Could this kick off a new series for the studio?
- Critic's Rating B
- Readers' Rating n/a
William Joyce is one of the best guys working today in the world of children's books, and the work he produces deserves to be added to the same shelf where we put names like Sendak and Silverstein and Seuss. He has a beautiful, instantly recognizable art style, and he writes in the loveliest cascades of language. There's something very dreamy and very familiar about his work as soon as you're introduced to it. He is absolutely among the top tier of people who do what he does, and "Rise Of The Guardians" is, before anything, a tribute to his storytelling style and a fairly remarkable realization of the visual worlds he creates.
The film, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Peter Ramsey, begins with Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) slowing waking up to consciousness. He remembers nothing. He is newborn to his powers, and we watch him get his footing, like the early scenes in "Bambi," and then leave into the wider world. He doesn't really understand the way the world works or what his place in it is, and he operates on an instinctual level.
An interesting lesson in the evolution of a franchise film is available online
I am always slightly horrified to watch when fandom decides to turn on someone. And to be fair, I know it's never a group decision, but rather a ripple effect, and that it's just a percentage of people when something like this goes down. Even so, it can feel like everyone thanks to just how vocal people get and how unrelenting the negativity can feel sometimes.
It felt like a few years ago, Damon Lindelof had been embraced by fandom at large and he was one of those names everyone was talking about. When it was first announced that he'd gotten the gig rewriting what became "Prometheus," it seemed to be a pretty popular choice. These days, things have changed so much that he swore off the AICN talkback last week on Twitter. He's a whipping boy, and much of it is based on something that I think is very hard for people to judge, which is his contribution to the film. I like Lindelof, though, and I think a lot of this pile-on is unfair and ridiculous. I don't think he deserves to be the one person that fanboys attack over "Prometheus" or "Lost," and I think he is swinging for the fences when he works. Whether he actually hits that home run or not, he's trying to do the sort of big-idea big-entertainment movies that I love dearly, and I like that he's in the mix, trying to amaze.
Can Sam Raimi make this feel like real magic?
"The Great and Powerful Oz" has not been an easy film for Disney to make, but as they kick their campaign for the film into a higher gear, they're doing their very best to send out an air of confidence about it.
This new trailer certainly shows us more of the world than we've seen before, and it's pretty plain why earlier trailers couldn't show us any of this stuff. In a movie where so much of the environment and so many of the characters are computer generated, it's hard to have footage ready to show early. Even now, I'm betting we're seeing much of the finished work, and the movie itself still has a lot of rendering and final tweaking to do before it's ready. There's also a heavy emphasis this time around on Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz as the various witches of Oz, and all I can say about that line-up is that Sam Raimi has exquisite taste.
For a film that has to be based on the Frank L. Baum books and not the classic 1939 film for legal reasons, this sure does look like the 1939 film. Much of the iconography seems to have been lifted directly from the classic Warner Bros. version of the story, including that spooky shot of the Wicked Witch that I pulled the image from that is at the top of this story. The Munchkins, the Emerald City, the Flying Monkeys… these are all very recognizable here.
We go from (Bud) Abbott to (Twilight) Zone to discuss what scares the boys
One of the conversations we have ongoing right now at Casa De McWeeny is "how scary is too scary"?
It's an important question to ask. My wife is of the opinion that no scary movies is just about the perfect amount for kids who are 7 and 4 years old, respectively. I disagree. I think kids crave stories about monsters and that being scared is an important part of our maturation process as we start to digest the stories we're told.
I don't think you should jump right to "Dawn Of The Dead" for a 3-year-old, of course, but I do think there's a certain amount of anxiety and fear that is enjoyable, especially at a young age when films have a special power over us. You feel films in a different way as a kid. You're still learning about how the world works, and you're still trying to figure out adults, and you're using movies as one of the ways you start to really put those puzzle pieces together.
The question at the start of things is how do you introduce scary material to your kids, and we've experimented with it on several occasions. At the bottom of this article, you'll see links to where I wrote about an early screening of "The Dark Crystal" that absolutely infuriated two-year-old Allen. I wrote about scaring the crap out of both of them in a good way with "Jurassic Park," and their fascination with dinosaurs has only gotten more pronounced since that screening. I wrote about the existential fear that creeped in around the edges of a screening of "Close Encounters," and how I was unprepared for the fear that hit them. I wrote about both the Tim Burton LACMA exhibit and the first screening we had of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," and how those scares worked on them.
They can't make the choice soon enough
The announcement of who is directing "Star Wars Episode VII" cannot come quickly enough. At this point, I want it to happen because I can't believe I'm writing one news story a day about a movie that will not be in theaters until 2015.
Frank Marshall, husband to Kathleen Kennedy, who is now the president of Lucasfilm, was cornered by MTV.com and gave them precisely the sort of non-interview that is going to end up being widely reported in the absence of anything concrete. Marshall knows why, too. As he mentions to MTV, this is going to be perhaps the most hyped blockbuster film of all time, and for those of us who were doing this during the build-up to "The Phantom Menace," that is a slightly terrifying proposition.
According to Marshall, the hunt is down to "a couple of candidates," which seems right to me. As I said in the piece yesterday about reactions from Jon Favreau and JJ Abrams, I'm betting they are further along in this process than the press realizes. The announcement of the Disney/Lucasfilm deal caught everyone off-guard, and since that moment, we've been playing catch-up.
Will the veteran actor make a deal to play an Alzheimer's patient on trial for murder?
It is becoming increasingly rare that we see Jack Nicholson onscreen, so even the possibility of him signing to play Robert Downey Jr.'s father in "The Judge" is a big deal.
There was a time when I thought of Nicholson and De Niro as the twin titans of American movie acting, and it seemed like they worked constantly. Age being the demanding master that it is, both men have slowed down in recent years and there are far fewer interesting roles written that they are right for, which could also be a big factor in why we see less of them.
De Niro has responded by cornering the market on the whole "hardass father" archetype, playing it for comic effect in the "Meet The Parents" series and playing it closer to real in the excellent "Silver Linings Playbook" or in "Being Flynn." Nicholson has responded by simply taking fewer roles. He was great in "The Departed," but "The Bucket List" felt to me like one of the easiest paychecks of his career.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper have never been better
- Critic's Rating A
- Readers' Rating B+
I haven't read Matthew Quick's novel, but I can see why David O. Russell was drawn to the material, and it feels like both the most commercial thing he's ever made and the most personal. After all, Russell is as well known for his on-set difficulties with anger as he is for the films themselves, and I'm sure there are people who have worked with him who would be happy to call him crazy. "Silver Linings Playbook" is about embracing whatever madness drives us, and it certainly seems like Russell is a guy who manages to make the most of his gifts no matter what his demons.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been in a mental hospital under court order for eight months as the film opens, and it's time for him to go home. His mother Delores (Jacki Weaver) comes to get him, and right away, we get a sense that something terrible happened to land him in there in the first place. Pat is determined to stay out, to rebuild his life, and when he speaks of his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), it's apparent that he believes they are going to get back together. It may not be that easy, though, and in the flashbacks we see, their relationship ended with a shocking act of violence on the heels of a betrayal, and while Pat may believe he's got a future with Nikki, it's pretty obvious he's fooling himself.
Joe Wright and his favorite actress deliver again with a fascinating new film
- Critic's Rating B+
- Readers' Rating B
Joe Wright's breakthrough film was "Pride and Prejudice," a very well-made and spirited adaptation of the frequently adapted novel by Jane Austen. While I admired the craftsmanship, I had already reached an oversaturation point with the material itself. It is safe to say that I never need to see another production of "Pride" in any format, or a loose adaptation or a re-imagining or pretty much any version. It wasn't Wright's problem, but mine.
His adaptation of Ian McEwan's "Atonement" was far more impressive to me, and that was a case of familiarity with the source material adding to the impact of the film. I thought it was a book that really couldn't work as a film, and yet working with Christopher Hampton, as smart an adapter as one could hope to hire, Wright turned a largely internal piece of work into something cinematic and visually dynamic. "The Soloist" felt like Hollywood trying to absorb Wright and turn him into a studio filmmaker, someone they could plug into pretty much anything, but with "Hanna," Wright seems to have reclaimed his voice and once again demonstrated that his keen eye for material (it was a great script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr) is better served when he's able to be daring, to come at things from a slightly left-of-center perspective.
As rumors fly, filmmakers openly discuss the idea of taking up the mantle
The first time I ever spoke to JJ Abrams for any length of time, it was during the early days of pre-production on 2009's "Star Trek," and we spent as much of the phone call talking about "Star Wars" as we did anything else.
The comments he made to Hollywood Life certainly echo the sentiments he shared with me that afternoon. We talked about why he was tackling something as well-examined and iconic as "Star Trek," and he explained that when he was growing up, he was aware of "Trek" and enjoyed it in a passing sort of way, but that "Star Wars" was the thing that he couldn't get enough of, the thing that really turned him on to the potential of world-building. He felt like with "Trek," he had more room to play because he liked the iconography, but wasn't overly reverent towards it. He was able to see ways to twist things, to try new things with the characters, whereas he felt like "Star Wars" was something that he would be afraid to change or screw up at all.
Dree Hemingway makes a strong impression in the lead role
- Critic's Rating B
- Readers' Rating A+
One thing that's interesting about watching a film at a festival early in the year is paying attention to the way reviews trickle in over the rest of the year for the same film. At some festivals, it seems to be embraced, and at other festivals, it seems like no one's buying it, and it's hard to imagine why there's such a wide range of reactions to the same film in different places.
That's how it's been this year for me and Sean Baker's film "Starlet." The movie played at SXSW, which is where I saw it, and I was quite taken with it. I think it's got two great performances in it, and it tells a solid little story against an interesting backdrop. For some reason, though, there seem to be some critics who hate the movie. Aggressively hate it. That baffles me. Your mileage might vary in terms of how much you respond to the film's substantial-if-low-key charms, but I cannot fathom what would make someone hate the movie.