<p>The last time a pitch produced by JJ&nbsp;Abrams was surrounded in this much secrecy up front, the end result was the monster movie 'Cloverfield'</p>

The last time a pitch produced by JJ Abrams was surrounded in this much secrecy up front, the end result was the monster movie 'Cloverfield'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Kinberg and McKenna set up pitch at Paramount

Is Hollywood finally back in a buying mood?

Pitching has always been a rough way to make a living as a writer in Hollywood.

The process itself is miserable.  I know guys who enjoy it, but in my opinion, a writer writes.  Pitching is more akin to performance, a separate skill set, and some of the best writers I know have never really been any good at explaining something before they write it, and no matter how many times they have to do it, they never seem to get better at it.

My managers hooked my writing partner and I up with a great pitcher named Todd Komarnicki almost a decade ago, and Todd coached the two of us on the fine art of the pitch.  It was a major milestone for us, the moment we went from writers who couldn't pitch to save their lives to writers who occasionally manage to put together a pitch that makes a compelling enough case that someone takes pity on us and pays us just so we'll get out of their office.

In the last few years, though, it's been nigh impossible to sell a pitch unless you had a ton of elements already attached, like a director or a cast or some underlying material that potential buyers could put their hands on.  The pure pitch-only pitch was a dying breed, and I've been frustrated by what felt like an industry-wide contraction as a result, as I'm sure many writers have.

Not Simon Kinberg and Aline Brosh McKenna, though.  Not after this week.

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<p>Woody, Buzz, and all the other beloved characters are back in next summer's 'Toy Story 3'</p>

Woody, Buzz, and all the other beloved characters are back in next summer's 'Toy Story 3'

Credit: Walt Disney/Pixar

New 'Toy Story 3' news and trailer arrive online

Casting surprises and familiar images a'plenty

Are you excited yet?

Right now, it seems like "Toy Story" is sort of omnipresent in pop culture.  The double-feature of the first two films is still playing in 3D in theaters, and today, Pixar announced that they'll be extending the run so that more people can see it.  That's good news for me, because I was traveling the first week it was out, and this week, I'm playing catch-up, so I haven't had a chance to take Toshi to check them out yet.

The new trailer for the third film, the first to feature actual footage, made its debut in theaters in front of the double-feature, but it's available now online, and I'll embed it at the bottom of this post.  It's very strange to see Andy all grown up now, but in many ways, the trailer serves as a reassurance that, sure enough, we're about to get more "Toy Story," and it doesn't seem that Pixar has screwed with the basic recipe at all.

Today also saw announcements via the official Pixar Facebook page that Kristen Schaal and Blake Clark have joined the cast of "Toy Story 3," with Clark stepping in as Slinky Dog and Schaal playing a still-unnamed character.  I love her on "Flight Of The Conchords," and Clark's pretty much a perfect choice to replace Jim Varney, so both announcements sound good to me.

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<p>Ari Gold's 'Adventures Of Power' is the focus of an LA-area fundraiser for the Bill&nbsp;Graham Foundation on October 13, 2009</p>

Ari Gold's 'Adventures Of Power' is the focus of an LA-area fundraiser for the Bill Graham Foundation on October 13, 2009

Credit: Variance Films

Ari Gold's 'Adventures Of Power' throws a fundraiser concert in LA

And all your details on how to attend are here, plus a deleted scene from the film

I wasn't at Sundance in 2008 when Ari Gold's "Adventures Of Power" played, but I've spent the nearly-two-years since then greatly entertained by the idea that there's an indie filmmaker named "Ari Gold" right now.

The film, which I still haven't seen, opens Friday in LA at the Sunset 5 for a limited engagement, and in the meantime, the filmmakers are kicking things off Tuesday night in LA with a premiere party that's also a fundraiser, and which you can attend. The evening caps off with a secret show from a very cool LA band I've seen live a few times, and they always put on a great show.

Here are the details if you're interested:

BENEFIT: Los Angeles Film Release party for movie “Adventures of Power” opening in Los Angeles , October 16, 2009 at Sunset 5 Los Angeles.

"Adventures of Power" is hosting charity release parties to raise money for music-education for kids, through the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation.  Drummers are encouraged to join Metallica, Rush, Broken Social Scene, and Judas Priest in donating signed instruments for the tax-deductible online auction.

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<p>Joe Hill seems to be writing devilishly on his new project.</p>

Joe Hill seems to be writing devilishly on his new project.

Mandalay Pictures grabs Joe Hill by the 'Horns'

Acclaimed horror author's new novel is set for adaptation

 

Joe Hill is rapidly becoming one of the best horror authors working, and the fact that he splits his attention between novels, short stories, and comics is just one more reason to be impressed at his output.  Of course, if your dad was Stephen King and your mother was Tabitha King and you spent much of your childhood playing writing games as a family (something Stephen King has written about in his own work), you'd probably stand at least a small chance of developing into a writer of substance, too.

The thing I love about Hill's work is that he doesn't ape his dad in any way, but he has obviously inherited the most important thing a writer can have:  a voice.  There are plenty of competent writers who tell compentent stories, but there's nothing about their work that has a pulse.  Hill, like his father, could tell you a story about absolutely nothing and the way he does it is what would make the work stand out.  Thankfully, Hill has a really crafty way of building his work, and his first novel, "Heart-Shaped Box,"  is a beautifully satisfying piece of work, as is his short-story collection, "20th Century Ghosts."  I haven't read much of his comic series, "Lock & Key," but what I have read absolutely feels to be of a piece with his previous work.

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<p>Max (Max Records)&nbsp;looks on as Carol (James Gandolfini) sulks in the new film version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are'</p>

Max (Max Records) looks on as Carol (James Gandolfini) sulks in the new film version of Maurice Sendak's classic 'Where The Wild Things Are'

Credit: Warner Bros.

The M/C Review: 'Where The Wild Things Are' roars and rumbles

Let the wild rumpus begin! A masterpiece has arrived

I don't use this word lightly, but "Where The Wild Things Are" is an absolute masterpiece, and it's the finest offering from any Hollywood studio thus far this year. 

It is a gorgeous, painful, heartfelt look at the turbulence of childhood, shot through with the wisdom that only perspective can allow, but told in a way that grounds us in the POV of a child.  It's smart, deceptively simple, and richly imagined.  I saw a rough cut of the film in 2007 at the now-infamous test screening, and even in rough form, it rattled me deeply.  But finished, the film is a miracle of sorts, a movie that authentically captures the experience of what it's like when you're too young to fully manage your own emotional landscape, but old enough to know you have no control.

It is also, in my opinion, the perfect model of what adaptation should be.

Maurice Sendak's book has been part of my life since I was a little boy, and the real power of his story is how much it suggests in less than 200 words.  The art, the choice of how he says what he says, and the dreamlike logic of the piece all combine to weave a powerful spell over both children and adults.  When my first son was born, "Where The Wild Things Are" was the first book I purchased for him, while he was still in the hospital with my wife, waiting to come home.  It felt important to me to have a copy of the book in the house, and as story time has become a nightly institution in the house, Toshi calls for the book at least once a week.  This and Dr. Seuss's "Oh! The Places You'll Go" are his two favorites, the ones we return to more often than any other, and when you consider the way Seuss has been treated by Hollywood, this movie seems like even more of a miracle.

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<p>Neve McIntosh plays a woman in the midst of the worst one-night stand in history in 'Salvage'</p>

Neve McIntosh plays a woman in the midst of the worst one-night stand in history in 'Salvage'

Credit: Jinga Films

HorrorFest 2009: 'Salvage'

English horror film fumbles intriguing ideas

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

Of all the horror films I saw at Fantastic Fest this year, "Salvage" may have frustrated me the most.

One of the things I love about low-budget horror is the way it forces invention out of necessity.  When you don't have a giant budget, you have to focus on all those pesky little things like "character" and "story" and "good filmmaking."  It's a burden, sure, but all sarcasm aside, it's also where real filmmakers shine.  You can tell when someone's got the goods when they make a movie for nothing and you never once think about the budget as you watch.

Lawrence Gough's got chops.  No doubt about it.  And "Salvage" is a premise that has a huge amount of potential to it.  He's good with actors, he makes the most of limited locations, and he's not afraid to hurt the audience if it feels appropriate.  As a director, I'd say he pretty much does everything he can do with "Salvage," but still, the final film is a mixed bag, and that all comes down to script.  Gough has a co-story credit with Alan Pattinson and Colin O'Donnell, with O'Donnell credited as the screenwriter.  It's a case where the script doesn't quite live up to the premise it sets up, and considering how close they come, it's a damn shame.

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<p>Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer head the ensemble cast of Jake West's gender-bending zombie comedy 'Doghouse'</p>

Stephen Graham and Danny Dyer head the ensemble cast of Jake West's gender-bending zombie comedy 'Doghouse'

Credit: Sony Pictures UK

HorrorFest 2009: 'Doghouse'

Jake West plays out the battle of the sexes with bags of blood

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

 This movie's got a wee case of "try-too-hard," and after a while, it sort of runs out of steam, but there's still a lot of "Doghouse" that I enjoyed.  I didn't care much for Jake West's first film, "Razor Blade Smile," and I haven't seen his second one, "Evil Aliens," but there's some good stuff in his new film, and it seems to me like he's come a long way in the last decade.

Basically, "Doghouse" is a standard-issue zombie movie with a twist:  for some reason, the virus only affects women.  West uses that basic idea to set up what should be a wicked indictment of the "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" culture that exists to seemingly drive the genders apart, and in the moments the film gets that right, it's at its best.  When the film is "just" a horror movie, it's a little less successful because of the familiar nature of the material, but West is obviously a fan of the genre, and he fills the movie with little flourishes that keep things lively overall.

At the start of the film, Vince (Stephen Graham) is reeling from a recent divorce, and his mates decide they're going to take him for a holiday weekend in search of some dirty, uncomplicated sex.  One by one, as each of them is introduced, we see how they are henpecked or compromised by the women in their lives, and how they use their friends as a chance to vent about their feelings. 

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<p>Mr. Wilberforce, one of the bad guys in 'Under The Mountain,' a new horror film for teens from Jonathan King</p>

Mr. Wilberforce, one of the bad guys in 'Under The Mountain,' a new horror film for teens from Jonathan King

Credit: 120 dB Films

HorrorFest 2009: 'Under The Mountain'

Jonathan King's movie is a horror primer for young viewers

Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.

I've got some catching up to do this weekend, so let's see how many of these we can do today and tomorrow.

I think it's important that there be horror films aimed at younger audiences.  Or maybe I should say more general audiences.  Not everyone's going to hang with a "Martyrs" or an "Inside."  And that's fine.  They shouldn't have to.  Horror films can be like chili peppers, ranging from mild to insane, and I like the full range and crave it all at different times.  When I was very young, I watched a lot of "Creature Features" on Saturday afternoons in St. Petersburg.  Dr. Paul Bearer would introduce a double-feature each week, and typically you'd get one in black and white and one in color.  And they were always films that could play uncut on television.  They weren't showing bowdlerized R-rated movies.  They showed Hammer films and Corman movies and '50s alien invasion films and classic Universal monsters.  Those movies, which seem safe to some extent when judged by today's standards, were my gateway drug to the full psychotropic spectrum of horror films that I now regularly imbibe.

Which brings us to Jonathan King's new film, "Under The Mountain."  His first movie, "Black Sheep," was a splatterrific New Zealand horror/comedy cut from the same mold as early Peter Jackson movies.  I wasn't 100% in love with the movie, but I thought it was ripe with great bits, and it felt like an introduction to a really sharp new filmmaker.  I like that he zagged instead of zigged with his follow-up picture, which plays much more subdued than his first film, and which could easily be seen as a modern version of those gateway drug horror films, those milder, more subtle scares.  It's a film that feels like an '80s kids movie in some ways, and taken as such, it's a pretty solid and entertaining ride.

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<p>What sort of secrets does this 'Cabin' hold?&nbsp; You'll have to wait an extra year now to find out.</p>

What sort of secrets does this 'Cabin' hold?  You'll have to wait an extra year now to find out.

Credit: MGM

'Cabin' delays release for a year, announces 3D conversion

MGM's Joss Whedon horror/thriller gets an upgrade

On my trip last week, Devin Faraci and I had a couple of solid conversations about "Cabin In The Woods," the new film produced by Joss Whedon, who co-wrote the film with Drew Goddard.  Goddard is directing, which makes me happy because I think his work has been some of the strongest on each of the various shows he's written for in the last decade or so, and it's about time we see what he's got going on as a feature director.

So why, when you've got a film you like enough that you're already inviting journalists in to take a look at it, would you delay the movie's release for a full year?

Turns out, according to Shock Till You Drop's scoop this afternoon, MGM and the filmmakers have decided that they want to not only take you deep into the forest so they can rough you up, they want to do it in 3D.

Here's what MGM had to say about the shift in dates today when we asked them about it:

 

"Basically the early reactions to the film have been strong enough that we think going 3D can take it big.  3D conversion takes 6 months or so with VFX and the next viable 3D date track for the film is Jan ‘11."

 

 

I've read the script, and I think there's certainly potential there for "Cabin In The Woods" to be a big clever high-concept breakout hit for the studio.  But I'm a little curious about the timing on this one, and I'll explain why.

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<p>Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, and Peter Sarsgaard star in the coming-of-age drama 'An Education' that has been getting raves since Sundance</p>

Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Carey Mulligan, and Peter Sarsgaard star in the coming-of-age drama 'An Education' that has been getting raves since Sundance

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The M/C Review: 'An Education' launches Mulligan to stardom

More than that, though, it's a cutting social drama with real soul

That picture says it all.

I saw this film at Sundance in January of this year, and I caught another look at it at Toronto.  It's an exquisitely-crafted character study based on a memoir, and what it boils down to is that moment when a father looks another man in the eye and says to himself, "Okay.  This is the guy I'm trusting her to.  This is the guy I think can make the life she deserves."

What if that father is wrong?

In a way, I'm glad both my kids are boys.  I can't imagine having to survive the early years of dating, worrying about the intentions of each new kid sniffing around my little girl.  I was a teenage boy.  I know exactly what sort of depraved freaks they are.  I have every reason not to trust a one of them.  Still, there's a relationship between father and daughter that I'll never experience, and I'm sure it is rewarding in very specific ways.  In "An Education," Alfred Molina plays Jack, the demanding, overbearing father of Jenny, played by the luminous Carey Mulligan.  She's getting ready for university, and he pushes her hard, expecting her to find a place at Oxford.  Molina takes what could be a fairly flat role and invests it with layers of identifiable human anxiety.  He's worried that she won't get into the right school, which won't give her the right advantage in life after school, but beneath that, he secretly hopes that she's going to meet "the right man" before she ever has to finish school, with her education serving simply as bait for "the right man."  The film's set in the '60s, just on the verge of the sexual revolution, and Jenny is in a social position where she is defined by her relationship to men.  And it's obvious from the moment we meet her in the film that this is a person of consequence, someone who should only be defined by herself.  Reaching the point where she can make that stand is the entire focus of the film, and it's a journey that is absolutely worth sharing with her.

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