What is the modern B-movie?
I ask because I don't think it means what it used to mean. There was a time when B-movies were the programmers, the lower-budget lower-expectations, and the subject matter was usually more lurid so that it could appeal to an audience without the benefit of big movie stars. The '70s blockbuster explosion was led by movies that were essentially bigger-budget B-movies. When you look at some of the giant movies of the era, they were films that would have been relegated to drive-ins if they'd been produced in slightly different manner. "It's the story of a giant shark that eats a bunch of people near a summer resort." "It's the story of a space farmer and a space pirate who team up with a space wizard to rescue a space princess." These are B-movies that became something else by virtue of how they were executed, and these days, it seems like most of the films that studios treat as giant tentpole movies are cut from that same cloth.
So what is a real B-movie today? Is it something like the dreck that The Asylum pumps out, no-budget versions of big-budget movies rushed into video stores to piggyback on a studio's marketing campaign? Is it the sort of fare that Magnet/Magnolia release using their multi-platform strategies? To be a true B-movie, shouldn't we be considering studio releases only? Because if that's true, you can discount the entire direct-to-video market. And if that's true, then something like "Skyline" would probably be the perfect model of what a B-movie is these days, and the film's problems are just as interesting as the things it gets right.
What is the modern B-movie?
Welcome to The Morning Read.
First, let me apologize for dropping Wednesday's column. I blame Jon Favreau, and I'll explain why on Monday. On an entirely-related note, I was at the AFI Fest closing night screening of "Black Swan" last night, and at the after-party at the Roosevelt, I ran into Matty Libatique, the cinematographer of "Black Swan," "Iron Man," "The Fountain," and the upcoming "Cowboys and Aliens". We've met a few times now, and he's one of my favorite guys in the business. He's so inventive, and so expressive, and such a key collaborator on the films he's shot. There is one moment in "Black Swan" that I can't describe without ruining the film for you, but it's a combination of performance and photography and an effect and the score, and it just tears me up. Both times I've seen it, I hold my breath watching it.
When I realized he was standing next to me at the bar, I said hello and we talked about that shot and the film in general for a moment. We also talked about the gorgeous Western fantasy work he's done for "Cowboys and Aliens," and the pleasures of shooting a face as great as Harrison Ford's. I love that he can shoot big commercial fare like "Iron Man" and "Cowboys And Aliens" and really give the films a rich, vibrant sheen that makes movie stars look legitimately superhuman, but he can also shoot films like "Black Swan" or "Requiem For A Dream," pure emulsion emotion. As he turned to another friend in line, he confirmed that he'll be joining Darren Aronofsky for "Wolverine 2," so there's one more reason for me to look forward to that movie. We spoke a little more about "Cowboys" and an early action set piece in the movie, and then parted ways. This weekend, I'll be speaking to both Aronofsky and Natalie Portman about the film, and we'll have those interviews for you soon.
A stark and somber trailer for next years alien invasion epic "Battle: Los Angeles" premiered in theaters before "Skyline" and has now been made available online. I'm going to join in chorus of others around the web that are singing it's praises, it looks amazing.
A mix between "War of the Worlds" and "Saving Private Ryan" with a touch of "Full Metal Jacket" the trailer uses slow motion shots of military action without any environmental sound, only a somber electronic score that builds but is cut short of its crescendo at the end, leaving you wanting more, as a teaser trailer should. Barely any aliens, but plenty of mayhem and closeups of the soldiers in the field.
One of the soldiers we see is Michelle Rodriguez, who plays an Air Force tech sergeant. We shot this interview in July at Comic Con, but due to it's brevity, my bad camerawork, (or unwillingness to bust some heads around me!) and the lack of context for what she's talking about, we never used it. Now that we can see what world her character is in, I figured I'd throw it in for fun.
The moment that has to work in any Narnia movie is the moment where the kids move from one world to the other.
After all, that's the thing that hooks you in the first place when you read the story for the first time. If you start with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the first time someone walks towards the back of the wardrobe and finds, instead of the back panel, a winter forest. It's a magic image, primal and evocative. It's an inviting fantasy moment, and one of the masterstrokes of the entire career of C.S. Lewis.
With this new trip back to Narnia, Michael Apted steps in as director. The franchise has shifted studios, too, with Walden now releasing the film through Fox. I keep forgetting there's actually a new Narnia movie out this Christmas, and that it stars my two favorite kids from the previous movies, now getting older and taking center stage.
In this clip, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are about to make their return to the magical land where they are royalty, and the clip gives you a sense of how Apted's style is going to adapt to the already-established look and feel of this particular franchise.
It seems like today would be an appropriate time to take a look at the amazing Blu-ray edition of the HBO series "The Pacific," which was released last week. A follow-up but not a direct sequel to the amazing 2001 series "Band Of Brothers," it's another 10-hour trip through a particular theater of engagement for WWII, following multiple characters based on real soldiers and their memoirs.
I didn't watch the series as it was airing, so for me, "The Pacific" was a three-day event, and although I would still say I preferred "Band Of Brothers," I found myself once again impressed by this scale of storytelling and by the way these true stories are spun into virtual history. These are amazing shows, and on a day like today, what something like "The Pacific" can do for an audience is personalize the unbelievable effort expended by each and every soldier who fought in WWII, and to drive home just how high the cost is when we send people to war. I love that Tom Hanks has taken his appetite for history and turned it into these high-gloss HBO series like "From Earth To The Moon." These are some of the most significant things he's been involved in, and I think they deserve special attention when talking about his career.
My father is a veteran, having served in Vietnam, and one of the things I've always tried to respect is that his time in the service is not something he wants to discuss in any detail. During the '80s, when Vietnam suddenly became a major part of the cinematic landscape, we went to see several of those films together, and even then, we never dug not my father's specific memories too deeply.
At this point, can we just run the same list of names for every project and call it the "exclusive wish list" and have that count as good reporting?
Word is that Christopher Nolan is about to start meeting actresses for two major roles in the new "Batman" film, one a villain and one a romantic interest. The list as it stands now is Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, and Keira Knightley. Or, to put it another way, the same basic group of talented A-list names that are considered for pretty much every big-budget movie with a female lead of a certain age.
Obvious speculation jumped immediately to Catwoman as the villain, but there's a problem with that. Nolan and Goyer have both said that the villains for this film would not be villains we've already seen in previous Batman films. Here's where this becomes a game… does Nolan mean that this villain hasn't appeared in any Batman film ever, or just not in one of his movies? Because one way, it could be Catwoman they're hiring, but put the other way, there's not a chance it's her.
So who would it be if not Catwoman? And do we really buy that Nolan's just going to add a "romantic interest" to the film? That doesn't really seem to fit the character as Nolan's written so far, unless that romance came directly out of the thematic demands of the movie.
One of the things that sidetracked me yesterday was some time spent with the always-engaging Jon Favreau, and in that entire time, the wily filmmaker never once mentioned his involvement in "The Magic Kingdom," which is being described as a "Night At The Museum" style adventure set in…. well, you get the idea. It's the ultimate idea in corporate synergy, and since anything in the park can theoretically appear in the film, it opens Disney up to using anything they want from any of their classics.
What he did mention, though, was the general idea that there's a specific game you have to play as a filmmaker these days if you want to work at a certain level and make movies with certain kinds of movie stars and work with certain kinds of effects. He talked about his reaction when he first heard the idea for "Pirates Of The Caribbean," the same reaction that so many people had. "Has it really come to this?" It was when he first heard that Johnny Depp had been cast that he started to believe that the film could be something more than a cheap cash grab.
I guess "Magic Kingdom" was inevitable. The success of the "A Night At The Museum" films is undeniable, no matter what I think of them as films, and it seems like there's an entire subgenre of fantasy films that has sprung up in the past few years, the "things coming to life" movies. To be fair, I don't think "A Night At The Museum" is where it began. "Jumanji" was an obvious early example of the idea, and the sequel to that film was "Zathura," directed by none other than Jon Favreau.
So hopefully I haven't screwed anyone who was waiting to see if they won before they bought their own copy of the Blu-ray for "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World." It took me a while to do this one because I had about 1100 entries to read.
I'll have one final bit of Scott Pilgrim-related material for you this week when I publish an interview I did with Edgar Wright. I can't believe this journey with this film has finally come to a close, and now all that anticipation and all that work is this wee thing I can put on my shelf. Since I started writing about films, this cycle has become more noticeable to me, and while it seems like it takes forever from when we first hear about films to when we actually see them, it's actually a blink of an eye, and the whole thing ends up as this artifact. That, more than anything, is why I don't want to see physical media eliminated. I love these physical reminders of the entire process, and I'd hate to see them go.
For now, here are five people who also get to expand their physical media libraries by at least one title, and their winning entries:
BAND NAME: Hey, You, In The Bushes
ALBUM NAME: I'm Not A Stalker, I Just Love You
"They're going to make a movie about me, you know."
We were about ten minutes into our drive from my hotel out to the location for the film "The Invention Of Lying," and I was talking to the driver, a local Teamster who had been sent to pick me up. One of the things I learned early on when traveling to film sets is that drivers often have the best stories about what's going on, and they're almost always willing to chat. In this case, the driver was telling me about the town of Lowell where I was staying, and as he told me about the city, he started telling me a bit about his brother, a local legend who had been a professional fighter. I asked him about his background working on movies, and he said he was just doing it for the first time. I asked what he did instead of driving. "I did a little bit of fighting as well." I asked him some more questions about his boxing history, and that's when he finally broke down and told me they were making a film about him. "About me and my brother."
And now, finally, that film is done, and my driver that morning, who introduced himself as Micky Ward, has been immortalized by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and David O. Russell.
It's safe to say that I am a David O. Russell fan. I've been onboard since the beginning. Well, okay, since "Spanking The Monkey," but I remember the impact of that one in the theater, the way it announced Russell as a guy who can navigate some really tricky tightropes of tone. When "Flirting With Disaster" came out in 1996, I went nuts for it. It felt like Russell made a comedy that absolutely summed up that moment, but that wasn't "about" the 1990s in an overt way. I'm a firm believer that 1999 was the best year I wrote about while working at Ain't It Cool, and one of the films I loved most that year was "Three Kings."
"21 Jump Street" was a very silly show.
Oh, I know they had their share of "very special" episodes, but the whole thing about undercover cops working the high school beat was ridiculous, and '80s TV in general was just plain crazy for the most part.
The first time Jonah Hill mentioned to me that he was going to work on a new movie version of the show, I thought he was crazy. But then he explained his take a bit, and then they hired Michael Bacall, the screenwriter for "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," and then Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who co-directed the very funny and better-than-it-should-be "Cloudy With The Chance of Meatballs," were hired to direct the film, and then I actually read a draft of the script, and, well…
… I think "21 Jump Street" might be sort of awesome.
Deadline is reporting tonight that Channing Tatum is in negotiations to be Jonah Hill's partner in the film. That means Hill will be playing Schmidt, and Tatum will play Jenko. In the opening of the draft I read, the two of them are working undercover together and get called out by the drug dealers they're trying to bust for being too young. They're miserable because of how youthful they look, and it screws up their work. Finally, their boss gives them one last chance, assigning them to the team working out of 21 Jump Street.