This is how things work on the Internet these days.
Rumor travels at light speed, and assumption becomes fact before anyone stops to consider what they're printing. I've certainly made my share of mistakes, but I've only really done so when I took a short-cut or when I took someone else's word for something without doing my own legwork. I don't count moments where I've reported on a story in progress only to see things change later, because that's one of the things you have to accept doing this job. I'm talking about moments where I printed a rumor that simply wasn't founded in fact, and I think I've gotten much, much better about that over time.
The more anticipation there is for a film, the faster a rumor will travel, and by that standard, people must really be looking forward to Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," because two distinct rumors, both fueled by Twitter, have lit up the Internet over the last few days. In both cases, I find the suggestions provocative and exciting, but anyone reporting either of these as fact right now is reaching.
This is how things work on the Internet these days.
Because I've already offered up my first impressions of "X-Men: First Class," the only way to write a proper review of it is to actually dig into the text of the film. That could mean spoilers. If you want the short version of my thoughts on the film, you can read that here, and you can walk into the movie fairly fresh. If you're reading this review, you want a real discussion about this smart and stylish redefinition of the franchise that kicked off the modern superhero movie.
Happy to oblige.
"X-Men" in 2000 was a very important moment for the genre. It introduced some characters and imagery that were stranger and more outrageous than anything in "Superman" or "Batman" or any earlier comic-to-movie transition. Cyclops. Storm. Wolverine. Jean Grey. Cerebro. Magneto. Mystique. And while the film gets some things right and some things wrong, it's got a great energy to it. And Bryan Singer in '99 was just the right choice. A strange choice at first. But he made an authentic movie about being an outsider, told through a genre prism. It felt like, underneath all the swagger and special effects, something real was happening. Something that mattered. "X-Men" worked just well enough. They short-changed that first film out of fear. The studio really struggled with the producers on that first film, the sort of tension on a movie that, in this case, paid off with something that did not feel cookie-cutter, something that didn't feel like a safe bet. They got outrageously lucky with the casting of Hugh Jackman, and vice-versa. He made the character click with audiences, and once they loved Wolverine, they were onboard for the rest of the ride.
Last year, we ran a series here on HitFix for the summer months, during the time when "Saturday Night Live" was off the air and on hiatus, and the response was strong enough that we decided to bring it back this summer.
I like looking backwards at the show's history and its influence on big-screen comedy, and I'm equally interested in the ongoing story being written as new cast members test their box-office worth. But it occurred to me, amidst the sighs of relief that "Bridesmaids" found its footing with audiences, that it no longer seems like it's enough to simply be a great cast member on the show. Until you've proven that you are also a movie star, it seems like funny doesn't matter.
So let me ask you: is becoming a movie star the sole reason that "Saturday Night Live" still exists? Or is there merit in simply being a strong performer who fits well into the show? Seems like a topic we should discuss since this entire column is about the relationship Hollywood has had with the show since the day it began.
Yep. Looks like "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
I'm not the biggest fan of the Stieg Larsson trilogy of books, or the original Swedish trilogy of films, but in both cases, I think the strongest entry is the first one. Even so, when I reviewed the original film, I talked about how I think it's fairly pedestrian filmmaking that is carried largely by the character of Lisbeth Salander. I'm not even especially taken with the performance of Noomi Rapace. I think it's more a case of a wardrobe doing the work for an actor than anything else.
In short, there has always been room for improvement here, and now that the red-band version of the trailer has leaked online (and, no, I'm not comfortable embedding it or linking to it, but you are an adult who can presumably find YouTube), it's worth having the conversation about what we might be unwrapping come Christmas-time this year. If you want to see the best possible version of the trailer, you'll need to head to the theater, where it's playing in front of, among other things, "The Hangover Part II" this weekend.
Okay, let's try this again.
I honestly don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that Disney has kicked off their campaign for "The Muppets" with a couple of different trailers now, and so far, they've made some big strange choices regarding the tone they're taking with the ads.
The "Green With Envy" trailer that was in theaters last weekend is a bait-and-switch bit that would probably work better if they weren't cutting around the joke so hard for the first minute-plus. Obviously, "The Muppets" is not a conventional romantic comedy starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams, so trying to find enough footage to make the film look like something it isn't could not have been easy. The tone of that trailer is tough, too, because I don't think that's the tone of the movie.
Now, there's a second trailer, and the first part of it is obviously trying to evoke the mood of the teaser for "The Hangover Part II." In doing so, they may be showing us spoiler material out of context, and it's worth looking at closely. All of the decayed, dusty locations they're showing in the start of the trailer appear to be inside the iconic Muppet Theater, which has been closed for a while when this new film begins. At some point in the movie, Walter, the new Muppet who you'll glimpse a few times in this trailer, must succeed in getting the Muppets back to that theater. To what end, though, and what happens inside? That's still the big question.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
That's so weird. I was going to celebrate my birthday yesterday with a few posts about various things, and I took a break for a quiet lunch with my two boys, Allen and Toshi. We all had juice boxes, and then I woke up and it was hours later and we were in Thailand and we all had Yo Gabba Gabba tattoos on our faces. I got Brobie.
Whatever the case, it's going to be a busy weekend. "Saturday Night At The Movies" will return this week, now that "Saturday Night Live" is on hiatus again. You can look for that around 8:30 PM PST on Saturday nights. I've also got a few pieces about things we're going to do here on the blog for the summer, during the big popcorn movie season, and ways you guys can be more active, because I do value your voices in the mix as well. It's summer. We should be having fun. That's what summer and movies are about as a combination, right?
Our review of 'Super 8" won't be up until next week, on June 1st, but this weekend, our full review of "X-Men: First Class" will be up, and we're going to dig into one of the most interesting Marvel movies made by any studio so far. In addition, we'll have reviews of films like "Submarine" and "Bad Teacher" and "Green Lantern" and even "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer." In each case, we'll try to have the earliest possible reaction for you. It's a busy crowded summer, and you deserve to know what to expect from "Mr. Popper's Penguins" or "Cars 2." As July rolls in, look for word on "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon," including reviews of both 2D and the 3D IMAX versions of the experience. We'll be sure to review the new Tom Hanks film "Larry Crowne" and the raunchy comedy "Horrible Bosses" and, yes, even films like "Monte Carlo" and "The Zookeeper," because you seriously never know.
You can count on Motion/Captured for a breakdown on everything that's in the theaters this summer, whether it's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" or "Another Earth," whether it's "Winnie The Pooh" or "Captain America," or "Friends With Benefits" or "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." The reason you can rely on us isn't because we believe our opinion is better than anyone else's, but because we opine on so many movies that the cumulative weight of all of that, all of those reviews and interviews and analysis pieces, removes the individual significance from any one review. You're not coming here just for my "Cowboys and Aliens" review. In a vacuum, what is any one review worth? But when you read that and my "Crazy Stupid Love" piece and even my review of "The Smurfs," then you'll get a sense of my consistent voice and likes and dislikes from film to film, genre to genre, as open and fair as I can be. And all of that is just what's coming out between now and Comic-Con. And that's just a look at the new films we'll be covering. We'll obviously also be covering books and DVDs and Blu-rays and older films and whatever else interests us in that same time period. Which mean, yes, we'll stay plenty busy this summer, and we want you to share it all with us.
Enough about the future, though. Let's see what's going on right now all over the Internet. Over at Latino Review, the one and only El Mayimbe broke the story that there will be an unexpected second big-name villain in "The Avengers." Or maybe even third, based on how you're counting. It's a pretty big piece of information if true, and so I'll just link you to their site without hinting about who it is or how they might fit into the movie, and if you don't want to know, don't click that link. Sounds interesting, though, and more than ever, I'm just curious to see how Joss Whedon brings all of these elements together in a film that is less than seven hours long. Normally I'd say it sounds too busy, having all these villains, but if you're going to put Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk together, they'd better have a credibly-scaled threat to face.
Welcome to the Evening Read.
Yes, that's right. I rearranged the schedule today so I could post those reviews first, and now I'm putting together an Evening Read after spending some time with the boys this afternoon. Lots of interesting stuff going on out there today, so I wanted to make sure we got a chance to share some of it before the day is done and I start celebrating my birthday... which, at this age, means "drinking heavily and weeping in the shower."
I'm not going to link out to the sites who are spoiling a very clever cameo in one of this summer's big movies, but I am going to ask the question why you would do that to your readers. I got yelled at (primarily by one guy repeatedly) by a few of you over my decision to run the "Muppets" trailer the other day without hiding the fact that it was a trailer for "The Muppets" in my headline, and that was a decision I had to contemplate. In the end, very few of you would have clicked on an article about an Amy Adams/Jason Segel romantic comedy that you'd never heard of before, and I don't blame you for that. I don't post stories with the specific goal of having no one read them, so I erred on the side of spoiling a two-minute trailer for you in that case. And that was, let's be clear, a piece of advertising. But regarding an actual movie? And a surprise hidden deep within that movie? There's no way I would do that to my readers. I won't even tell you what movie it was they screwed up. I'll just say that it's comparable to what would happen if there was a scene in "Cowboy and Aliens" where Han Solo showed up as one of the aliens and had an onscreen moment with Harrison Ford. The crowd would go berserk, right? Well, that's the way this particular cameo plays in its film, and the idea of someone posting the information as a headline… not even as part of a story, but as an unavoidable headline… makes me think that maybe studios aren't wrong when they play hardball on screening dates and embargoes. If you can't trust a fully-functioning adult to handle a piece of information properly, then you have to stop giving all the adults that information. It removes the temptation to be a total tit from the equation. Shame on you, Comic Book Movie.
One of the genuine delights of the original "Kung-Fu Panda" was realizing that the film was a perfect gateway drug into real kung-fu films for kids, an authentically built story of a misfit named Po (Jack Black) who wanted to become a master like the Furious Five, the kung-fu heroes he worshipped. The film featured a pretty menacing bad guy in the form of Tai Lung (Ian McShane), and when it offered up either philosophy or action scenes, there was a credibility to it that I found impressive.
With this new entry in what I can only imagine is a series, director Jennifer Yuh has crafted a truly ravishing visual experience, and the script by Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger is solid and streamlined. My one complaint about the film is just how painless the entire thing seems, how very linear the storyline is. There's a problem, the good guys go to deal with it, and then they do. It's not much more complicated than that, a particularly stripped-down version of Campbell's basic story form.
Having said that, the film is energetic, filled with clever and exciting kung-fu action, and there is an emotional arc for Po that I found personally very affecting, more so than I would have expected. Overall, I would call "Kung-Fu Panda" pretty rousing family entertainment, and if your little ones are eager to see the film this weekend, it's a safe bet that they'll be just as pleased as you are with your time in the theater.
I'm starting to believe that comedy and sequels simply do not mix.
It is no coincidence that horror, the other genre I believe this about, works because of the same sort of involuntary reactions that make great comedy effective. It feels to me like the simple act of making a sequel to a comedy or a horror film is an act of diminishing returns in practice. There is an element of surprise that seems necessary for comedy or horror to work on an audience completely. The first "Hangover" became an international hit based on two things: the chemistry of its cast and the clever way the film was structured as a mystery. That allowed for the film to drop its best surprises out of chronological order, and it saved its biggest payoffs for the closing credit photo montage.
"The Hangover Part II," opening tomorrow, is a well-made sequel. Once again, Todd Phillips seems to be one of the few guys making this sort of big broad mainstream comedy who loves to shoot in full 2.35:1 scope, and he's got a keener sense of what to do with a frame than, for example, Rob Marshall in "Pirates of the Caribbean 4," who shot the jungles of Hawaii like he was making a TV movie on a soundstage in Burbank. Phillips takes full advantage of the grimy, sweaty opportunities afforded by Bangkok and Thailand, and the film has this dangerous, sun-blasted visual style that really works. The cast all seem game for this return to the characters, and there's a manic energy to a lot of it that seems appropriate.
I just wish I thought the damn thing was funny.
It's been strange watching the production of "X-Men: First Class" from a distance.
Ever since I met Matthew Vaughn at a lunch with Guy Ritchie and Harry Knowles, he's been incredibly approachable and easy to talk to about his films, and I spent a fair amount of time watching him work on "Stardust" and "Kick-Ass." I shouldn't be surprised, though, because this time, he's not working for himself, and he didn't self-finance the film through his own Marv Productions. He was working for 20th Century Fox, and on a superhero film, pretty much the opposite of every professional situation he's had so far.
I've certainly had plenty of tough things to say about Fox and Fox management over the years, and I was concerned during production that part of the reason for the cone of silence was that Matthew was having a terrible experience. Based on the final film and our chat today, I'd say he was just busying running as fast as he could to make his release date, staying focused because there was no time to get this one wrong.
When we spoke, he was in bed with tonsillitis, but he sounded just as sharp and energetic as usual. As we started our conversation, I told him how pleased I was with the end result. Vaughn says, "Yeah, well, we were up against it on this movie, but somehow, I think the Movie Gods shone on us."
We talked about how rich the world established by this film is, and I asked him about his choice to use Sebastien Shaw as the main villain in this one. The filmmaker reveals, "He was the villain… no, the character, that I was most afraid of. I kept thinking, 'Are we going to pull Shaw off?' And the comic book version made me nervous, and I would argue with Lauren [Shuler-Donner] about it, and she'd say, 'He must have the ponytail and the cravat.' And I would argue, 'He is going to look like an Austin Powers villain, Lauren. We cannot do that. I have to make the movie work, and Kevin Bacon with a ponytail and a cravat dressed as an 18th-century fop will look ridiculous.'"