Since starting here at HitFix in December of '08, I've attended more film festivals than I had in the four years prior put together, and it seems like every day, there's festival news of some sort in my inbox.
Just last night, I read a review for Seth Graeme-Smith's new novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which surprised me. I had no idea such a thing existed.
Last year, Graeme-Smith was the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I wanted to like. I think the idea of taking an older novel and playing with it is a fun one, and the notion of the cast of a Jane Austen book getting eaten by the undead is, frankly, heaven after all the adaptations of Austen I've sat through over the years. But in actual execution, I thought the book was kind of a drag, and I am amazed at the behind-the-scenes struggle between some wildly talented folks to be involved in adapting it. Maybe they'll improve it. They'll have to.
That book was an assignment from an editor, so Graeme-Smith can't take full credit for the high concept idea. This time out, though, the idea was all his, so he's got to be feeling good about the news that Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambatov, and Jim Lemley are all signed to produce a film adaptation, announced the same day that the book hits stores.
There's something irresistible about the idea of a Civil War that was fought not only to free the slaves but also to quietly, secretly eradicate a vampire infestation of our young nation. There's not a lot of Civil War-era horror out there, so it seems like fertile ground for them to do something fun and different.
I'll admit it... this made me cry.
Roger Ebert has been a part of my cultural life since 1978, and a part of my actual life since 1999. I'm not close friends with him, but he did fly me to Champaign-Urbana to be a guest speaker at his Overlooked Film Festival one year, and two highlights from that experience really stand out in memory. One night, after a late dinner with a large group of people, Roger offered to drive me back to the on-campus rooms where I was staying, and he took the long way around, giving me a late night tour of the city where he grew up. Being in a car with just him, having him tell me stories about his life, it seemed surreal. Later in the festival, after a double-feature of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" with a live orchestral score and the Rin Taro anime "Metropolis," I joined him onstage for a conversation about SF, anime, and more, complete with a Q&A with the audience. When I was watching him and Gene Siskel on their various review shows, it would never have occurred to me that one day I might sit across from him in front of a crowd talking movies, and even now, years later, it still feels like something I dreamed.
When I saw Roger and his wife Chaz at Sundance this year, I didn't want to take much of their time. It was impressive to see the pace Roger kept at the festival. I'm guessing he saw more movies than I did. I think what he's done in the last month or two in terms of putting his new face out there and finally answering all the questions people have about his condition since his various cancer-correcting surgeries has been brave stuff. That Esquire piece was amazing, as was the accompanying photography.
Welcome to the DVD & Games Forecast.
It's a great week for films that you can watch with the whole family. Some weeks, it's all about action movies, some weeks are great for horror films, but this week, films for the young and the young at heart are arriving in snow drifts, including my second favorite film of 2009...
THIS WEEK'S FEATURED TITLES:
"Where The Wild Things Are" (BluRay/DVD)
"Tell Them Anything You Want" (DVD)
My wife watched the gorgeous, sad, wonderful "Where The Wild Things Are" last night on BluRay, and when I asked her today what she thought of it, she told me... and I quote... "that was a total waste of time."
I understand that "Where The Wild Things Are" is not a film for everybody. Even among critics last year, reactions were wildly varied, pro and con. It's such a particular emotional experience that it does't surprise me that it works for some people and not for others. You can certainly pull the film apart and analyze the meaning, but I think it works on a far more intuitive level than that. It is a movie that you either feel, or you don't. No in-between. I think it works hand-in-hand with Maurice Sendak's original book, but I also think it's a very different experience. For more of my thoughts on the film, you can read my original review.
Welcome to The Motion/Captured Must-See Project.
From the moment it starts, William Friedkin's "To Live And Die In L.A." is absolutely, unmistakably a creature of the 1980s. That Wang Chung score is the first thing that anchors it as a Secret Service details drives the President down Santa Monica Blvd. toward the Beverly Hilton hotel. Once inside, we see agents checking out the building, and we hear the voice of Ronald Reagan delivering a speech offscreen. Then again, Reagan's speech is one of his famous tax cut rally cries, a message that would seem current today, and when William Petersen faces down a potential Presidential assassin, the killer cries out "Death to America and Israel and all the enemies of Islam!", something you could put in the mouth of any current movie bad guy and it would sound absolutely timely.
There's not a subtle moment in the film, and the combination of a visual style that is supercharged, courtesy of the great cinematographer Robbie Mueller, and a script that is absolutely tin-eared in terms of character and dialogue, courtesy of Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, somehow add up to a movie that still carries a hypersleazy kick, even twenty-plus years after it was made. Petievich was a real-life Treasury agent, although one assumes he wasn't a corrupt scumbag like lead character Richard Chance, played by Petersen in one of his earliest starring roles. There's something hilarious about the notion that Friedkin only decided to make this movie when he was refused the rights to Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, the book that became Michael Mann's "Manhunter" starring William Petersen after Mann sued Friedkin unsuccessfully over the way "To Live And Die In L.A." supposedly ripped off "Miami Vice." I'm dizzy just writing that out. I can see how Mann might get butt-hurt about the style of Friedkin's film, but that was the '80s for you. Everything was neon and pop music and a certain sort of film stock, and "Vice" certainly helped define that, but it was not the only film to do so. Friedkin's film owes as much to his own work of the '70s as to anything else, and what "The French Connection" was to the drug trafficking business, "To Live And Die In L.A." is to the counterfeit trade.
Last December, I was one of several people who visited the set of Zack Snyder's next live-action film, "Sucker Punch," and it'll be a while before we're cleared to write about what we saw. One of the more interesting detours for the day, though, was a presentation of the other film that Zack and his wife/producer Debbie Snyder are working on, a CGI animated film that was called "The Guardians Of Ga'hoole."
I say "was" because as of today, the title has changed.
According to Borys Kit at the HeatVision Blog, the new title for the film is "Legend Of The Guardians." I can understand that the world "Ga'hoole" might have thrown people before they see the film, but it's a distinct title, and as with "The Secret of NIMH," which this sort of reminds me of, it's a title that hints at a secret and that pays off once you've seen the movie.
The film is all CGI, produced in collaboration with the folks at Animal Logic, who were the primary CGI house on "Happy Feet." We didn't see much finished work in December, but what we saw was lush and beautiful, and there was a genuinely scary edge to much of the footage, even in rough form. I think it's a really interesting left turn for Snyder as a director, and I totally understand his desire to make something that his kids can see. It doesn't feel like he's treating it as something less than his live-action films, though. Instead, it feels like his sensibility, with the same sort of action choreography. It's just that the stars of the film are owls and other animals.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
I have a goal for March.Â I have a number of reviews that I've been sitting on, mainly because there are only 24 hours in any given day, but before IÂ leave for South By Southwest in Austin... before IÂ do one more festival... my goal is to finish and publish every one of those reviews.Â I sincerely hate having a backlog of material, and I want to reach a point where IÂ am caught up, where moving forward, what IÂ have to do is simply new stuff.Â Over the course of any year, things just kind of stack up, and it's time to clear house.
In general, I find myself constantly struggling to do better, to be more efficient, to manage my time in a more productive way.Â It's never easy.Â But if I didn't keep working at it, all the various ways I spend my energy would just plain eat me alive.
First things first, if you're on Twitter, you need to follow a girl named @Tyme2Waste.Â Trust me.Â Do it now.Â Read all the tweets she's posted so far.Â And then buckle up.Â We'll talk about why on Wednesday.
IÂ can't say I'm sorry that Angelina Jolie decided to pass on a sequel to "Wanted."Â I don't think anyone really needs that, except maybe Mark Millar and his accountant.Â And when she passed on it, she did so to consider some very interesting other offers, including an outer-space picture with Alfonso Cuaron (yes, please) and now word has surfaced that she may be teaming up with Darren Aronofsky on an adaptation of Serena:Â A Novel.Â IÂ haven't read the book, but it sounds intense, and I'd love to see her work with him.Â I also love that Aronofsky seems to be working faster and faster these days.Â The more movies we get from him, the better.
Interesting story over at /Film about how there will be five sequences in "Tron Legacy"Â that will take full advantage of the IMAX format, a la "The Dark Knight."Â One difference, though, and it's an important one... unlike "The Dark Knight,"Â the sequences weren't shot using actual IMAX cameras.Â I didn't go on Saturday for the trailer event, but I'm looking forward to seeing the footage as soon as possible, and I hope the movie is as big a trip as the original was.Â Disney's certainly got the full weight of their marketing muscle working on building awareness for it already.
It's been a little over a week since I saw Tim Burton's new "Alice In Wonderland", which is not so much a remake or an adaptation as it is a sequel, ignoring of course the idea that Lewis Carroll wrote a perfectly lovely sequel himself. It is wrong-headed in pretty much every way it can be, poorly designed, loud, and worst of all, boring. It is a catastrophe as a movie, and as a place marker in the career of Tim Burton, it is a big fat dead end.
Remember when it used to be exciting to hear that Tim Burton was making a new film? Those days seem to be well and truly behind us. That's a shame, too. Ever since the moment the lights came up at the end of my first screening of "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," I've been interested in this filmmaker. I love that film unreservedly. I think it's witty and beautiful and it has such amazing visual imagination. I caught up with his short films "Vincent" and "Frankenweenie" later, and I have huge affection for both of them. "Beetlejuice" is a little messier than "Pee Wee" as a script, but it's still heaps of fun to watch. I'm not crazy about his "Batman," but I think he was railroaded on that movie. "Batman Returns" is all his, and I absolutely prefer it for reasons I've written about at length in the past. "Mars Attacks!" is a film that many people hate, but I think it's a hoot. It's a mess, but I have to love those crazy little alien bastards hanging around their spaceship in bikini underwear, doing perverted experiments and blowing up things just for fun. "Sleepy Hollow" is a solid modern-day Hammer film with a groovy movie monster and a love for spilling the red. "Big Fish" doesn't work for me at all because (A) my father loved me and (B) the stories Albert Finney tells don't work at all thematically. And "Sweeney Todd" is a movie that works for me in every way except the most important... the music. And considering it's a Sondheim adaptation, that's made it almost impossible to rewatch.
By now, we're all familiar with the arguments both for and against remaking classic horror films, or even not-so-classic ones. There are certain titles within the horror community that are considered more sacred than others, though, and approaching a remake of one of these titles, there will naturally be a more pronounced sense of hesitation for fans.
"A Nightmare On Elm Street" was the film that helped establish New Line as a real contender in the independent world. When it was released, they didn't have any major marketing muscle to help them. They had to rely on some freaky TV spots and word of mouth, and sure enough, it worked. Not only did it create a new horror icon in the shape of Freddy Krueger, but it also spawned something like 11,000 sequels. That's an approximate number, but it was certainly enough of them to dilute him almost completely as a figure of fear.
The problem was twofold. First, there was little reason for Freddy's return, which makes him automatically less frightening. Random horror that just strikes for no real reason is less interesting than horror that is specifically targeting you as a victim, or (even worse) horror that you have brought on yourself. Second, Freddy started to get too damn funny. I hate wise-cracking Freddy. This is a guy who was murdered by a group of parents because of what he did to their children. This is a vile, repulsive human being whose evil was so strong that he he came back from beyond the grave to keep hurting his victims. And yet, by the time the series was done, Freddy was a Halloween costume for children, a joke. Defanged to such a degree that it was hard to remember a time when he was genuinely scary.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Is it really already the last weekend of February? Good god, at this point, time goes by so fast that I feel like Dave Bowman inside the monolith. It seems like Sundance was yesterday and SXSW starts tomorrow and in the meantime, I'm just scrambling to write as much as possible. I'm working on a script with my writing partner for the first time in a year in what little free time I have, and it's felt incredibly good to be finally flexing that creative muscle again. I love this work I do here at HitFix, but I am amazed that a whole year has already gone by and we're into the second year now. If I let myself, I could spend every day just churning out articles, and never get around to writing my own material again.
One of the things that takes up a lot of mental real estate is the prep involved in the Morning Read. I'm always looking for material for it, always bookmarking things for later, and it's changed the way I read things online. I spend more time now, hunting and reading, and I almost never get to use everything that I bookmark. This week, several things got on top of me, and as a result, I've got paaaaages of bookmarks, and today, I want to share at least a few, even if I am getting a late start.
Man, I was taken aback when The LA Times ran a piece about the potential directors for "Paranormal Activity 2." I like the first film, so don't take this wrong, but... what world are we living in where Brian De Palma is considering Oren Peli's leftovers? That's just f'ing crazy. Admittedly, De Palma is good at creepy horror, he's been preoccupied with notions of what reality is in front of a camera for decades, and his not-very-good "Redacted" was a direct experiment in this sort of found-footage filmmaking. So it's not that I think it's a bad choice. But still... this is BRIAN FREAKING DE PALMA we're talking about. His career trajectory is so awful that it makes me feel better about my own near-total failure in Hollywood. If this guy, at this point, is looking this as a potential job, then obviously this business is deeply broken. Brad Anderson (who's no freshman, no matter what The LA Times says) is a great choice if they can get him. I'm a little amazed that the list features names I actually like. I guess the first film's success put Paramount in a great position on this one. My question is who's going to be able to pull this off and have it in theaters in October. Sounds like one hell of a ride for some filmmaker, and my guess is we'll have a name soon if they hope to make that date.