Joe Wright is turning out to be one of those guys.
By that, I mean he is a filmmaker who seems determined not to be pinned down, not to be defined by what he's done before, and whose technical ability is so innate that he can do pretty much whatever he sets his mind to, and he seems to do it well.
When you look at "Pride and Prejudice," that is not a film that immediately suggests that you hire the director for an action movie. My issues with that film are about the material itself and my own familiarity with it and weariness from seeing repeated adaptations of it. Wright's work was impeccable, and he displayed a real sensitivity with his cast as well as a great sense of how to stage large-scale scenes with invisible ease.
"Atonement" was, in my opinion, a big jump forward for Wright, and again, I was impressed by the way he was obviously demonstrating these unbelievable skills as a filmmaker, but in ways that were about the storytelling. It's a complicated film, based on what should be sort of unadaptable source material, and it really suggested to me that Wright is a guy who is going to be doing this, and doing this well, 50 years from now.
And if "Hanna" is any indication, things are about to get exciting.
Joe Wright is turning out to be one of those guys.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I was hoping to get an early start on this today after stepping out for a little quick wrap-things-up Christmas shopping. Ha. I repeat. HA. I'm sure that none of the fine, smart, handsome people reading this blog right now were out there making it so miserable today, so allow me to say that every single person I dealt with or waited behind out there this morning is dangerously insane and should be dealt with immediately. It's rain. It's not a Biblical plague from the sky.
There's a ton of great stuff out there this morning, far more than I'll be able to get to in one column. Maybe I should just devote myself to a full week of Morning Reads so I can share all of this good stuff. Hmmm… let me think about that while we run through today's links.
Here's where we are in Hollywood these days, as we wind down 2010 and look ahead to 2011: two directors with actual professional credits are battling over who gets the privilege of directing a movie based on the Ouija board. I am baffled by this project on a molecular level. Platinum Dunes has been careful to state that this is not a horror film, but is instead a big adventure movie that already has a release date. I met Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz at the "TRON" event Disney threw on the lot a month and a half ago, and they seemed like good guys, genuine old-school nerds, and they wrote a whole bunch of "Lost" episodes I liked. I certainly wouldn't dismiss "Ouija" because they wrote it, even if I think the weakest element of "TRON: Legacy" is their script. More than any one person's involvement, I'm just puzzled by the thinking behind the project in general. I'd love to hear from McG and Breck Eisner to hear what it is that makes them both want to make this film. I can't wait to hear the cast at the press junket talk sincerely about how they are big fans of the Ouija board from when they were kids. If someone can say with a straight face how they really wanted to "get back to the origins of the Ouija board," I will give them a crisp new dollar. Overall, it just sounds like one of the weirdest marketing-driven projects in recent Hollywood history.
Boy, I'm glad I waited to write my top ten list until I'd seen this one. Can you imagine how embarrassed I would have been having to change it?
Oh, wait, I mean worst of list. That's right.
Wow. "Little Fockers" is just discouraging. I would imagine there is no one involved who feels genuinely good about the outcome. It's so dead, so calculated, so forced. It is a startlingly gross and dirty film considering it is ostensibly about the kids this time around, and it is a PG-13. Doesn't matter. They didn't make this for families at all. Or if they did, they made it for families who already hate each other and don't mind inflicting pain on one another in a movie theater.
Here's the moment where the film came close to just breaking my spirit: Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel end up face to face at one point. Yes, that's right. Harvey Keitel is in this for about nine minutes, and it makes no sense why they hired him unless it was just so they could say they had put him face to face with De Niro. It's hardly a selling point. The two of them just stand there and look at each other like, "Hey, I get it… I'm here for the check, too… but you remember when this meant something?"
"We are, each of us, the product of an era." - George, "10"
Born in 1922. That's amazing to me. And Blake Edwards absolutely was a product of an era… of several of them… as well as one of the influences that turned out so many other people who are products of time spent with his amazing body of work.
I did not write something immediately about the death of Blake Edwards because of just how much the life of Blake Edwards meant to me. You can't really say "gone too soon" about someone who was born in 1922 and who left behind some of the great screen comedy of all time, but that doesn't change the impact I felt when I woke up to an e-mail from Dan Fienberg informing me that Blake had passed away.
We all have filmmakers we feel a special affinity for, and in the case of Blake Edwards, I have always felt somewhat alone in my love for his work. I am frequently amazed at how dismissive people are towards big chunks of his work, and in particular, how much disrespect there is for the "Pink Panther" series with Peter Sellers. I have said it many times in print before and I would feel remiss if I did not take the occasion of his passing to once again state just how great Edwards was. He had a phenomenal sense of composition, and if you've only seen his comedies on TV, panned and scanned, you have done him a great disservice.
I'm willing to bet, although there's no way to prove it, that if "How Do You Know" was written by anyone other than James L. Brooks, Sony would have had no reason to greenlight it. There's nothing about the story, as told, that feels fully formed to me. Since Brooks is who he is, there are moments in the film that are well-written, well-played, and there are ideas that work.
I've read the first draft of this film, and now having seen what Brooks did with it in the shooting, cutting, and reshooting of it, I think it feels like a rough draft that doesn't follow through on the things it lays out. It's a near-movie. It absolutely feels like it's the work of James L. Brooks, but muted, too relaxed to ever quite work.
"How Do You Know" tells the story of two people who find themselves at crisis points in their lives. Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a professional softball player who has reached the point, at 31, where being good as what you do or even great at it isn't enough. She's just plain too old to keep her spot on the team, and that leaves her in a sort of free fall as she tries to decide who she is after her life in the game. George (Paul Rudd) is a guy who works for his father running a major company of some deliberately vague nature. He's the target of a federal investigation, although he's sure he didn't do anything illegal, and his father Charles (Jack Nicholson) seems somehow involved from the moment the trouble begins. Because of these circumstances, and because of the way they both feel adrift and suddenly unsure of their futures, they would seem to be perfect for each other.
I am not afraid to admit that I am excited.
I find that I get seriously hyped up for fewer and fewer films as I get older, and some of that is a reaction to the way the business works these days, and some of that is a desire to be surprised. Whatever the case, I remember when I was younger, and the mere mention of a film in development was enough to get me seriously hyperactive for days, talking about it, thinking about it, imagining what it might be.
I find so much of what studios consider "development" these days to be cynical, and that saddens me. It makes me wish I could unlearn what I know about the process sometimes, because it's hard to tune things out. And it's hard not to become transitively cynical when they announce that they're going to film something you love, particularly when you're not sure that the thing can be filmed in the first place.
I don't often fly this particular freak flag, but if you could call me a fanboy for anything, you could call me a fanboy for the work of Stephen King. These days, I'd say it's settled into a general appreciation for the man's continued skills and for the massive shadow he has cast over the industry as a whole, and I don't find myself compelled to rush out and buy each new book the second it comes out. There was a time, though, when I absolutely felt that way, and I'd say that era came to a close when King finally wrapped up his sprawling, messy, remarkable Dark Tower series.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Sorry about that. Things get crazy around Butt-Numb-A-Thon time every year. There's a gravity the event casts that is bigger than just those two days, and sure enough, about three Morning Reads fell right into it. We're back today, though, and here through the holidays, so you'll have plenty of presents under the tree to unwrap here at HitFix.
I've also been working on locking down my top ten list for this year, and you'll see that here on the site next week in a format that's a little different from anything I've ever done with the end-of-the-year stuff. It's been a great year of movies, and I'm thrilled to be publishing what looks to me like an unreasonably strong final list.
I'm feeling good today. We've crossed the mark where, finally, there is less than a month till my family gets home from this preposterously long vacation of theirs. Sure, I leave for Sundance three or four days after they get home, but still, I'm going to actually have them here again, and I couldn't be happier about that. I expect that every day I get closer to their return, my mood will get that much better, to the point where I'll be in full-on Gene Kelly tap-dancing mode on the morning I pick them up at LAX.
Today, we are going to see the premiere of not one but two new trailers for "Paul."
What, you may ask, is "Paul"? Well, chances are if you're a regular reader of the blog, you are already well aware of this Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy, and you probably know that Greg Mottola directed it and Seth Rogen is contributing the voice of the titular alien, an all CG character in the film.
The general moviegoer, though, still has no idea what or who "Paul" is, so this is the week all of that starts to change. Today, the UK version of the trailer is live right now, and we'll see the US trailer premiere online in just a little while.
Mottola suggested on Twitter that there are differences between them ("The UK one is IN COLOUR!"), but we'll have to compare to see what they are.
Simon Pegg was also busy on Twitter making sure to let people know the moment it went live, and he sounded like he's excited but nervous ("*Tucks balls away*. It's time."), as I imagine anyone would be when finally kicking off the campaign for something they're so personally invested in.
Bruce Boxleitner is, of course, Tron.
And as much as I'm glad they've got Jeff Bridges back for the new film, I think it's equally important to a "TRON" film that you bring Tron back and deal with both him and with Alan, his user-equivalent in the real world.
One of the most compelling ideas in the original "TRON" was the relationship between Users and the Programs that they write. The notion that your personality was embedded deep in the work you did is an honest reflection of the relationship that programmers have with their work, or that artists have with theirs, or that anyone who creates something has with the thing that they create. I miss that in the new movie. I think they've lost that particular dynamic because of the ways they refigured the world of the Grid. That's fine… that's a choice they're free to make. I just think the original movie did a better job of reflecting the ideas that obviously mattered to Lisberger when he created the project.
Sitting down with James Frain and Bruce Boxleitner was an opportunity to speak to both a pure Program and one of the guys who ties the entire franchise together. Frain plays Jarvis, a sort of manservant henchman for Clu, the digital bully version of Jeff Bridges. He's a weirdo, too, which certainly makes him stand out in the film.
It's funny that I still sort of think of Patrick Lussier as a "new" filmmaker.
He's not, of course, by any means. He got his start working as an assistant editor in the '80s working on TV, and then moved up to cutting shows like "MacGyver" before hooking up with Wes Craven on "Nightmare Cafe," which led to him cutting "New Nightmare," Craven's attempt at redefining his own Freddy Kruger. Lussier worked on some troubled films over the years, and must have amazing battle stories from "Mimic" and "Vampires In Brooklyn" and "Halloween H20" and especially "Cursed." His time working at Dimension and Miramax in particular put him in the right place at the right time when certain opportunities came up, and he ended up directing films like "The Prophecy 3" and "Dracula 2000" plus two direct-to-video sequels to it, as well as the sequel to "White Noise." Those are all movies that were part of a pipeline, and hardly reflections of who Lussier is as a filmmaker.
Todd Farmer wrote the more-intentionally-outrageous-than-I-expected "Jason X," and then worked for a while as a studio assignment writer, a gig that can be very frustrating. You can spend years working on things that never end up onscreen or that don't really resemble anything you wrote by the time they make it to the screen. Somehow, the two of them crossed paths, and the first result was "My Bloody Valentine," their very loose remake of an '80s slasher film. That film is very self-aware genre fun with a cast that knows exactly what movie they're in and that seemed to enjoy tweaking the slasher conventions with glee. It's not some genre-defining triumph, but it was fun, and that's something people frequently forget when working in a certain kind of popcorn horror.