2016 has not been particularly kind to sequels at the box office, and audiences seem to be rejecting films that were overtly created to satisfy a studio need rather than an audience want, a trend I am happy to see. Pixar has had mixed luck with their sequels, creatively speaking, but seems to recognize as a company that story should drive these decisions above everything else. Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory, co-directed with Angus MacLane, has to be considered a victory based on how well it justifies its own existence, telling a story that is built on a solid emotional foundation and driven by new encounters with characters we genuinely adore.
Magic Leap is a company you should be paying attention to, even if you aren’t allowed to totally know what they’re doing yet.
Right now, E3 is underway in Los Angeles, a major press event covering the world of video games and, increasingly, “experiential storytelling” that involves new technology like the various virtual reality set-ups that are just starting to show up for consumers. Both Xbox and PlayStation are dedicated to cracking the VR problem, and there will be plenty of content churned out. Unsurprisingly, most of what we’re seeing so far is built around big consumer properties with high recognition, like the Batman Arkham VR from Rocksteady that I included in my E3 round-up on Monday. EA and DICE, makers of Battlefront, also revealed the Stars Wars: X-Wing VR Mission. Both of those look cool, and both will use the VR set-up that the tech industry is hoping we will all want to buy and wear.
I arrived mid-morning in Hollywood, parked, and headed directly to the event being held right next door to the Jimmy Kimmel theater. There was already a decent line by the time I walked up. I thought the event started at ten, but it turns out that’s just when check-in opens, so I ended up spending almost an hour just sitting in the theater waiting. My bad. Reading is probably important when planning your schedule.
The El Capitan is Disney’s showcase venue. It’s the reason they bought it in the very early ‘90s and went to work restoring it. They wanted a place to be able to stage a film as an event, where they could control every part of the experience, and certainly, that was in full effect the morning of the event. The balconies on either side of the main stage were filled with the flora and faunae of Underland, since Alice Through The Looking Glass is currently playing at the theater. The music that was playing from the moment we were checked in and seated was one Disney song after another. I love “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” as much as anyone, but they were playing a sort of medley version by the Generic White People Orchestra where they go from film to film, doing two minutes of most of the major songs in each of the films, with no break in the wall of Disney music. It never quite builds to a conclusion because it’s designed to keep you soaking in the Disney atmosphere.
I’m not actually attending E3 this year, but it tests my theory that you should be able to experience these giant media events from home if they’re even remotely going to be worth the time and the money they spend to throw them, and E3 is the best example of how to do that correctly. Not only do they live-stream every bit of the presentation, but they release all the new exclusive visual materials that are brought to the event online as soon as they premiere at E3. Sure, there are things that are exclusive to the event, but there’s no video game fan who is going to end this week frustrated that they didn’t get to see anything good.
My kids are just hitting the age where they are aware of E3 as an event, and they are absolutely out of their minds crazy about gaming. We game together the same way we watch movies together, and we talk a lot about what it is that keeps us playing things or that makes us drop something quickly to return to an old favorite. We’re also having to start to talk about the emotional side of gaming as the boys get better and better at playing EA’s NBA or FIFA games. They can get so invested in the outcome that I am halfway convinced I’m going to have an incident of hooliganism occur in my living room at some point.
Duncan Jones is having a very strange year.
There can’t be any easy way to lose your father, but when your father is an icon known the world over and his death is a cultural moment that creates worldwide shock waves, I can only imagine the way it magnifies your pain. Add to that a global press tour in which you have to sell the movie that you’ve just spent three years making, during which you’re going to be asked thousands of wildly insensitive if well-meaning questions about your father, and I can’t imagine the strength it took Duncan to make it through without collapsing. I’ve known him casually for several years now, but I made sure that when I sat down with him to discuss Warcraft, his new film based on the massively-popular Blizzard game, I kept the conversation firmly on the film and nothing else.
Dwayne Johnson plus Hawaii plus Lin-Manuel Miranda equals a very, very on-board house full of film fans here at Casa de McWeeny.
Hamilton is a mainstay in our car. I have heard the entire album with the boys at least a dozen times, and bits and pieces countless times beyond that. Toshi wrote his final essay of the year about Alexander Hamilton just so he had an excuse to quote some of the songs in class. Hawaii is also a big touchstone for us, something we’ve shared as a family repeatedly, and where we've had some of our happiest moments. And Dwayne Johnson… well, at this point, who doesn’t love Johnson? He’s as dependable and self-aware a movie star as we have right now, and he’s genuinely the nicest guy in the entire business.
I wonder how closely they’ll stick to the book.
The Passion Of The Christ is one of the weirdest blockbusters of all time. I’m not ultimately surprised that a faith-based movie connected to such a huge audience, but I am still surprised that such a dour, violent vision is what they embraced. I’ve seen the film a few times, and written about it at least twice. I wrote, “It’s hardly the first misguided thing done in the name of Jesus Christ, and it certainly won’t be the last.” That’s not a glib dismissal, either. I think there are some really distasteful and upsetting things about the film.
Ron Howard may well end up being the first person to figure out how to turn one of Neal Stephenson’s books into a film.
That is very good news in general. Stephenson is one of my favorite working authors, and each time he releases a book, I find myself living in his world for a few months. I just recently went back and read Snow Crash for the first time in a long time, and it’s amazing how clearly he found his gift even just three books into his remarkable career. I remember reading Snow Crash and immediately thinking, “There are going to be filmmakers fighting to make this thing.” I also remember thinking that Stephenson’s imagination was so far out that it would take civilization decades to catch up with him. I had no idea he was more of a “right-around-the-corner” tech prophet, and when you read his books from 1992 and 1995 (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age), it’s like he was laying down a fictional foundation to help us navigate the 20 years that have unfolded since then. He is one of the few artists in any media right now that I would describe as a visionary, someone who has a very real ability to see where we’re going in terms of both technology and culture, as well as the relationship between the two.
As far as the McWeeny house is concerned, the decision-making process regarding Independence Day: Resurgence is over. Toshi let me know in no uncertain terms that we will be seeing the film and that he is very, very excited about it. He’s a fan of the original, which I’m not even sure when he saw. That’s how little fondness I have for the 1996 Roland Emmerich film, but the sequel’s coming, and at this point, I am on notice, evidently.
One of the things that made the first film a global sensation was a truly brilliant marketing campaign. So far, the trailers for the new film strike me as business as usual. If there’s any blockbuster director responsible for the “let’s blow up the world in the trailer” culture that we live in right now, it’s Emmerich, and Independence Day’s trailer was a masterful promise that the film couldn’t really fulfill.
At the end of James Wan’s The Conjuring, I had a big smile on my face at the thought of a studio building a smart and fun horror franchise using Ed and Lorraine Warren as the foundation, and tonight, after seeing The Conjuring 2, I am relieved to see that they got it absolutely right.
The screenplay, credited to Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson, is very smart about the way it opens with a seance in the Amityville house. Amityville is where the Warrens made their reputations as paranormal investigators, so it makes sense to eventually tell that story, but it’s also been made and re-made and told a dozen different ways. Instead of making the mistake of dedicating an entire film to it, they use it to set several story threads into motion and also to show how the Warrens were constantly challenged during TV appearances and called phonies. When they were releasing the first film, I had a chance to moderate a panel at WonderCon with Lorraine Warren, and talking to her before and after the event, I was struck by just how simply and directly she believes what she says. I may not buy the story that they tell, but I believe that she believes it. That belief is what binds Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) in the film, and the strength of their marriage is their superpower in these films.