Sofia Coppola seems to exist to enrage people to an unreasonable degree.
When "The Godfather Part III" opened in 1990, I was managing a movie theater, and I heard the open hostility that some audiences had for her, hostility that they walked into the theater with because of the way the press treated her. It was such a big media story, with Winona Ryder dropping out and Coppola stepping in, and people were so incredibly unkind to her before the film even opened that it felt almost pre-determined. I like her work in that film. I think she's a very unaffected, natural Mary, and her inexperience in front of the camera actually made it more piercing at the end of the film.
1999 was an amazing year of film, and I would rank "The Virgin Suicides" among the very best of the movies that came out that year. In it, Coppola established a voice as a filmmaker that, upon reflection, seems to have already been firmly established with "Life Without Zoe," the segment of "New York Stories" that she wrote, and "Lick The Star," a great little short film about a bunch of mean girls. For her first feature, Coppola tackled a difficult piece of source material, the Jefrey Eugenides novel, and found a way to make a film that felt like broadcasts from inside these characters. Her use of music and perspective and her refusal to fill in the narrative around the dreamlike structure she built made "Virgin Suicides" a sensory experience that lingered.
Sofia Coppola seems to exist to enrage people to an unreasonable degree.
It's an interesting choice to sell "Your Highness" based on special effects and action, but it makes sense. After all, a green-band trailer for a film as relentlessly weird and dirty as "Your Highness" has to avoid all the things that made the original red-band trailer so much fun.
Like Natalie Portman's butt.
I love watching Universal try to figure out how to sell this one, because I admit… I'd be stumped. I'm already sold. I'm in. Danny McBride. James Franco. Natalie Portman. Justin Theroux. David Gordon Green directing. Co-written by one of the great wild men of the Carolinas, Ben Best. A fantasy-comedy about what happens when the wastrel second son of a King has to join his heroic older brother on a quest that involves magic, monsters, minotaurs, and hot maidens a-plenty. With a plethora of weed jokes. And puppets.
Pretty much everything I just typed makes me happy. So I'm obviously the very specific niche target audience for "Your Highness." Unfortunately, my patronage is probably not enough to put "Your Highness" in profit, so Universal has to figure out how to sell this to people who didn't go to Belfast to visit the locations from the movie. The red-band trailer was sort of awesome. This is a really smart first look at the movie for general audiences. They have McBride front and center, they show off the quality of the FX work in the movie (and I love that this looks like a real fantasy film and not a spoof), and there's a real strong action-movie vibe to the second half of the trailer.
In my world, Roger Deakins is a movie star.
Some of the most indelible images of the last quarter-century of film were composed by the eye of this amazing Englishman. The heroin-sick rot of "Sid and Nancy" and the muted Mamet's haunting "Homicide" and the Art Deco-flavored candy of "The Hudsucker Proxy", the '30s postcard perfection of "The Shawshank Redemption" and the frozen Minnesota Hell of "Fargo" and the lush shifting mandala of "Kundun"… these are just a few of the remarkable tapestries that Deakins has laid out over the course of his career.
For my money, there are very few films that have ever been photographed with the same sensual control as "The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," and the fact that he went head-to-head with Robert Elswit for "There Will Be Blood," another singular accomplishment in film craft, was just one of those flukes of timing that you have to shake off. He's been nominated seven times for the Oscar, and he's never won. His own peers, the ASC, have awarded him twice for "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Man Who Wasn't There, and nominated him many times as well. He is thought of as one of the giants in his field right now, and for good reason. There are few artists in front of or behind the camera whose work is as above reproach these days.
Joe Wright is turning out to be one of those guys.
By that, I mean he is a filmmaker who seems determined not to be pinned down, not to be defined by what he's done before, and whose technical ability is so innate that he can do pretty much whatever he sets his mind to, and he seems to do it well.
When you look at "Pride and Prejudice," that is not a film that immediately suggests that you hire the director for an action movie. My issues with that film are about the material itself and my own familiarity with it and weariness from seeing repeated adaptations of it. Wright's work was impeccable, and he displayed a real sensitivity with his cast as well as a great sense of how to stage large-scale scenes with invisible ease.
"Atonement" was, in my opinion, a big jump forward for Wright, and again, I was impressed by the way he was obviously demonstrating these unbelievable skills as a filmmaker, but in ways that were about the storytelling. It's a complicated film, based on what should be sort of unadaptable source material, and it really suggested to me that Wright is a guy who is going to be doing this, and doing this well, 50 years from now.
And if "Hanna" is any indication, things are about to get exciting.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I was hoping to get an early start on this today after stepping out for a little quick wrap-things-up Christmas shopping. Ha. I repeat. HA. I'm sure that none of the fine, smart, handsome people reading this blog right now were out there making it so miserable today, so allow me to say that every single person I dealt with or waited behind out there this morning is dangerously insane and should be dealt with immediately. It's rain. It's not a Biblical plague from the sky.
There's a ton of great stuff out there this morning, far more than I'll be able to get to in one column. Maybe I should just devote myself to a full week of Morning Reads so I can share all of this good stuff. Hmmm… let me think about that while we run through today's links.
Here's where we are in Hollywood these days, as we wind down 2010 and look ahead to 2011: two directors with actual professional credits are battling over who gets the privilege of directing a movie based on the Ouija board. I am baffled by this project on a molecular level. Platinum Dunes has been careful to state that this is not a horror film, but is instead a big adventure movie that already has a release date. I met Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz at the "TRON" event Disney threw on the lot a month and a half ago, and they seemed like good guys, genuine old-school nerds, and they wrote a whole bunch of "Lost" episodes I liked. I certainly wouldn't dismiss "Ouija" because they wrote it, even if I think the weakest element of "TRON: Legacy" is their script. More than any one person's involvement, I'm just puzzled by the thinking behind the project in general. I'd love to hear from McG and Breck Eisner to hear what it is that makes them both want to make this film. I can't wait to hear the cast at the press junket talk sincerely about how they are big fans of the Ouija board from when they were kids. If someone can say with a straight face how they really wanted to "get back to the origins of the Ouija board," I will give them a crisp new dollar. Overall, it just sounds like one of the weirdest marketing-driven projects in recent Hollywood history.
Boy, I'm glad I waited to write my top ten list until I'd seen this one. Can you imagine how embarrassed I would have been having to change it?
Oh, wait, I mean worst of list. That's right.
Wow. "Little Fockers" is just discouraging. I would imagine there is no one involved who feels genuinely good about the outcome. It's so dead, so calculated, so forced. It is a startlingly gross and dirty film considering it is ostensibly about the kids this time around, and it is a PG-13. Doesn't matter. They didn't make this for families at all. Or if they did, they made it for families who already hate each other and don't mind inflicting pain on one another in a movie theater.
Here's the moment where the film came close to just breaking my spirit: Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel end up face to face at one point. Yes, that's right. Harvey Keitel is in this for about nine minutes, and it makes no sense why they hired him unless it was just so they could say they had put him face to face with De Niro. It's hardly a selling point. The two of them just stand there and look at each other like, "Hey, I get it… I'm here for the check, too… but you remember when this meant something?"
"We are, each of us, the product of an era." - George, "10"
Born in 1922. That's amazing to me. And Blake Edwards absolutely was a product of an era… of several of them… as well as one of the influences that turned out so many other people who are products of time spent with his amazing body of work.
I did not write something immediately about the death of Blake Edwards because of just how much the life of Blake Edwards meant to me. You can't really say "gone too soon" about someone who was born in 1922 and who left behind some of the great screen comedy of all time, but that doesn't change the impact I felt when I woke up to an e-mail from Dan Fienberg informing me that Blake had passed away.
We all have filmmakers we feel a special affinity for, and in the case of Blake Edwards, I have always felt somewhat alone in my love for his work. I am frequently amazed at how dismissive people are towards big chunks of his work, and in particular, how much disrespect there is for the "Pink Panther" series with Peter Sellers. I have said it many times in print before and I would feel remiss if I did not take the occasion of his passing to once again state just how great Edwards was. He had a phenomenal sense of composition, and if you've only seen his comedies on TV, panned and scanned, you have done him a great disservice.
I'm willing to bet, although there's no way to prove it, that if "How Do You Know" was written by anyone other than James L. Brooks, Sony would have had no reason to greenlight it. There's nothing about the story, as told, that feels fully formed to me. Since Brooks is who he is, there are moments in the film that are well-written, well-played, and there are ideas that work.
I've read the first draft of this film, and now having seen what Brooks did with it in the shooting, cutting, and reshooting of it, I think it feels like a rough draft that doesn't follow through on the things it lays out. It's a near-movie. It absolutely feels like it's the work of James L. Brooks, but muted, too relaxed to ever quite work.
"How Do You Know" tells the story of two people who find themselves at crisis points in their lives. Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is a professional softball player who has reached the point, at 31, where being good as what you do or even great at it isn't enough. She's just plain too old to keep her spot on the team, and that leaves her in a sort of free fall as she tries to decide who she is after her life in the game. George (Paul Rudd) is a guy who works for his father running a major company of some deliberately vague nature. He's the target of a federal investigation, although he's sure he didn't do anything illegal, and his father Charles (Jack Nicholson) seems somehow involved from the moment the trouble begins. Because of these circumstances, and because of the way they both feel adrift and suddenly unsure of their futures, they would seem to be perfect for each other.
I am not afraid to admit that I am excited.
I find that I get seriously hyped up for fewer and fewer films as I get older, and some of that is a reaction to the way the business works these days, and some of that is a desire to be surprised. Whatever the case, I remember when I was younger, and the mere mention of a film in development was enough to get me seriously hyperactive for days, talking about it, thinking about it, imagining what it might be.
I find so much of what studios consider "development" these days to be cynical, and that saddens me. It makes me wish I could unlearn what I know about the process sometimes, because it's hard to tune things out. And it's hard not to become transitively cynical when they announce that they're going to film something you love, particularly when you're not sure that the thing can be filmed in the first place.
I don't often fly this particular freak flag, but if you could call me a fanboy for anything, you could call me a fanboy for the work of Stephen King. These days, I'd say it's settled into a general appreciation for the man's continued skills and for the massive shadow he has cast over the industry as a whole, and I don't find myself compelled to rush out and buy each new book the second it comes out. There was a time, though, when I absolutely felt that way, and I'd say that era came to a close when King finally wrapped up his sprawling, messy, remarkable Dark Tower series.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Sorry about that. Things get crazy around Butt-Numb-A-Thon time every year. There's a gravity the event casts that is bigger than just those two days, and sure enough, about three Morning Reads fell right into it. We're back today, though, and here through the holidays, so you'll have plenty of presents under the tree to unwrap here at HitFix.
I've also been working on locking down my top ten list for this year, and you'll see that here on the site next week in a format that's a little different from anything I've ever done with the end-of-the-year stuff. It's been a great year of movies, and I'm thrilled to be publishing what looks to me like an unreasonably strong final list.
I'm feeling good today. We've crossed the mark where, finally, there is less than a month till my family gets home from this preposterously long vacation of theirs. Sure, I leave for Sundance three or four days after they get home, but still, I'm going to actually have them here again, and I couldn't be happier about that. I expect that every day I get closer to their return, my mood will get that much better, to the point where I'll be in full-on Gene Kelly tap-dancing mode on the morning I pick them up at LAX.