six minutes long, detailing each beat of the film. And the other?
I've been doing this a long time, and I can honestly say I've rarely seen a studio work harder to get a film in front of an audience than Universal did with "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World."
I've also rarely seen a film land with the sort of box-office indifference in the face of generally glowing reactions that "Scott Pilgrim" did, and no matter how many conversations I've had with people about what happened, I haven't heard one good theory on why it failed to connect. The film's tests all went well, people who saw it seemed to enjoy it, word of mouth was strong, reviews were great... and no one went.
I have a strong suspicion that "Pilgrim" is the sort of film that is going to build an audience slowly and surely on home video, and in a few years, people are going to wish they'd seen the film in the theater in the first place. This is the best film to tank this hard since "The Iron Giant," and I knew in '99 that one would find its audience, too.
Part of the push on home video evidently involves a redesigned bit of key art, and today when Team HitFix got together for lunch, we were talking about whether or not this might work to encourage people to give the film a chance. I'll say this... at least the new piece of key art puts the cast front and center. I hate photoshop movie posters, and I miss the heyday of paintings as one-sheets, but this cover has more to do with the movie than the original poster image did... don't you think?
It's strange the way information leaks out on films, and it's equally strange that even after a decade of certain types of leaks, studios haven't figured out how to put the kibosh on those leaks.
Case in point, the news today that the title for Paramount's upcoming mega-sequel is officially "Transformers: The Dark Of The Moon." That's an odd configuration for the title, and I'm sure people will almost perpetually get it wrong and refer to the film as "The Dark Side Of The Moon," just because that's the automatic default when people think of that phrase. It was revealed today because Amazon put up a listing so people could pre-order the movie tie-in books. The information was first posted in a Transformers forum, and then got picked up by a few news sites before Frosty over at Collider verified the title with a source on the film.
I'm sure the title plays directly into the storyline of this third film in the series, which Michael Bay has stated repeatedly is the end of a trilogy. If that's true, then that would indicate he's got plans that wrap up the admittedly loose continuity of the first two films. It also suggests a stronger narrative focus this time out, because there's basically nothing in the second film that indicates that they're building on the first film or expanding any ideas or story themes. Or, to be honest, that they even understand what story themes are. What is obviously their goal with these films is building giant set pieces and showcasing as many robots as possible while Shia LaBeouf and an interchangeable hottie run around. Which is fine... it's worked out well enough for them so far.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
It's raining in Los Angeles, I've already interviewed Jason Schwartzman today, and I've got "Grindhouse" on the Blu-ray player. Sounds like it's time to see what's going on out there today.
You guys haven't had a chance to see "Rabbit Hole" yet, and I still haven't gotten around to reviewing it, so we haven't really begun singing the hosannahs for David Lindsay-Abaire here on the site yet. We will. And it looks like Sam Raimi's also in Lindsay-Abaire's fan club. He had the writer working on "Spider-Man 4" for him before he dropped out of it, and now he's got him hard at work on "The Great And Powerful Oz," which Raimi is now officially set to direct for Disney in the spring. Raimi appears to be the winner of the great "Oz" scramble of 2010, in which everyone in town simultaneously realized that Frank L. Baum's books are public domain, and if he really does secure Robert Downey Jr. as the Wizard, something that's not set in stone yet, then Disney might as well go ahead and break out the champagne, 'cause they can't lose.
When I was in Austin for Fantastic Fest, I stayed with my friends Aaron and Kaela, and he's an avowed "Halo" addict who was firmly in the grips of "Halo: Reach" the entire time I was there. That series has a hold on its fanbase that is truly impressive, so I'm not shocked to read that Hollywood is still sniffing around the game, trying to figure it out how to turn it into a film franchise of the same size. I would, however, be shocked if all this talk of Spielberg adapting the spin-off novels actually amounted to anything more than a big fat game of "What if?".
Yesterday's big movie news was the hiring of Zack Snyder to direct whatever Warner Bros. eventually calls their next Superman movie, and sure enough, people were quick to an opinion about whether or not that was good news.
I'm a fan, and IÂ am amused by the people who get angry about Snyder as a choice.Â Someone yesterday complained that the film is doomed now to be "an all-greenscreen movie," and that just makes me laugh.Â Snyder did that once, with "300," and since then, the films he's been making have been shot on sets and locations.Â Sure, he uses greenscreen for some things, but so do all filmmakers working in the big-ticket spectacle realm right now.Â Does that commenter think someone's going to make a Superman film that somehow uses no greenscreen at all?Â If so, I must admit that I'm curious what that would look like.Â I'm guessing it would be a wee bit light on that whole flying thing.
But when Snyder's only done something one time out of a five film feature directing career, how is that the knee-jerk thing that you throw at him for the rest of his career?Â One of the things that comic book panels do that is almost completely philosophically opposite from what movies do is that panels pick a particular moment, a beat, an image, and that's meant to represent the entire idea of what's going on.Â IÂ think Snyder's use of slow-motion is a really lovely way of doing the same thing in a film that a panel does in a comic book.Â You're underlining something.Â You're emphasizing this idealized image, this perfect beat.
All of this is just hypothetical, anyway, because we know so little about what sort of film Snyder's making and what sort of story is being told in the David Goyer script.Â There are two important nuggets that have been dropped in the reporting on the film, though, potentially significant enough to mention.
Filmmaking today, in terms of the business side of things, is a totally different landscape than what IÂ dreamed of when I first decided I wanted to be a filmmaker.Â I don't envy any director with a strong personal vision who also has to play the studio game.Â There are choices, life or death career decisions, that filmmakers have to face these days that have little to do with their own tastes or interests.
The best possible scenario, of course, is when a filmmaker manages to make a big studio movie that fits into their tentpole schedule that also somehow scratches a personal itch.Â For example, let's look at Darren Aronofsky, currently enjoying some of the best reviews of his career for the amazing "Black Swan."Â In the past, he's been attached to at least two different Frank Miller adaptations ("Ronin"Â and "Batman:Â Year One") and he's spent time trying to make one of the great samurai stories ("Lone Wolf and Cub") as well as an adaptation of a famous anime ("Perfect Blue").Â Considering one of the most famous of the Wolverine/Japan storylines was created in part by Frank Miller and that it played heavily on samurai movie iconography, it would seem to me that a Darren Aronofsky film starring "Fountain" lead Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in Japan would not be too far outside the realm of the expected.Â And with Christopher McQuarrie writing it?Â That starts to become downright appealing.
There's just that little matter of the oh-my-god terrible "Wolverine:Â X-Men Origins."
It would be one thing, perception-wise, if Aronofsky was asked to just make a stand-alone "Wolverine"Â movie away from the "X-Men"Â franchise, but having to follow up that wretched Gavin Hood film (and, no, IÂ don't blame Hood, who seemed to be eaten alive by that process) would be a depressing prospect, no matter how many good ideas you have for a story.
This last month has been an avalanche of reviews here on the blog, many of them for films that you won't be able to see until later this year, next year, or maybe not at all. That's sort of what happens when you get caught up in a festival cycle, and now that I'm coming out of it, I've got a ton of reviews still to write, and I've also got a landslide of DVDs and Blu-rays here at the house that need to be reviewed.
So this month, I'm going to be exploring some new ways of publishing in order to cover all of this great stuff. I'll be publishing a certain number of DVD reviews each week, some short, some long, but constant. We'll see if banking them ahead of publication works or not, but there are enough of them here on the desk that need writing up that there's no excuse for there to not be a constant presence here on the blog of home video reviews. It is such a major part of my film diet that not including it here on a regular basis is practically negligent.
Just tonight, I watched the Blu-ray of "Please Give," the latest film by Nicole Holofcener, and I think it's one of the strongest things she's done. In general, I like her films, and I like the performances, and I like the writing, but the films always feel sort of soft… unfocused. It's great observational stuff, and there's little doubt she's talented, but my affection for "Walking and Talking" and "Lovely & Amazing" and "Friends With Money" is a general affection for her voice more than a feeling that they are all three great movies. Her latest film may not be the giant grand slam that will launch her into mainstream superstardom, but it's a further distillation of that voice, and impeccably performed by a great ensemble.
It is October of 2009. Belfast. And Danny McBride does not belong here.
I'm standing in a soundstage that was once, a century ago, a hangar for a shipyard where a boat called the Titanic was built, in a city that was, for most of my life, known more for its violence and long-simmering civil unrest than for its film industry.
I'm looking around at a huge castle courtyard set, with a few dozen extras packed in, all dressed like they're part of a new "Lord Of The Rings" film. The details of the set and the costuming and the faces of the extras... all authentic. All meant to sell a reality, more historical drama than fantasy.
I'm looking at Toby Jones and Charles Dance standing on the steps of the courtyard, and for a moment, I expect some rousing call to arms, like I'm back on the "Narnia" set I visited in Prague. This looks like every other giant-budget genre film I've visited in terms of depth of detail...
... except that's Danny McBride there on the steps. And, again, he does not belong here.
The crazy thing is, he's not just in the film... he wrote the film with Ben Best, and he's the star of the film. Looking at him standing there, it's this weird visual dissonance. No matter how the set feels, how the world around us on the set feels, this is not "The Silmarillion."
No... this is a wild, profane adventure about brothers, wizards, weed, women, and finding peace with your place in the world. This is "Your Highness." And it represents one serious gamble for Universal, the studio that seems to be fueled by the adrenaline from high-risk gambles, one after another these days.