Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
In looking back, have they laid the groundwork for their future?
Prince Naveen and Tiana share a magical kiss in the moment that changes everything in Disney's latest animated film, 'The Princess and the Frog'
Credit: Walt Disney Company
There's a lot of pressure on this film and on the filmmakers, and under the circumstances, I'm amazed that the film works at all. After all, how would you feel if the Walt Disney Company asked you to not only bring back the 2D hand-animation that the company was built on, but also to try to recapture the lightning in a bottle that made the early '90s run of hits so explosive for the studio?
That's no small order, and yet somehow, "The Princess And The Frog" makes it all look easy. Family audiences in New York and Los Angeles are in for a treat over the long holiday weekend, and once the film goes wide, I expect Disney's going to celebrate the Christmas season with a whole lot of green.
Toshi and I went to the Disney lot in Burbank last week to see the film, and afterwards, Disney rolled out the full experience that ticket buyers will have if they go see the film during its limited flagship runs starting today. After the film, all of the families who were there were led to a soundstage where there were actors dressed as all of the Disney princesses, as well as games, a play area, and a number of displays designed to emphasize the filmmaking process.
It's no surprise that they'd throw such an elaborate party for the film... most of the great early '90s runs at the El Capitan featured similar events themed around each release, and it takes the sting out of the extra ticket price that families pay if they want to see the movie right now. Toshi had an amazing time with it, and he was particularly taken with the film's bad guy, Dr. Facilier, also known as The Shadow Man, voiced by the great Keith David. I love it when Disney villains are actually scary for the young audiences, and The Shadow Man is a perfect example of that. David gives a spirited vocal performance in the role, and brings nuance to what could easily be a pedestrian one-note example of evil.
But will it cross over to a wider audience like 'Amelie'?
An eccentric family of misfits takes revenge on munitions dealers in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Micmacs,' a bizarre Gallic riff on Kurosawa's 'Yojimbo'
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
This was the verrrrrrrrry last thing I saw at the Toronto Film Festival this year, squeezed in against all odds on the morning I was leaving town, after staying up all night writing, watching movies, and hanging out with Cinematical's Scott Weinberg. I wasn't even technically supposed to be able to attend this particular type of screening because I didn't have a press badge. So it was a miracle I sat down in the theater at all.
The film is pretty much exactly what you hope a new film from Jeunet is going to be, unless you don't like his particular flavor of whimsy, in which case, "Micmacs" is pretty much exactly what you dread a new film from Jeunet is going to be.
I've been a fan of his work since "Delicatessen," and with "The City Of Lost Children," admiration turned into unbridled adoration. I still think that's one of the best things he's been associated with in any way. It's a gorgeous, crazy, broken-hearted fairy tale, and I love pretty much everything about it. "Alien Resurrection"? Not so much. My wife and I were still in the early days of our relationship when "Amelie" came out, and we both went nuts for it. I respect "A Very Long Engagement," but I don't think it's completely successful. Even so, I think I would have savored it a bit more if I knew it was going to be five years before he made another movie.
Plus 'The Sopranos' on BluRay and crazy Dennis Hopper Ozploitation
Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, and Seth Rogen all star in Judd Apatow's 'Funny People,' which arrives on DVD and BluRay today
Credit: Universal Home Video
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for November 24, 2009.
Black Friday is this week, and the shelves are as full as they're going to get right now. The studios really dumped most of their big-ticket merchandise onto shelves over the past few weeks, and this week, it's just a last few things being released as consumers hopefully hit the stores and go crazy.
As the industry debates internally about whether physical media is finished, it's worth asking the question: what, if anything, are you planning to pick up either for yourself or for loved ones this season? Anything? Everything? I'm interested in what you guys have to say about it.
Right now, let's jump in and look at this week's titles of note:
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"Funny People" (BluRay/DVD)
Judd Apatow's latest is perhaps more uneven and harder to get a handle on than his earlier films "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," but the ambition of it is part of what I love. It's a big, sprawling, messy story about a guy who isn't very nice and learns nothing from a tough situation. Talk about cashing in your commercial credibility on something difficult. Apatow decided to cast his buddy Adam Sandler in a film that pretty much defies every commercial impulse that Adam Sandler's films typically follow, and that actually mocks those films at the same time. Seth Rogen, Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, and Eric Bana all provide excellent support for Sandler's lead, but once again, it's Leslie Mann who sort of dominates, giving a performance that is edgy and alive, and which proves that this is one Hollywood power couple where both halves are equally strong. My original review for the film can be read here. If you've picked up any of Apatow's earlier films on DVD or BluRay, you know what to expect here. It's packed with features, although I am disappointed they didn't throw in an extra disc and just put out the entire live event, "An Evening With Funny People." Bummer, guys.
We compare abs with Rain and he compares himself to Bruce Lee
Rain, the star of this weekend's 'Ninja Assassin,' sat down with our reporter to try and pick up a few fitness tips
Credit: Warner Bros.
Last Friday, I had a busy day away from the house, filled with all sorts of interesting things. For example, I finally tracked down and ate at the Grilled Cheese Truck here in LA, which was parked in Hollywood for lunch. It was every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be, and if you ever see them, stop and try the mac-and-cheese and pulled-pork-BBQ grilled cheese sandwich. It is just plain crazy.
I also went to one of the various studio lots here in town and saw one of the various Christmas movies that is coming out soon, although I'm sworn to silence on that for about another week. What I can share with you is the way the morning started, in the Hollywood Hills, perched above the Magic Castle at the Yamashiro Restaurant.
Warner Bros. took over the patio of the restaurant for the TV press day for "Ninja Assassin," and I dropped by to talk to the film's star, Korean pop idol Rain, as well as the director of the movie, James McTeigue. The two of them together were in a great mood, chatting and cracking jokes between interviews, and by the time I sat down across from them, they were on a roll, ready to talk, and the resulting conversation was good fun.
I am particularly impressed by the sheer bravado Rain exhibits when I ask him about being compared to Bruce Lee if he ends up making that "Enter The Dragon" remake that is so heavily rumored. Without a moment's hesitation, Rain offers up his opinion of just how he stacks up to the martial arts legend, and you've got to love somebody who is this confident, this willing to commit hubris with a smile.
Someone tell the police that John Travolta and Robin Williams just pulled a hate crime
This gorilla is about to do to Seth Green what 'Old Dogs' is going to do to audiences this weekend, and it ain't gonna be pretty
Credit: Walt Disney Company
If "Old Dogs" were a person, I would stab it in the face.
Millions of years from now, after Western Civilization has fallen and the Earth has ruptured and cooled and been reborn and a new life form has taken over the planet, if any of them happen to stumble upon a working DVD player and a copy of "Old Dogs," they will sum up the passing of our culture with two simple words: "Good riddance."
It is rare that I hate a film with the feverish intensity that I feel towards this one, but it hit pretty much every single button for me, and by halfway through, I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. What I thought was going to be a mediocre family-themed comedy instead struck me as one of the most singularly vile experiences I've had in a theater all year. To give you an idea how wretched the film is, if you take the worst Robin Williams film, multiply it by the worst John Travolta film, and then multiply that by "Wild Hogs," the last film from director Walt Becker, you would still end up with something better than this.
"Old Dogs" is the story of two ostensible adult human beings who, confronted with spending 14 days in the presence of twin seven-year-olds, promptly go insane and begin acting in a manner which would land any person in the real world in jail or the morgue. Deservedly. Nothing in this film resembles any recognizable behavior of any actual person ever. At one point, Bernie Mac shows up as a puppeteer who literally wires Robin Williams up with a magical bio-rig that transforms him into... and I quote... a "human puppet" who is controlled via remote by John Travolta so that Williams can have a tea party with his daughter. And although I was sliding in and out of consciousness by this point, numb from the horror, I'm almost positive a Motown song plays over the resulting montage.
And that is not the worst scene in the film.
There's some meat on the bones, but not enough to nourish
Kodi-Smit McPhee and Viggo Mortensen play father and son at the end of the world in 'The Road,' John Hillcoat's adaptation of the acclaimed Cormac McCarthy novel
Credit: The Weinstein Company
Cormac McCarthy is not an easy author to adapt from page to screen.
Each of his books seems to pose a different challenge to screenwriters and directors, too, and so there's no one answer for how to crack the problem of bringing his books to the bigscreen. I think the Coens did a tremendous job with "No Country For Old Men," and there are parts of "All The Pretty Horses" that work very well, even if the film as a whole is sort of a heavily-manhandled mess as it was released.
"The Road" was a very different type of challenge, and it's one that I'm not sure John Hillcoat mastered. He makes a valiant attempt, but the ways the film frustrated me as a viewer suggest that the job just plain got away from him, and as an end result, I think the film is muted, half-hearted, and dissatisfying, and one of the year's big heartbreaks, all things considered.
There is, after all, a long and healthy tradition of post-apocalyptic cinema, some of it trashy, some of it more serious-minded, and there are certainly classics in the genre that are hard to beat. For "The Road" to stand apart from what's come before, it needed to find a particular angle on the material that we haven't seen before, or contribute something new to the language of how the ruined world might be portrayed on film. The dirty secret of McCarthy's justly-acclaimed novel is that the appeal does not lie in the story being told, but in how that story is told. It's not what happens... it's the way McCarthy tells it. "The Road" is all about language, about the evocative nature of how McCarthy paints his picture, and the spare emotional detail. It's a powerhouse of a book, but it's not especially a powerhouse of a story.
Plus what makes a film profitable? 'Dock Ellis' and Edward Woodward
More and more key art for James Cameron's 'Avatar' is showing up online, including an international one-sheet that features this image
Credit: 20th Century Fox
Welcome to The Morning Read.
'Tis the season. Oscar-hopeful films are starting to screen heavily, and at this point, almost everything's been seen by someone. In the last few days, I've seen "Nine," and I've got several films lined up this week that aren't coming out until the end of December. It seems like the last of these films that's going to screen for anyone is "Avatar," which makes sense. They're still putting all the last minute technical touches on the film, and I'm sure the first time Cameron screens it for press, he wants it to be 100% finished so that they get the full intended experience.
He is, after all, HMFIC.
If you don't know what that means, then you probably didn't see the piece that "60 Minutes" ran last night about "Avatar" and Cameron. And why would Cameron sit down with a news magazine show that pretty much no one under a certain age watches anymore? Ten minutes after the show ended, there was a message on my answering machine from my 60+ year old mother, telling me to tune in and check it out. "Avatar" was already on her radar because she reads my work, but if it wasn't, that would have done the trick.
Right now, the most important thing for 20th Century Fox is getting the word out to every single demographic, every single niche audience, and every single potential ticket buyer. They don't just want you to see "Avatar" on December 18th. They NEED for you to see "Avatar." And not just once, either. They're hoping that they will get you on the hook for repeat viewings. Over and over.
Werner Herzog and Nic Cage have indecent fun while being bad
Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes in one of the rare quiet moments from Werner Herzog's wackadoo update 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'
Credit: First Look Studios
It's been a while since I've proudly identified myself as a Nicolas Cage fan.
But I'm saying it here, and I'm saying it's because of all the years in the wilderness, not in spite of it.
I've been there from the start. 13-year-old me saw "Valley Girl" in the theater. Twice, courtesy the movie theater usher older brother of a friend. 14-year-old-me took two different girls to see "Racing With The Moon" when it played, and both times, I got to touch a boob as a direct result of the movie, which automatically made it better-than-almost-any-other-movie-EVER.
Cage was a guy who was part of a young group of actors who I looked up to, who felt like the first people from my generation to break through in movies in any way. When I saw "Birdy" in 1984, the same year "Racing With The Moon" and "The Cotton Club" came out, I flipped. I got evangelical about that film for a while. LOVED it. In two short years, Cage had been in three films I considered significant plus a handful of others, so when he sort of disappeared for a few years, it was confounding.
Then came the one-two punch that made me rank Cage as perhaps the most eccentric and hilarious actor of his peer group, "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Raising Arizona." 1986 and 1987. And as far as I was concerned, that was it. Cage was amazing, fearless, insane, inventive and always worth watching.
So of course nobody knew what to do with him.
Yes, it's familiar material, but done oh-so-well
Jae Head, Quinton Aaron, and Sandra Bullock all enjoy story time in a scene from 'The Blind Side'
Credit: Warner Bros.
I've offered up a few bits of coverage of this film this week, including a talk with the director, John Lee Hancock, and an interview with Leigh Anne Touhy, the woman whose real life inspired the film in the first place. If you've read those interviews, then you might have picked up by now that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed "The Blind Side."
Based on a book by Michael Lewis, "The Blind Side" tells the story of Michael Oher, who is now a left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, but who started life as a kid with pretty much everything stacked against him. The film is ostensibly a sports drama, but it violates a lot of the "rules" of the genre, to good effect. Instead of having everything hinge on the games we watch, Hancock keeps the focus squarely on the people and their story, and the result is affecting. Simple, direct, but affecting.
Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) was a kid growing up in the worst parts of Memphis when he managed to get enrolled in a private school, where he ended up in class with the kids of Sean Touhy (Tim McGraw) and his wife Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock). When Leigh Anne realized Michael was essentially homeless, taking care of himself, she reached out and offered him a place to stay. What started as a temporary act of kindness ended up changing their family when the Touhys slowly came to think of Michael as their son. Due to his enormous size, Michael was identified early on as a possible football player, and it was only once Leigh Anne helped him realize what special skills he brought to the game that he unlocked his potential and became a star, eventually winning a chance at college and a life he never would have had without the Touhys.
Did returning to China turn him back into a great filmmaker?
You want epic? This is John Woo's idea of a small intimate moment in the absurdly large-scale 'Red Cliff,' playing in limited release and available in VOD
Credit: Magnet Releasing
Meeting John Woo is one of those things I can now knock off of my personal checklist, and I'm pleased to report he was delightful and very warm and personable.
I'm also pleased to report that "Red Cliff," his latest film, is a giant epic slice of John Woo battle sequences, duplicity among men, and slow-motion that is perfectly utilized. In other words, this is a real John Woo film, not that weak sauce Hollywood kept trying to get him to make.
It's disconcerting that the version we're seeing here in the United States is literally half of the movie he meant for it to be. Released in China as two movies totally five hours, "Red Cliff" has been turned into one two-and-a-half-hour movie for release here. I almost don't think I can offer a review of the film until I've seen the two-part version, because while I enjoyed what I saw, it's blatantly obvious that it is a heavily trimmed version of something.
In the brief time we had together, I asked Woo about returning to China to make movies and bringing these big Hollywood techniques to an industry that's used to doing things in a very different way. I don't appear on camera in this brief interview, so you'll just hear Woo discussing the film, but I swear... I was in the room, basking in the glow of the dude who made "Hard Boiled":