<p>Jim Henson, on set with Kermit the Frog, is one of those images that pushes every single nostalgia button I've got.</p>

Jim Henson, on set with Kermit the Frog, is one of those images that pushes every single nostalgia button I've got.

Credit: The Henson Company

20 years later: Jim Henson remembered

A look at his legacy and where his creations are today

Do you remember where you were when Jim Henson died?

It's a legitimate question for people my age, since Henson's influence on my generation is impossible to overstate.  It was twenty years ago last Sunday when the news broke that Jim Henson had died of pnuemonia, and I can say that in my case, it was one of the single most important events of my life.

Less than a month later, I was in a car, on my way to Los Angeles, ready to take my chances professionally as a writer and director.  Obviously I'd spend much of my life thinking about moving to LA in an abstract sense, but it was the realization that mortality didn't care if you were one of the most generous, good-hearted, positively influential people in the industry or not... when it's your time to go, it's your time to go.  If Jim Henson could drop dead unexpectedly, anyone could.  And more than anything, it was the idea that I would never have a professional experience that involved him that motivated me to get moving.  I guess some part of me always figured that I would find a way to work with or for Jim Henson.  It just seemed inevitable.

Looking back now, I mourn the hole that his passing left in the entertainment landscape of the last two decades.  We needed Jim Henson, even if we didn't totally realize it when he was alive and working.  Not just for his sense of humor or his dedication to education or even for his finely attuned moral compass, a genuine rarity in this industry.  No, we needed him because he was fiercely devoted to original storytelling, the creation of characters, and the way technology enabled storytellers to build new worlds and do things that seemed impossible.  He was a visionary, and he was ahead of most people in the rush to embrace digital tools both for post-production and for on-screen character work.  It's not just his films that we've lost in the last 20 years... it's the ripple effect that his work would have had, and that's where I think the entire industry has suffered for having lost him.

Why was Henson such an important figure in film and television and education?  And why did his death cause me to move 3000 miles?

Read Full Post
<p>Helene (Edith Scob) bids her family and a way of life adieu in the heartbreaking 'Summer Hours,' available now on DVD&nbsp;and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.</p>

Helene (Edith Scob) bids her family and a way of life adieu in the heartbreaking 'Summer Hours,' available now on DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

Credit: The Criterion Collection

The I-Need-To-Write-About-This Film Festival Kicks Off

High and low culture collide in an emergency film-festival-in-a-living-room

My life is a film festival.

And so is yours if you do it right.

That's true of anyone who chooses to make film a passion, an active ongoing interactive passion.  People who watch movies at every oppportunity.  And there are a lot of you out there.  In the past fourteen years or so that I've been online, I've "met" literally thousands of film fans in different forums, and the vast majority of them are decent, fun people who seem to take movies seriously the same way I do... and who can enjoy them in all their various forms.

The way things get programmed here at the house has to do with timing and opportunity and the potential audience and what's appropriate and what's not.  There are things that only get watched when no one's home so there's no chance anyone's listening from the other room.  Regardless of what I think of Rob Zombie as a screenwriter, I am fairly sure I don't even want my kids overhearing the ambulance/cow/crash scene in "Halloween 2,' for example.

So it's all a juggling act, and I just reorganized my office because I put in a new bookshelf.  And in doing so, I set aside one shelf that is just "Blu-ray titles I need to watch and/or write about."

I also have another shelf that is "DVD titles I need to watch and/or write about."

And then there are a LOT of shelves of "I'll get around to it.  Seriously.  When I'm retired, maybe, but it's coming, and it's gonna be GREAT."

Read Full Post
<p>Keanu Reeves has had a little bit of success in the SF&nbsp;realm before, so it's not shocking to learn he'll star in 'Passengers' for director Gabriele Muccino</p>

Keanu Reeves has had a little bit of success in the SF realm before, so it's not shocking to learn he'll star in 'Passengers' for director Gabriele Muccino

Credit: Warner Bros.

Keanu Reeves picks a winner with 'Passengers'

Star heading to space with director of 'Pursuit of Happyness'

Gabriele Muccino needs a hit.

And "Passengers" just might be that hit.  Especially with Keanu Reeves aboard to star.

The script for "Passengers," written by Jon Spaihts, was impressive and unusual, and it doesn't surprise me that it's actually making its way towards a start date.  I'm just shocked it took this long.  Morgan Creek is producing the movie, which Muccino is set to direct.  He was the filmmaker behind the Will Smith hit "The Pursuit Of Happyness," but was also the filmmaker behind the Will Smith flop "Seven Pounds," meaning he's in the unenviable position right now of reeeeeeeally needing to make a movie that connects with the audience.  I'm glad he signed on for this one, because I think it needs a director who isn't genre-obvious.

The film deals with an interstellar trip to colonize a planet in a distant galaxy, a process that demands that everyone onboard a giant cargo ship be frozen for 120 years.  Imagine if someone went wrong with the ship, though, and you were woken up after only 20 years with no way of refreezing yourself onboard.  You're looking at living out the rest of your life alone while the ship is in transit from one galaxy to another.  It's a nightmare scenario, and Jim Preston (Reeves) isn't sure at first how to handle it.

Read Full Post
<p>The Disney version of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' is probably the best known to filmgoers, but there are now three potential updates in development, including one by David Fincher.</p>

The Disney version of '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' is probably the best known to filmgoers, but there are now three potential updates in development, including one by David Fincher.

Credit: Walt Disney Company

David Fincher leaves '20,00 Leagues' to direct... '20,000 Leagues'?

And is Fox really gearing up on a third version of the film?

It's moments like these when I lose a little faith that anyone in Hollywood operates with even the slightest code of honor.

When McG first started making noises about a "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" remake, it already struck me as a bit of dirty pool.  Craig Titley had a new version in development already with producer Sam Raimi, and their script had already been in development for a while, and well-liked around town.  I wasn't worried, though, because I knew that the Raimi film had a director circling the project, and I had every confidence that if it came down to a shooting match between Fincher and McG, Fincher was going to win.

Now it looks like Fincher has indeed beaten McG, but not in the way I expected.

Evidently, Fincher approached Disney about his desire to make a "20,000 Leagues" movie with a take of his own, and he brought screenwriter Scott Z. Burns in with him.  Disney, pleased to be able to keep their version alive, is in final negotiations to hire both Fincher and Burns right now, and it appears that if it is going to happen, it would be right after Fincher wraps production on his American adaptation of the uber-popular first chapter in the Millennium Trilogy, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

So... let me get this straight, because I'm having trouble believing that Fincher really is that open a douche.  You circle a version of "20,000 Leagues" for a while.  You get involved in development.  And then you go to another studio and pitch them your own version and leave the first version you helped develop high and dry?

Really?

Read Full Post
<p>Bruce WIllis, seen here in '12 Monkeys,' one of the best time travel films of all time, has signed to play a key role in Rian Johnson's time travel thriller 'Looper'</p>

Bruce WIllis, seen here in '12 Monkeys,' one of the best time travel films of all time, has signed to play a key role in Rian Johnson's time travel thriller 'Looper'

Credit: Universal Studios

Bruce Willis will play the future Joseph Gordon Levitt in SF thriller 'Looper'

Would you believe him as the future version of Joseph Gordon Levitt?

Bruce Willis starred in what I would argue is one of the very best time travel movies of all time when he made "12 Monkeys" with Terry Gilliam.   And I don't say that lightly.  I love the idea of time travel movies, but I think many of them fall short of their potential, so when one of them gets it right, I treasure that film.

Here's hoping Rian Johnson's "Looper" ends up on that very short list.

Johnson is the writer/director behind "The Brothers Bloom" and "Brick," two films that mark him as a filmmaker with a very particular sensibility.  Both are stylish, ambitious, and they offered up some great roles for actors.  His new film sounds like it'll fall right in line with that description, and the news this week is that Bruce Willis has signed on.

What's more interesting is the idea that Willis might be playing a future version of Joseph Gordon Levitt in the film.

The film is set at a moment when time travel has not yet been invented, but it's about to be.  As a result, a criminal syndicate has set up a system where the mob of the future sends back people they need killed, and they're murdered and disposed of in the past, removing both the crime and the evidence from the timeline completely.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a hitman who is responsible for disposal of the future bodies, and he finds himself in a bind when his own future self is sent back.

Read Full Post
<p>Andy Wachowski, Arianna&nbsp;Huffington, and Lana Wachowski on the set of a test shoot for their secret new movie that has to do with gay love and the Iraq war.</p>

Andy Wachowski, Arianna Huffington, and Lana Wachowski on the set of a test shoot for their secret new movie that has to do with gay love and the Iraq war.

Credit: Arianna Huffington

Are the Wachowskis making a 'gay Iraqi love story'?

Will the filmmakers ever make another mainstream movie?

I'm one of the critics who stood up for the last film from the Wachowskis, and I will say it again:  "Speed Racer" deserved better than it got.

The film is not only one of the most technically impressive Blu-ray discs I have, it's also one of the few films that's come out since the birth of Toshi that he and I can rewatch at the drop of a hat.  There are older films he's fallen in love with the same way, but as far as first-run films I took him to the theater for, "Speed Racer" may be the one he's seen the most often.  I would imagine that those IMAX theatrical screenings were formative experiences for him.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to have that experience at three years old, and just how much of a visceral impact it must be.

For older film fans, "The Matrix" may have been a similar experience, which might explain why so many people were so upset by the sequels.  The first film was like a lightning bolt to the forehead for many of them, and that film's success transformed the Wachowskis from working screenwriters with one interesting film as directors into an international phenomenon.  The strangest part of watching the Fanboy Nation deal with the Wachowskis was all the fall-out from the rumors about Larry Wachowski and the end of his marriage and the gender-issues he was dealing with.  I personally don't care, but it is now impossible to mention them without someone making a wise-crack about "Well, I guess you can't call them brothers anymore."  Considering the deeply-seeded homophobia that is part of the fanboy community, it's little wonder they don't know what to do when thinking about the Wachowskis now.

Read Full Post
<p>George Romero, seen here directing 'Survival Of The Dead,' may end up making two more films in the series.</p>

George Romero, seen here directing 'Survival Of The Dead,' may end up making two more films in the series.

Credit: Magnet Releasing

George Romero discusses future movies 'Of The Dead'

Are there two more sequels on the way?

I feel vindicated.

I grew up on George Romero films, and specifically, I grew up on George Romero zombie films.  Everyone else who's worked in that genre needs to acknowledge how much he set the template that they've all followed since.  He's worked multiple variations in style and form as he's returned to zombies again and again.  I'm a fan of "Land Of The Dead," and when he made "Diary Of The Dead," I walked into it ready to enjoy it.

Didn't, though.  I hated it.  Haaaaaated it.

I thought his use of the found footage gimmick was frustrating, his lead characters were either unbearable or non-existent.  At the time, I wrote that the biggest problem with the movie was that we spent the whole film following people I hated as they drove by more interesting movies.  There were several scenes that were interesting, provocative, and ultimately frustrating because they suggested much better films than the one I was watching.

When I saw "Survival Of The Dead" at the Toronto Film Festival last year, I almost cheered when I realized about five minutes into the film that Romero was starting from one of those scenes in "Diary" and then following that story instead.  And sure enough, it was much more interesting.  I liked "Survival."  Didn't love it, but liked it.  I thought it suggested a refreshed Romero, a guy who was enjoying the work again.

Read Full Post
<p>Why is Samuel L. Jackson smiling like that?&nbsp;&nbsp;Because he knows how many more paydays he's got coming playing Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe.</p>

Why is Samuel L. Jackson smiling like that?  Because he knows how many more paydays he's got coming playing Nick Fury in the Marvel Universe.

Credit: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios

Is there a 'S.H.I.E.L.D' movie coming after 'The Avengers'?

That's what star Samuel L. Jackson claims

This just makes good sense.  After all, Samuel L. Jackson was one of the first people famously signed to a nine-picture deal by Marvel Studios, and his Nick Fury character is one of the lynchpins of the larger Marvel Universe.

In an appearance this week on RadioBigBoy, Jackson talked about the extended deal he's got with the studio and how busy it's going to keep him for the next few years.  He confirmed that he will be appearing in "Captain America," but not "Thor," which we knew.  He talks about how he'll be in "The Avengers" for the summer after that, which we also knew.

What was interesting was the news that we're going to be getting a "S.H.I.E.L.D." movie the year after "The Avengers."

It's not the most surprising thing to hear.  I'm curious to see how you build a movie around S.H.I.E.L.D. that's different from "The Avengers," but when you spend time building out these characters, film after film, why not use them?  Why not create a vehicle specifically for them? 

The most interesting thing about the way they're building all these movies is that Samuel L. Jackson is the ground zero, the character who ties all of these other characters together, and at 62 years old, he looks better than he ever has and he's finally playing the comic book leads that men half his age would love to play.  He has already made the role of Nick Fury his in a very permanent way, embracing the iconic design and investing him with a swagger ("I'm the realest person that you're ever gonna meet!") that makes him seem like the puppet master pulling all the strings in the Marvel Universe, and that's before we ever see Nick Fury in action.

Read Full Post
<p>Josh Brolin lays down some hurtin's in 'Jonah Hex,' the new DC&nbsp;Comics adaptation directed by Jimmy Hayward.</p>

Josh Brolin lays down some hurtin's in 'Jonah Hex,' the new DC Comics adaptation directed by Jimmy Hayward.

Credit: Warner Bros

The M/C Set Visit: Meeting 'Jonah Hex' in N'awlins

The latest DC Comics character to come to life is a little bit different

Even for someone who has done dozens of set visits at this point, the chance to visit a Western shooting on location is a rare thing.

I know a filmmaker who is a big fan of Westerns.  You could argue that most of his movies are Westerns, only disguised as other things.  I asked him one time why he didn't just make a Western finally, especially with the movie star he frequently works with, since that would be... you know... awesome.

"The horses.  I hate the horses."

The thing about shooting a Western is that you make a commitment.  If you're going to do it right, you have to really go for it.  You have to build the world as carefully as you would a sci-fi film or a fantasy film... you have to consider your work as something with texture... and my favorite Westerns are the ones that feel lived in... worn.  Leone did amazing work in that regard, and that's one of the reasons I sort of revere him.  I think he understood how much dirt and distress affected the reality of a Western, and what a balance it is.  He pushed it just enough to make it mythic, more so each time he made a movie.  When he started, I think his style was a result of budget.  In the end, the budget was the result of his style.  And that's because it got more pronounced.  Leone made the commitment.  He knew what he wanted to create.

Jonah Hex is a character who has been around in one form or another since the early '70s, and basically, he's the Man With No Face.  He's the archetypical Western hero, and he happens to have a crazy scar that covers half of the available real estate above his neck.  He's taken on many forms and been reinvented several times over his life span as a DC Comics mainstay.  His most recent successful run, helmed by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, was obviously on the mind of Jimmy Hayward when we arrived on-set.

You know how I know?  Because he told us.  Emphatically.

Read Full Post
<p>Donkey Kong is just one of the familiar '80s videogame icons who appears in the short film 'Pixels,' which Adam Sandler's Happy Madison is developing as a feature film.</p>

Donkey Kong is just one of the familiar '80s videogame icons who appears in the short film 'Pixels,' which Adam Sandler's Happy Madison is developing as a feature film.

Credit: Patrick Jean

Adam Sandler and Sony set to play some 'Pixels' on the bigscreen

Can first-time filmmaker Patrick Jean bring '80s videogame icons to life?

Patrick Jean, let me offer you two things.

First, congratulations on Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company signing you to turn your short film "Pixels" into a feature film.

Second, have you ever heard of a clearance lawyer?  Because, dude, you are going to become verrrrry familiar with them verrrrrrry soon.

When I made "Cigarette Burns" with John Carpenter, I had my first run-in with clearance lawyers.  I was dumbfounded by the process.  In our film, we had a fictional film that was the object of the search that drove the main character, and in our first draft, we simply called the film "La Fin Du Monde."  I still think it's the best possible title for a film that is so potent that it causes the audience to snap and kill themselves or others, but when we tried to get the title cleared, the lawyers refused to do it. They told us there was an Abel Gance film from 1917 with the same title, and that's why we couldn't use it.

Never mind that the Gance film has never been on home video and apparently doesn't exist at this point.  Never mind that it was a silent French film that no one in their right mind would confuse with the movie we created.  The argument from the lawyers was that people might think we were suggesting that Abel Gance was in league with Satan, and we might well get sued over it.

So, yeah... clearance lawyers are insane.

Read Full Post