It's a Roland Emmerich film.
That's pretty much all I'll need to say to most hardcore film nerds for them to know where they'll fall if they see "White House Down," but I'll go a little more in-depth here just to clarify what I mean by that.
As much as any filmmaker working right now, Roland Emmerich is a guy who can be defined by his interests. With the notable exception of "Anonymous," which I thought was overwrought and accidentally hilarious at times, his films all follow a pretty basic model of spectacle, destruction, and big broad character archetypes. He makes junk food, and he does it without apology. What I find fascinating is how much the cinema landscape has changed around him over the years, so while he hasn't changed much at all, everyone else has, and he's gone from looking like a Spielberg fan with ADD to being almost sedate compared to the way most action is shot now. Emmerich's style can be defined largely by the word "more." Whatever's going on in a scene, Emmerich will always ladle on a little more, and then a little more on top of that and then, what the hell, a little more.
It's a Roland Emmerich film.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE - The last time I saw Christopher Mintz-Plasse before arriving on the Pinewood Studios set for "Kick-Ass 2," it was roughly 3:00 in the morning, and we had just finished recording a podcast where we discussed Rob Zombie's "Lords Of Salem," which we saw at the film's midnight screening at the Toronto Film Festival.
Chris was in Toronto to shoot exteriors for the sequel to Matthew Vaughn's 2008 adaptation of the cult hit comic series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., and he'd never been to the festival. Talking to him about the film as they were getting started, he seemed optimistic. I met Chris for the first time on the set of "Superbad," and at that point, he was brand-new to filmmaking, figuring out what he was doing as he did it. There was an intuitive approach to his work that served him well on that film. One of the reasons that McLovin became iconic was because Chris seemed to be that guy. It didn't look like acting. It was just a case of casting doing 2/3 of the job.
Richard Matheson was a giant.
We don't have writers like him today because we don't have any idea what to do with them. Matheson was born in 1926, and as much as any author in any genre, his work defined and reflected the tumult of the 20th Century. He had a remarkable voice as a storyteller, and it should come as no shock to anyone to see the laundry list of authors who claim that he was their primary influence.
First published in 1950, Matheson was on fire from the moment he was introduced to a readership. I can't imagine how amazing it must have been to be part of the The Southern California Writing Group in those days, with members like Matheson, Charles Beaumont, William Nolan, Ray Bradbury, and George Clayton Johnson, all masters in their own right.
As much as Rod Serling, Matheson was responsible for what we think of today as the "Twilight Zone" style of storytelling. Short, effective pieces that immediately create a sense of time and place and voice, and which end with a punch of some kind. Matheson had a real gift for creating a fantastic scenario and then somehow finding the very identifiable reality within that.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE - Chloe Grace Moretz is once again clad in purple and black leathers, just like the first time we met, but this time around, she seems far more confident and controlled.
On the set of the original "Kick-Ass," I was one of the very first interviews Moretz ever did, and part of what was evident on that set was how protective everyone was of her. Her mother, her brother, director Matthew Vaughn, screenwriter Jane Goldman… everyone was in that same mode, and for good reason. As we watch Amanda Bynes melt down in real time on Twitter these days, it is a potent reminder of just how much damage can be done to a young person when Hollywood gets hold of them, and no one wants to see that happen to Moretz.
Thankfully, it doesn't seem to be the case. Chloe seems level-headed and normal in every way, except perhaps for her obvious talents as a performer. She spends her time these days working with filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton, and it seems like she's being careful in terms of what projects she'll sign on to do. I have a feeling we're going to be talking about her work for a long time, so these interviews end up just being signposts along the way. Chloe at 12. Chloe at 16. Each time with a little more experience and a greater sense of self.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE - I will never stop being excited about visiting Pinewood Studios outside of London. It is one of my favorite places on Earth, and it's always great when they've got several films on the lot at the same time. I walked past Chris Pine, in costume as Jack Ryan and on his way to the set, as I made my way across the lot on the first of two days I spent visiting "Kick-Ass 2."
I walked onto Stage F, one of several at the legendary Pinewood Studios currently in use by this film. I'm sure I've been here before, and I even think it was for a Matthew Vaughn film. I'm pretty sure this was the interior of the inn owned by Michelle Pfeiffer's character in "Stardust." As I enter, there on a set designed to look like the top of a building, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are in the middle of shooting one of the main emotional beats for the climax of the film.
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"What's the point of wearing a mask if you can't do what you want?" Mintz-Plasse says, just before he takes another shot at Taylor-Johnson, whose costume from the first film has been updated with a few pieces that directly recall Big Daddy, the character that Nicolas Cage played in the first film. Incorporating that suit into his own carries an emotional weight this time around, and that's no accident.
TORONTO - How do you know you're on a Guillermo Del Toro set?
Seeing Ron Perlman dressed in full character as Hannibal Chau, who runs the black market for kaiju parts, is a pretty good hint.
At this point, Perlman and Del Toro seem almost like brothers, guys who know each other so well that there's not a lot of need to explain things back and forth. When Del Toro hires Perlman, he knows exactly what he's getting, and when Del Toro calls, Perlman knows he's going to have something fun to dig into.
When we caught up with Perlman on the set of "Pacific Rim," he was in his trailer, unwinding between set-ups. He had on part of his Chau costume, and he was in a great, relaxed mood. I've worked with Ron in our second "Masters Of Horror" episode, "Pro-Life," and one of the things I learned spending time with him is that he has a no-nonsense attitude about the career he's chosen and he tells great stories.
I have about four different drafts of the script for "The Zero Theorem" sitting on my hard-drive right now, and I haven't opened any of them. At this point, a new Terry Gilliam film is such a rare and precious thing that I am reluctant to spoil the experience for myself.
Now it appears a sales reel has made its way online for the film, and it shows quite a bit of what Gilliam is up to without really spoiling anything. My favorite film of his is still "Brazil," and this looks like we're back in that territory, dealing with multiple layers of reality. Christoph Waltz is the star of the film, and it looks like he has thrown himself into the role whole-heartedly. It's a shocking look for him, with no eyebrows and no hair, and I'm excited to see how he fits into the world that Gilliam has created around him.
UPDATED - Last week, I called out another website for running a rumor that didn't pass what I considered the basic sniff test of whether something is true or false. They stood by their source at the time, and they were upset because of what I wrote.
I would imagine they're going to be very happy to read this update.
The treatment I referred to in this piece is absolutely, completely false. Fan-fiction, and nothing more. The source for this was trusted to me, but I can't blame the source for my mistake. I made a giant rookie error because I was intrigued to see what I thought were the origins of the ideas behind one of my favorite films this summer. I did exactly what I have snarled at others about in the past: I bought it because I wanted to buy it.
I accept full responsibility for running the story and for doing so without putting the treatment through the same sort of screening process that I would expect others to use before writing about something. You, the HitFix readership, deserve and should expect better of me, and after seventeen years of doing this, I should know better as well.
I apologize, and instead of trying to make the mistake disappear, I will leave this here as a reminder that I can't operate on blind faith, even when something comes from someone I trust.
I'll say this for the author of the treatment: he made an astute educated guess about the content of the film based on what wasn't much in the way of officially released materials when he wrote this in December of 2011. Seeing how close he came to the basic shape of things is surprising.
But again... this was my mistake completely. If I am going to ask you to trust my reporting, I can't make this sort of error again. I treated this different than I would treat "breaking news" simply because the film was in theaters already, but that's no excuse. Either you do the legwork so you can publish with confidence, or you don't publish. That simple rule should apply every single time, and I am sorry I let this happen.
James Wan first made a splash with the original "Saw," and for several years afterwards, he struggled to define his voice further. Even if you like "Dead Silence" or "Death Sentence," they didn't connect with pop culture in the same way. He took three years off before he made "Insidious," a movie that made a strong case for Wan and his writing partner Leigh Whannell being much more than "just" the guys who made "Saw."
Now, looking at "The Conjuring" and the previews for "Insidious: Chapter Two," Wan seems to be coming into focus as a guy who can scare the hell out of an audience without leaning on gore, and I suspect "The Conjuring" is going to be one of this summer's biggest word-of-mouth phenomenons. It does not reinvent the wheel, and it's not a movie that suddenly redefines a genre, but it is confident, it is beautifully acted, and when it gets serious about being scary, it is remarkably tense and terrifying.
TORONTO - We're in China.
Well, technically, we're in Hong Kong by way of Toronto, standing on a soundstage that has been transformed into a city street that appears to have been wildly smashed to pieces, but when you're in the middle of it looking around, it's pretty convincing. We're in China, and the giant monsters were evidently here right before us.
It's March of 2012, and there is a small group of us who are visiting the set for Guillermo Del Toro's monsters vs. robots epic as the film nears the home stretch on what was, all things considered, a relatively quick shoot. Most of the stuff involving the Jaeger pilots was shot earlier in production because there is so much CGI that they're going to have to do to those scenes that they needed the lead time. On the day we visit, we're watching Charlie Day and Ron Perlman working together, which seems like a good deal to me.
The Pinewood Toronto Studios is a great facility, and it's funny that I'm running two set reports this week, one from each of the Pinewoods. We were met at the front door of the building where "Pacific Rim" had its production offices by Ian Gibson, Guillermo's badass assistant. And believe me… I've been in Los Angeles long enough to know when someone's assistant is of the particularly badass variety, and Gibson is one of those guys. The right match to Guillermo, and a great host for the first half of the day.