Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
The acclaimed director talks stop-motion, 3D, and scaring kids
Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick, most likely discussing something wonderful and odd
Henry Selick is a superstar in my house these days.
Really. It's impossible to overstate just how big "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is with my oldest son. This has been the first year where he's really asserted his own taste in what he loves, and the things he loves, he loves without reservation. And he makes me laugh in the way he'll watch behind-the-scenes stuff on DVDs and talk to the filmmakers like he knows them. John Lasseter is like an old trusted friend in our house, and Toshi greets every appearance of his with a "Hi, John Lasseter!" And on the "Nightmare" BluRay, Toshi is fascinated by any example of people actually posing and moving the stop-motion puppets. He loves the idea that the entire movie stars toys he could hold in his hand.
I didn't even tell him that "Coraline" was from the same filmmaker. We watched a trailer for it the other day, and he told me at the end, "You know, Daddy, that not scary. It's just 'Nightmare For Christmas.'" He senses a connection between them innately somehow, and that speaks well to just how completely Selick signs his movies as an artist.
He's a striking figure in person. I could picture casting him as a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a drama set in the 1800s. He's tall, scarecrow-thin, and when he speaks passionately on some subject, he closes his eyes like he's looking inwards for the answer. He's very direct in conversation, and on the occasions we've been able to talk, I've found him to be one of the least-pretentious filmmakers to ever crank out a couple of classics. At least in my experience.
I got a chance to sit down with him last week at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, the day after I saw his latest film "Coraline" projected in RealD. As I walked into the room, Henry was taking a quick drink of water in between what must have been an endless loop of interviews for the day.
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Plus The Dude abides, and Drew goes a little crazy over TED2009
Kenneth Branagh's vision of 'Thor' does not, thankfully, look like this.
Thursday, Thursday. Lots of ground to cover. Lots to discuss. And on top of it, a full evening's worth of having my computer offline means I've got to make up for lost time with a big batch of material this morning and afternoon, including that Henry Selick "Coraline" interview (a pretty good one, I think) and my "Lost" recap and a fistful of reviews I've got ready to go... it's going to be a busy day all the way around.
About yesterday's movie... singular, as it happens, since I was unable to make it to the Grove last night... UNDER THE SEA was a great afternoon out with a three-year-old. Seriously. Great.
The IMAX 3D was impeccable, as I expected, and Toshi spent most of the time either terrified of the sharks or reaching out to touch the other fish. He spent the rest of the day talking about how the crocodile (actually a crocodile fish) and the sharks had scared him, but he was fine, and he wasn't really afraid, and he wanted to see it again. That's a hit where I come from.
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Drew's off to see 'Push,' but read these articles while he's away...
Good morning. I've got two screenings today (one's for a 3D IMAX film I'm seeing with Toshi called "Under the Seas," and the other is for "Push"), so if I'm going to be productive at all, we're going to need to get right to it.
I had a meeting yesterday over at Original Films, whose "Green Hornet" project I reported on a few times last week. Considering the controversy those posts kicked up, it was a little awkward, but at least I can count on being remembered, right? That's half the trick when you're taking meetings, and the other half is remembering who you meet. John August wrote a good piece about the issue.
For everyone who tells you that the system works a certain way and you can only get a movie made if you go through the "right channels," there is going to be someone else whose personal story totally disproves that idea. Case in point.
I love this industry. Obviously I depend on this industry. But, guys, come on... we don't need a government bailout. Let's save that for industries that are actually in collapse, okay?
Peter O'Toole was insane crazy ohmygod young in 'Lawrence of Arabia,' wasn't he?
Hitfix.com is my job. I am very lucky right now, when I see good people like Glenn Kenny and Anne Thompson and Andy Klein losing their jobs, people who are great writers with important voices in their field. And by whatever fate, I have a new job, and a job where I'm given a lot of latitude to choose what it is that I want to write about. So I count myself pretty fortunate. These are good folks to be working with. The last few weeks, I've been doing the interview circuit. You'll be reading my Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman pieces for "Coraline" this weekend, and you'll be seeing all of my "Friday The 13th" video interviews here next week as well. And that stuff is a certain investment of time.
And before that, we did Sundance, and what was great about that is how I'm still writing Sundance pieces that are relevant, like the "September Issue" review you'll see here later, with that film just selling for distribution by Roadside Attractions in, appropriately, September of this year. But that was a huge investment of time, certainly.
And that's fine. That's my job, that investment of time. And since this blog is my online home now, I've got some very definite ideas about what I want to ultimately do with the place.
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Charlie Huston poses for a fan at the New York Comic-Con
Here's the first thing I love about Charlie Huston's ripping new book, "The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs Of Death": Webster Fillmore Goodhue, the hero of the book, is a total unrepentant asshole.
There is nothing that makes me more mental during a notes session than when someone brings up the word "likable." Like it is the end-all be-all desired state of existence for every character ever created. Like that is what we all aspire to as personal nirvana: likability.
Charlie Huston is smart enough as a writer to know that it doesn't matter if you like a character or hate a character just as long as their voices strike us as real. If we engage, that's all it takes. Honestly, for the first half of the book, Web is such a complete douche to each and every person in his life that you figure he earns every bit of bad karma that comes raining down on him over the course of this wicked, dark noir thriller. But gradually, Web's damaged past starts to surface, and as you piece together exactly why it is he doesn't ride the bus or what led him to stop teaching... well, it pays off. And while I would never actually say that I liked Web, the process of fully comprehending him as a character was a total delight.
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Smith Cho and Jimmy Tsai in the charming 'Ping Pong Playa'
Credit: IFC Films/Cherry Sky Films
A few years back, Jessica Yu made a positively hypnotic documentary called "In The Realms Of The Unreal," about a painter/writer named Henry Darger, the ultimate outsider artist. I loved that film. I put it on my top ten of the year list. And yet, when she released her first two narrative films in 2007, I didn't see either of them, and I only just caught up with the first of them last night. And "Ping Pong Playa" couldn't be more different than "In The Realms Of The Unreal" if it was directed by a different person.
That's not to say it's a bad film, because it's not. Star Jimmy Tsai is also Yu's co-writer, and it's a showcase for him as a performer. The film has a nice sense of humor about the Chinese American experience, and seems to speak from an authentic place. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to enjoy Tsai's "chigga" persona, but as the film unspools and you see just how much of it is a front, it starts to pay off as a character choice, and Tsai has a lot more going on than is first apparent.
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Kind of a late start this morning, thanks to a late night last night, but let's see what's out there to read today.
I've spoken a little bit with Fuller and Form about the particular difficulties that are inherent to developing a "Nightmare On Elm Street" remake, and when they sat down to chat with Devin Faraci from CHUD, that's exactly what they discussed. "Nightmare" is one of the best of the '80s horror films, smart and freaky and surreal, and it's the biggest challenge the Platinum Dunes guys have tackled yet, in my opinion.
Are you excited about "Terminator: Salvation"? Or, at the very least, interested in it? I sort of wish McG would turn down the "I GET IT! EVERYONE HATES ME! MY NAME IS WACKY! I SWEAR I'M MAKING A GOOD MOVIE!" assault of the last few months and just let the film speak for itself. I've never seen a director of a giant-budget franchise picture like this project such a manic insecurity about himself, and in close quarters, it's a little overwhelming. The film itself is certainly ambitious and looks like they're trying to build a strange new chapter into the mythology established by James Cameron. WIRED just put up a great article with all sorts of production art that I saw when I visited the set in New Mexico, and if you don't mind some spoilers, it's definitely worth a look.
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The single most charming couple in Hollywood history. Do not argue with me.
Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video
It's a busy week for the rep houses here in LA this week, and that makes me very, very happy. I have to hope that this much activity means people are going right now. This week, there are a few particular highlights I'll point out, but there's a wide range of stuff playing. I have trouble believing any film fan would have trouble finding at least one screening worth attending, and I encourage you to choose one of these theaters when you're considering a night out.
At the always-fabulous New Beverly, it's an eclectic line-up.
MONDAY & TUESDAY - FEB. 2 & 3
Powerful Documentaries from Zeitgeist Films
"Trouble The Water" (2008)
Nominated For This Year's Best Documentary Oscar!
Sundance Film Festival 2008 Grand Jury Prize Documentary
dir. Carl Deal & Tia Lessin
"Up The Yangtze" (2007)
Sundance Film Festival 2008 Grand Jury Prize World Documentary
dir. Yung Chang
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY - FEB. 4 & 5
Two Legendary Musical Outsiders
"Patti Smith: Dream of Life" (2008)
Nominated for Sundance Film Fest Grand Jury Prize Documentary
dir. Steven Sebring
"The Nomi Song" (2004)
Berlin International Film Festival Best Documentary Winner
Man or Martian? New wave or opera?
dir. Andrew Horn
Thomas Hardy's amazing performance anchors an unconventional biopic
Thomas Hardy gets his grin on in 'Bronson'
Credit: Sundance Institute/Protagonist Pictures
Art's a funny thing. It exists by agreement sometimes, when the artist finds a buyer or acclaim. It exists in a vacuum sometimes, when an artist creates for the sheer pleasure of it. It exists sometimes in unlikely forms, from unlikely sources. And sometimes, it is the sole lifeline which keeps someone clinging however tenuously to this planet as it spins. I'm not sure how I'd describe the art created by Charlie Bronson, the hyper-violent protagonist of this film, but director Nicolas Winding Refn's art is positively devastating. Refn's probably best known internationally for the blistering trilogy of "Pusher" films he made with star Kim Bodina. Those movies were stylish, brutal, and mesmerizing, but instead of launching him into an era of massive productivity, he somehow got sidelined into things like Miss Marple TV movies. Now, finally, five years after the "Pusher" series ended, Refn's back, and the material couldn't be a better fit for his sensibilities.
"Bronson" is a true story, but it isn't told in any sort of conventional biopic terms. Instead, Refn and his co-writer Brock Norman Brock do their best to create an entirely subjective portrait of a man, told from the inside. He wants you to experience the world the way Bronson does. And just who is Charles Bronson, and why does he have the same name as one of Hollywood's greatest tough guy icons? How did an average English boy named Michael Peterson, raised by good and loving parents, become the single most violent prisoner in the history of the English penal system?
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Bill Murray in the Harold Ramis classic 'Groundhog Day'
Credit: Columbia Pictures/Moviescreenshots.blogspot.com
I've always admired "Groundhog Day," but each time I revisit it, I find more to like about the movie. Maybe that's appropriate. When the BluRay showed up last week, I put it on the "next to be watched" stack, looking forward to it. The transfer is bright and crisp and really shows off John Bailey's cinematography, but "Groundhog Day" is never going to be one of those films people buy to demo a high-def system.
No, this is a film for people who demand a little more from mainstream comedy, a high point for all involved. I know Bill Murray's had an interesting run over the last decade or so as people finally caught on to the idea that he's more than just a comedian, but as much as I like "Lost In Translation" or "Rushmore" or "Broken Flowers," I'd argue that this movie represents some of the very best work he's done on film. He's perfect as Phil Connors, the Sisyphean hero of this twisted parable about making the most of one's life. He manages to make it funny and sad and moving and absurd, and he sells every beat of the film as believable. So many high concept comedies struggle just to get their premise of the ground, while "Groundhog Day" never bothers to explain how or why the time loop is happening to Phil; it just is. I love that there's no angel or magical remote control or some other contrived bullshit designed to hold your hand as you watch. You experience things the same way Phil does, and you discover things as he does. It's a very simple script in some ways... very direct. Danny Rubin, with Harold Ramis batting clean-up, created a perfect vehicle to explore the way we evolve as individuals, but in a non-pretentious and fun manner. I think it's sort of amazing how "Groundhog Day" works as a simple comedy, but also as serious philosophical exploration of what it is we do with our lives, and how we piss away rivers of time instead of holding each moment precious.
There are many people writing about this film online today for obvious reasons, and Ali Arikan's take over at The House Next Door is a particularly rich read. Personally, I'm just glad SPHE put out such a solid BluRay edition. Now if they could get Bill and Harold to record a commentary together to talk about how this film pretty much destroyed their professional and personal relationships... THAT would be the anniversary edition everyone would pony up for. In its stead, this one will do.