Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
She's seventeen, she could buy and sell me, and she's normal?I Madness
If you ever want to put the magnitude (or lack thereof) of your own accomplishments in this world into perspective, I recommend interviewing Miranda Cosgrove.
When I was her age, I was basically a fire hazard with a driver's license, a complete hormonal lunatic who ran roughshod through my family life and my part-time job and my school year. My junior year is a blur, and I'm genuinely lucky I lived through it, being as stupid as I was. At 17, I couldn't be trusted to get from point A to point B without screwing it up.
Miranda Cosgrove runs an empire.
Sure, she's got help, but this is a 17-year-old who has already headlined a TV phenomenon (Nickelodeon's "iCarly") and who is just kickstarting what looks to be a huge pop music career. She's got an army of motivated fans, and she seems to be blissfully normal and scandal free. In conversation, she's bright and engaged and an utter professional.
Depressing. Suicidally depressing. I'm over twice her age, and I still feel like I'm doing good if I make it out of the house without forgetting my belt.
After the interview, she was kind enough to sign a CD cover for a five year old friend of Toshi's, and that CD cover pretty much blew that little girl's mind. I may not have much sense of Cosgrove apart from her performance in "Despicable Me," but it's obvious that she's very important to a generation of little girls. I'm always curious about what it is that causes a fanbase to latch on like that, which is why I'll always approach something like "Twilight" with genuine curiosity.
Flawed films both offer enough to be worth seeing
"Winnebego Man" is not, to my great surprise, the documentary about the socially awkward hippie who dropped out and retreated to the wilderness with his girlfriend, only to get them both eaten by a Winnebego.
It is, however, an ugly close-up look at a particular flavor of modern fame that is also explored in a different light in another documentary, also opening in limited release today, and taken together, "Winnebego Man" and "Cropsey" are interesting glimpses at the way our culture is shaped by media, the way media can affect an individual when caught in its unblinking gaze, and the notion of truth as captured by video and by word of mouth. Both films are flawed, but they are dealing with such compelling ideas that I don't mind, and in fact, I think they're significant because of what they say about where we are now.
The age of YouTube is an unforgiving one. One mistake, and you will be immortalized, roasted, parodied, chewed up and spit out. Just ask the Star Wars Kid how rough it can get.
There is a hunger for human failure, and video cameras have made what used to be a personal and temporary thing into the potential for sudden international notoriety. Jack Rebney, the subject of "Winnebego Man," was just trying to film a sales video for the Winnebego company when he stumbled into his fame via a series of profane and furious outtakes that were leaked. I'm not sure how I've managed to go this long without seeing any of the clips that seem to be fairly omnipresent on YouTube, and if you're in the same boat, allow me to introduce you to the miracle of Jack Rebney's vocabulary, which I warn you is decidedly not safe for work:
Is Marvel's tough business approach about to burn down a fan dream team?
[Update: Marvel releases an exclusive statement to HitFix confirming Edward Norton will not star as Bruce Banner in "The Avengers." Full details here.]
In two weeks, the San Diego Comic-Con gets underway, a mecca for fans of pop culture of all types, and the ultimate sweet spot for any company will be showing up with a comic-book movie and giant movie stars. There will be a parade of talent heading across that stage at Hall H, announcing projects, showing clips, and promoting movies. How much of a reaction do you think there would be if Marvel introduced Joss Whedon as the official director of "The Avengers," something that they've been refusing to confirm ever since the rumors first broke? And how much of a reaction would there be if he walked out onstage to personally introduce The Avengers?
Imagine that. "Ladies and gentlemen, you all know Tony Stark..." and there's Robert Downey Jr. "Of course, you know Nick Fury..." and there's Samuel L. Jackson. "I'd like to introduce you to two more of our team members, Thor..." and out walks Chris Hemsworth. "... and Captain America..." and then Chris Evans joins everyone else onstage. "... and, of course, the jolly green giant himself, The Hulk!"
And then some guy no one's ever seen walks out. And he is decidedly not Edward Norton.
Does that make sense to anyone else?
Because right now... that's the plan. After all the careful groundwork that Marvel Studios has laid the last few years, and after the way they've built this great cast film after film, they're going to make a colossal misstep at the finish line. According to Marvel sources, the company has decided that they are going to cast "an unknown" to play Bruce Banner and The Hulk in the film.
Great 3D and an engaging wit makes this a winner
I am genuinely pleased and surprised that "Despicable Me" is an above-average animated comedy. Pleased because I feel like parents get punished so often walking into the theater for this kind of a film that when they aren't punished, it is a rare delight. And surprised because Illumination Entertainment is a start-up, a first time animation studio, and getting a movie this right is something that some companies never pull off, let alone the first time they try.
"Despicable Me" is the story of Gru (Steve Carell, using one of the weirdest Eurotrash accents possible), a supervillain who isn't really very good at his job. He's a minor key nuisance at best, and he's finding it increasingly difficult to get the Bank Of Evil to underwrite his efforts. When a new supervillain named Vector (Jason Segel) shows up and starts pulling off the sort of jobs that Gru wishes he could do, Gru realizes that he needs to do something amazing to secure his place in the hierarchy of evil. He launches his biggest plan yet with the help of Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and his army of Minions, weird little yellow creatures who provide many of the film's biggest laughs, and in the process, sets off a battle of the bad guys with Vector.
This would be plenty to keep Gru busy, but he faces another challenge at the same time, and it's far more difficult. Looking for an easy way into Vector's house, he temporarily adopts three orphan girls named Margo ("iCarly" star Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), hoping to use them and their cookie sales as a distraction. Gru doesn't expect to feel anything towards the girls, and why would he? His own mother (voiced with evident relish by Julie Andrews) was an unfeeling monster, and Gru has no desire to be a father, no inclination to nurture. What we plan and what we accomplish in life are often different things, though, and "Despicable Me" illustrates that with charm and wit to spare.
With two movies in theaters this month, the comic performer is flying high
When I posted the first of my two recent conversations with Steve Carell the other day, I mentioned that we actually had that conversation face-to-face at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. It's a beautiful hotel, commonly used by the studios for the various press days we participate in, and typically I would have just waited there so I could have the second conversation with Carell in person.
I had to run home, though, so when I did call in for the interview, he answered the phone already laughing.
Steve Carell: So... you couldn't take it anymore, could you?
SC: Pure torture, isn't it?
Drew: Oh, it was unbearable. I mean, how can you stand it? It’s luxurious and it's nice and there's room service. Oh, my God.
Drew: Yeah, I saw Craig Robinson downstairs as I was leaving.
SC: Oh, how is he doing?
Drew: He was out front, getting ready for the “Hot Tub Time Machine” Playboy Mansion party tonight, so...
A look at the book that kicked off the phenomenon and the first film in the series
This week marks the DVD and Blu-ray release of the Swedish film version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," and so it seems like the perfect time for me to jump in and finally write about this international phenomenon, the first part in what is called "The Millennium Trilogy," well aware that I am about to engage a fanbase just as vocal and opinionated as that of the "Twilight" books or the "Harry Potter" series.
As societal standards change, art has to respond by updating the archetypes it uses in storytelling, and so we find ourselves now at the dawn of the age of the Autistic Superhero. I'd argue that this particular idea was introduced to the mainstream in "Rain Man," in which Dustin Hoffman played a sort of exaggerated and ultra-capable version of what was then understood to be the "typical" autistic. Now, just over 20 years later, we've got TV shows like "The Big Bang Theory" where an obviously autistic character is carefully never referred to as autistic, and in pop culture the notion of the socially-awkward-but-brilliant specialist in this or that continues to get used and re-used. Now, with Lisbeth Salander, we get one of the most aggressive interpretations of the archetype so far, and the public appears to have fallen head over heels with this teeny-tiny bundle of fury.
Robert Rodriguez spearheads a return to form for this movie monster
In the interest of full disclosure, I should state for the record that my writing partner and I met with Robert Rodriguez as he was gearing up to make this film as co-writer/producer, before writers had been hired, and we pitched our take on the movie. Obviously, we didn't get the job, but as big genre fans, we were happy to at least get in the room and talk about this franchise and how to return it to a place of respect with someone as visibly enthusiastic as Robert was. If you believe that my losing a job would disqualify me from being able to speak about the final film in a fair way, then feel free to skip to the next story now.
I remember seeing the original "Predator" in the theater when I was seventeen, walking in with absolutely no expectations. I went with about six friends because it was free (we were all theater employees), it was new, and it was an excuse to smoke some doobs, drive across Tampa, and stay out late. I had no expectations for the film. At that point, I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger was only as good as the directors he worked with, and John McTiernan was an unfamiliar name. I thought his only previous film, "Nomads," was decent but certainly no guarantee that his next film would be anything special, and writers Jim and John Thomas were equally unknown quantities. As much as I loved "Conan The Barbarian" and "The Terminator," I thought Arnold's taste was largely suspect, and I was worried that "army dudes fighting a monster in the jungle" sounded like it was going to be cheesy. That was my greatest fear walking into a movie in the '80s... that special brand of embarrassing cheesy that still distinguishes '80s movies from all others.
Festival favorite finally arives on home video
And when I say "festival favorite" in that secondary headline, what I mean is "one of my favorite films I saw during a festival." That festival happened to be SXSW '09, so it was over a year ago, but for me, the film stood out then and hearing it's finally available for audiences to see in some form is great news, reason to revisit it.
Steven Kastrissios is the young writer/director of the film, and it's one of those names that I look up after seeing a film, knowing that I'm going to have to learn to spell it, because I have no doubt I'll be writing it many times over the years to come as he moves on to whatever's next. This is not a film I'd recommend because it somehow shatters the narrative paradigm or reinvents aesthetic film language... it's just a meat and potatoes revenge film, a father who is on a linear furious path of revenge against anyone involved in turning his daughter into first a porn "star" and second a corpse.
Christian (Peter Marshall) is an obviously named lead, ironic in every moment, but that sort of obvious move is countered by the surprising tenderness and depth of Marshall's work as a father whose entire system has been fried by the idea of his daughter dying. The further he digs into circumstance, the less he likes what he learns, and that pain would be bad enough without the idea of murder entering into it. His rage would already be something any father watching the film would identify with, something primal and direct. But knowing what happened to her, finding out detail after detail of it, just tears him to pieces, like the pain from her passing is this bullet that just keeps rattling around inside him, shredding, cutting, till nothing's left.
A great cast, a gifted director, and a wonderful script all add up to a great surprise
Lisa Cholodenko has a strong voice as a filmmaker, and I've been waiting for her to make the movie that would break her through to the mainstream success she deserves. "High Art" was a strong, sad little film that featured a career best performance from Ally Sheedy, and "Laurel Canyon" captured a certain type of malaise that sets in here in Los Angeles in a very knowing way. Still, both of those films were easily marginalized for one reason or another, and her last film, "Cavedweller," seems to have dropped onto DVD with little attention after a small festival run.
Thankfully, instead of following a career path I've seen play out so many times in the past, where early promise adds up to frustration and obscurity, Cholodenko showed up at Sundance this year with a new film, maybe the most personal she's ever made, and the real miracle of it is how she's finally made something this accessible by reaching into her own life. "The Kids Are All Right" is an incredibly clear-eyed look at who we are right now, and how the definition of "family" is changing, featuring a great cast, a wise and witty screenplay, and pitch-perfect direction. If there is any justice in the movie universe, this will not only make some real money for Focus Features, but it will also establish Cholodenko as a filmmaker who studios want to support.
Want to see an interviewer react like he just saw a double rainbow?
Julie Andrews is sunshine and rainbows and kittens and magic. And anyone who says different is a godless robot.
When they asked me to participate in the press day for "Despicable Me," I was amazed to see Andrews on the list of possible interviews, and I asked if there was any way they could put me in the room with "Mary F**king Poppins." I was being flip about it, but when they approved the interview and I actually got to the press day and realized who I was about to talk to, I got a wicked case of the jitters.
After all, there are movie stars, and then there are the icons we imprint on as children, and those people always remain incredibly impressive to us as we get older. I've met a lot of Hollywood talent, both in front of the camera and behind, and there are very few people who have ever made me as nervous as this interview did. When I walked in the room, whatever I intended to ask her disappeared completely from my head, and it turned into an episode of "The Chris Farley Show."
I have no idea what we discussed. It literally passed as a blur. When I walked out of the room, the fine folks from Universal were laughing at how big my smile was during the interview. I'm not going to watch this until I publish it because if I'm beaming as much as I think I am, my first inclination would be to censor the footage permanently.