Welcome to The Morning Read.
Some days, it's a struggle to find enough material to put together a satisfying Morning Read. Some days, it's a struggle to fit it all into one column. This is one of those days, and it's an uncommonly good batch of material out there to sift through.
For example, there are more of those Empire "Tintin" images online, and I've gotta say, there's a desert one that I find amazing, a perfect Tintin image. And I like the way the Thompsons look so far. They're sort of spot on, and with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg performing the roles together, I can't wait to see them in motion.
And have you seen the Entertainment Weekly images from "The Muppets" with Jason Segel, introducing Walter, the new Muppet who will co-star with Segal in the film due out next Christmas? Awesome. Instantly charming. And my favorite part of the picture is knowing that Segel is probably out of his mind with joy in that photo. He's such a Jim Henson super-geek, and that photo is just one icon after another crammed into every corner of the frame with Segel right there in the middle. That goes beyond dream come true. I hope the film lives up to its potential and restores the Muppets to their rightful place in pop culture. I know we can never bring Jim Henson back, but I'm sure he wanted these characters to have a larger life beyond him. They are so rich, with such great relationships established over time, and done right, this could be a really special moment next year.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
It started slowly, almost subtle, taking its time, building slowly, and only exploded during the second half of the film, building much more quickly, so intense that I almost had to get up and run, finally reaching a devastating finale that left me weak.
Unfortunately, I'm not talking about the movie itself, but the headache that Tony Scott's ridiculous shooting style gave me. And I'm not exaggerating.
Let's talk about what works in "Unstoppable" first, which is pretty much everything else. This is one of those films that sounds ridiculous in concept, but which works incredibly well as an exercise in Everything Going Wrong. How does a giant freight train loaded with toxic chemical end up racing out of control through heavily populated areas? Well, "Unstoppable" finds a way to make the set up credible, even inevitable, and by the time, things are really rolling, you're invested. Mark Bomback is an interesting screenwriter, a guy who just booked one of the best gigs in town last week when he was hired to rewrite "Shadow Divers." It's a big story, with a lot of moving pieces, and the way Bomback built this script for "Unstoppable" would indicate he's the exact right guy for that job.
There are really three main characters in the film, all of them playing a key role in what unfolds. Frank (Denzel Washington) is a veteran railroader, a guy who has 28 years under his belt and who's staring down the barrel of forced early retirement now. Will (Chris Pine) is an engineer on the other end of the timeline, one of the young guys being brought in for lower wages to help drive out older employees. And Connie (Rosario Dawson) is a dispatcher who watches these little bumps and mistakes erupt into this full-blown disaster, working tirelessly to figure out how to stop it from the very first moment she hears what's going on. They are given able support by a cast including Ethan Suplee and T.J. Miller as the guys responsible for the train getting away in the first place, Kevin Dunn as Dawson's direct superior, Kevin Corrigan as a safety inspector, and Jessy Schram as Pine's estranged wife.
I understand why conspiracy theories are so important to the overall psychic health of so many people. There are times when it feels like we live in a terrifying, random, cruel, uncaring world, and if you can figure out some hidden pattern, some deeply covered secret that explains why bad things happen to you or why bad things happen to the world in general, then maybe that's what people need in order to keep waking up in the morning.
There are, of course, any number of conspiracy theories that involve our space program, not the least of which is the notion that the moon landing was faked. I've always preferred the sheer lunacy of the school of thought that one of the Apollo missions that was scrapped for financial reason, actually happened and that it was on that mission that man made contact with aliens. The theory is actually called the "Apollo 20" theory, but the first mission that would have happened that didn't was Apollo 18.
Sounds like Timur Bekmambetov likes that theory as well, because he's the producer of a low-profile movie that just got unveiled at AFM. The movie, written by Brian Miller and directed by Trevor Caewood, is now set for a March 4, 2011 release by The Weinstein Company. The film is already shooting, and whatever the footage was that Bekmambetov showed to the Weinsteins is what closed the deal. Supposedly, the footage was from the actual Apollo 18 mission. This is evidently a smaller-scale production, a la the "Paranormal Activity" series, and if you read the comments below the actual article over at Deadline, it sounds like the film got shopped around as a script before they went and shot some footage. That's exactly what AFM is for, taking these projects into the marketplace and getting them financed or released, and it looks like this year's marketplace just made Bekmambetov even busier.
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Another week winding down, and the next few weeks, I'll be seeing most of the rest of the films coming out in 2010. It's an avalanche. Because I see and review things on that sliding schedule, sometimes reviewing something months before you have a chance to see it, on the Friday morning these movies finally come out, it's worth taking a moment to link to the reviews and remind you of what we've said about the films.
For example, there's "Four Lions," which I saw at Sundance and loved. Chris Morris, the evil genius behind "Brass Eye," has made a potent and piercing picture about the absurd face of modern terrorism. It's the first release by the newly-formed Drafthouse Films, and it's stuck with me for the entire year. I urge you to find a theater near you playing it, and if it's not playing near you yet, keep your eyes open for when it does. You can listen to my interview with Chris Morris on the last episode of the podcast as well.
"Megamind" is opening today, as is "Due Date," comedies for very different audiences. The latest Dreamworks Animation movie is a solid effort, a smart and frequently funny take on superheroes, while I was disappointed by the way the chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis never really congealed into a great comedy. "127 Hours," the new Danny Boyle film, is great. I loved it at Toronto, and when I recently sat down with Boyle and star James Franco together, it was a great conversation.
Why does a person fall in love with another person?
It's one of the fundamental questions of art. There are mountains of books and movies and poems and songs and paintings and sculpture and performance about the question, both asking and attempting to answer it. Even so, it's an answer you can't offer up as a general all-purpose thing. No two couples are the same. No two relationships are the same. No two people are drawn together in the exact same way. And so we return to this idea, examining it a thousand different ways, hoping to find the universal in the specific, hoping for some answer that will make sense of these powerful forces that so often render us helpless.
Movies often bungle the "why" in love stories, and to my mind, the "why" is all that matters. There's a reason movies often resort to what they call the "meet cute," these phony, ridiculous situations that are meant to serve as shorthand to all the things that actually go into the cultivation of a relationship. It's a shortcut. We're simply meant to assume in most movies that the lead characters fall in love because that's what the story is about. Writers will go out of their way to create elaborate scenarios that drive characters apart, manufactured tension that doesn't really work because of our knowledge of genre convention. When you go see 99.9% of all romantic films, drama or comedy, you can be assured that you will get a happy ending. The two pretty people on the poster? They'll end up in each other's arms, one way or another, and the more elaborate the gesture and the more ridiculous the situation, the more it seems like audiences eat it up. The slow clap, the run through the airport, the declaration as someone walks across a crowded office that's come to a stop to watch… these are the ways we signify love on film.
Well, if you're looking for paternal authority, I guess you can't do much better in casting than Martin Sheen.
Let's set aside the fact that one of his actual sons, Charlie Sheen, is practically a super-villain at this point whose archenemies appear to be cocaine, an army of ex-wives, hookers, and hotel suites. Sheen was perfect as President Bartlett on "The West Wing" precisely because of that reasonable, benign wisdom he projects. When Mouth finds a coin in the wishing well in "The Goonies" and excitedly proclaims, "It's Martin Sheen!", that's because it's hard to not get him confused with a Kennedy. He's played both RFK and JFK, and he's played unnamed Presidents in many more films beyond that.
There must be something special about playing JFK that qualifies you to play Uncle Ben in a "Spider-Man" film. After all, "PT-109" starred Cliff Robertson as the young JFK during his days of Naval service, and he played Uncle Ben for the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" series. Now Marc Webb has tapped Sheen to step in and play the role in the reboot of the series that's due out in 2012.
This comes on the heels of the recent flurry of casting decisions for the film, including the hyper-adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Rhys Ifans as the still unnamed-but-heavily-speculated-about villain, and of course Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I like the idea of Garfield and Sheen playing scenes together, and I think I'm more excited about that notion than any of the potential special effects or action scenes. The real key to me caring about a new version of Spider-Man is the cast and the human elements of the story.
There is really only one test that matters for the re-organized MGM when it comes to their recovery from bankruptcy, and today, we get our first look at how they plan to face that test.
If you haven't been following the MGM bankruptcy story, or if you're only aware of it in vague terms, I don't blame you. I've been in Los Angeles for 20 years now, and MGM's been struggling with bankruptcy for most of that time. I've always find it amazing that this titan, this 86-year-old movie icon, could be run so poorly and managed so badly for such an extended period of time. Now that they've rejected the takeover bid by Lionsgate and Carl Icahn, they've got to prove that they can turn the ailing company around. In order to do so, they filed a pre-packaged plan with a Manhattan federal bankruptcy court that outlines their goals and the ways they hope to accomplish those goals.
And as I said, there's only really one thing that matters: what do they plan to do about James Bond?
After all, "The Hobbit" is going to happen under the guidance of Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson's Wingnut Films. MGM may have their name on that film, and they may well end up distributing it internationally, depending on how healthy that part of the company is in 2012, but they aren't really "making" it. They can't afford to. I'm not sure how they plan to deal with their $275 million "total obligation" to the movie, but my guess is they'll have no shortage of third party financiers looking to jump in.
The image you see there is from one of the only Legendary comic ventures so far, an iPad/iPod prequel comic to "Clash Of The Titans," with art by Gonzalo Arias, an acclaimed fantasy artist with a strong "World Of Warcraft" fanbase.
Today, Legendary Pictures announced that they were kicking off a new comics label, a venture that will be headed by Bob Schreck as Editor-in-Chief. Kinda makes sense that if you're a company called Legendary and you're starting a comics division, you're going to reach out to a guy who legitimately can be called a legend in his field.
The entire key to the announcement can be found in one line of the press release, of course: "[Shreck] will be working closely with Kathy Vrabeck, President of Legendary Digital, and they will, as warranted, look to bring the newly-created comic-based IP produced by the venture to other entertainment platforms such as film and television."
Well, of course they will. This is not a breakthrough in terms of business model. Right now, with comic properties driving such a huge percentage of the industry, it's only prudent to start a division where you can test properties and see how they work with your exact demographic target. There are many companies that have been started in the last decade or so that I would describe as "IP farms," companies that develop material with the express idea of leveraging it across several platforms. In many of those cases, the comic books that are produced as a result of these deals are not good comic books. They read like placeholders. They read like someone's pitch for the eventual movie they hope the book will become.
Welcome to the Morning Read.
Actually, thanks to a visit to Santa Monica to check in on a film that's currently editing and a delightful afternoon of traffic on the 405 that makes no sense at all to me, today it's the Evening Read. And so be it. It was a big day of things to read, and just trying to find the time to sift through it all took until now.
In the time between when I posted my "Sucker Punch" set visit this morning and now, the new trailer premiered on Apple.com, and I'm sorry if you're one of those people who still inexplicably insists that Snyder doesn't handle narrative well… I disagree. Yes, he's a man who loves style and loves to play with the image, but I think he's a storyteller. And this new trailer tells a complicated story well, setting up the movie in a way that hints at how much there's going to be for viewers, but that also leaves you wanting more. And the use of Led Zeppelin? Bonus points.
Also, I have to say… I have resisted joining the cult of Apple for many years, but watching a 1080p trailer from Apple.com on a 13" Macbook Pro is only one of the ways I've been converted since I got the laptop in September. This must be what it feels like when The Thing takes you over. I can feel myself changing into one of those people…
Take "Inception." Drop in "Black Swan." Add a dash of cosplay fantasy and a hint of "Excalibur" and a pinch of "Return To Oz," and then blend until liquified. At that point, shoot the whole thing in Zack Snyder Dream-o-vision and brace yourself for "Sucker Punch," the director's first original feature film, not based on any source material.
And I can honestly say that after visiting the Vancouver location for the film, after talking to the director, the cast, and Deb Snyder, one of the film's producers, I still don't feel confident saying that I could "describe" the film to you accurately. I get the feeling that until it's done, polished, and every last detail is in place, there's no way to get your head around exactly what it is that Snyder's tried to do.
When I compare this film to both "Inception" and "Black Swan," don't get me wrong… I'm not saying Snyder was influenced by those movies. He wasn't. It's just that there are thematic ideas he's chasing that those two films also explore. He's been chipping away at "Sucker Punch" with his co-writer Steve Shibuya since before he made "300," and he's just finally gotten himself to a place where he has the expendable clout to make something that is this purely an expression of his own interests and fancies. His relationship with Warner Bros. and with Legendary is very similar to the relationship they have with Christopher Nolan. They have a faith in him and his overall vision that extends well beyond any one film. They are in the Zack Snyder business, and they plan to be in that business for as long as they're still convinced that Snyder has a connection to the zeitgeist.