THE BIG QUESTION is a weekly feature in which we're going to examine issues and ideas that are important to our industry as a whole.
I was talking back and forth with someone the other night about some new films we'd each seen, and I mentioned "Arthur" and the person messaged back, "I hear Arthur is not even a drunk.Â True?"
The film opens on Friday.Â And this person, who works in media, who no doubt sees a ton of advertising and marketing and trailers and clips and whatnot, still doesn't know for sure if Arthur drinks or not.
To be clear, just as in the original film, Arthur drinks pretty much non-stop through the entire film.Â He is a raging lush.Â You could call the film "Raging Lush" and it would be completely appropriate.Â He is a silly drunk.Â He's the kind of drunk who buys a Batman outfit, a real Batmobile, and then has his chauffeur run from the cops while driving dressed as Robin, plastered the entire time.Â He's the kind of drunk who just goes staggering around in public like an astronaut from the planet Privilege, having a laugh at pretty much everyone and wasted the entire time.Â He's always got a bottle or a flask or a glass in hand.Â Arthur is not just a drunk.Â He's Alpha Drunk.Â And he makes it look like loads of fun.
THE BIG QUESTION is a weekly feature in which we're going to examine issues and ideas that are important to our industry as a whole.
The first time I met James Franco was on the set of "Pineapple Express." It was the afternoon where they were shooting the car chase where he put his foot through the windshield of the police car while driving, and watching them stage the gag and watching Franco work through the beat with his director, David Gordon Green, was an interesting glimpse into what seemed at the time like a bit of a course correction in terms of career for him.
After all, when you look at Franco, he's a leading man type, but as has become perfectly clear over the last few years, he's a much more eccentric guy than that, and his choices seem to indicate that whatever path Hollywood would like him to follow, he probably won't. I love that hot on the heels of Oscar nominations for both Franco and Natalie Portman, the two are appearing in "Your Highness," which will most likely not be nominated for anything at next year's Academy Awards except, perhaps, "Best Joke About Being Molested By A Puppet."
Franco and Danny McBride together is a whole lot of personality for one room, and I walked in hoping to have some fun talking to the two of them about their work in "Your Highness," and specifically about creating that dynamic between brothers that is central to their work in the film.
Clint Culpepper, today I salute you.
Last week, we co-hosted that fan screening of "Attack The Block," along with Ain't It Cool, Badass Digest, and Collider, and afterwards, I talked to most of the people who attended, even if it was just a quick, "Wow! Thanks!" as they walked by. But there were some people there who work in the industry who managed to not only depress me but actively upset me, immediately bringing up the same "remake" nonsense, all because of a couple of accents. I had to tune it out. I know the reaction most of that theater had, and I know what reaction the SXSW audiences had, and I am as sure of this as I am of anything regarding any movie you will see in a theater this year: "Attack The Block" is perfect just the way it is.
And now, thanks to Sony Pictures Worldwide and Screen Gems, audiences here in America are going to be treated like adults who can actually decipher an accent or two, and "Attack The Block" will be released. And I am going to do whatever I have to do between now and the release of the film to convince as many people as possible to check it out opening weekend, to reward Screen Gems for stepping up where so many other people in this business appear to have been too spineless to do so. I hope this wee little alien invasion movie turns into a monster runaway hit for Screen Gems. I hope it kickstarts Joe Cornish's career as a feature director, and that he keeps a list of every single person who hesitated on this one, and that when he is in crazy demand because audiences have fallen in love with "Attack The Block" that he reminds those doubters and refuses to let them reap the rewards on the next one.
The original "Arthur" was a modest little comedy that ended up with a major invite to the Oscars and a big pile of money. It was a critical and commercial hit, and the dialogue of the movie entered the pop culture vernacular that year. The theme song from the film by Christopher Cross was omnipresent on the radio, and between this film and "10" a few years earlier, Dudley Moore was having a full-blown movie star moment. The film was the kind of hit that rarely happens these days, a slow-burn word-of-mouth case of a little movie that audiences just plain devoured. That was part of its charm.
The new "Arthur" is a much more elaborate affair, and as conceived, it is a calculated attempt at using a beloved-but-old-enough-to-be-forgotten title to force a movie star moment with someone who has been tapped for said stardom. In this case, Russell Brand is the guy who everyone has been trying to figure out since he made his studio debut with "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," and right now, he's having about as clear a shot at it as he's ever going to get. He had a big weekend last week with his family comedy live-action/animation hybrid "Hop," and now this week, he's the lovable drunk who has to choose between a loveless marriage as a wealthy man or the girl of his dreams and a life of poverty.
And before we go any further, yes… he's a drunk. He drinks non-stop in the film. He is as constantly sloshed as Dudley Moore was. It's been conspicuously absent from all of the advertising for the movie, but literally within the first five or ten shots of the film, we've seen bottles and flasks being slipped into a utility belt. From the marketing materials, I thought the angle this time was less about him being a raging alcoholic and more the man-child thing. It turns out to be both, which makes sense.
It would be very easy, as someone who sees and reviews hundreds of films a year, to let first impressions color my work or poison a film before I ever set foot in a theater. It affects what I choose to see at a festival, what press days I attend, and any number of other editorial decisions, and I find myself constantly working to avoid being cynical or immediately dismissive of films for shallow reasons.
It would be easy to look at the debut film by Max Winkler and presume that nepotism got him his opportunity. After all, his father is Henry Winkler, and he's grown up in and around this industry to such an extent that he's able to thank "Steven and Kate" in the closing credits of this film. And it would be equally easy for me to have skipped it based on the star of the film, Michael Angarano, an actor I've had a hard time liking over the course of his short career. It's not his fault, per se, and it's wrong to hold something as chemical as my dislike of him against him. It just happens sometimes. I think for all serious film fans, there are those people who pop up occasionally that just set your teeth on edge for reasons you can't even explain. And so, making a surface judgment, I skipped the film when it played Toronto last fall.
Now, with the movie opening this weekend in limited release, I decided to finally bite the bullet and catch up with it at a screening yesterday afternoon, and to my enormous surprise, I not only found the film to be expertly written and directed by Winkler, but I also warmed up to Angarano in a way I wouldn't have thought possible. This may have finally been the performance that convinced me, and for that alone, I would recommend seeing the film.
"Your Highness" is a preposterous movie.
The idea that it even exists sort of blows my mind. From the first time I was told about it, I kept waiting for something to happen to derail the film. So many movies I've wanted to see over the years that sounded like they were genuinely deranged have gotten derailed in pre-production or at some point in development. This one, more deranged than most, actually made it all the way through production and actually will play in theaters. Where people can see it. And that seems insane to me.
When I was a kid, there was a span of about six years where there were sword-and-sorcery movies being made all the time, and I'd estimate that of the hundreds of them I seem to remember sitting through, a solid 97% of them were absolutely awful. And if you had handed a 13-year-old me a crew and a budget and asked me to make one of them myself, the results probably would have ended up looking a lot like "Your Highness," a move so hopped up on the genre that it seems to break it beyond repair through sheer force of will. Once you've seen "Your Highness," it will be impossible to sit through, say, Marcus Nispel's "Conan" with a straight face.
Danny McBride has been developing a specific comic persona from the time we first saw him in "All The Real Girls" as Bust-Ass, a movie that was directed, of course, by David Gordon Green, who also directed "Your Highness." The thing I like about the characters that McBride plays is that they are often possessed of a swagger and a strut that they know in their heart is unearned, and it is the way their insecurities and vulnerabilities pop through that exaggerated confidence that makes them human and hilarious. Zooey Deschanel also starred in that film in a serious role, and it's nice to see her cut loose here as a girl who was raised in captivity and who has no sense of social graces as a result. It's also nice to see they built in a place for her to sing, something that should be required in any film where she stars.
You're going to hear a lot of comparisons between "300" and "Immortals," and on a surface level, those comparisons aren't wrong.
After all, Marc Canton and Gianni Nunnari were both producers on "300," and that was a hyper-stylized take on a combination of history and myth, with gorgeous people and an almost celebratory take on violence. "Immortals" looks to be in the same general neighborhood, but instead of taking a real incident and elevating it to the status of myth, director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters Charley and Vlas Parlapanides have taken mythology and tried to find something grounded and human in it.
I was notoriously not a fan of Tarsem's first feature film "The Cell," and for me, the failure was first on a screenplay level, but then also I felt like Tarsem was recycling imagery from his striking and hypnotic music videos. There were moments where I almost expected to see Michael Stipe lurking around behind Vincent D'Onofrio. It was the sort of movie I didn't just dislike, but that I actually actively hated, and since I was much younger and far more incendiary, I sort of nuked the movie when I wrote about it.
But much like my reaction to David Fincher's first and second feature films, when Tarsem finally made his second movie, "The Fall," he turned my opinion around completely, and I saw a clear expression of a real voice, an artist with something to say. My big question at this point isn't whether or not Tarsem can make a great film, but whether he can do so within the confines of the studio system. Not everyone can, and for some artists, they shouldn't bother. I think Tarsem could surprise people with this one, though, based on the several conversations we had on Saturday. It sounds to me like he made a personal connection to a piece of material, and I'm ready to be surprised by the end result.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
For me personally, the biggest news I've seen out there this morning is the resignation by Erik Davis from Cinematical. When I was at Sundance this year, there was one meal in particular where I ended up sitting with Erik, Kim Voynar, and Eric D. Snider, all of whom have played important roles in Cinematical over the years. Talking to them about the changing face of the site and the influence of AOL, it felt to me like an era was ending. Since that night, Scott Weinberg and Peter S. Hall, both princes among men, both left the site as editors, and now with Davis heading out the door as well, I can't imagine what is left of the spirt of that site. It feels like it's been gutted, and that's a shame. There are few sites out there that have worked harder or that have been more consistent in their dedication to providing original content that's not just focused on the business of chasing scoops, and if this really is the end of the site as we know it, then the Internet is poorer for it. Whatever you're drinking right now, raise your glass to Erik, Scott, Peter, and the entire team that they worked with in their time at the site, and here's hoping they land well and land soon.
Regarding the news today that M. Night Shyamalan will direct Will Smith and Jaden Smith together in a new untitled SF film, my first impulse was to be snarky. But the truth is, no matter how much I hated "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender" (and they are both wholly loathsome films), I'm still not rooting against Shyamalan. I think back to the earliest works of his that I read, and I have to hope that somewhere in there, that writer still exists. Will and Jaden were quite affecting onscreen together in "The Pursuit Of Happyness," and I think Gary Whitta's a solid writer who could reign in some of Night's worst tendencies. I know everyone is busy writing this one off right away, and looking at my Twitter feed, it's one crack after another, everyone determined to be the one who lands the most brutal punch. But I'm going to treat this one the same way I'd treat any other movie and wait to see what it is before I start making any sort of judgment about it. At least it's an original SF property and not a comic or a graphic novel. I'll take that small step in the right direction as an encouraging start.
With today's news, we now have a solid glimpse at the cast of "The Hunger Games," and it looks to me like Gary Ross is putting together a young, exciting cast for his adaptation of the best-selling books.
A little over a week ago, I published a cheat sheet for "The Hunger Games" for those of you who have not read the books. I didn't spend much time discussing possible casting, because I get weary from how much of that goes on these days. The truth is, no matter how rabid fans get about what they want, unless you're in the room when these people read or screen-test, you have no idea what it is that the filmmakers saw in these people.
Billy Ray's adaptation of the first book is a tricky thing. As with any series where there are hardcore fans already, every single change will be heavily scrutinized, but it read to me like he put all of that out of his mind and simply worked hard to get the spirit of the story right and to condense the text and the characters into something that will work as a movie. I'll say this: it felt like "The Hunger Games" to me, and I'm willing to give Ross the benefit of the doubt as he builds the cast for the films.
SAN FRANCISCO - "I'm British, you know, so I'm working from a sort of butch deficit." I'll say this for Paul Bettany: he does self-deprecation well.
Friday night, Screen Gems took over a theater at the Metreon to screen a few special pieces of footage from their big May release, "Priest," and they showed up with cast members Cam Gigandet, Lily Collins, and Paul Bettany, along with director Scott Stewart and the creator of the original graphic novel, Min-Woo Hyung. Aside from the event's moderator, a local radio DJ who seemed to have a knack for making his guests deeply uncomfortable, it was a brisk and interesting look at a movie that positively screams Screen Gems.
Whether that's a good or a bad thing will most likely depend on your appetite for the "Underworld" and "Resident Evil" films, which have become the signature series for the genre arm of Sony. There's a very distinct look and feel to those films, and "Priest" looks like it will fit right into the family. Scott Stewart and Paul Bettany made their first film together last year, the low-budget horror film "Legion," and while there were things to like about what they pulled off, the film was hampered by a script that blatantly ripped off the original 1984 "The Terminator" to a distressing degree.