Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
A new ongoing series in which the films that 'SNL' spawned are revisited
[For an explanation of this new ongoing column series, read last week's entry.]
When I tore open an envelope that was delivered to the house earlier this week and a found a copy of the Harold Ramis film "Caddyshack" on Blu-ray, I knew right away I'd found the perfect movie to watch on my birthday. This is one of those comfort food movies for me, something I've seen dozens of times over the years. I'm fairly sure I could recite the entire film if I really put my mind to it. Hell, there's a dancing gopher here in my office that makes me smile every day.
So what is it about this 30 year old film that I return to again and again?
The first job I ever had was as a caddy, but that's not why I fell in love with the movie. It's the exact opposite, actually. It was because of the influence of "Caddyshack" that the 14-year-old me went to the Honors Course outside Chattanooga, Tennessee looking for work. It more than lived up to expectations, too, and I've got stories from that job that were every bit as manic and wild as anything in the movie.
One of the main comedy formulas of the late '70s/early '80s was the "snobs against the slobs" story, and a big part of that was because of the outrageous success of "National Lampoon's Animal House." Studios and indie producers alike rushed to duplicate that movie's chemistry. In some cases, they just borrowed the general idea and changed the location, like "'Animal House' at summer camp" ("Meatballs") or "'Animal House' in the Army" ("Stripes"), but in a few cases, the studios reached out to the people behind the sucess of "Animal House" directly. Harold Ramis and Doug Kenney were two of the writers on that film, friends from the National Lampoon, and after "Animal House" blew up, they formed a production company together.
A look back at one wild man's dangerous legacy
There will never be another Dennis Hopper.
It's actually sort of amazing there ever was a Dennis Hopper in the first place. We work in an industry that loves the image of the rebel, but that rarely rewards the real deal. It's fine to play a part where you're a hard-nosed badass who breaks all the rules, but if that's how you are when dealing with studio heads or money people, you really don't have much of a career.
Hopper started his career in the movies as a character actor in the '50s. It's strange to see a young and pretty Hopper in movies like "Rebel Without A Cause" or "Gunfight At The OK Corral," or in any of his dozens of TV appearances on shows like "Wagon Train" or "The Rifleman" or "The Twilight Zone." Hopper became an icon when he stepped outside the studio system to direct and co-star in a movie he co-wrote with Peter Fonda, a movie that turned both of them into counterculture heroes. "Easy Rider" is, in many ways, the movie that best sums up the social tensions of the late '60s, and there's something about the movie that feels bigger than just the story it tells. It wasn't just an important film socially... it was an atomic bomb set off in the middle of an industry that had grown stagnant and bloated, and the independent film industry that we've enjoyed for the last 40 years or more is due in no small part to the success of "Easy Rider."
This isn't the sort of thing this reviewer likes... or is it?
I've still got a ton of Blu-ray and DVD reviews to catch up on. Don't think I've forgotten. And there's one title in particular that I have gotten a ton of e-mail about since it hit shelves, and I figure it's time to finally go ahead and deal with it head-on.
It doesn't surprise me at all that "Glee" is compulsively watchable TV. "Popular" was far funnier and far smarter than it had to be for the type of high school show that it was, and "Nip/Tuck" was incredibly entertaining trash for the first few years it was on. Ryan Murphy is the common link between the three shows, and "Glee" seems like the perfect expression of all the skill sets that he's been developing from show to show. "Glee" is unapologetically one of the gayest shows on network TV right now, frequently leaping into high camp with no hesitation, and part of what makes the show so immediately appealing to its fans is the unapologetic nature of the characters. It is always difficult to figure out exactly who you are and the best ways to express that, and it is never more difficult than during high school. That's a pressure cooker version of who you are, and if you make it through high school with some shredded dignity intact, you are truly an impressive human being.
Will there be room in Hollywood for this comedy troupe?
Having said that, the highlight of last week for me was sitting down to catch up with the guys at DERRICK Comedy.
To be accurate, I got together with three of the guys who make up DERRICK. Dan Eckman is the director of "Mystery Team," the feature film by the group that I first reviewed at Sundance 2009. Dominic Dierkes and D.C. Pierson are two-thirds of the on-screen Mystery Team, starring as Charlie and Duncan. In the year since I reviewed the film, we've followed the distribution trials and tribulations (literally in both cases) that have marked the film's theatrical life. I'll say this for them... and it's something you can't really see in the theatrical numbers they did... they worked their asses off. They toured. They worked. They went to screenings. They promoted. They did live comedy. They played crazy games with the crowds that came out. They carried their film around the country and they damn near handed out the tickets and set up the seats for the audience. That's how involved they were in getting the word out.
Roadside Attractions was the distributor for the film, and I've always said that they had taste. They were originally a production company, and the very, very good "Lovely & Amazing" was one of their early movies. "Super Size Me" was them kicking into distributor mode, and they did well with it. They've released some very good films like last year's "The Cove" or "The Puffy Chair" or "The Fall," but even with truly amazing films, they've never really broken through and turned something into a hit. It isn't enough just to pick up good movies for distribution... you also have to convince the ticket-buying public that those films are worth seeing.
Are audiences really hungry for more of either of these?
At what point do you gracefully walk away from a franchise? Is it even possible anymore?
I hate the current creative climate in Hollywood. Even though I saw a sequel tonight that is as good or better than any original film I've seen this year, I know that's the exception and not the rule. For the most part, we are trapped in a staggering rut that I can barely bring myself to write about again. I'm tired of beating this particular drum, and yet the news each day almost feels like a dare. "Can you write this story up without yelling about the death of mainstream Hollywood one more time?"
Nickelodeon purchased the rights to the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles license last year. They own it all now, and it really shouldn't be a surprise that they're planning a new attempt at turning the characters into a viable bigscreen film franchise. What is surprising is that Paramount and Nickelodeon have chosen Platinum Dunes as the producers of the new film.
These guys have built a reputation for themselves with their horror movie remakes, and while some of their recently-announced development deals suggest some sort of shift away from that particular model, it's still a pretty major jump to suddenly hand them a huge kid's film property, especially one that's as well-known as this. Considering how miserable fans typically are after their favorite horror title gets the Platinum Dunes treatment, it seems dangerous for Nickelodeon to hand over this property to this particular production team. I don't think there are many reboots left in the material, so whatever they do this time, they need to get it right.
Studio sets release dates and confirms development on a handful of projects
Warner Bros is, in my opinion, the model of what a modern movie studio can be.
That doesn't mean I think every one of their films is a classic or that every decision they make is perfect. I just mean that they manage their assets as well as any company could, and in the process, they actually seem to support filmmakers in taking risks sometimes.
Running a studio has very little to do with the love of movies, and that makes film fans absolutely mental sometimes. Deservedly. I find decision-making infuriating sometimes from a creative point-of-view, but taken simply as numbers in a ledger, some of those choices end up making a lot more sense. What's great is when the artistic and the financial occasionally collide.
I'm not remotely surprised to hear that they've set a release date for "Sherlock Holmes 2." As recently as a month ago, Jude Law was denying that the sequel was going to happen, but now there's a release date of December 16, 2011 set for the film, something that was announced at a presentation this morning in New York by Warner chairman and CEO Barry Meyer.
If I were a Warner Bros. stockholder, I'd be pretty excited about the information Meyer gave to them today according to an article in the Hollywood Reporter. In addition to confirming the "Sherlock Holmes 2" date, he talked about the end of the biggest franchise in Warner Bros. history, the "Harry Potter" films. It now seems that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II" will hit theaters in 3D on July 15 on 2011, wrapping up a franchise that's going to end up being worth somewhere around $7.5 billion worldwide.
See the latest from Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Josh Brolin, Megan Fox and more
It's been a busy week for new trailers.
So busy, in fact, that I haven't had a chance to catch up with all the new trailers that are bouncing around the interwebs until this morning. It's a strange blend of stuff, big studio movies and tiny indies, long-delayed troubled projects alongside big mechanical release-date-fodder, horror and comedy and action all represented.
I have a theory that "Jonah Hex" is going to sneak up on people as a commercial force this summer, and for reasons that have little or nothing to do with "Jonah Hex" itself. The other day, when I went to G4 to make an appearance to discuss "Lost," I was in the green room before going on, talking to an eclectic group of people that included me, Devin Faraci, some of the producers of the show, Kevin Pereira, and one of the guys from "Chuck," and we all ended up talking about "Red Dead Redemption," the latest game from Rock Star Studios. If you haven't seen or played it, the game is basically "Grand Theft Leone." It's a sprawling sandbox Western game, and heaps of fun. It is, in the opinion of this casual gamer, an immersive and somewhat amazing experience, and for a lot of kids who don't see many Westerns, it's got to be a bit of a crash course in the joys of this particular genre.
"Jonah Hex" has elements of the supernatural in it, which gives it a slight edge and makes it different than your standard Western. Like "Red Dead Redemption," it's set towards the end of the Western age, and there are modern mechanics involved in both the evil plan of Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich) and the arsenal that Hex uses to fight him. It's a movie that straddles a few different genres, and we'll see if they can pull them all together into a satisfying whole. For now, here's the second trailer for the film which just premiered on IGN:
Is going through the motions enough?
I don't mean to sound like a grumpy jerk this year. I swear to god I like movies. In fact, I like many movies, and I like them often.
So why is Hollywood disappointing me so regularly this year?
Maybe I've just reached a saturation point. After all, "Prince Of Persia" is technically well-produced, and Jake Gyllenhaal makes a perfectly amiable lead as Prince Dastan, a street urchin who was adopted into the royal family of Persia after the King saw a demonstration of his courage as a child. Gemma Arterton certainly plays the eye candy role with all the "oh, I'm so sassy" energy that is required of her. Ben Kingsley skulks about looking all skulky, which is what he was hired to do. Alfred Molina satisfies the "colorful supporting comedy role" requirement with all the skill you'd expect. John Seale's photography is lush and colorful, and the FX are top-notch, as is the stunt work which does a nice job of actually suggesting the physicality of the game.
So what's missing? Why is it that at the end of the film, I walked away feeling like I just saw a big trailer with no movie attached? Why, when all the elements are in place, does "Prince Of Persia" feel like a big fat miss?
Get a sneak peek at the new film from the director of 'Amelie'
I've got a real fondness for directors who have a voice, even if I don't always love the films they make.
I think it's because the longer I spend writing about films and mainlining everything from around the world, the more I realize just how hard it is for a director to exercise the absolute stylistic control it takes to make a movie that's got the precise, crystal-clear voice of something like "Amelie" or "City Of Lost Children" or "Micmacs". Even when Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes a film that is less than personal like "Alien Resurrection," his signature is all over the movie, and you realize just how strong a stamp he leaves on the material he touches.
I reviewed the movie when I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and then I saw it again at last year's BNAT in Austin. Both times, what came through most clearly while watching the film was the purity of Jeunet's vision, the way he has once again built one of his crazy mousetraps filled with unforgettable eccentrics.
When Sony asked if we wanted to premiere an exclusive clip, I thought the chance to throw a little support behind this filmmaker whose work I've always enjoyed so much. But when we saw the beginning of the clip, it was a nice added "WOW" that we didn't expect.
Plus director Edgar Wright discusses his vision for the film
When you're on the set for "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" directed by Edgar Wright, there are a few priorities. You want to see fighting. You want to talk to Edgar Wright. And, ideally, you want some time with Scott Pilgrim himself.
Thankfully, towards the end of a long day on-set, we did finally have some time to sit down with Edgar Wright, Jason Schwartzman, and Michael Cera together to talk to them about the sequence they were shooting, which you can see pictured just to the left of this text. This is the scene that the whole movie builds towards, the climactic fight between Scott (Cera) and Gideon (Schwartzman), the most Evil of all of Ramona's Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends.
The set was Gideon's club, a giant LCD-screen nightmare of blinking lights and weird pyramids. At first, we just had Edgar, who told us as he joined us that he never ever sits in his own canvass-backed director's chair, the one with his name on it, as a matter of superstition. We asked him first about directing something so much larger than anything else he's made so far, and how he was pacing himself through the epic production.
"There are lots of espressos basically. I think I reached my espresso limit." He talked about how he hits a wall on every film, "It’s like when you work so hard you just can’t function anymore and you have sort of a mini meltdown. And this has happened like twice already, so that I take as a yardstick of how long I’m shooting and how hard I’m working. I’ve had two sets of mini espresso-based meltdowns on this film."