Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
The Sundance favorite arrives annointed, but is it worth a year of hype?
Tonight's gala screening of "Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" as part of the AFI Fest was a major Hollywood event, marked by some of the worst traffic I've ever seen in that neighborhood (and I lived in that neighborhood for over a decade) as well as a serious display of star power and class in giving a much-loved festival favorite its victory lap. After Friday, the public gets a say in whether or not "Precious" is a hit, well before awards season gets warmed up, and I suspect the film's going to get a fairly hefty launch.
Lee Daniels is Having The Moment this week. No question. This is where all the energy, all the attention, all the expectation is being focused right this moment. And there's something sort of wickedly ironic about sitting at a gala event thrown for a film by Lee Daniels, because I think I've figured out his overriding interest as a filmmaker, as a director and a producer and a collaborative partner. He's got a signature, an aesthetic tell, and I think it's really come into focus in this movie.
He's only directed once before, the truly terrible "Shadowboxer" in 2005. An assassin is diagnosed with cancer and takes on one last job. Already, that's a rough one to pull off, tired. But then it's stunt cast with Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Stephen Dorff and Mo'Nique (playing, oddly, a character named Precious) and Macy Gray and Joey Gordon-Levitt, and of course that's how you fund a film like that. You just keep adding bankable elements until they all add enough demographic bang for the buck.
Yet even though I really completely dislike "Shadowboxer," I can recognize that Daniels does have certain things going on in that film that are at play again in "Precious." He does, like I said, this one thing in each movie, even as a producer, that makes his work stand out: he deglams everything and everyone.
Lee Daniels loves to shoot the world in no-make-up-graphic-close-up, and he loves to shoot it like the horror film it is.
I'm totally game for a sequel, but I have one thought
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is magic.
It's a film that really shouldn't work. Almost every attempt by everyone else, no matter how dedicated or respectful or talented they are, fails at trying to take classic pop culture characters and play mainstream mash-up with them, a la "Space Jam" or "Looney Tunes Back In Action." Joe Dante made a Sisyphean effort at pulling off one of these movies, and left to his own device with an animation department given support and creative freedom, maybe he could have done it. But he didn't have that.
Robert Zemeckis, on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," had a wonderful sort of bullet-proof quality. It was a moment. It was a particularly loose and silly pop culture moment, and he was coming off two hits in a row. "Romancing The Stone" was reeeeeeally well-liked in Hollywood, and "Back To The Future" was reeeeeeally well-liked by every person on the planet. So he was pretty much King Giant Stud Of Stud Mountain.
And he chose to make a movie about a woman married to a rabbit.
And he totally pulled it off, too. The mix of the Disney and MGM and Warner Bros. characters, all living together in a cartoon universe that bumps right up against old Hollywood, is something that had never happened before, and may never happen again. Obviously we don't know what Zemeckis will use if he makes a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", which libraries he'll have access to.
Plus zombies, Altman, and a very slow killer
Welcome to The Halloween Weekend Read.
My body chemistry confuses me. Despite my height and weight, I am affected deeply by over-the-counter medications to an unpleasant degree. For example, when I fly, I get crazy ear-pressure headaches, and the only way I can can stop them from happening is to take two Benadryl before the plane takes off. Those two Benadryl normally knock me out like a tranqued rhino for about five or six hours. With NyQuil, it's even worse. One shot of NyQuil makes me feel like a balloon-headed acid freak for a full day or longer, and last night, I had an awful runny nose and couldn't stop sneezing, so I bought some NyQuil for the first time in a while.
On the first night, after a ten-and-a-half hour blackout, I woke up still super groggy and barely able to focus. The second night, I dealt with a long and frustrating night of tech issues, followed by last-minute emergency Halloween costume crises for Toshi, and by the time I got to bed and got up for an early-Friday screening across town, I was a wreck. Both eyes feel like I've been thumb-punched by Moe Howard, I'm hearing like I'm underwater, and as soon as the cold medicine wears off, I start up a hurricane of sneezing.
And that's with AFI Fest starting today and Halloween with the family and friends on Saturday. Good lord. It's gonna be some kinda weekend, eh?
Legendary Oscar-winner signs on to play Odin for Marvel
Can someone explain to me again why "Thor" is considered by so many to be riskier-than-average for Marvel Studios?
I keep hearing that, over and over, that "Thor" is the film no one thinks they can get right, the one that's going to derail "The Avengers," the one that ruins the rules that the Marvel Universe onscreen so far has established. Personally, I don't see it. I think "Thor" is a natural, and I think Marvel's been very caution to make sure that they get this one right. When Matthew Vaughn was on the film for a while, they were thinking more along the lines of a "Lord Of The Rings," a giant fantasy film that intersected with the Marvel movie world, but I think the version that Kenneth Branagh is getting ready to make is more of a story about a man, Donald Blake, who finds himself caught between two worlds when he realizes that he is actually the Norse god Thor, made human as a punishment for hubris by his all-powerful father, Odin.
And now that Marvel's got Anthony Hopkins signed as Odin, they've got to be feeling even better about the movie.
Mark Protosevich and Zack Stentz are working on the script, according to the report in Variety, and the rest of the cast is coming together in fascinating ways. There were rumors that Robert De Niro and Jude Law might be joining the cast, but that seems to be another of those total misunderstandings based on an off-hand comment by an actor at an international junket. Word is that Dominic Cooper ("Mamma Mia", "An Education") is up for a role as one of the Warriors Three, supporting bad-guys from the Thor comics, and I like the idea of a cast of serious actors, people you wouldn't normally see in comic-book movies. Natalie Portman's definitely onboard as Jane Foster, who is a nurse who works with Donald Blake, and who has no idea about his true nature.
If you're still not convinced, consider me baffled
Last week, I took Toshi to see a film at a local theater, and after it ended, I found a manager in the lobby and asked if I could step into any of the auditoriums playing the new "Avatar" trailer just to take a look.
By the time it was done, Toshi told me that he wanted to go see "Avatar" right now, and was upset when I explained that it's still a few months away. To him, it just seemed mean to see a trailer like that if you can't turn around and go buy your ticket immediately.
I kind of agree.
Each year, the studios all get one exemption each from the rules on standard trailer running time, and this year, Fox used their exemption on a giant 3 1/2 minute long "Avatar" trailer that not only fully explains the story but also hints at the scope and the drama of the film's second half.
One of the reasons I roll my eyes at a lot of the early sturm und drang that erupts as online commenters see early footage from films in trailers or clips is because context is so important, and when you see the whole of something, you sometimes find that (shock!) it answers questions that a trailer doesn't. One great example is the oft-repeated oh-so-smug meme of "Hey, if this is the future, why can't they fix Jake's legs yet? HMMM? ANSWER ME THAT, KING OF THE WORLD!"
Which raises the question... what, exactly is it?
Nobody likes to be the jerk.
It would be easy to smile and nod and mention the sentimental value of seeing Michael Jackson performing just weeks before the end of his life, and to give "This Is It" a general pass because of the curiosity factor. It would be easy... but it would be dishonest. So I guess I'll be the jerk in this case.
"This Is It" is barely a movie by any definition. If I bought a deluxe collector's edition of a polished, finished Michael Jackson concert, and the extra features on disc two were made up of the footage from this film, then maybe I'd say, "Oh, cool, look at him rehearsing. That's sort of interesting." But this isn't a DVD extra. This is a movie that you're expected to pay full price for in a theater, that's playing on IMAX screens everywhere, that's being touted as a major entertainment event.
And whatever "This Is It" is, it ain't that.
The first and most obvious problem with the film is that Kenny Ortega was simply too close to the subject matter to cut any sort of documentary out of the available footage. I can only imagine how hard it is to sit and watch a collaborator on screen, day after day, while the pain of their death is still fresh, so I'm not going to beat him up. I'll just say that while he may have upheld his responsibility as a friend of Michael's, he utterly fails in his responsibility as a filmmaker. Here you are with this footage, the last recorded live performances by one of the biggest superstars in the world, and you're given the task of making a film out of it. The first thing you need to do is set up interviews to help place that footage in context, and you need to decide what narrative it is that you're going to craft to help make the film into an experience and not just a clips package. Those choices were never made here, and the result is flabby, inert. I took my co-writer Scott with me tonight because he's a huge Michael Jackson fan, and even he was bored by the end of the film.
Should Universal have pulled the film from 2009?
Did any of you see the season finale of "Entourage" this year? Best part of the whole thing was Matt Damon's appearance as himself, pushing his children's charity with all the intensity of Jason Bourne trying to shake an answer out of a bad guy.
I like Damon a lot as an actor, and I like that he has reached a place in his career where almost every time out, he's working with a world-class filmmaker, taking chances, following his own personal passions. I think his work in "The Informant!" was great this year, and I've been curious to see how his work with Clint Eastwood would turn out on "Invictus." Greg Ellwood's going to write up of the "Invictus" trailer over at his Awards Campaign blog, which makes sense, since I have no doubt this will turn out to be one of the year's big awards season titles.
It's a shame that Universal pulled "Green Zone" out of play for this year, though. The movie works both as political body blow and unapologetic action film. It marries the sensibilities of both "United 93" and the "Bourne" series, and it seems to me to be the most commercial thing that Greengrass has ever made, even if it is set in Iraq. I can't speak to the finished film, but I can say that "Green Zone" is a perfect role for Matt Damon. He plays a guy who is part of the initial raids on all the sites where weapons of mass destruction are supposedly stored, and he notices that each place they hit, the intelligence they were given does not match the physical evidence they find. Determined to figure out where these reports are coming from, his character steps outside the system and very quickly finds himself in over his head.
Plus Ratchet & Clank return to the PS3 and Criterion does 'Z'
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast for October 27, 2009.
It's sort of a thin week all the way around, but the highlights are worthwhile, and so let's do this as quickly and efficiently as we can, since I just realized that I'm pretty much in motion and running around from now until Saturday morning without stop.
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"Battlestar Galactica: The Plan" (BluRay/DVD)
I'm a fan of the reboot of "Galactica," but having said that, I have the final season here in the house and haven't watched it yet. I think part of me just doesn't want to be done with the show, so I've delayed and put it off andas a result, this film arrived at my house on BluRay, and I can't watch it yet because I don't want to ruin the last season. Although Edward James Olmos told anyone who would listen this week at the DVD junket that he hopes there will be more "Galactica" films with this cast, this may well be the real last hurrah as the producers turn their attention to "Caprica." As a result, this final puzzle piece for fans has some significance to the series overall, even if it wasn't attempting to explain all the gaps in the Cylon mythology as established over the show's run.
"The Prisoner: The Complete Series" (BluRay/DVD)
My favorite TV show ever, "The Prisoner" was Patrick McGoohan's response to his long and successful run on "Secret Agent," which was known here in the States as "Secret Agent Man." He decided to take the spy series and turn it inside out, building a limited-run series about a retired spy who is kidnapped to The Village, a mysterious place run by mysterious people. Unsure if it's his own side or his enemies who have abducted him, Number Six finds himself struggling for escape each week, and barring that, struggling to at least hold on to his identity.
How much does James Cameron encourage media's attitude to him?
I really dig the still you're looking at next to this article. I love the sense of motion, the tactile qualities of it. The high-res version is a thing of wonder, really. I'm sorry, but as an FX nerd AND as a sci-fi/world building nerd, I am absolutely loving this so far.
I am well aware that there are a lot of people who are at this point gunning for Cameron and the film, and a good deal of those people are in the critical community and in the media. And my guess is that Cameron is well aware of the attitude, and that he really doesn't care. I even get the sense he encourages some of the bigger "Evil Jim" stories. I would once I got a reputation as a legendary world-beating sonofabitch. I wish I was a big enough personality to cultivate that. I envy Cameron his ability to give the finger to pretty much everyone and everything and just pursue a massive personal vision. Live or die, succeed or fail, when "Avatar" hits screens on December 18th, you can believe that what you're seeing is James Cameron's baby.
I love, though, how quick everyone was to come to the defense of Poul Anderson and his short story "Call Me Joe" after iO9 ran their article today. Almost immediately, by mid-morning, the court case was over, Cameron was guilty, and the conversation had already moved into the damages stage. "I wonder if they'll change the title to 'Poul Anderson's Avatar'".
In which we discuss rewards, punishment, and golden tickets
Welcome to Film Nerd 2.0, an ongoing look at my relationship with my first son, Toshiro, and his relationship to media of all types, particularly the stuff that I grew up with as I pass it along to him.
It's been a rough two weeks to be Toshi.
He's four now, so he's got typical four-year-old issues, and since he's not really able to articulate those issues or feelings yet, he's obviously trying to vent.
It sort of cracks me up that a four year old could have anxiety over things like pre-school or playtime or coloring, but of course they can. Tension and anxiety happen for any number of reasons, and when you react only to a kid's behavior, you're sort of trying to juggle water. Things are constantly shifting. Toshi's got competition in the house now for people's attention thanks to his adorable nineteen-month-old brother Allen, who has recently become self-aware of said adorabilosity, and who works it shamelessly.
Like I said... the last few weeks have been particularly rough. Since media in my house is a privilege, not a god-given right, Toshi's been benched from absolutely everything cool.
"You're grounded from cool, buddy," is exactly what I told him, and he knows that means a lockdown on everything except vintage "Sesame Street" on DVD or bedtime stories at night. Those are always okay.
He's trying. I know he is. He's had a few tearful heart to heart conversations with me. He's just got an itch he can't scratch. So as we approached the weekend at the end of a whole lot of bad days, I decided we needed to cut him a break.
As I sat down to write the beginning of this column, I had a plan for the weekend, and a list of directives for myself: I've got to give him a taste of the promised land if I expect him to work harder. I've got to give him a weekend that is the weekend he aspires to have every weekend. The weekend he's got to earn.