Darn it, I'm getting excited.
Here's a case where I hope I enjoy the sequel more than the original, because I really, really like what we've been seeing so far from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Marc Webb's first film had a number of elements I wanted to like more, and it featured pretty much spot-on perfect casting for both Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, but I just couldn't get past what felt like a very pedestrian script.
Over the last few days, several new featurettes appear to have popped up online, and while I tried to resist looking, I finally broke down and watched two new ones, and here's the takeaway: Webb's cranked up the action and the Spider-based character comedy in this one, and in both cases, that's exactly what I want.
It now appears that the first scene with Paul Giamatti as The Rhino is the opening of the film, with Peter Parker swinging into action as Spider-Man to try and stop a truck chase through the city at the exact moment that he's supposed to be at his high school graduation, where Gwen Stacy sits waiting for him. It looks like they've shot a ton of this as actual practical stunt work, and it certainly pays off in something that looks and feels more tactile. I love the gag in both of these where he grabs the truck driving by and whips out-of-frame. That is straight out of the comics in terms of attitude, and looks great. It feels like Webb is getting more and more comfortable with the visual end of things.
Darn it, I'm getting excited.
The first time I met Emily Browning was in an alley behind the original Alamo Drafthouse. She was sixteen at the time, playing younger for "Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events," and I was about to do a Q&A onstage at Butt-Numb-A-Thon with her and her co-star Liam Aiken. The two of them seemed a little bit overwhelmed from the trip in with the Paramount reps, and I think they were just about to kick off the international publicity jaunt for the film, something that was a different level of intensity that either of them had experienced before. We spent about ten minutes talking before we walked up the back stairs and onto the stage of the Drafthouse, and they both ended up doing great.
Browning was a seasoned pro by that point, though. She's been working in front of the camera since she was nine or ten years old on TV and in movies, and "Snicket" was the movie that was supposed to launch her to a new level of awareness. The film wasn't a monster hit, though, even with Paramount and Dreamworks pushing to try to make it into a "Harry Potter" style event. When I was chatting with her off-camera at the recent press day for Paul Anderson's "Pompeii," in which she plays the romantic lead opposite Kit Harrington, we talked about how they pretty much had to make the call the split second the first film came out to decide if they would make the rest of the books into films or not. Like "Potter," they would have had to shoot quickly to make sure the kids didn't age out of the series completely before they wrapped it up. It might have helped that they condensed three books from the series into that first film, but Brad Silberling's very stylized take on the books just didn't click with the mainstream, and it ended up being one of the one-and-done potential franchises that often happen.
The ultimate public reaction to "Guardians Of The Galaxy" has been the subject of no small amount of chatter in the HitFix offices, and at this point, it's safe to say I am in the "it's going to sneak up on people and be a huge event" camp.
Sure, it helps that I've been to the set and I've talked to the people who made it and I have a bunch of stuff I can't share yet that has me feeling this way.
But beyond that, I think the stuff Marvel has shared with the public so far has been really appealing, and this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Just a little while ago, USA TODAY put up their exclusive sneak peek piece, a precursor to this week's official release of the trailer, and all three of the images they put up are, in my opinion, very exciting.
Merchandising for movies can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, merchandising can be a way to help sell a film, and it can also give fans of a film something to have as a reminder or a piece of the movie. There was a time when merchandising only really existed after a film came out, or in some very special circumstances, it would happen simultaneous with a film's release.
There came a point, though, where merchandising became a given and things started coming out before the movie, and that leads to some very particular problems. I will never forget about a month before "Return Of The Jedi" came out, when I found the novelization in stores. I couldn't resist. I bought the book, and I decided to keep it without reading it until the moment I could see the film. My mom, though, didn't have any problem reading the book, which I didn't realize until we were in the car a few days later. I was talking about "Star Wars," which was pretty much true all day every day, and I mentioned how curious I was to find out who "the other" was that Yoda had referred to, and my mom answered, "That's Princess Leia. She's Luke's sister."
To say I was upset would be an understatement. She didn't seem to realize what she'd done, but I was inconsolable. Since then, spoiler culture has only gotten more and more complicated to navigate, and these days, there are land mines that audiences have to worry about, and this weekend, things got particularly ugly for fans of the Marvel movie universe when both a soundtrack listing and a photo of the toy line revealed one of the biggest spoilers for "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
I'm not going to repeat the spoiler here. I'm genuinely frustrated that I learned it, and I'm especially irritated that I learned it the way I did. Fans of "Star Wars" dealt with something similar when the soundtrack listing for "The Phantom Menace" was released early and there was a track called "Qui-Gon's Funeral." The "Winter Soldier" thing isn't a character death, but it's something that I would imagine is a pretty major reveal, and now, if you want to avoid learning it early, you're going to have to spend every moment between now and April 4th being extra careful for fear someone will put it in a headline (like MTV Films did) or just drop the info in a forum (which seems to be happening repeatedly).
Consider yourself warned, and if you do know the spoiler, please don't repeat it in our comments section. I have to say… I suspected something like this was true, but I really wish I'd had a chance to have the full impact of the moment happen in the theater.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is in theaters April 4, 2014.
Wait… why would I cap off my Valentine's Day publishing with a review of a movie that played Sundance?
After all, it's a concert film, just Nick Offerman onstage by himself sharing his tips for delicious living, a sort of onscreen companion to his recent book, "Paddle Your Own Canoe." How could that possibly be appropriate for Valentine's Day?
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the film could easily be a vanity project. After all, Offerman is an actor, not a trained stand-up comic, and even for the best comedians, a full-length feature film can be difficult to make work. Offerman's an affable guy, and over the run of "Parks and Recreation," I've grown enormously fond of the way he can turn any scene into a gem, often wordlessly, and he's become an enormous asset to indie films who need someone who can come in and crush in just a few quick scenes.
Yesterday on Twitter, someone asked me the simple version of a larger point made in some angry e-mails about my "Winter's Tale" review. Several people accused me outright of simply hating magic and romance in movies, which is silly, and it was @SamShotFirst (Sam Van Haren) who asked me: "Just read your "Winter's Tale" review. What are some films you think handle magical realism well?"
I suggested that this is the sort of a question worth answering in an article, but offered one immediate example that came to mind. "Field Of Dreams."
Now, sure, part of the reason I'll accept "Field Of Dreams" is because they get the emotional side of things right. That's missing the bigger picture, though. The main reason it works is because first it feeds you just enough information to understand who everyone is. Then you introduce the first element of magic. We watch everyone react. We watch them puzzle it through. Then there's another element of magic. And they have to adjust again. And in each case, the moment where they have to adjust is playing honestly, because you have to acknowledge that something outside of the ordinary is happening. You can't shrug it off.
Both times Scott Spencer's novel "Endless Love" has been adapted to the bigscreen, there have been fundamental changes made to the source material to such a degree that it's apparent the filmmakers are uneasy with the book.
Understandable. Spencer's novel is not a sweet and simple love story by any means. It is a look back at the temporary madness that comes from that first wild love that people often encounter, and what happens when it's not temporary and it's not as harmless as people make it out to be. Spencer's novel is dark, and it both opens with and builds to a fire that is truly catastrophic and tragic. Shana Feste's film "Endless Love" shares character names and some plot points with the book, but it is telling an entirely different kind of story, one that almost feels like a complete refutation of the points made by the novel.
Feste's film reconfigures David Axelrod, the main character of the novel, into David Elliot, played here by Alex Pettyfer. David is graduating high school, a blue collar kid who seems to have only two ambitions in life: work in his dad's auto repair store and find a girl that he can love. He's pretty sure that girl is Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde), a rich girl who is also graduating, but she spent her entire high school career focused on getting into a great college, and none of her classmates really seem to know her at all.
When I was first contacted by the creative team behind "Jodorowsky's Dune," they were just inquiring if it was a topic I was interested in. I think it's safe to say that famous films that didn't quite get made is a topic that I find deeply interesting, and this is one of the Great White Whales of unmade movies for a variety of reasons.
Everything about the career of Alejandro Jodorowsky feels to me like it should have been bigger, should have been better, should have made more of an impact on the larger popular culture. "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain" would have been received in a totally different way if those same exact films had been made 20 years later, and there's a good chance Hollywood would have tried to absorb his remarkable voice in some way. I think he still would have ended up an outsider, simply because that's his nature, but I sometimes feel frustrated at just how niche his greatest works still are.
When I pick my kids up from school today, we are going to celebrate. After all, we are big fans of the "Clone Wars" animated series that has been airing for the last five years. Beautifully produced, the show managed to introduce a fairly large new cast of supporting characters who seemed like welcome additions to the world of "Star Wars," and it pulled off the near-impossible job of making decent use of Jar Jar, and it set up a central tension that was for me and for my sons, more suspenseful than anything in the prequels because we do not know the answer to one very big question:
Where is Ahsoka Tano?
From the very first episode of the show, Ahsoka was assigned to Anakin as his apprentice, and the two of of them genuinely grew as characters and as Jedi over the course of the series. I thought they gave Anakin a more genuine and upsetting arc towards the Dark Side over the course of this show than they did in the feature films. I think these stories really are necessary text if you're going to fully embrace the story they're telling. There is more real "Star Wars" in the five seasons of the show that has already aired than people seem to realize.
The moment I got home from my screening of "Winter's Tale," written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, the first thing I did was download the novel to my Kindle so I could read it. I made it four chapters before I set it aside, satisfied that whatever my problems are with "Winter's Tale" have little or nothing to do with Mark Helprin or his book. Mr. Helprin, you are free to go.
This is one of those books that people don't just like… they love it. It is important to them. When you talk to a fan of the book, they get evangelical about the experience they had reading it. I get that. There are plenty of books that have done that to me, and there are a few of them that I have considered trying to adapt as screenplays. The hard part of that is realizing that sometimes the very thing that makes you fall in love with something on the page may not translate in any direct way to film, a far more visual media. There are things I have read in books over the years that positively devastated me, but I am well aware that the power of the reaction I had is due in no small part to the language used, the precision of the way words are deployed, and something that is piercing as a metaphor becomes somewhat dopey when you see it brought to life by actual people.