While I initially thought that the decision to do English-language adaptations of these books even as the original Swedish-language films are being released seemed like an unnecessary decision, I'm starting to think David Fincher is sitting on a potential blockbuster franchise, and some of the announcements that are starting to come out about the series makes me think we're going to be talking about these films a lot in the next few years.
The books have become a genuine phenomenon, and I get it. They scratch the same itch as something like the Thomas Harris Hannibal novels, and getting that sort of material just right is harder than it looks. The Millennium Trilogy, written by Stieg Larsson, concludes its English-language publication this week with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, and it's interesting to watch this mania catch on here after spending time in Europe, where it's been a big deal for some time now. I haven't seen the first of the Swedish films, although a DVD should arrive here this week sometime, and I'm hoping to see and review "The Girl Who Played With Fire" as it starts to roll out a limited arthouse release very soon.
Fincher is a little on-the-nose as a choice to direct, but I don't blame him or Scott Rudin for making that obvious choice. When you're given something that fits this perfectly, sometimes you do it because it buys you the right to do other more esoteric material. The nice thing is that the books are sort of rough and wild and filthy, but mainstream at the same time, and that makes people feel like they're watching or reading something extreme. Fincher's great at that. "Se7en" is one of those films that makes you think you've seen far more than you actually have, that masterfully paints pictures in your imagination by showing you almost nothing.
You know what I need more of?
Ongoing columns here at HitFix.
Even so, there's a project I've been working on for a while now, and it seems like this weekend might be the perfect time to kick it off. I'm a film geek first and foremost. I’ve had the bug my whole life. Well, since I was seven, anyway. Like many people who are in their mid-30s now, it was "Star Wars" that first spurred me to pursue my interest in film. For a while, I was only into certain types of movies. Sci-fi, monster flicks, fantasy films, cartoons... these were the shared dreams that first infected me. As I grew older, my tastes grew broader as I realized that it was the medium itself with which I was in love. It’s the potential for all types of storytelling that excites me.
I have a particular fondness for great comedy. My list of favorite comic influences is long and diverse, and I find different things funny at different times. The slapstick of the Three Stooges, the anarchy of the Marx Brothers, the wry wit of "The Thin Man" movies, the elegant precision of Buster Keaton, and the willing surreality of Monty Python all appeal to me equally depending on my mood. When discussing film comedy, though, there’s one television show that is literally impossible to ignore.
It's an interesting moment for Tobey Maguire.
When he was playing Spider-Man on a regular basis, Maguire was a movie star by default. If you star in a film that makes $800 million or so worldwide, you're potentially bankable. If you star in two, you're a potential star. You star in three? That's a rare club. Maguire's done it. Three giant giant movies.
But aside from those three films, has he ever really opened a movie? I like a lot of his work. I just wrote about "Ride With The Devil" the other day, and a big part of that film's sucess is Maguire's work. He's very real, very sincere and sweet as a guy who does some brutal things during the Civil War. I'm hoping there's a Criterion Blu-ray version of "The Ice Storm" coming soon, because I love that movie. That's my favorite film of 1997, and the work of the young cast like Maguire and Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood is a big part of why I think the film is amazing. "Pleasantville" and "Wonder Boys" are both rich and interesting films I'll happily discuss with anyone at length. Films that reward return visits. So Maguire's got taste. He's capable of doing really strong and challenging work. I root for him. I like enough of what he's done to feel invested. You know how it is for some actors... you just plain like them on film.
But I do wonder... is Tobey Maguire a movie star by any conventional definition at this point?
The "Shrek" series has been the flagship for Dreamworks Animation since the first one was released in 2001, and I still remember what a breath of fresh air that first film felt like when it was released. The second film is a textbook example of a bigger sequel that tries even harder than the first film did, to mixed results. The drop-off in quality to the third film was breathtaking, and after checking, I'm pretty sure I never even wrote about that one. I think I just figured the less said, the better.
Oddly, though, the "Shrek" films didn't sit well with me over time. I stand behind the reactions I had when I saw the first two films, but the template they established for Dreamworks has not been a good one, creatively-speaking. That legacy, as much as the films themselves, define my feelings towards "Shrek" as a franchise, and as a result, walking into the fourth film, my expectations were fairly low. I say that not as a way of saying "Told you so" now, but more as a way for you to set your own barometer. If you're a huge fan of the series and you are already revved up about this new film, then just go see it. It's a "Shrek" film. No doubt about it.
But if you're on the fence at all, let me share my impressions with you, and the reaction of the four year old who went with me.
It's been interesting this afternoon watching the way people jumped on the story about Megan Fox no longer appearing in "Transformers 3." One thing's clear: there are a lot of people who hate her and want to believe the absolute worst about her. No... more than that. They want to celebrate it. The schadenfreude is sort of amazing to observe.
It also appears to be misplaced.
Sources close to the production tell HitFix Megan Fox was not written out of "Transformers 3," nor was it Michael Bay's decision to drop her from the film. She left the picture. Late this afternoon, her publicist released a statement exclusively to People.com stating that it was Fox's choice, but people haven't run that part of the story. They just keep writing that she was canned.
Stories like this are always tough to parse from the outside. Everyone wants to be the party in control, the one who made the choice. And in this case, it makes a great story to blame Fox's brash outspoken manner in interviews on her suddenly not appearing in this franchise. But I think it's important to at least try to figure out what happened, since we're talking about people's professional lives here. Futures are made and broken based on the way people allegedly behave on film sets.
What we don't know at this point is why Fox walked away. I hear it's not a money issue, but no alternative was offered up instead. She and Michael Bay have always had a contentious relationship in public, and the rush for Bay to claim responsibility for her leaving the film makes it seem like things must have blown up between them again. Still, that's not confirmed, and I'd like to give Bay the same benefit of the doubt that I'm giving Fox.
I think I manage to come across as fairly articulate on the podcast, which is a miracle since I frequently feel like I'm a marble-mouthed goofball. For example, you'd think I would be able to say the name of my own podcast and blog fairly easily. But no. No, I have some sort of head trauma that makes me say "The Motion Picture Podcast" almost every single time I try to say the title.
So for the sake of my sanity, and also so that I can run the snazzy graphic you see attached to this article, we're going to make the transition to calling it The MCP. It's technically the same title it's always been, only now there's a lot less chance I'll mangle it when I open my mouth.
Besides... this makes it sound like a new energy drink for 14 year olds. Marketing nirvana. "You gotta get The MCP in you!" Errrrr... wait. Maybe not. When I say it like that, it sounds like it's gonna end in an arrest.
I think it's a pretty good one this week. My special guest is Scott Swan again, and we talk about summer movies and his aversion to pretty much everything coming out this year. We also play a round of Movie God, then run down this week's new releases on DVD and in theaters. A very special added feature this week involves my son Toshi, who has been the subject of the ongoing column "Film Nerd 2.0" here at the site. Today, we've got the first audio version of that as he stops by for a minute to explain his love of Godzilla to me.
It's a whole lot of cute.
As my home-programmed film festival continues, I'd like to look at a fistful of Blu-ray titles that could ostensibly be called "kid's films" that have all arrived here at the house recently.
Have I mentioned yet how much I love anyone who includes both a Blu-ray and a regular DVD in the same package? I think it's vital in most households. For example, I've got the Blu-ray set-up in my office, while the other rooms in the house only have regular DVD players still. We had a second Blu-ray player, but it just gave up the ghost. That's what you get for buying a cheapo Best Buy in-house brand. Next time I buy a player for the living room, I'll probably just get a second PS3. I've had great luck with the machine so far, and I love the way it handles firmware updates.
In the meantime, I like having a copy that the kids can play and having a gorgeous Blu-ray copy for my own use. In the case of "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," the format really allows you to analyze and admire the exquisite work that was done by all of the animators as they put the film together. I reviewed the film theatrically, and if anything, my love for it has grown with a few repeat viewings. The Blu-ray is technically amazing, as rich a transfer as you'll find on anything today. It's also got a fair sampling of extra features, the most ridiculous of which is "A beginner's guide to whack-bat."
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?
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."