Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
Does his return to the musical deliver or does he come up short?
"Nine" is the movie that the detractors of "Chicago" accused it of being.
Like "Chicago," Rob Marshall is working from a major Broadway show. He's made a very specific stylistic choice, dictated in no small part by the work of a very strong screenwriter. On "Chicago," it was braniac Bill Condon, whose cellular-level understanding of musicals, even in casual conversation, is amazing. And he cracked that film's conceit in the script. Here, Anthony Minghella was the guy who really did the heavy lifting. Michael Tolkin did some early work on the film, adapting the stage production written by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston, who also wrote some new material for the film as well, who were themselves adapting a stage production by Mario Fratti, inspired by the film by Federico Fellini.
That's a lot of hands for something to go through, and when you consider how personal "8 1/2" was for Fellini, it seems doubly strange for this many people to spend this much time and energy retelling the story. It's not like this is some universal tale that everyone can relate to: it's the story of a director of several major cultural hit films who is finding himself blocked as he approaches the start of production on his next film, even as he juggles a wife and a mistress who both feel neglected.
Small-scale country-music drama gets everything right
I'll say it. We're all itching to say it. This movie gives us yet another in a long line of opportunities to say it.
Jeff Bridges is one of the all-time hall-of-fame no-debate greats.
Watching his body of work unfold is a pleasure. That's the long and short of it. There are certain actors whose careers result from the undeniable truth that watching them perform is a pure honey pleasure. Always. Predictably. Jeff Bridges has always been at the very least good, but in the last twenty years or so, he's evolved into something so pure and joyous to behold that when he runs into a piece of material that's worthy of the thunder he can call down, it's an event.
He slips on the character of Bad Blake, a country music singer limping through a dog's ass of a career, old and bloated and perpetually drunk, like it's a worn denim jacket, something familiar, something shaped just like him. By the end of the film, you'd be forgiven if you think this is just like last year's "The Wrestler," with real-life adding the friction to the onscreen drama. In that film, you know that Mickey Rourke is really a guy who wrestles powerful demons every day, every hour, just to keep himself together enough to make a living at his craft. His character is, and so is he. The same is true of the shockingly good "JCVD," where the big monologue moment of clarity for Jean Claude Van Damme is so naked and personal that you can't believe he would sit still and allow it to be recorded. Here, Bridges convinces as a train wreck still moving forward out of sheer force of habit.
Director walks away from remake of Jimmy Stewart classic
Can't say I'm exactly heartbroken to hear this.
According to Michael Fleming, Steven Spielberg has notified 20th Century Fox that he won't be using the soundstages they've had reserved for him in the spring of 2010, as he is no longer interested in making "Harvey," based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase.
The play was famously filmed once before with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role of Elwood P. Dowd, a small-town laughing stock who carries on conversations with a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. And while I admire the play and the earlier film, I sincerely hope this scuttles this remake altogether. It wouldn't be the first project that Spielberg torpedoed simply by expressing some interest in it. In this case, he's been working with Jonathan Tropper, a novelist who is still an unproven quantity as a screenwriter.
Fleming's article says that after Spielberg approached, and was turned down by, the obvious first choice of Tom Hanks, the director then started conversations with Robert Downey Jr. And while I am a huge fan of Downey, and a big supporter of his recent explosion as a movie star, I think this role would be treading water for him. I can already picture the entire film... the Janusz Kaminski look, the performance by Downey, and even the uplifting late-career John Williams score. It's one of those movies that doesn't need to exist because the minute you say what it is, you can picture the entire thing. It's too obvious. It's too easy.
Mark and Jay Duplass have an untitled comedy with a great cast in the fest this year
[This article has been modified from its original text.]
One of last year's big success stories at Sundance was "Humpday," starring Mark Duplass. He's also one-half of the filmmaking team who made the micro-budget charmer "The Puffy Chair" and the sly mumblecore/horror riff called "Baghead" along with his brother Jay.
I'm not much for the films that are loosely described as "mumblecore." I think the truth is, though, that a label like that is often something that's created to try and tie together filmmakers who actually have nothing in common. I think calling the work of the Duplass Brothers mumblecore is reductive and confining. I think they're making low-budget independent films, and they don't need to be labeled any more than that.
I was talking to Josh Leonard, Mark's co-star in "Humpday," when I saw him on the set of "Sherlock Holmes," and he spoke with admiration about the way the Duplass Brothers work. This was before "Humpday" was on anyone's radar, back in November of 2008, and Leonard was still pinning down the details of his own directorial debut. It was obvious as he spoke that he had nothing but admiration for the way the Duplass Brothers were maintaining a sense of independence even as they took their first step forward with a studio as a partner. It is rare that a filmmaker who comes out of such a deeply independent scene manages to find a way to successfully cross over into the studio system without compromising who they are or what they make, but Leonard seemed to feel like the Duplass Brothers had done just that, and early word on this one indicates that they've pulled it off.
Kristen Stewart's got a second film in the fest, Louis CK stand-up plays, and midnight gets crazy
It's going to be a very interesting year at Sundance. Because there has been some shakeup behind the scenes, the selection process and the programming process have gone through a shift as well. A producer friend of mine who has had several films play at the festival was told that his latest efforts were all very good but that there was no room for them this year because "they're too much like the old Sundance."
So what does that mean? Obviously, Sundance is still choosing from the independent cinema that's ready and available, but will it feel like Sundance this year? We ran the full list of in-competition films yesterday, which is promising, and today they've announced everything else that will be showing up, including two new sections. One is called "NEXT," and offers up first films, while the other is called "Spotlight," which allows them to show film that have already screened elsewhere, something Sundance usually frowns on, and taken as a whole, it's a pretty hefty list. I'm already feeling overwhelmed, and later this week, I'll put together my list of the 20 films I'm most looking forward to at Sundance. For now, though, here's the full list, section by section:
To showcase the diversity to contemporary independent cinema, the Sundance Film Festival Premieres section offers the latest work from American and international directors as well as world premieres of highly anticipated films. Presented by Entertainment Weekly.
Abel / Mexico, USA (Director: Diego Luna; Screenwriters:Diego Luna and Agusto Mendoza)—A peculiar young boy, blurring reality and fantasy, assumes the responsibilities of a family man in his father's absence. Cast: Jose Maria Yazpik, Karina Gidi, Carlos Aragon, Christopher Ruiz-Esparza, Gerardo Ruiz-Esparza. World Premiere
Plus wanna read every screenplay produced in 2009?
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Wow. There's no slow down at all right now. I keep expecting to hit that holiday lull, and instead, every time I sit down to write up one of these Morning Reads, I'm faced with enough options to make me dizzy. It's good, I guess... a sign that the industry is healthy. But it means that these are always tough to compile, and so instead of whining about it, let's just jump right in and see what's going on out there.
Over at The Playlist, they broke the story that Paul Greengrass was dropping out of the development of the next film in the Jason Bourne franchise, and the story escalated when Greengrass released a statement confirming that he would no longer be the man steering the series forward. I'm sorry to hear it because I think Greengrass took a decent franchise and made it great, but at the same time, I don't really believe we need another film in the series. Just because the third one made money, there's no reason to automatically do it again. The law of diminishing returns will kick in eventually, and I have to think that the creative team on the series would rather go out on a high note, while people still like the character, instead of wearing out the welcome completely. The assumption is that Universal is now going to start talking to other filmmakers, but unless they lock down a script that makes Matt Damon want to do the film, what point is there in talking to directors? There is no series if Matt Damon moves on, and there's no Matt Damon unless the studio comes up with a compelling reason for him to return, so I think we're a long way from worrying about who sits behind the camera next time.
Rumored last week and finally confirmed this week, I'm very excited about the possibility of seeing "Jackass 3D" sometime next year, and I'd kill to see the tests that Jeff Tremaine is shooting. Frosty over at Collider recently opined that the camera tech just isn't there yet to make a film like "Jackass" in 3D, but I disagree. I think that's exactly where we are at this point, and once documentarians start using these new lightweight 3D rigs, I think we're going to see some really outside-the-box applications of the process. Studios are going to mainly use 3D to try and turn films into events, as with the upcoming "Zombieland 2: 3D", which makes a lot of sense. I think Ruben Fleischer, who has repeatedly said that he's not a fan of horror films, could end up making something really fun working in 3D, and I'm guessing he'll emphasize the fun and the humor, which is probably right for that series. What really intrigues me is all the talk from the screenwriters about how they initially planned for "Zombieland" to be a series, so they have material for several movies already blocked out, and they could end up building a really unusual film franchise out of this initial jumping-off point. We'll see.
HitFix heard it direct from the actor's mouth this morning
I'll be bringing you three lovely interviews with the cast of "Crazy Heart" in the days ahead, but before I do, I wanted to run one particular bit of information that I got from one of the actors.
As I spoke with Robert Duvall, a real treat for anyone who has grown up on the films of this remarkable character actor, I asked him what projects he had coming up, either as a producer or as an actor, and he dropped a bombshell on me that I totally wasn't expecting.
"I'm talking to Terry Gilliam about that film of his... I'm going to play Quixote for him."
Wha wha WHA!?
That's right. We've been hearing since Comic-Con that Gilliam was inching ever closer to getting his long in development "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" off the ground again. If you've never seen "Lost In La Mancha," the movie about his first attempt to make the film, it's essential viewing.
It's also one long heartbreak, because there's no happy ending in that film. Eventually, "Quixote" shuts down completely and Gilliam appears to be truly defeated by the experience. He's obviously bounced back since then, but I can't help thinking that every one of these experiences where a film almost happens but then doesn't has to take a toll on a filmmaker, especially when you have many of these incidents over the years. Poor Gilliam... there's no one more talented who finds himself as destroyed as often by his creative endeavors. Hollywood is like one great big practical joke on Terry, and it would be nice to see a different punchline for once, one where Gilliam actually makes this film that has haunted him for all these years.
Which of my boys have I scarred for life with this Jim Henson fantasy epic?
Welcome to Film Nerd 2.0.
Up till now, anyone reading this column would be forgiven for thinking I only have one son. So far, this has all been about Toshi and my experience in sharing media with him during his formative years. I have a second son, though, Allen, who is younger, and the reason he hasn't really made any appearances in this column is because he really doesn't watch any films. He's not quite two years old yet, and he's expressed no interest at all in any of the constantly-running screens in the house. He'd much rather take a soccer ball outside and run wild for a few hours.
Fine by me. I don't want to intentionally mold either of my boys into copies of myself. I want to encourage them to be true to their own interests and their own passions, and my job as a father is to help them figure out what those interests are. Toshi is fascinated by all things related to movies, so I'm happy to indulge that, and if that means only Toshi ends up in this column, then so be it.
As I sit down to write this, it's just after 2:00 in the morning on a Saturday night, and I can hear Allen on the intercom, asleep, still working on a bottle that's been empty for hours. He won't let me take it from him tonight. It comforts him. If I go in there and try to take it, he will pull my face off my skull. I know it. He's an angel, but don't cross him. Frankly, I don't want to take it from him tonight. If he needs comforting, then let him be comforted.
After all, I think I scarred him for life.
War Machine's ready for action in this mega-Marvel follow-up
I probably still owe Harry's wife and everyone else sitting near me some apologies for the noises I made when we saw the "Iron Man 2" clips package at Comic-Con this summer. She was sitting next to me, and for a moment, she must have thought Taylor Lautner had taken his shirt off somewhere. But no... that was just the sound of a lunatic comic book nerd seeing images onscreen that he honestly never expected to see.
I love this modern era of comic book movie making. I love that we're seeing things on a regular basis now that were unthinkable 20 years ago. The fantastic has become routine, and while some fans may be getting cynical about that, I'm not. I am thankful that my sons are going to grow up with these movies, and that I have lived long enough to see the icons of my childhood treated this well. Tonight, as Toshi was going to be, he had some of his Marvel Superhero Squad figures with him, and he kept calling one of them "Iron Man."
"No, Iron Man's the one in red and yellow, Toshi. That's his buddy. That's War Machine."
"War Machine? You're crazy!" So I told him about Rhodey (played in the sequel by Don Cheadle) and the back-up armor and War Machine, and Toshi flipped out. He was excited enough to be living in a world with one Iron Man... but a world with two?
Plus MST3K, 'Terminator Salvation," and SNL Season Five
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for December 1, 2009.
These are the fairly lean days now, the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. There are still good titles coming out, but compared to the glut we've gotten for the last few months, it's slowed down considerably. Still, there are plenty of ways to clean out your wallet completely with new releases, and since I'm so sick right now that even my teeth hurt, let's try to get through this with no fuss and no muss, eh?
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"James Cameron's Avatar: The Game" (PS3/XBOX 360/PSP/Wii/DS)
I know... I know... never get excited about a movie tie-in game. Only Ubisoft is the company behind this, they had three years to work on the game instead of the normally telescoped process most movie tie-ins suffer from, and the demo I saw at E3 this year was actually very cool. So color me interested in this one, and as soon as I finish Ubisoft's amazing "Assassin's Creed II," I have a feeling this will be the next game I chip away at, which should help me assuage my almost chemical need to see the film as soon as possible. You play as both human and Na'vi characters at different stages in the game, which is set before the film, so you don't have to worry about spoilers destroying the film experience for you. Now if only I had that 103-inch HD 3D monitor that I saw the game demo on...