Welcome to The Morning Read.
This week, Dimension Films made anyone who saw "Scream 4" sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the ending of the film, and it's smart marketing in a way. They've made sure the ending won't be printed, and if it is by someone who didn't sign the NDA, then that becomes the story, and it's news, and it feeds back into discussion of "Scream 4," and that's sort of what they're counting on. It led to some awkward interview moments when the cast refused to answer any questions about that ending, even though the press had already seen it, but so be it. Is discussing the fact that there's an NDA about the ending the same as discussing the ending? Is this one of those endless feedback loops? Simply by typing it out, have I created a paradox that will erase me completely from the timeline?
Speaking of timelines, it appears Commander Future will return in April. I'll let you know exactly when it drops, but your feedback helped guarantee his return, so thanks for that.
Now let's jump into today's Morning Read and get this weekend underway. I'll be working all weekend at press events for "Hanna" and "Your Highness," but there'll be plenty of content for you here on the blog, including more of my SXSW catch-up. There are three separate episodes of the podcast coming as well, including a great one I recorded with James Gunn and Rainn Wilson of "Super."
Welcome to The Morning Read.
Each of the individual young women who star in "Sucker Punch" would test the paying-attention skills of any red-blooded guy sitting across from them, but you put Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, and Vanessa Hudgens together in a room and then dare me to keep my mind on the conversation, and it's almost like a hidden camera show.
The truth is that these are charming young performers who are thrilled with the film they just made, and I wanted to talk to them about their expectations for the film versus the way it looks in its final form, and I wanted to talk to them about the process. And it was a good conversation, too. Jena Malone in particular clearly communicates her excitement about the movie in this piece, and I find their exuberance right now to be really lovely. Whatever happens with the movie, whatever the majority reaction is to it, I suspect this will remain one of the most important milestones for the entire cast because of the experience they had and the bonds they formed with the rest of the ensemble.
What different backgrounds they come from, too. Chung is a reality TV discovery, and so far we've seen very few of them make serious runs at feature film careers. Chung has a quiet charisma that I found affecting in her work as Amber in the film, and I hope this is just the start for her.
Malone, of course, has been acting since she was a child, and she's managed to make a very interesting transition into adulthood. No surprise with some of the mentors she's had on her films. When you have Jodie Foster as a resource, chances are you'll manage to make the jump from young actor to grown-up fairly well, your professional soul intact.
From the very first frames of the film, "Sucker Punch" rejects reality. There is a naked theatricality to the staging of the first few images, and then writer/director Zack Snyder drops us into the worst night in the young life of Baby Doll (Emily Browning). It's a specific decision, as is practically everything in every frame of the film, and it's one of many choices where I think Snyder the writer may have let down Snyder the director in ways that make the film a grand fascinating almost, a near-miss, an ambitious just-this-close.
The story the film tells is fairly straightforward, but the way the story is told is anything but. Baby Doll had a younger sister until one awful night after their mother died when their stepfather (the suitably toadlike Gerard Plunkett) went crazy and terrible things happened. Baby Doll is taken to an asylum for women, a gothic mental hospital where she's basically handed off to Blue (Oscar Isaac) with a payment that guarantees that in a few days, a specialist will show up to give her a lobotomy, taking any secrets she might have out along with the grey matter. Baby Doll can't handle what she sees going on around her, and she has a break with reality. To her, it's not an asylum. It's a brothel. And it's not run-down and disgusting, it's opulent and lush. The other girls aren't mental patients, they are girls pressed into dancing (and more) for rich clients in an elaborate theater. Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino) isn't a psychiatrist trying to reach the girls through therapy, but is instead the madame, teaching these girls how to dance for their lives, literally. And Blue isn't just an abusive orderly who will do anything for money, he's actually a pimp, the man in charge, and the main obstacle between Baby Doll and freedom.
As long as I've been talking to Zack Snyder, "Sucker Punch" has been bouncing around in there somewhere, a constant concern of his.Â When we first sat down to talk, he was in post-production on "300," and he talked about how there were things he wanted to do that were original, something he was writing, and at the same time, he also had "Watchmen" sitting in his office, an active concern for Warner Bros.
He moved from "300" directly into that adaptation of one of the sacred texts of the comic world, and it was something that Warner Bros. really wanted to make.Â The train was moving, and he hopped on.Â And even so, even as he did his third adaptation in a row of existing material, he was still working on developing his original idea, and it was only after he delivered that film that he finally took the plunge.
Now here we are, and "Sucker Punch" arrives in theaters on Friday, and sitting down to talk to him about the movie, it feels like he's graduating from school all over again.Â This is a film he had to make before he moves forward in the rest of his career, a dare he posed for himself years ago, and whatever you think of the finished film, the ambition on display is outsized, an artist betting on his own sensibilities without a safety net.Â It was great to hear him talk about what he's actually done as opposed to the hypothetical of what he might do or could do or wanted to do.Â This is the moment where audiences finally see Zack Snyder without anyone else's sensibilities grafted onto what he does, and it'll be interesting to see what happens.
Okay… I'm in.
I was already interested, certainly, but that new trailer for "Captain America: The First Avenger" is incredibly persuasive and stylized and charming. There's something great about the way Joe Johnston's creating the world of the '40s, and about the way he makes Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) into a puny weakling in the early parts of the film.
And once it kicks in? It looks like an adventure movie, pure and simple, and as logical a choice as that seems to be, I'm amazed how few adventure movies there are in the superhero genre. Angst is the main order of business, with revenge and daddy issues and taking over the world as major motivators. This is much more of a straightforward "here's your mission" adventure film, and it is something I've wanted to see for a while now.
Stanley Tucci looks like a hoot as Professor Erskine, the guy in charge of the Super Soldier Program, and he's got the best line in the trailer, about the way it takes a weak man to understand the value of strength and power. Tommy Lee Jones is Col. Phillips, the perfect military face for WWII. I like that Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is the guy who looks older and bigger and like the "real" soldier. It's a very different take than the Bucky and Cap relationship I grew up reading about, which was more of a traditional Batman and Robin hero and sidekick thing.
Can you believe that the first "Scream" came out way back in 1996? That was before most people had cell phones, the internet, or knew what the word 'meta' meant. But the film stood out for the sharp and comic writing by Kevin Williamson, and the fact that as self referential and funny as it was, it delivered plenty of scares.
Folks who love the series will be happy to see the old "Scream" magic alive and well within these 3 clips. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette are back as Sidney, Sheriff Dewey (no longer a Deputy) and Gale Weathers respectively, and watching them is like seeing old friends from school. You didn't especially keep up with them, but you're happy to see them again anyway and you'll definitely accept their friend request on facebook... (to torture an analogy.) Clips embedded after the jump
When I was working as a tour guide on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, it was during the time they were shooting "The Flintstones," and our tour ended up getting lots of looks at the sets for the film, the props for the film, and even, on occasion, the stars of the film. It was a guaranteed reaction every time we got a look at Fred Flintstone's car with the holes in the bottom for his feet to go through, and between tours, several of us would brazenly walk onto the various soundstages, hoping to see Henson Company dinosaurs.
One afternoon, as we were walking across the lot, I spotted the cast trailers, and wanted a friend to take a picture of me with Elizabeth Taylor's door. That's all. Just the door. I figured it would be a funny picture, and I could talk about how many other doors that door had been married to and how hard it was to get it to pose for the photo and on and on. Dumb jokes, all of which were going through my head as I walked up the first few steps of her trailer so I could pose.
That's when the door to the trailer swung open from inside and I found myself looking directly into the most famous pair of violet eyes in film history. She may have been just past 60 at that point, but she didn't miss a beat. She sized me up, then turned to her assistant and said, "I'm almost sure I didn't order this."
They do not make broads like that anymore.
Duncan Jones is a bright, unaffected guy who seems determined to make science-fiction movies he wants to see. I met him once, briefly, while he was working with the great Paul Hirsch to edit his new movie "Source Code" in Los Angeles.
Jake Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, I've been interviewing for the past decade now, ever since I talked to him for the first time at Sundance '01, where he was representing "Donnie Darko" along with his sister Maggie.
Together, the two of them seem quite proud of their twisty little thriller, a sort of sci-fi riff on the Hitchcock everyman movie, in which a regular guy finds himself in a crazy situation and has to puzzle his way out of it somehow. The movie opened the SXSW Film Festival this year, and the audience seemed to have a blast with it. Makes sense, because it's a movie that really works overtime to engage the audience and to entertain, but without empty thrills.
"Source Code" offers some significant creative challenges for the filmmakers and the performers, and I knew I wanted to talk to them about how they carefully constructed something that pays off in such rich and interesting ways, and how you build a character arc eight minutes at a time.
I think we were careful to avoid any significant spoilers in our conversation, but it's not really a film that's built around one big twist, so it's not the sort of thing that I think we could accidentally trip over in a discussion. Instead, the film relies on the way it carefully and continually tweaks your expectations and your ideas about what you're watching and who these characters are. The way the film pays off isn't one big firecracker out of nowhere, but is instead about the careful build-up to an eventual release that makes perfect emotional sense. I like that the science in the film is far less important in terms of how it works than what it does to these people. Those are the science-fiction stories I like the most, the ones that press us to examine our own humanity and the boundaries of it.
Hiring Jerry Stahl to write "The Thin Man" is, frankly, one of those might-be-a-masterstroke ideas that makes me reassess my original reaction to an announcement.
I love "The Thin Man" movies. I love the Dashiell Hammett novel, which is totally different from really any of his Continental Op stories. I have always thought Nick and Nora Charles are the greatest example of movie marriage of all time, and I find myself able to rematch any of the movies any time, something that's true of very few film franchises.
If you're not familiar with "The Thin Man," it tells the story of Nick Charles, a former police detective who married Nora, a society girl whose family money allowed Nick to retire and live a debauched life. He's older than her, and one of the things that the first movie clearly demonstrates is that Nora is fascinated by Nick's former life, by the way he knows everyone from the lowest criminal to the highest elected official, and by the idea of him solving a crime. It's a turn-on for her to see him in action, and all Nick wants to do is keep drinking, keep relaxing, and keep loving Mrs. Charles up as much as possible. When a family friend disappears, his daughter draws Nick out of retirement, reluctantly, a drink in one hand the entire time, and the result is a great mystery with some of the best rapid-fire smart dialogue of its era.
I'm still unconvinced about "Akira" as a live-action property.
I'm convinced that hiring Steve Kloves to come in as a screenwriter on pretty much anything is a good idea, so the news that the studio is moving forward with casting how that he's done with his rewrite of the script suggests that he managed to crack what has been a difficult task for everyone assigned to it so far.
I've read Gary Whitta's first couple of passes at the project, and I've heard about the plans Albert Hughes has for the film, and it sounds to me like a really strange and risky project. Little surprise. The Katsuhiro Otomo manga and the 1988 film based on it are both surreal, dense, and even as a fan, I'd hardly call them ironclad examples of how to write a compelling narrative. They are dreamy, filled with big memorable images that frequently seem to work more as experience than story. I love the movie, but I am also weirded out by it each time I revisit it. Like "Godzilla," the prior incarnations of "Akira" have been built out of the mythology and psychology of a country that actually knows what it's like to have nuclear bombs dropped on it, and the scar that leaves on a national psyche comes out in these films in fascinating and organic ways. Moving the setting to "New Manhattan" does the same thing that happened when they remade the Argentinian film "Nine Queens" as "Criminal" in the US: they can tell the same surface story, but the subtext vanishes because of geography, robbing the original of much of its meaning.