<p>Peter O'Toole was insane crazy ohmygod young in 'Lawrence of Arabia,' wasn't he?</p>

Peter O'Toole was insane crazy ohmygod young in 'Lawrence of Arabia,' wasn't he?

Credit: SPHE

What Do I Want From This Blog?

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.

[more after the jump]

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<p>Charlie Huston poses for a fan at the New York Comic-Con</p>

Charlie Huston poses for a fan at the New York Comic-Con

Credit: Flickr/Batmanisgrim

One Thing I Love Today: Charlie Huston's 'Mystic Arts'

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.

[More after the jump.]

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<p>Smith Cho and Jimmy Tsai in the charming 'Ping Pong Playa'</p>

Smith Cho and Jimmy Tsai in the charming 'Ping Pong Playa'

Credit: IFC Films/Cherry Sky Films

My DVD Shelf: 'Ping Pong Playa' (BluRay)

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.

[More after the jump.]

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The Morning Read (2.03.09)

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.

[More after the jump.]

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<p>The single most charming couple in Hollywood history.&nbsp; Do not argue with me.</p>

The single most charming couple in Hollywood history.  Do not argue with me.

Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

Stuff To See In LA: February 2nd - 8th

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.


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


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

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<p>Thomas Hardy gets his grin on in 'Bronson'</p>

Thomas Hardy gets his grin on in 'Bronson'

Credit: Sundance Institute/Protagonist Pictures

Sundance 2009: 'Bronson'

Thomas Hardy's amazing performance anchors an unconventional biopic

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?

[More after the jump.]

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<p>Bill Murray in the Harold Ramis classic 'Groundhog Day'</p>

Bill Murray in the Harold Ramis classic 'Groundhog Day'

Credit: Columbia Pictures/Moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

My DVD Shelf: 'Groundhog Day' (BluRay)

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.

The Morning Read (2.02.09)

One of the things I find I often read in the wee hours of the morning, when I need to take a ten or fifteen minute break and recharge my own batteries, is my giant Pauline Kael best-of book, For Keeps.  I can open to any review and read it and engage completely, whether I disagree (which I often do) or find myself redefining my own appreciation for a film based on how much we agree (her "Used Cars" review affirms every single thing I love about it).  I find it doesn't matter what film I'm reading about... I'm reading because I want to read her voice.  That's what really matters to me in film criticism.

Lately, there's been another of those occasional and almost seasonal behind-the-scenes dust-ups between members of the online community, mainly the result of too many days in close quarters in a row and too much alcohol at a dangerous altitude.  But it has raised once again the question of what service it is that we are providing as a community, and, to a larger degree, is there even an online community at all?

[More after the jump.]

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<p>If nothing else, Rachel Nichols looks pretty great in armor in "G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra"</p>

If nothing else, Rachel Nichols looks pretty great in armor in "G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Superbowl Sunday Means New Movie Ads

'Transformers 2', 'Star Trek,' 'G.I. Joe' and Pixar's 'Up' All Show Off

Did you know they actually show some football on Superbowl Sunday between the ads?  I know... I was shocked, too.

Right now, we're making it easy for you to forget by embedding all of the movie ads on a special page here at HitFix, and as we do, I'll be commenting on the trailers and the films they're selling.

First up was "G.I. Joe: Rise Of Cobra," or as I like to call it, "Team America, Fuck Yeah: The Movie."  This film looks stone-cold ridiculous, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one at all based on the track record of director Stephen Sommers.  I have no nostalgic connection to the toy commercial/cartoon of the '80s, and there's nothing about the concept that inherently attracts me, so all I can judge is the footage itself.  My prediction?  It'll be slick.  It'll be silly.  And unlike "Transformers," which had the benefit of Giant F'ing Robots to sell it to non-fans, I don't see this as being a zeitgeist moment for Paramount.  In fact, I think we're probably two years too late for a giant paramilitary might-makes-right movie to really resonate.  We've turned a cultural corner, and I think this sort of movie, where enough firepower can solve any international problem, might be exactly not what the audience wants right now.  The hardcore online nerd audience has been Tweeting frantically about this one since last night, but I'm not convinced that'll cross over to the general public.  Not at all.

"Star Trek" looks reeeeeally good.  The trailer's a little frantic, but I understand trying to sell as many money shots as possible to show that this is not a TV movie.  Even the biggest of the prior theatrical films was always hampered by a near-TV budget, and as a result, "Star Trek" was never a must-see for anyone who wasn't already a hardcore fan.  By selling this as a new jumping-in point for audiences, and by emphasizing the sheer scale of the adventure, I think they're getting across the message that this is "Star Trek" for everyone, not just for the devoted, and that should serve them well this summer.

I am just as tired of hearing about people who are tired of Will Ferrell as they are of seeing him.  Brad Silberling's "Land Of The Lost" is one of those movies that doesn't really need to exist, but of course, anything that's got any brand awareness before it's made is boner-fuel for the studios these days, and so here we are.  Having said that, I like the choice they made to embrace the insane source material, and instead of trying to do a straight-faced and serious take on the show, they're creating a big crazy SF/fantasy world and then dropping Will Ferrell and Danny McBride into the middle of it.  If that doesn't appeal to you on paper, this trailer won't win you over, but I think the not-quite-real look of things and the obvious snark that comes through loud and clear is pretty appealing, and I look forward to checking this one out.

[More after the jump.]

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Steven Soderbergh at the IFC breakfast at Sundance
Steven Soderbergh at the IFC breakfast at Sundance
Credit: AP Photo/Shea Walsh

Sundance 2009: 'The Girlfriend Experience'

Steven Soderberg sneak previews his latest foray into experimental narrative

Steven Soderbergh fascinates me.

Here's this indie darling/Oscar winning/blockbuster directing filmmaker who serves as his own cinematographer and who seems resolutely uninterested in playing the game according to anyone else's rules.  I look at his filmography, and it doesn't look like anyone else's.  He launched his career and, to a great extent, the modern indie explosion with his first trip to Sundance back in 1989 with "sex, lies & videotape."  And now, with "The Girlfriend Experience," he's brought things full-circle in some very personal ways.

And the only way to see it so far was at a not-so-secret screening at the Eccles on Tuesday, January 20th, at Sundance.

Almost as soon as I arrived in Park City, I started hearing the rumor.  "Soderbergh's showing his porn star movie at Tuesday's TBA."  Devin Faraci was the one who told me first, and he seems positive even one day into the festival.  And even when people confronted him about it directly, Soderbergh denied it outright, claiming he was only planning to host an onstage conversation with clips from his career.  He maintained that ruse all the way through to 6:15, when he took his seat onstage next to Geoff Gilmore, talking about the rumor.

[More after the break.]

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